Reviews

29

May 2015

Why I Read: The Far Side of Utopia

Posted by / in Reviews / 4 comments

Hi, everybody!  It’s your friend Delta-v, and I’m bringing with me an urban fantasy webcomic with an interesting premise:  What if magic were real, and you didn’t have to  be a mage to use it?  Artist and author Bill Reed was generous enough to say “Yes” when I asked,  so let’s go see what kind of a world that (among other things) would make.  Let’s go have a close look at The Far Side of Utopia.

 

Synopsis:

The story is set in the nation of Malsa, a land in one of several dimensions that intersect at locations called bridgepoints, where it is possible to transfer from one dimension to another.  An organization called Interdimensional Security, or IDS, has more or less appointed itself as overseer of these bridgepoints, much to the irritation of the Malsan government, who don’t like the IDS’ superior attitude.  As further fuel on this particular fire, The IDS is from a different, more technically advanced dimension.  The IDS does a necessary task, since a more belligerent group from yet another dimension has already caused a war.  This does not, however, make the IDS any better liked.

Malsa’s’ dimension has had magic for quite a while, and has lots of magic-users of varying degrees of ability.  The dimension the IDS is from hasn’t had magic all that long, but they’ve come up with a handy little gizmo called an autocaster, which can turn a mundane into a mage, or enhance someone who really is a mage.

Against this backdrop, rogue former IDS Agent Peter Kepler and his sidekicks Naomi Atarah, a powerful but unfocused magic-user,

Peter and Naomi

and the enigmatic Mium Efiate, who wears a blue scarf everywhere (it sets off his eyes–and hair), and likes to perch on tall buildings,

Mium

pursue Peter’s agenda, which hasn’t been specified, but seems to include lots of mischief.

Peter, while not quite as clever as he thinks he is, is still pretty clever, and is devious enough to be called Machiavellian.  Naomi wants to save the world which may not fit with Peter’s plans, and likes to punch things, which definitely fits his plans.  Mium rarely offers an opinion, but has abilities that surprise everyone but Peter.

When Peter deserted IDS, he left behind his former partner Kallisto Summers, and his uncle, Criminal Investigations Director, Aaron Kepler. (Both seen on the first page)  Kally took it especially hard because she saw it as personal abandonment and betrayal.  They were a dream team who worked wonders on the job , and were also personally close.  She’s pretty bitter about it.  Uncle Aaron seems to think that Peter may have had a good reason for his actions, and continues to shield him somewhat, even though Peter’s actions reflect poorly on Aaron.

Discontent and a bit of jealousy led Malsa to form the Magic Security Bureau, or MSB, hiring a young non-Malsan mage named Tyler Weber, who, with his assistant Amy Selah, and bodyguard Mione, lead a fairly large group of mages and investigators.  The MSB’s main function seems to be to conduct turf wars with IDS.  Peter finds this ridiculous, but recognizes that the MSB could be a stick to poke in the eye of the IDS.

Tyler, however is pretty sharp–much sharper than Peter gives him credit for–and may have some surprises of his own to dish out.

Tyler and Amy
Avon,  large corporation specializing in cybernetics, is after Mium, a fact which Peter manages to turn into a free-for-all among the main groups.

Avon

During the chaos, yet another group shows up.  This  bunch we know little about save for the color of their leader’s eyes (red).

 

How I Found It:

I clicked on a banner ad on Top Web Comic’s favorites page.  It’s also on Comic RocketTapastic, Twitter, Patreon, and The Webcomic List.

 

Why I Like It:

The story is interesting, and compelling.  Bill drops you into a story all ready in progress, and feeds you information a bit at a time.  This adds greatly to the feeling of discovery.  If you are concerned that I revealed too much in the Synopsis, don’t worry–there’s still plenty to find.  The mystery and suspense surrounding  Peter’s motivation and plans keeps your attention, and can lead to all manner of speculation.  Who knows, you may even get it right–although that’s not the way to  bet.

The characters are emotionally three-dimensional, and well written enough to make you care about them–even the, um, …..less sympathetic ones.

The world Bill has dreamed into existence is complex, multi-layered, and thought-provoking, adding to the possibility of speculating.  The interpersonal relationships are also realistic–especially the infighting between organizations.  Yes, people really do act that way.

Something else that caught my attention:  Many stories have no strong female characters, or only have one.  The Far Side of Utopia has three ladies who think that effective diplomacy is a good hard punch.

The artwork, while pretty sketchy in the beginning, has improved steadily.  Unfortunately, Bill injured his shoulder while running (no, not that way–he fell) and the damage required surgery.  It was, of course, his drawing arm, and it’s been a real setback.

Bill has always done well  with facial expressions, and his body language has been improving rapidly, but the greatest improvement has been in the magic effects he uses.  Bill considers the “glowy hands” effect to  be overdone, and is developing a system he likes better.  This, however has required a lot of experimentation, which has also taken quite a bit of time.  I like the result–it certainly is unique–and it has a certain beauty all it’s own.

He’s also been playing and experimenting with page layouts, and I think he’s improving there, too.  It’s surprisingly difficult to coax the reader’s eye smoothly around the various panels on a page, especially when the content demands non-standard panel shapes and sizes.

Some things are going to have to wait until he’s completed therapy, but he’s working on backgrounds right now.

 

Things I Think Could Be Better;

Everything I can think of, he’s either already working on, or will have to postpone until he heals.

 

Final Thoughts:

I would recommend The Far Side of Utopia to anyone who enjoys a good, well-crafted story with plenty of thought-provoking concepts, and a series of mysteries, to boot.

Bill is also very good with the comment section, and could really use someone besides me to talk to.  He’s well read, philosophical, thoughtful, and funny–strike up a conversation, and see what happens.

Something else he could really use, is a vote for The Far Side of Utopia on Top Web Comics, and I will hereby provide my traditional voting link HERE.

All images are the property of Comic Creator William Reed, and are used by permission.

  • Bill

    I really appreciate the review; it is generous, insightful, and well written.

    You’ve painted a picture of my comic that is rather flattering, and I will strive to make the comic live up to the expectation you set here :) As you note I’ve had some setbacks, but am hopefully moving forward to really bring some quality pages in the near future.

    As always, I love to hear thoughts, feedback, and general opinions. It never cease to amaze me how much of the subtext Delta-v picks up on, and it always drives me to make sure I’m continuing to weave a story that can be followed on multiple layers, leaving foreshadowing, clues, and yes, red herrings out there while maintaining clear and present threads for everyone to follow; hearing back on this sort of thing really helps me improve the story-telling I’m able to deliver. As a comic creator I’m still a rookie, but always looking to improve.

    This blog is good work, and I really appreciate your rather heroic effort to bring attention to little comics out there striving for an audience; if there is ever anything I can do (beyond send a link back to this blog which I will do with the next update) feel free to let me know.

    • NickDA

      With Delta-V and others, I often have to think back… “yeah… yeah we totally planned out that subtlety and subtext… yeah… it wasn’t just a random accident in the way it was drawn/scripted… yeah… *glances left and right shiftily* “

    • It’s a lot of fun providing cool perks back to the community with reviews and interviews. We’re just starting to emerge from the “little comics” into the “medium sized comics” section ourselves :D

    • Delta-v

      I’m glad I got it right. :)

      I’ve read an enormous number of novels in my lifetime, and have learned that when an author drops a snippet of information whether it was deliberate or not, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle piece, and if you can get enough of them, you can make out the picture even if you don’t have them all. That’s how I read everything, now. The artwork also tells the story, and its’ emotional shading is a great indicator of subtext. The better the creative package, the easier it is to pick up on the nuances. I don’t always get it right, but I have a lot of fun trying. ^^