Hello and welcome to the 2nd edition of the Blogtown Webcomics Primer (better title pending). After reviewing your… well, let’s call it "creative criticism" on the last one, I have determined that you are an audience who likes a bit more action in your adventure. A little swash in your buckle. Some derring in your do. And who am I to condemn that? I like a good fisticuff as much as the next fellow. This week I have a comic that may meet your lofty hijink standards.

Hijnk Synonyms: antics, capers, misbehavior, shenanigans, tomfoolery
  • Tony Cliff
  • Hijnk Synonyms: antics, capers, misbehavior, shenanigans, tomfoolery

Delilah Dirk & the Turkish Lieutenant is the easiest webcomic I can imagine recommending (my job only gets harder from here on out). The art is lush and detailed, yet still maintains a kinetic energy. The characters are likable, flawed, and... I'm not going to say “diverse” because that's douchey. But they're not a pair of 20-year-old gamer dudes or busty Amazon space warriors and that's nice to see on occasion, you know?

A closer look at the comic, an email interview with creator Tony Cliff, and lots of punching await you after the jump.

The first thing you'll notice is the setting, which is gorgeous and pure Baron Munchausen (or the Decemberists, if you want a more contemporary reference). It's a character unto itself, and the idealized 19th century Mediterranean backdrop provides for some truly stunning set pieces—just take a look at the wordless opening page:

Just stunning.

Delilah Dirk is the star of the show. She's a great example of a “Strong Female Character” in comics that isn't just an aggregation of battle postures and reproductive organs. I say this not because women are unsuited to action roles, but rather that there's been a glut lately of lazily constructed action heroines. Delilah is an asskicker by trade and training, as opposed to a wispy coed imbued with supernatural kung-fu. She's also kind of a jerk, which I think we can all agree is refreshing.

Not a magic schoolgirl ninja.

I asked Tony about her overall design:

Delilah Dirk's "look" was designed in the mid-2000s, and at the time I think there were these ruffly, flowing dresses that seemed popularly fashionable. Similar "skirts" (they're not called "skirts", I'm sure, but I don't know the actual term [“Fustanella”- ed]) were worn by Greek militia in the 1800's. So I borrowed that visual item. Otherwise, the decisions are strictly aesthetic. I pulled her belt from a similar design I'd seen in a fashion magazine. Enough of a heel to the boots to give it a reasonably feminine shape without being the stilettos whose popularity in some superhero comics is a bit of a pet peeve. The nonsense "wrap" around her midriff is meant to help illustrate foreshortening (as are the rings around her upper-arm) and to echo the stylized "turban" wrap that Selim [the titular Turkish Lieutenant —ed] and many of the Turkish men wear. I feel a bit guilty about the cleavage-gap, but I like the way the semi-circle repeats the shape of the circular disk in the center of her magical floating belt. Plus, you might notice her hair is a lot curlier at the beginning of The Turkish Lieutenant than it is at the end — the curly hair was intended to be a sign of her semi-Greek heritage, but it was complicating her "line of action" and (to be honest) it added a not-insignificant amount of time to the flatting/coloring process. Oh well. Ideally, though, it all still comes together to give her a unique silhouette.

The plot has the breezy energy of a good adventure movie. It’s the kind you’d take your girlfriend and/or boyfriend and/or their parents to and they'd all be happy afterwards. This works well in a webcomic format, in that it pulls you from one page to the next, but you never have to go hunting through the archives for an elusive plot point. The plot can generally summed up by who is chasing who and why they’re chasing what.

I asked Tony about the action scenes in particular, and if he looks at comics as a form of static movie making (as it is sometimes described):

I come from an animation background, and a lot of my influences are films and games, so my comics have tended to sit closer to the "storyboard" side of the spectrum, though I'm trying to push that. The new Delilah Dirk short story The Seeds of Good Fortune will have a few features that are more comics-exclusive, but there's still room to max that out. The best time in a story to get away from the storyboard-like film-style storytelling is in the action scenes. I like the storyboard style for conveying changes in attitude or emotion, but portraying an action sequence in a comic the same way you would for film can deliver relatively poor results.

Film lets you control the timing with which a sequence unfolds, and a well-paced action sequence is exciting. You don't get that control in comics except for at the page-turn. That's the only real place you have to surprise someone. So between each page turn your best options are to inject a little humor, really spend some space on a powerful few images, develop characters' reactions to the situation, and so on. Digging into the specifics of action and movement is best left to actual film, which deals with such things much better.

Objects in motion.

If you're asking how an action sequence is planned out in terms of "what is happening in the action sequence", that's the same as how you work anything out. You set up an imaginary landscape, figure out some fun ways to have the characters interact with each other and the setting, and you knock the dominoes over. I put a lot of work into developing the environments in the hope that it helps to pull the reader in and perhaps increase the excitement. I imagine the more the reader believes in the fictional place (and of course, the more the reader cares about the characters), the greater the excitement. And when it's time to start things moving, when you're getting down to the task of choreographing this stuff, sometimes you go from the end to the beginning, sometimes vice-versa, and sometimes you spread out from the middle. Occasionally, just occasionally, it helps to cheat a bit in terms of the specifics of the characters' placement and timing.

So there you have it! Our next go-round will be in a week or two, with a look at local gadabouts Erika Moen (Bucko) and Dylan Meconis (Family Man).