those scurvy rascals

Dishonour Amongst Thieves

Another Review of a Tartlet

DeviantART is a very popular dumping ground for artistic types but also for those who want to do art but don’t have either heart or talent for it. What’s worse is a talented artist who sometimes screws up with the art at times and gets worse over time. Canadian Rainwater, alias Shamine Athena King, is one such artist who clearly had the potential to do better. She’s had a history of doing comic book stories such as Only in a Harem (actually one of the few tolerable comics that she’s ever done because it’s not related to fandom, it shows off some of her skills in comic book storytelling and that I kind of like it for its Aladdin vibe to it). Honour Amongst Thieves is the name of both her intended cartoon short and the crappy comics that she’s done. It revolves around a gay pirate (whom she “lied” about him being a teenager and he could at least be in his late teens and early twenties at that), some closested gay sailor/captain and their persecutor.

With “Only in a Harem”, she had the potential to do good comics stories and she has the skills to show off that. But somewhere around the time she started wearing fandom on her shoulders, her ability to actually tell a good story (albeit one using familiar memes and themes which a tropefag would kindly call a “trope”) began to deteriorate. There’s nothing wrong with fan fiction except that her fandom stories reek of fan fiction stench. Since I brought up before that a lot of fan fiction is painfully random, ranging from alternate universes to random pairings for pairings’ sake I won’t be surprised that even if I don’t know a lot about the stuff she’s into (or have been through those interests via my relatives) I sense that many of her fandom-related comics are random and boring to those who care to tell a good story without much knowledge of those things.

The appearance of the HAT comics shows that her attempts at depicting relationships (homosexual ones at that) seem to disregard the ability to develop that relationship over a period of time, coming to terms with one’s sexuality and having experimented through that (many of us have been through that one) is enough to not only make a realistic homosexual couple but also make that universally appealing to anyone or at the very least relatable. The problem with Louis is that he reeks of bad gay stereotypes that goes several ways. Somebody at the thread “Let’s Laugh at Freaks” from the Project After forums remarked that there’s nothing wrong with flamboyant gay characters in and of themselves since those types do exist in real life (but anybody who’s been to a gay site will note that this is overshadowed by countless pictures of idealised, attractive men and pretty much ditto truly unstereotypical gay images). Not when Louis’s behaviour and sexuality is enough to make even real drag queens and flaming gays seem tame in comparison.

His lover (whom I forgot his name but it’s probably James) is arguably an unstereotypical example of a gay character but it seems that any exploration of either their gay sexuality or how that relationship developed seemed forced and unnatural. James could have been the most tolerable character in that series since he’s hardly ever that as annoyingly cliched as are the ageing conquistador and Louis himself. Somebody remarked that Louis could have been a more realistic or tolerable character had either his personality had been more developed and fleshed out (maybe with questionable morals and ethics to boot that otherwise lurk underneath his flamboyant facade) or if he was actually female. Either way, Louis could have ended up as a more tolerable and narratively practical character. But that’s not the whole picture, another one as brought up by another Ediot is that the setting seems to be badly researched.

When it comes to depicting piracy, there’s also the moral and ethical implications behind those actions. Surely the word pirate brings up of maritime people in flamboyant outfits but piracy remains a real problem. Piracy isn’t confined to people who loot and steel things whilst using boats (that does exist in other places like Somalia for instance), it’s also about people who distribute stuff without others’ permission and posting it online which is what piracy is like nowadays with torrents from Kickass Torrents, the Pirate Bay, 4shared and Scribd. This is hardly ever brought up in Honour Amongst Thieves as it’s sadly trapped by romanticised images of maritime pirates. It’s possible to pull that kind of element had Shamine been more informed by other sources relating to maritime piracy and also if she was a much better writer. But those barely happened in her comic strips and early on, somebody brought up that the entire setting (since it’s based on religious persecution) would have been more convincing had Louis been female. She would represent religion and that alone would be shocking for most people.

Sexuality would have been very different. Even if there was historical persecution of queers before, the way people defined sexuality is different. There was a time when women were considered to be the more sexual of the two sexes (and oddly enough Jewish customs don’t tolerate male wanking but seem to get a pass for the female version). In Early Modern England, people would have sex with some “willing” participant in order to get rid of some sickness or something like that (I can’t accurately describe it due to my memory). Abraham Lincoln once shared a bed with somebody but it wasn’t considered gay in his time. Louis would have been a much more realistic character had Shamine been informed by these and he would have worked better if he was somebody’s ex-lover if you want to keep him gay in the story.

Canadian Rainwater’s got an animation background but like with many comic book artists, she has difficulty using timing for how she depicts body language and movement in relation to the characters and the story’s pacing. I’ve brought up before that my main problem with the Flash comics is that the way most cartoonists usually depict a speeding character don’t seem to care a lot about timing and pacing with regards to how fast one can go. It’s rarely ever done in the Flash comics and the like even if it works for a very speedy character. Instead of being more creative with using panel sequences to depicting speeding objects in relation to timing, movement and distance (how far can a speedster go in a minute as I depicted in some of my unpublished comic strips) speedsters get battered with special effects like blurs and cloning. Blurs are understandable but a cheat whilst cloning is not something that the Flash is supposed to do. Sometimes all that sensitivity to movement and timing goes to the slower characters which is insulting to a speedster from a vantage point.

The bad thing about Canadian Rainwater has actually more to do with her potential to be a good comic book storyteller but it’s bogged down by fan fiction cliches, terrible gay cliches and her making an appearance in several of her comics. Which is another problem with several fan fiction stories, the original character is often either a thinly veiled self insert, a real self-insert of the author or a very idealised and implausible character who gets all the attention even if she or he isn’t plausible within the story’s canon. The self-insert and the Mary Sue/Original Character are both reasons why people don’t take fan fiction seriously. They distort the feel of the original stories with the authors’ opinions and ego. Shamine’s Neopets comics suffer from this problem and in several of those stories, the author herself appears in them interacting with the characters.

The pitfall of doing fan fiction stories for a long time is that it doesn’t let the author develop his/her own voice because it’s based too much on relying somebody’s stories rather than using those as an inspiration to do his/her own. We’ve been through that at some point and thankfully in some cases, those are forever lost giving those a reason to move onto bigger and better things more easily had those stories been preserved and archived in some form. When Canadian Rainwater did try to find her voice in “Honour Amongst Thieves”, the influences are blatantly there. Cliched pirates setting, check. Bad gay stereotypes, check. Plagiarism, check (when it came to the character of Louis he looked like one of those pirates from “Those Scurvy Racals” which used to air on Nickelodeon sometime in 2005 I think). Those Scurvy Rascals is a series of cartoon shorts involving the misadventures of three pirates, one of them being a kind of precursor to Louis (blue jacket, thin, pallid skin and blond-haired). Considering that Shamine herself has been in Singapore for a long time (itself being part of Southeast Asia and “Those Scurvy Rascals” were aired in the Philippines since the mid 2000s), she might have picked up that trait unconsciously or it could be some kind of coincidence.

The only differences would be that Louis is supposed to be a fleshed out character, the story he appears in is supposed to be serious and that there’s supposed to be a homosexual couple in there. Also Honour amongst Thieves is much better known with a larger fanbase at least on the Internet than Those Scurvy Rascals is. The irony here is that Those Scurvy Rascals might not have a set of fully realised characters but that’s because it doesn’t pretend itself to be any bigger and deeper than it really is unlike with what you get with Shamine Athena King’s version. Proto-Louis is less annoying than Louis is in my opinion. Shamine’s version stinks because she wants it to be a big and deep storyline but due to her bad writing it’s nothing more than a collection of scenes that don’t seem to make use of the characters to give it the semblance of a real plot or at least a really good idea of what they’re doing and who they are as part of the story.

Not that there’s anything wrong with doing a comic strip that’s really a collection of scenes save for that Shamine King tries to tell a coherent story but it fails halfway through the strips she writes and draws. In addition to her not having that much real experience and skill in writing (the only well-written comic book that she’s ever done is “Only in a Harem” for simply being a competently written fairy tale), she’s also heldback by her fan fiction stories (one of those reasons why she hardly developed her own voice) and that she causes some minor drama on the Internet (if you have been to the EDF thread critiquing her stuff). Shamine King could have been a good animator and a good illustrator but it’s also held back by her grasp of anatomy getting a little bit more iffy. Her grasp of anatomy on “Only in a Harem” is passable but in comparison to the characters of her later works, the former had characters who were less stiff looking.

Shamine Athena King had the potential to be good in what she does and wants to do but instead she ended up churning out boring, unfunny strips and mediocre ones in spite of whatever idea she brought up could have been good in the hands of a better informed and more skilled or sensitive writer.