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April 2003


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Only in cartoons n08



*Kazuhiko sings* CatchThePigeon... CatchThePigeon...  Catch that pigeon now!

*wonders if calling a phoenix a pigeon is a hanging offense...*

I liked this one.  It seems to sum up Cambridge nicely for me.  --Vitenka
Thanks *^^* - SunKitten

Is that actually /Rin who's following /Kurai and the phoenix?  Or is it some other, male, character?  --AC

*Kazuhiko offers his glasses to Alex*  That's /Rin...  Typical, isn't it.  I think, "Oh, she looks cute on today's comic" and someone else turns round and asks if she's actually a he...  *sigh*
:-P  This is just because SunKitten's male students can also look cute ^.^;;;  You're right, it is quite bad.  okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Yikes! Please don't give me that look, Rin-san...  -.-;;; 
The male students look feminine, and the female students aren't terribly... well... curved. So both sexes end up looking fairly interchangable - who wrote this?
Just like a shoujo manga, in fact ;) - MoonShadow
On a previous occasion, /Yozhik has commented that he doesn't look cute 'cause he doesn't look like a girl. I'm just trying to please ^^ (and before people ask for the ID, I think that's one of the original strips that hasn't yet made it into the timeline of the comic) - SunKitten

Ah well, all characters look as one to me, so  I just go by what happens.  It might be different if I were reading this in a big chunk.  In fact, I think I'll go do that while my flash burns.  --Vitenka  Can I have a copy of biscuit.exe please?
That's true. It might also help if they had more distinct voices - ChiarkPerson.
??!! Different fonts, you mean? - SunKitten
No, different voices. Ways of speaking. There's an old writer's adage that if you can't cover up the character's names and still tell who's speaking your characters aren't sufficiently distinct. You can often tell amateur writing because all the characters talk like the author - ChiarkPerson.
Ah. In which case, tough. Getting from amateur to, well, a good amateur takes time and practice, which I am in the process of acquiring. I do frequently use other people's words in the strip, sometimes quotes from the appropriate people and sometimes randomly - SunKitten
That's a big part of the problem I think: sometimes Kurai talks like Morag, sometimes like Mike... I really don't know what Kurai sounds like - ChiarkPerson.
It'd probably help if you didn't know me, MoonShadow or the origins of the characters.. - SunKitten
I'm not so sure; I don't know you well at all, and it's through what I've heard about the characters origins that I've been able to pin characters on them at all. At heart, the problem is that the characters are all a bit flat: they are moved about in the plot, and they speak the words they are given, but they don't have any sense of being characters as opposed to cyphers and mouthpieces. Looking at, say, It's Walky! you have a lot of very distinct and distinctive characters, which is something that Phoenix Feathers doesn't really manage -- yet - ChiarkPerson.
Yes, well, again that's a practice thing. A large part of my reason for starting this was getting practice - SunKitten
Fundamentally, if you took a Phoenix Feathers strip and removed all the arrows from the speech ballons, it should still be easy to work out which character is speaking - ChiarkPerson
Who says? That's a huge expectation, that I can't imagine most comics or WebComics would meet, and I can't necessarily see that they'd want to.  I don't think it would add to "characterisation" to have everyone with stereotyped idioms or speaking traits, when the characters in this case are a bunch of students in the same university, and often in similar subjects...  --AC, jumping into the fray
Who said anything about stereotyped idioms or speaking traits? The key is to make characters distinct without giving them stupid accents or irritating chatchphrases. It's not a novel challenge; it's what writers do every day, in every medium: television, novels, film, comics both in print and on the web, plays, musicals... - ChiarkPerson
But I assert that the way this characterisation is done is through the circumstances we see them go through.  And so we ought to sometimes be suprised by who says what.  A character isn't developing if they're always doing precisely what the readers would have predicted they would.  --AC
Yes, of course we should be surprised. However, at the moment I can't be surprised by, say, anything Kurai says because he hasn't enough of a character for anything to be surprising, if you see what I mean. Nothing can seem out of character if there isn't a character there to begin with. You have to establish a character before you can start surprising people with it -- that's obvious, yes? And that establishing hasn't been done yet. You can't predict what Kurai would do because up to now he's done whatever's necessary to drive the plot along, rather than acting from his character - ChiarkPerson.
Vitenka (fresh from a full archive re-read) thinks that is overly harsh - and agrees that yes, picture AND words are a part of the character in a WebComic.  (Otherwise, it'd just be a story - and one with not many words)  I think the lack of recognisable character isn't so much due to forcing the plot along, as due to the number of characters involved.  We skip from one to the other - and so when we see someone pining after a dance partner, we aren't actually sure which one it is.  Or who was supposed to be the dance partner.  I think (post re-read) I have connected that one to the no he'll do whatever strong women will tell him to do joke - but still have no idea why he didn't show at the dance (or is that plot?)  And, uh, inability to tell one straggly hairstyle from anothers horns, or male from female is probably my fault.  I'm just not good at visual memory.
I'm going to stick some images on the character pages on the wiki. Dunno if that'll be much help, but I don't think I can do much more. I am aware that, because I know what's going on, I don't think about whether a page is going to be confusing, because to me, it's not. Sorry - will try to make it easier - SunKitten
Hehe.  EditConflict.  Here's what AlexChurchill wrote to the last-but-one author, whoever they are:(BTW, could you sign your paragraphs? It'd be nice to know who I'm discussing/arguing with, rather than just an IP address ^^;;  )
That one was signed, though?  Anyway - Vitenka still want's a biscuit.exe - swap you for a ButterKnifeDotExe?
AlexChurchill: Um... no it wasn't.  At least, I don't think so.  It's hard to tell apart the things that you and some-chiark-person write, unless you're signing them.  (Which admittedly you have been recently, which helps significantly.  The only issue now is knowing who my one anonymous co-discussor actually is.)
It's SunKitten according to the RecentChanges --Vitenka
Not me. I've just signed everything I can identify as written by the person from chiark.greenend.org.uk as ChiarkPerson, since they won't sign it themselves - SunKitten

I see something of what you're saying, but I still disagree with two things: that you ought to be able to identify the speaker from their words alone (how many different ways are there to say "Lectures start next week" or "See you tomorrow"?), and that there's not been much characterisation of (eg) Kurai.  He's been shown to be rather silly, rather maniacal; but given to guilt-tripping himself, with potential of staying in depression; not too concerned about romance, although the target of interest from at least two females.  And that's about as much info as you could expect or hope for, I'd have thought, given the length of time PF has existed?  --AC
Alex, is that because you see those things in /Kurai, or in the person you know he's based on ;)  I think that in calling this debate, the readers who don't know the people the characters are based on can perhaps be thought of as more neutral? - e.hslmc.cam.ac.uk
That does sound like a lot.  So, uh... which one is Kurai?  --Vitenka  (FlippantYetSerious)
And again my not knowing you lot by name and having just reread the archives comes in handy.  You said  rather silly, rather maniacal; but given to guilt-tripping himself, with potential of staying in depression; not too concerned about romance, although the target of interest from at least two females - and of that I agree with the depression (days spent not going outside after blowing up the lab) and the female cluelessness (though I thought that was one of the other characters - the one being chased for the ball?)  --Vitenka
They're all rather silly. And there were at least three characters being chased for the ball - maybe four, depending on how you look at it. Kurai is the only one who was actually asked to be a partner, though. Comic, someone? - SunKitten
I agree they're all rather silly, but I have the impression of /Kurai making more of the jokes or punchlines than most.  Every trait I listed was based on at least one strip, sometimes several.  He was the one who was [specifically asked] to the ball by someone.  Is that what you were thinking of?  If so, then it's not my fault if you can't remember who's who :)  -- a rather cheeky AC

Hang on - you're using that as an example of why it's not going to work?  I would have used almost precisely those examples of how you CAN show character through normal speech.  There are literally thousands of ways of saying "see you later" ranging from saying nothing, through saying 'bye' to suggesting something to do later all the way up to long winded haiku.  (You can go further, this is MythicCambridge?, after all - haiku is as far as I heard IRL) Similarly lectures - does someone refer to it as FullTerm? or as Lectures?.  Or they could say work satrts, or any number of things.  Of course, they shouldn't use exactly the same terms each time (if you're feeling methsy (heh typo - maths of course) or CompSci you would work out a markov chain type model for each character, much as a speech or handwriting analyst would use.  If you're feeling more artsy, (or sane) you could just go with the flow and use whatever seems natural for each characters voice.  --Vitenka (longer than intended)

The only one with horns. The one talking about his supervision in the [current strip] - SunKitten
I thought that was the satyr and female?  Um, according thecafe1 that *is* Kurai.  Oh.  That's male?  That's the one who blew up the lab, felt guilty about it and did nothing since (yet), right?  --Vitenka

He's a guy, but apart from that, that's correct. Excellent - I'm drawing real shoujo without even trying ^^;; - SunKitten
To be fair, a lot of the problem is because most of the characters are of the same clique (as per the 'geeks can talk to each other' strip) and there are either a LOT of subsidary characters, or no truly outstanding characters, depending upon how you look at it.  --Vitenka hopes that helps in some way.  Accents would do too, but might grate.

Maybe he meant silly accents? :)  JagerMonsters style? :) - Kazuhiko
Had I not already introduced nagi, this would be a very appealing idea.. - SunKitten

And this coming from me, as well, one of /Rin's biggest fanboys?  Maybe it's because I peer with such dedication at each image of her... um... ano... that look's even scarier, Rin-san...!!  *RunsAndHides*  --AC
Ah good. It's not just me... -- TI (And reading that again, before posting, I should observe that this is in response to the 'fanboy' section, not the 'peer' section.)



I see something of what you're saying, but I still disagree with two things: that you ought to be able to identify the speaker from their words alone (how many different ways are there to say "Lectures start next week" or "See you tomorrow"?), and that there's not been much characterisation of (eg) Kurai. He's been shown to be rather silly, rather maniacal; but given to guilt-tripping himself, with potential of staying in depression; not too concerned about romance, although the target of interest from at least two females. And that's about as much info as you could expect or hope for, I'd have thought, given the length of time PF has existed?

The problem is not that we haven't learnt enough about any of the characters, it's that a bunch of traits do not a character make. Willow: once-geek, once-magic-addicted-witch, recently gay, once shy but now with more confidence -- lots of traits, but they're not what makes her distinctive. They define plot role, relationships, but they're not that elusive spark that makes a character distinctive, rounded, alive.

It's not even something you can really define, certainly not in precise scientific terms. But it's nonetheless real. Take a script for an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal, The West Wing, cover up the character names and about 80% of the time you can tell the character just from what they say and the way they say it and it's not because of anything you'd write down on a character sheet or any collection of personality traits.

CVs are not characters. We know quite a bit about Kurai's CV, but we don't really know him in a way that distinguishes him from the other characters - ChiarkPerson.

Note that WebComics do not have audio  (usually) - thus meaning that we miss both identifiable vocal traits - and intonation.  A lot of the information in the text is used up carrying emotional overtone, which would be otherwise free to transmit this other data.  Techie description, I'm sure, but I couldn't think of a better phrase.  Also, Phoenix Feathers seems VERY light on dialogue - especially considering the panel size - which again cuts down on the amount of 'time' to pick this sort of thing up.  --Vitenka

No excuse. Novels manage to portray character without audio (though with more words); print comic books do too (Strangers in Paradise, Transmetropolitan, many more). You make it sound like 'emotional overtone' is separate from character in dialogue, as if there was a limited amount of bandwidth and you have to leave stuff out to put character it; that's just not how it works. Some of the most memorable characters are those who speak the least - ChiarkPerson.

I know what you mean by the 'feel' of a character, I think, but unless you can tell me how to do it (rather than how it shouldn't feel) you're going to have to put up with me learning the hard way. Constructive criticism is a good thing, but your criticism has only pointed out a problem, not given me any pointers as to how to fix it - SunKitten

Chiark calling... Chiark calling... Now you're after the moon on a stick. If only I knew the secret... if only there were a secret. Experience is part of it, but I find that you only start to 'hear' a character's voice after you've been writing them for a good while: maybe ten thousand words of prose with them in, or an hour or more of drama (once you do have the voice, of course, you go back and fix up the beginning). Perhaps part of the problem is that you can't get that concentrated knowledge of the character writing so slowly; maybe you need to script out the next year or so of comics without drawing them, or maybe just write lots of little dialogues between your characters that you never intend to illustrate, to figure out how they think and speak.
Now I'm confused. Are there two people posting very similar stuff from chiark.greenend.org.uk? Anyway, the last suggestion is good. I'm afraid the first is rather unrealistic - although the general plot is arranged for a year and a half or more, the individual little strips are sorted out maybe as much as a month in advance or less. Any more than that and I end up changing them when I get to them... I shall get to writing little scripts in my CopiousFreeTime (and no, that wasn't entirely sarcastic) - SunKitten

Fair points.  Novels have way more words.  Comics tend to be closer together in time, and generally establish character and then leave it to rot for ages.  Anyhow.  SunKitten - If I knew how to fix it, I'd be writing a webComic myself still ;)  It's obviously not a problem for everyone.  If I were bold enough to fiddle, I would put more text and more connected sequences in - currently the action jumps around a lot and it is hard to get a coherent thread.  You also often use the first panel to set the scene - which is fine, but a snatch of character dialogue there might help, since the emotional scene is a part of the scene.  Side discussion on EmotionalBandwidth moved to that page.

Just to throw in my 2 pence...  For what you are talking about I think you need to go to a comic shop and pay some money...  In fact, I would add that you need to be fairly fussy about what you buy as well.  If SunKitten could write pages in the time she does with everything you mention, PhoenixFeathers wouldn't exist, she'd be too busy producing professional comics. - Kazuhiko
Again, fair point, but constructive crit of the 'why not try this?' sort was requested, to go with the 'I think this is  a problem' sort.  I'd just add that I really do like PhoenixFeathers, and it's almost certainly my end that the 'unable to tell who is who sometimes' lies.  --Vitenka
Aw, fuzzy feeling :) Thanks. Although this is a spare time thing, I still want to be as good as I can. Unrealistic constructive criticism is better than no constructive criticism at all - SunKitten


A very late entry to this discussion from Pallando (the entire series being now finished): two points.  One, if you want to test your own ability to see if you can identify people from their words, try it with StuartFraser/AndAllBecauseIClosedTheWrongWindow

Secondly, a silly but possibly constructive suggestion.  If you want to get a handle on the 'voice' of a character, try writing them up as a role playing character.  Choose a relevant system for the strip.  Eg for Artifaxis choose GURPS Steampunk, or similar.  Start with the easy stuff - their stats and skills.  Then move on to the personality bits.  Flaws and traits.  Then just be them.  For one hour actually stride around a room, being that character, doing them as live action role playing, taking them through various situations.  How do they move?  How do they interact with others?  How do they talk?  Get Moonshadow to roleplay the person they are interacting with if that helps.  Then burn the character sheets.  You don't want to be tied down by them.  But the small things.  The voice, the attitude, the mannerisms, will remain.

This link discusses how WenSpencer deals with voices of different characters: http://www.wenspencer.com/blog/archives/2004_09.html#000068 --Angoel


A Fateful Exchange n09



AlexChurchill: Wow... exciting, mysterious and eventful things happening!  The exchange of the title... is it an exchange of identities?  Or an exchange of freedom for species / identity?  We look forward to seeing more...
Oh.  I thought it was swapping a ToothyCat for a Phoenix?.

Intriguing, very definitely, whatever is plotted to happen next.  Much approval of this development, SunKitten :) --MikeJeggo



One who saw n10



Hmm...  Interesting, just why is /Shaam happily going along with this?  A deal between a demon and a phoenix...  Kowai...

Gomen, SunKitten, but just to let you know: 'a phoenix feathers' probably needs correcting...
Yes, I know. I spotted that just now *wince* - SunKitten
Fixed. Yuck, I hate those.. - SunKitten

 - Kazuhiko



Unfamiliar n11



Paint Shop Pro (wonder what /Megaera is drawing), a folder called ToothyCat (research into /Shaam?) and a chat application that looks more than a little like notepad?  :)  Having said that, I have actually had a chat with another user using notepad (one person remotely controlling the desktop) so I guess that works :)
(PeterTaylor) I think I may have written a company policy document which says you should use a text editor to let people know what you're doing when attempting to fix their installation problems using VNC. Never had to do it, though, so it's not a very important document ATM.

Hmm...  A stray toothycat (and one who owes a phoenix a favour).  Could get interesting.  Do we know what kind of things he is capable of?

Oh, you do realise that the universal laws of CosPlay state that it is impossible to complete a costume early, yes?

Happy Easter...  *distributes choco-eggs to all ToothyWikizens*  (thats 'choco', not 'chocobo', OK?) - Kazuhiko

Muchas gracias. Toma tu uno tambien.

also, /Megaera and /Yozhik have intriguing CRSIDs - has their version of the CS a very strange ID issuing policy? :)
LOL, thanks for pointing that out, I missed those.  I like the links... - Kazuhiko



Interrupted Dream n12



Wai! Chibis!  Winged chibis! - (This highly intellectual comment brought to you by Kazuhiko)
I'm wondering about CG-ing the first chibi - SunKitten, playing with ideas

And an utterly fabulous "just what the heck do I do now?!" moment for /Megaera :)  Well, what would *you* do if you woke up and saw that??  --AC
Wonder what had happened to reality, probably. Oh, you mean if I was in a PhoenixFeathers-style world? - a rather pedantic ChrisHowlett
Honestly?  Your hair was on fire, you have sharp claws digging into your chest and the first thing you see when you open your eyes is a phoenix.  Is your first thought really going to be, "Hmm.  I wonder what's up with reality today?"... - Kazuhiko

Waking up this morning, I find the answer.  Blearily decide that something warm and sitting on you is probably a cat, stroke it and go back to sleep.  Not quite sure if the wings or hair on fire would alter that very much.  --Vitenka
I'd've thought that the hair on fire would alter it, since you stroked the cat.  You might not have seen the fire, but I expect you'd've felt it! --MikeJeggo
(PeterTaylor) It doesn't look to me like her hair was on fire in reality - only in her dream.
That was my presumption.  If it hurt, then the waking up process would be rather different.  I assumed it would still be a muzzy 'oh, morning?' type waking up.  --Vitenka
There are other kinds? --MikeJeggo
The 'AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghImOnFire' kind?  --Vitenka



Not a joke n13



This is a test of the emergency broadc...  *cough* um, new comment page.

When can we buy our stuffed Phoenix merchandise?  I want one! - Kazuhiko
I'd rather have a Sha'am, but yes please! :)  --Vitenka



Computer Problems n14



I think so Brain, but what would an ArtificialIntelligence want with a Phoenix??
*giggle*...

And /Nikolai manages to break the GourryGabriev? mould, by actually noticing something not-completely-obvious!  (Not-completely-obvious in that Meg said "I've got a problem with my computer", and not, for example, "I... uh... I've got a... problem with my computer!")  --AlexChurchill

SunKitten?  Non-wiki spelling error 'bbottom' on this comic's comment... --Kazuhiko
Fixed. Thanks :) - SunKitten



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