Original Character Tournament: “The Avengers” of Webcomics

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So, this is deviantart. You can find tons of amazing artists there, and even communicate with them through chat and email. You can also discover numerous webcomics, anime, manga, movies, TV shows, and comics through it. It is also a very handy art discussion and creation community. There are tons of artists willing to offer advice on numerous forms of art, from painting to photoshop to sculpture to film production and photography and so on. It is also a good portfolio tool – numerous artists today have a deviantart account featuring their art.

One particular phenomenon you can find through the site is the “Original Character Tournament” (OCT). According to tvtropes.org, an OCT “is a type of competition that is popular on art websites…A tournament between artists where they battle their completely original characters through artistic expression. Usually, this is through comics, but occasionally has included animation and literature. The usual progression of events goes something like this: somebody figures that they have a great idea for a tournament, and they decide they’re going to host one. They find other people willing to judge, create prizes, and hammer out the setting, the Story Arc, maybe an NPC (non-playable character) or two. Either during and/or after this stage, they hold auditions. Auditioners are usually expected to create a character, a reference sheet for said character, and an audition to introduce the character and explain why they’ve become involved in the tournament. Once the judges have filled all slots in the tournament, auditions are closed, and the actual tournament begins. Characters are matched up against each other randomly, and the artists have until the first round deadline to create an entry for the first round. At the end of the round, the judges decide which artist continue[s] to the next round. This process continues until only one artist is left.” The work of the artist who wins each round becomes canon for the overall story, which the other artists should reflect through their stories (by incorporating past wins/losses into their work, where needed), and the finalist gets their ending to the tournament to be the canon ending. This requires a lot of research and time for everyone.

This post is related to tiredandvulgar’s [The Rise of the Webcomic]. Crossover comics have existed since 1941, when the first team-up, “The Justice Society of America” was created. Now webcomics, which have already adopted numerous traits of print comics, have moved on to adopt this one, too.

I have read a few of these, including “The Cure” (which featured Ben Fleuter, an artist I knew from his webcomic, “Parallel Dementia”), “Burning Avalon” (which also featured Fleuter), “Law of Talos” (which featured Endling, who I knew from his webcomic “Ever After”), and “Vanity of Idols” (which also featured Endling). Fleuter actually won both “The Cure” and “Burning Avalon”.

A friend got me more involved in these by pointing out Unknown-Person, a rather (ironically) well known artist who took “Law of Talos” by surprise. UP does beautiful flash animation and their character creation is rather incredible. People were very surprised when UP didn’t win. Of course, UP worked it so that their final entry for the last round featured their player losing, so either UP already knew they wouldn’t win, or they were just late on their deadline and their opponent won anyway. UP also participated in “Burning Avalon”.

OCTs are quite similar to print comic crossovers like the Justice League or X-Men. While they do not typically run on the scale of things like Marvel’s “Civil War” (especially since characters are typically one-on-one, and losers, while often featured in later storylines, are not typically prominent players in the stories), they do possess many of the same elements. Authors write for multiple characters they may be unfamiliar with, pitting them against familiar characters. There are multiple artists involved. Several storylines occur at the same time and intertwine. Mini-team ups occur that you might not expect.

The cover for Ben Fleuter's first round in "The Cure" OCT
The cover for Ben Fleuter’s first round in “The Cure” OCT, featuring his character “Inevitable” and Liamous’ character “Melvin/Merkle”.

Webcomic artists also do this on their own, like in “Golden”, which combined the talents of multiple webcomic artists, or Northwind’s “War of the Webcomics”. They will put their characters together and trade off drawing pages to create a full story. There are typically no prizes involved for this. It is just meant for creativity and fun. It is also good publicity and art practice.

One of the pros of this style of story telling is that there are multiple ideas for how a story can go, and you can read them to see what-might-have-been. It is also cool to see how different artists interpret a character. If you know any of the artists, it is also neat to see how they draw long comics (or other art forms). It is also rather astonishing to see how the input from dozens of people can come together into something like this – not just a director, producer, script writer, and so on, but multiple writers and artists putting in their talent and time to create something. And this is all online, and typically by amateur artists just putting work together, not big name companies and/or big name artists. This is also a big crossover story, with multiple universes intermingling. As a result, there can be relatively large casts. There is also a lot of focus on character growth.

The cons for OCTs include the fact that this is typically not something for which you earn money. Prizes often consist of paid subscriptions to whichever art website it occurs on, commissions, and the status of winning the tournament and having the satisfaction of “your story” being the official storyline. This is no small endeavor, and if you come at it that way while competing, you will probably lose. While the publicity for something like this is nice, this is also a long, time-consuming, free piece of art you are putting up on the Web for people to see, and you have a high chance of not getting anything for it. Whereas, for a print comic, the people involved at least get paid.

Being a crossover story could also be a con. Personally, I have been a little annoyed when a story moves away from a character I am more interested in, to focus on one of their opponents or an NPC, and I know this happens with other people. It occurs in familiar contexts when you consider people who “only like the Iron Man issues” or “prefer the Sentry issues” or whichever character they like best in a saga. For instance, of the giant conglomeration that is Marvel’s “Civil War”, I mostly prefer the “Amazing Spider-man” portions and Pasqual Ferry and Ariel Olivietti’s art over everything else.

Other cons include the fact that there is a big cast. If not a cast of characters popping up like daisies, then there are typically at least a dozen or so OCs used in the story, at least at the beginning, and 1-3 NPCs. There are people who prefer relatively “simple” stories that focus on one character, rather than dozens, for reasons like a) they’re easier to keep track of, b) they focus more and you get more involved in the character and the story, and so on. There are people who prefer large complicated stories with numerous characters. There are those that do not. This extends to the art – this project features multiple artists, not all of which are necessarily the “best” or the preferable art style for the reader. Of course, this is also true of a shared project like Marvel’s “Civil War”, which featured dozens of artists, colorists, and script-writers across dozens of different comic titles.

OCTs are not print comics. I do not know of any that have been published in print, so I do not know how well they fit into the graphic “novel” category. Of course this gets into the fuzzy area where you must decide on what makes something a novel. Does it have to be in print? Downloading “Great Expectations” on an e-reader does not make the book lose its title as a book (or novel), and putting a graphic novel on an e-reader or computer does not stop it from being a graphic novel. So OCTs, for their length, are basically just webcomic graphic novels, in the sense that they (hopefully) complete a big story and are rather long.

Webcomics are a big thing, as tiredandvulgar commented, and they are expanding. They experiment with style and storytelling and they also use more and more comic conventions, like crossovers. You do not lose out as a reader if you focus more on webcomics than those in print, and you do not lose out on beauty or story by doing so, either.

This is a link to a big page of links for numerous OCTs on deviantart. Check them out, if you would like. They are very interesting.

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