• Let's Review: MLP #74

    This week, we're presented with a rare double-whammy. MLP #74 has hit the shelves right alongside the 20/20 special.

    Since putting these reviews together takes an investment of time on top of other responsibilities, I'm going to break things up over today and tomorrow. Today we shall explore Zephyr Breeze's foray into the world of professional criticism.

    Tomorrow will feature the 20/20 review. Catch the full review after the break but be careful! It's bad form to run with spoilers.

    To my surprise, this issue isn't truly a followup to Zephyr's appearance from last month. Although he came to Sweet Feather Sanctuary to talk with Fluttershy about something we never find out the intent. Something about borrowing an item but the crisis with Fluttershy closed the door.

    Borrow a what? 
    Now I'm genuinely curious!

    We gotten to see a lot of artists join the comics recently but many were fandom artists who were familiar with the characters. Today's artist is Kate Sherron, whose art appears in comic series like Invader Zim, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time, Rugrats, and The Casebook of Rabbit Black. I have not gotten to read any of these and so I am experiencing her style cold turkey.

    My exact thoughts when I saw Fluttershy's face.

    Going by this issue I would describe her style as impressionistic. Mostly due to the way she draws natural objects like trees and the sun. You know what the items are because of the basic shapes depicted, but it's not like Sherron is trying to make them true to the show or life. By a similar notion, the convention location as seen from the outside is a hint at a building but when compared against the ponies and other creatures around it, there's no way this could feature such a gathering. I also notice that the line work doesn't usually connect and instead relies on the coloring to fill in shapes. Settings are more implied to be there.

    That one dragon inside the center should be consider a occupancy hazard.

    Contrast that against "The Mane Event" salon where Zephyr Breeze works. Much more detail with a clever comb and tail motive to the sign. It seems like this setting is more real and solid, probably because it's so important to Zephyr's career.

    Connecting lines. Detail on the exterior. Perspective.
    This stands out compared to other settings.

    One of the hardest things about a new artist is seeing how well they handle the pony designs. I remember when Tony Fleecs joined the creative team. Compare his work in Nightmare Nights against the Micro series and there's a marked shift with tighter artwork. I think Sherron is undergoing a similar process. There are multiple panels where the ponies' muzzles seem to extend far longer than they should. I get the sense Sherron includes the muzzle at an angle because it's what's often seen in the show; even if it doesn't align with the rest of the body. Here's a strange game to play: how many panels can you find where the ponies have a second nostril?

    His muzzle looks like its twisting
    away from the rest of his face.

    I'm also less a fan of the coloring for the backgrounds. No qualms about the ponies themselves, but much of the setting features tints of gray or colder blue tones. When ponies like Pixie Cut are on panel, the blue backgrounds can draw some vitality away from the character's design due to her own gray coat.

    Is sticking your tongue out endearing?
    I don't even like it when people use that emoji.

    Lest it sound like I don't like any of the art, let me point out some celebratory choices. Sherron populates this convention with not just ponies but also griffons, dragons, hippogriffs, and even the occasional bear. There's a boldness to representing Equesria's many residents. I also love the panels where Zephyr or Pixie are suffering from panic. The black tendrils looks like they're ready to seize on to something and wrap tight while at the same time creating a slow-burning fire overhead. It's a great visual representation of how people can experience tension and stress.

    I'm sorry. You seem to have
    developed a cloud of doom.

    We get a followup to Zephyr after the events of Flutter Brutter. No longer coasting on his family's goodwill, Zephyr has succeeded in landing a job and seems to be doing well for himself. This new success gives rise to a new characterization and he's much less manipulative and selfish. That's not to say the old insecurities aren't lingering, as we see with his work on Yona's bad mane.

    I've actually had these thoughts.

    It's an interesting roster. Fluttershy is prominent for the first half both as a sister and teacher. She's playful but respectful with Zephyr, sharing nicknames and even teasing him. It's a side I think she can only show with family and possibly Discord. She also makes decisions to aid him while simultaneously giving her students a new perspective. It's nice to see a member of the Mane Six taking teaching seriously without self-sabotaging. That's been overplayed before.

    I think Fluttershy knows a ship when she sees it.
    Good on ya!

    Yona, Silverstream, and Sandbar are the triggers for this storyline with their bad mane days but aren't too autonomous. They're more present as observers with the exception of Sivlerstream adding a plot twist and forcing Sandbar to confront his fears. It is nice to see a story where only a few of the Student Six are needed. Shows restraint. Yet both they and Fluttershy become more tertiary characters once they arrive at the Manestyling Conference.

    Fluttersis and Brother Breeze. Okay, that's adorable.

    The conference is the domain of comic-exclusive characters who embody the triumphs and perils of any professional endeavor. I am biased towards the representation of the judges on the main stage. The green griffon is my favorite presentation due to her combining praise and criticism. Often a brief positive will open the subject up to further insights, and so her critique seems to most effective. The violet pony runs a similar path but sticks to factual statements as a critical form. She's always speaks after the griffon so I get the impression she's relying on the already-established goodwill.

    Why is the model sweating? Because he knows he's stuck with the outcome regardless.

    Least favorite is the dragon critic. "Where did you learn how to comb?" is a critique that presents a high-attitude persona that might thrill a crowd but ineffectively conveys a message. If you dig through that you have some idea that that there's a problem with the comb but not what it might be. It's also aimed as a slight against the stylist's education, which in turn comes across like an attack on character. I get the sense this critic's focus is more on creating a spectacle than fostering improvement. Even if good points might be buried within the presentation, this is the kind of critic I tune out.

    Apparently he's grown two extra limbs and an elongated body!

    Pixie Cut takes over Fluttershy's role as a supporter. She inspires Zephyr will her role on stage while literally behind the scenes she affirms that it's okay to feel pressured or unsure. I personally identify with what she's saying and I think anyone who has had to take on a public speaking or performing role will feel likewise.

    Sorry, I seem to have caught
    the Darkness.

    What's great about Pixie is that dialog between her and Zephyr feels very natural. She's not lecturing or condescending because she starts off by identifying with his role as a new stylist. In return, Zephyr shows a great deal of support and admiration. He even shows a little aggression in her defense when he thinks she's been manipulated. A stark contrast against what we've seen in the show but it feels appropriate.

    Is he implying that Silverstream is a jerk?

    But hang on! Is anyone else having a sense of deja vu? A special performance with a trio of judges. A comic-exclusive character taking a prominent role. A new artist who at points struggles with pony physiology. I'm flashing back to Friends Forever #1!

    Contact! It is the secret! It is the moment
    when everything happens!

    Except that I think this story is much stronger because of how Pixie Cut is an inspiration rather than an idol. Because there's no new comic next week I think it'd be appropriate to do a compare and contrast between the two issues then. Suffice to say for now that Pixie adds to the story without making it about herself. So I greatly enjoy this story as a followup on Zephyr's development, a fun role for Fluttershy and the students, and a nice introduction of a comic-exclusive character.

    Slight faux pax here.
    They got the birth order backwards.

    Speaking of comic-exclusive, I admit to being giddy/antsy for next month's comic. After all, Cosmos is coming...

    Slight artists mistake. Most stallions have round heads.
    A few exceptions like Flim, Flam, Mr. Cake, and Zephyr.

    Yet that doesn't diminish my enjoyment for this issue. The artwork struggles in some places but I'd be interested in seeing Sherron draw other issues and perhaps grow more comfortable. A large part of the story will depend on how much people accept Fluttershy bowing out so that Pixie Cut can take over as support. I was cool with it and so I found the story charming. Take a look and see if it works for you.

    Okay, that is charming.
    If unsanitary.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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