Webcomic Review: Grayscale

This webcomic was created by Keon Tan on Tapastic.com. Here’s a short blurb that describes what his comic is all about…

Thomas Gray, not the famous English poet. He is an occult detective who has an obsession that only mystery and danger can fulfill.

NOTE: All our webcomic reviews here on Hawkers focus mainly on the storytelling elements of comics. While breathtaking art is amazing and cool, we believe that it’s ultimately the story that keeps readers hooked.



The first chapter of this comic already has that very familiar tone and mood to it (the kind you get from reading other occult mysteries or police procedurals). It immediately reminded me of the fist volume of Fables, but in a completely different setting—one more rural and primitive. I believe the fact that Mr. Keon is from Malaysia adds something unique and different to stories like this. It gives us a whole new perspective on the genre, and brings something new to the table, such as the myths and creatures from Malaysian mythology and culture.



Maybe it’s because he works in animation, but Keon’s first act is pretty much solid. Immediately, we are introduced to the tone and mood of the entire series. We get to see the main character, Mr. Gray, and learn a bit about who he is and what he’s like. We get to see a bit of his sidekick, Cupid, and also get to create first impressions about him as well.

The first chapter is actually a short episode. What’s great about it is that it lets readers know what to expect from the series. You know exactly what to look forward to as you read along.



Honestly, I couldn’t see anything wrong with the beginning other than a couple of grammatical mistakes. I honestly recommend, Keon, that maybe you could have someone that has excellent English take a look at the script. Because sometimes, if a reader can’t really understand what the characters are trying to say, then it takes away from the overall reading experience. Rather than sit back and enjoy the ride, they’re puzzling over character dialog and trying to figure out what’s what.

Readers appreciate good grammar. It’s as simple as that. You want them to appreciate the fact that you put work into your series, and didn’t rush through it.

Take, for example, page six of chapter one. Here, Merah says “All this plan should works…” While, it’s pretty much understandable what she’s trying to say, I, as a reader, couldn’t help but pause for a moment and cringe at the dialog. That single statement was probably the worst part in the entire script. Most of the other errors aren’t as bad, and are more or less passable.

Another reason why it’s important to get your grammar checked is because bad grammar can sometimes create funny moments where there aren’t supposed to be any. In page three of chapter one, for example, I couldn’t help but laugh when Mr. Gray said, “Well, fill me up.” Because, you fill up a glass with water, you fill up a car with gas. You fill in someone with information. So really, it’s just that suddenly a serious moment was turned into comedy because of a small error.

It’s things like that that I suggest you take into account when it comes to your reader’s experience. You don’t want to water down tense and thrilling moments with bad grammar. Readers won’t be able to experience the same levels of fun and excitement if they’re puzzling over grammatical errors.

That’s why it’s always best to have someone check your dialog every now and then.



My only other problem with some of the dialog in this first chapter is the question of why Merah believes that no one is supposed to refuse her. Why shouldn’t Mr. Gray be able to refuse her request of killing her sister? Did she bribe him? Did she seduce him? We didn’t see any of that in the first few pages.

Also, it seemed pretty easy for her to give up on seeking Mr. Gray’s help. It feels like she got into a fight with her sister pretty quickly. It makes me wonder why she even bothered asking for Mr. Gray’s help if she was just going to end up taking matters into her own hands.

Of course, these might look like small holes in the plot, but the problem with them is that they create inconsistent characters.

And the last thing you’d want to do is create inconsistent characters.

Inconsistency has the potential to take away the believability of your story. It can make your work look cheesy and contrived. It can make your writing look incredibly amateurish.

So my one tip to reduce these moments is: always question each character’s motivations.

Why did Merah seek Mr. Gray’s help?

Why did Mr. Gray choose to help her—since he did say that he wasn’t a bodyguard.

And that’s another thing. That’s twice that Mr. Gray easily contradicted himself. First, it was when he said he wasn’t a bodyguard, but went anyway and became Merah’s bodyguard.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with him choosing to go with Merah and help her. The problem I have with is that it makes Mr. Gray seem a little flakey. It makes him look like he’s the kind of guy that isn’t likely to keep his promises—to himself, or to others.

He says he won’t be someone’s bodyguard, but he does it anyway.

He says he won’t kill anyone, but he does.

If Mr. Gray keeps on doing things like this, what might end up happening is that readers won’t expect him to keep his word. When they hear Mr. Gray say that he’ll do something, the audience ends up questioning whether he really will or not. It’s the boy who cried wolf.

Thankfully, for the rest of the other chapters, there aren’t any other instances like these. But I think that it’s something you should be careful of in later chapters. Unless you’re real purpose is that you want to portray Mr. Gray as someone that never keeps his word, you’d best make him follow through on his promises—even if they’re just promises to himself.



There was another thing I noticed about Mr. Gray’s character.

He doesn’t exactly stand out.

What I mean is that he seems like every other cop/detective character out there. This is a problem if you want his character to stick in people’s minds.

What makes Mr. Gray unique? What makes him special? What makes him memorable?

As an example: L from Death Note is incredibly memorable because of his unique mannerisms and quirks. Because he’s so different from what people typically see in police procedurals and detective fiction, he’s easily likable by many.

In the same way, I love watching Castle because Richard Castle’s character has a uniquely different twist on the detective genre. How? This guy’s a bestselling crime author, and not a real cop. His theories on who the murderer is emerge from his experience as a fiction writer, not as an actual detective.

This means that even when evidence to point towards one suspect, Castle’s writer’s intuition tells him that they’re pointing to a different suspect. That makes Castle unique. It makes him different.

What makes Sherlock Holmes still oddly unique and different—even in this day and age—is his social skills and his addictions. His way of thinking is different. He thinks that the different types of cigarettes butts and boot prints are more important than astronomy, and so he does his best to memorize the former, and forget the latter. This makes him interesting. It makes him odd and strange in a good way.

G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown also puts a unique spin on the detective genre by making the detective a priest. On the outside, Father Brown looks like a bumbling idiot. But then he’s the one that always ends up solving the mysteries he comes across. How? His mainstay isn’t exactly evidence-based. Rather, Father Brown uses his gift of empathy to weed out the criminal. He can sense when someone is lying, when someone is hiding something. He tunes into other people’s emotions and rationalizations. This, again, makes him uniquely different.

The fact that Mr. Gray deals with the occult doesn’t necessarily make him all that different.

It makes his situation different. It makes his environment different. But Mr. Gray himself doesn’t feel distinct. He looks like every other detective out there.

So my question is, what makes your character different?



Tied to Mr. Gray’s uniqueness, is his relatability.

Oftentimes, the best stories have characters that have problems about themselves that they need to solve. Marlin needs to learn to relax and let go of his son, Nemo. Luke needs to learn to trust in the force. Dorothy realizes, in the end, that there’s no place like home. Oskar Schindler learns to sympathize with the Jews. Rocky needs to get over his insecurities and fight the good fight.

What makes stories—and their characters—memorable and relatable is the fact that they have these problems that they need to overcome. (click here to find out more about how)

Without such a problem, a story can be entertaining, it can be cool. But it won’t hold much weight in a person’s memory.

What makes characters memorable is the fact that despite the overwhelming odds, they still managed to come out triumphant in the end. And even if they don’t get the happy ending we were hoping for (just like in Casablanca, for example), the fact that we see these people get over certain problems make most readers remember and relate to that character.

We like these characters because we understand how hard it is to change. We know that it isn’t easy. And so to see characters that are changed by experience, it makes us hope to change for the better as well.

As an addition, I highly recommend listening to this podcast episode of The Paperwings Show. Here, they interview Brian McDonald, an award-winning filmmaker, and a teacher of storytelling at Pixar. They talk a lot about story structure and creating characters that resonate.



To wrap up my webcomic review, I have to say that so far, the Grayscale series was indeed entertaining. It introduced a lot of things about Keon’s culture and history, and brought the detective genre into a whole new environment. It’s cool. It’s entertaining.

However, the great stories tend to have memorable characters that overcome massive, personal obstacles. So my biggest advice to Keon is to find something that makes Mr. Gray unique from all the rest.

Find something that he’s afraid of. Figure out that fear, and make him face it on a day-to-day basis—to the point that his biggest enemy is the epitome of his fear. Make him face that fear head on, and make readers wonder whether he will come out the winner or the loser.