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Dragon Does Reviews -- Mysteries of the Arcana

Started by Dragon Powered, July 02, 2010, 03:25:42 PM

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Dragon Powered

World trippin'... Put on your star boots and get ready to walk the road of the arcana, a mystical, magical nexus with paths to multiple worlds as defined in a tarot deck. Where will we find ourselves next? From robots and cyborgs to intelligent bugs with plant defenders to island ecosystems atop a turtle's back, anything can and does happen along this path.

Review Site: Mysteries of the Arcana

First, a disclaimer:

JGray, the owner and creative director of Mysteries of the Arcana refrained from asking for a review for some time, and with good reason. He was concerned over possible conflict of interest. MotA is written and directed by JGray, with pretty artwork by Keith W. They are the team behind the story and the comic. But the website uses my own comic management system as its base, and I've been there with tech support and suggestions ever since the comic's inception. Therefore I'm not truly an impartial observer. However, the entire design, layout and content of the site are JGray and his team's work.

Due to my involvement in the operational side of the site I won't be using ratings, I'll simply point out a few things. 

*Load Speed:
There are a lot of graphics in use, so the initial visit is going to take a few seconds to load up. According to WebWait the site loads in an average of 3.2 seconds. For comparison a basic layout with minimal graphics and no comic running on the same server with the same comic system loads in 0.75 seconds. The comic itself is a fairly large, full page format and takes a moment to load, but generally doesn't present much of a wait.

*Color Mix:
Mysteries of the Arcana was recently reworked with an entirely new layout and color scheme, and I have to say it works very nicely with the comic. The black background and earth tones give a natural feel, while some glowing bits (like the Tales of the Arcana link) enhance the magical aspect.


*Content vs Layout:
JGray specifically designed the layout to work with the comic's storyline. The comic image is displayed as a somewhat tattered tarot card, with warm colors fitting a card design. Many other elements of the site are also presented as parchment, or tattered paper. The ads are all shown on burnt parchment, the site navigation buttons appear as the backs of cards which 'flip' when moused over to show the card's graphic, and the author's blog is displayed on paper torn from a notepad.

Design-wise, I think JGray achieved his goal of extending the comic into the overall feeling.

*Ease of use / Navigation:
Navigation is good, with unique buttons both above and below the comic, along with site navigation set vertically along the left side. My only problem with the navigation is in the way CSS was used. The buttons are image backgrounds set per division, but each division itself contains only a linked space, which means if a browser doesn't support the CSS used none of the links will be shown at all, neither as text or images. A way around that problem would be to place a default button image, along with alt text, and have CSS replace the image or make it transparent.

The site uses a three column layout for most of the content, and while there are plenty of items in the columns, it's all fairly well organized.

*Ads & Placement:
There is one banner ad in the top right header area, and a tower ad in the right hand column. Both of these are high value ads and appear above the fold. Both also fit the design of the site with the parchment backgrounds.

*Secondary Content:
The extra content for the site is presented with the same layout as the comic, except that the center area is displayed as pages torn from that notepad mentioned earlier. Again, it works well with the overall feel.

The "About" page has quite a bit of information both about the author and the artist, along with some nice tutorials and insight into how the comic is produced. The "Cast" is also displayed nicely, in comic form with each character having their own little card tab.

*Social Content:
MotA provides for reader feedback with comments on the blog entries (which link to each comic page), a chatbox alongside the blog entry for casual comments, a shared forum which has at least some activity, and photo galleries containing additional art along with guest and fan art.

Mysteries of the Arcana updates twice weekly with a deep story of magic and mystery. There is a love story here, with conflicts and tension, which drives the tale but isn't the main focus. The site design works to draw the reader into the story which is nicely illustrated by Keith W. While it's not meant for young children, the comic is friendly to all readers. Questionable content within the comic is clearly labeled as such, and the reader is given the opportunity to skip that portion if they prefer.

Highly recommended reading for just about anyone.


Just because you're not necessarily impartial, I don't really see why you need to withhold numeric ratings.  It's not a contest or anything.

There are browsers that don't support CSS?  Huh...I wonder if people who use those are the type to read webcomics.

JGray, how'd you get the torn card effect and the ripped notebook paper effect?  They're really cool.  Or was it Keith or someone else who made them?


I made the card image using Illustrator and Photoshop. I found the notebook paper image on a public domain vector art site and modified it just a tiny bit. The torn card effect's not as hard as you might think. Some creative erasing using different brushes and judicious use of the burn and dodge tools does most of the work for you.

JD, thanks. Good, basic review. You're right about the CSS problem. I'm surprised you didn't suggest I have too many different methods for readers to give feedback and should, instead, channel them down one or two paths.