Beautiful Dreams 4: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been almost two years (wow 2020 threw off my sense of time) since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful DreamsBeautiful Dreams 2, and Beautiful Dream 3 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 3 for more about the above works featuring Jenny Rose & Sareee and retired Ice Ribbon wrestler Tequila Saya.

Gatoh Move is one of my favorite wrestling companies, and it’s so wonderful to see the roster represented in absolutely stunning form on the above six card PSC puzzle by Juri. The top row of cards feature Sayaka Obihiro & Mitsuru Konno, Emi Sakura & Riho, and Chie Koishikawa & Tokiko Kirihara. The bottom row has Yuna Mizumori & Mei Suruga, Sayuri & Sayaka, and Lulu Pencil & Rin Rin.

The timing on these cards ended up being suitable in many ways. They were completed shortly after Sakura’s 25th Anniversary in wrestling and shortly before a personal favorite of mine, and the wrestler I’ve requested Juri draw the most, Mitsuru Konno retired.

Riho is Gatoh Move’s former ace, and shortly after she left to go freelance the company the core roster doubled in size with the debut of six rookies (Chie, Tokiko, Sayuri, Sayaka, Lulu, & Rin Rin). I love the encapsulation of the company’s past, present, and future around that time on this batch of cards and Juri knocked this out of the park. As usual I only specified the subjects and an occasional small detail like particular gear. The layout, poses, and incredible way these all fit together into a larger scene is all Juri and I couldn’t possibly be happier with how it all came together.  

One of the first PSCs I got from Juri was an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers “sisters” Morrigan and Lilith, two of my favorite fighting game characters to play. In the last Beautiful Dreams feature I showed a larger, equally amazingly done drawing of the former. Later on Juri revisited and completed a wonderful Lilith companion piece I am very happy to add to my collection.

Juri’s range in styles and subjects is highlighted in striking renditions of video game, comic, and movie characters such as Nakoruru from Samurai Showdown, X-men’s Psylocke & Emma Frost, and DC’s Enchantress.

I discovered Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets through Juri’s art, and her work for them continues to be incredibly perfect for the subject matter. Her hauntingly beautiful black and white ghost from the Hallow-Ink set and fantastically playful Alice in Wonderland Artist Proof (AP) from Classic Fairy Tales 2.

Iconic Creations (which I hope to write about in more detail soon) has been releasing incredible card sets based around literature and legends. Juri’s sketch cards for the sets have been wonderfully evocative of the subject matter, particularly the stunning Snow Queen and swordswoman APs I got from the Christmas Literature and Way of the Sword sets.

Iconic’s sets feature a variety of way to showcase the stunning art they include, including special cards like wood sketch cards and other inventive variants. The prize centerpieces of their sets are the oversized wooden “box toppers.” I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get Juri’s box topper AP from the Christmas set, and pull her box topper sketch card from Treasure Hunters. Both my requested Ghosts of Christmas AP and Juri’s mermaid are absolutely breathtaking.

I mentioned another favorite company of mine, Ice Ribbon, above in relation to Tequila Saya. Their ace is featured on one of the newest PSCs I’ve gotten from Juri. It’s part of a duo of cards I’ve had planned for a while. During my first trip to Japan I saw a match between two phenomenal teams that remains one of my favorites of all time, and Juri’s renditions of the two pairs are simply incredible.

SEAdLINNNG’s Arisa Nakajima & Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto, known as Best Friends, are two top tier singles competitors who are even more fearsome as a team. I adore Juri’s illustration of the pair with Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championship Belt.

The Jumonji Sisters, consisting of the since retired Sendai Sachiko & her sister Dash Chisako, were the epitome of poetry in motion. It was a privilege to get to see them in action live a couple of times before Sachiko retired, and the casual confidence and closeness Juri captured in their card is absolutely perfect.

Dash still wrestles for Sendai Girls and is simply incredible. She was previously featured in a solo PSC by Juri mid flight of her jaw dropping Hormone Splash (top rope frog splash).

Tokyo Joshi Pro is an incredibly fun promotion filled with a wide variety of characters and styles. I’m a huge fan of Hikari Noa, and Juri captured both her idol and wrestler aspects showing off the wonderfully cute side of the deathmatch loving Up Up Girl.

Yuka Sakazaki is arguably the best high flyer in all of wrestling, and always a joy to watch. I love the sense of motion Juri achieved in her beautifully detailed depiction of TJPW’s Magical Girl.

The last card I’ll talk about here card is special, as well as sad. Hana Kimura was an incredible young wrestler who tragically passed away last year due to suicide amid a myriad of online harassment and other factors. Hana was one of my favorite performers in her home promotion and had striking charisma. She was always fun to watch in the ring and always seemed to go out of her way to be friendly to fans and make sure everyone was having a good time

Juri wonderfully captured Hana in a gorgeous card that is a great remembrance to someone dearly missed.

Rest in Peace Hana.

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

Order of the Stick Volume -1: Start of Darkness Review

Start of Darkness is a prequel story featuring the villains of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic. It is the second “print-only” OotS book, featuring material not available on the website.

As with the other print-only collections, this trade is in greyscale due to cost concerns (except for a 9 page section in the middle).

Start of Darkness is 112 pages long, and features background on Xykon and Redcloak. It’s got light touches of humor, but is mostly a dark tale, as befits the embodiments of evil plaguing our heroes. Without going into spoilers, there is a TON of information here that gives great insight into the characters and their motivations.

Although I recommend reading all of the OotS books, I found On the Origin of PCs (Start of Darkness’s hero analog) enjoyable but not strictly necessary. In contrast, while like with Origin there’s nothing here vital to understanding the main story, there is great depth added to our villains here (particularly Redcloak) that shouldn’t be missed.

A fantastic side story to the central quest, Start of Darkness really is a must read if you’re following the main comic.

While the volume number -1 is appropriate from a “in-comic” time perspective, it doesn’t tell you when you should be reading this volume. As the author states in the introduction it can be read after Volume 2 without spoiling anything, but I’d recommend reading it between Volumes 3 and 4 (along with Origin, if you choose). 

Order of the Stick Volume 4: Don’t Split the Party Review

Don’t Split the Party is the fourth volume of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #485-672, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

** Note: there are no spoilers for Don’t Split the Party in this review but are MAJOR spoilers for the first three OotS volumes. **

This being the fourth volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

The events of War and XPs cut our heroes to the bone (and further) and this volume picks up following their defeat at Azure City, with Haley and Belkar left hiding out in the city and Durkon, Elan and V having escaped with the paladin fleet (and Roy… well, you’ve read War and XPs. RIGHT?). Their stories move in parallel, highlighting the difficulties the Order has when forced apart and the toll events up to this point have taken on them. Some of the supporting cast grow into more prominent roles, and most of the Order have pivotal character moments within these pages.

Don’t Split the Party has a somewhat different feel than the rest of the strip up to this point, since the team is not working (nor even adventuring) together. This doesn’t hinder it though, as the personal journeys are important to the characters’ growth and their ability to function when rejoined, and as usual everything is OotS carefully lays groundwork for future events.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. The humor grows fairly organically out of the characters and situations, and by this point readers should have an idea if it’s to their tastes.

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art as time progresses.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and Don’t Split the Party continues to reenforce it’s excellence.

Order of the Stick Volume 0: On the Origin of PCs Review

On the Origin of PCs is a prequel story featuring the heroes of the Order of the Stick webcomic. It is the first “print-only” OotS book, featuring material not available on the website.

As with the other print-only collections, this trade is in greyscale due to cost concerns.

On the Origin of PCs is 72 pages long, and features a short tale (or two) about each of the members of the OotS, as well as their formation as a team and first mission together. It’s a well done, humorous set of stories, but there’s nothing here vital to understanding the main story (nor anything all that important or illuminating really). But the background for Roy, Durkon and Haley is interesting, the trade as a whole is enjoyable, and it introduces some characters that would later appear in the “proper” trades (ie the thieves guild).

All in all this is a solid and enjoyable, albeit not totally necessary, addition to the OotS library. I wouldn’t call it “only for completists,” but you could skip it without losing much if you were so inclined.

While the volume number 0 is appropriate from a “in-comic” time perspective, it doesn’t tell you when you should be reading this volume (although the author somewhat does, in the introduction). I’d recommend reading it between volumes 3 and 4. This will prevent anything here from spoiling elements of the main story, and will allow you to get to know the characters before learning about their backstories. 

Order of the Stick Volume 3: War and XPs Review

War and XPs is the third of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #302-484, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

** Note: there are no spoilers for War and XPs in this review but are some for the first two OotS volumes. **

This being the third volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Wars and XPs is, as the author relates in the forward, the first OotS book entirely plotted with the overarching story in mind. This really comes through in the pacing, ebbs and flows of the plot, and sense of scale present in the story across these strips. 

We resume our tale in Azure City, and after the revelations from Shojo last volume Roy and company set out to find a new lead on Xykon. Other long running plot threads will also take center stage, including Haley’s speech impediment and the Linear Guild’s nefarious plans. 

The story as a whole is magnificent in War and XPs. There are consequences for actions and oversights, well developed character arcs, and incredibly escalating stakes for our heroes. 

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. The humor grows fairly organically out of the characters and situations, and by this point readers should have an idea if it’s to their tastes. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art as time progresses.

I highly recommend The Order of the Stick in general, and War and XPs is where the comic truly begins to feel epic. An outstanding volume of an already impressive comic.

Order of the Stick Volume 2: No Cure for the Paladin Blues Review

No Cure for the Paladin Blues is the second collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #122-300, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

This being the second volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Particularly since Paladin Blues is where our story starts really starts to build. While humor remains a vital (and generally excellent) part of the comic, there are less “D&D jokes for the sake of D&D jokes” than in volume 1 and the humor is intertwined more tightly with the escalating story. Volume 1 was a dungeon crawl, and while it had a decent progression it was in some ways a prologue. We’ve met the main players and now the Order leaves the dungeon and begins to face a much larger world (with much larger threats).

Roy has to find a reason to keep his party together now that they (incorrectly) think they’ve accomplished the task he hired them for, and various consequences from volume 1 will plague our heroes. This leads to Roy starting to learn what it really means to be a leader, as well as the expected rip-roaring adventures. The Order (and the readers) learn a great deal about their world, a major threat, and what their next mission should be.

We also see glimpses of other characters and forces putting their own plans into motion. The threads and conflicts that will be woven together in future volumes begin here.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor is still used, but less so than the first volume and the comedy grows more organically out of the characters and situations from here out. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art compared to volume 1.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and No Cure for the Paladin Blues is an excellent follow up to Dungeon Crawling Fools that raises the stakes for our heroes considerably and gives the first glimpses of the sprawling epic it would become. 

Order of the Stick Volume 1: Dungeon Crawling Fools Review

Dungeon Crawling Fools is the first collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #1-120, plus 18 new comics and author commentaries.

OotS has become an epic tale and is the most consistently excellent webcomic there is. It features a group of adventures in a Dungeons and Dragons setting. Literally – these are the adventures of D&D characters who are self aware, and a lot of the comedy in this first volume revolves around the author’s skillful blending of game mechanics into his characters’ dialog and actions. The fourth wall is optional when it comes to the good of the comedy here, and in this case it’s a great choice.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, and no doubt make some of the jokes funnier, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor and stand alone jokes are particularly prevalent in this volume as Burlew starts to decide what direction to take with his comic, but grows more organically out of the characters and situations in later volumes. Even by the end of Dungeon Crawling Fools, the plot starts to coalesce and several twists and key confrontations have occurred. 

OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly. 

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and the beginning, of course, is the best place to start. Dungeon Crawling Fools itself is highly amusing and comprises a complete story arc, but still plants the seeds of future adventures.

Hemlock Volume 5 Review

This is planned to be the penultimate volume of Hemlock, with significant reference to what’s come before. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

Lumi’s story is building to a crescendo and this volume shares a lot of context and insight into both the present and the past. Some things were easy to predict and others well done surprises, with it all developing in a natural feeling way. A bit of this feels like a breather after last volume’s developments and revelations, but done well without any loss of story momentum and while putting pieces in place for the finale. I have no real idea where it’s all leading, but there have been tons of little hints throughout all the books who’s significance I’m sure will continue to become clear.

Hemlock has been on hiatus for couple of years now, with no set timeframe for return. But Fenton has given updates and does still intend to complete the next (final) chapter at some point. Even with a rather harsh cliffhanger and the uncertainty behind of when this may continue, I’m still glad I revisited it and caught up. I find Hemlock extremely engaging, and I look forward to hopefully following Lumi’s tale through to the end.

Hemlock Volume 4 Review

Hemlock volume 4 builds off of several ongoing story threads. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

While I think it’s great that the author allows each chapter to vary in length as needed, it is nice to be back to a longer installment after the (relatively) short volume 3. There’s a wonderful amount of information and development, including glimpses of Lumi’s past, Simo’s plots, and the third son of Baba Yaga.

But the true treat is Lumi and Tristan going to visit Sindri. Their relationships are weird, complex, and carefully conveyed through natural sounding dialog and the slice-of-life feel that seems so at odds with the subject material yet works beautifully. Subtle touches in both art and plotting add depth and resonance to Lumi’s dilemmas and help to thoroughly engage the reader.

My favorite volume yet of this gloriously unique story of a witch and her familiar.

Hemlock Volume 3 Review

Volume 3 is fairly self-contained but builds directly off of previous volumes. Starting at the beginning is best.

** This review contains no spoilers for Hemlock volume 3 but will have them for previous chapters. **

This installment of Hemlock feels different, as it’s both shorter and more focused on a single story than before. The combined effect makes it feel even shorter than it is (still a very respectable 46 pages). There’s a brief flashback to open, then the remainder of the chapter features Tristan’s cousin Kolya looking for some answers regarding Tristan’s death. It doesn’t feature the slice of life feel previously established nor provide a lot of information, but it’s still a nice character tale that follows up on the status of Tristan’s family and drops some tantalizing hints about future story progression.

Though a bit of a departure to the established and not quite as strong as the first two parts this installment of Hemlock is still a good entry in the series that fleshes out a supporting character and adds to the overall mythos being built.