World Comic Book Review

10th April 2024

Urlan, Cosmic Cat (review)

Writers: Valentina Kay , Daniele Bonfanti 

Art: ChatGPT / Dalle

Bee Lab Studios, February 2024

Urlan Cosmic Cat is a brand-new comic book “experiment,” published by Bee Lab Studios and written by Daniele Bonfanti and Valentina Key. The book is an ambitious venture that attempts to revolutionize the approach to storytelling by integrating the latest innovations in artificially generated illustrations (courtesy of CHATGPT/DALLE) and an improvised writing style that aims to salvage a somewhat coherent story from the tangled myriad of various user-provided prompts and scenarios.

Unsurprisingly, this approach quickly falls flat in its execution. The glaring issue stems from the fact that these artificial intelligence language models are currently incapable of possessing any form of nuance and are instead lines of meticulous code that attempt to recognize patterns and generate a pattern of output in a human-like format, thus resulting in an often massively clustered, inconsistent (at times even random), and unfocused story that feels incredibly hard to even grow invested in.

Story:

The book opens with a rather interesting first page, which initially appears to be an incredible display of artistic prowess but, upon further inspection, turns out to be nothing more than an obfuscated mess of random details without any clear sense of direction. There appears to be a genuine attempt from the writing team to build a cosmologically rich world that attempts to integrate futuristic and organic materials, but instead all the surface-level details fade away into indistinguishable puddles of white noise.

The once distinguished and creative architecture suddenly falls into the bleak horizon as it shows itself to be nothing more than an incoherent and unfinished endeavour.

The first few pages see the introduction of our protagonist, ‘Urlan’, a humanoid cat entity with a daring sense of curiosity, adventure, and an unbound sense of loyalty. A major deterrent is the fact that the character is riddled with a sense of tonal and artistic inconsistency, thus leading to a tough read on the true nature of the lead that the story is meant to revolve around.

Narratively, we see the first portion of the story bombard us with tons of unnecessary and ultimately undeveloped exposition for a world, technology, and characters we know nothing about, and the story fails to elaborate further. This issue is further exasperated by a dreadful sense of pacing and incoherent narrative structure, which admittedly stems from the shortcomings of the AI software used in the creation of this work.

The story picks up and springs us into an exhilarating rescue mission for long-time friend and colleague ‘Lucious’, from a dubious space vessel known as “The Magnificat”.

The internals of the spaceship are cluttered with a façade of artistic sophistry, which once again crumbles at first inspection, displaying a complete grasp of any 3-dimensional form, consistency, or depth.

A huge disappointment. What could have been a grand exploration of what’s meant to be the idea of a sentient sci-fi vessel harbouring technological advancements that border between sci-fi and psychedelic abstractions?

It’s herein that we encounter our deuteragonist, a shape-shifting space monster that, usurpingly, also has a rather unintelligible and fluctuating character design, moving from a large tentacle gelatinous mass into a cat-xenomorph hybrid and lastly “settling” into a rather large sphinx-like cat creature.

The accompanying and subsequent scenes feel stiff and completely uninspired, emphasized yet again by the non-existent attention to detail or internal sense of consistency, ranging all the way from the setting to the character details, models, and even the story’s own narrative.

The following pages are a bunch of obsequious panels that try to mimic a grander scale of artistic ambition, akin to the works of creators such as Yusuke Murata or Kentaro Miura. The panels show a genuine lack of nuisance or elaborate understanding of what is trying to be portrayed.

The story concludes with an extremely anticlimactic resolution, followed by even more unnecessary exploration that does nothing to build the world or compel the reader to become invested in any subsequent attempts.

By the end of it, our protagonist shows a lack of emotional depth and is filled to the brim with a myriad of uninspired catchphrases and no real direction.

Final Thoughts:

Being amongst the first of its kind, perhaps it’s unfair to hold Urlan Cosmic Cat to such high standards, but in a competitive industry filled with a pantheon of talented writers and creators, it’s not only becoming reasonable but even more so.

This comic book “experiment” highlights the limitations and incompleteness of artificial intelligence in terms of making any form of visual or narrative storytelling.

Perhaps the predominant negative aspect that hampers the story is having it essentially written completely around randomly generated images, which understandably puts the writing team at an inherent disadvantage in terms of going off in a sound creative direction.

The silver lining behind all of this is the potential generative AI has in collaboration with a sound creative team and perhaps the utility it might have in collaboration with technically sound artists in making comics slightly more accessible and appealing.

We’ve already seen similar tools applied in digital art, via textured brushes, AI-generative fill tools from Photoshop, and dynamic colouring software, used to build general base colours for black and white pages.

I personally deem the experiment to be largely inadequate for consumer release. But even I admit there is a ton of genuine effort put into this book. It needs a bit more artistic focus, a lot more consistency, and more significant involvement from human writers.