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Technology Brings Snoopy, Dilbert and More Into Animated Cyberspace

September 17, 1998|MARK GLASER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Techies talk about a future in which home computers serve up TV shows and movies on demand. While it's becoming more of a reality with high-speed connections and TV tuners, most people are stuck with herky-jerky video and hiccuping audio.

The cure for your low-bandwidth blues might just be Shockwave Flash, a technology that lets you watch cartoons or read animated comic strips with full-motion color and sound effects.

Most new browsers from Netscape and Microsoft include the Shockwave player, but you can download the 1MB plug-in from Macromedia's Web site (http://www.macromedia.com) if you need it. Most cartoons are free and allow you to start viewing them while they load in the background. Macromedia's own ShockRave site (http://www.shockrave.com) offers the best selection of toons, ranging from kids' stuff (Snoopy) to edgy underground concoctions (George Liquor) to sci-fi stories (A-dora).

ShockRave serves as an outlet for developers and a way to peek at the future of Web entertainment. Some of the clips are merely promotions for TV shows such as "South Park" or strips such as "Dilbert." The "Dilbert" animations are based on old strips but include voices of characters for the first time.

Smashing Ideas Animation is responsible for many of the ShockRave toons, and they have their own original productions showcased on a separate site (http://www.smashingideas.com). The Seattle-based studio has created adult-oriented cartoons called "Lou's Deli Dayze" and "Say Uncle." The former is about a gruff deli owner ("The Pastrami King of Brooklyn") who gets caught up in a robbery, while the latter is a weird romp with Andy, his warped Scottish uncle, and dog, Haggis.

Also on the sick-and-twisted side is "George Liquor American," from Spumco, the makers of "Ren & Stimpy." The toon is rated PG-13 on the ShockRave site, and you can see the latest episodes on Spumco's Web page (http://www.spumco.com). George is a red-faced good old boy who eats bacon balls and takes care of his idiot nephew. If scatological jokes and wicked humor are your bag, you'll want to follow George's adventures online.

For Marvel Comics fans, there's an animated "Blade" strip on the ShockRave site that lets you advance the story by clicking frame by frame. Just as in the hit movie, the cyber-comic includes hip, blood-sucking vampires and the arrival of our swashbuckling hero, Blade. Unfortunately, it's more of a movie preview than original strip. Marvel Zone (http://www.marvelzone.com) offers up your favorite superheroes in all-new cyber-comics, but you have to pay $3.95 per month or $29.95 per year for access. Still, there's a free preview. Also stretching the boundary between cartoon and comic strip is Star Wars' Mara Jade, (http://www.starwars.com/mara), a preview of sorts for a new comic book series from Dark Horse. The strip's frames stretch, and lighting changes as you follow the action, with the Empire's "experimental" Jedi Knight (she's not good or evil) running through a training exercise for the Emperor and Darth Vader. Darth's trademark heavy breathing and Mara's mysterious origins are nice touches.

You can reach Mark Glaser at glaze@sprintmail.com

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