The very very short version is: having a year between contests instead of six months worked to the best. The art and stories are significantly better than the majority of last year's entries.
10 Simple Rules by J.D. Robinson (sjen)
Cute story, perfect for the length. Accomplished art, a little awkward in a few places, but that might be due to being rushed. Appealing protagonist. My biggest beef is that the character designs for the protagonist and antagonist looked too similar, so I was expecting that to be part of the story. There was also no really good established background for the interior of the bank, so I was never sure where the characters were - the counter seemed to pop in and out of existence when necessary. But that wasn't really that distracting, and the characterization and humor carried over that. The splash page to start was very effective, too.
Another Jewelry Box by Jas Carpenter
I really have very little idea what's going on in this story. The art is mostly fine, but the story's jumpy and underwritten. I don't get a really clear idea of the characters, and there's some panel angles that seemed to be chosen almost arbitrarily and worked against the story - page 4 has two of them, with a panel that cuts off everything but the protagonist's hand on his phone and, inexplicably, his knee. And the knee is right up against his shoulder in the next panel, which makes it look like a misprint of the shoulder. That panel really should have been a closeup on the phone, I think. The last panel on that page then goes into an upside-down overhead shot of the man's crouching figure, which makes the panel look like he's having some sort of horrible emotional crisis, instead of a hesitant phone call.
Bomango by Robert Ten Pas
I love this one. I have nothing to say against it - the characters are quirky and engaging, the story's simple and complete, and the art is great. It's more of an American indie-comics/animation-influenced style than a manga style. (Rather like the sort of thing Tokyopop goes for in their OEL manga. I would be very surprised if Ten Pas didn't have a contract with Tpop within a few months.)
Charlatan by Jamie Kearney & Erin Kearney
Hm. The story isn't very involving; I don't find myself interested in any of the characters. The art is so-so (although it's better than a whole bunch of last year's), and a bit stiff. The characters don't show too many emtions - appropriate in some cases, shall we say without giving too much away, but not in others. There's a few perspective problems as well. The characters and story aren't enough to make me overlook the problems in the art.
The Chronicles of the Big Feet by Nichol Ashworth
Appealing artwork. The font, OTOH, is driving me crazy. Serif fonts Just Don't Work in comics, especially when using lowercase letters. ARG. The story is overall OK, but is ... missing something. I think maybe a lack of distinguishing between the characters? Hrm. hard to say.
Dear Jack by Theresa Zysk (reapersun on DeviantArt) and Elizabeth Zysk
I'd found out through her DA journal before reading it that she didn't ink it, so I was expecting it, but I'm not missing the inks - the pencil is dark enough here that it works, and it suits the emotional tone of the story as well. The art is sort of shaky at first and gets stronger as it goes on. It needs a few more backgrounds - talking heads on blank panels don't work all that well; even just a bit of tone thrown in there would have livened it up a bit more, I think. The best panels are the flashback with the kids in the rocketship - even though there's no serious background in them, the textures and shades in them liven them up. I know it seems to have been done as a deliberate contrast to the lighter, airier present-day pages, but the present-day pages don't really carry it off well enough to work. There's also some perspective problems with the cups and the table, and the lettering was obviously rushed. As far as the story goes - I don't think it's the strongest story in the bunch, but it's not shabby, and it fits well within the space, not needing to be padded out or crammed in.
Departure by Eden Benton
Excellent starting page - man those are some good boots. XD (telophase has a thing for boots.) This is another good one - small story, focuses on one character. And ... this is the way to draw and tone backgrounds. Unusually, Benton's backgrounds are better than her characters, but not by much - the characters are pretty solid. She's got perspective nailed, and knows how to lay a page out. This is another I predict will have a Tpop contract stat. I'm ranking this up there with Bomango - this one is far more traditional manga style, though.
Feast of Grass by Erik Brown
Not Manga. This is not a bad thing, but it's solidly American-indie-comics, and I don't see what would make this an OEL manga instead of a comic. The art is that naive (for want of a better word) kind of style that at a very quick glance looks unaccomplished, but is actually pretty solid, and is drawn that way for effect. The panelling and storytelling is pretty static, which is again not bad, but ... not manga. The toning is very good, with a good balance of lights and darks and spotted blacks. The story itself is ... quirky and cute but not something that really grabs me. And there's a bit of jumping around that keeps it from flowing.
Girl/Boy by Yasmin Saaka (mateoida)
I've been watching her post these pages under friendslock, so I've seen them developing and am not meeting them for the first time as I am with the others. :D Anyway, this is the most purely manga of the entire batch (er, so far ... I'm reading them in alphabetical order). It's pure shoujo from the character designs to the swirling hair in the wind to the layout busting panel borders all the time. And so's the story - a sweet tale of two people growing up and trying to figure out who they are and what they are to each other. The section titles needed to be a bit more obvious, although I'd have to see it in print to see if that's a problem with the low resolution of the Web versions. There's also the occasional perspective and anatomy problem, but she understands tones and how to use them to fill up the page and add texture while adding to the artwork instead of detracting from it.
Little Miss Witch Hater by Masashi Kinjo and Jamison Taylor
The art ... sweet. Wonderful. Gorgeous. There's way too much story, and it was crammed into a small space when it really needed to be 2 or 3 times as long. I'd like to see this expanded out and redone, and this is another artist who will have a contract soon, if not with Tpop, then with someone, I think. But man do I love the art.
The small, tiny, egotistical part of myself wants to know how many of the people who did these read my analyses. XD