Every year I think, “I didn’t really start reading a lot of webcomics this year”, and every year I’m surprised by how many I did start reading. This year is no exception, and includes one of the comics I’ve had the most fun catching up on from the beginning (The Bright Side), and one which I most look forward to reading new installments every day (Demon), and a whole bunch of others besides. I also recommend Alice Grove, The Specialists, and Sufficiently Remarkable.
As usual I’m just going to write a short piece for each one, and encourage you to check out the strips themselves if they sound interesting.
Entries for past years can be found here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.
- Alice and the Nightmare, by Michelle Krivanek: Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy about a woman named Alice living in a stratified society and not being comfortable with the callous attitude her peers display towards lower class citizens. Only one or two chapters have been published before it went on hiatus in August, and it’s not yet clear to me what the “nightmare” is. Might appeal to fans of Ava’s Demon or Blindsprings.
- Alice Grove, by Jeph Jacques: Known for Questionable Content, one of the most popular webcomics around, Jeph Jacques launched Alice Grove this fall. It’s a long-form science fiction piece in which an alien falls to Earth in, well, a grove tended by a woman named Alice. Alice seems to be the protector of a local town, and recently took down a visitor sporting some serious nanotech. That’s all the know so far. The strip pushes Jacques’ art skills farther than QC generally does (which I bet is part of the reason he started it) and they’re taking a little while to catch up. On the bright side it features some of his whimsical humor. Overall I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next year.
- Bird Boy, by Annie Szabla: Fantasy story about a 10-year-old boy who strays from his tribe and gets caught up in the goings-on of powerful beings who do not have the best interest of humans at heart. The story follows our hero on his mostly-solitary adventures which sometimes threaten to overwhelm him not just physically but emotionally. Szabla knocks the art out of the park, though the story is not bowling me over so far. I’m still in wait-and-see mode with this one.
- Boulet: Boulet is a french cartoonist, and he publishes here strips of greatly varying length. I discovered him because his strip “Kingdoms Lost” got spotlighted, and it’s a terrific story of a warrior and princess who get ousted from their universe and have different outlooks on going back. More cynically there’s “Jurassic Park: Realistic Version”. A new Boulet page usually requires a little time commitment to read, and not every strip grabs me, but it’s good stuff overall.
- The Bright Side, by Amber Francis: I devoured the extensive archives of this strip in less than a week – it’s really, really good. Emily is a girl who saw the personification of Death when her mother died when she was young. She met him again as a high schooler, and they became friends. He’s immortal and can travel through time (he kinda has to in order to do his job of reaping everyone who dies), but he’s a nice guy despite his unique vantage point, even a bit naive since he hasn’t had the human life experience himself. The strip is mostly about them discussing the nature of life and existence, which might sound tedious but once the strip found its legs it actually stays quite interesting. Also thoughtful, touching, and funny.
Time is slowly passing in the strip (maybe a year or two since it started?), so there is gradual progress. For example, Em recently learned the truth about her father, and has gone to visit him and his family. I don’t know whether Francis has an ultimate direction or goal for the strip (there have been a few hints that she does, but they’re ambiguous enough that it needn’t play out that way). I kind of hope she does, but it doesn’t need to come any time soon.
The art starts out rough and gradually tightens up, though the style stays sketchy. It’s very expressive, though, which is necessary since there are a lot of subtle things that happen along the way, so the range of facial expressions is invaluable.
Highly recommended. Honestly given its extensive archive I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before this year.
- Cardboard Crack, by Magic Addict: Gag-a-day strips for people who play Magic: The Gathering, and probably of limited interest to anyone else. The art is very simplistic, somewhere south of xkcd quality, but the artist clearly understands Magic gamers and their foibles.
- Demon, by Jason Shiga: Shiga is an independent comics artist who’s been around a while, but I discovered him through this strip (and then promptly bought most of his catalog at APE this fall). The protagonist, Jimmy, attempts suicide in a strip motel in the first chapter – and wakes up back in the same room. He repeats this several times before he learns what’s going on – and then things get really weird. The reveal at the end of the first chapter is awesome, and the story has had several twists and turns since then, and continues to get more involved and tense. Shiga also brings his trademark cool, analytical approach to explaining how things work in the story. Shiga’s art has a distinct, recognizable style, although his geometric-shape figures sometimes feel a little stiff, but they never really get in the way of telling the story. Demon pages go up 5 days a week and they’re usually one of my first reads each day.
- Dicebox, by Jenn Manley Lee: A high-profile science fiction webcomic following the exploits of Molly and Griffen, friends and lovers travelling around known space and working various odd jobs. It’s strongly character-driven, mainly around Griffen’s idiosyncrasies and complicated back story. The art is complex and gorgeous, but I often feel like the story is not really for me: It feels like it’s a lot of running around and talking, but that the story is largely in the background and is progressing very slowly. I also feel that, despite all the talking, the characters are not very strong – Griffen is really the only one who seems distinct. There are some dryly entertaining moments, but it’s not one of my favorites.
- Dorkly, by Andrew Bridgman and others: Geek humor, broadly told and hilariously illustrated. Dorkly is a geek clickbait site, but the comics are amusing.
- Fowl Language Comics, by Brian Gordon: One- and two-panel observations of the world, full of sarcasm and smartassery. Be sure to read the bonus panel for each strip.
- The Fox Sister, by Christina & Jayd Aït-Kaci: A modern urban fantasy story taking place in South Korea (well, actually it takes place in the 1960s, but that’s “modern” by fantasy standards). Yun Hee is a young woman whose older sister died years earlier. Alex, a visiting American, gets interested in her, and gets caught in a struggle involving an evil spirit and possession. Things moved right along for a while, but updates have been infrequent lately, making it harder to follow. It’s worth reading through the archives, though.
- Happle Tea, by Scott Maynard: Gag-a-day strip focusing on making fun of (mainly) religion, though also pop culture and the supernatural. Oddly most of the jokes involve defunct religions (e.g., Greek or Norse mythology), which I think is less satisfying than skewering contemporary religion. It doesn’t really have an ongoing narrative so you can jump in anywhere. Good art, though the jokes are usually verbal rather than visual.
- LeveL, by Nate Swinehart: This one baffles me a bit. Science fiction in a multi-sectored metropolis, in which a young man named Cael was involved in some sort of disaster, and lives under house arrest for three years thereafter. We also see what happens when a sector gets closed down. But it feels like this is all the very early stages of a much longer story, and it’s not at all clear where it’s going.
- Lovecraft is Missing, by Larry Latham: A long-form horror strip which has been running for several years: In the 1920s, the writer H.P. Lovecraft disappears, and some friends and acquaintances investigate what happened, naturally finding that many things he wrote about are real. The story plods at times (much like Lovecraft’s own work), but it’s pretty good. The real downside is that writer/artist Latham was diagnosed with cancer, had to stop drawing, hired a new artist – and then passed away this fall. So it’s not clear whether the strip will get finished.
- M.F.K., by Nilah: Abbie, a teen girl carrying her mother’s ashes, ends up in a desert village. She also reveals herself to be a telekinetic – unregistered – when a band other other such folks wanders in to terrorize the town. There’s some good stuff here – the art, for instance, and the showdown between Abbie and the others – though the story is on the slow side. No, I haven’t yet figured out what “M.F.K.” stands for.
- Monster Soup, by Julie Devin: I can’t really summarize it better than the artist does on the site: “A zombie, witch, ghost, werewolf, and a vampire are sentenced to live in a castle. Unbeknownst to them, they all share the same incompetent lawyer and judge who seemed intent on sending them to the same castle.” The five convicts don’t always get along very well, and the castle has secrets which are dangerous even to them. Art is decent, seems influenced by a mix of manga and video games, neither of which has any special appeal to me. It’s been on hiatus since September.
- Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos: A fantasy western in which shadowy bounty hunter, Vane Black, chases an unscrupulous rogue, John Henry Hunter, through a variety of small towns, the pair wreaking havoc along the way. Neither of the characters is particularly admirable or relatable, and the stories are little more than a series of set-pieces or mayhem and escapades. The art is very good, but after 7 chapters it feels like there’s not really a lot to bite into here.
- Opportunities, by ML Snook & Katie DeGelder: This is a comic I feel I should like a lot more than I do, inasmuch as it’s pretty serious SF stuff involving aliens and humans interacting in the present day in a single spaceport, where a murder occurs. The art is not very sophisticated, but it’s good enough, especially in rendering the backdrop of the grand hotel where events take place. But the cast is sizable, not especially developed, and the story seems to mainly just be characters running around with few notable developments. So I’ve found it hard to get invested in what’s going on, though of course it’s always possible that I haven’t paid close enough attention.
- Scandinavia and the World, by Humon: Humorous strip featuring personifications of various nations (the Scandinavian ones, of course, and some others) and the way they view each others’ peculiarities. The art is on the adorable side, which is a funny contrast to some of the subject matter.
- Sfeer Theory, by Alex Singer & Jayd Aït-Kaci: Fantasy-adventure in a world resembling, perhaps, 18th or early 19th century Europe in which those who master Sfeer Theory can control physical objects. Valentino is a young man with an unusual mastery of these skills, but who has low social status. Also, his kingdom of Warassa is wrapping up a war with a neighbor. Lots of interesting stuff here, but seems to update irregularly. Also, it doesn’t have an RSS feed, which makes it very difficult to keep up with.
- The Specialists, by Al Fukalek & Shawn Gustafson: It’s World War II and the Nazis have developed superhumans. The Americans are trying to do the same, but it’s not going very well. The Specialists are the team of superhumans they have so far, and most of the government regards them as something of a joke. The premise is similar to Kieron Gillen’s comic book Über, but it’s less grim and desperate, with a little more humor. Fukalek’s art is a bit on the rough side, but it gets stronger as the story goes along. The story took a while to get going, but it’s paying off: The team is currently in the midst of their first battlefield test, which has brought several things to a head. Overall a strong strip.
- Spindrift, by Elsa Kroese & Charlotte E. English: High fantasy with different species (some with wings, some with horns), class warfare, cross-species children, family responsibilities, and cultural burdens. Not exactly my sort of thing, and my interest has flagged since updates fell to once every three weeks. The art is attractive, though.
- Stonebreaker, by Peter Wartman: I bought Wartman’s graphic novel Over the Wall some months ago (it’s also available online here), and Stonebreaker is billed as a sequel to it. A girl enters an ancient abandoned city searching for her brother and encounters the demons that live there. It’s still spinning up, it feels like. Nice black-and-white art, especially the details in the background.
- Sufficiently Remarkable, by Maki Naro: Here’s a comic I enjoy more than I expected to: A couple of roommates, Riti and Meg, working through life in New York. Riti is a dreamer who’s constantly bogged down in the mundanity of every-day life, while Meg is a free spirit with little sense of responsibility. The writing could be tightened up a bit as sometimes the story feels a bit aimless, but some of the escapades are funny. The art reminds me a bit of that from Lilo and Stitch.
- Supercakes, by Kat Layh: A series of vignettes about a pair of superhero girlfriends. Updates irregularly (last update was in August), but some fun character bits: A quiet morning, meeting family at the holidays, and a winter adventure against ice giants. Really strong artwork. Looking forward to more, when it arrives.
- Trekker, by Ron Randall: Trekker was published as a series of comics back in the 80s, and a new chapter was printed recently in Dark Horse Presents. Ron Randall has all of that material available to read here, along with new chapters. Mercy St. Clair is a “Trekker”, essentially a bounty hunter working on future Earth to capture criminals the law can’t keep up with. Though she looks younger, there’s a developing thread of her being older and her body starting to break down on her, though she’s still one of the best in the business. More adventure than hard science fiction or noir, it’s a fun read for fans of that genre. Randall is also a terrific artist so the pages look great, and while Mercy is an attractive woman, there’s not a lot of cheesecake in the strip.
- Unearth, by Mathew Van Dinter: Boy, I am not sure what to make of this strip. Steampunk fantasy in which – eventually – the characters will be burrowing into the Earth, I think, but so far it’s been an extensive set-up largely involving comedies of manners (especially poor manners). The artwork is very quirky, the poses having a weird mix of stiff and expressive. It seems like it has a lot of promise, but it’s taking a long time to get to it.
- Utopia City, by Ron Gravelle: Aeons ago, space gods fought among themselves and eventually called a truce. Today, they empower proxies to fight their battles for them, but in Utopia City one man is working to defeat their minions and ultimately stop the gods themselves. A Kirby-esque pulp superhero yarn told in realistic black-and-white illustrations, it’s loud, hard-hitting, and not at all subtle, it frankly feels decidedly retro in the modern day. The art is good, if somewhat lacking in dynamism. The story hasn’t really grabbed me yet, as it’s light on characterization.
- Witchy, by Ariel Ries: A fantasy ina kingdom of witches where the strength of your magic is determined by the length of your hair – but if it’s too long, you’re judged an enemy of the state are executed. Our heroine Nyneve had her father killed in that way when she was small, and now a teenager she hides the length of her hair to save herself from the same fate. But the day of being tested for entry into the Witch Guard is coming. The story is still in its prologue, building to its first major dramatic turning point, but it’s pretty good so far. The art is on the simple side – not many backgrounds, for instance – but it has some interesting character designs.
If there’s a common thread I notice when putting together these entries, it’s that long-form dramatic webcomics which don’t update regularly are hard to follow and hard to remember. This is compounded if the story doesn’t have memorable characters (either visually or in personality). Hell, it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s going on in Girl Genius, and it updates three times a week like clockwork. There are a lot of strips like that fighting to distinguish themselves from others, and it’s gotta be hard on the artist if they’ve been toiling away for a year or two and haven’t broken out.
Sometimes I wonder if some strips are too ambitious, so that a year or more of strips still feels like the story is in the prologue. Contrast with ongoing humor strips which often start with a small cast and build them out over time. I wonder whether dramatic strips might do better to take the same approach, especially if they update infrequently.
Still, it’s easy to say all that when you’re not doing your own strip, eh?
It felt like this was going to be a skimpy entry this year, until I actually sat down and drew up the list of webcomics I started reading since last year, and there are quite a few of them! Some of them are brand new and I still don’t have a feel for them, while others already feel like I’ve been reading them forever. Lots of variety in the webcomicsphere these days!
You can find my past entries here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.
For the tl;dr folk, the strips I would recommend from this batch are Connie to the Wonnie, My So-Called Secret Identity, Namesake, Nimona and Ultrasylvania. Some brand-new strips that I’m looking forward to are AHTspace, Maralinga and Rock and Tin.
- AHTSpace, by Paige Halsey Warren: “Rampaige” was the creator of Busty Girl Comics (which ended its run a year ago), and this year she launched AHTspace, about an assortment of twenty something artists sharing studio space. Drama! Crushes! Humor! The first loose arc of the strip is just about done, in which the characters get gathered and we learn a little about them, but where it goes from here anyone knows. The art is more polished than in BGC (to be fair, I think Warren always felt the earlier strip was just sketches, not finished work), and it’s a promising start.
- Anything About Nothing, by Kelly Angel: Gag-a-day humor, sometime off-color, art is decent, no continuity. If you enjoy strips like Internet Webcomic (see below) and Savage Chickens then you’ll probably like this. For me, it hasn’t yet distinguished itself from the competition, and it revels a little too much in its irreverence. (I have the same problem with Cyanide and Happiness.)
- Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski: In the future, a girl named Ava is haunted by a malicious apparition only she can see, but which sometimes forces her to do wicked things. No, it’s not split personality, there’s something really going on here. Digitally illustrated in panels of the same size (you only view on at a time), this is a long-form science fantasy yarn which is already pretty far in, but clearly still has a long way to go. The art style is not quite to my taste (sort of like Dresden Codak with more manga influence and less polish), but it’s growing on me.
- Blindsprings, by Kadi Fedoruk: A fantasy yarn about a girl who lives in the forest and refuses to go when a boy tries to take her away. It’s just starting up and there are ominous rumblings about why exactly the girl lives there. The art seems to have influences of manga, Disney, and celtic stylings – perhaps a little too cartoony for my tastes in a serious strip. Otherwise, I’m sticking with it to see how it develops.
- Cat and Girl, by Dorothy Gambrell: A friend of mine introduced me to this strip by asking me about the strip “The Unreliable Narrator”, which I found very clever. Unfortunately I haven’t really been able to connect to the strip otherwise; it’s very metatextual, and not particularly funny. Maybe I’m just not interested in spending that much think-time per strip to enjoy each one of them, but I have tried and it generally hasn’t been my thing.
- Completely Serious Comics, by Jesse: Simply-drawn gag-a-day strip, sometimes leaning towards being profound or shocking rather than funny. I think “Ghosts” was the first strip I read, and it’s one of the better ones. Otherwise I’m lukewarm towards the strip as a whole.
- Connie to the Wonnie, by Connie Sun: Another one for the slice-of-life/gag-a-day bucket, but this (semi?-)autobiographical strip about its Asian-American creator is charming and one of my favorite finds of the year. Mainly, because it’s got heart.
- The Firelight Isle, by Paul Duffield: Duffield illustrated FreakAngels from Warren Ellis’ scripts, and he’s a superb artist. This new strip is all his own work; it’s just begun and appears to update only every few weeks. I believe it’s going to be a YA coming-of-age story in a fantasy world without any actual fantastical elements, and honestly I have a hard time warming to such settings (it’s why I’ve basically stopped reading the Game of Thrones series after the second volume – not enough fantastical content). So I’m reading it solely on the strength of Duffield’s past work, but so far without much enthusiasm. If I drop it, I think it’ll be just because it’s not my cup of tea, because it looks beautiful.
- Hinges, by Meredith McClaren: An ambitious strip about a young woman named Orio who wakes up in a city named Cobble, in which everyone appears to be artificial. She bonds with an “odd” (apparently an imp or animal attached to a person) named Bauble, which leads to some degree of trouble. The strip was immediately intriguing on first reading, but I feel like the story is both a bit slow and a bit too intricate for its own good, as I often scratch my head trying to figure out what the emotional hook is – Olio is quite a cipher so it’s hard to relate to her, but she’s unequivocally the center of the story. The art is simple but very good, but I wish it would move along a little more. I think it’s similar to Jason Brubaker’s Remind in many respects.
- Internet Webcomic, by Mary H. Tanner: A cat-oriented gag-a-day strip with an erratic update schedule, and loosely based on its creator’s day-to-day life. I like it a little better than Anything About Nothing (above), but I’m not bowled over. Seems to update erratically.
- Love Me Nice, by Amanda Lafrenais: Soap opera strip about humans and cartoon animals living in the same world, not unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with stronger themes of relationships and sexual undertones. Very well drawn (and gets better as it goes along), but the story is a bit meandering. Updates irregularly, as it’s a labor of love and the artist has other work that pays the bills.
- Maralinga, by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate: I think this strip is going to be the winner for strips I discover this year that drive me crazy, because I suspect it’s going to update very infrequently (“We’ll be updating Maralinga with one 10 page chapter every three months”). But the first chapter, which is all that’s up right now, is killer: A girl in the year 2256 is living in the ruins of Melbourne in the ruins of civilization. The artwork looks gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories anyway (c.f. Derelict, which is one of my favorites). The update schedule is gonna hurt, though; one page a week would be preferable.
- My So-Called Secret Identity, by Will Brooker, Suze Shore & Sarah Zaidan: A superhero comic about an ordinary woman, Cat Daniels, who decides to become a superhero. The daughter of a cop, Cat is smart and sees how things fit together, and she smells something not right among the (with-real-powers) superheroes of her city, and becomes a hero herself to try to figure out what it is. The art is in a realistic style emphasizing the real world (background! clothing!), though not too different from a superhero comic style – in a sense, it looks like a golden age DC comic if those artists had more solid fundamentals. Unfortunately it updates erratically, which can make it hard to get into after a hiatus.
- Namesake, by Isabelle Melançon & Megan Lavey-Heaton: An epic strip about “namesakes”, people who learn they can travel to fantasy worlds, in particular a young woman named Emma who ends up in Oz as “the newest Dorothy”, but her strong sense of self throws things off a bit since she refuses to fill a specific role. The story is somewhat meandering (there are intrigues in Oz involving some of the principals and their children, digressions into other lands – notably Wonderland – and some larger machinations involving the namesakes and people who want to control or use them), but at times it’s quite good (the sequence where Emma visits a shrine to previous Dorothies is chilling). The art is good, although I find many of the characters’ faces look very similar which can make it hard to follow. I think the strip would be better served with more structure and working through its subplots as a series of stories that come to a close, since keeping everything moving on simultaneously makes it even harder to follow what’s going on.
- Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson: Possibly the best strip I discovered this year, it’s about Ballister Blackheart, a “super villain” (in a world of high fantasy, albeit with some high tech mixed in) trying to demonstrate that the establishment is actually the corrupt side of his conflict. He’s tilting at windmills until a girl named Nimona hooks up with him; as a shapeshifter she can accomplish a lot, and she has ideas and motivation which Blackheart seems to have run out of. But of course it’s not all as easy as it seems. Snappy and wry writing, and an interesting style. Nimona is I believe nearing the end of its run, so this is a good time to check it out.
- Perils on Planet X, by Christopher Mills & Gene Gonzales: An adventure strip with a strong Flash Gordon feel, right down to the hero ending up on an alien planet and hooking up with a beautiful space-babe. Honestly it could just be Flash Gordon updated for modern audiences, which makes it enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t go much beyond that, which makes me wonder: Why bother? Gorgeous art, though.
- Plume, by K. Lynn Smith: Western frontier adventure featuring a young woman being protected by a ghost as she seeks her fortune and to avenge her father. The line work is simple but conveys a lot though the characters’ expressions; not as strong on the backgrounds. The story is intriguing but something about it feels slightly off, perhaps because the characters don’t quite feel real to me. It feels like the story is still just getting underway, though, and if so then there’s plenty of time for it to grow.
- Rock and Tin, by Tom Dell’Aringa: Known for the long-form strip Marooned (which recently completed and the collection of which I’m reading, as I missed it during its serialization), this is his new strip. It’s really just getting going, and it so far involves a robot and a bird wandering across a landscape until they come across… something. Dell’aringa has a simple but attractive art style, and a whimsical writing approach (which reminds me just a bit of Wesslingsaung). So far so good, and hopefully to only get better.
- Ultrasylvania, by Jeremy Saliba, Brian Schirmer & a cast of artists: Illustrated by a variety of artists from the Academy of Art University, this concerns an alternate history of Europe in which Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy emerge in the 19th century and become major world leaders. The first volume completed a while back and sets the stage among the three principals, while the second volume is in progress and is taking place in the present day – and some dramatic differences there are after 150 years of influence by immortal supernatural beings. The art ranges from good to iffy, though one could just as easily say the iffy work is just not to my taste. But overall it’s an entertaining and enjoyable story. I’m not sure how long it’s going to run, but it could go for quite a while.
- You’re All Just Jealous of my Jetpack, by Tom Gauld: Gauld does strips for the Guardian newspaper, and they’re simple line drawings with nonsensical stylings reminiscent of Edward Gorey. I happen to like that sort of thing, but it might not be for everyone.
- Zen Pencils, by Gavin Aung Than: Cartoons illustrating inspirational quotes, often trying them into a story told through the art and illuminated by the quote. Than has a clean, simply style, but more expressive than (say) Tom Gauld. The quality can be erratic, depending on whether you can connect to the quote, or you feel the story matches the quote. For my money, his best strip is this Roger Ebert one.
Just in time to beat the end of the calendar year, it’s time for my annual round-up of webcomics I’ve started reading in the past year. As usual, I cover both strips I liked and strips I that didn’t work for me, and quite a few in between. If you’re just interested in the good stuff, I’d most recommend Derelict, False Positive, Guilded Age, Widdershins, and Carpe Chaos.
You can find my past entries here: 2009, 2010, 2011.
Let’s get to it:
- The Adventures of the 19XX, by Paul Roman Martinez: I discovered this strip through its Kickstarter, and backed it because I find buying the physical collections is a great way to catch up on a long-running Webcomic (more convenient than clicking through a couple hundred web pages). The second volume is wrapping up on the web now. The premise is that of a group of adventurers in the early 1930s who are crossing the world looking for mystical artifacts which could change the future, perhaps by preventing the second World War that’s coming. They’re opposed in this by a secret cabal who want these artifacts for their own purposes (usually to rule the world). The story features a lot of period settings and technology, so it has an Indiana Jones feel to it.
That said, I’m lukewarm towards the strip. The storytelling is pretty flat, and the dialog often feels stiff. The characters – and there are a lot of them – are pretty simple and their motivations are not very strong. Since the strip has a strong pulp feel all of this is in keeping with that, but there are a lot of pulpy stories around today which have more modern sensibilities underlying that pulp feel, and this one doesn’t measure up. The art is pretty good, but again often feels stiff, carefully laid out but not very fluid.
Overall if adventures in this time period are your thing, then you’ll probably enjoy this. But if not, then it probably won’t be.
- Balazo, by Bachan: Bachan is the artist for Power Nap, and he’s quite good. Balazo is the English-language site of this Mexican illustrator’s work, and I’d characterize it as “lightweight, but entertaining”. It involves anthropomorphic characters, and focuses on the adventures of an outside-the-boundaries cop. In that way it somewhat resembles the print comics Grandville or Blacksad, but it’s not as hard-hitting or meaningful as either.
- Boston Metaphysical Society, by Madeleine Holly-Rosing & Emily Hu: I came across this at APE and decided to check it out. It looks like it’s being published as a webcomic with the intent of ultimately publishing it as a comic book mini-series. It’s a steampunk adventure about a group working to contain psychic forces which have been unleashed on the world, in the structure of a young woman trying to persuade an experienced male agent to let her accompany him. Various historical figures show up, too.
In the large, it resembles The 19XX, down to similar flaws in both writing and art. It’s okay, but feels very rough. (The site also feels like it was assembled around the turn of the millennium and is awkward to follow from the RSS feed.)
- Carpe Chaos, by Eric Carter, Jason Bane, Anthony Cournoyer, Daniel Allen and others: I picked up a collection of this science fiction webcomic at APE last year, but it took me a while to catch up on the full site. This is a “soft” SF story, in that it’s more space opera then crunchy science; it focuses on the interactions of several alien races (which all look extremely alien), exploring themes of tolerance, understanding, difference, prejudice, and the like, highlighted by the different outlooks of each of the species. It’s very well done, and the individual stories are generally excellent. The creators clearly have a large universe they’re working in, but it’s often not at all apparent to the reader at which point on the timeline a story occurs, which makes some of the stories a little confusing. Other than that my biggest complaint is that it updates infrequently, but it’s well worth reading. All-digital art by multiple artists is quite good, too.
- Cat vs. Human, by Yasmine Surovec: Gag-a-day comics about the author and her feline obsession. Funny if you love cats, probably not if you don’t.
- Cyanide and Happiness, by various: Another gag-a-day strip by multiple people, all working in a common almost-stick figure style. Highly cynical and irreverent, often being deliberate obscene, occasionally with punchlines that seem like non-sequiturs. I guess this is one of the more popular webcomics, but I think it’s merely okay. If you can’t tolerate gratuitous obscenity and nastiness in a strip, then avoid.
- Derelict, by Ben Fleuter: After going a while without finding a new webcomic I really adored, Derelict was a revelation: Fantastic artwork, fine world-building, and a gripping story. The heroine is a young woman in a future after the world has been flooded, operating her own salvage ship and trying to stay alive in a changed world where no one can be counted on to be friendly (and which is also populated with some strange things). The details in the art are stunning at times, and the atmosphere of loneliness punctuated by occasional hope is powerful. The biggest downsides are that the heroine’s face sometimes looks awkward (although she’s very expressive), and the erratic update schedule. Despite these, I still recommend it highly.
- False Positive, by Mike Walton: An anthology comic written and mostly drawn by Walton, each story lasts a few weeks and is frequently in the horror vein. If you enjoy The Twilight Zone then you’ll probably enjoy this, although the illustrations are sometimes quite graphic. Walton’s art is outstanding, and his coloring – which uses a distinct limited palette for each story – compliments the art very well. “Season two” just started, but read through season one – you won’t be disappointed.
- Guilded Age, by T. Campbell, Phil Kahn, Erica Henderson & John Waltrip: I had tried to read this once before and got bogged down, I don’t know why. When I tried again this year, I was hooked. From the start it’s an entertaining medieval fantasy strip (I guess it’s based around World of Warcraft), though it takes a few chapters to get going as initially it’s a series of vignettes mixing adventure and comedy, focusing on a band of five heroes. The strip features a number of anachronisms, especially in turns of phrase and the attitudes of the characters, which seem to be there to add some color and relatability for the reader.
The strip really comes together in chapter 8, which reveals a number of previously-unrevealed things about the world, and providing a larger structure for the story which makes you really feel for our heroes. There are strong indications of what’s really going on, but it’s taking a while to get there (not that the journey isn’t enjoyable on its own).
Read this one from the beginning; there are several hundred pages to catch up on, but it’s worth it. Just be a little forgiving of the first few chapters, until the story finds its feet.
- The Hero Business, by Bill Walko: A superhero strip in which the heroes have a publicity company, it’s been around for a while but I just started reading it recently. It’s written like a soap opera, drawing comparisons in my mind to Love and Capes. L&C is to my mind the better of the two, having a stronger character focus and, well, generally better gags. Walko’s art is quite stylized, with the characters all looking like teenagers to my eye. Overall it’s a cheerful strip – kind of an homage to 60s and 70s superhero comics – which hasn’t won me over yet.
- Incidental Comics, by Grant Snider: This came to my attention via his oft-reblogged comic “Pig Latin”, his site is a series of understated, philosophical jokes which should appeal to fans of xkcd or certain New Yorker cartoonists. A recent favorite of mine is “Story Structures”. His art is somewhat minimalist, but still eye-pleasing.
- Rich Morris: An artist who did an epic Doctor Who comic titled “The Ten Doctors”, and who does various other strips on this site. These are strips he does for fun in his spare time, so the art is often sketchy, but he’s obviously quite skilled (I think he’s a commercial artist by profession), and TTD is very good. He hasn’t updated much since I started following him, but check out his archives.
- Nerf Now!!, by Josué Pereira: I have to say this is one of those strips that I just don’t get, at all. I think it’s a somewhat meta strip based around video games? It seems to involve a curvaceous woman and her friend who is a tentacle (?), in a series of gags without a running storyline. It’s drawn in a simple manga-esque style, but I just don’t get it.
- The Oatmeal, by Matthew Inman: Another irreverent gag strip, whose creator got a lot of attention recently for thumbing his nose at a lawyer who pressured him. That incident aside, the comic is generally funny, though probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Inman’s exuberance comes through in every panel, including in his ode to Nikola Tesla, giving it a rather different attitude than the usual wry humor of many gag-a-day strips, and one that feels more genuine than, say, Cyanide and Happiness, which often seems nasty just to be nasty. The Oatmeal is surely not for everyone, but I like it.
- The People That Melt in the Rain, by Carolyn Watson Dubisch and Mike Dubisch: A creepy comic about a mother and her daughter who move to a new town and promptly get rained on by frogs, and then learn that actual rain burns the people who live there. The comic follows the daughter, Laura, learning about the curse that hangs over the town, and the various effects it has on its inhabitants and visitors. The strip went on an extended hiatus, and when it came back the art seemed sketchier and murkier than before, and the story feels like it’s meandering around rather than making progress. It’s okay – you might find it easier to follow than I have.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner: SMBC is a popular gag-a-day strip with no recurring characters and strips that run from a single panel to ten or twelve. Subject matter is typically irreverent and sometimes over-the-top, with a regular theme of taking ideas to their logical and ridiculous extreme. Despite this, the strip doesn’t really grab me: It’s not as clever as xkcd, not as profane as Cyanide and Happiness, and the art is simple bordering on sketchy. I know lots of people who are fans, but it doesn’t do a lot for me.
- Shortpacked!, by David Wallis: I’ve actually already stopped reading this one. It’s a slice-of-life strip centered around employees of a toy store, with hijinks that regularly ensue, but it just didn’t grab me: I found it hard to tell the characters apart and the gags didn’t really work for me. The art is okay, on the simple side. Overall I think Comic Critics covers similar territory more effectively (though to be fair I find a comic shop a lot more interesting than a toy store). On the flip side, All New Issues also takes place around a comic book store, and I like it only a little more than Shortpacked!
- Wesslingsaung, by Eric Cochrane: This has to be the most exotic comic I’ve found this year, as most of the characters are nothuman. The title character is, well, I think he’s an adventurer who travels his world – occasionally traveling through time – with a centipede-like partner named Gossip. Wesslingsaung is looking for humans, and eventually finds one, and then his adventures really begin.
It’s a strangely compelling strip, although its dreamlike quality and loose plot has made it hard for me to follow, and the characters’ motivations are still murky to me. It feels like it could be a much better strip with some additional clarity. On the other hand, the inventiveness is appealing, and though Cochrane’s art is fairly simple, it’s equal to the story in inventiveness. So I’m sticking with it to see where it’s going.
- Widdershins, by Kate Ashwin: Taking place on the cusp of the Victorian age (the first story starts in 1833), Widdershins is a town in an England where magic is real. There have been two complete – but separate – stories so far. The first features artefact hunter Harry Barber and down-on-his-luck young wizard Sidney Malik forced to work together to recover a valuable treasure. The second involves a pair of wanderers who get caught up in an evil plot involving mystical spirits. The third story started recently and returns to Barber and Malik for their next adventure That’s putting it all very simply, but both adventures involve colorful characters and incredible plots, and it’s quite a fun ride. Ashwin’s art is on the cartoony side, but detailed enough, and it fits the fairly lighthearted tone of the strip. Refreshingly, it’s not really steampunk because all the fantastic elements are magic, not science.
It also had a Kickstarter recently.
- The Wormworld Saga, by Daniel Lieske: This is not your typical webcomic. For one thing, each chapter is published in its entirety when Lieske finishes it, with several months between each (there are four chapters currently up, the last having been published in August). For another, each chapter is a single vertical “page” with panels arranged within it, and you scroll down continuously to read it. This gives it a look like no other webcomic I’ve seen, and the fact that Lieske’s full-color art is gorgeous helps too.
As for the story, it’s about a boy in our world in 1977 who discovers a portal in his grandparents’ house to another world, a fantasy world in which he is apparently destined to be a major participant. It has themes of childhood imagination and wonder, but also alienation and being thrown into adult concerns while still a child. But while lavishly envisioned and illustrated, the story is (so far) not much more than that; I enjoyed reading it more for the art than because I really wanted to know what happens next. I’m also somewhat suspicious of any story with the world “saga” in the title, as it always strikes me as being a little pretentious (or at least non-descriptive). But if youthful fantasy if what you like, then you’ll probably love this.
By far the entry on this site with the most hits is the one about Calvin & Hobbes‘ last strip. It also gets a lot of comments like “That’s not the real last strip!” from people people who surf in there and just read the title and the strip in the entry without reading any of the actual entry. Sigh. Internet nitwits, what can you do?
If you’re a fan of C&H, though, probably the closest you’ll ever get to a fix of new strips comes from a webcomic called Pants are Overrated (now apparently defunct), which did an occasional strip about Calvin all grown up, but really more about his daughter Bacon (!) who hooks up with Hobbes in much the same way Calvin did.
You can read the four strips they did here:
- 26 Years Later
- Parents are so weird
- No time to spare!
- A better game
It’s been over a year since my last webcomics round-up (you can find my first two such posts here and here), and I wanted to squeeze in a new such entry before the new year. As usual, I found a few I really liked, and there are a few that I don’t much like, but I’ve tried to give them a decent chance. Here are webcomics I’ve started reading in the past year, listed alphabetically:
- All New Issues, by Bill Ellis & Dani O’Brien: A slice-of-life gag strip set in a comic book shop, I still giggle at the clever title from time to time. Unfortunately the strip otherwise is only so-so: The art is decent, the gags are pretty routine, and I find the characters to be flat. Probably not a strip I’ll follow for much longer.
- Atomic Laundromat, by Armando Valenzuela: Another slice-of-life gag strip, this one drawn in a manga-like style and concerning a young man who runs a laundromat for superheroes and super-villains. However, I have the same problems with it that I have with All New Issues, in both art and writing. One recent arc involved the protagonist’s father, a major superhero, on trial because he has a tendency to indecently expose himself in public, which could have been amusing if it had been totally over-the-top, but just seemed creepy given the understated way it was written. Bad Guy High worked some similar territory, but was a more compelling strip, I think. Not to mention Evil, Inc.
- The Bean, by Travis Hanson: I discovered Hanson at APE in 2010, and have three of his prints framed and hanging on the wall. The Bean is his ongoing strip, a fantasy adventure about a boy having a very bad day, a goblin invasion, and the various heroes and supernatural creatures involved in it all. Very nice artwork, and the story is moving right along, albeit with a number of side trips to follow all the characters. My one lament is that I wish it was in color.
- Bucko, by Jeff Parker & Erika Moen: The title character is a down-and-outer who stumbles on a dead body and tries to solve the crime, a challenge since he ends up on the run from the police. I started reading this strip hoping for some real detective fiction with a side of whimsy, but the crime is an extremely small part of the strip, and it’s been more like a romp through some alternative subcultures (my interest in Juggalos: zero). Moen’s artwork is simple and features a lot of swoops and curves, but while it’s effective enough, the style isn’t my cup of tea. I’m just clearly not the target audience for this strip.
- Destructor, by Sean T. Collins & Matt Wiegle: Now here’s one that I am the target audience for: Destructor is a powerful armored man rampaging across a fantastic world with the goal of… something. But he seems to be assembling allies for some goal not yet revealed. Each chapter is pretty nifty: Destructor invades a city of crocodile-men, Destructor stages a prison break, Destructor frees a powerful and mysterious woman. There’s more mystery than character so far, but the mystery (and the adventure) is quite a lot of fun. Wiegle’s artwork is inventive and effective. I haven’t seen this strip getting much buzz, but it’s a good one.
- Doghouse Diaries, by Will, Ray, and Raf: Basically xckd for non-geeks: It’s got stick-figure artwork, popover second-punchlines, and a generally snarky attitude, but so it fills very much the same space. The humor leans to the crude side, but it’s still fairly funny. No, I’m not blown away, but it’s an okay gag-a-day strip.
- Dresden Codak, by Aaron Diaz: “42 Essential Third-Act Twists” is the funniest thing I read all year. I ordered a print of it. Dresden Codak is partly an ongoing strip, and partly a gag-a-day strip (well, more like a gag-every-three-weeks – it takes Diaz a while to do each strip, but the art is often gorgeous). Either way, it’s entirely geeky. The first extended arc, “Hob”, involved time travel, the singularity, alternate universes, and all that good stuff. The main character, Kim, is a scientist almost of the Girl Genius variety. She’s not a very likable character (she shares a little of her egotism and inability to relate to others with Sheldon Cooper from the TV show Big Bang Theory), but the ride is quite enjoyable.
Diaz passes time between the few major arcs with various one-off strips, and a few shorter arcs. Another good sample of the hardcore meekness of the strip is “Dungeons and Discourse” (“Abilities – Immune to metaphysics”), along with, of course, “Advanced Dungeons and Discourse”. If those don’t convince you that this is a great strip, well, then there’s no hope for you.
I think I’m dreadfully late to the party in discovering Dresden Codak, but it did mean I got to spend an afternoon laughing my ass off as I caught up. Highly recommended.
- Drive, by Dave Kellett: A science fiction humor strip, similar in that regard to Spacetrawler: The SF is serious, but the storytelling is light and funny. A tough mix to brew, yet here we have two different strips doing it well. Drive concerns a human empire built on FTL technology inherited from aliens, and controlled by a single family. A mysterious alien is discovered who can pilot one of the ships better than anyone else, but he doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from. The empire is interested in him because they’re about to go to war with the race that created the FTL drive, and they’re clearly going to lose if they can’t find an edge. An eccentric crew is given a ship to try to solve the mystery. Politics, adventure, and humor. Only drawback is that updates have been sporadic.
- d20Something, by Mitz: His wonderful supervillain strip Plan B ended earlier this year, and this is his new one. Unfortunately, it’s not as good. It features a collection of Dungeons & Dragons type 20-somethings (each with their own character class) living in modern society and dealing with various monsters who also live there. I find that none of the characters are distinctly drawn (I couldn’t really tell you anything about any of them at this point), and the plot doesn’t yet seem to be going anywhere, problems that Plan B didn’t have. I still like his art, and some of the gags are amusing, but color me disappointed by this one so far.
- Ectopiary, by Hans Rickheit: A serialized graphic novel, a girl and her mother come to live in an exotic house, with unfriendly hosts and strange things going on in the yard. The girl’s curiosity of course gets the better of her, and she’s getting caught up in whatever it is that’s happening. The story doesn’t move fast, but it’s making progress. The art is intricate and beautiful, especially the highly-detailed backgrounds. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m enjoying it. Hiatuses occur from time to time when life gets in the way of the artist.
- Family Man, by Dylan Meconis: One of the most polished webcomics out there as far as the art and web site go, Family Man takes place in 18th century Germany, and is the story of Luther Levy, a half-Jewish young man (with a nose longer than Cyrano de Bergerac‘s) who was ejected from the school where he pursued a Theology degree. He ends up as a teacher at a rural university and falls in love with the rector’s daughter. Oh, and we’re promised that there will be werewolves at some point.
Meconis’ art shifts between the slightly-cartoony and the dead-on realistic (favoring the former style for the figures, which makes the latter more striking when it’s employed). The story – now over 230 pages in – is not exactly galloping along, but it’s well-crafted and witty. At a page a week, I wonder how many long-time readers are getting over-eager for the shoe to drop.
The first chunk of the story has been collected in a high-quality paperback edition, which you can order from Meconis.
- Frankenstein Superstar, by John Hazard: The Frankenstein monster in modern times, having married and settled down. Hazard’s art is among the best out there, but the stories and jokes are not, as the humor often feels cheap if not gratuitous. There’s an ongoing mystery involving a friend of the couple which suggests something more serious in the future.
- The Gutters, by Ryan Sohmer & various artists: Ryan Sohmer, writer of Least I Could Do, has been doing this several-times-weekly graphic editorial of the comic book industry for a year and a half. Think of it as The Joy of Tech for comic book fans rather than technology enthusiasts and you get the idea, with the difference that Sohmer uses swear words and R-rated imagery a lot more. Overall I think I’ve been numbed sufficiently by the comic book blogosphere’s snark about the industry that nothing here is fall-over funny to me (and honestly sniping at DC and Marvel these days seems not only too easy, but de rigueur), but some of his observations are still pretty good. If you’ve been looking for the comics blogosphere distilled into comic strip form, then this is the strip for you.
- K and J, by Sara Park Sanford & John Sanford: The story of two sisters and their Korean mother, focusing on their growing up and the culture clash of Korean and American values. A bit wordy, but otherwise really good. While the art is on the sketchy side, it actually works quite well. Updates have been sporadic recently, but it’s worth catching up on.
- Kukuburi, by Ramón Pérez: Delivery girl Nadia finds herself shunted into a surreal alternate dimension where she joins a variety of weird creatures in a struggle against a skeletal entity. The strip is just recently back from a long hiatus, so my memory of the storyline is pretty fuzzy; my general recollection is that it was a fun ride but hard to discern who all the characters were and what their motivations were. The art is outstanding.
- Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, by Rick Burchett & Greg Rucka: Fairly new, this is a straight-up adventure strip by a couple of comic book pros (Rucka also writes novels). Wild west steampunk with a side dose of the supernatural. Too soon to know where it’s going – the characters have barely been introduced – but it’s enjoyable so far.
- Let’s Be Friends Again, by Curt Franklin & Chris Haley: Irreverent pop culture satire, sort of The Gutters crossed with Penny Arcade – there’s not much continuity, and if you’re not familiar with the subject matter then it probably won’t make any sense to you. I don’t really understand the meaning of the title, but it’s enjoyable for what it is.
- Living With Insanity, by David Herbert, Paul Salvi & Fer: I’m not sure what to make of this one. It often seems semi-autobiographical, concerning writer David Herbert’s struggles to make it in the comics (or other writing) biz, but there have been extended sequences involving zombies, aliens, and whatnot. Overall my brain has summed it up as “Whatever the writer feels like writing.” A recent arc involves one of the characters hiring a busty model to represent his super-heroine. It’s just earnest and irreverent enough to keep me reading (updates can be infrequent), even though I’m not sure what to make of it.
Artist Salvi recently left, replaced by new artist Fer, whose style I like better, although neither is a very polished artist. Still, the webcomics landscape is littered with artists who started off unpolished and grew to be quite good. I don’t know if Herbert has greater aspirations for the strip (it feels like when it grows up it could be something like Least I Could Do), but if not, it’s enjoyable enough.
- The Meek, by Der-shing Helmer: I discovered this strip at APE last year. I’m not sure how to describe it: It’s sort of a post-Renaissance, pre-industrial setting with a variety of characters at various levels of society, from thief to noble. The strip updates erratically and the story is slow, so it feels like it’s still in the prologue stage. Helmer’s art is absolutely gorgeous, though, from figures to layouts to coloring. She’s collected it into 2 comic book issues (so far), which look equally lovely. I’m hoping the direction of he overall story will soon be revealed.
- Ph.D. Comics, by Jorge Cham: Gag-a-day strip about the dangers and humors in academic life, sometimes quite clever. Probably worth following for anyone who’s serious pursued a graduate degree, and probably not meaningful to anyone who hasn’t.
- Power Nap, by Maritza Campos & Bachan: Science fiction adventure strip with a good dose of humor. In the future, drugs allow people to go without sleep – unless you’re allergic to the drugs, as our hero, Drew, is, in which case you try to sleep as little as possible so you can keep up with the competition for your job, and then you fall asleep at awkward times and/or experience strange hallucinations. Smart and funny, with very good art, and the first major twist to the story just occurred, so this is a good time to jump in and catch up.
- Rigby the Barbarian, by Lee Leslie: Woman archaeologist is suddenly transported to a barbaric world where she takes on a Conan-esque role of sword-wielding savior. Overt gender politics in this one, as you might guess, but it’s pretty clever and well-illustrated, and the fact that Rigby doesn’t take any crap from people who want to put her in her proverbial place (and she has the big sword and prophecy to back her up) makes it an entertaining ride. It’s been on hiatus for a while (looks like the archives are not currently accessible, either), but promises to be back in 2012. I’m looking forward to it.
- Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, by Dylan Horrocks: Cartoonist Sam Zabel struggles with depression, and then his characters come to life and start talking to him (or do they?), and he finds himself lost in their worlds (or does he?). Metaphysical angst, and good artwork, mimicking a variety of art styles as the story calls for it. Unfortunately another strip which goes into hiatus from time to time.
- Savage Chickens, “cartoons on sticky notes” by Doug Savage: The only strip I’ve added in the last year that updates every weekday. Gag-a-day strips which are pure irreverence with a dash of geekism. Fun.
- S.S. Myra, by “Tom Walker”: If you’re looking for a covertly pornographic science fiction strip, then you’ve found it. Newlyweds Bran and Tink are given a starship as a gift and head off on it on their honeymoon. The ship’s computer, however, has the personality of the previous owner, who was, uh, rather hedonistic. Played for broad humor – NSFW, but surprisingly not-very-raunchy and not much nudity.
Tom Walker is definitely not also known as Christopher Baldwin of Spacetrawler (he even says so); the fact that their art style is nearly identical is just one of those weird coincidences.
- Unsounded, by Ashley Cope: Serious medieval fantasy, somewhat similar to The Meek, and with similarly excellent artwork. The story focuses on Sette, the daughter of a man who I think is probably a mob boss, who’s been sent on a mission with an undead warlock, Duane Adelier. Duane is capable, focused and serious, while Sette is a capable thief, but lacks focus or seriousness, and gets out of tough scrapes more through luck than skill. She’s still a girl, and gets overwhelmed by some of what she sees along the way. The story meanders all over the place and it’s not clear where it’s going, but it’s still pretty fun, and the world is inventive. And as I said, the art is great. Hopefully the story will get better as it goes along. If you like The Meek then you’ll probably like this, and vice-versa.
I’ve stopped reading some strips I’ve previously listed: Last Call updated less and less frequently and was losing its cohesion anyway. Bad Guy High and FreakAngels both ended. And Something Positive just never grabbed me; the art was too stiff for my tastes, and the humor didn’t work for me either.
A few strips seem to be on indefinite hiatus, but if they ever come back I’ll keep reading them. These include Aardehn, Border Crossings (the artist departed), The Guns of Shadow Valley (too bad, this sort of strip really needs regular updates to work), Maya, Moon Town (supposedly returning in 2012), and Rocket Road Trip.
It’s been a little over a year, so I thought this would be a good time to follow up on my post “Webcomics I Read” with a list of some others I’ve started following since then:
- Aardehn, by Eric Vedder: A high fantasy comic involving a heroine who’s bonded to a demon, and maybe the subject of a prophecy, as well as an evil sorceress consorting with demons and an elf trying to escape her clutches. The story doesn’t set the world on fire, but Vedder’s art is gorgeous (though decidedly on the hot-babe end of the art spectrum, in case that’s not your cup of tea). Seems to be on hiatus since June.
- Bad Guy High, by TheRedDeath: A straight-up superhero parody about a young villain at a school for villains, and his best friend, SuperDan (who got his powers when he was bitten by a radioactive Superman). The parodies are (deliberately, I think) heavy-handed, but sometimes quite clever when you see where he’s going with a joke. The writing style is one of action-adventure, not gag-a-day. The art has advanced from crude to actually pretty solid superhero fare. You pretty much have to like superhero parody to enjoy this one, but within those bounds, it works well.
- Bad Machinery, by John Allison: Allison’s earlier strip Scary Go Round had been recommended to me, but it came to an end before I started reading it. Bad Machinery features a group of schoolchildren in England, and conducting investigations into the strange goings-on in their town. The strip is very English in temperament and dialogue, and the characters are all emotionally vivid, whether angry or insecure or whatever, which makes for some unique reading. Allison’s story meanders all over the place, focusing mainly on the characters’ interactions, while the individual stories move forward slowly (the second story is nearing its end right now).
I was dubious about the strip for a while, but the first story ended quite satisfactorily, with some nice surprises and a nifty denouement. I’m hoping the second story ends as strongly. Allison’s style involves crisp lines and figures with gangly arms, but he also fills in all the backgrounds and gives the strip a distinct, yet fully-realized look. While not everything in the strip is my cup of tea, it’s a good one.
- Blip, by Sage Leaves: The premise of this is that the heroine, K, was born outside of God’s plan, and so her actions – especially when she writes or draws – can shape the world in unplanned ways. She’s a “blip” in the universe. Consequently there are angels who watch her to keep her from being creative, and the forces of Lucifer who are trying to pull her in another direction. And her best friends are a witch, a robot and a vampire – although K knows none of this.
Despite the fantastic overtones (and there’s a lot of conflict among the various empowered characters), Blip is largely a slice-of-life comic, especially where K is concerned, a far more whimsical Questionable Content, overlaid with elements of Gunnerkrigg Court. The art is cartoony and energetic, especially when portraying K, who is very expressive (elated, angry, frustrated, etc.). On weekends the creator runs sketch panels which nonetheless fill out the story and sometimes move it forward, so it’s a true 7-days-a-week strip. This strip is pretty representative of the strip’s sense of humor.
Overall I’d say it’s quite good, maybe a bit light; I’d like to see the fantastic elements move forward a little faster.
- Border Crossings, by Christian Sager & Andrew Sides: A serious fantasy adventure in which a surfer girl, falls through a hole into an alternate universe, a world which is nearly all water, with a single island and city on it, where humans are unknown and elements of our world’s culture occasionally fall through to bewilder its inhabitants. She ends up as a crewmember of a nautilus-like submarine, perhaps the only outpost of freedom on the planet, and also learns to use wield some of the world’s magic.
I’m not quite sure where it’s going, and it’s hard to relate to Venetia as the nominal protagonist, but it’s entertaining. The art is good, but not quite doing justice to the designs, which are often amazing – the best element of the strip.
- The Guns of Shadow Valley, by David Wachter, James Andrew Clark & Thomas Mauer: This is the stuff! A supernatural old west adventure. Despite raving about the comic book The Sixth Gun and this one, I don’t have any particular love for westerns, these are both just really good stories. Here a sheriff puts together a posse to head into Shadow Valley, a mysterious place where weird things happen, and where a mysterious treasure is apparently there to be found and taken. Of course, the posse has a few special individuals itself, including an outlaw named Frank who can draw a gun faster than any other man – and has a few other special talents besides. On the other hand, a Colonel leading a force including some supernatural beings seems to be on the same quest.
The level of craftsmanship in this series is high: The characters and dialogue are both compelling, and Wachter’s artwork is amazing, nailing the period look as well as the supernatural elements, while drawing a bunch of characters with distinctive faces. His style reminds me of Tim Truman’s, but with more fluid layouts and figures. Excellent all around.
- Maya, by Chris Noeth: Another adventure strip, this one with a female Indiana Jones-type adventurer. I don’t have a lot to say about it, since only 13 pages have appeared, mostly early in 2010, and it seems to be on hiatus. Noeth is a good artist, not quite as good as Eric Vedder of Ardehn for my money, although this one’s in color, which I appreciate. If it can get on a regular schedule, there’s potential here, but at the moment the story’s still in its prologue, so it’s hard to judge.
- Ménage à 3, by Gisèle Lagacé: Recommended by a cow-orker of mine, this is a straight-up relationship comic with a heavy dose of farce: Introverted virgin Gary learns his roommates are gay lovers; they move out and in move the enthusiastic Zii and the busty French-Canadian Didi. Mix in heavy doses of bisexuality, misunderstandings, and a strong manga-influenced art style, and hijinks ensue on a regular basis. I find it a little disappointing that the hijinks have overshadowed the characters in the strip, as it feels like the strip has achieved a steady state of comedy-without-development (putting it more in the gag-a-day category than the slice-of-life category, I guess). But it’s often funny and the art is quite good (although, as they say in TV listings, it contains “nudity and strong sexual content”).
- Moon Town, by Steve Ogden: Straight-ahead space opera adventure involving an inspector who’s come to check out some suspicious goings-on in a mining town on the moon. The story is still in its early stages, and progress has been slow because Ogden keeps putting the strip on hiatus to deal with his real life. But if you’re willing to stick with it through that, this is a quality adventure strip, a worthy descendant of SF newspapers strips of the past. I hope he can get back on a regular schedule, because I want to read more of it.
- Possessed!, by Bryan Burke & Eryck Webb: A fairly new strip about three women who move into a haunted apartment, and make friends with the ghost living there. The story’s just getting started, but Webb’s art is already improving by leaps and bounds. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.
- Sister Claire, by Yamino (a.k.a. Elena Barbarich): Its tag line is “Pregnant nun. Holy crap.” Though that might sound like a different sort of strip, in fact this is a post-apocalyptic adventure: Sister Claire is in fact pregnant, apparently with a messiah, which is a problem not just because she’s a nun, but because the other nuns regard her as something of a screw-up. But with the forces of evil interested in capturing her, the other nuns realize they need to take care of her and help her learn to take care of herself.
My biggest criticism of the strip is that it’s slow-moving: Other than a few encounters with the forces of evil, it seems like not a lot has really happened since the strip began. It is well-drawn and amusing, but feels like it hasn’t lived up to its potential. Plan B has a similar feel but I think is a better strip. Updating can be sporadic due to the artist having (I think) repetitive stress issues. Not a favorite, but I’m sticking with it to see where it goes.
- Something Positive, by R.K. Milholland: I discovered this one through Girls With Slingshots, as the two strips cross continuity on occasion. But I just haven’t been able to get into this one. The characters are an array of smartasses (from the seemingly-innocent to the just-plain-angry variety), and the strip is very wordy, though it doesn’t often make me laugh. I have trouble telling the characters apart, and would have a hard time recapping what’s happened in the strip over the last six months: One woman escaped from apparently being held captive, the main character, Davon, is apparently trying to reform from what I infer are his past womanizing ways and settle down with one woman, and one young woman seems to have run away from home. But it’s difficult to keep straight. There are also frequent interludes in which Davon’s cat talks to the reader – I mostly blip over those.
Milholland’s art is simple and repetitive, stylistically it bears some resemblance to Jeph Jacques’ over at Questionable Content, but I think Jacques has lapped Milholland in his skills.
I’m nearing the point where I feel I’ve given Something Positive a real try and deciding that it’s just not for me, and/or I just don’t get it.
Since my earlier entry I’ve also stopped reading a few strips: Garfield Minus Garfield got too repetitive for me. Inktank stopped updating, but I’d still read it if he kept doing it (it was never as good as his earlier strip Angst Technology, though). Afterstrife came to an end, and I haven’t checked in to see if he’s doing anything new. The artist on Sweet Fat Life departed, the writer tried her hand at drawing, but stopped updating after only a few episodes.
So what else should I be reading?
I decided to drop The Incredible Hercules this week. At first it seemed like an entertaining buddy comic (albeit with decidedly unusual buddies), but it went badly wrong somewhere, too subservient to cheesy (but not actually funny) humor and pludding through its dreadfully tedious “New Olympus” storyline. The series seems to be coming to a close with a Hercules: Fall of an Avenger 2-parter, and I thumbed through it and thought the artwork was just dreadful, so that was the last nail in the coffin. (Chris Sims loves this series, but he loves a lot of stuff that doesn’t work for me. Oh, well; diff’rent strokes and all that.)
Fortunately we can still go back and enjoy Bob Layton’s two great mini series from the 80s.
- American Vampire #1, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
- The Brave and the Bold #32, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
- Booster Gold #30, by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund & Jerry Ordway (DC)
- Fables #93, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
- Green Lantern Corps #46, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
- Guardians of the Galaxy #24, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wes Craig & Serge LaPointe (Marvel)
- Nova #35, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mahmud A. Asrar & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
- Echo #20, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
- Chip #1 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Research vol 2 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
- Irredeemable #12, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
- Ghost Projekt #1 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
With dropping Hercules this week, I decided to try something new, the new Vertigo series American Vampire, especially since my local store ordered dozens of them. While the series was created by Scott Snyder (whose work I don’t think I’ve read before), presumably the hoopla is because the second story is written by Stephen King. The whole package is illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, who I’m also not familiar with.
The double-sized first issue is… merely okay. The first story features Pearl, a young woman in 1925 Hollywood working multiple jobs trying for a big break, and who gets invited to a party thrown by a famous movie producer, featuring a cliffhanger ending. The second story the arrest and transportation by rail of Skinner Sweet, a notorious robber in the old west of 1880 who stages a daring escape but ends up taking on more than he’d bargained for. From what I’ve read, both of these characters will be the vampires of the series, following their escapades throughout the landscape of 20th century America as figures grounded in their particular eras.
The stories are decent but not especially impressive, and Albuquerque’s art is pretty good although he makes extensive use of heavy lines in the inking, with a style apparently influenced by Howard Chaykin, making everything look a little too staged and not quite dynamic enough.
Overall it’s a decent package as a fairly typical vampire yarn – which seems like exactly what it’s trying not to be, unfortunately. Admittedly I am not much of a fan of horror, and have a limited interest in suspense-for-the-sake-of-suspense. (I was disappointed, for example, that Joe Hill’s Locke & Key ended up being more suspense and horror and mystery and discovery.) So arguably I’m just not part of American Vampire‘s target audience. I’ll stick around for a few issues and see if there’s more to it than meets the eye. On the other hand, if vampires and horror are exactly your thing, then this one seems pretty well crafted and worth a look.
I believe this month’s Booster Gold is Dan Jurgen’s swan song on his second turn with the character he broke into DC with. The series’ sales have fallen since Geoff Johns – who launched the current series – left, but really the quality has been about the same all along, although Jurgens is certainly a quirkier writer than Johns. The biggest disappointment is that Jurgens didn’t have a concrete storyline he was working with on his run, so it read like one little adventure (or misadventure) after another, without much tying them together. Fun, but lightweight.
On the other hand, this issue ends with a nice revelation about Booster’s future, not so much dropping hints as to what’s to come as jumping straight to the end to show us that everything will, eventually, turn out all right, even though we have no idea what challenges will have to be surmounted to get there. In its way it’s just as touching as Johns’ last issue when he gave Booster and his sister a happy ending (for the moment).
Keith Giffen is apparently taking over the writing chores, so anything could happen, as Giffen’s books range from outstanding to annoying. I’ll keep reading for a while, but I think the key will be for Giffen to stay true to the character and tone of the series that’s been set; too radical a change would just wreck what’s fun about the book.
I’ve written about the great webcomics Gunnerkrigg Court before (here and here), and I’m sure I will again. After the long delay for the first book, it’s great that Archaia has been able to come out with the second collection a little over a year later. The strip is as good today as when it started – maybe better, since creator Tom Siddell’s art is certainly much better – and he continues to inject a sense of wonder into nearly every story, as well as spooky, mysterious and sometimes outright baffling bits, and a nifty braiding of science and magic. Greg Burgas has a comprehensive review, and he likes it a lot, too.
This volume has several excellent chapters: “Red Returns” features a pair of faeries becoming students at the Court after having transitioned to being human. Antimony and Kat befriend Red and try to cheer her up, but it turns out that faeries’ means of happiness and emotional connection are nothing like what they’re used to. “S1” features the return of Robot, whom Antimony created in the first chapter of the series to take her second shadow back to Gillitie Wood, and starts to shed some light on the history of the Court which will become part of our heroines’ adventures in later chapters. “Power Station” goes back to the strange girls Zimmy and Gamma – whose nature still isn’t really clear to me – and obliquely looks at Zimmy’s nature some more, through what appears to be a flashforward (or maybe a dream sequence). Even in the bits I don’t really understand, Siddell’s storytelling is still strong and moving, so I’m inclined to think he’s either being obscure for effect, or because the mysteries will be revealed in time.
Highly recommended; Gunnerkrigg Court is one of the best webcomics out there.
What is it about secret Soviet research projects and horror comics? Must be the stark architecture and hard-assed characters who always seem to make it into such stories. And Joe Harris & Steve Rolston use it to good effect in the first issue of their series Ghost Projekt, which I only heard about because of Greg Burgas’ review. But it’s great stuff, off to a rousing start when two criminals break into an old research facility and end up infected with… something. Then a pair of Americans show up to investigate and clean up the site, before a Russian operative arrives to tell them it’s under their jurisdiction.
Even if the story plays out in a predictable manner – the Americans refuse to be told off and investigate on their own, the Russians end up with problems greater than they’d dreamed, and the criminals end up as the spearhead of something really nasty getting out – it could still be a fun series. If there are a few curveballs in there, then it could be downright terrific.
Okay, Ghost Projekt is nominally a suspense/horror comic like American Vampire is, but I liked it much more. Why? Well, the setting is more interesting, and there’s a lot more mystery and intrigue here than in AV. I don’t mind suspense and horror, but I’m not so much into stories whose raison d’etre is suspense and horror. They’re a storytelling mechanism, but not the reason I show up. In fact, Ghost Projekt has more in common with Gunnerkrigg Court with a cat who knowingly follows the characters around, and the air of mystery surrounding fundamentally likable characters. GK is a more playful comic, but Ghost Projekt has that hook of curiosity, too.
In any event, the first issue left me pretty enthusiastic; check it out.
Saturday we went up to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, mainly because I wanted to see their Monsters of Webcomics exhibition before it departs later this month.
If you’ve never been to the Cartoon Art Museum, it’s definitely worth a trip. Admission is reasonable (currently $6 for adults), and you get a lot for your money: The museum consists of 5 rooms, each with a different exhibit. If you’re afraid that it’s full of superhero comics art, nothing could be further from the truth: I features all sorts of sequential art, and usually there are only a few pages of superhero comics. For example, we saw a collection of concept art, color test art, and animation cels from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, many from the collection of one of the artists, Ron Dias. Another is an exhibition of an underground cartoonist from San Francisco, Spain Rodriguez. While underground comics aren’t my thing, there’s something for everyone (well, most people) here. The museum also has a bookstore in front with an eclectic selection.
The webcomics exhibit was pretty good, featuring ten webcomics, most of which I’d heard of, but only one of which (Girl Genius) I read. Though I probably should be reading Dicebox and Templar, Arizona (I’d never heard of the former, I’d come across the latter but not gotten into it). The other seven arguably have more in common with the underground comics I’m not fond of than with traditional cartoons or comic art, so I’m not sure any of them will be my thing (the art styles aren’t generally to my taste, and surrealistic stories and jokes aren’t for me). Still, it’s always good to see what’s out there.
The museum’s exhibits always feature copious notes, and this exhibit contained descriptions by the strip creators of how they got into webcomics, and how they produce their comics. The Dicebox exhibit contained a step-by-step illustration of how the creator produces a page, using both paper and digital techniques.
It’s been several years since I’d last visited the museum. I should wander by their web page more often and try to go once a year or so, because I always enjoy it. Plus, it’s an excuse to get up to the city, which us South Bay dwellers can be reluctant to do.
Interesting article at Robot 6 about webcomics that come to an end. The basic economy of webcomics – they’re freely available, and almost always free to read – means that the barrier to entry for a creator is low, but the return on investment can also be low. So many webcomics end after a few strips, and many more end – deliberately or through neglect – some time later:
“Over 15,000 webcomics now exist online,” Wikipedia tells us, but probably 14,000 of those stopped updating after six episodes. This is the dark side of The Promise of Webcomics: It is true that anyone can start a webcomic, and that without the usual barriers to publication, such as editors and budgets, the web has become a seething cauldron of creativity. However, things like slush piles and contracts and editors are there for a reason: Not just to keep the crap out, but also to make sure the creator finishes the damn comic. The internet imposes no such restrictions. Consequently, many webcomics start with a burst of enthusiasm and fizzle when the creator runs out of ideas or has to study for finals.
The parallels to blogging are obvious. I’ve been blogging for over 12 years now, and my direct return on that investment is measured in Amazon.com referrals. The indirect returns, on the other hand – in the form of friends and acquaintances and the things that friends and acquaintances can bring you – have been much greater. Not to mention that I enjoy blogging, which is the direct impetus keeping me going. (I could arguably make some money by putting ads on my blog. I doubt it would be enough money to make a difference in my life – I’m just not a popular enough blogger – and it might not even be enough to justify the effort to put up the ads in the first place.)
I’m enthusiastic enough about the webcomics I read that I have a fairly meticulous system for keeping up with them through RSS feeds and bookmarks. I also enjoy finding a great new webcomic with an extensive archive, and I will buy the print collections of the webcomics I most enjoy. But apparently I’m unusual in that respect, and for many readers a large backstory is a barrier to entry.
But then, this is a problem that mainstream superhero comic books have been dealing with for years: How to satisfy their meat-and-potatoes fans who are into the continuity, while still bringing in new readers. Television series have the same problem. The economics of those media are different, but the problem is similar.
Myself, I’d suggest to someone who finds a new webcomic they enjoy with a large archive not to be put off by it. Enjoy the recent strips for what they are, but also consider going back to read through the archive, even if over a period of weeks or months. You might find it well worth the time invested. And I’d suggest to the creators of those strips that they keep their “About This Comic”/”New Readers” pages up-to-date so new readers can jump in and feel oriented right away; it’s unfortunately quite common to come across strips whose orientation pages seem years old. (As a reader, I’d also rather see an orientation page than a list of cast members; I’d rather learn about the cast by reading the strip.)
For new webcomic creators who find their enthusiasm waning after a few strips, consider that someone who seems like an “overnight success” usually has put in years of work to get to that point, it just seems to other people like that success came overnight. But I bet that much like blogging, you need to be doing a webcomic because it’s what you want to do. Because I don’t think very many people make a living drawing webcomics.
(Another interesting read is State of the Webcomics Union by Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content.)
Berke Breathed’s Bloom County was one of the most popular comic strips of the 1980s (the previous “most popular” strip being Garfield, and the next being Calvin & Hobbes). What always perplexed me about its popularity is that, well, for most of its run it wasn’t very good. And most of the best stuff is collected in this volume, the first of five from IDW collecting the whole series.
At the beginning, Bloom County was essentially a satire of small town America, as well as a satire of the rest of America as seen by people in that small town. Rather than commenting on American politics, as Doonesbury did, Bloom County focused on the quirks of pop culture (our inexplicable fascination with the British royal family, for example) and elements of local culture which had gained more visibility in the age of mass communication. But ultimately it shared qualities with many of the best comic strips: It was about its characters, especially smart-alec Milo Bloom, who was a young boy with a weird man apparently struggling to get out, and Michael Binkley, his insecure friend. The early cast also featured Steve Dallas, Cutter John, Bobbie Harlow, Binkley’s penguin Opus, Milo’s grandfather the Major, the perpetually-drunk Senator Bedfellow (maybe the best character name in the history of humor strips), Binkley’s father, and town busybody Otis Oracle. The strip was frequently off-the-wall, with a manic energy unlike most other strips in history. Breathed’s art both conveyed that energy and was more sophisticated than your traditional humor strips of the day (contrast it with the simplistic, repetitive art of Garfield, for instance).
For me, though, the series’ downfall arrived early, in the form of Bill the Cat, a self-conscious parody of Garfield which seemed to utterly miss the point that taking something that wasn’t very funny to start with (yet was inexplicably popular) and making it a little disgusting besides was, well, not very funny, yet still disgusting. Bill showed up in June 1982, and was immediately not-funny. Breathed would eventually use Bill to explore the excesses of popular culture, and he continued to be shocking unfunny, a character purchased after his sell-by date. Over time, Breathed phased out Bobbie Harlow (the character most responsible for character-based humor in the early strips), as well as Oracle, Bedfellow and the Major (three of his best tools for satirizing the narrow-minded right wing), leaving the cast with a group of eccentric characters largely devoid of warmth or meaning. Occasionally Milo would show signs of his early life, but the strip revolved around Opus and Bill, which just wasn’t as much fun. (The less said about the sequels to the strip, Outland and Opus, the better; both were largely unreadable and completely unfunny.)
Despite all this I’ve been looking forward to this volume since it was announced, as it collects many strips which – as far as I know – haven’t been printed since their first newspaper run, and are from the period of the strip I enjoyed the most, those earliest years: Steve Dallas and Cutter John competing for Bobbie Harlow’s affections, Binkley’s insecurities, Milo as both the voice of reason and the journalistic hack hunting for Senator Bedfellow’s head, and the weird individuals inhabiting the rural community of Bloom County.
I doubt I’ll pick up more than one volume after this one, but really, this one is all you need. It holds up pretty well 30 years later, its dated subject matter feeling more quaint than irrelevant, and it’s funny stuff. And as usual for IDW, it’s an attractive hardcover book, with an introduction and occasional strip comments by Breathed. A wonky chronicle of an unusual era, for both America and for comic strips.