Everyday Monsters

There are a couple of webcomics artists I’ve been enjoying tremendously, though both of them update only sporadically, presumably because this is a hobby for them and they both have lives which take most of their time. They have a common theme of what I’ve been calling “everyday monsters”, as they primarily feature nonhuman (or formerly human) beings in dark fantasy environments, but emphasizing the everyday lives and concerns of those beings

Both of them (coincidentally?) primarily post on Instagram and Twitter. Both of them post anonymously and have very little Internet presence beyond these sites as far as I can tell.

Pocketss (Instagram, Twitter) has “i like to draw fantasy nonsense” as their Twitter profile description. Their work has a running theme of people (or whatever) caring for other people. For example this strip about a swamp dweller who sees a passer-by carrying a lantern on a stock. Or this one about goblins looking out for each other.

There’s also a cute running story – starting here – about a witch who invites a harpy to a girls’ night party, throwing the harpy into confusion and anxiety. Poor harpy!

My favorite one, though, is this one about a vampire (?) who orders her thralls to leave her alone so she can… well, go see for yourself.

Vampire: "Begone, thralls! Leave me to my evil and sexy affairs..."

Pocketss also has a Patreon which I just signed up for.

Saint Monster (Instagram, Twitter) has “Monsters need love too” as their Twitter description. Ironically their work features far more actual humans than that of Pocketss, and a few more recurring characters. For example the halfling apprentice witch, who later appears here. Or the trio of human, elf (?) and goblin (?) travellers, who appear here, here, and have their best moment so far here.

But the strip that maybe best sums up their work is this one about a researcher who runs into a Sphinx.

Sphinx: If you wish to pass you must first answer my riddle, And should you fail, you will not leave here alive.

Researcher: I have studied the enigmas of Alatosh and Zanzibar's thousand mysteries. Ask your riddle, Sphinx.

Their Twitter account has some fan art and a few other pieces by them besides the full strips which are also on Instagram. No Patreon, though.

I love both of these artists and hope they both get to a place where they can produce work more regularly.

Webcomics I Read (2014 Edition)

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 Ãœber, 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?

Webcomics I Read (2013 Edition)

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.

Webcomics I Read (2012 edition)

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.)

  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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!
  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

Webcomics I Read (2011 edition)

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.

Spacetrawler Reviews Chasm City

The crew of Christopher Baldwin’s webcomic Spacetrawler reviews one of my favoritest novels, Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City:

Spacetrawler is a really fun webcomic, combining serious SF with humor and other silliness. If you’re intimidated by trying to catch up with this strip on-line, I recommend buying the handsome full-color paperback collection. The strip above is included as an extra at the end of the book.

(By the way, my own review of Chasm City is here. And Reynolds’ blog can be found here.)

More Webcomics I Read

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?

Monsters of Webcomics

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.

The Hidden Side of Webcomics

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.)

Webcomics I Read

I love comic strips. The World Wide Web has ushered in a new golden age of comic strips. And not only do many of these strips have great artwork, but they’ve broken free of the bland mediocrity that plagues strips in the newspaper; webcomics have an adventurousness and irreverence that you won’t often find in the paper (well, maybe in Funky Winkerbean).

There are hundreds of Webcomics out there, and I couldn’t possibly read them all – nor would I want to, since many of them are not to my taste. But I read quite a few, and try new ones that look interesting as I discover them. Most strips I read have good otr even great artwork, although a few have such strong writing that it overcomes their artistic deficiencies.

Here are all the Webcomics I’m reading these days, grouped into inadequate yet hopefully-helpful cateories:

Gag-a-Day Strips

The emphasis in these strips is to provide a joke in each episode. Some of them may have an ongoing continuity, but that’s not (to my mind) their main point.

  • Basic Instructions, by Scott Meyer: A very sarcastic strip featuring the artist as protagonist, with faux-realistic illustrations of the characters. The humor’s all in the dialogue, which parodies “how to” and “self help” books by twisting well-meaning advice into silly situations involving snarky people. It took a while for it to grow on me, but some of the strips are hilarious.
  • Comic Critics, by Sean Whitmore & Brandon Harvey: A group of friends who produce a podcast critiquing comic books, it’s sort of a meta comic strip, in that it’s never clear whether their criticisms reflect the opinions of the creators (I’m assuming not), but which presents critiques of real comic books and creators (consequently, non-comics fans might not find it accessible). It has an ongoing continity, but a loose one..
  • Courting Disaster, by Brad Guigar: Guigar is better known for his Evil Inc. daily (see below), but Courting Disaster is a weekly single-panel strip about love, sex and relationships. It’s sarcastic pillories both genders more-or-less equally, but it’s not very deep. On the other hand, how much depth do you expect from a single-panel weekly?
  • Dork Tower, by John Kovalic: Long-running comic satirizing geeks, especially FRPG gaming geeks. It has some ongoing character threads, but for the most part it’s a gag-a-day strip, often with horrible puns. Kovalic’s art is pretty simple, but it’s his writing that makes the strip work.
  • Garfield Minus Garfield, by Jim Davis & Dan Walsh: The minor media phenomenon, Walsh discovered that if he subtracted Garfield from his own strip, then it became a twisted strip about the foibles of Jon Arbuckle, who talks to himself and reacts to nothing. Walsh cheats a little in his doctoring of Jim Davis’ panels, but mostly it’s amusing and clever. Davis approved of the concept and a collection has been published.
  • Inktank, by Barry T. Smith: Smith used to draw several strips, the best-known of which was Angst Technology, the chronicle of a small computer game company. He ended his other strips a few years ago, and eventually started Inktank, which is semi-autobiographical, but features the AT crew. His humor features a lot of sarcasm, which I appreciate, but his art can get a little repetitive at times.
  • The Joy of Tech, by Nitrozac & Snaggy (Liza Schmalcel & Bruce Evans): Technology industry humor, drawn in a retro style, often with a focus on Apple. Very hit-or-miss, but worth following if you follow the tech industry.
  • Last Call, by Megan Steckler: I stumbled across this one back when Steckler was updating it only occasionally, and it focused on the main character, Abby, drinking at the local bar and talking to her imaginary alter ego, Lily, a scantily-clad succubus only she can see. Since she started updating regularly, it often focuses on the relationship between Abby and her husband Beau, who are both geeks. It seems like Steckler intended to make this a bit of a gamer’s comic strip too, as Abby’s background involves working at a game store, but that aspect never really materialized.

    Anyway, it’s quirky and cartoony and irreverent, which explains why I like it, although it’s got more of a ‘home brew’ feel than many of the other strips I read.
  • Penny Arcade, by Jerry Holkins & Mike Krahulik: One of the most successful webcomics ever, Penny Arcade nominally comments on the computer gaming industry through the persons of its creators’ fictional avatars, although with regular forays into other pop culture arenas or into utter nonsense. It can be crude, bloody, and tasteless at times, and there’s rarely anything resembling an ongoing story. Some of the gags are hilarious, but it’s not one of my favorites.
  • PvP, by Scott Kurtz: Arguably the other most successful webcomic ever, it chronicles the lives of employees at a computer gaming magazine company, one of whom is an imaginary troll. Kurtz probably has his finger on the pulse of pop culture as much as any other webcomics artist, with a particular love of 70s television and of comic books of any era. Ridiculous nonsense is frequently the order of the day, but it also has an ongoing storyline. The strip often blurs the line between reality and fantasy. I’m not sure anything sums up the series better than this episode of The Adventures of LOLbat (and you can read the follow-up storyline for more such silliness). Kurtz is also a very talented artist, whose style has developed from stiff and repetitive into one that’s imaginative and flexible (see, for instance, his satire of Watchmen, Ombudsmen). Not everything in PvP works for me, but when it does work, it’s excellent.
  • Sinfest, by Tatsuya Ishida: The third-most-successful webcomics strip? Hard to say, since the author seems to keep his cards close to his chest; maybe the others just get more publicity. Nonetheless, Ishida is a fantastic artist with a twisted sense of humor, which he brings to bear in an ongoing character drama with a dose of current events satire. Strongly reminiscent of the best of Bloom Country (before Bill the Cat showed up), it’s been running for years and is worth reading from the beginning. Start with the collection.
  • XKCD, by Randall Munroe: Ãœber-geeky strip which comments on math, computers, and romance, drawn with stick figures. The James Bond strip or the Mac sudo strip are good examples. Or maybe the regular expressions one. I’m particular partial to the one on getting some perspective. But I think my favorite has to be duty calls.

    Anyway, be sure to mouse over the image to see the tooltip for an extra punchline.

Humorous Adventure

Ongoing adventure strips with a strong humor component.

  • Evil Inc, by Brad Guigar: Guigar’s main strip, about supervillains running a corporation to, well, support supervillains. With a large cast, often-complex story arcs, it’s one of the more ambitious comics out there. Guigar’s got a cartoony style that translates very well to superheroics. The humor is frequently broad, with sight gags, character-based humor, and puns. Worth reading from the beginning – it’ll take you a while! Alternately, you can buy the collections (four published to date), which tell the story reformatted for a full-page format. (The original strips are better, though.)
  • Girl Genius, by Phil & Kaja Foglio: To be over-the-top about it, Girl Genius is the sine qua non of webcomics. To come clean I’ve been a huge fan of Phil Foglio’s writing and art for 30 years now, and I own nearly everything he’s published that I can get my hands on (most of it in hardcover). His work has been hilariously funny, devilishly inventive, utterly irreverent, and creatively and maniacally drawn.

    Girl Genius adds into this mix a complicated backstory (mad scientists co-opt the industrial revolution, and our heroine is the lost daughter of two of the greatest mad scientist heroes of the recent war), a huge cast, politics, romance, and period attire. While some of the manic energy doesn’t make the transition to this long-form story, and there are sequences that drag at times, it’s still an hugely satisfying ongoing adventure story, with laughs and drama and excitement. Updated 3 times a week, no one else does webcomics better.
  • Rocket Road Trip, by Shawn Boyles & Isaac Stewart: I just discovered this strip this week; it’s the charming story of a semi-competent monster hunter, his disfunctional family, and the monsters he hunts. It’s sort of like PVP crossed with an especially demented Calvin & Hobbes. A relatively new strip, it’s pretty funny.
  • Sidekick Girl, by Laura Cascos & Erika Wagner: I stumbled on this a few months ago and laughed my ass off. Sidekick Girl is Val, a woman who was rejected as a superhero (despite some pretty potent abilities) because she, uh, couldn’t pass the physical. She was assigned as a sidekick to Illumina, who could pass the physical, but whose lights aren’t turned up all the way in her attic. Val doesn’t wear a costume and carries a baseball bat. It’s a fine satire of superhero comics, and a must-read for any fan of the genre. Unfortunately the current story involves virtual reality D&D, but hopefully it’ll get back to its roots soon.
  • Wapsi Square, by Paul Taylor: Wapsi Square has been two rather different comic strips since it launched in 2001. The first few years it was a slice-of-life strip centered around Monica, a young anthropologist, and her eccentric gang of friends. But a few years ago it changed into a light adventure strip in which Monica learns that she and her friends need to figure out how to stop the world from ending in 2012 at the end of the current Mayan calendar. The strip has several supernatural elements (spirits, a minor deity, a sphinx, teleportation, prophecy) and the character interplay has decreased significantly.

    Overall I enjoyed the sillier, more character-driven strips of the earlier days – I think my favorite sequence is when Monica buys a new bicycle – which is surprising considering how plot-oriented I tend to be. But the more recent strips are not as funny, and I have a hard time following (or, really, caring to follow) the ins and outs of the plan to keep the world from ending. It’s a more sophisticated strip, but I don’t think it’s as much fun.

    Taylor’s artwork has also changed a lot over the years. The earliest strips are much less polished, but the most recent strips feel almost too polished, and something about the way he draws faces changed so that the characters today look a bit too artificial. Compare, for instance, this early strip (which is still quite well-drawn – look at the backgrounds), to this strip from a few years later, to this recent strip. I think the middle one is the best of the three, and I tend to prefer the more organic style of the earlier strip over the precise look of the later strip, in which the characters look a little creepy.

    So although I was very enthusastic about Wapsi Square when I first discovered it and started reading the archives from the beginning, the more recent strips just don’t excite me as much. I’d like Taylor to find a happy medium between the complex ongoing plot and the more freewheeling style of the earlier strips.

  • Plan B, by Mitz: I discovered this recently when looking at Chris Sim’s Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., and loved it immediately. The main character is a supervillain, Veronica (her name and her code-name) who learned she was married to a super-hero, and who turned to a life of crime when their marriage broke up. The details are still being revealed. Veronica is twisted but very self-aware, and also pretty grumpy and nasty, so we see the usual superhero fights and schemes from the villain’s side, although she’s not your usual villain. Despite being a comical deconstruction of the superhero genre, there’s a heavy dose of violence and innuendo in the strip, giving it a sharp edge. It’s sort of the evil version of Sidekick Girl, and really just as good.

Serious Adventure

The hard stuff: Funny occasionally, but these are strips with serious ongoing stories.

  • Afterstrife, by Ali Graham: Megan and Stitch are two young people who pass away and find themselves in a purgatory-like afterlife. Their souls are linked somehow, and so they’re stuck with each other even though they don’t really like each other, but they have to work off their karmic debts in order to move on, and some of the rulers of this afterlife don’t want them to get away. It’s pretty serious and often tense and suspenseful, and Graham does a good job keeping my interest. Graham’s art is inventive but his figures and faces aren’t as dynamic or expressive as some other artists. It seems to be nearing a climax lately.
  • Danielle Dark, by Jay Bradley: A full-page weekly, the heroine is a vampire who was turned in the 19th century, and who moves from place to place since she doesn’t age. Despite this, it’s sort of a “young adult sitcom” with vaguely threatening overtones, with Danielle recently falling for one of her victims – who also happens to be in the witness protection program. Bradley has a nice clean style, although his facial expressions get very exaggerated at times. Early in the strip he endowed Danielle with big boobs, because they attract more prey that way, you see (and readers too, presumably).
  • FreakAngels, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield: Comics writer Ellis is the brains behind this weekly post-apocalyptic strip in which a group of telepaths accidentally cause the end of the world, and then set out (well, most of them) to rebuild a pocket of civilization in Whitechapel, London. They don’t really all like each other, but mostly work together towards a common cause. Naturally, the world (what remains of it) is both hostile towards and jealous of them and what they’ve built, so there are threats from every corner, including from within. The first two chapters (try the trade paperbacks) take place over just two days, so this strip could go on for quite a while. Who knows?

    Duffield has a distinctive, clean, style, with a strong sense of place and architecture, and the art is lovingly colored. He really brings the future Whitechapel to life. How he hasn’t gotten a high-profile gig at a major comics publisher, I have no idea.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell: I’ve written before about this excellent comic, chronicling the adventures of the young Antimony Carver at the otherworldly school of Gunnerkrigg Court. It’s one of the very best out there, just a smidge below Girl Genius. Not to be missed. You can also buy the collection.

Soap Opera/Slice of Life

A little bit of everything: Humor, drama, ongoing stories, but mainly tracking the stories of their characters and their relationships.

  • Girls With Slingshots, by Danielle Corsetto: The daily adventuresof two quirky women, and their friendships and relationships. Often rather explicit in its content, it’s also silly and sarcastic. Corsetto has an attractive cartoony style with characters who look very different from one another. Probably my second-favorite strip in this category, behind…
  • Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques: My first close encounter with soap opera webcomics, and it’s probably the best of them. It follows the lives of a group of friends living in western Massachusetts (near “Smif” college), and despite running for years, the in-strip continuity has lasted less than a year so far. The main characters are the shy Marten and the overbearing Faye, who become roommates early on. Significant characters include Marten’s girlfriend and Faye’s boss, Dora; Marten’s anthropomorphic PC Pintsize; and Hannelore, who has extreme OCD. The strips vary between charming and sarcastic, but are often frickin’ hilarious. Jacques isn’t the best artist on the Web, but he’s good enough for his subject matter, and most importantly does a fine job with expressions and body language, which is what the strip demands.
  • Least I Could Do, by Ryan Sohmer & Lar deSouza: I just started reading this one, but it’s been running for a while. It seems to be the daily adventures of self-centered and promiscuous Rayne and his cast of characters. Its earnestness takes some of the edge off its slightly distasteful protagonist, but it hasn’t won me over yet.
  • Sweet Fat Life, by Lauren & Genny: I came across this recently and other than being somewhat focused on its two protagonists being large women, it feels a lot like a slightly wonkier Girls With Slingshots. Updating has been erratic since I started reading it, and the archives are something of a grab-bag, but if it can get on a regular schedule and establish an ongoing continuity, it could develop into a good one.

I don’t have any particular approach to discovering new webcomics. Going through Comixpedia systematically seems like a way to spend a lot of time while only finding a couple of strips I want to read. I actually check out some of the strips that advertise through Project Wonderful which appears on the front pages of Wapsi Square and Girls With Slingshots, although few of them have seemed like my cup of tea. But it’s not like I have a shortage of strips to read.

What’s good out there that I ought to be reading?