MIND MELD: Webcomics You Should Be Reading Right Now
Be it stand alone comics or an ongoing storyline, everyone enjoys a good webcomic. But I need some new ones to follow and explore. With that in mind, I asked our panelists this question:
I recently caught up with Christina Strain’s and Jayd-Ait Kaci’s Supernatural webcomic The Fox Sister. I loved it the minute it debuted and I loved it even more after catching up to the latest pages.
Christina’s and Jayd’s storytelling skills are solid and I enjoy seeing their characters interact with each other on the page. Jayd’s expressive and beautiful lineart and colors do so much to enhance the experience of this story. The fact that Yun Hee and Sun Hee are both strong female characters of color? Pure icing on the cake.
I highly recommend this webcomic to fans of good, well-written supernatural/horror thrillers.
For this Mind Meld, I’m going to recommend a relatively new series, for readers who don’t necessarily want to plunge into a years-deep archive:
Created by Scott “PVP” Kurtz, with colors by Steve Hamaker (and by Mary Engle in First Encounters), breakdowns by Brian Hurtt, Table Titans takes the format not unlike Dead Gentleman’s The Gamers and brings it to webcomics, focusing on a gaming party both in and out of the Dungeons & Dragons world. As the story unfolds, we come to know not only the characters, but the players behind them, seeing the relationships in one impact the dynamic between the others.
The art style is well-developed, but clearly intended as a comic rather than as hyper-realism, with rich colors and beautiful painted tableau. I knew that I was going to be a real fan of the comic when I saw the amazing one-two punch Lance of Faith from the storyline First Encounters. http://www.tabletitans.com/comic/first-encounters-page-34 and http://www.tabletitans.com/comic/first-encounters-page-35. With that combination, and the entire First Encounters arc, Table Titans celebrates the power of storytelling in role-playing, converting power gamers into storytellers.
Table Titans has the advantage of being an official D&D product, a transmedia extension of the brand, explicitly allowed to use extant material rather than genericizing elements and relying on the defense of parody (as seen in the also-excellent Order of the Stick).
For anyone who has happily gamed away a whole evening, day, or both chucking polyhedral dice, calculating THAC0, or befriending strangers in taverns, I heartily recommend Table Titans.
Oglaf, though it’s not safe for work. It’s original, funny, classy, and filthy, all at the same time.
There’s actually a really cool movement now by people like Spike Trotman and Erika Moen to make comics that are sexual in nature, but of a high quality. I love the idea that you can have x-rated comics that aren’t degrading or gross or stupid. John Irving once wrote “Life is an x-rated soap opera.” If so, we should probably have comics to match.
The one webcomic you should be reading right now is Red’s Planet (redsplanet.com). The creator, Eddie Pittman, has mad drawing skills and the quality of the comic is simply amazing both art and writing-wise. In addition, it features a zany cast of characters and a fun sci-fi story that both kids and adults can enjoy.
My choice, on the off-chance that this isn’t old news to someone: Our Valued Customers, wherein a single-panel depicts “Conversations from the Comic Book Store.” Some see it as a critique of geek culture and not always a fair one at that, what with categories such as “Creeps,” “Crazies,” “Jerks,” and “Dopes.” I won’t get into apologetics, but I will say that for every depiction of “them,” there are just as many panels that reflect “us” and offer insights into one’s personal relationship to and role in geek culture, if we were honest enough with ourselves to admit it. I see friends and acquaintances (rather, some of their thoughts and opinions) in OVC. I see me.
Because nothing has forced me to reckon with the pain and joy of being over forty and loving Adventure Time as much as this…
It is actually shocking how much good material is out there. So many webcomics look as professional as real comics, many are written with originality and fresh talent – and yet it’s all for free. A handful of very famous webcomics make money. And the rest? Not a dime.
Not only that, but no one ever hears about them. Getting word of mouth to spread is almost impossible, and great talent languishes in the internet’s attic without being noticed.
It’s almost a crime. We should help spread the word about artists (a term that includes writers) who do a great job.
Here’s my list. I’ve reached many of these through recommendations from others who loved it. And I’m sure I am aware of only a drop in the ocean of attic-languishing webcomics. (You can have attics in the ocean, right?)
- The Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske – Online graphic novels with ridiculously fantastic art and a story reminiscent of the classics we used to love as kids. It’s even availble in more than a dozen languages.
- Gravedigger by Christopher Mills and Rick Burchett – If you like noir (feel, banter, graphics), you’ll enjoy Gravedigger.
- Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Ether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett (who have, you know, real jobs in comics) – An Errol Flynn-like futuristic romp. Swashbuckle-y fun. And finally a woman swashbuckling hero!
- Space-Mullet by Daniel Warrne Johnson – A futuristic graphic novel. I’ve just started this one, but the beginning gives me the feeling of a deep, multi-layered SF story that takes its time (in a good way) to develop all its facets.
- Jaguar by Jonathan Wyke – This one’s so new, only four pages have been published. But it’s REALLY well-written and it looks REALLY good.
- Angry Faerie by Scott Springer – Of all of these, this is what you think of when you say ‘web-comic’. While the others look like graphic novels, this is more like a daily comic strip. And it’s funny. No, no, it’s funny. You will laugh.
- Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag – This story uses tropes, but in its core has something special. And it also has something to say. It works!
- Shutterbug Follies by Jason Little – This is an old one (ten years ago is old, right?). I don’t think it’s available online anymore, but has probably been published as a separate book. It was a really fun mystery, the kind we used to grow up on.
So: Spread. The. Word. Let your friends know about great art you like. Let the artists know you like their stuff. Support people who do good things that you enjoy. Spread. The. Word.
“Webcomic”, singular? That’s a tough one to narrow down. I keep up with literally (and I do mean literally here, not figuratively) hundreds of webcomics, and there are different things I enjoy about all of them. Some are long-form narratives, some are short gag-a-day strips; some are pure fantasy, some are slice-of-life; some have great art, some have great writing… Trying to winnow all those down to a singular strip? That ain’t easy!
I could recommend any number of really well-done strips, and you’ve probably heard of most of them. Part of the reason why many become popular is because they are well-crafted and executed. Naturally, readers are going to respond to that quality and recommend it to their friends, who recommend it to their friends, and so on until the strip has garnered a huge following.
There are also a lot of strips that I personally like, but probably wouldn’t click with a wide audience. That’s not to say they’re not done well, but that the author’s voice isn’t one that many people appreciate. If it’s too cerebral, or too genre-driven, or utilizes an unusual art style, or anything along those lines, that can be a big turn-off to a lot of people.
So with that thinking in mind, I think I would point folks to The Hues by Alex Heberling. It’s the story of what happens to a group of young women after the Earth has been attacked by aliens. These women are just anyone, though, they each seem to have strange powers that they are only now just discovering how to use. There’s good mix of science fiction, strong characterization, realistic dialogue and a solid plot.
I’ve been reading Alex’s work for a few years now and, for as much as I enjoyed it when I first discovered it, she’s been on a continual path of improvement. With The Hues in particular, she’s stepped up her game on both the art and the writing and it’s easily her best work to date. The message on her personal site is “Art harder!” and I think it’s directed more at herself than anyone else, because every page she posts is better than the last.
It’s a great strip with a good range of very different positives that fans can connect with, whether that’s more in the story, the characters or the art.
We’re living in a decade blessed with hundreds of amazing webcomics, but here’s one I’d love to draw more attention to: Burn the Bridges of Arta, written and illustrated by Amelia Onorato.
On the surface, Arta is a story about architecture: it’s set in what appears to be an alternate-history 1920s New York, and follows the stories of two very different social groups, both connected to a well-established architecture firm. The narrative switches seamlessly between the sheltered, upper-class Ford family, headed by the firm’s owner, and the disgruntled, working-class men Ford employs to build his colossal, art-deco structures. These two worlds begin to intersect when 10-year-old Apollonia Ford, concerned about her older sister’s unexplained disappearance on the eve of her honeymoon a year earlier, meets Orie, one of her father’s construction-worker employees, and realizes he knows something about her sister’s fate. Orie, however, is reluctant to tell Apollonia the truth about her sister’s disappearance — which involves a long-running tradition of ritual sacrifice to bless the construction of new buildings, and which was okayed by Apollonia’s father himself.
This tension between the astonishing beauty of the city’s architecture (which Onorato’s crisp, detailed linework does perfect justice to) and the slow revelation of the terrible human costs of those structures, provides much of the foundation for this narrative. The real emotional drive of the story, though, comes from its characters. Onorato gives equal, sympathetic attention to all the different people connected to these sacrifices: the pain and fear of the victims, led blindly by their own family members to this fate; the horror of the proletariat construction workers, forced to bear witness and keep silent in order to stay employed in a world that provides them with few other options; and, of course, the youthful stubbornness of Apollonia, who is just starting to realize something’s being kept from her, and is determined to find her sister by any means necessary.
It is, perhaps, easy to guess what direction all these tensions will ultimately resolve in. In the meantime, though, Onorato has gifted her readers with astonishingly beautiful page designs, and a cast of complex, well-rendered characters, each in their own way stuck in a conflict between larger social forces and their own personal sense of duty to the ones they love. There’s also a theme being explored about the commodification of women’s bodies — something even good-hearted Orie, keeping his pregnant wife cloistered in their tiny apartment, isn’t entirely innocent of. This commodification, too, promises to be challenged throughout this story — especially by Apollonia, who is just starting to explore her own capacity to resist and undermine authority. Onorato’s previous graphic novel, Rockall, also explores a similar vein — discussing ways in which women both cooperate with and rebel against larger social orders in order to reclaim agency over their own bodies. It’s refreshing to see these kinds of complex, multifaceted dialogues about women’s lives showing up in the pages of historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, and I trust Onorato’s considerable talents as a storyteller to deliver another gem in Arta.
Burn the Bridges of Arta updates every Monday, and can be read at http://ameliaonorato.com/
I recall once being at a party where a young couple, both apparently Lit majors, wandered into a conversation I was having with a friend and began inquiring into books we had read. I suppose my answers indicated some inadequacy in my literary upbringing because they helpfully offered to compile a reading list for me so that I might correct this flaw.
“Really?” I growled. “I would HATE that.”
The point here, aside from demonstrating my charms as a party guest, is that it’s hugely presumptuous of me to say what anyone else SHOULD be reading. Rather, let’s say that the webcomics listed below are ones I would name-drop IF I were the sort of pretentious half-wit who had the poor graces to do such a thing.
But, in truth, if you read these comics, your life’s meaning will be revealed. And you will gain magical powers and never grow old. Your mileage may vary.
- Space Trawler by Christopher Baldwin – As the title suggests, this comic is an in-depth critical analysis of the hidden symbology in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Actually, this great sci-fi comedy concluded last year but the entire run is still available for your enjoyment.
- Gunnerkrig Court by Tom Siddel – Delightfully mysterious science fantasy. One of the things I enjoy about digging through the archives is watching how the art style evolves and improves over a number of years.
- After Daylight by Sarah Roarke – What would it be like to be a vampire in a world where the existence of the undead has been revealed on television? (Answer: it’s kind of like that time when my mom appeared on Jerry Springer).
- Oyster War by Ben Towle – Seafaring mystery and mayhem in a style reminiscent of early Popeye cartoons. Towle creates an entire community of compelling weirdos.
- Rocket Robinson by Sean O’Neill – The exploits of boy adventurer Rocket Robinson set in 1930s Egypt. Great artwork and highly engaging story. O’Neill based his comic on my autobiography “Things I Wish I Had Done When I Was Twelve”.
- Untold Tales of Bigfoot by Vince Dorse – Great all-ages comic telling the classic story of a sasquatch and his dog. Winner of the 2012 Reuben award, so Vince is the guy to hit up if you’ve run out of sauerkraut or Thousand Island dressing.
I’ve had this question in front of me for a week, and I keep going back and forth between two comics — both good, but one which feels more “right” for SF Signal, since it’s full of genre elements. The other one came to mind first, but didn’t seem as obvious for the SF Signal audience. But there’s no reason I can’t mention both of them, so I will.
By the way, both of these are in the traditional newspaper-comics format: each update is three to five panels, in a single row, published at least a few days a week. I like that rhythm, and think it works best for a webcomic — the kind of strip that puts up a page now and then just doesn’t flow the same way, and seems to be a book in search of its eventual binding. (And I’d rather just wait and read the book.)
The one with genre elements is Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest — I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a common choice in this post. It mixes religion, fantasy, gender politics, and philosophy with more usual strip comics fare: drugs, frat-boyish humor, sex, and the collision of innocent characters with a crueler world. Ishida started off with a sketchy version of Bill Watterson’s style, but has gotten much more individual and supple over the dozen-plus years Sinfest has been running. Ishida has grown up in public with this strip: it was cruder in jokes as well as art, and more clearly derivative of other works, when it began, but it’s gotten stronger and more personal as the years went on, making itself something like a metaphoric intellectual autobiography as Ishida internalized criticisms of the strip and moved in new directions to get better. Like most gag-a-day strips on the Internet, the best way to get into it is just to dive into the archives — pick a day, from 2013 or 2006 or 2002, and start reading forward from there. If you keep going until you hit today, you’ll know you’re hooked.
The other strip — the one I thought of first, and love more — has nothing to do with SF or fantasy or any other genre. (Unless you take its sex-comedy vibe as a take on romance, which would be a massive deformation of the definition.) That’s Menage a 3 by Gisele Lagace (artist and co-writer) and David Lumsdon (the other half of the writing team), a sex farce set mostly in Montreal with a big, polysexual cast and a very Dan DeCarlo-esque art style. It started out as a comics take on Three’s Company — geeky guy suddenly finds himself living with two attractive women, one a skinny punk rock guitarist and the other a buxom French-Canadian waitress — but the cast quickly grew, and practically all of them have developed crushes (or more than that) on each other by this point. Menage a 3 is more specifically sexy than Sinfest is; there’s no genitalia or on-panel sex, but it’s all about the sex and love lives of its cast, so that’s the core of all of the stories. Well, that shortchanges the farce aspect, though: Menage a 3 can be door-slammingly hilarious at its best, with carefully timed reveals and manic cross-cuts between many characters each rapidly pursuing their own mostly incompatible desires. It’s cute, and fun, and sexy, and, even more importantly, happy and positive about sex, which so many sex farces aren’t.
(It’s also so big and rich that it’s spun off two semi-independent strips by this point: Sandra on the Rocks , about a secondary character now pursuing a modeling career around the world, and Sticky Dilly Buns , about a gay secondary character from Menage and his new very repressed female roommate.)
My recommendation is for a standalone comic that blew me away the first (several) times I read it. Mike Dawson’s “Prospect Park Dusk, Prospect Park Dawn” is a complete, tightly told, first-person narrative that doesn’t rely too heavily on the images to carry the plot forward. Dawson is an Ignatz Award-winner artist and author whose other work is more autobiographical and much less creepy, though similar in its exploration of longing and loss.
You could easily rewrite “Prospect Park” as straight prose with just a little description added in, and it would be a beautifully written horror tale. That’s not the say the art doesn’t add to the comic – it does! But rather than let the images tell the bulk of the story, they complement the writing in a symbiotic balance I wish more comics had. It’s that interplay of dialogue and art which showcases Dawson’s talent the best. He’s not afraid to express something big, too big for words, and let the art sneak into the places where sentences fail, revealing what happens in the moments of silence.
Without those pauses, the indie/sketch-style art would be lost under the gravity of the narration. Lose the quiet moments, and you’ll miss the transition between warm and cool color palates, the careful study of light, the cinematic quality of the framing. Instead, those attributes are allowed their own time to shine.
The story features a working mom who’s faced with a dilemma: stay in a life she hates, where she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with her child, is distanced from her husband, and feels out-of-place with the other moms in her social circle, or give up that life and her family at the same time. Quitting all of the terrible parts means losing the only things that make her existence meaningful.
And yes, it’s a webcomic. About a vampire.
I have to toot my own horn and recommend our comic Perpetual Flux at www.perpetualfuxcomic.com. Call me biased, and I am, but I so excited for the twists and turns coming up in our comic, the artwork, and the strong female protagonist that we will be following through a majority of the story :)If I had to give another one, my next favorite would probably be Gunnerkrigg Court at http://www.gunnerkrigg.com. It’s well worth the read and does an amazing job of creating an immersive world with plenty of history and lore.
Tagged with: Andrew Wheeler • Brian Hendrickson • Carrie Cuinn • Dani Jones • don pizarro • Guy Hasson • Kat Haynes • Laurianne Uy • Melanie Gillman • Michael R. Underwood • Mind Meld • Sean Kleefield • Zach Weinersmith
Filed under: Mind Meld
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