Pacing is one of those things that no one notices unless it’s not working. It’s tricky to strike that delicate balance between too slow and too fast, and many webcomic writers never quite seem to get the knack of it. They particularly seem to fall prey to what is charmingly called “glacial” pacing, in which weeks’ worth of real time elapses while narrative time proceeds at a crawl. I am happy to say that reMIND by Jason Brubaker does not have this problem. Unfortunately, it has the opposite problem.
reMIND was recently reviewed by The Webcomic Overlook, and normally I wouldn’t want to nip so closely at the heels of the peerless & fearless El Santo (the man has read the complete archives of both Jack and Ctrl+Alt+Del), but the pacing of reMIND so bothered me that I simply had to write about it. Since El Santo’s already done a pretty thorough examination of the plot, I won’t spend much time on it. If you want the a more complete critical picture of the comic, just be sure to read his review too.
Now, given that the comic has already been skillfully reviewed, and that I have serious issues with the pacing, you may be wondering why I’m bothering with this. Here is why, dear reader: because the art in reMIND is absolutely phenomenal. Remember last month, when I told Namesake to use a limited palette? Brubaker has the limited palette thing nailed, right down to using different palettes to indicate different locations. His character designs are whimsical and attractive. His perspective-drawing is spot-on. Even his page compositions are superb. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Suffice to say, there is nothing wrong with the art. Maybe some facial expressions could be exaggerated a bit more, but that’s the only thing I can think of to say on that front. The art is just that good. (Consistent, too… no first-chapter disease here.)
The world-building, similarly, is quite nice. I’m genuinely interested in the plot, characters, and the details of the reMIND universe, and it seems like it could be a really interesting story. Herein is the problem with the pacing, though: reMIND always feels as if it’s in a desperate hurry to get to the next part of the story. Things are progressing so fast that I have to wonder how long this story can even manage to be, given that it has a predetermined ending that we seem to be rushing toward at a breakneck speed.
For example: The first character we meet is a young woman named Sonja, who tells us that her cat, Victuals (don’t ask me, ask Brubaker) disappeared one day. Brubaker spends a fair amount of time on this, so I naturally expected that Victuals’s absence would be a fairly significant part of the first chapter, maybe more. No. Victuals reappears three pages later, two of which make up a total elapsed narrative time of maybe thirty seconds. Now, Victuals has to disappear, for story reasons– but if he’s only going to be absent for three pages, why not start the story after he returns? His disappearance gives every appearance of being the beginning of a subplot, so to have it resolved so quickly is jarring to say the least.
To give Brubaker his due, he does at least sometimes try to pare out details sparingly. He gives insights into Victuals’s past* only subtly at first, revealing enough to encourage curiosity but not enough to destroy the mystery. This doesn’t last very long, though, as Chapter 2 begins a detailed explanation of the backstory. This begins on Spread 18 (effectively page 18). For comparison, Gunnerkrigg Court‘s eigtheenth page falls at a point where several primary characters haven’t even been introduced yet and very, very little of the world has even been revealed yet, much less explained. reMIND, meanwhile, is already preparing to pull the cover off its entire backstory. Couldn’t this have waited until Chapter 3 at least? Sure, I’m intrigued by all the setup, but if the explanation starts too soon, that feeling of intrigue is just going to be destroyed. Imagine a magician who explains how each of his tricks worked immediately after performing them. The same principle is at work here.
* Technically speaking it is not Victuals’s past that is being described, but the past of the lizard-man whose brain has been transplanted into Victuals’s body, but as I stated earlier, the plot is not the focus of this review.
Going through and picking on every instance of rushed pacing would just be mean, so I won’t do that, but the pacing really is the only problem with this comic as far as I can see. I really wanted to like reMIND, with its fabulous artwork and unique world-building, but its tendency to treat every scene as an obstacle to be rushed through killed it for me. When there’s a mysterious object under a tarp, maybe I don’t want to find out what it is in the very next chapter. When Victuals dives to return to his home, maybe I don’t want him to arrive there safe and sound just two pages later. Maybe I want him to have to fight a shark on the way.
Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10. If not for the pacing problems this comic would probably rate a 10. Do take a look at it, if only to see the beautiful artwork.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoyed this funny dog character.