Have you read any comics by Der-Shing Helmer? No? Shame on you! As artist-writers go, Ms. Helmer is up there with the best of them, and frankly, she’s more than the webcomics scene deserves. She took a hiatus that lasted a couple years, but now she’s back and better than ever–and producing two comics simultaneously, no less!
I suppose I’m biased, given that Helmer works in one of my personal favorite genres–long-form speculative-fiction adventures–but her writing stands up beautifully regardless of one’s preferred subject matter. Her worlds are original and very completely realized, a tough thing to pull off. Her characters are complex and unique. Her writing can be a talky at times, but not so badly that it distracts from the experience. These are stories one will remember and think about.
But the artwork! How could I neglect to mention it? Even if adventure comics aren’t your cup of tea, do stop in and take a look at Ms. Helmer’s drawings, because they’re wonderful. Her character designs are markedly distinct from each other with none of the cookie-cutter sameness on display in many webcomics (including, sadly, my own). Her style resembles the best of animation work, the faces and anatomy fluid and expressive even as they remain crisply identifiable.
Her animation stylings extend to her backgrounds, which are detailed almost to a fault. How she updates as often as she does is beyond me. Each panel contains an intricately constructed world in impeccable perspective, all rendered with carefully-considered, painterly color. And at the risk of becoming too technical for a review, her choice of color palettes is terrific. If her comics had no characters at all, and just consisted of panel after panel of backgrounds, they’d still be worth a look. (Actually that sounds really cool, come to think of it.)
Ms. Helmer’s comics are The Meek and Mare Internum. The Meek follows three groups of characters through a diverse fantasy setting. The overall tone is fairly upbeat, with just enough malice to maintain suspense. The characters are an eclectic bunch: outlaws, emperors, alcoholics, criminal mastermind kids…even the evil characters are likable! Mare Internum changes gears and instead brings us a science-fiction story following some of the first colonists on Mars. The central character is a depressed and mentally-unstable astronaut, an unusual but very realistic protagonist. There’s not a lot to say about it yet as it hasn’t been running for very long, but hey, there’s no better time to jump aboard than at the beginning. Read these comics, I implore you!
(Neither comic is violent or sexually explicit, but I would still categorize them as “NSFW.” Don’t let that scare you off though, please.)