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.
I’ve been getting back into reading webcomics again, so it seems only fitting that I also get back into the business of reviewing them. That said, my “Circuit Reader” series was a bit of a huge time investment, so instead I’m switching to a more reasonable length. Gone will be the extreme nitpicking, and in its place I will endeavor to provide a brief but entertaining look at many of the fine (and not so fine) examples of sequential art on the interwebs.
For this episode, we’ll be looking at two nice comics, one by a famous dude, and one by two not-so-famous dudes. The theme is “Cute ‘n’ Creepy” and the comics are Broodhollow and Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo.
Kristofer Straub’s name should be familiar to anyone in the webcomics world, having created numerous popular features, most notably the spacefaring gag strip Starslip Crisis (later Starslip), which was probably the only science fiction series to make art history jokes. I never warmed up to post-reboot Starslip, so until recently I hadn’t read Straub’s work in quite a while. When I learned that he had returned with an all-new feature, I was eager to check it out.
I have not read very much manga. My only experience with it is Tezuka’s Buddha, of which I read the first volume about a month ago. Nonetheless, I have a passing familiarity with its elements, having read plenty of Scott McCloud, and I can see its influence spreading throughout the comics scene. McCloud was possibly the first to adopt its tropes in his Zot! series of the eighties, but today there is probably not a single comics artist alive whose work is not at least indirectly influenced by manga. Amateur cartoonists are especially prone to creating work that would be indistinguishable from actual Japanese manga were they not drawn with complete ineptitude. This is not to say that it’s impossible to create good work in the manga tradition, though. Jonathon Dalton’s A Mad Tea Party is proof of that much.
Freewheel is one of those extremely rare webcomics that inspires comparison to prominent creators of the print world. The artwork somewhat reminded me of Kim Deitch in its meticulous and sometimes disturbing detail. The writing is reminiscent of Hans Rickheit’s surreal underworld of The Squirrel Machine. Ultimately, though, these kinds of comparisons are a waste of time, as Liz Baillie’s webcomic stands beautifully on its own.
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.
There is a type of story which recurs again and again. In it, someone is suddenly transported to another world, one which she had believed to be fictional. This is in some ways an offshoot of the fantasy-transposition story (that is, one in which people from the “real” world end up in a different world), but it also implies an interesting truth about writers. Writers create worlds through their work, but not even Tolkien-scale efforts can make these worlds actually exist, no matter how much their creators may want them to. I think stories like Namesake grow out of this frustration.
The concept of being an outsider is an important one in science fiction. The idea of being the only human in a group of aliens is possibly the most dramatic example of isolation imaginable. For writers of SF it presents a vast array of possibilities to explore not just the possibilities of alien cultures but also what it means to be human.
In Outsider, Jim Francis enters into this longstanding tradition with an epic of war and politics, depicted through attractive anime-style artwork. Francis obviously spends a considerable amount of time on both art and writing, and the world-building is extensive–but does the story hold up?
Well, it’s a new year, and hopefully the blog will be better than ever. Along those lines, I’m reintroducing a feature I attempted a while ago on a different blog: Circuit Reader, a series of overly-lengthy reviews of webcomics in the style of The Webcomic Overlook. These take a while to write, so I can’t promise them very often, but I will put one up when the mood strikes me.