Yes, that was my reaction too…

Filed in Webcomic review

(From Avalon. Click on image to see it full-sized.)

Back in 2001, I was going through a period of growth for what I read in webcomics. Of course, back then growth meant I was going from half a dozen comics to a dozen or so. Maybe 20 at most. I had been determined not to be like some people who were reading a hundred plus comics a day (and I’m not poking fun at Eric Burns here; this was before Websnark; some fans were so into webcomics that they were reading a hundred plus comics a day, back when webcomics numbered maybe a couple thousand rather than the tens of thousands of strips out there currently).

I’m not quite sure what lead me to Avalon. It might have been a Newsbox. It might have been an IRC chat. But this comic about a young lady who’d moved to a new school, and had troubles with dryer sheets stuck to the back of her vest quickly stole my heart and gained a place in my reading queue.

Josh Phillips was a master of the trade. The early artwork was perhaps a tad rough in places, but it still had a simple elegance to the lines that fans fell in love with. However, much more important than the artwork was the storytelling. There, Josh Phillips showed tremendous skill with characters people quickly grew to love (or detest in the case of Alan). Well, okay. Maybe we’d love to throttle Joe because of his idiocy over being unsure if he wanted to date Ceilidh, and we wanted to smack HelËne upside the head with a clue-stick… but still.

What’s more, soon after starting this comic had a clearly delineated beginning, middle, and end. This was the story of Ceilidh’s high school years at Avalon High. We’d not be continuing the journey with Avalon: College Years or anything of the sort. Instead, the comic was to last three years… and end with Ceilidh and the other graduating in August, 2002.

That end didn’t come about.

Josh started suffering writer’s block. I’m not entirely sure why, but Avalon went from a work of joy… to a Damocles sword, constantly dangling over his head, reminding him whenever he missed an update or took time off. The comic went on several hiatuses while fans waiting faithfully. Finally, Josh said “enough”… and quit. Further, he even posted the written ending of what he’d originally planned for the comic. And it seemed like that was the end. Josh tried to start up other comics from time to time, but they failed after just a few updates or even before being posted on the web.

Last week, without fanfare or a lot of hype, Avalon started up again, continuing where it had left off. And with a touch of humor and a touch of seriousness, we learn that Phoebe’s mom is an alcoholic. There’d been signs. An open bottle of liquor. Her anger issues. Perhaps even the communication problems she has with her husband. We’re getting around to closure here. We’ve been doing so, what with closure to the Alan/HelËne relationship, or Ceilidh and Joe’s relationship.

Still, we’ve a bit to go with this. There’s still the growing friendship between Phoebe and Ceilidh. Indeed, early on we had some teasers about a possible romantic relationship between Phoebe and Ceilidh. But those teasers have grown with Phoebe’s active dislike of Joe and Ceilidh being together. Indeed, she even changed what her university choices were to match Ceilidh’s. Of course, part of Phoebe’s dislike about Joe and Ceilidh may be due to her past relationship with Joe, which resulted in his pushing her abusive boyfriend down a flight of stairs. We won’t know until Avalon ends, if then.

Perhaps one of the things that most attracted fans to Avalon has been the relationship between Joe and Ceilidh. Indeed, at one point the shippers urging for these two characters to hook up was as vibrant and insistent as the D&M shippers over at CRFH. Perhaps part of that has to do with Ceilidh herself. Finally (after a couple of pseudo-dates as friends), Ceilidh asked Joe to be a steady boyfriend and despite his misgivings, he agreed to. And in what might have been one of the most mind-blowing of comics to date, soon after we had Ceilidh, mostly naked, offering herself to Joe, and his voicing his misgivings about it. Naturally, we know how this ultimately pans out, but the relationship between these two, watching it grow and its outcome, is part of the “twistiness” of Avalon, and what draws fans to so enjoy the comic.

Of course, Ceilidh’s relationships aren’t the only ones in Avalon. While we haven’t seen much of Ceilidh’s home life, we do get glimpses of the other parents, such as Joe’s mother (and later his father), the Bradleys (which includes Phoebe’s older sister Deirdre, a long-time favorite of fans, and her parents whose relationship has been strained for a bit now), and more. We’ve also Ryan and Deirdre, who have been having an intimate relationship for months in the comic (and indeed we even learned some secrets which would have Eric calling out “Cerebus Syndrome!” if he’d been snarking comics back in ’01).

Avalon also drew in other cartoonists. On weekends, Avalon would run guest-strips. Indeed, it even had guest weeks by such notaries as Damonk of Framed!!! (who even drew a Tangentalon strip after I wrote a parody script on the forums). Unfortunately, once Avalon’s update schedule grew spotty, it seemed the guest-strips were starting to outnumber the regular strips. Still, for a while a surefire way to advertise your comic was to do a fan-strip or fan-art of Avalon, for Josh to post on Sundays.

The friendships and relationships within Avalon are part of its draw, and what left people so disappointed when it ended premature. What’s more, it’s left Josh unable to move on. Other projects falter and end perhaps because he feels obligated to tell this story to its end. Hopefully, Josh will continue to update. If he misses an update here or there, well, that’s to be expected. But to actually return to this project, years later, and pick up where he’d left off… that takes considerable guts.

As for future projects? We’ll have to wait and see. Still, Josh was a staple of webcomics for several years. Even if he returns with just a weekly strip or the like, it’ll be a hit. And hopefully he can do something he finds joy in. Though if I were to recommend one thing, it would be creating a comic without any clear end. Maybe knowing how Avalon ends, and seeing that end approach, was part of what led to the hiatus and premature end of the comic to begin with. A little spontaneity may be just what the cartooning doctor ordered.

Robert A. Howard

Addendum Note: Unfortunately, the “real world” decided to play havoc with Josh’s life, and Avalon has gone back on hiatus. I look forward to its eventual return… though I may wait for a month’s worth of updates to happen before I tangent on it again. Rob H.

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