It’s never as easy as all that

Filed in Webcomic review

(From Platinum Grit. Click on image to see it full-sized. Warning: Comic navigation is via Macromedia Shockwave and may not work on older computers or those on dial-up.)

Some ten years or so ago, I decided to start my own comic book. Unfortunately, it never got off the ground (lack of artist), but I did learn a bit of what goes into creating a comic book, thanks to an article written in Cerebus comics showing what it cost (then) to do a dead-paper comic, and what you could expect. And it wasn’t cheap. A real low-end estimate would be $3,000 to start.

It’s in this environment that Platinum Grit started. It was a self-published printed comic that ran for ten issues. Unfortunately, in the late 90s the print comic market was suffering significant problems. Quite a few independent companies went under as several distributors filed for bankruptcy. And the entire field of independent comics shifted focus as the Internet itself was proving itself a viable entity to advertise and showcase comics.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how much of the independent market moved over back then. When I tend to think of comic books going over to the Internet, I think of Girl Genius by the Foglios. But that wasn’t the first comic by far to switch from print to pixel. (And it shows me to restrain from editing T Campbell’s “History of Webcomics” as I’m sure he would talk about that phenomena in the book. I’ll definitely have to pick up a copy when it’s available in print.)

However its beginnings, Platinum Grit is one of those hybrid comics that have arisen in the new world of comics: a combination webcomic and print comic, using the web to help hook in new readers, and print to make money as well as give fans something to view when they’re not on-line. Keeping with the tradition of print comics, updates are done when the newest issue is complete. However, each strip is viewed one bit at a time, rather than as full pages or the like.

The navigation run is rather interesting, using Macromedia Shockwave to load each comic (and you’ll need the most recent one at that; considering the entire comic is loaded each time, this comic probably isn’t for those on dial-up). Other than clicking the mouse on the image to start, you navigate purely by arrow keys, going back and forth to see what’s going on (and checking back to double-check). Mostly it’s one panel per page, though sometimes you get two or three panels. It’s one of the more unique navigation setups I’ve come across in my time reading webcomics.

But what’s truly spectacular about Platinum Grit is the story. It’s a wild insane tale, with a young man who manages to retain his sense of innocence and wonder despite having a sexy and whimsical female friend/flatmate. She instigates most of their adventures. When things go wrong, she blames him, and he accepts the blame without thought. Indeed, his sense of self-worth is so low that I wonder at times how he manages to be innocent, naive, and decent.

The thing is, Nils isn’t an evil bitch, despite how I describe her above. She’s cruel, yes. She teases Jeremy, sure. But she actually does care for him. I’m not quite sure if she loves him or not; I think she’s not entirely sure herself. He’s a toy, a plaything… but she’s very protective of him and jealous when her friend Kate shows up, and shows considerable interest in the young man. She’s a force of nature, protective of her friend, destructive toward him, wanting to be a part of his life on her own terms.

I suppose the best way to describe Jeremy is that he’s a good mad scientist. He’s part Madboy (from Girl Genius), part insane dabbler from Narbonic, and yet precedes both strips by almost a decade. He’s the perennial “Nice Guy” who doesn’t want to take advantage of a friend when she’s not quite herself, a coffee addict that so loves his addiction he owns his own coffee shop, and I get the feeling that part of the reason he’s never tried anything with Nils is that he himself is afraid to change things between them.

And Kate, the third part of this trio (and a part that first joins the comic in issue 6) is the catalyst for change. She’s intrigued by Jeremy and likes him a lot. In fact, she’s rather attracted to him, which both amuses and annoys Nils in equal parts. She calls Nils on her bullshit, she tries to draw Jeremy out of his shell, and she tries to protect herself under a shell of cynicism and yet finds her armor cracked by Jeremy’s odd charm. Kate creates the obtuse love triangle between these three, forcing Nils to admit her feelings and yet help her push Jeremy away in turn. And while this might seem cruel… Jeremy would be the first to say he doesn’t mind in the least.

You know, I look at this and I do see it as being cruel. I mean, how could anyone treat a guy like this? And yet the story is written in such a way that I can’t help but being amused by it. I mean, there are some pretty intense moments here; moments that have me shuddering and wondering what horror will be unleashed next. And then there are moments of sublime humor that get me laughing and loving every moment of the comic.

Take the current storyline. Due to Nils jealousy (when Kate took Jeremy out on a date), some sacred stone was accidentally knocked into the loch (a loch in Australia? Odd…) unleashing some sort of water demons that attack Jeremy and his friends when tears or blood are introduced into the water. And it doesn’t need to be a lot of water. A puddle will suffice. (But if it’s imported water, it won’t attack either. Though the imported water is Evian, so I’m not sure if it’s just that the spectral critters don’t like imported French water.)

Jeremy is intent on tracking down everything that repulses the critters and which attracts them. Nils thinks that by replacing the stone she knocked over (though she claims the ghosts did it), it’ll make everything better; also, she wants to play Assistant to Jeremy’s current mad scientist kick, and is annoyed when she isn’t allowed to. And Kate? She’s trying to figure out just what’s going on here. She’s not as ingrained into the insanity that is Nils and Jeremy’s life.

This is par for the course. Yet it doesn’t get repetitive or old. Each time something new is added to the mixture, some aspect that has you cheering on Jeremy and being amused by Nils’s latest antics. (In this way, Kate becomes the straight woman, the “normal one” in a world of insanity. Yet she’s not boring or overblown; she’s as crazy as the others. It’s just that her insanity is rooted in the “real” world, and is thus understandable by us.)

There isn’t anything predictable with the comic. If it were, then Nils and Jeremy would never get together. Kate would always be the third wheel, never doing anything spontaneous or crazy. The status quo would be continued. But part of Platinum Grit’s charm is the fact things aren’t carved in stone. Anyone can change. Anything can change. Whether it’s Nils admitting how much she cares for this crazy naive young man… or Kate going on an enjoyable date with Jeremy and ending up in bed with him.

Or not. You’ll have to read and see for yourself.

Robert A. Howard

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