Filed in Webcomic review

The comic Earthsong is in a bit of financial trouble. It seems that sales of its print compilation of the first Earthsong comic have done fairly poorly, and it’s unlikely that Seven Seas (the publishing company also behind the Inverloch graphic novel as well as Unearthly and several others) will publish the second volume unless sales increase. This apparently has put the continuation of Earthsong in question, so Lady Yates has asked her fans to help with sales. Her first graphic novel is available through for a little over $10, for a 160-page graphic novel. Hopefully fan support will be enough to get the next volume published, especially as more and more cartoonists contemplate using the web as a venue to establish a fanbase for their stories and sales of print compilations.

Speaking of fan-help, Tangents can use yours. Glych and I have been reworking Tangents, creating a Miscellaneous folder for fanfics and non-comic rants, and revising the Highlights section for Meta-reviews, Secants and “Best of” reviews. The thing is, I think my readers are better qualified to tell me which reviews are the best. Suggestions are welcome on the forum board thread set up for this. So far we’ve one suggestion for June of 2006; I’m hoping to have a “Best of” for each month Tangents has updated. (While there are a number of reviews in the first couple of months of Tangents, most months have significantly fewer reviews to choose from.) So please, take your favorite reviews and suggest them for the “Best of”!

Nightmares of the Past

(From Star Cross’d Destiny. Click on image to see it full-sized.)

One problem that can arise in comics is that of continuity. The longer a comic runs, the greater the risk of gaps in continuity cropping up. This problem actually first appeared in the world of print comics; there are numerous continuity flaws found in even fairly new print comics, both independent and mainstream. With long-running print comics, new writer and editors tend to disregard part of what came before when it doesn’t fit into their “vision” of how they see the comic.

I believe DC Comics was the first company to do a “cosmic reset” of their series (and have done this a couple of times in fact). Rather than work within the continuity established by previous writers and work within that framework and explain away discrepancies that arose with differing artistic interpretations of both characters and setting, The Powers That Be decided it would be easier just to erase what came before. Naturally, a number of fans were less than pleased by this.

When comics moved to the internet, this practice followed. In some ways, webcomics can suffer even more than regular print comics. Print comics have editors who can check on the continuity of ideas and help direct the path the comic takes. Webcomics don’t have the benefit of an editorial staff; they are often one-person shows, with the artist also being the writer, the letterer, the colorist, and editor. While there are fewer turnovers of creative staff with webcomics, this doesn’t lessen the fact that webcomics can start up plotlines that the artist regrets at a later time.

The reasons to “reset” the clock on webcomics tend to be more varied than those found in the print world. Oddly enough one such reason is because the cartoonist wishes to see their work in print. Panel2panel’s own No Stereotypes was restarted with the intent of publishing the completed work. Likewise, Earthsong is another comic where the beginning was redone with improved art and story in hopes of getting published. Other cartoonists decided to restart their work because they were unhappy with the story or art of their first comic. Indeed, my own webcomic was removed from the web partly because I intended on relaunching it with a revised storyline and better art. (Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll get around to doing it.)

Star Cross’d Destiny was restarted for several reasons. The cartoonist felt that the original webcomic was poorly done and was missing pertinent information for the story itself. I started reading SCD thanks to a banner ad at Comixpedia and had it had an interesting storyline that did indeed suffer from being a bit confusing. Problems with an update schedule due to some serious health problems of the cartoonist didn’t decrease the confusion as a page might languish for a while without an update to further explain what had happened. Finally, Blair decided to relaunch the comic, taking what had been learned from the first incarnation and using what worked while focusing more on the story and plot.

Unfortunately I didn’t save a copy of the original SCD, so I can’t point out what specifically has changed. However, SCD is based on a novel Blair wrote seven years ago, and has been rescripted, partly to help reduce any confusion caused by translating the written novel to a graphic format. Further, Blair is utilizing the webcomic as a means of advertising her print compilation of Star Cross’d Destiny. Much like Studio Foglio’s Girl Genius, SCD exists in print form, with the webcomic giving a taste to tempt fans to purchase the print run. Unlike GG, Blair is not putting out two “sets” of comic, one of pre-created work found in the print run, and the second of the “advanced” class for those who’ve bought the graphic novel with the first five chapters.

Fundamentally, SCD is the same as what had run in 2003. It’s a story about outsiders, about those who don’t fit into society and how society itself refuses to accept them because of their differences. The cast are a band of “heroes” and their past is akin to the origin stories found in superhero comics, except instead of being cape-wearing supermen, these are more ordinary youngsters who are trying to cope with “gifts” they have been cursed with due to some bizarre interdimensional attack from a parasitic universe (called the Betaverse) which resulted in some people vanishing, others dying, and resources stolen from the Earth.

(Of course, the usual questions arise. Why would an interdimensional force strike at the Earth? What is so special about this one world that couldn’t be found on an uninhabited planet? Of course, considering people were taken, it could be something about humanity itself that was considered essential for harvesting by those in the Betaverse. And no doubt we’ll learn those answers later in the comic.)

SCD is a story about outsiders, about those who don’t fit into society and how society doesn’t accept them due to their differences. Indeed, the protagonist of the first chapter, a 19-year-old orphan named Juno, is hunted by the police and the local mafia. Juno appears unwelcome even among the criminals and outcasts of society, and the only people who seem willing to accept her are those like her. Even there Juno is afraid of letting them get close lest they get hurt.

Of course, Juno has issues with some of her fellow outsiders. While Pike seems to be level-headed and the peace-maker of the group, there are definite sparks flying between Juno and the other two women, Sam and Sara. Her initial relationship with Shades (the sole guy of this band of misfits) is more up in the air. While she does smack Shades for his joke that they were cops, he is the one who asks Pike to stop the growing argument between Juno and Sam. Further, he follows Juno to see if she’s okay after their little disagreement.

Further clues to Juno’s relationship with the others can be found in the cast page. There we learn that Juno is actually friends with Sam (apparently you hurt those you care for the most). This brings an added dimension to the argument between Sam and Juno; Sam isn’t arguing with her because they dislike each other but because she is worried about her friend. “How many times have they had this argument?” A lot. Sam and Pike worry about her wellbeing. Pike (who’s actually a year older than Juno despite her youthful appearance) even offers her a place to stay.

(The cast page brings up another issue, one that a number of cartoonists struggle with. How much do you reveal about your characters in the cast page? How much background information do you reveal? If you show too much then you risk spoiling the story for those who went in the cast page to get a quick understanding about the character. But if you don’t have up-to-date information, then the cast page feels out of date and superfluous. Some sites get by this with a two-tiered cast page with a basic outline for first-time readers and something more in-depth for those who have read the entire comic, but that’s also a bit of extra work for the cartoonist.)

From what I’ve learned while digging around, each of the first five chapters is dedicated to a specific character. The first is Juno, who was orphaned when the Betaverse attack happened. The next chapter appears to be about Shades, undoubtedly helping to build not only his history but his own connections to Juno.

Indeed, while the story will be focusing in turn on each member of the cast, I suspect that we’ll be seeing these people through Juno’s eyes. The “prologue” strips are from her point of view, and she was the first character we encountered. More importantly, even as the second chapter unfolds our look at Shades is through Juno. It’s his concern for her that really starts out the chapter. Of course he claims he’s there because he’s bored, but his words prior to that, and his waking Juno from a nightmarish memory suggests otherwise. He’s her friend at the very least, and after her fight with Sam, he checked up on her. What’s more, it’s good storytelling; by focusing on Juno and telling Shades story through her, it helps keep the comic flowing rather than skipping incoherently as vaguely associated pieces are put together.

SCD joins a growing list of what could be coined “illustrated web-novels” found on the internet. Unlike their predecessors on the web, many of whom had vague beginnings that could feel disjointed and ill thought-out; these comics have a specific story to tell. SCD has established a firm beginning, and I suspect that as the story is fleshed out it will continue to build into a story that will fascinate and enthrall fans in years to come.

Robert A. Howard

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