One thing I try to avoid when writing stories is the use of info dumps. To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I got the impression that info dumps were bad; perhaps it’s the prevalence of info dumps in older science fiction literature (which at times… suffers in quality). Still as a general rule of thumb, info dumps often tend to be boring at best and unnecessary at worse, especially if readers have some basis of knowledge of the topic on hand. Thus when I saw an info dump rear its head in the contemporary fantasy webcomic Namesake I’ll admit I quickly grew bored. While I was unfamiliar with the backstory elements of Ozma being a fairy (to be honest, that’s not too surprising as L. Frank Baum changed things from book to book), I had passing familiarity with several of the Oz books and thus found myself bored with what I felt was excessive exposition.
The artwork behind the ongoing info dump helped put form to the characters, but I soon was wishing the comic would get to a more active bit of storytelling. As such, I was thoroughly shocked when cartoonists Megan Lavey and Isabelle Melançon deviated from the traditional backstory and had Dorothy die of old age… while still looking every bit the child thanks to Ozma’s magic. Perhaps part of the shock did lie with said artwork; while the imagery presented brief glimpses of the background story, Melançon managed to impart emotion and impact into those images, both of Ozma’s love for Dorothy and her grief at her death. And then we learned of the other Dorothies, of young girls who would appear into Oz… and each in turn would grow old and die, while masked in the illusion of youth, and this story takes on a darker aspect.
Truth be told, Namesake is not a story of the Land of Oz, though the main character is currently a Dorothy lost in Oz without the knowledge of how to escape (as it seems magic slippers don’t always send you home with a click of the heels). Rather, the story resembles another webcomic, Andy Weir’s Cheshire Crossing (which is sadly on hiatus and unlikely to drag itself out of that pit). In fact, both comics start with the emergence of Alice Liddell from the strange world they traveled to… and focus on these young women who can travel between worlds. But where Weir’s story focuses on the original Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy, Namesake lives up to its title and examines girls (and guys, for that matter) who embody these characters from classical literature and fairy tales.
The primary protagonist of the comic (after the prologue, which focuses on the Alice of literary fame, and presents a brief introduction to the concept of “Namesakes”) is a young woman named Emma Crewe, who when picking up her 15-year-old sister Elaine at the library ends up in the middle of an insane adventure, inheriting the mantle of “Dorothy” and finds herself transported to Oz. Unfortunately for Emma, things don’t quite work the way they did in the movie (which, to be honest, was a significant retelling from the original novel).
Unfortunately, while the artwork is quite striking (and I found the use of shades of green for coloring of the exposition info dump section to be rather innovative), Melançon doesn’t always have time to color the comics. As such, the comic can jump between color and greyscale or black-and-white art. There are even segments where there is spot color; I initially ascribed some extra meaning to the spot colors, but looking back I have to wonder if these moments of color, however light, may have been a result of insufficient time to color the comic adequately.
In spite of the inconsistency of color in the art, Namesake has an interesting premise that quickly differentiates it from similar webcomics. Lavey and Melançon have done a fine job of creating interesting and compelling characters and with tossing twists into the story you won’t always see coming. Even with the use of info dumps (and to be honest, I fully expect us to see more in the future, if only to explain just what the Namesakes are) the comic is enjoyable and manages to recreate familiar settings and make them unpredictable.