One of the more interesting things I’ve witnessed over the past decade is the growing number of webcomics that have come out with print compilations of their archives. Given that the majority of webcomics exist because the Internet offers cartoonists an inexpensive venue to publish their stories without having to bow to editorial or reader constraints, it seems odd at times to see webcomics moving back to print venues. The expense of print publications, along with the uncertainty of a market makes the decision to publish one not taken casually. Unfortunately, print compilations often offer one of the few ways cartoonists can actually make money off their creation.
Given that only a fraction of a webcomic’s readership will actually deem to purchase a print compilation (seeing that we readers are notoriously stingy – why pay for something when we can read it for free online, after all), even those comics that possess larger audiences still suffer the risk of low sales. As a result, canny webcartoonists often offer exclusive content to draw in customers. This can take the form of bonus stories, extra artwork, or even creator commentary. Gamer webcomic Weregeek, by Alina Pete, utilized a combination of all three in the two print volumes of her comic. By utilizing all three content venues, she has crafted a product that not only showcases her storytelling, but also gives glimpses into the effort that went into her creation and gave it its soul.
Volume one, The Geek Within, is 54 full-color pages covering the initial three chapters of Weregeek. It also includes bonus art, conceptual sketches, a two-page bonus story, and authorial commentary that helps fill out the edition. Volume two, Creatures of the Night is also in full-color with around twice the material, covering chapters four to nine along with bonus comics, sketches, and similar material.
The comic itself follows the slow awakening of primary protagonist Mark, who wakes up (metaphorically speaking) under the full moon one evening and realizes he is a gamer geek. Seeing that he’s a fairly handsome and physically fit young adult who has a very attractive fiancée, this naturally comes as a bit of a surprise to him. Despite his initial protests to the contrary, he soon finds himself ensorcelled in the mad imaginative world of roleplaying, both tabletop and live-action, and makes several new friends in the process.
I found the storytelling style to be rather interesting, with the readers tossed into the wild imaginings of the games themselves, rather than watching over the shoulders of the gamers in what would likely be a rather boring depiction of gaming. At times this can create a sense of dissonance, given that the game-protagonists are often nearly identical to the comic-protagonists. Given that there are literal Hunters who pursue the gaming geeks in the “real” world (because imagination, science and creativity are a threat to what it means to be American), when a game utilizes Hunters in it, readers can sometimes be left unsure if they’re viewing a game or something that actually happens in the comic itself.
Of course, given Mark’s own slide into the surreal world of gaming, what we may be viewing is Mark’s own wild imaginings gone wild. The Hunters could very well be Mark’s own subconscious scolding him for being into unproductive “geeky” activities, or could even represent some metaphoric aspect of those elements of society that frown upon these activities as immature and the venue of children instead of adults. Pete herself has described the world as being similar to our own, but in which gaming is looked down upon; this description seems at odds with some of the activities, such as gamers gathering in a public park to play games and the like.
At its heart, Weregeeks is a story about friendship and of fitting in. It is about a group of people who share a common bond of imagination and creativity who get together and pretend… and we’re given a glimpse into that imagination and the storytelling they create while playing their games. This element of Weregeeks alone definitely makes it worth reading. Add in the glimpses of Alina Pete’s creative process in creating the comic, and you definitely have a product worth the while of any fan, and something that will draw in new readers as well.