Warning: This comic contains brief nudity, swearing and subject matter that may be objectionable to some people. Viewer discretion is advised, and I’d not consider the comic work-safe.
While the majority of the webcomics I read tend to be fantasies and science fictions (with a growing number of journal comics tossed into the mix), every so often I find myself embroiled in more mundane fiction. Given my issues with embarrassing situations, this isn’t always easy for me and I’ve found myself abandoning comics on more than one occasion when the subject matter hit too close to home. This was nearly the fate that the high school drama comic Bridges suffered; the comic languished in my reading queue for weeks before I finally bit the bullet and forced myself to read through the archives. On more than one occasion I found myself pausing my archive crawl and distracting myself with other issues, but there was something integral to the comic itself that didn’t let me just give up on it.
This isn’t to say that Bridges has a superbly written storyline with characters you will instantly fall in love with. If anything, the characters are quite human, which is part of their charm. The comic initially focused on Quinn, a seemingly shallow and spoiled teenaged cheerleader who found herself forced to go to summer camp apparently because her parents were upset with her because she didn’t make squad captain (though I have to suspect there was more to it than just that; we’re being given the story from Quinn’s perspective at this point, and she admits to being a “rich b##ch”). Interestingly, she strikes a rather unexpected friendship with Maddie, a shy overweight girl who somehow managed to (through a combination of kindness and perception) break through Quinn’s shell and find a kindred spirit.
While Quinn is fairly central at this point to the story (though I suspect as the comic evolves, it will shift to more of an ensemble cast), I have to admit I find Maddie to be the more interesting character. For one thing, she’s overweight and yet still attractive. This tends to be fairly uncommon in literature and comics seeing that it’s culturally acceptable to treat overweight people poorly – seriously, if you were to take any of the fat jokes or snide comments said against overweight people and said something similar to nearly any other minority and there’d be a tremendous outcry against the comments. It’s also fairly clear (at least to me) that Maddie has body acceptance issues, and I suspect she wears long-sleeve shirts for a specific reason besides hiding what her body looks like. While I’m not quite sure why Quinn opened up to her so quickly (given her irritability toward other girls who tried to be friends with her), her status as an outsider has helped her perceive things others would overlook.
Other members of Quinn’s circle of friends includes Harley, her former best friend who’s into the goth and piercing scene and has no problem making a scene if he thinks one of his friends is in the wrong. (He’s also prejudiced against the preppy scene, partly due to losing his best friend for two years as Quinn tried to fit in with them.) On the opposite side of the friendship spectrum is Sarah, one of the few cheerleaders who like Quinn has been living a double life… and who ends up abandoning the cheerleader clique soon after Quinn does, especially once Quinn starts spurning her because she’s a cheerleader.
As an aside, one thing I actually enjoyed about Bridges was that Quinn’s reformation isn’t instantaneous. While it’s apparent Quinn is a very conflicted girl who acts unpleasant to fit in with her social circle (a rather unpleasant group of cheerleaders that seem corrupted by the squad captain’s crude behavior), even after she abandons the cheerleaders and hangs out with Maddie and Harley, who was her best friend until a couple years ago, she still will slip into old habits on occasion (especially when the cheerleaders are concerned). It’s refreshing to see character growth treated as a gradual process, with inevitable backsliding.
This is actually the second incarnation of Bridges; cartoonist Kris Justus initially started the comic back in 2001, and it ran for 400 updates until early 2004. While I’ve not done more than skim a couple of the original comics, I actually prefer the current incarnation, primarily due to the differences in Quinn’s personality (with her being more caustic and imperfect than the quick impression I got from her in the old comic). The artwork has significantly improved from 2004, and while there are some initial stumbles with coloring and art, once Justus finds her pace the art improves significantly. There are some elements that don’t quite work for me (such as her having almost been chosen for the Olympics and turning it down because it didn’t fit her parents expectations of her) but these flaws aren’t fatal to the comic. If you enjoy school-genre comics and stories with flawed characters, then you should enjoy Bridges; I must admit I found it an acquired taste myself, but one I’m more than willing to give a chance.