I must admit that the latest storyline of Mark Mekkes’ science fiction webcomic Saucer Seekers has been rather enjoyable for me. Part of this is due to the more… uplifting aspect of the story. Rather than having the characters fruitlessly spin their wheels while trying to uncover the truth, they’re succeeding for once. They’ve discovered their evidence of an alien abduction and alien spacecraft (or at the very least, unidentified craft that seem beyond current Earth technology), including photographic proof from traffic light cameras, and are all set to reveal this to the world. There’s only one thing in their way… and it’s not the men in black or covert government operatives. It’s an act of conscience.
The location of the abduction and of the sightings of the craft is in a small town. The people who admitted to seeing it asked for their anonymity (and weren’t included in the reports from what I can tell). But we have our protagonist looking down at the evidence he just has to mail out… after wishing a bunch of townsfolk a Merry Christmas… and realizing that even though they haven’t revealed who anyone is, people in this town are going to lose their privacy and anonymity once these reports go out. And this has made me wonder… how many instances of UFO sightings with actual proof go unreported because of moments of conscience such as this one? And ultimately… is this search about a personal proof, or vindication? Because mailing out this proof to the world… is vindication, and doesn’t serve the truth at all.
For the past couple of months, K. Lin has been running a series of short character stories in her contemporary fantasy webcomic Institute of Metaphysics. Most of the characters were actually new to the comic (and expand upon an already sizeable cast; to be honest, I’m not sure how Lin will be able to tell all of their stories, especially with a somewhat intermittent update schedule (though I’ll be the first to admit, real life trumps comics)). What I found interesting, however, was Lin’s comments after the stories; specifically, about the story “Trojan” about one of the characters (Kaoru) going in disguise into a brothel to rescue a woman. Not out of love or duty… but as part of a job to rescue a rich businessman’s daughter.
The story was decent enough, and touched upon a topic not often talked about in American society – human trafficking and involuntary prostitution. The initial narration worked well to help establish the setting, and the story moved along fairly rapidly. It was only after the girl was rescued from the brothel that the story succumbed to a bout of excessive narration as Lin proceeded to provide an unnecessary amount of detail concerning Kaoru (as I doubt most of it will be relevant in the near future… meaning that if used, the material would have to be revisited later on). Pages 226 and 227 could have been merged, allowing the story to continue moving rapidly while not drowning the reader with excessive detail.
As I mentioned above, it was Lin’s notes after the story that I found especially interesting. It seems she can’t stomach this type of story (not that I blame her), and didn’t want to write or illustrate it. However, Kaoru had taken control of the story and insisted this tale be told. (This might explain why the story starts to ramble in places, which is a bit of a shame as if it had remained cohesive, it would have been a truly powerful tale.) I’ve long said the most powerful stories are those where the characters take the pen out of the writer’s hand and start crafting their own tales. “Trojan” had this promise, and managed to flesh out a character who I honestly don’t remember from the comic’s archives. But what “Trojan” imparted the most to me was the importance of editing and refining even those stories you don’t like to ensure they remain concise and to the point.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that many webcomics tend to have… erratic schedules at best. When you consider most webcomics are hobbies done in the cartoonist’s spare time, then finals, projects, work, and family can often derail the best of schedules (a problem that even professional webcartoonists can face). But I have to admit, I was rather amused by the latest update of the humor/slice-of-life comic Head Trip, with the cartoonist avatar character Malory summoning up Beelzeflu, the demon of colds, sniffles, and generally feeling icky (by using Nyquil to paint the summoning circle!), and then sucker-punches the demon in the gut. While cartoonist Amanda “Shinga” Bussell claims not to have been ill yet this season (which seems at odds with her message a week earlier on feeling too ill to sleep), given that illness is perhaps the top reason for missed updates… well, this update feels especially apropos, especially as she’s not missed an update in the last three weeks.
Every so often a webcartoonist will take a theme, scene, or running gag and beat it into the ground until it loses any and all value it once had. Normally this occurs with inexperienced cartoonists, but on occasion a more experienced cartoonist will run with it much to the eventual annoyance of fans and critics alike. I must admit I was surprised to see Phil and Kaja Foglio taking the ringing of the Doom Bell (and how it was knocking allies and enemies alike unconscious) and beating it to death; the cacophony was diminishing my enjoyment of the comic, and I must admit I was hoping for a culmination of this continually-resonating scene and for Agatha Heterodyne and the Girl Genius crew to move on. And then the Foglios pulled the rug out from under me with a twist I should have seen coming : Gil is immune to the deleterious effects of the Doom Bell.
Indeed, he thinks it sound beautiful and reacted much like the Jägermonsters did when they heard it. This wasn’t just pulled out of the blue. When you look back to when Gil was treated for wounds by the Jägermonsters three years back (and yes, we’ve been in Mechanicsburg for around four years now), there were hints that Baron Wulfenbach had learned more secrets of the Jägermonsters than he’d admitted to. Gil’s reaction to being given Jäger Battle-Draught (to hasten healing) was fairly benign, compared to the apparent effects it could have on “normal” people (aka, anyone who wasn’t a Jäger). Add in the Baron’s concerns of Gil and Agatha being together (partly due to his belief Agatha was the Other, who had nearly destroyed Europe back nineteen years earlier), and you can see there are some interesting links between Gil and the Heterodynes.
Of course, there is an alternative, and one that will be hinted at when we see one last reaction to the Doom Bell’s Toll: Zeetha, Agatha’s green-haired companion and mentor of sorts (at least when it comes to martial arts and learning how to survive). We’ve already had hints that Gil’s mother may have been from Skifander. If Zeetha isn’t adversely affected by the ringing of the Doom Bell… then it may suggest one of two things. First, it may be that Gil’s immunity to the Bell is part of his heritage from Skifander. More interestingly, however, is this: there may be a link between Skifander and the Jägermonsters (and Mechanicsburg). Given the number of plots needing to be wrapped up (including the inevitable showdown between Zeetha and the former pirate queen Bangladesh DuPree, the fight against the Baron and the Other, and of course the time portals shown waaaay back at the start of Girl Genius), and it’s likely we won’t see this story for quite some time.
That’s assuming, of course that Zeetha isn’t knocked out by the Doom Bell. But seeing that we’ve not seen her response to the Bell prior to now (come to think of it, I’m not sure when we last saw Zeetha… I think it was when she was recovering from the fight with the false Heterodyne Zola), and it becomes more likely we’ll have one last glimpse of the Doom Bell’s toll… which will show us not only the ties that Airman Higgs has with the Jägermonsters… but if Zeetha herself is immune. It’s a twist that (now that I’m looking for them) I’m half-expecting. And while it would be perfectly natural for the Foglios to put this overused scene to rest with the story-twist involving Gil… I can’t help but think they’ve one last card to play.
Webcomics come to an end for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the ultimate reason comes down to time… or a lack of it. Even the simplest of webcomics can take an hour or more to draw, upload, and post on the internet, and when actual effort goes into the artistry and writing of a comic, that time increases significantly. Still, I can’t feel bad for the end of the science fiction webcomic Crimson Dark, as the author has gone on to be hired to work for a computer game studio on the game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Furthermore, David C. Simon finished the first book of the comic. Far too many webcomics end in the middle of stories with no closure at all.
What’s more, Simon doesn’t plan on simply abandoning the world of Crimson Dark. Instead, he has plans to continue the story as an illustrated online novel (which I must admit is not nearly as easy as it sounds). Personally, when you consider there are a number of webcomics that update every other week or even monthly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the next “book” of Crimson Dark to be told as a webcomic but with a more gradual pace. But I understand the frustration that authors feel with the glacial pace of monthly (or even weekly) webcomics, which would make an illustrated online novel more attractive. But whether Simon goes down the route of illustrated online novel or continues the webcomic with a slower update schedule, I look forward to seeing his future work, and wish him luck with his new job at BioWare.
Given my previous couple of posts on the superhero parody comic Atomic Laundromat, the rapid conclusion of the indecency trial of Messiah (the protagonist’s superhero father) caught me quite by surprise. I realized right off where the tape with the damning comments by Messiah came from. What I didn’t realize was that David himself was the person who leaked the tapes to the prosecutor… and in essence betraying not only his father, but his best friend Angela who was defending Messiah in court. And while Angela’s forgiven him (seeing that he wanted only to, for a little while, keep his father safe rather than running around fighting crime and saving the world despite his advancing years), I can’t help but suspect this is going to end up biting David in the end.
As a personal aside, I must admit I am puzzled as to the legality of android memory in court. While android memory may be considered admissible evidence in this fictional world, I would think that the rights of accused to face their accuser would require the android to actually be there in person. In addition, since it’s a recording, wouldn’t that be considered a breach of privacy (as Messiah was recorded without his prior consent)? But that’s a minor quibble, especially when you consider the ramifications of Messiah’s conviction and consequent house arrest. First… it’s obvious where the tape came from (David’s android worker), so it’s likely Messiah will be confronting David sometime soon on what he did.
On a darker note, Messiah has been found guilty and was sentenced to six months of house arrest. His arch-enemy, Dr. Silver, is responsible for this (with a little help from David). And she knows exactly where he’s going to be for the next six months. At the very least I’d not be surprised if she ensures several crimes happen in front of Messiah’s house to try and trick him into breaking probation (though I suspect he could probably manage to take out a mugger across the street without leaving the doorway… which could be quite amusing to watch, to be honest). And if Dr. Silver’s mind takes a darker turn… then David’s efforts to protect his father could end up harming him instead.
Periodically webcartoonist Randall Monroe will take a break from his usual stick figure antics in the wildly popular webcomic xkcd and indulge in his fascination with statistics and graphs. His past indulgences have led to a couple maps of the Internet (or of the Internet and of Social Media if memory serves me right). Today’s comic takes a look at money… both on the personal scale and on an economic and national scale. And the scale of this is so great that Monroe posted a minimized image of the graph on his site that you click on to enlarge… and can increase or decrease according to your needs (which is especially useful for those without excellent vision, or with eyes that are tired from a day on the computer).
One of the things I found disturbing was the information on the cost of dinner for four people… with the expense of time included in the data. A simple meal for four can be had for less than ten dollars of rice and beans. But when time costs are added of two hours shopping, travel, preparation and cleanup, the cost jumps to over 40 dollars. By comparison, McDonalds is less expensive, and Arby’s about the same cost. Looking at this, and I can suddenly understand why so many people eat out at fast food; when all factors are added in, it becomes less expensive. It explains a lot about American culture and of our unhealthy eating habits.
There are various little whimsical quirks added in for amusement factor – for instance, Monroe takes the valuation of products in the song “If I had One Million Dollars” that would go into courtship to woo the lady in question, which apparently includes a llama, furniture, and a tree fort. Obviously I need to listen to that song again; I don’t remember the llama. But it apparently cost a little over a quarter of a million dollars to woo that lady in the song, so they have enough to live comfortably on after the fact. And of course, knowing it costs 2,400 dollars to build a waist-deep half-room ball pit is invaluable information for any fan of Monroe’s “I Love xkcd” song.
As I moved up the scale to millions, billions, and trillions of dollars, I was reminded of a quote from comedian Stephen Colbert that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Little things like the total cost of the U.S. Space Shuttle program (for each launch of the Shuttle) being less than the cost of one B2 Stealth Bomber, or the amount of money spent in U.S. political campaigns, or individual charitable giving compared to corporate philanthropy is just amazing. And while I found the statistical chart on U.S. household income to be rather confusing, the general message was understandable. It would cost entirely too much to give every person in the world singing lessons. We should just buy them all a Coke, and smile.