Perhaps one of the biggest struggles a webcartoonist can face is the juggling act between character development and alienating fans when their favorite character of theirs is developed in a direction contrary to what they think is true to the character. An example of this can be found in College Roomies from Hell with April’s evolution from a nice (if slightly odd) girl to an obsessed stalker who ended up driving a knife through the chest of her crush. Sadly, I’m seeing some parallels with the contemporary fantasy webcomic El Goonish Shive, with its April analogue (Sarah, the resident “normal character” in the comic).
Fortunately, cartoonist Dan Shive isn’t turning Sarah into the scary stalker type as she’s still dating Elliot, though that relationship is on the rocks due to her jealousy of his unwanted magical ability to turn himself into a girl… which is at the heart of the path I wish Dan wasn’t taking with her. Specifically? I find Sarah’s obsession with magic and her desire for power (just for the sake of having it) to be cringe-worthy. Mind you, this is a webcomic with a shapeshifting squirrel-girl, a wannabe mad scientist, and various magical mishaps (though until recently the magic was under a “Masquerade” effect with the government hiding its existence when possible).
Given my own complaints in the past about Shive’s obsession with magically-enhanced characters, it would be logical to suggest my issue isn’t with Sarah so much as Shive’s apparent need for all of his characters to have magical powers. There may be some merit to this suggestion. But I can’t help but feel Shive is ignoring other aspects of Sarah’s personality and ability (such as her artistic talents or her relationship with Elliot and the problems she’s starting to encounter with her feelings about him) and focusing on the magical aspect of EGS to the exception of story elements that would push the boundaries of Shive’s storytelling skills… and at the same time expand on barely-touched elements that would be better suited in expanding Sarah’s character.