It seems I always talk about xkcd when Randall Munroe has done something truly expansive within his comic. This time is no exception… except for the fact that Munroe’s efforts in today’s xkcd are truly impressive. And to be honest? I’m not sure just how much there is to this large wide word that he has depicted here, to be perused by clicking the mouse icon on the screen, and dragging it along to see the larger world Munroe has created for readers to explore. I can tell you that among the various discoveries, both on and below the world, include what I believe are velociraptors hiding in the grass, a humpback whale breaching the ocean surface, a water tower, several wind-power generators (which were not tripods, sadly enough), the ending sequence of the Super Mario Brothers computer game (including pipe tunnels), a radio telescope dish, a Saturn V rocket, an X-Wing fighter… and the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Oh, and of course we have a multitude of stick figures doing various things from the mundane to the insane, and lots of trees and man-made structures. Sadly, the one thing that is lacking is a map to show just what is where… and to tantalize viewers to search for hidden Easter Eggs within the strip. I suspect that just as Munroe added tantalizing tidbits hidden in the tunnels below, so too above are there such things as airplanes and perhaps even the International Space Station (though considering things are at scale, that latter is probably just wishful thinking on my part). Given that viewers are able to scroll up one side of radio towers, buildings, and hillsides and down the other, it seems likely that my suspicions are correct that there are hidden tidbits hiding in the white expanse above this world. My one hope is that Munroe will indulge his viewership with an expanded map showing everything. It might lack the detail of this extended map… but it would provide a key to let people know where to look.
It’s been almost a year since my short review of the contemporary fantasy comic Geist, which I uploaded before my yearly hunting vacation in Colorado. Unfortunately, my Muse has been being stubborn when it comes to reviewing this comic and I usually end up procrastinating and putting it off. Part of this may be due to the comic’s weekly update schedule; weekly comics tend to drift from my radar unless the comic’s cartoonist takes care to compress the story and eliminate extraneous plotlines to accelerate the story’s pacing. The problem with this is that it’s extremely difficult to balance characterization, story, and pacing, and in this cartoonist L. S. Zwarenstein is no different than her peers. And while Geist may not be as glacial as many comics, it has still taken its time in building the story as a whole.
The story follows Kate Crowley, a teenager who we learn was attacked by an invisible intangible creature known as a Geist, which left her with a scarred eye and a twisted hand. What’s worse, the same incident resulted in her best friend’s younger sister being comatose, and the teenagers responsible for it blamed her. As she tries to cope with being shunned at school by her former friends (including Landon, her best friend) and the harassment of the Geistlords, the teenager group behind the incident, she starts to see things and realizes after a short while that she’s now able to see the Geists. What’s worse, her cursed hand tends to attract Geists, which could drive her insane or leave her comatose as well if they manage to attack her again.
Fortunately, while Landon does hold her responsible in part for his sister’s condition, he also blames the Geistlords and is soon willing to work with her to find out what happened. That’s actually the path the comic is currently taking, with Kate and Landon working to find out more about the Geistlords and try to figure out how they’re able to control Geists. At the same time, I suspect Kate is also realizing there is more to the Geists than them being simple unthinking monsters, though admittedly this speculation may be based in part off of background material Zwarenstein has provided. One thing that I found interesting is that the Geists are a recent phenomenon, which leaves me to wonder if the story is set in some alternative Earth. Given the presence of cell phones and the like, this is a distinct possibility.
Despite the presence of the Geists and the supernatural elements in the comic, at its core Geist is a story about the social isolation that can occur for someone bullied by those in a position of power. Kate’s isolation (even with Landon) is a recurring refrain, especially given the feelings she has been developing for Landon. The comic itself stands out from its peers through Zwarenstein’s artwork, which I believe is one of the few watercolor art comics out there; this also allows for the depictions of the Geists to be fairly abstract which helps build on the alienness of these entities. And while its weekly update schedule does slow the pace a bit, it has had the benefit of keeping the archives small enough that they can be read through fairly quickly, while being sizeable enough to understand what’s going on.
An advantage that comics possess over prose literature is the cinematic aspects talented artists can bring to the page; indeed, a talented cartoonist can impart motion and menace to the page. Tom Siddell has managed to capture these elements in the last couple of updates for his contemporary fantasy webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court as Antimony has fled from a maddened Ysengrin. I couldn’t help but compare some pages to the animated film “Princess Mononoke” (specifically, the scenes at the start with the demonic spirit that attacks the protagonist).
But it was the middle and second-to-last panel in today’s comic that especially hit home; Siddell did a superb job with shading with Ysengrin glaring out from the brush at Antimony, while there was a genuine sense of ominous motion as Ysengrin climbed down the embankment. Extra care was given for those panels (especially when you consider the rest of the panels, with Antimony having minimal shading, outside of highlights in her hair, to those other panels). Even as Ysengrin crawls down the embankment toward her, there is full lighting effect with him… but not Antimony.
I can’t help but wonder if Siddell had a specific artistic purpose for the differences between Antimony and the environment around her. While Antimony has grown to love the Wood (and even appears to have a boyfriend among its residents), she’s an outsider and not one of them. Though when you think of it, there is a certain bit of irony in depicting Antimony artistically as a fairly flat, unshaded cartoon amidst the textured world of the Wood around her, seeing that she is the comic’s protagonist. But this could be Siddell’s method of subtly depicting that Antimony is not really of the world of the Court or the Wood; instead, she is Other, much as she was when the comic first began.
Addendum note: Considering that even Eglamore is shaded but Antimony remains mostly flat colors with no shading? I’m probably onto something here.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I’ve a small collection of webcomics I regularly read that I’ve never gotten around to reviewing. Part of this lies with the inspirational nature of my review-writing; often I joke that if the Muse isn’t interested, the review doesn’t get written. Sadly, the contemporary fantasy comic dream*scar is one such victim of my fussy Muse; this is a decided shame seeing that I’ve been enjoying the comic for well over a year now. A combination of an interesting storyline, a sympathetic heroine, and a fascinating setting has kept me regularly reading it. Getting my Muse to help with the review, on the other hand, has been a task that has seen multiple false starts.
Cartoonist Heather Meade quickly captured my interest with a surreal and disturbing start, with half a dozen teenagers lying bloodied on the ground before a young green-eyed girl with blood splattered on her face. From there, things only become yet more surreal, with the girl’s reflection stepping out of the mirror to confront her, before finally Vix starts awake, the bloody scene revealed to be a dream. It was a most superb start to the comic and the comic shifts to a more mundane setting, with Vix starting a new year of school, and we’re treated to a brief moment of normalcy before her world starts collapsing around her.
Along the way, Meade does an excellent job of introducing background elements to her world without overwhelming readers with information dumps, outside of a three-page summary concerning “unhumans” and how they’re treated by humanity as a whole. (To sum up quickly? Segregated and discriminated against.) Most of the background elements are provided by Vix’s own internal monologues as she comes to cope with the revelations of her own heritage and trying to find out who and what she is after Vix learns that the life she knew had been a lie.
The artwork tends to be fairly clean, with a good grasp of effective shading of characters and backgrounds, though there is a definite manga influence to Meade’s artwork. This is especially true with the frequent chibi-style artistic elements which often are used to depict moments of frustration and intense emotion with Vix. To be honest, I’m not fond of these elements; Meade has shown considerable talent with her art, and doesn’t need to rely on such crutches as over-exaggerated art found in the chibi-style. Given that DS has had over 160 updates to date, this is unlikely to change, and I’m sure there are plenty of readers who have no problem with this artistic element.
Most importantly to me, the comic has a firm story and has maintained a good grasp on continuity. This is partly because Meade had initially written much of the story as a novel before she adapted it to a graphic novel format. The pacing is fairly slow in places, but it helps in building the atmosphere and mood. The cast of characters outside of Vix have proven… interesting, though I must admit I liked her human friends better than most of the unhumans; no doubt with further exposure I’ll warm up to them as well. On the whole, dream*scar is definitely worth reading, and a webcomic I highly recommend.
While I normally don’t care much for webcomic chapter covers (as I’d much rather see the next page of the story rather than a splash page), I have to admit I was taken with the cover page for chapter eight of the fantasy webcomic Namesake. Given that much of the story has focused on the adventures of Emma in the Land of Oz, it’s only natural that the page would focus on these aspects, and a natural progression to depict Emma and her companions similarly to how Dorothy was depicted in the original “Wizard of Oz” story, though Emma has been claiming for a while that she’s not a Dorothy (as one of the oddities of Oz is that most of the humans that visit have been named Dorothy and share a kinship of spirit with the original Dorothy).
Our Not-Dorothy has been joined with a crew as eclectic as the original who sought to visit the Wizard in the Emerald City; while the Scarecrow has stepped back into his old role (if older and wiser than he was the first time), the Tin Woodsman’s grandson, Warrick, has taken up his axe as he seeks to restore Oz and rescue Ozma. Amusingly, the Cowardly Lion is being represented by a rather nervous Munchkin, Agha, who much like the Lion has shown far greater courage than she realized she possessed. There’s even room for a Toto of sorts in the story with Warrick’s father (a shape-changing wizard currently in the form of a winged gumdrop)
The page itself is both artistic and disturbing in its depiction. Given the state of Oz (with its inhabitants having started to age once more after Ozma went missing several years back), having the four heroes travel along a path the color of decay makes some sense. The background image of Ozma, facing away and with a gaping hole in her middle, is likewise reminiscent of the decay of Oz itself… with Ozma herself the missing heart of Oz. It’s an interesting touch, and helps tell a story in and of itself. Interestingly, Emma’s companions are looking to her, perhaps for guidance despite her being a stranger with no ties to Oz. Given that print comic covers often have little to do with the story within, it’ll be interesting to see if this page will have any bearing on the story as a whole.
While most webcartoonists do double duty with the art and storytelling of a comic, a growing number of webcomics have taken a page from the print comic industry, with specific people in charge of line art, writing, and other duties. Just recently, the childhood comic Sandra and Woo further expanded its team and recruited colorist Lisa Moore to color both current and back issues of the comic (which had been black-and-white up until now). Moore is the colorist for the “Darkwing Duck” comic book and was the first choice of author Oliver Knörzer. To be honest, I rather preferred the black-and-white art for the comic; there is a certain simplicity to its form that suits Sandra and Woo quite well. Fortunately, Moore has avoided anything extravagant in her coloring and shading of the comic, and her colors appear to complement artist Puri Andini’s line art.
One interesting aspect of the contemporary fantasy comic Gunnerkrigg Court is the combination of storytelling styles, with the comic utilizing serial stories that are linked together into a wider, more encompassing plot. Given that the serial stories often are self-contained entities, there are few dangling plot lines as found with other comics. Thus the multitude of loose ends at the end of “Year 2” for GK was surprising, especially with Antimony running away from the revelations that Renard (and then Coyote) inflicted upon her. (And even showed wisdom beyond his rough exterior to help her start to heal.)
Much as with the shift between Year 1 and Year 2, Antimony has undergone artistic shifts. While part of this undoubtedly is due to a sense of exhaustion I’m getting from Antimony (be it emotional or physical… or both), there is also a definite physical change with cartoonist Tom Siddell taking advantage of the several months she was away for her to mature physically as well as emotionally. Antimony is on the cusp of adolescence; while it may be her garb, it seems like she’s taller than she was, and more feminine. Interestingly, it seems like Reynard has matured too… moving beyond the title of “Reynardine” that Surma laid on him, and beyond the doll-form inherent to the form he has possessed.
Given the harsh words spoken between them at their parting, their reunion is especially touching. Both said things that they soon regretted (with Renard’s remorse showing sooner than Antimony’s). And both have moved on, rather than dwell on it. More interesting is that Reyard has accepted that Surma didn’t love him, not as he thought she did. And while he might not have out-and-out told Antimony that he loves her, she showed considerable wisdom in hearing the unspoken word… and the courage to return the sentiment.