It’s said there’s nothing scarier than a clown. To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it, though it might have something to do with the Uncanny Valley effect that the baggy clothes and distorted facial features from excessive makeup… and undoubtedly I’ll be hearing from a half dozen people willing to wax elegant on just why clowns are not just creepy, but evil incarnate. Still, I must admit I was maliciously amused by the near-Halloween Something Positive comic that Randy Milholland created, with Jason and Aubrey’s adoptive daughter Pamjee being dressed up as a clown and managing to totally creep Aubrey out with a song-and-dance number that definitely was not meant to be cute (though a young kid probably wouldn’t pick up on that initially).
Let’s face it. Of all the SP characters, Aubrey deserves a little comeuppance. She’s gotten away nearly with murder and every single time things come out roses for her even as other people get screwed over. Sure, she’s started to become more responsible now that she’s got a successful business and is married with a child… but inside, she’s the same old Aubrey willing to screw someone over for a laugh and not caring what happens to the victims of her antics (and sure, she may be “fiercely loyal” to her friends… but that doesn’t stop her from screwing them over for a laugh). In that way, she and Jason seem made for each other… but even so, I suspect karma is never going to truly stick it to her. And no, losing money on Mike creating a game isn’t comeuppance.
As a brief aside, Milholland has also continued his The Last Trick-Or-Treaters series from last year in which young trick-or-treaters encounter various monsters and generally don’t survive (though a couple of them did have slightly uplifting ends; I rather enjoyed Death sharing candy with a young boy who’d choked to death). Given the roots of Halloween (which was less about scavenging candy and causing pranks, and more about hiding from things that slip through the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead during Halloween), and these one-shots (which are more illustrated micro stories than comics) make a certain amount of macabre sense. It’s also somewhat amusing when you think of it, for these children to face true monsters… while Aubrey sees horror in the painted face of her young daughter in what has become just another occasion.
While Eerie Cuties claims to be a comedy horror, for the most part the comedy is emphasized over the horror. Today’s update was a subtle reminder of the horror aspect to the comic: both with Nina’s introspection on having drunken blood when she’d possessed her sister’s body (using a plot gimmick for a quick “Freaky Friday” story) and with the possessed doll Blair, who was apparently ready to run a stake through Nina depending on her reaction to eating chocolate once more. To be honest, I’m not quite sure which was more surprising: Blair with a stake, or Nina in quiet contemplation.
Blair’s bit with the stake was out of left field (though there were some hints during the storyline that the doll didn’t like the idea of Nina drinking blood, even when she possessed her sister Layla’s body). Up until now, Blair’s been a one-dimensional character that existed mostly annoyed other female cast members (and most of the readership). In essence, Blair was the comedy relief in a comic that already emphasizes humor over dramatic storytelling. But with one stake hidden behind its back, this dynamic has shifted. Suddenly, there’s an actual purpose behind Blair and the hope that there is a back story for the doll which will hopefully prove interesting.
What I found more intriguing though was Nina’s contemplation. She’s troubled by what she went through. Up until now she never thought twice about preferring chocolate to blood. But now, she knows what it’s about. She knows why her sister craves blood. And she may be realizing she’s… not like her sister, or her parents. She knew this before… but this hammered it down. Further, she’s starting to wonder why she is different. This is a new direction for Nina. It may very well be a new direction for the comic as well, and may provide Gisèle Lagacé and Dave Zero 1 a chance to slowly introduce horrific elements to what’s predominantly been a comedy.
All good things must come to an end. Today, Sarah Ellerton’s Victorian horror webcomic The Phoenix Requiem has wrapped up its storyline that first started over three years ago. Back in September of 2008 I referred to TPR as Ellerton’s opus, and that remains true even now with the story come to a close. I must admit, it has been a wild ride along the way, with Jonas taking up the abandoned mantle of the Mehdiea to become the caretaker of the dead even as his dead wife sacrificed her immortal soul for him and to protect humanity from the Spirits. It’s a fascinating evolution of a character who when introduced was whimsical and half-mad to this resolute shepherd whose job will likely not end for millennia. While Ellerton never explained why Anya didn’t join Jonas in his travels (or if she is still bound to him much as he’d been bound to Ksendra, which I suspect may be the case), she did wrap things up nicely with Jonas returning for a brief time to be with Anya before he returns to his duty. As for Ellerton, it appears she’s taking a long-deserved break (as she’s been cartooning for close to eight years now, starting with Inverloch) before hopefully starting up another webcomic.
What is the fundamental core of horror? I’ve found myself wondering about this concept as Sarah Ellerton’s The Phoenix Requiem enters into its denouement, with the dark forces that were preying on humanity’s souls having been vanquished and its protagonists coming to terms with all that has happened to them… and the costs that will incur as a result. While I seem to recall TPR having been billed as a horror story in its past (the site’s page concerning the story describes it now as a Victorian-inspired supernatural fantasy that contains various elements including horror), the comic has shifted away from many of the tropes that are traditional to the horror genre – at least, as Hollywood would have us view it.
One of these is naturally enough the mortality rate of our protagonists. Up until the last few updates, I was positive that Jonas Faulkner was going to die. Part of this lies with the fact Jonas himself thought he was going to die, and was in fact willing to sacrifice himself to stop the Spirits from escaping their prison – a prison he himself had weakened due to his misguided belief that the Spirits were noble and worthy of worship. Fortunately for the story, Jonas’s faith had been weakened enough that when he learned the truth, he didn’t flee into denial and a stubborn refusal to accept the facts and actually spurned the leeches that were using his faith and belief to break out of their prison.
Given that I’d been operating under the belief that TPR was a horror story (and to be honest, there is a bit of evidence that would support this supposition), I was surprised at how few characters actually died; by that I mean developed members of the cast. But outside of Officer Patrick Armand and Doctor Blythe (whose deaths happened off-screen, though their corpses were presented as proof positive they would not come back unless as a Shade), the only character to “die” was technically already dead; interestingly it was Jonas’s willingness to sacrifice his life for Anya which opened Ksendra’s own eyes and made her willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep the Spirits trapped.
When you look back at the character of Jonas from the story’s start and through the revelation of the Shades, the Spirits… and of Jonas himself, you see a character who has matured and grown over nearly 800 pages of story. His decision to step away from Anya and to pursue his duty over his desires is as much a sacrifice as that which Ksendra made; it is also a rather odd way of honoring her, considering that Ksendra sacrificed her eternal soul because of the love Jonas holds for Anya. This makes me wonder; was Ksendra’s choice a noble one? Or was it one last blow (if subconscious) against a rival for her former husband’s heart?
The irony is, of course, that there is another possibility: Anya could join Jonas in his travels as the new shepherd of the souls of the dead, even though she has in the past stated her desire to stay in Esk. As she is linked to Jonas (much as Jonas was linked to Ksendra), it is entirely possible she shares some of the gifts he possesses. In short, she may too be a shepherd of the dead (which would be an ironic twist, seeing that she is studying to be a doctor and has fought to keep death at bay). As we’ve one last chapter for the denouement for The Phoenix Requiem, we may very well see this come to pass; at the very least, I expect some time to pass between this chapter and the next.
Looking back at my earlier question, what is horror? Is it a flaming ash-beast that threatens to smother and spread a disease that tears one apart on the cellular level? Is it a flitting Shade that disturbs one’s slumber? Or the revelation that the very beings that so many worshipped are in fact soul-devouring monsters who look at humanity as a snack? Or is the horror of The Phoenix Requiem something more subtle? Is it the sacrifices that must be made… or even the possibility that duty and obligation can overwhelm love? For ultimately, Ellerton did tell a horror story; it may have lacked the blood and gore of a Hollywood film, but it does hold the elements of horror fiction with a subtle touch that makes it well worth reading.
One of the biggest advantages webcomics have over their print counterparts is the nature of the medium itself. For some time, webcomics have dabbled in expanding their boundaries compared to the limitations of print comics. Some comics have pushed the boundaries of what cartoonist Scott McCloud calls the “infinite canvas” (with Damonk’s Framed!!! being an excellent example of this, utilizing html coding to alter how readers interact with his comic). Other comics have dabbled with sound effects and limited animation to help their comic stand out.
The apocalyptic zombie comic Dead Winter is no stranger to the use of animation to celebrate benchmarks in the comic’s run. What makes update 300 so special is the presentation of the animation. Rather than constrain himself with a set animation box, S. Dave Shabet mixed the tradition of comic panels with animation (something that the surreal horror comic 5ideways tried, though 5ideways relied on set panel structures with the animation embedded within the frames). Each panel is animated, and runs in turn to show the story as a whole.
This is where Dead Winter stands out from its peers. While other comics have used animation to help their comic stand out, Shabet has used animation as a means of enhancing the storytelling of the comic itself. Nor is this the simplistic animations found in other comics that have dabbled in animated frames; the animation might not be as smooth and elegant as that found in anime and animated features, but it works well in bringing the comic to life, and engaging the readers. Further, with each new animated sequence, Shabet improves his skills as an animator, helping the animation flow and effectively tell its story. While this undoubtedly is a significant investment of time and effort, it also raises the bar for webcomics as a whole.
While most of the webcomics I read tend to be continuous storylines, I have found a goodly number of short, self-inclusive graphic stories on the web. These short stories often manage to avoid the cycle of inferior storytelling that many long-form comics succumb to at some point in time (though those graphic novels designed with a specific plot and ending in mind can sometimes avoid the decline in quality that their less concise brethren can suffer from), but often fail to achieve the readership that long-form comics collect over time. Often these short graphic stories languish forgotten, even among those artists who have ongoing stories to lure readers in.
One such storytelling gem is Return to Green Hollow, one of four comics by Diana Sprinkle. Unlike her other three humor comics, RtGH is a fascinating horror story drawn in pencil and presented in sepia tones. The story is of a girl, Emily, whose family has come to the home of her grandmother after her grandmother’s death, and of what she finds deep in the woods of Green Hollow. What makes Return to Green Hollow stand out is a combination of art, character, and a subtle dread that often is lacking in the violence-infested horror stories that comprise the modern horror genre.
Where other storytellers succumb to gore to scare the audience, Sprinkle uses her art to set the mood, creating more of an environmental horror. This works well, as the antagonist of RtGH is the environment; or more precisely, it’s the forest itself, and that which dwells in it. As Emily pursues glimpses of a boy who has gotten lost in the forest, the forest itself twists and grows confusing, blocking her way back and leading her and the boy to the heart of the Green Hollow, and the Beast of the Forest, the Forest’s Queen. The confrontation between Emily and the Forest’s Queen works not only as the climax of the tale, but also as a coming-of-age trial for Emily, and her solution in prevailing against the fae queen is quite unique for the horror genre.
While RtGH is only 16 pages long, the comic works well in telling its tale. An added bonus is Sprinkle’s comments below each panel, talking about the artistic processes behind the comic, the use of hatching and pencils without inks, and a bit of the back story behind the comic. Sprinkle also admits she has contemplated retelling this tale and expanding more fully on it. I must admit that if Sprinkle took more time in fleshing out the background and in building mood, the story would probably work quite well, if she maintained the balance between story and pacing. Return to Green Hollow is an enjoyable read that won’t take up a weekend to peruse its archives, and I hope that Sprinkle will take time to return to this world and show us more of Emily’s adventures in Green Hollow.
On occasion I’ll find a story that I can’t put down. There have been times when I find a new novel and end up reading it until four in the morning, flipping through pages and rushing to reach the end of the book. The next day I’ll often be dragging and barely able to think, but I’ll still be thinking of that story and wanting to head home and start reading it again. In some ways it’s easier to put aside a webcomic that’s caught my attention as most haven’t ended, but there’s been more than one late night caused by a new comic.
God of Destruction is one of those page-turners, though fortunately I caught up with the current storyline before it was too late at night. But unlike many of the stories that have absolutely captivated me, I didn’t fall in love with GD at first sight. The start of the comic was ordinary enough, and it looked much like a number of other manga-influenced comics, focusing on a young man’s life. It was with the unexpected death of one of the characters that cartoonist Elanor Pam grabbed hold of my lapels and forced me to continue reading.
It’s this surprise death and how it affects Raphael, the comic’s 15-year-old protagonist, that caught my attention. Raphael appears to be the latest incarnation of a cult’s god of destruction, and whom they try to “awaken” by paying an attractive classmate of his to go on a date with him and get him into bed; he manages to say no even before he finds out from the cultists that this is a bad idea. (Amusingly enough, Raphael’s mother offers him a condom before the date, partly in jest; he’s quite shocked and embarrassed by this, which may also be part of the reason why he turned the girl down.)
Despite his avoiding the carnal trap of the cultists, it appears that the cultists’ God has partly awakened, as Raphael blacks out several times in the comic and when he awakens, either finds that cultists who’d cornered him were… eliminated, or finds himself somewhere new without knowing how he got there. Rather than focus on the body horror of having a “dark side” personality that forces Raphael to do horrible things, it appears that the “god” is trying to protect Raphael from the cultists, and even warns off the cultists once by telling them he could easily kill all of them if they didn’t back off.
Another thing that drew me into the comic is the comic’s coloring. The vast majority of colored comics tend to use Photoshop-style programs to paint colors into the lines, and then work with various effects to create highlights, shading, and the like. With GD, the artwork looks like it was colored using markers (though undoubtedly the effect could be replicated with Photoshop), giving it a much more personal touch. This helps the comic stand out among its peers. It is the combination of story, character growth and interactions, and artwork that made GD such an enjoyable read.