Monday, 30 May 2011

Caught in a web of your own design: String theory

At first glance this is not a genre strip and the main point I'd assumed it was set in our universe or timeline but slowly but surely the other references come creeping in and the emotional range widens out into a slow burning rage. I've never been so fortuitously side-swiped by a strip this much, what I thought was a cringe-worthy workplace goof ball drama was merely a prologue to a much richer story.

This is certainly a bleak strip, I didn't know seething hatred could be a metier but Beckey Grundy is an adept at creating a protagonist as a vector for bad luck mojo, our anti-hero scientist Herville Schtein mostly choosing the path of least resistance. I just got drawn into this strip as I discovered what looked like our time was not, as the tragic protagonist is only gradually inserted into an alternate future.

This narrative complexity is accompanied by a comparable artistic flowering. As with every webcomic worth following the line-work improves substantially as experience is gained. Now it's evolved into a psychedelic swirling of colour, but it's also the little things that work. The doctor's red eyes,  the shadows in their characters faces and the move from black and white to colour increases the overall texture exponentially.

This world isn't spoonfed to you and this strip gets better as there is an emergence from what looks like a dull mad scientist parody into something more morally weighted. I know the Websnark isn't really a webcomics critic anymore but the term 'Cerebus syndrome' is quite effective here, the first chapter looks like meandering around and after that there's a lot of ret-connning, the characters seem to grow into more substantial roles.

I haven't been so pleasantly surprised for a long time, maybe reading slice of life strips has brutalised my senses because this is a long term commitment that I believe is worth reading just to see how fortitude comes from feckless, needless rage. It's not an emotion that webcomics typically emphasise as they mostly attempt glib sweet nothings. This is a richer thematic approach and deserves to be read.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

ranga pride 4 life: Red's planet

First off, I like the cartoony sheen on display here, it's good to see a crisp clean cut work. I know it's a webcomic form of a print comic and again, it shows, the colours present are a vivid luminosity that elevates the page. I also guess as webcomic readers we're used to a 'gen x' adult perspective and this strip comes into the unknown via the viewpoint of a 10 year old redheaded girl called Red as she's abducted by aliens and brought to a fantastical space scape. I'm sold and it's the expressions that really sell this strip (as opposed to Family man, heh and sigh... L.A.W.L.S ), the facial expressions are fluid and fun and intimate a vast universe of trippy sights and sounds.

This is an excursion into an alien landscape that's been injected with fun. It's got the right tone, at first I was wary because of the stylistic touches of the strip, I thought they looked childish. This isn't childish, it's a smorgasbord of alien life and Eddie Pittman  has the ambition and sheer skill required to pull off displaying gibbering xenomorphs, robots and multiple appendages without a blink.

The previous experience in animation clearly shows through here and it's a giddy inflection to the strip that makes reading it a joyous experience. Imagine a sleek hyperactive Star Wars universe on LSD and you'd be coming close. This is really only getting started and I think it's a welcome addition to what's out there. I'm definitely going to be investigating the rest of Space dock 7's roster of science fiction focused webcomics.

*Errr.....a 'ranga' is an informal term Australians used for red haired people.

Musical Accompaniment: Klaxons, myths of the near future.   Psychosis in musical form, a dystopian ranting mash up with fully sick hyperactive beats. 

Monday, 2 May 2011

Animal house: Family man

If you're expecting cheap thrills,  Family man is not going to provide it. If there is a lupine werewolf horror element here it's going to be a long time coming. We're placed into the world of  the eighteenth century,  which were boom years for German universities, Prussia in particular emphasized technology and philosophy.

We're brought into this new age by the experiences of Luther Levy, part of a lower middle class family of indeterminate social standing, looking for a university post. Their father's conversion from Judaism into Christianity being a key point here. It's an interesting tack as it's certainly a world webcomics have not touched; the cusp of the industrial revolution.

This is another case of beautiful backgrounds and perspective and a more shaky grasp on facial features. It is a strip willing to slow down, letting scenes play out over several pages adding an almost filmic quality. The first image that came into my mind upon glancing at the opening scenes of chapter 1 was the grimy uh...'rococo punk' of Brotherhood of the wolf.

The artwork is technically miles beyond the expectations we currently have for webcomics but the queasiness I feel on glancing at the protagonists face is sometimes off-putting (L.A.W.L.S  is another chief offender I think.)

The eighteenth century hasn't really been an epoch that fantasy has touched. Its themes and vistas are hard to transplant outside of earth's time frame. While steam-punk and low fantasy can recreate new worlds by virtue of their technology or lack thereof,  this period finds itself in limbo as far as the fantastical in concerned.

It's too early for steam-punk and too late for fantasy. I'm not  sure if this strip this lies within my purported remit but its sheer depth makes it a good historical fantasy, the creator is deadly serious about recreating this world and any flaws present are equaled out.

The archives are pretty large and the reader is chucked into a homecoming with lots of exposition given by various characters. It's titled as a graphic novel, and the emphasis on chapters and pages makes it feel like a clearing house for a dead wood comic more than a webcomic per se, that's not necessarily a bad thing, just look at Ellis' Freak Angels, The notes and the FAQ are quite dense and clearly show a well thought out internal world  This is a slow burn and there's not a lot of whiz bang adventure or gun fights or hectic adventure.

This webcomic WILL take a lot of reading and the pay-off, even more so than any strip I've reviewed, will be longer than a casual strip. The farewell from Luther's mother shows an undercurrent of emotion that isn't really current in webcomics as yet, regardless of how sophisticated the medium has become. There's lots of lingering stares and 'needless' panels and pages but frankly this is the closest to a novel in webcomic form I've seen so far.

Musical accompaniment: Gravenhurst; The Western lands. coy folk softness and screeching distortion mix up like rosewater and ichor in a foretaste of hell.