Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Denial circuits: Paranatural

Paranatural is a strip that manages to be simultaneously wry and innocent, it's a evanescent heady playfulness that bites the reader hard. I like the way the strip overall captures the feeling of being on the cusp of adolescence. The strip details the travails of Max, a newcomer to a middle-sized town called Mayview and his discovery of supernatural elements that the majority of people cannot see.

This incursion of the unreal adds to a tumultuous introduction to middle school life with its cliques, bullies and oddball teachers. He's connected to the this new world of spectres via the middle school's paranatural activity club in the first chapter and the ground rules are set with his psionic powers more a curse than a blessing.

I guess my purview covers this strip due to its supernatural emphasis but regardless this webcomic is a joy to read. I'd class this more as a magical realist webcomic than a horror emphasis , the humour is ever-present and deflates the macabre nasties on display. Because of this ability to deflate things there's an underlying sense of nostalgia when I read this. I certainly felt like the world was boundless when I was 12. Fairy tales and the supernatural allow an escape from the constrictions but in this case the supernatural is a chaotic intrusion into the life of the smart alec protagonist.

'Fluid' is a particularly overused word of mine but I think I'd prefer to say this strip uses strong grandstanding linework; it's certainly in your face. There's the barest of anime influences when facial expressions morph into extreme emphasis but I'd put it down to an overall playfulness. The colourful palette veers towards an understated pastel, it's certainly not gaudy. The design of the spirits in particular are where the artwork shines, they ooze and gloom out onto the page, sometimes with comedic malice.

The adept light touch used here means this strip evades any particular constrictions or expectations set by genre fiction. There are still rules regarding the supernatural existing as an undercurrent beneath the chaos but once they're established the storyline is ready to head into some self-aware and self-contained nuggets of reckless abandonment. The updates are always slow but what you get is a something invested in the goofy magical state at the cusp of self-awareness and freedom.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Take the wheel and Drive

Looks can be deceiving, it's an obvious cliche but in the case of Drive,  I initially thought this was a goofy cartoony space comedy from the creator of Sheldon.  I gradually realized this was a rich and fertile world. What could look like a motley collection of goofy aliens becomes a decent storyline with a clear internal logic. Human history has been transformed by the application of an alien technology and the chaos surrounding the main character is an incursion into this narrative.

The pilot finds himself beset by various foolish games and various fuckeries and it's a rollicking ADHD sort of strip with a low key non-edgy humor mixed in with some realpolitik. There are  intersections between the past and the present story-lines scattered throughout the strip, not enough to take your from the main storyline but enough to gradually immerse the reader in a tragic story behind the comedy set in place.

The idea of an English / Spanish language mixture for the future is certainly different, the continual implementation of fact sheets from the 'enciclopedia Xenobiologia'  within the comic gives the reader a good background briefing of a 'space opera' styled world.

At first I thought the title of the strip was reductive but as I continued to read the strip I saw that the 'drive', or the ship's engine becomes an underlying emphasis of human civilization and its subsequent war with the 'makers'. The way this underlying tragedy is portrayed can be a middle ground, the artwork is cartoony but bold, the creator of Sheldon clearly has the experience to pull this off and the imaginative prowess to get stuck into creating a large universe with a plethora of diverse lifeforms. It doesn't look serious but there's a pitch here for an underlying mythos that is worth the time of any science fiction fan. Robert Heinlein it ain't but it's clearly a webcomic with some teeth.

I guess if you're looking for analogies then the 'zaniness' of 'the Hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy' might be a good reference point. Sometimes the humour doesn't quite hit it, a little too 'zany' for my tastes and the visuals are a little too fluidl and cartoony to absorb sometimes, for all that's it's a strip making an attempt to create an intelligent space opera.

 The appeal of this strip is its resolute attempt to tell a story and while the safe 'dad' jokes wear thin occasionally  I kept with this strip primarily because of the underlying vision behind it.