Wednesday, 7 October 2015

More ways than darkness: Broodhollow

I'll admit I was never particularly interested in Kris Straub's Starslip. I thought the strip was facile and throwaway. Perhaps that shows my own shortcomings because his most recent strip Broodhollow is a long-format webcomic horror that's slow and delicate. 

Admittedly there are cliches: protagonist sad-sack Wadsworth Zane is slowly sucked into a recursive universe in the town of Broodhollow. Consider him to be a variant of Willy Loman mixed with Walter Mitty injected into Twin Peaks. If this cultural milieu is self-evident then it is the underlying structure of the world created around Broodhollow belies any qualms about originality. 

The reader gradually sees a series of patterns underlying the story as it starts to show that it possesses a somewhat unreliable narrator. This creates a twee piquancy about the patterns present. Perhaps you'd call it a oulipo inflection or a formalist approach to narrative.  The realm shown here is constrained and seduced by ritual and the reader's task is to unweave what's been created.

There are times where the strip veers into 'comic logic' but this doesn't make for any real paucity. This is a newspaper strip comic with a horror inflection. There is typically a humorous 'beat' at the end of each strip. This means the use of ritual as a means to understand limits and liminal spaces is not a despairing note.

The use of colour veers between expressionist smudge and clear-cut borders smoothed with a paint effect. What's interesting is the difference between the sheen of every day encounters and the uneasy haze created by horrific scenes. The transfer from twee meanderings into chilling darkness is a nice and solid build-up and shows this is a work of an experienced creator. 

The underlying strangeness of Broodhollow is a subtle mix. This isn't an expansive world and it sets its borders within the town and submerges it into a Lovecraftian undercurrent. This is a good accentuation of Straub's earlier work as it is more contained, measured & visually expressive. While I was never particularly enamored of Straub's facile take on sci-fi cliches this is a mature work that is created with a certain and sleek liquidity

Monday, 6 July 2015

Private eyes are watching you: Doomsday, my dear

A dystopia is easily made comedic and clunky by partisan blinkers and dated references. It's hard to pull it off artistically as well as create a polemic answer to tyranny.

Not that we don't have precedents: the most obvious being the slow disintegration of the Wiemar republic and South Africa as a case study of a democracy devolving into discrimination. Targeting despised out-groups was the sport of much of the 20th century. The mass delusion of malleable crowds is the central underpinning  of Doomsday, my Dear.

  The strip shows an outbreak primarily from the perspective of passive carriers of a 'blood plague'. They are identifiable by their eye colour. Unlike the plethora of zombie and post-apocalyptic narratives this isn't about about the extreme breakdown of societal norms. This is a strip that shows a consensus driven road to authoritarianism that's filled with good intentions.

The introductory chapter feels like the creator is trying to work out the tone and direction of the strip. It allows enough context to understand this world. Thankfully, the strip soon uplifts into an adult narrative about the travails of surviving a state-authorized pogrom.

With just under 400 strips this webcomic didn't waste time meandering either as a narrative or artistically. While there's some slight use of shadow for contrast overall this strip has changed from a painterly lo-fi approach into a crisp and clean read and frankly it looks all the better for it.

 This is a complex story that belies easy categorization and it weaves between multiple viewpoints. It is quite willing to display needless mendacity and unnecessary cruelty but  this adult world is also luckily undercut by some needed levity among the darkness.

The villains portrayed here in the security forces are not altogether monsters and the time spent showing their foibles is worthwhile character building. While the trope of the banality of evil can become ambiguous this strip  shows how good people do bad things. In the process it creates a fulsome collection of characters and viewpoints that allows a varied and entertaining collage to appear.

Musical accompaniment: David Bowie's Station to station. Good occult darkness if you know where to look. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Quite a handfull: Prague race

I'm easily led by whimsy, noble failures and sweet-nothings. One of my favourite paper comics that never truly worked-out was Christy Lijewski's Next exit series because it had a dreamy inchoate undercurrent. It didn't really matter that there wasn't an over-arching Tolkieneseque approach to world-building because situations and characters just popped up.

If her more recent webcomic Samurai Host Club hasn't quite lived up to that initial hype then Prague Race is also able to tap into that well of slipstream wonderment that shows a world that initially looks like ours but slowly and slyly shows itself to be a darker and richer version of our humdrum lives.

The artwork certainly is a consistently seductive approach that emphasizes cross-hatches and shades of grey. It allows more contrast than one would expect: this almost malignant sleekness used to portray Gabrielle is effectively why I write about webcomics.

This innate blackness almost glistens like liquid on the screen in a way that would otherwise look fuzzy on paper. In later strips the background use of grey is astounding and it resembles the way that Lackadaisy uses a reduced palette to create a visual richness.

Overall it was the initial dollop of aimless fun that drew me into this strip but the narrative also tightens up as it goes along. The set-up is charming but also somewhat twee.

 If Between failures is one of the few slice of life strips that exists on my daily list it's because of its mixture of goopy heart and unnerving brains. I like twee, I like the Decemberists and Stefan Zweig,  so one should take that into account.      

Leona and her gang of restless twenty-somethings are just setting out at adulthood, not yet worn down by the compromises that neo-liberalism inevitably lashes you with. I appreciate the coy sweetness that this strip sets off with, it's certainly not the pissant forced zaniness that some webcomics trade in.

There's around a hundred pages of meandering scenes before it moves into more mature territory. I think that's about right. So if at the start the strip can appear to be needlessly jokily prolix there's still a purpose here. The gnomic strangeness behind everything asserts itself and leads the reader into what is a hidden and enjoyable darkness.

 That's a good mix for what looks like a long form narrative here aided with enough comic subtlety to break the ice. The slow build up allows a delicate pacing, even on the individual page there are silent pauses and subtlety that belies the craziness this strip eventually enters towards.

Musical accompaniment: Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien.. Emo grows up into Bowie-inflected attempt at glam. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Preview: Otaku dad

Welp, the creator of Whomp! has created a second comic that breaks the fourth wall to the point my head hurts. It's about Reggie's favourite topic: Anime. I don't know if this is going to work long-term but then again I'm heavily biased against modern anime series. I do know that Gasaraki was always a better mech series better than Evangelion and that Oshii's slow languid take on Patlabor 2 is some of the best Goddamn anime ever made.

I like Whomp! as a feel-good comic but the artwork here is slightly more realistic than that and it may even be an attempt to deconstruct the vagaries of otaku culture that seem to have enthralled Ronnie into mental slavery. There's not much to read as yet and I doubt it's going to reach the depraved and depressing depths of Flowers of Evil but at least its getting the guy out of the self-deprecating fluff that Whomp! can sometimes descend into.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Expeditions into Deviantart: Bomango & Serious Engineering

Having read webcomics for 15 years I'd forgotten how primitive the early ecosystem of original webcomics actually was. Strips like Penny arcade have at least 2 early years of strips that look unreadable and have no context for today's current readership. There were certainly wasn't an expectation of any viable ecosystem of payment or criticism.

 Likewise any of the surviving strips from that time have undergone a metamorphosis either resetting the script (Sam and Fuzzy, Bad Machinery) or stay in creative stasis (Sluggy Freelance and Megatokyo).

Compare the sketchy erratic start of these strips to the macabre shadows of Astral Aves and you see how things have changed. Readers are less forgiving of artists publicly learning on the job. The webcomic ecosystem is now much larger and Patreon and Gofundme has plugged the failed attempted gap of micro-payments that Campbell mentioned as a funding model.

One way to simultaneously gain a following and hone your skills as an artist is through Deviantart. I won't pretend it's a world I was familiar with but what I found was that its collaborative nature enables an artist to exist as part of an active community of creators.

There are two strips that leap out at me:


At times VanHeist's Bomango appears to still be a multimedia experiment: there are varying story lines, images from a animated storyboard and the protagonist has drastically changed physically. Gogo's actual properties still haven't been made fully apparent as yet so reading this is more of a mercurial and open-ended experience.

It's frustrating but Bomango has never pretended to have a concise narrative. It's more of a haze of intersecting moments now. It's aiming at a coherent story but there's a lot of retro-active re-sharpening going on. There narrative veers between happy-go-lucky vignettes and a deeper darker origin story.  

Visually it's gleaming to the point of possessing camera flare. Tracking the changes to now show an artist with a bright  and hyper-stylized aesthetic that just needs a clear story to wrap around.

Serious Engineering:

Serious Engineering is a strip by Roman Jones that has used Deviantart far more thoroughly in an attempt to even out the bugs. There weren't many bugs to start with but Roman has been able to engage with other people for translation and shading. The only issue I'd have is maybe tightening up the speech bubbles.

The comic in its current state has a stylised sheen to it and the recent use of shadowing is very welcome. Coming from a Ligne Claire background my preference for crispness is certainly requited.

The backgrounds are minimalist and simple but the actual characterization of the characters here have changed from murky realism into a far more expressive and more pleasing sleekness.

Thematically it meshes well together. The story is about self-discovery in a world that doesn't have a place for misfits. You shouldn't reduce it to a mech webcomic because as it now stands Corelle's attempt to gain access to engineering culture is more a vehicle for gaining personal agency. Unlike Bomango there is a feeling of an underlying and coherent narrative guiding this road-trip.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Reason for being: Modus Operandi

Modus Operandi is webcomic set in an alternate universe that slightly resembles our own. There's only one chapter at the time of review but it feels like a prologue as the story hasn't evened out its kinks as yet.

The narrative focuses on a young man who has to face a hard decision that thrusts him into an opaque adult world. The distance between the protagonist Bob's princely role and school endeavors seems too vast to cover as yet.

I can't quite get a gauge on the character as there hasn't been enough information given about the outside world and its sins. It' feels like slipstream inflected with a hard sci-fi background. Ultimately this feels more like just another stranger variation of our current existence.

The style of art shown here is an interesting stylized haze that suits the dreamlike stasis the strip seems to be stuck in. It feels like a mix of high school drama  and realpolitik that hasn't meshed together properly. At the moment this is a well drawn but ultimately inconsequential work that needs more exposition. However,  given time I expect this to be a quite consequential and nuanced webcomic.