Welcome to another round of webcomics short reviews! This week we have comedies and mysteries, newbies and long-runners. If you like fantasy, this is for you: disney-esque irony, fairy tales or medieval quests, they are all here.
GENRE: SURREAL DRAMEDY
The premise of Camp Weedonwantcha is a simple yet extremely messed up concept. Kids find themselves dumped there without ceremony by parents who, well, don’t want them. There are no adults, so the kids are left to fend for themselves with what they know about the world. Which is to say, nearly nothing. Supplies drop from the sky now and again. Although sometimes the drop isn’t supplies—just a box of feral cats.
We see the camp through the eyes of the newest camper, a boy named Malachi. He’s an uptight little guy who is severely repressed (an early arc is all about how everyone and everything else in the world can poop happily–except him. Ew). But he’s also capable of a greater range of emotion. In the “Colin” arc we see his devious side and his empathic, compassionate side. And thanks to Colin himself, we see the darker, realer side of the premise; of parents who dump their children at a camp, never to pick them up again. This arc, still in progress, impressed me enough to move the comic up my review queue.
I’m hoping to see more of the creepy twins and the other kids at the camp, since there seem to be several dozen. Good start, and a nice setup to build on. Smart.
Katie Rice’s art is so gloriously beautiful and lushly detailed that I hung in there, even through the poop arc. No surprise; she won the 2013 Strip Search competition with this comic! It occasionally veers into creepily cute, given the big giant heads and scrawny little bodies of the main three kids. Also, since it’s new, having debuted in late 2013, it’s got a small archive. Easy to catch up on and get up to speed!
It makes sense, given the premise, but hopefully in real life the days of giving cutesy fake “Indian” names to camps for white kids are over. This one at least has a diverse attendance of abandoned children and teens, and it makes the premise obvious so it’s forgiveable.
MADELEINE HOLLY-ROSING AND EMILY HU
The great minds of the 19th Century have come together to form a secret society known as BETH. Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Harry Houdini work together to plumb mysteries of the strange and unexplained. They cross paths with a detective named Samuel who lost his wife to one of those strange, unexplained mysteries. Samuel’s photographer Andrew, a medium, died in the line of duty, chasing said boogum down. But Andrew’s daughter Caitlin has chosen to step into his shoes, despite her mother’s convictions that spirit-hunting is “the devil’s work”, to say nothing of Samuel’s misgivings about hiring a woman who shares her father’s gifts
The creative team is composed of two women of color! The art, by Emily Hu, is striking and angular with a hint of manga influence. I find the visual toning and colored word balloons a bit distracting, but I have to admit that they make Caitlin, a redhead who wears pale pink, stand out significantly from her drab surroundings.
Madeleine Holly-Rosin’s writing is full of nuance. She gives dramatic balance to the egos, brains, and methods of the four-man group (and there are delicious hints of Tesla’s questionable sanity).The geniuses name their society “BETH” so they can discuss it in public without anyone assuming anything. The storytelling also doesn’t shy away from dealing with genuine issues of the time, such as Caitlin explaining the rage that Irish poor feel, the race issues Granville must contend with, and Tesla’s complete unconcern with anyone he considers his inferior.
Caitlin is treated as an underling and a problem by Samuel, but it’s obvious this story is seen through her eyes. She’s curious, resourceful, and while she is sensible about her political place in the class-aware world of 19th Century Boston, she has the spunk and spirit of your typical Irish redhead—especially feminist in a more patriarchal time period. She curtsies and “sir”s all the men as a survival trait, but doesn’t hesitate to roll her eyes and exclaim in frustration when their methods get on her nerves.
Samuel’s best friend Granville is a black man with genius to rival that of the arrogant and clannish BETH guys. In fact, the point of contention between Granville and Thomas is that Edison stole some of Granville’s inventions, leaving bad blood between the two.
So far, Caitlin is the only recurring female character, and Granville the single character of color. It’s appropriate to the timeframe, even if I can’t help hoping to see the diversity branch out. This comic is a long-arc series, and currently only in its third chapter. The first issue has already been published in print.
GENRE: SLICE OF LIFE MEETS FANTASY
Berry and Douglas are, well, a bit of an odd couple. Berry’s a flighty, lazy, self-centered, metrosexual, partyboy-dudebro, who constantly acts without thinking. Douglas is shy, uptight, impulsive, geeky, nervous around girls, and a bit of a nebbish. They’re also a pink unicorn and a green dragon, respectively. When they go looking for a new home, Berry finds an ad for the perfect place. It turns out to be the titular character, Juniper. Built and designed by a witch, the house has her own personality and idiosyncracies (like sentient, chibi will-o-wisps, who serve as lighting) that make the boys’ lives interesting.
The artwork is Disney-esque and candy-colored, which makes for a fun contrast with the decidedly un-fairy tale type situations the boys encounter under Juniper’s roof. Supporting characters include Mavis, the semi-witchy real-estate agent who leased them the place, Berry’s obnoxious sister Sugar Tart, and Carl, the cheerful neighbor and giant worm who destroys their floors.
The storytelling meanders whimsically, and varies between gag-a-day and tiny arcs. Random is the name of the game here. Some of the most hilarious strips come from the intersection of the fantasy world and the world we know. What little formula can be said to exist consists of: Berry causing a problem, and Douglas having to to endure it or fix it. More often than not, the hapless dragon endures until the next problem comes along. My favorite formulaic mini-arc is when Berry insults a black cat. It turns out she was a witch and, offended by his insult, she turns Berry into a frog (who still has a unicorn horn somehow). Douglas takes him to Mavis, who kinda-sorta fixes the problem. Berry’s method of trying to get all the way back to himself? Well, that results in Douglas needing to drive his pal to the ER.
I hope they come out with merch soon. I want a Douglas plushie to go with the plush Spike I got for my birthday.
UPDATES: TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS
GENRE: MAGICAL FANTASY
Blindsprings is all about forest spirits, magic, flowers, and faerie-like cuteness. It started in October 2013, so it’s an easy catch up. As the plot is still unfolding, I’m paying special attention to the art. The characters look nice: our leading lady, with her giant magical hair and ribbons; mysterious creatures of the dark, with their cloaks and jewelry! The author herself said she hopes people get curious because of the art, and as a consequence, stay for the story, and that’s exactly what happens.
Tammy, the mysterious forest girl, meets this preppy boy. They spend some time together and the romance is going on nicely. But eventually the boy has to go to his wizard school. He’d love to take Tammy with him, and apparently she’d like that too … except there is something strange going on. There are spirits in this forest, and they don’t seem to be happy with the boy’s presence. Are they evil? Good? Something in between?
If you feel in need for a little more cuteness in your reading list, you may want to give Blindsprings a try.
UPDATES: TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS
GENRE: ALTERNATIVE MEDIEVAL ADVENTURE
If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably already heard of it. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson has one of the largest fan bases in webcomics nowadays, and deserves every bit of attention it gets. It’s been running for a couple of years now, and Noelle’s development as an artist is noticeable.
It started as a funny story about about a rebellious shapeshifter who wanted to be a villain. The first pages are good by themselves, making jokes of the characters without substantial information about them. As the years went by, it became deeper. The characters developed in unexpected ways: Ballister, the villain, isn’t so bad after all. He loves science, hates to hurt people, and is a paternal figure to Nimona. Goldenloin, the hero and Ballister’s nemesis, was actually his bestie in the past, and now is a good-looking jerk hired by the government to make people believe they care for them. And Nimona herself is so much more than what meets the eye.
The art develops with all these changes. When it ends, Nimona is going to be printed, but I hope not much is edited, as is usual for cartoonists to do. The difference in tone is not a mistake that has to be corrected–it is a beauty in itself and something unique to this medium. Webcomics are a slower way of telling a story, updating page by page instead of in whole chapters. Many webcomics go on for years. The authors may feel stuck with what they created in the first pages, or they might let themselves go with the wind, and readers will feel like they’re in the middle of a giant mess. But Noelle Stevenson’s secret lies in the fact she knows what she’s doing: since the first days she has had a script, a spine to the plot. As her style changes with time, she lets it show, as is visible by the tone of the story growing darker. But the spine is there, holding everything together, and that’s what she won’t allow herself to change. Nimona is a comic that is going somewhere, and it shows.
What I expected to be some childish jokes, turned out to make me cry, but I’m enjoying the ride.