This month your short webcomics reviews are all spooky and gore.
Updates Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays
Modest Medusa and I have an interesting history. I started reading it in high school, forgot about it, binged read it earlier this year, and have been half-heartedly following it ever since.
Modest Medusa is about Jake, a comic depiction of the creator, and a medusa named Modest who flooded his toilet when she entered Jakes world from her home reality, Yeld. The comic starts off as a kind of gag strip/sitcomic that follows Medusa, Jake, his niece Marah, and is flat mate Charles through their daily adventures of Pokémon, Portal, and Chocodiles. This phase of the comic is fun, if only because Medusa is adorable and endearing. After about four months a plot begins to appear, as other creatures from Yeld begin to creep into the picture.
For me, this is where the Modest Medusa is at its best. Most of the real meat of the comic lies between the pages titled “Foreshadowing” and “Epilogue art 5,” spanning from May 2011 to January 2014. In this arc, our trio of protagonists travel into Yeld to confront Medusa’s mother. In their travels they meet up with chain-smoking mermaids, fallen knights, and a band of rodent pirates. My only complaints about this phase of the comic is that some points feel unplanned and hashed out, leaving many major plot points unresolved.
After they return from Yeld, Modest Medusa quickly returns to its sitcom format and Pokémon jokes. Unfortunately, this series of rehashed jokes doesn’t quite fill the void left by a promising storyline and disappointing resolution.
Some comics I keep coming back to because the art is phenomenal, despite a mediocre or dropped-off storyline, but that can’t be said for Modest. Nothing is particularly wrong with it, there just isn’t anything special about it either. Most of what keeps me checking for updates is a sense of old devotion and a hope for other developed storylines in the future.
If you’re wondering at this point, “Well, do you recommend it or not?” I would say it’s up to you. Honestly, you’re probably not missing out on too much, but if you decide to give it the benefit of the doubt I would recommend reading the primary storyline, which takes place between the pages I mentioned above.
Jake Richmond is the creator of Modest Medusa, and is based in Portland, Oregon. He also creates RPG games at Atarashi Games.
— KM Bezner
Dystopian Sci-fi…with humor?
Updates Tuesdays & Fridays
I had a hard time classifying Monsterkind because, though it shares many elements with science fiction, contemporary fantasy, and dystopian literature, it doesn’t squarely fit in any of those categories. But don’t be fooled by the dystopia tag I eventually settled on, Monsterkind’s tone is much lighter than most other books, films, and comics I’ve seen in the genre—at times, it even comes dangerously close to comedy…with a dark backstory on the horizon?! Oh my.
Take what you will from all that, the point is that this is a comic you should definitely be reading. Set in a segregated and corrupt country called Fairway, Monsterkind begins with Wallace Foster, the first human in an apartment building inhabited by monsters. Wallace is a young social worker who has been transferred from District A, the wealthy district of humans where he has spent most of his life, to District C, a part of the country inhabited almost solely by monsters. He’s never encountered a monster before, and is still adjusting to his new settings. And though many monsters and humans support integration, the prejudice goes both ways; Wallace’s biggest challenge so far has been finding acceptance within the monster community.
But it’s not all awful for Wallace; his new friends and neighbors have (mostly) all been supportive and welcoming. Roy G. Biv is a tall, cheerful, and—you guessed it—colorful monster who is a major protestor and activist for the integration movement. Kip Kaiser is also part of the movement as a protestor and blogger. He is very well known for spreading awareness of monster-human equality, and despite getting off to a rocky start, he and Wallace have begun working together as well. Molly Monday completes the main cast. She’s an artistic and optimistic monster who works with Kip at Cuddy’s Café, an integrated restaurant in District C.
Up to this point I would say the story has been pretty comedic and fun, though things are beginning to fall together and suggest a darker turn. A mysterious photograph (I assume of Kip’s parents) suggested early on that a tragedy in his past has driven him to be active on the integration front. Two other characters, Charlie and Louise, were introduced on Wallace’s first day on the job. Charlie has anger issues, and a flashback after he kicks Wallace out implies that his worsening problems aren’t his fault.
On the art front, Taylor does a great job of using different colors, textures, and patterns behind characters and in backgrounds to suggest the mood of a certain panels. Overall the colors are bright, which adds to the humor of the comic and, despite the current outlook of many of the characters and the discouraging situation between monsters and humans, suggest hope for the future of both races. I also love Taylor’s character design for both the monsters and humans. There are very few outward characteristics, in both physique and personality, that suggest a necessity for the two races to be separated, or even that they are very different. These similarities draw attention to the human-ness of the monsters and the monster-ness of the humans, a detail that will hopefully play a larger role in the story as the fight for integration escalates.
Taylor Carilli is the freelance artist who writes and draws Monsterkind. She currently lives in Savannah, GA.
— KM Bezner
Updates Mondays & Thursdays
Generally, although I love comics, webcomics, and horror movies, I seem to have an ongoing problem with monster webcomics. They catch my attention and enthusiasm — for a little while — and then my brain slowly slides off them and onto something else.
I don’t know yet whether that’s going to happen with Ozzie the Vampire as I literally just stumbled across it in my morning Twitter trawl. Someone linked it and I blew through the first storyline in a matter of minutes.
Eric Lide’s art is manga-meets-cute, and that made all the difference in catching my attention. The storyline appears to be Buffyesque: Gloomsburg NJ seems to be a nexus of human malice, which makes the membrane between our world and the demon world thin enough for bad things to get through. One such bad thing is why our heroine, Ozzy is a vampire in the first place. But as such, she’s decided to fight the rest of the bad things. She also tries to live as close to a normal life as she can, considering she’s a vampire. She has problems making it to her night classes on time.
Black and white comics aren’t usually my thing either, but Lide’s manga-style and effects are eye-catching, and Ozzy is so adorable I couldn’t help but want to see how it turned out. Plus, the first bad guy we see Ozzy encounter is a weepy bulldog who minds his manners — but who is no less demonic for that.
Eric Lide is from NJ himself, so the Jersey jokes come from a place of honesty and experience.
Unnerving fairytale-like comics
Short-form complete comics
Emily Carroll’s works feel like a dream — you know something is wrong but you can’t quite figure out what it is. There are no easy answers or big, final reveals, the eerie, ambiguous endings linger and leave you mysteries to ponder when you’re alone and up at night. I’ve spent hours arguing about His Face All Red as my girlfriend and I tried to fit all the pieces together, each theory more unsettling than the last.
Instead of writing long-form stories that update regularly, Carroll’s works go up as completed works, all fairly short. It’s perfect for those of us who have a hard time following traditional webcomics, because we can take in the whole piece like one deliciously eerie nugget of comic goodness. She usually puts up one or two new works a year and by now has a nice archive for new readers to dive into.
The work feels like folkstories or fairytales, the dark, twisty kinds that never have a hero to swoop in and save the day. His Face All Red was the first work to gain wide attention, and it remains one of her best works. It’s about a man and his brother who go into the woods and come back changed, if they truly come back at all. To say more would reveal too much and spoil the fun, but let’s just say this was the first webcomic to ever give me nightmares.
The evolution of Carroll’s works is incredible to see as you compare her newer works to her older ones. They retain the best parts of her work: the muted, creepy color palates, the hand-lettering that brings to mind a story told around a campfire instead of traditional comic letter, and the deceptively simple-looking drawing style. But her more recent work Out of Skin take horror illustration to another level, truly delivering a masterwork of disturbing imagery that will stay with readers long after the story is over. One of the greatest things Carroll does in her webcomic work is play with the form; the stories use page-clicks and the design of each page to build tension and reveals to terrific effect. This is especially apparent in Margot’s Room and The Prince and the Sea, which use webcomic form to terrific, and very different, effects.
Best of all, once you’ve devoured all of her work on the web, Carroll just released her first book, Through the Woods. Featuring four new stories (along with His Face All Red), Through the Woods is without a doubt the scariest book of 2014.
Updates most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Broodhollow might be the cutest horror comic on the web, but when it does go dark holey friggin’ moley. Full of adorable cartooning and endearing characters, it nonetheless has a very creepy mystery and some serious nightmare fuel.
The story follows Wadsworth Zane, a door-to-door salesman living in 1930s America who, through spooky machinations, comes to the very strange small town of Broodhollow. Zane’s life is marked by various rituals and obsessions to deal with his anxiety. He’s trying to keep bad things at bay–and it’s never quite clear if Zane’s compulsions are manifestations of OCD or really preventing evil from getting in. This is never treated like a joke like so many stories about characters who are ‘crazy’ instead showing just what an effect these compulsions have on Zane’s life.
Once Zane gets to Broodhollow, the story kicks into high gear, somehow managing to get funnier and scarier both at once. The cast of characters is delightful, and Staub’s cartooning makes each one distinct and easy to recognize. The range in the art is incredible as it goes from a simple cartooning style to a detailed, realistic style in the more frightening scenes. The stand-outs are in Zane’s disturbing dreams where Staub really stretches his legs, and the contrast between what’s in his head versus the seemingly idyllic small town adds to the sense of something wrong in the town.
So many big horror stories can become all build-up and no resolution or dissolves into too many questions with no big answers. Not so with Broodhollow, so far at least. The story thus far is broken into two big chapters, which is great because it means the story can build up to a satisfying climax while still containing a through-line central mystery to keep you interested. I’m terrible at staying current with on-going webcomics, but Broodhollow is always worth the effort.
It’s Halloween and the monsters have come out of the shadow lands to play. It may very well be the end of humanity … unless the most unheroic of all heroes saves it. Mona is a ten year old and not very excited with this monster apocalypse thing. All she wanted was an average night trick-or-treating, but instead she was left alone at home – and due to the death of most of humankind she can’t even watch TV!
Forced out of the house by a monster, she needs to get to the police station as quick as possible. And what better way than by a shortcut through the cemetery, right? There she meets strange companions who may help her survive: a silly vampire, a Tumblr–addicted ghoul and a sailor-dressed voodoo doll. Together, they have the mission to reinstall the balance between our world and the realm of monsters.
The characters are great. I can’t even pick a favorite! The tone is humorous, but there are some gritty murder scenes and a cool world that will satisfy the reader who wants to get more spooky. But not that spooky – you know, I don’t even read the real frightening stuff because I’m a crybaby, so if you are like me, you’re good to go, I assure you.
In terms of visuals, I appreciate the lettering a lot. They are usually childish – matching the mood of the protagonist, the comedy aspects and the childish characters – but other fonts used help to create a voice for certain characters. The cherry on the top of the art-cake is the cartoonish face expressions. They can be the laughing point in a joke or allow to change the mood to “not joking, everyone is really bloody dying.”
Speaking of jokes, the comic can get metalinguistic sometimes, and I like it. It also constantly makes fun of the horror genre and its tropes, and it even makes fun of me, you, us, the readers!
Updates Tuesdays & Thursdays
Blindsprings is an all-ages comic about magic, long-lost princesses, ancient family history, and mysterious spirits. Set in a vaguely turn-of-the-century city called Kirkhall, the story follows a lost Orphic princess named Tamaura who survived the murder of her family through a pact with the spirits of the forest. 300 years later, an encounter with an Academic mage causes her to breach her contract and venture outside the forest into a world she barely recognizes.
I found Blindsprings through Hiveworks, a webcomic collective that hosts over 50 comics including Paranatural, Monsterkind, and Oh Joy Sex Toy. Currently in its third chapter and running at about a hundred pages, this comic is a great mix of mystery and magic.
One of this comic’s strengths is the time Kadi has taken to situate her readers in the world she has created. She is an excellent world builder, and has done extensive research on a variety of time periods to add some historical flavor to her comic. (You’ll get a great Anastasia/Russian Revolution vibe from Tamaura’s backstory and family history). This positioning is highly appropriate, because the comic is so concerned with timelines and ancestries, as these draw the lines between the Orphics, ancient witches who wield immense magical power, and the Academics who have since taken over and begun persecuting the Orphics and branding them so they cannot use their magic. While Kadi does a great job of integrating this information through the dialogue and events of Blindsprings, she also includes what she calls annotations, which are full page updates consisting of newspaper clippings, storybook pages, and maps that add to the authenticity of Kirkhall and the surrounding areas.
Kadi’s artwork feels like something you would find in an old storybook full of tales of princesses and witches and fairies. In fact, her entire site design adds to this aesthetic, as each update appears within the pages of a book, while embroidered bookmarks act as page links. Some of the best illustrations come early in the comic, when Tamaura is still in the woods. Kadi has a talent for illustrating the old, knotted trees and clear streams that make up the forest of the spirits, as well as the natural sunlight that filters through the branches and the eerie green glow of the spirit lanterns. I also enjoy the way she draws the dialogue boxes for the spirits as creeping branches that at some points in the comic gradually spread out across several panels.
If I had to nitpick some issues with Blindsprings, I can only say that some of the dialogue in the very early pages of the comic felt a bit forced, and that the “About” and “Cast” pages still haven’t been completed. But those issues are easy to overlook, especially since the rest of this comic is so outstanding.
Kadi Fedoruk is the writer and artist for Blindsprings. She lives in Vancouver and also does work on children’s TV shows.
— KM Bezner
Little Ghost is a new comic by Kate Leth about a group of friends who happen to be monsters. We are first introduced to Lara the ghost and Marjory the bat who are on their way to a party; this is where we meet Jessie, Lucy, Andy, Mel, and a whole host of other creatures.
It’s not quite clear yet where this comic is going, but I’m holding out for some good old supernatural teenage monster-girl bonding. In its early stages it was called “the Halloween comic,” but I’m not sure if that means it takes place on Halloween or if these adorable creatures exist in a Halloweentown-type world where it’s the greatest holiday all day, every day. For all I know it could be both! That would be pretty rad.
Kate has stated in various updates that Little Ghost is taking precedence over her diary comic Kate or Die for the moment, though she still does biweekly comics for Comics Alliance in addition to the other titles she publishes with Boom! Studios, IDW, and Archaia. Though the updates are still kind of wonky, she has said she would like to get to the point where she can post updates twice a week. And yes, it is named after that Jack White song.
Everything else is still up in the air, but Kate’s art is as lovely as always. I adore the colors she uses on Kate or Die, and this comic is no different. Being a Halloween comic that (currently) takes place entirely at night, most of the palette is made up of deep, dark purples.
I’m a huge fan of Kate Leth, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s excited to see what’s next for this comic.
Kate Leth is a comic creator from Halifax who writes Bravest Warriors, Edward Scissorhands, and Fraggle Rock. She is also the author of Adventure Time: Seeing Red, and has an upcoming Adventure Time title called Bitter Sweets. In addition to her work in comics she also leads a group of women comic shop employees called the Valkyries and has a biweekly podcast called Less Than Live. Her other webcomics include Kate or Die and biweekly comics for Comics Alliance.
— KM Bezner
Updates Mondays & Fridays
Paranatural is everything I love about shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gravity Falls, and the X-files in one comic. It’s got misbehaving kids, kickass ladies, beautiful colors, and lots of cool supernatural happenings that nobody seems to understand.
Max has just moved with his dad and sister to Mayview, a town that appears to be normal—until Max starts seeing ghosts. Or spirits. Or…does anyone actually know what these things are? Kind of. Though Zack has distinguished between a few different types of undead paranormal beings, the whole structure of the Paranatural world is still a bit fuzzy. That being said, it’s clear that he has a plan, as he has been slowly introducing elements over the past few chapters. So far, Zack has done a great job building his world, especially considering the action up to this point has only occurred over a few days.
Max’s new friends (and by friends I mean the other spectral kids, who he falls in with by default) are Isabel, a feisty fighter whose tool is a book, Ed, a spectral artiste, and Isaac, who is a tool. Sidebar: tools are objects possessed by spirits that spectrals like Max, Isabel, and Ed use to fight aggressive ghosts and poltergeists.
The art initially isn’t anything special, the first ten pages or so are done in sketchy black and white that looks incomplete, especially after reading later pages of the comic. But he soon shifts into full color, and those colors are phenomenal. As the comic progresses, Zack’s linework also clears up and the art in general becomes brighter and sharper. But my favorite aspects of Zack’s art are his page layouts and the way he illustrates action and expression. Faces range from serious to cartoonish, depending on what the situation calls for. (Mr. Spender, teacher at Max’s middle school and leader of the Activity Club is practically a walking overdramatic anime.) Actions are drawn in a way that nearly evokes Looney Toons. Zack’s layouts may appear fairly traditional early in the comic, but later, especially in the most recent chapter, they become increasingly creative and experimental.
I would recommend this comic for anyone who loves the supernatural, the paranormal, or the magical, but the great art coupled with fantastic storytelling make this comic a great read for anyone. Now is a great time to start reading too, as the darker side of the Paranatural world starts to emerge, drama within the Activity Consortium reveals itself, and Spender’s own mysterious past comes to light.
Zack Morrison is the writer and artist for Paranatural. He currently lives in New York.
— KM Bezner