Tragicomic: Gorgeous Art for a Riveting Story

TRAGICOMIC. Created by The Candle Wasters. Published by NZ on Air. August 3, 2018. Photo courtesy Radio NZ.

Tragicomic Part 1

The Candle Wasters (Creators)
NZ on Air (Publishers)
August 3, 2018

Hannah Moore’s life is a mess. Her dad disappeared a month ago. Her mom, Jude, has already moved into a serious relationship with Hannah’s art teacher, Martin. The only person who understands Hannah’s concerns about her life is her oldest friend, Isla. Basically, “High school sucks when you’re basically Hamlet.”

But it isn’t long before Hannah’s far-fetched theories about her father’s disappearance and her mother’s infatuation with Martin begin to alienate Isla. Whereas these theories are all-consuming for Hannah, Isla wants to move on and live her best high school life.

Isla’s new bonds with their classmates are further aggravated by the fact that Hannah cannot share her feelings with Isla’s beautiful sister, Sophia. So, Hannah takes solace in the comic book she is creating: the story of a brave knight returning from exile to avenge the dead gardener king of Nor.

Through her art and story, Hannah tries to sift through the secrets surrounding her and get to the bottom of the truth. But, just as she thinks she has found a solution to her problems, a startling new revelation makes Hannah question everything she believes in.

Tragicomic is a multimedia story based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. You don’t have to have read Hamlet to follow the story, but it will make the literary references in the comic that much more fun to spot. Like many retellings, this story updates the original to a modern high school setting and changes the machinations of the mad prince to that of an obsessive teenage girl. I am already a fan.

Hannah’s story is told via a short film, released on YouTube as five-minute episodes. Her comic book is what makes up the webcomic section of the story. The comic panels are interspersed with episodes of the film. The two media feed into each other, creating a complete narrative that allows the reader-viewer to participate as an omnipotent third party—while watching Hannah’s story—as well as a silent partner and when reading the webcomic we have seen Hannah “create.”

I found this to be a creative way to tell the story and, though this is my first experience with a multimedia narrative, I didn’t find it confusing at all. I love how the characters are re-imagined for the comic book, Hannah as the brave knight, and Isla as her noble steed. I found myself looking for more elements from each medium in the other, and when they did appear, like Easter eggs, I was thrilled.

It was the little things that I found exciting. Like the appearance of the Ophelia-stand-in, Sophia, Hannah’s potential love interest, and how immediately after, the beautiful pond lady appears in Hannah’s comic. The more kindness Sophia shows Hannah in the film, the more powerful Hannah makes the pond lady in the comic.

Similarly, the black ghost with white bones that Hannah imagines is sending her on a quest makes a sudden appearance in her comic, with the similar goal of sending the brave knight on a quest. Later, we see Hannah donning a black jacket with white bones, a possible sign that her quest is consuming her, and not in a good way.

And, when Isla “betrays” Hannah’s friendship, she is summarily turned into a villain in the comic and written out. What’s that saying about never angering a writer because they’ll put you in their book?

The production values of the film are surprisingly good, but it is Sally Bollinger’s comic art that had me gripped from beginning to end. And, once I knew the “backstory,” I found myself re-reading the comic to absorb all the little details I had missed first time around. The simplistic pencil drawing style of the comic belies how rich it is in content. The number of references is staggering and each panel has a host of visual clues about the story.

There is one panel in chapter five where the knight of Nor is asleep in her disorganised bed. Look closely and you will learn so much about her. I love when artists do so much with so little. It makes me want to read and re-read the story just so I can explore the world a bit better.

This retelling of the classic tale is a breath of fresh air. Reboots can so often be a dull retread of the same principles, but this story goes out of its way to make the story more relatable to a modern audience. I absolutely love how inclusive the characters in the film are. I was genuinely surprised, and pleased, by the diversity on view. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing a famous tragic hero being portrayed by an angsty teen lesbian?

My main takeaway after completing this webcomic was: where were webcomics like this when I was a teenager? This was such an engrossing story to read and watch! The characters were fascinating, both in the film and the comic. Every step of the way, I found myself exclaiming with surprise and joy. It’s going to be an arduous wait till part two is released!

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books, or video games. E always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms. Pronouns: E/ Er/ Eir