Webcomics Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
If you’ve heard of Mary Cagle, it’s probably because of her webcomic Kiwi Blitz. It draws influences from a lot of anime — rather old-school ones, in fact. Some characters look as if they’ve stepped out of one of Leiji Matsumoto’s space operas. Others are more familiar: The main character Steffi looks a little like a young Nurse Joy from Pokemon, with pink hair that curls into tidy cinnamon buns at the shoulders.
In a way, Kiwi Blitz is sort of ahead of the current obsession with Americanized Japanese mecha. (Eat your heart out, Big Hero 6!) It’s had cheerful teenagers piloting robots to protect a futuristic New York City since 2009. I haven’t read this webcomic yet; the archives are a little daunting (although I do plan to wade in at some point). However, what I’ve seen looks delightful.
Cagle’s affection for Japanese pop culture extends beyond the typical otaku obsessions, however. The native Texan is also an English teacher at an elementary school in Kurihara, Japan, and in November 2013, she began illustrating her experiences living and teaching overseas. She has since collected these slice-of-life snippets in her autobiographical webcomic Let’s Speak English.
As we get deeper into the new millennium, it becomes more apparent that the traditional concept of manliness is a bit of a joke. Consider, if you please, the mustache: The great status symbol of distinguished manhood can now be found as an adorable print on Band-Aids stocked in the same aisle as the Hello Kittys. Consider, too, that PBS once aired a special that unironically asked, “Are bronies changing the definition of masculinity?” We’ve come to the point where once-popular portrayals of manly men like Paul Bunyan and John Wayne come off as buffoonish and comical.
Manly Men Doing Many Things is fill with many manly things. There are pecs, chest hairs, bulging biceps, bold jawlines, strong brows, slicked-back hairstyles, six-pack abs, disdaining sneers, bugged-out eyes, and a general air of brute force. There’s plenty of flexing, grunting and lumberjacking, too. Their faces are scarred and severe, as if they were chainsaw sculptures brought to life by black magic (the manliest of magic). You expect them to be chewing tobacco … or a toothpick, at least.
While sports aren’t foreign to webcomics, they are a rarity. Usually when the subject is raised, it’s as some made-up game invented for absurdity — like, I don’t know, using a frog as a ball or something.
The most successful sports comics, including those depicted in manga and in the webcomic Hoopfighter, tend to ramp up the action to levels that aren’t actually seen in the sport itself. Have you ever wanted to see Shaquille O’Neal knee a dude in a face during a basketball game? Well, it’s possible in comics!
It’s a curious fit, as Penny Arcade is known for video games: It has a popular gaming comic, a highly attended gaming expo and a charity that gifts video games to kids in hospitals. Camp Weedonwantcha, on the other hand, is about summer camp. Can there be a bigger contrast?
Webcomic creator Nick Daniel established the sprawling world of Lagend in 70 Seas. The fantasy world was a mishmash of European, Middle Eastern and Asian influences and populated by furry characters that were closer to the Sonic the Hedgehog end of the spectrum: big eyes, cartoony features, and fur with the consistency of unwashed carpet. They were also quite active, zipping across the page with a spirit of bravado and derring-do.
70 Seas ended in August 2013, but Daniel returns to Lagend with a new webcomic, Latchkey Kingdom. While that world was never meant to be taken all that seriously, Latchkey Kingdom ramps up the goofiness to the next level. It should become pretty obvious with its initial story arc, “Jinx.” That title, by the way, rhymes with a famous pop-culture icon. Want to take a guess? I’ll give you one paragraph.
The main character of Latchkey Kingdom is a resourceful adventurer named Willa Dragonfly. We see her wandering dark dungeon corridors in search of treasure. Her costume is quite notable, as she’s dressed in a familiar green jerkin with a shield adorned with the symbol of a bisected triangle. (Have you caught on to the reference yet?) We watch her as she’s annoyed by a glowing being who chirps “Listen!” all the time, and she does a dramatic pose when acquiring new stuff, while a dialogue box hovers nearby. (Still guessing?) And if that’s not enough of a tip-off, there’s the familiar retro logo of Latchkey Kingdom itself, which looks like it belongs on a shiny gold box.
Thunderpaw: In the Ashes of Fire Mountain is a comic that literally cannot stop moving. Jen, the comic’s creator, has constructed a series of panels made out of looping animated images. The entire comic, in fact, is a study on the various creative ways the often-dismissed animation technique can be used to enhance traditional sequential art.
I mean, just look at all the stuff that Jen throws us in the second page. We begin with the unsettling image of twitchy eyes, with pupils rolling and getting bigger and smaller. Then we have an image of a lightning storm. The sky lights up, and the mountain itself glows then the lightning strikes. Then we get a scene where a flock of birds dive across the sky. Although each image is replayed in a short loop, each panel elicits slightly different reactions: unease, awe, dread.
The Americanization of Japanese properties isn’t a new thing — in fact, it’s a time-honored tradition. Ever since Raymond Burr was inserted into the original Godzilla, there’s a history of cultural sharing on both sides of the Pacific.
Perhaps someone’s mixing the Japanese series Super Sentai to form a popular new show about teenagers with attitude on American shores. Or maybe there’s a North American company somewhere that used the familiar visuals of cyberpunk anime like Ghost in the Shell for its third-person action game. The style and high-octane action of anime and manga are alluring. However, few created in the Western world manage to gain any traction … although that never stops the passionate fans from trying to recapture the magic with their own works.
Mildred Louis’ Agents of the Realm doesn’t, at a glance, look like it was inspired by manga. Her style bears more similarity to the Hernandez brothers than to the dewy-eyed teens who populate most shoujo titles. The characters don’t look like elegant models, but rather like harried, exhausted college students. Also, none seems Caucasian. Our main character, Norah Tanner, is of African heritage, and a role call of the class reveals that most everyone, aside from some vaguely drawn background characters, is non-white. That’s not only a departure for the magical girl subgenre, but for comics in general.
It seems like alternate versions of Alice in Wonderland will be created until the heat death of the universe. Ever since Lewis Carroll wrote the story of a little girl who follows a jittery white rabbit down a hole, it seems as if everybody wants to put their unique stamp on her sometimes-haunting adventures.
Director Tim Burton, for example, turned Wonderland — sorry, Underland — into an epic battlefield where rival queens commanded armies as vast as the ones found in The Lord of the Rings. The Jabberwocky, originally just a character in a nonsense poem (and imaginatively illustrated by John Tenniel), is upgraded to boss battle status that must be defeated with the legendary vorpal blade. Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars novels (which had spun off a comic called Hatter M) sees Alice — I’m sorry, Alyss — as a princess of Wonderland who’s a fierce warrior in combat. Alice has been upgraded from wide-eyed little girl to a vengeful Valkyrie.
This webcomic probably sold me on the giant dog. Severin Piehl’s Tove is a kid-friendly adventure story that looks like it should be airing on Nickelodeon. There are two bratty kids, an explorer father and, of course, a giant fluffy dog. The cover of Tove is already tantalizing enough, with the dog, named Cranberry, carrying a heavy load like a pack mule while the two kids, Tove and Dag, dance on his back. It’s super-charming.
This is shaping up to be Tove’s story (she’s the title character, after all), Both kids are active and ready for adventure, but Tove is the one with the super-strength, as she’s been carrying Cranberry since he was a pup. She’s also the more mature one. Her brother Dag isn’t quite as blessed when it comes to abilities. He is, however, highly competitive, and not at all happy when he has to play second fiddle to his more capable sister.
Their dad is sort of a Dr. Benton Quest type, a hands-on scientist who’s sometimes too wrapped up in his work to see what shenanigans his kids are engaged in. He brings them with him to a remote jungle to do some research on an exotic flower. The kids, however, discover something even cooler: After horsing around, Tove and Dag stumble across an alien spaceship. Among her other abilities, Tove is also something of a gearhead, so the discovery of a potentially working engine makes her excited. Dag, on the other hand, is immediately bored. He wants to see guns and gadgets, so he finds it all very thrilling when they come across the corpse of a saurian alien skeleton.
The entire raison d’etre of Joseph Cappellazzi’s VHS: London seems based on a pun. A fellow with long hair is walking through a dark alley and meeting a guy in a ball cap. “Candy,” says the sketchy character after accepting money for something called Spaceballs. The long-haired guy is after something a little more high grade, though. “Speed,” he says. The guy in the ball cap retrieves a wrapped package. The long-haired guy unwraps … and it’s a VHS tape of the movie Speed 2: Cruise Control! Oh, man, that’s some cutting-edge humor I haven’t seen since Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” video!
To be fair to Cappellazzi, this isn’t the first time a sci-fi story has stretched out a single pun longer than you’d expect. Think back to your high school days: Chances are you read Fahrenheit 451, which asked the reader to consider a world where, instead of putting out fires, firemen were actually setting things alight. Did Ray Bradbury just blow your mind? Unsurprisingly, VHS: London also contains shades of that sci-fi classic.
Ben Costa’s work first caught my attention with the Xeric Award-winning webcomic Shi Long Pang, about a heavy-set, wandering Shaolin monk named Pang. The artwork had a simple elegance, with Pang’s face drawn as a round dumpling-like thing with beady eyes and a mouth. The linework imitates the wispy brushstrokes you’d find in old Chinese prints. At times, the world looks serene and dreamy; other times, it’s engulfed in unbridled chaos.
My favorite moment in Shi Long Pang — perhaps one of my favorite moments in all of webcomics — is when Pang’s ladyfriend Yang Yang is struck by a rock. Up until that moment, Pang has been nice and meek, preferring to avoid trouble when he can. This one action, however, unleashes the fury within. Pang’s muscles tighten as he becomes a flurry of fists. Costa’s art depicts the action clearly; you can follow the motions of every movement, which gives you a better sense of Pang’s speed and skill as well as the shock and unpreparedness of his assailants. To me, this is action done right. Too often, comic action comes down to characters striking a pose. In comparison, Shi Long Pang feels alive.
Did you know that Aug. 1-7 was International Clown Week? On Aug. 2, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation to honor those who “go into orphanages and children’s hospitals, homes for the elderly and for the retarded, and give a part of themselves.” It also states that clowns are “as vital to the maintenance of our humanity as the builders and the growers and the governors.” And thus International Clown Week was established.
Perhaps you knew nothing of this strange little proclamation, nor of this week’s significance. Or perhaps you did know, and you’ve been hiding under your sheets all week to stave off imaginary Pennywises and Captain Spauldings.
I wonder whether the Harry Potter formula has supplanted the Tolkien formula as the most relatable template for Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.”
Consider this: At the time of The Lord of the Rings, most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. That’s not the case today. Who’s going to be a more relatable character for young readers? The hayseed pig farmer, or the school kid trying to find his place in the world? Tolkien’s stories are defined, in part, by long-distance journeys over remote landscapes. While still thrilling, perhaps much of its mystery has been stripped when the same countrysides in real life can be crossed easily by highway. The real thrills are poking at the small spaces in the world you know. Perhaps there are centaurs in the nearby woods or a three-headed dog living in the basement.
I have a long list of webcomic creators that I wish were household names, and Anthony Clark and KC Green are right at the top. Their comics never fail to make me laugh through their general air of affable goofiness.
Clark first won me over with his 200 bad comics, a challenge to create a series of hastily drawn strips. The liberating freedom from making anything “good” turned out to be a successful improv exercise. Clark generated a series of hilarious non sequiturs through uncomplicated gags and simple, cheery drawings. His regularly updating webcomic Nedroid is also filled with cute characters; there’s a bear that’s an oval with stick arms and legs, and a similarly crudely drawn bird. The designs look like they were mocked up by a child, but the layouts have the surefooted mark of an experienced artist.
Video-game webcomics tend to gravitate toward the same crew of characters in general. Most everyone is going to do a comic about Mario, which also means that most everyone will eventually do that comic where Mario is a delusional plumber on mushrooms who gets stuck in a pipe.
Beyond that, however, it’s usually a roster of other visually recognizable characters: Pokemon, Kratos from God of War, Master Chief from Halo, Big Daddy from Bioshock, whoever is in Assassin’s Creed this year. These are the characters that populate the tribal knowledge of gamer culture. In a way, it’s not unlike superheroes. There are hundreds of pieces of fan art, video tributes and articles focusing on Batman, but who;s going to devote much time to, say, Silver Sable?