Webcomics Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
(This post contains spoilers for Opplopolis Proceed at your own caution.)
This week, Kit Roebuck’s Opplopolis starts Issue 14 as the entire saga slowly but surely approaching its planned conclusion with Issue 20. It’s been a strange journey thus far, full of odd little left turns. There’s a moment, for example, that seems to be a visual homage to The Shining. Agnes, an artist, is invited to a high-class celebrity party where she’s already a bit out of place; she even needs her clothes ripped to shreds just so she can fit in. Thinking it a public service to the fashion-impaired, manufactured pop celebrity Vesper takes a pair of scissors to the artist’s dowdy outfit to create a new dress that shows a bit more skin.
Agnes decides to cut loose a little on the dance floor, but her way to the bathroom she encounters a slightly disturbing sight: When she peeks in an open door, she sees two men wearing animal masks while playing a card game. Eventually, a third person wearing an upside-down cat mask shuts the door in Agnes’ face (revealing a word that forms the comic’s central mystery).
The female heroes of Kate Ashwin’s Widdershins share a lot of personality traits. Harriet “Harry” Barber, for example, is a cool, collected bounty hunter of the pre-Victorian era who’s often shown pondering a mystery while puffing smoke from her pipe. She’s also a bit of a loner; her face is frequently twisted in a tired scowl, and there’s a slight bags under her eyes. There’s a little bit of Rorschach in her, too, as interesting clues are greeted with a “hrm.” She’s definitely the smartest person in the room, but she’s also proud. Her reluctance to accept any help is driven, partially, by her need to prove that she and she alone solved the case.
I didn’t know who Boulet was until this week. I imagine this statement is going to hang over my head, more damning with the passing of each year, like being a big fan of comics, yet having no idea who Hergé is. You’d be all, “Get out of here, you uncultured swine.” Fortunately, we live in an age in which Wikipedia exists. After a few searches it’s easy to catch up and go, “Yeah … I’m totally into Boulet.” A nervous giggle may or may not follow.
Who is Boulet? It turns out it’s the pen name of Gilles Roussel, one of France’s earliest and most famous webcomic creators. Bouletcorp has been running since 2004, and its strips have been collected in seven printed volumes.
His talents are also on display in other French print works, such as the sword-and-sorcery parody comic Donjon Zénith. Stateside, Boulet has illustrated Augie & The Green Knight, a children’s book written by fellow webcomic creator Zachary Wiener that managed to raise an amazing $384,000 through Kickstarter, totally smashing its humble $30,000 goal. (What’s being done with all that extra cash? It’s going to fund the printing of 800 copies of the book, which will be donated to libraries.)
Kit Roebuck’s work first came to my attention with Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, a webcomic that took advantage of the online format and used creative layouts to heighten the sense of loneliness and isolation.
The saga followed two robots traveling around the solar system, having existential crises and zen-like moments as they savored the different cultures of each planet. The ending, however, provided little in the way of resolution beyond the quest for answers. That isn’t criticism: By the time the two robots end up on Pluto, you start to feel as if it couldn’t have ended any other way. Much like life, it’s the journey that matters.
I get a similar feeling when reading Roebuck’s latest work, Opplopolis. While the comic has been available online, with an option to download a copy onto Kindle, Roebuck has recently collected the first 10 issues of his webcomic in a print edition that can be purchased on Amazon. From Roebuck’s press release: “Released online in two-page installments since late 2012, Opplopolis has grown to thirteen chapters of a planned twenty, the first ten of which have now been collected into a single, 278-page printed volume.”
One of the oldest and most highly acclaimed funny animal webcomics is Tracy J. Butler’s Lackadaisy. With origins dating as far back as 1994, when Butler created characters Rocky and Mitzi while still in high school, Lackadaisy took to the Internet in 2006, and has gone on to win several awards, including the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards and the Ursa Major awards. It was also nominated in 2011 for an Eisner for Best Digital Comic.
Lackadaisy also has one of the slowest update schedules. As with many creators, the webcomic is not the artist’s primary occupation. She’s a digital artist who works on video games, and she updates as often as she can. How often? Well, the last page was updated in April, and the current rate seems to be three to four pages a year.
I admit, I’m something of a lapsed reader when it comes to John Allison’s Scary Go Round, which was one of my favorite webcomics for the longest time. There was Allison’s cheeky and very British humor that treated mystical horrors with a heaping dollop of cartoonishness, and the thrill of following his evolving art style.
Scary Go Round started at Joey Manley’s Modern Tales site, when it featured a simpler and gentler computer-generated style created with Adobe Illustrator. In 2005, Allison switched to hand-drawn art that was more angular, boldly whimsical and thickly inked.
Both styles were very appealing, although they affected the humor in different ways. The earlier art was more low key: when eventual main character Shelley Winters becomes a zombie, part of the humor stems from how it’s brushed off as a minor nuisance. Later, Allison is more willing to embrace the maniacal ridiculousness. Basically, it went from being Friends to something out of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavour Cornetto Trilogy.
In 1973, Brian Aldiss coined the term “cosy catastrophe” in reference ot a subgenre of post-apocalyptic science fiction in which the world comes to an end, and everyone dies except the main characters. That frees everyone to pursue a relatively comfortable existence with little hardship: all the benefits of the old world, but little of the negative aspects.
In a similar vein, Minna Sundberg’s Stand Still, Stay Silent portrays a future Scandinavia that’s been heavily depopulated as the result of a viral outbreak. Ordinarily, that would be quite dire, as in Stephen King’s The Stand. Fortunately, none of the disease or its effects are shown, and instead the focus is on people living in style.
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.