For 144 weeks (plus the occasional skip) Fridays meant Freakangels. A post-apocolyptic webcomic about a society trying to survive comfortably, starring a strange family and featuring some of the most evocative depictions of psychic abilities in a medium obsessed with superpeople.
Filled to the brim with the level of brilliant dialogue, interesting ideas and compelling twists I expect from Warren Ellis, this stands out as one of his best thanks to the atmosphere, pacing and heart. All of which worked largely because of the exceptional imagery created by Paul Duffield, Kate Brown and Alana Yuen.
Freakangels updated six pages a week, unfolding at a leisurely pace. This isn’t a comic concerned with stuffing as much plot onto a page as possible, instead building an immersive and atmospheric experience. I could linger on some of those pages for ages, just soaking up the imagery. Every page communicates so much without ever being less than utterly beautiful.
At the centre of all this is a utopian belief that problems can be solved, the world can be improved and ideals are worth holding onto. It’s easy to mistake Warren Ellis for a Cynical Old Bastard because of his mastery of the aesthetics of the Cynical Old Bastard - but reading a comic like Freakangels it’s hard to ignore the message that people can be better and that an intolerable status quo shouldn’t be tolerated. He also writes the occasional recipe, which is pretty much irrelevant, but is the only link I can think of to tomorrow…
Space Shark by Chris G has its own twist on single page webcomics, spinning an epic sci-fi adventure by isolating the most potent moments of the narrative to form a slightly disjointed but rich and rewarding world. Also, it is set in space and the “hero” is a shark.
This year saw fantastic use of colour pushed further on already eye-popping visual style, with lots of texture and splatter. Each strip exists independently and tries something different, but re-reading them all I was struck by how well everything ties into a greater whole. (Even if it doesn’t always adhere to a strict continuity, the character relationships build subtly behind the bombast.)
This is the page that hit me the hardest. In terms of pure craft, it’s damn impressive: dynamic, straight-for-the-gut action, shot through with flashbacks which give the action breathing room to hit harder (loudQUIETloud) and ground it in an emotional significance. I actually found it kinda heartbreaking.
I think that strip in particular was enhanced for me by using a Starfleet Academy analogue, it’s the sort of reference that adds an extra layer of mythology to what’s on the page, enhances the context of their back-stories and plays to my interests: Star Trek has always meant a lot to me…
Jamie Smart's longform webcomic Corporate Skull kicked off in high style: with cavemen, shit suicides and the splatteriest photocopier incident of the year. It’s been getting progressively more mental and looks like it’s going to get even better. I’ve been enjoying it so much I felt compelled to draw my first bit of fanart for absolutely ages.
The screen is a less than ideal method of reading long comics, at least not with the same storytelling techniques that work on slices of dead tree: reload times, publication schedule, resolution, glare and aspect ratio are the big ones, but there are solutions. (Usually ones considered before the page’s creation - I recently read a bunch of comics that were put on the web after print and the reading experience was pretty awkward.) Jamie’s solutions are actually pretty simple/elegant - with the most glaring one being to make every page brilliant. Look at this or this, each builds the overall narrative forward but also delivers a self contained experience.
I suspect at least part of this comes from working on the Dandy (enjoying his Desperate Dan more than I enjoyed Desperate Dan when I was the right age to enjoy Desperate Dan is actually how I stumbled across him). For someone who can harness the power of ludicrous violence and improbable swearwords, he works magnificently on sweet, funny kids stuff. At a bookfair earlier in the year it was great seeing a crowd of kids clustered around Find Chaffy and thinking “hah, this is the same guy who drew Bear.”
The Dandy and Beano seem to be an undermentioned influence in British comics. I get why everybody raves about 2000AD, but having a pair of widely-available anthology comics introducing youngsters to comics with unruly kids, humour, characters as iconic as any American hero and dense storytelling (1 or 2 pages to get everything done), is surely pretty significant. Corporate Skull operates with an awareness of what a single page is capable of, so every update is worth reading. Of course, there are other ways of making webcomics work one page at a time…
Christmas day means repeats, right? Good thing too, because some brilliant stuff is always going to be left off a list like this. Fortunately, I can sneak in a list I wrote in July, which (still won’t make the list complete, but) does cover a couple of serious omissions, and everybody will forgive this blatant piece of cheating because it’s Christmas! Proper choice tomorrow…
For now, I’ll leave you a newly coloured comic I drew on this day last year and, as always, wish you a Merry Fucking Christmas (And A Happy New Year).
Some things are more revealing than others, but every action is, to some extent, influenced by our past, by our thoughts and feelings. One of the key functions of creativity is to find a better way of expressing those thoughts and feelings. Not necessarily deep thoughts or especially personal feelings, but “what looks good” or “what makes a good story” are personal nonetheless. How effectively anything is expressed varies greatly and sometimes what gets expressed is very revealing – not always intentionally.
How we relate to other people’s creations can be very revealing as well, Colin Smith’s blog TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics is both a source of in depth analysis of a range of comics and a rather personal expression of his relationship with those comics.
Possibly the most revealing single piece this year was inspired by a bad Green Lantern comic. Not the most promising grounds at first glance, yet from the poor storytelling of ignoring how a characters past affects their present actions, to the wider issues of racial politics, moral obligations and real heroism; he unearths an unsettling message and reveals a range of issues that are important to him. It also ends on an important argument as to why all that matters. Why a disposable pamphlet about colourful men hitting each other does have a responsibility that shouldn’t be ignored. Because all creativity is revealing: and in examining the deeper political content of these comics Colin ends up reveals an admirable moral outlook in himself.
He’s actually embarked on his own end of year list at the moment, which, as with mine, is not actually listed in order of preference (what a crass notion) and, as is usual at TooBusyThinking, is going to be a bit longer than forecast. The list is a pretty good summary of his core themes (clarity, diversity, a consideration of moral and political implications, etc.) and warm hearted recommendations of comics that shine under his analysis.
And if you like warm hearted tales, there’s always tomorrow’s choice…