Webtragics, Batch One
To find a good comedy webcomic, all you really need to do is ask maybe three people. You will probably get directed to a situational week-to-week play on the banal and the habitual, a daily strip about a girl and her pet cobra, or, perhaps, to a collection of brilliant insights into the human condition delivered to you with thoroughly calculated precision in the inimitable style of stickman drawings. And that, even considering the amount of modern “newspaper funnies” that simply fail to deliver, is a good thing.
To find a good drama webcomic, you need to ask about a thousand, and even then maybe go back home with one interesting title that has long since been finished, bought by DC Comics to be published exclusively under one of their imprints and taken off the Internet entirely. If you’re lucky, you’ll be directed towards a weekly sci-fi strip with some fresh ideas and a smart look. If you’re very lucky, you’ll find an interested talented artist who will agree to author one with you. If not, you’d have to get drawing yourself or preparing to spend some time in search of the good stuff. And where the more serious approach to a webcomic is concerned, there’s not nearly enough good stuff.
However, i have some titbits handy:
This one is fantastic. One of the best webcomics currently active, an account of one young man’s struggles with a reality gone bizarre and occasionally hostile. Cameron Stewart writes and illustrates with rare clarity, converting nearly every 8-panel page into a story within itself, while retaining the overall composite narrative. Sin Titulo began in the summer of 2007 and is still going, now on page 153, albeit with some leaves of absence due to the creator having an actually paid career as a comic book artist. I don’t really want to go into detail about the particulars of the events within for fear of butchering it; suffice to say it’s been an interesting journey so far and every last panel made me want to turn the page and see the next one. Really hope the destination’s going to hold up to expectations and the answers are no less intriguing than the mysteries presented.
The closest thing it can be compared to would probably be Life On Mars tv series, but even then the similarities are too far and in between to count and it wouldn’t do any justice to either of these titles. This is an original yarn and still, thankfully, spinning.
It should be a film-noir, really. A monochrome animated full-length feature. There’s not enough of good, dark and gruesome adult cartoons either, I feel.
It’s not a complicated story, by any standards, and as far as PI murder mysteries go, it’s not even all that unique outside of webcomics. And yet, it manages to deliver a simple tale about most basic human vices beautifully and at a gracious pace. Set in the 70′s in a small town in Oregon, where a private eye arrives to on an assignment, She Died In Terrebonne might as well have been a Peckinpah film. Had it been written 40 years ago, it most likely would have. I think I liked it mostly because it didn’t chew your food for you and gave you space and time to come to your own conclusions, logical as well as moral. An increasingly poignant rule of thumb many crime dramas and procedurals nowadays elect to ignore.
This comic is still available in its totality on the web even though it has been published in print since after its completion.
The dissonance between what’s written on the picture and what’s above it is due to False Positive being an anthology, in which Concoction is the first episode of the first season. The author himself describes it as “webcomic tales of the surreal, fantastic, & the macabre.” If The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales From The Crypt got together, dined on a crack addict with a nice bottle of Chianti, then sculpted a misshapen homunculus of a baby out of leftovers and took turns teaching it about black humour, surreal plotting and the total bastard in each of us, that twisted toddler would grow up to become False Positive. And then learn a few new tricks all by itself and find its own distinctive voice.
Mike Walton doesn’t rush his short stories, tells them in his own time and tells them without an ounce of mercy towards your possibly delicate sensibilities. For which I can only thank him. Quite notable is also how he manipulates and makes logical connections parallel to the narrative with just colour schemes, subtly alerting your attention by way of rhyming graphically.
By the way, my mentioning black humour doesn’t mean this is, in any way, a comedy strip. It just means you will have trouble not chuckling at the severe misfortune of others from time to time.
It’s generally forgotten that dramatic storylines can also be short, related loosely, or not at all, and have no less of an audience for it. That newspapers used to run strips about astronauts, detectives, cowboys and spies. That there was a glorious format in which an ugly puppet beckoned us to come sit on his lap every week so he can tell us what a flawed impulsive species we are and laugh right in our faces. That there were master storytellers who gave you a quick yet thorough look at a flurry of high-concept ideas and then released them into the wild having no desire to milk it further. That shows like Doctor Who, back when The Doctor really looked his age, and shows like Have Gun, Will Travel were broadcast for just half an hour, even though some of them were shows with actual continuity.
Modern police procedurals have adopted the loose-relations-between-stories model wholeheartedly, yet forgot to make them short and to the point; as a result of which most of them are just an endlessly big pile of rubbish with the actual story sparingly fitted in between rotting banana skins and old furniture. Anthologies aren’t really popular anymore, the last big one was the aforementioned Tales From The Crypt, and that was in the 90′s on HBO.
This is the point where I would like to say that webcomics come to the rescue, but that would simply not be true. Apart from the one masterfully done short story talebook listed above, I have met nothing else in that category. Comedy dominates the field so aggressively that many that set out to be serious end up folding under pressure and doing goofy stuff that would have been curious and tempting if only it had stayed away from attempts to make the reader laugh at the cost of telling a good story. As an extension of the same kind of case, some make an even bigger mistake, writing good material and pairing it with incompatible, ridiculous graphics. All in all, a nice, gloomy webcomic is as hard to find as ever.