Space Mullet

Single Sentence Scrutiny: 44 Science Fiction Webcomics

This is another Single Sentence-Scrutiny post. This time I focus on Science Fiction webcomics. Each one gets one single sentence of explanation.

Note that neither order nor sentence length are indicative of relative awesomeness. The same goes for sentence quality. Much to my dismay I have to focus on quantity rather than quality in this article, because I want to list as many comics as possible. Note that I only mark comics as NSFW in very strong cases.

I grouped the comics based on whether they are set in space or on Earth, and whether they qualify as spy-fi rather than sci-fi. I’ll move from Earth to outer space in several steps.

Here we go! Do you like or dislike any particular comic? Let us know in the comments.

Embellished Slice-Of-Life

Here are a couple of webcomics that are mostly slice-of-life but also feature some futuristic element:

Never Mind the Gap is a romantic story (of the steamy kind, if you catch my drift -> definitely NSFW) set in a world that has undergone dramatic changes from our current one but doesn’t really feel post-apocalyptic, let alone dystopian.

Drugs And Wires is a pretty dark and disturbing take on Cyberpunk.

Questionable Content is a relationship-drama-driven slice-of-life comedy webcomic, featuring humans that need to grow a pair and robots that are to cocky, with lots of humor and drama that are true to the characters.

Spy-Fi

A Girl and Her Fed is an astonishing twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-supernatural-elements espionage webcomic that features really evil villains, but also shows political antagonism coming from different viewpoints and goals rather than from moral deficiency, and how the good guys sometimes make questionable choices as well.

Three Minute Max is an action-packed dramatic story with teleportation technolgy and sorta-kinda superheroes that is sometimes over-the-top but has a heart that never stops (unlike that of the hero).

Spy6teen is high-tech espionage meets high-school drama, well written and professionally visualized.

Amazing Agent Luna and its prequel Amazing Agent Jennifer are high-tech espionage stories, with cloning technology at the forefront, set in High School, adhering to many of the Manga-stlye tropes, even the more disturbing ones, but also with pretty solid storytelling.

Retro-SF

Deep Dive Daredevils is an exciting pulp-style adventure webcomic that combines historical submarine action, retro-science-fiction thrills, supernatural chills, and bunch-of-ragtag-misfits shenanigans, and craftily employs all the old, well-known tropes and twists them like no one else, delivering entirely new levels of surprising, yet inevitable.

Westward is a very weird story on Earth and in space, in the past, the present and the future.

Far-Future Earth

Two webcomics that are set on Earth, but in a far away in time future:

Datachasers is very dark and disturbing, but also full of drama and excellent action.

Alice Grove is mostly irreverent fun.

Not Yet In Space Or No Longer In Space

Opportunities is a webcomic that will develop into something like space opera, but since the entire first book is set on Earth, it is a twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-aliens-and-spaceships espionage story, and it relies on continually rising dramatic tension instead of mindless action, and constantly surprises the reader in spite of being very upfront and hiding very little from the reader.

Relativity is about the aftermath of an experimental space flight that has strange unintended consequences that unravel mankind’s knowledge of space-time as well as the relationships of the protagonists in crazy ways.

Space

First lets look at some science fiction webcomics that play out in space:

Schlock Mercenary is a science fiction webcomic that applies poignant satire on many levels (visual, narrative, dialog, plot), with multiple scopes (personal, relationship, professional, technical, organizational, strategic, political), and to different effects (silly, funny, weird, dramatic, dark and disturbing).

Space Mullet is a dark-and-gritty-but-also-quite-funny science fiction (in space) webcomic, where the guys are valiant and wise-cracking, the girls are tough and pretty, the aliens are alien and relatable, the moons and planets are gourgeous, and the weapons and spaceships are top-notch designs.

Greasy Space Monkeys is special for being a webcomic that spices up Gibsonian high-tech-low-life underdog-in-space slice-of-life shenanigans with Crocodile Dundee-esque romantic comedy sprinkles, including courtship rituals ranging from impersonating a spaceship captain to refusing to either confirm or deny allegations of being a murderer to threatening inevitable nuclear annihilation.

Galaxion is a wonderful webcomic featuring Live. Love. Hyperspace., which means that it got its priorities right.

Trekker is a cool webcomic that starts from a pretty standard science fiction setting and premise, but the story is interesting, the plot is well executed, and the visuals are easy on the eyes.

Quantum Vibe is a science fiction webcomic that populates an epic world in a setting limited to our solar system and speed-of-light communication with an incredibly diverse set of characters even without any aliens. (Note: This changes with the new storyline, set a long time after the initial three books.)

Drive is a great webcomic that combines serious, incredibly creative world-building and goofy but loveable characters into an intriguing story.

Space Corps is a science fiction webcomic with world-buildung based on blatant setting rip-off (Semper Fi IN SPACE) enforcing ridiculous constraints on alien design (only the head can be different, and it still has to fit into a standard human-sized helmet), which is great fun because it unflinchingly runs with the concept and includes alien characters which are pretty cool despite the constraints.

Spacetrawler is a very remarkable science fiction webcomic populated by a plethora of incredibly versatile alien designs that take full advantage of the freedom afforded by the medium and accept no constraints whatsoever.

Space Pest Removal is a cute science fiction webcomic characterized by cartoon-style visuals and storytelling that always makes me smile and often makes me wonder.

Crowded Void is particularly nauseating science fiction webcomic. (Seriously, can you imagine any science fiction setting as gross as the intestines of a giant space worm? If so, please tell us in the comments.)

Intergalactic Medical Doctor is a new science fiction webcomic that mixes low comedy, high satire, and a dramatic center.

Supermassive Black Hole A* is a sci-i story that takes the antihero concept to hitherto unknown places, making you root for a selfish mass murderer simply because she is an attractive women on so many levels.

Cassiopeia Quinn is fanservice and funservice, in space.

Space Junk Arlia is about space pirates versus the space fleet, and who’re the more respectable ones?

Terra is all about fighting in space, with a motley crew.

Flight Of The Binturong is a fun little story about a spaceship crew that gets screwed over by the powers-that-be.

Dressed For Success is about two guys running away from the mob, in space.

11th Millennium is concerned with girl problems in space, including, but not limited to, friendship, sex, gaming, betrayal, crime, sabotage, smuggling, militant rebellion, and interstellar war.

Star Shanty features pirates in space! [The site has been down for some time now. I hope it – or at least the comic – will resurface some day.]

Starslip shows us space (and time) adventures with a captain who is a museum curator.

dord is the science fiction webcomic that Samuel Beckett would have written.

Yesterday Bound is all-out fanservice and action, in space.

Praesidium devolves into pure tragedy & death in space!

Space Pulp is called Space Pulp for a reason! Fun to read, but definitely NSFW on occasion.

Merceneiress gets really dark and disturbing on so many levels.

Crimson Dark could be described as Star Wars meets Firefly.

Blue Milk Special is a parody of Star Wars that will be lots of fun for fans of the franchise.

The Lydian Option is pretty much the webcomic equivalent of a Die Hard style action movie in space.

Velocidad is an action-packed space pirates/rebels/renegades story, set in a fairly standard sci-fi world, but with a twist, and with a visual style that took some time for me to get comfortable with, but is certainly unique and interesting, an dfull of cool space-stuff designs.

Note: There are more science fiction webcomics than I could possibly cover here. And if I don’t like them, they may nevertheless be very good (because my taste is just my taste, duh).

Can you express in one sentence why you love your favorite webcomic? Tell us in the comments!

Of course, many of the explanations given in the one sentence descriptions above deserve further exploration. I will revisit them in forthcoming posts.

Note that my next blog post is Single Sentence Scrutiny: 11 Action/Thriller/Crime/Espionage Webcomics.

Drive: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera

Today I’m talking about the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, which is a story that’s Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera. I already mentioned Drive in several blog posts.

Space Operas are awesome!

In movies, the coolest Space Opera lately was Guardians Of The Galaxy. Facilitated by technological progress, it sported amazing visuals. The combination of Space Opera and Superhero Movie was done very well.

Guardians Of The Galaxy even profited from the fact that it came late to join a long history of Space Opera movies: Non-human characters as part of an ensemble cast are no longer something that stands out too much, which enabled the film-makers to integrate all these genetically enhanced/modified/created characters so seamlessly that they could perform any imaginable movie character function. Paradoxically, by adding a raccoon and a tree to the cast, Guardians Of The Galaxy manged to make both the Superhero and the Space Opera genre appear more human.

Space Opera Webcomics are eve more awesome

I have no considered opinion what the latest, greatest Space Opera is on TV, in novels, or in printed comics, but I do have an opinion about webcomics:

Since Space Operas as stories are awesome, and webcomics as a storytelling medium are awesome, it come to no surprise that Space Opera Webcomics are super awesome.

Ever since the great webcomic Space Trawler by Christopher Baldwin (which will be the topic of another blog post here, some day in the future) came to its brutal conclusion, which was most fulfilling, if also very sad, there can no longer be any question that the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, is the current apex of Space Opera in webcomics.

What do I mean with: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera? The possibilities to enlarge the size and scope of space operas in a numerical sense are endless: Adding more planets (or even galaxies), more races, more weapons, more magic, greater time spans; you name it, someone has done it. And this approach isn’t necessarily bad, as evidenced by a couple of great works which do this, for example one of my favorite webcomics, Schlock Mercenary. (Just to be clear, Schlock Mercenary does a lot of other cool things as well.)

Also, science fiction stories or space operas that do not push the limit as described in this post can still be totally awesome: Space Mullet (see also these posts), Trekker (see also those posts), Opportunities (see also those other posts), and Space Junk Arlia are fine examples.

Drive: Beware The SPOILERS!

Now I will have to back up this bold claim with hard facts, but to do so requires countless SPOILERS, so I encourage you to check up on Drive first.

It’s about 200 pages in, so reading it all will take some time, but it will be totally worth it: You will you avoid SPOILERS, and it will also be one of the best stories you have read in a long time.

Now, if you have read Drive, or are not afraid of SPOILERS anyway, you can proceed.

Drive: The Promises

Drive is very upfront and open with its promises to the reader:

  • By the end of the prologue, at page three, we know the main premise of the world-building, namely the Ring Drive and the Second Spanish Empire build from it. Tone and style are already being established.
  • About two dozen pages later, we know the main characters, but one, and also much more about the world-building, and most of the premise for the story. We have also seen a couple of amazing backmatter pages from the Enciclopedia Xenobiologia.
  • When the last addition to the main ensemble cast is introduced, it takes little more than a dozen pages till it is revealed that Orla keeps some secrets from the rest of the crew.
  • When the Filipods are introduced, it is made clear that they are poets whose loquaciousness can bore people to death, but also super awesome scientists and engineers.
  • Further into the story, we are presented with a map of the galactic powers that tells us about every place we will ever encounter.
  • When their home planet is cracked in half, the Filipods, because of their unique evolutionary development, are kept alive, and not thrown into the air like every Tesskan who lives on the same planet.
  • We also see, quite early on, an organisational chart that hints at a super-secret unit called Jinyiwei, headed by the Puno Gris.

Drive: The Surprises

But despite being so upfront, and never playing hide-and-seek or smoke-and-mirrors, Drive manages to surprise the reader, again and again, and on so many different levels:

There are many, many more. Which one are your favorites? Tell us in the comments!

Drive: The Big Payoffs

What makes Drive truly extraordinary is how the different surprising developments interact with each other and form a fabric of world-building that has few equals with regard to complexity, creativity, cohesion and clarity.

There is no hokus-pokus, mumbo-jumbo, yadda-yadda bullsh*t going on; everything in this story is mind-blowing exactly because it all makes sense, it all comes together.

Here are the examples for payoffs that fulfill the promises, surprise the reader, pull story elements together, and also intrigue us by promising even more fantastic story developments:

Just to make it clear, there are a couple more important developments that could be listed here as well, time and space permitting. This is a blog post, and not an epic!

Drive: The Future

The best thing about Drive is that we are just a little into the second act now, which means that the best is still to come. I’m really excited about the future of Drive and so should you; go check it out!

Now, what do you think? Please tell us in the comments!

Single Sentence Scrutiny

Writing last week’s post felt kinda weird: As much as I love the The Silence Of The Lambs and The Matrix , not mentioning any webcomics disturbed me. So by way of overcompensating, I decided to include as many as possible this week. I managed to cover twenty-four. Of, course. this means that I have only limited space to talk about each.

So instead of dedicating a couple hundred words to the discussion of one single webcomic, like I did in my first post on this blog, I will allocate a single sentence of praise to each. I will describe why I love the comic as it is now, and in case of long-runners ignore the early evolution.

Do you agree or disagree with me about a particular comic? Let us know in the comments.

Here we go (neither order nor sentence length are indicative of relative awesomeness):

Schlock Mercenary is my favorite satirical science fiction webcomic, because it applies great satire – with satire being defined as making fun of important or interesting topics by taking them seriously – on many levels (visual, narrative, dialog, plot), with multiple scopes (personal, relationship, professional, technical, organizational, strategic, political), and to different effects (silly, funny, weird, dramatic, dark and disturbing).

Questionable Content is my favorite relationship-drama-driven slice-of-life comedy webcomic, because both its humor and drama are true to the characters, which are build on sophisticated stereotypes, i. e. stereotypes used to enable and inform, but not to constrain or deform, the individuality and richness of the characters.

Opportunities In Space is my favorite twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-aliens-and-spaceships espionage webcomic, because it relies on continually rising dramatic tension instead of mindless action, and constantly surprises the reader in spite of being very upfront and hiding very little from the reader.

A Girl and Her Fed is my favorite twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-supernatural-elements espionage webcomic, because even if it features really evil villains, it also shows political antagonism coming from different viewpoints and goals rather than from moral deficiency, and how the good guys sometimes make questionable choices as well.

Space Mullet is my favorite dark-and-gritty-but-also-quite-funny science fiction (in space) webcomic, because the guys are valiant and wise-cracking, the girls are tough and pretty, the aliens are alien and relatable, the moons and planets are gourgeous, and the weapons and spaceships are top-notch.

Protege is my favorite dark and gritty action thriller spy story webcomic, because it is told fast-paced, with constantly rising tension, doesn’t shy away from going really dark places, but without invoking much gore, and has the most interesting characters and superb world-building.

Gravedigger is my favorite webcomic about an anti-hero who’s pretty damn good at figuring angles and covering bases, goes down with style, but is always prepared, makes sure he’ll lick it, eventually, and narrates his tales with dry wit and quick perception.

Greasy Space Monkeys is my favorite webcomic spicing up Gibsonian high-tech-low-life underdog-in-space slice-of-life shenanigans with Crocodile Dundee-esque romantic comedy sprinkles, including courtship rituals ranging from impersonating a spaceship captain to refusing to either confirm or deny allegations of being a murderer to threatening inevitable nuclear annihilation.

Crowded Void is my favorite nauseating webcomic. (Seriously, can you imagine any science fiction setting as gross as the intestines of a giant space worm? If so, please tell us in the comments.)

Galaxion is my favorite webcomic featuring Live. Love. Hyperspace. because priorities.

Quantum Vibe is my favorite science fiction webcomic that populates an epic world in a setting limited to our solar system and speed-of-light communication with an incredibly diverse set of characters even without any aliens.

Drive is my favorite webcomic that combines serious, incredibly creative world-building and goofy but loveable characters into an intriguing and hilarious story.

Validation is my favorite webcomic driven from an agenda, because it delivers its message and stands its ground, but puts storytelling first, and doesn’t come across as preachy.

That Deaf Guy is my favorite (mostly) humorous webcomic about living with your own or one your family member’s disability.

BOHICA Blues is my favorite webcomic about military life in a modern society.

Deep Dive Daredevils is my favorite pulp-style adventure webcomic that combines historical submarine action, retro-science-fiction thrills, supernatural chills, and bunch-of-ragtag-misfits shenanigans, because it employs all the old, well-known tropes and twists them like no one else, delivering entirely new levels of surprising, yet inevitable.

Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether is my favorite webcomic featuring a unique and radically different fantasy setting, because the world is excellently constructed, the characters are compelling, the plot is intriguing, and the visuals are positively beautiful.

Trekker is my favorite webcomic that starts from a well known, pretty standard science fiction setting and premise, because the story is interesting, the plot is well executed, and the visuals are easy on the eyes.

Space Corps is my favorite science fiction webcomic with world-buildung based on blatant setting rip-off (Semper Fi IN SPACE) enforcing ridiculous constraints on alien design (only the head can be different, and it still has to fit into a standard human-sized helmet), because it unflinchingly runs with the concept and includes alien characters which are pretty cool despite the constraints.

Spacetrawler is my favorite science fiction webcomic populated by a plethora of incredibly versatile alien designs that take full advantage of the freedom afforded by the medium and accept no constraints whatsoever.

Space Pest Removal is my favorite science fiction webcomic characterized by cartoon-style visuals and storytelling, because it always makes me smile and often makes me wonder.

The Queen Candidate and Kappa are my favorite webcomics that are based on an unconventional fantasy setting and correspondingly weird fantasy races.

Next Town Over is my favorite webcomic featuring a weird plot and an idiosyncratic premise and ravishingly beautiful art.

Note: There are many more webcomics I like than I could possibly cover here. There are also many, and I mean really many, webcomics that I don’t like, but which are nevertheless very good (because my taste is just my taste, duh).

Can you express in one sentence why you love your favorite webcomic? Tell us in the comments!

In my opinion, many of the explanations given in the one sentence descriptions above deserve further exploration. I will revisit them in forthcoming posts.

See you next week, when I will write with stronger focus, covering less but digging deeper.

Establishing Sense (Of Scale) And Sensibility

Many of my favorite webcomics are science fiction stories, and especially stories set in space.

Some of those you would call Space Opera. Others are of the type X IN SPACE, where X can be just about everything imaginable: Crime, drug trafficking, law enforcement, scientific research, pest removal, system maintenance, romance (with varying degree of explicitness), politics, and of course many different styles of military operations.

Comics that are set in space need to convey a sense of space, of being in space, of having left Earth-That-Was, in addition to everything else that a comic needs to convey: The experience of dynamics, of motion and emotion, that transcends the comparatively static nature of the medium.

This sense of space is to a large degree a sense of scale: The hugeness of moons, planets and stars, the endless void between those, the small or big (or gargantuan) spacecraft traveling. And the emotion instilled by all this has to fit in with the tone and style of the story: Cheerful, adventurous, mysterious, or dark and dangerous.

In theory, establishing a proper sense of scale for science fiction comics set in space should be impossible. The TV Tropes article called SciFi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale explains why. However, I find that there are many webcomics that excel at Etablishing Sense & Sensibility. My examples in today’s post are Space Pest Removal, Drive, Greasy Space Monkeys, and Space Mullet.

Since today the focus is on visual effects and not on plotting, there will only be minor spoilers, but I still want to give you the opportunity to get up-to-date with them.

Now, if you are back, or if you don’t mind the MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, click for more, read on, and discuss (that’s what the comments are for, duh).

(more…)

Surprising The Audience: The Webcomics Way

Storyteller in any medium want to surprise their audience from time to time. If the story is are about adventure or drama, or told as a thriller, delivering surprises effectively is paramount. And whereas humor can often be achieved by surprising the audience with something totally unexpected that makes no sense even when you rethink it, drama works best when the surprise comes, well, surprising in the moment, but makes a lot of sense in hindsight.

Surprising, yet inevitable is the holy grail of any kind of storytelling involving drama, suspense or mystery.

To achieve the surprising, yet inevitable effect, the surprising thing has to be there already, but cleverly hidden, before it is revealed.

  • In theory, textual media have an advantage here, because – again, in theory – the author can simply omit to mention the fact before it is revealed.
    • In practice, this can be used wonderfully in short stories.
    • It it will usually work rather badly in a novel, if the reveal happens late in the story and the surprising fact has to be omitted for to long: “WTF. You gave me a whole chapter with the hero trimming his nose hairs – pretty gross, by the way – but you forgot to mention he has a f****** computer chip implanted in his brain???”
  • Visual media need to use tricks to surprise the audience, often hiding things in plain sight so they are seen but not noticed.

On the screen, in movies and TV shows, good camera work, editing and visual effects can produce astonishing success in this regard, but I’d argue that webcomics have an advantage here because, as I mentioned last week, they can naturally get away with arranging shots and panel layout in a clever way, whereas in movies or TV shows advanced techniques are more noticeable.

First I will present examples from two of my favorite webcomics I haven’t mentioned before: Protege and Drive.

Further examples will come from two comics I’ve already presented in earlier post: Deep Dive Daredevils and Space Mullet.

Since talking about anything that is supposed to be a great surprise is by definition a SPOILER, please make sure you are up to date on these comics, or don’t care about spoilers, and CLICK for more to read on (and maybe write a comment).

(more…)

Framing: Fancy, Focused, Fast, And Furious

[Note to language buffs / grammar boffins: The use of adjectives in the title is questionable, except for fast, a legit flat adverb. Chalk it up to Confusingly Corrupted Headline Grammar.]

Comics are a visual medium for storytelling like movies or TV shows, but they differ from those in some important aspects. For one thing, they are even more visual, because there is neither sound nor music, which are often used to great effect on the screen.

But there is also a purely visual difference that comes from what I call the self-adjusted reading speed effect. When scanning the comic page for page, panel for panel, the reader goes ahead at his/her own speed, unconsciously adjusting for the time needed to comprehend the full information presented, which will differ depending of the size, complexity, and richness of detail of each panel.

This effect makes it impossible to use time in the same way as movies and TV shows do it:

  • Showing the approach of an enemy as fast, indicating imminent threat, or slow, indicating looming danger.
  • Forcing the viewer to watch, for a predetermined time, a scene where little happens, where there is no or only regular movement, e.g. a person walking down an empty street.

This does not happen in a comic the same way; if the creator e.g. uses many identical panels to indicate passage of time, the reader may get the meaning, but won’t experience the time, because the eye scans quickly over multiple identical panels. Panel size and page layout (e.g. overlays) are used instead to convey both timing and the associated meaning.

Note: My description of the self-adjusted reading speed effect is in disagreement with expert opinion: “Time will slow down with more panels because the reader’s eye will typically linger over the panels at the same rate.” I think this disagreement is in degree rather than in absolutes, though.

The self-adjusted reading speed effect is quite important, in my opinion: The decoupling of visual complexity and perceived speed of action allow comic creators wonderful freedom to use great visual effects without constraining other variables of storytelling.

Now this last sentence is probably impossible to understand without some examples.

These examples will come from the webcomics Next Town Over, Trekker, Space Mullet, Lady Sabre & The Ineffable Aether, Deep Dive Daredevils, and Opportunities In Space.

You can read up these webcomics now if you want to avoid SPOILERS; there will be few major ones anyway, because I don’t refer to the plot much in this post.

(more…)