Surprising Reveals

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!

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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).

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Digging Your Grave One Shovel At A Time

” … brought me in to fine-tune the plan. I’m a details man – figuring angles, covering bases – that’s what I do. [… ] I’m pretty damn good at it.”

That’s how McCrae, called Digger, protagonist of Gravedigger, one of my favorite webcomics, describes himself. It’s an accurate description of the two creators as well: They are details men, and pretty damn good at it.

Me, I’m a details man at the receiving end. Movie, novel, TV show, or webcomic: Gimme the small but significant details!

Digger also asserts he is “one stylish son-of-a-bitch”, and again this can be said of each of the two creators as well.

Here ends the similarity: Digger wants his plans to go straight, smooth and steady; the creators want the plot as twisted as it gets, very tense, and fast-paced. Guess who wins!

This post will focus on what impresses me the most with Gravedigger, the diligence on details.

As I told you in Cooking Success With The Ingredients Of Failure, that’s the same thing I like the most in the novel The Silence Of The Lambs, so I’ll include examples from it as well.

But first, here’s another example (Minor Spoiler ahead) from Opportunities In Space:

  • On this page, we see a couple of ladies standing by a pool discussing where to have a party.
  • The most prominent feature of the page is the open panel in the middle right with a closer look on Sara Emmett saying:
    • “I know for a fact that Ben will not mind.”
    • This line is a subtle reminder that Ben has already met his fate, ahem, I mean there was a family emergency, and that Sara is only posing as his secretary, but really belongs to some group of (alleged?) terrorists.
  • Visual details support and enhance this line of dialog with wonderful effect:
    • That she breaks out of frame into the other panels emphasizes that she is the most important person on the whole page.
    • The washed-out red background alludes to her being an accomplice to murder.
    • In contrast, the positioning of her body in the frame draws attention to the fact that she’s wearing, well, let’s say, pool attire, proudly presenting her fine figure.
    • In one sentence, we see a dangerous evil that is well hidden behind a desirable body, a pretty face, and a friendly smile.
  • What’s more to wish for?

More to come, talking about Opportunities In Space, in futures posts.

Before I continue, I encourage you to check out the archive from Gravedigger. It contains two stories, The Scavengers and The Predators, of 28 respectively 48 pages.

Also, you may want to brush up on The Silence Of The Lambs.

Now, if you are back, or don’t mind the SPOILERS AHEAD, click for more, read on, and discuss.

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