Trekker

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!

Seven Questions About Trekker

Here’s the newest installment of the Seven Questions About feature: This time I asked Ron Randall, the creator of the cool webcomic Trekker.

[You may notice that Ron skipped Question 3, but I think part of the answer is implied in the other answers. Also, the last questions is kind of redundant, given the answers to Question 5 and Question 6. In an interactive interview, I certainly would have switched to a better question. Nevertheless, I find Ron’s answers to be interesting and insightful.]

Now, enjoy!

Q1: Who are you?

I’m Ron Randall. I’ve been a professional cartoonist and commercial artist for over thirty years. I went to the Joe Kubert School back in the late ’70’s and was lucky enough to study directly under Joe. I learned a lot about the art of storytelling right from the hand of a true master. Joe was passionate about comics, about drawing as a tool for storytelling. And he was incredibly generous in sharing both his love and his knowledge with us.

Q2: What is Trekker about?

Trekker is the story of Mercy St. Clair, a young, complicated and gifted bounty hunter in the 23rd century. (“Trekker” being the slang term for a sanctioned bounty hunter in my version of the 23rd century.)

Mercy’s stories start on the streets of a gritty, beaten-down, crime-and-violence choked city as she tracks down one bounty after another to eek out a living for herself (and her pet dox, “Skuf”.) Over time, her journeys take her farther and farther afield, and eventually off-planet, where she gradually is forced to recognize that her world is a much more complicated and subtle place that she thought. And she begins to suspect that she may have a larger role to play in things than simply shooting the occasional thug.

While this “outward” journey is going on through the course of the stories, Mercy is also on an “inward” journey. Whether she likes it or not, she will also be finding out more and more about herself– who she is and where she comes from. She’ll be forced to face some uncomfortable realizations and make some profound, fateful choices that will affect her, her friends and just possibly the course of mankind’s journey into the future.

I chose the title “Trekker” with all of those meanings in mind.

Q4: What influences made Trekker into what it is?

That’s a long list! Let e pick a few things. First, the cartoonists who really lit a fire under me. Some of those were:

Joe Kubert himself, of course. I particularly loved his adaptations for the Tarzan books for DC Comics. They just felt so “real”, so gritty and rich with texture.

Al Williamson and from him back to Alex Raymond for their work on Flash Gordon. The trappings of those high-fantasy/scifi stories were so full of imagination, beauty and grace. Romantic with a capital ‘R’. Williamson’s Flash Gordon comics at Gold Key in the late ’60’s was the work that really made me say,”I want to do THAT!”

So, I loved science fiction as a kid. And seeing Star Wars and later BladeRunner and Alien really influenced some of the setting and approach I’ve taken with Trekker. Novels like Dune and The Foundation Trilogy helped inspire the sense of an over-all very large scale to the stakes at hand.

Q5: How did your ideas about Trekker change over the long time you’ve been working on it?

Not much has changed from my original concept for the series as a whole– and I’ll get into that with the remaining questions. Probably the only changes in my thinking have been in my own understanding about Mercy– who she is, her emotional inner life and some of the dynamics that will be playing out with some of the characters in her world. Those things have evolved some. But largely, I originally built a series by trusting my instincts on creating a character, a world and a concept that would be solid from the start, and remain rewarding and engaging to work on and continue to explore. I’ve remained pretty satisfied that this world still “works” as originally intended.

Q6: How did your ideas about Trekker change when you switched from very short to substantially longer story arcs?

It’s interesting that in really essential ways not much has changed for me in my approach to Trekker. From the beginning, I knew I wanted a story that would start with a very closed-in and “pinched” perspective: Mercy on the “mean streets”. And that gradually over time, as I got more experience as a writer and had more time to gradually construct the world, the scale of things would expand. I also knew I wanted it to be something of an exploration of violence– it’s role in a community, what it brings, what it costs. I hope those themes bubble under the surface of the stories. If anything has changed, I hope it’s just that I’ve become more accomplished as a storyteller so that I can do the job more effectively.

Q7: Which of your ideas about Trekker didn’t change, and are not likely to change?

[TGC: I can now that I really should have asked a better Q 7! Just so you know, the questions I asked Ron were among the first set I send out. That they are posted only now is simply a matter of our respective schedules, and certainly not a measure of our mutual respect. We would all love to do this things instantaneously, but … ]

Ha ha, well as you might be able to tell from my above answers, I remain sort of insufferably content with concepts in Trekker. I built a world and a character that I still have great affection for, and a story that I have great passion to tell. All of the trappings– from her basic costume to the gadgets and settings, are all part of the piece, and to alter them would be to change something that for me is essential to summoning up this particular world every time I sit down to the drawing board to work on Mercy’s stories. I’d feel like I was breaking a contract with myself, with Mercy, and with the readers.

If you want to learn more about Ron Randall and Trekker:

Of course, if you haven’t done it already, you should start by reading Trekker. On the website, Ron also publishes occasional blog posts containing interesting back matter.

A good resource about the Trekker comic is the fabulous Trekker Talk Podcast, created by two avid fans, Darrin and Ruth Sutherland. Of particular interest to everyone who enjoyed the Seven Questions will be their
Interview With Ron Randall. They conducted it in person, so it is far more interactive than asking and answering questions per email.

Got any comments?

What do you find most interesting? Tell us in the comments!

Diversity In Webcomics

Diversity is a hot topic. Lack of diversity is an even hotter topic. How to overcome it, is the hottest topic of all. There are many aspects to this topics, personal, social, legal, political etc. But I won’t talk about these, because Provocative Praise is not about such issues.

Provocative Praise is, among other things, about webcomics. And webcomics constitute the most diverse medium that exists, or that could possibly exist. Whether for creators or audiences, webcomics are the easiest way to explore diversity.

Note: Today’s post contains only minor spoilers, if any.

The Easy Way

From a reader’s perspective, webcomics are the easiest way to explore diversity. Actually, to explore anything. At minimal cost.

Just look around for something that might potentially be interesting. Take a closer look. Follow the story for a couple of pages.

  • The worst that could happen is that you find out you don’t like the story, stop following it, and forget about it. No money lost, and very little time. And maybe you learned something, anyway.
  • If the comic you found is wonderful, great, cool, or even just pretty nice, you WIN
    • If it is unlike anything you have read before, you just broadened your horizon
    • If it is similar to the stuff you already read, chances are you will still learn something new
  • Sometimes a comic starts promising, but the storytelling develops in a way that is no longer to your taste. You can just stop reading. You had a good time, you learned something along the way. Maybe you will come back later, maybe you never will. No harm, either way.

Note: Actually, the worst thing that could happen is something very different: That wonderful, great, outstanding webcomic you follow suddenly stops updating. Because comic artists sometimes fall ill, get a new (day) job, or move on, physically or mentally. Hiatus! And then you become so annoyed when your web browser constantly tells you that it – and your whole life – will run better, faster and safer if you disable that sense-of-entitlement plug-in.

Serendipitous Diversity

Keep in mind that I only talk about stuff that I actually read, and can’t do more than scratch the surface of the wonderful and breathtakingly diverse world of webcomics. You can help me dig slightly deeper by recommending your favorite webcomics in the comments. (As some of you have already done. Thank you so much.)

I should note that when I started looking for and reading more and more webcomics, I didn’t explicitly look for diversity, in any of the dimensions that I’m talking about here. And I still don’t look for webcomics written by women, people of color, trans people, …

I look for webcomics that are interesting for me. That usually means science fiction, espionage thrillers, (dark) crime stories, intense drama or even psychological horror, and comedy with a heart and a deeper soul. Sometimes I stumble upon fantasy or zombie stories that unexpectedly draw me in. And occasionally a story with a specific message manages to pique my curiosity and capture my interest. That’s how I discovered and continue to discover diversity in webcomics. Successfully.

Moving forward, I have to apologize that I’m not able to name all the creators whose webcomics I talk about. At the moment I just don’t have the time for the diligence necessary to figure out they all are. To be fair to everyone, I’ll just leave out even the names that I now. Bear with me, in the (maybe far) future I’ll talk more about creators, and refer to them properly. And please note that I link to all comics directly, and do not use any image without – thus implied – credit.

Diverse Creators & Diverse Teams

Everyone with good internet access, a suitable computer, and whatever viable drawing device (from pencil to tablet) can create and publish a webcomic. Technically, this still excludes the majority of people living on this planet. But is also means that the entry barrier is lower than with any other medium. The organizational dynamics that often shut out or keep down creators who are not straight, cis, white, and male do not apply to webcomics.

Just like I don’t explicitly look for diversity in topics, I don’t do that with regard to the creators. And of course, I don’t evaluate the webcomics I love based on who wrote them. For example, I love Opportunities In Space ever since I found it. Over time I found out that one of the creators is a woman, and finally that they both are. That didn’t change my appreciation of their comic in any way.

By the way, from the slightly more than fifty webcomics on my Wonderful Webcomics page, fifteen are created by one woman (each) or an all-female team, and about a dozen by a team that includes at least one woman. Some examples for the latter are Spare Keys For Strange Doors, The Other Grey Meat, and Space Junk Arlia. The last one is also created by a team that’s not all white.

Diverse Cast

When I wrote that I don’t look out for diversity specifically, that’s not the whole truth. When it comes to casting, I tend to appreciate stories more that have a diverse cast. I’m not adamantly against skewed demographics in any possible case; some settings and some stories work best with a cast that consists of only one set of people. But in general, I like stories with ensemble casts that are diverse in many aspects, age, gender, race, sexuality, as well as personal attributes like intellectual and emotional capability or temperament.

Fortunately, there is no scarcity of webcomics featuring diverse casts. No doubt there exist numerous examples of stories where a couple of white dudes hang out and talk about gaming, superheroes and babes. But I’m in the happy position that no one forces me to read those.

An example for a cast that is racially diverse, including people of color and Asian people, is Ramen Empire, which also directly addresses racial stereotypes and prejudices.

The slice-of-life webcomics Girls With Slingshots and Questionable Content do a very good job at displaying diversity with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. They even manage quite often to make fun of difficult topics while taking them very serious – you my recall how that is my personal definition of satire – and they never, ever denounce their characters.

And as a proof that even when I restrict myself to my favorite genre/theme/topic I can still have diversity in the cast, just have a look at A Girl and Her Fed.

Diverse Topics

Webcomics can also, and do so with gusto, tackle topics that tend to be marginalized in commercial media. An example would be the specific issues faced by transgender people, which are addressed pretty well in Rain and in an awesome way in Validation. In both cases, I didn’t start reading them, or continued to read them, because I absolutely wanted to learn about transexuality, but because I wanted to read interesting stories. These comics entertained me very well. I also learned a lot on the way.

Diverse Storytelling

Diversity in storytelling methods is also something that the webcomic mediums sustains like no other:

  • Very unusual worldbuilding and combination of supposedly disparate genres in Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether
  • Beautiful but very strange panel composition and framing in Next Town Over
  • A story that gives equal weight to the serious & the outright funny, the technical & the slice of life, the human condition & and the alien influence, and in consequence moves along with glacial speed, Galaxion just keeps running – or, if you must, crawling – with momentum
  • Comics that combine gag-a-day with short storylines and with longer plotlines in a mix-and-match fashion like Johnson And Sir and Space Pest Removal live most comfortably on the web
  • An affectionate media parody like Monster Of The Week (X-Files) can get away with stuff that might otherwise be difficult to sell, and it’s awesome

The Diversity Paradox

By now you should have noticed that I’m all: Yay, diversity! It rocks!

But there’s something that bothers me.  Sometimes, the argument for diversity is understood like this: Audiences need diversity, e.g. they should read about women, people of color, LGBTQ issues, etc., therefore the pool of creators needs to be diverse, e.g should contain women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. This is absolutely right, of course we need diverse creators, and especially as part of the large teams that are needed for some kind of media, but it would be wrong and dangerous to imply that each issue X can only ever adequately addressed by people who are X. This thinking is dangerous because it reinforces stereotypes about X instead of taking them down: Men write action, women write romance, only gay people can create stories about gay characters, etc.

It is also demonstrably false.  Just to address one point, consider the plethora of wonderful female characters created by male writers and artists in Protege, Never Mind the Gap, Spacetrawler, Quantum Vibe, Questionable Content, Schlock Mercenary, Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Space Mullet, and Trekker. Don’t believe my word, check them out yourself!

Sometimes ‘t Ain’t Easy

Here’s the dirty little secret about reading webcomics: It’s are all about Easy. You want webcomics to be easy. Easy on the eye, easy on the brain, easy on the budget. And at the same time, they should be interesting, inspiring, and intriguing. In other words, what you look for in a webcomic is what you would look for in casual dating. (Disclaimer & Disclosure: I’m faithfully married for more than twenty years. I don’t know anything about how casual dating works. I’m simply talking out of my *ss here.)

So let me talk about an It’s complicated situation here. Or rather, a journey:

I discovered Supermassive Black Hole A* a long time ago, but I only got really interested, one might say invested, when the storytelling got much more coherent, with more consistent visual style, more precise plotting and more effective pacing, with the assassination storyline. (And yes, the picture subtly hints at one additional reason I got more interested). That storyline pretty much ended, as is only fitting, with the death of the mark.

The next storylines were great as well, but some time later, the creator started to experiment with new visual techniques, fancy art style, adding color, and indulged in beauty in a way that affected plot focus and pacing in a way that made me lose interest. (I’m sure there are people who were enthusiastic about the change).

A short time ago, I revisited the comic and found out that while the new visual style was there to stay, the comic was back on track with regard to drama and action, and it is now back on my reading list (and on my Wonderful Webcomics page). And I’m so happy about this.

As always, you are encouraged to agree or disagree (or go on a tangent) in the comments.

See you next week:

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.

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.

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