The Webcomic Overlook #230: Ava’s Demon
It’s getting to be a familiar site these days to see animators flexing their creative juices in webcomics. Just about 5 years ago, it seemed like a novelty when Chris Sanders, animation director of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, brought his verve to the little electrical screen with Kiskaloo. An actual animator! Deigning to illustrate webcomic! How about that! Man, webcomics aren’t just for bored college liberal art students with a poor grasp of MSPaint anymore!
Nowadays, it’s a little more commonplace. Katie Rice, the winner of this year’s Strip Search, to point out one of the most prominent examples, is herself an animator. I suppose it makes sense. As an animator, I’m thinking that most of the time you’re shackled to someone else’s brilliant vision… like, say, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. Sure, there’s some creative leeway there. Maybe suggestions on the character design. Or ideas on fun little background elements. Or animating the letters “S-E-X” in the clouds near Aladdin and Jasmine.
I, too, wanted to be an animator once. Inspired by the Disney Renaissance of the early 90’s, I even once bought a book about how to break into the biz. If these animators were anything like I was, I’m guessing a lot got into the field because they wanted to tell stories. Their stories. There’s a creative force gnawing inside, waiting for the day when it can be finally unleashed on the world. Something like … a crazed little demon.
Speaking of crazed little demons, that’s sort of the premise for Ava’s Demon. The webcomic was created by Michelle Czajkowski, who, as I understand it, is an animator at Dreamworks.
There’s one thing you can guarantee when there’s an animator at the helm: you’re going to get some damn good art. Ms. Czajkowski dies not disappoint. Her character designs are a little familiar, bearing traces of the Dreamworks house style. One of the perks of having an animator draw a webcomic is that there’s strong attention to illustrating movement. Parts of Ava’s Demon resemble storyboards, with subsequent panels supplying the language of action. Ms. Czajkowski decided to have one page represent one panel. The reading experience, then, is a breezy one. I tend to linger on a page for only a few seconds, and then it’s a click to the next. It’s definitely a much different experience than reading a standard webcomic.
(Incidentally, Ava’s Demon had a very successful Kickstarter to fund the print edition. Congratulations are in order for Ms. Czajkowski. However, I do wonder if this comic successfully translates on paper. No doubt the art would still be pretty. The pacing, though, would be something different.)
Ms. Czajkowski’s animation experience shines through in other ways. There are points in the comic that are animated a set to music. Yup, it’s the dreaded motion comic. Now, I’ve been pretty down on motion comics before. However, I actually kinda like the ones in Ava’s Demon. Maybe it’s because these videos are well drawn and incorporate several scenes without overstaying its welcome? In any case, these videos are optional. The first time I read through Ava’s Demon, it was on my iPhone, a device that’s perfect for the single panel programs but is strongly averse to any video-embedding program not named Quicktime nor Youtube. I had to skip the Vimeo videos. While the scenes of Ava rocketing off are indeed well done, they’re not necessary to understanding the story.
The single panel format and the inclusion of video and music reminds me a lot of Homestuck, by the way. There’s even similarities in the way the story is told in the way it follows around a huge cast of characters as they go about on their own adventures that are tied clandestinely to the central story. Crap, one of the characters has candy-like horns. Is Ms. Czajkowski a Hussie fan? At least at no point did I have to put up with an absurdly long and unreadable chatlog.
Ava’s Demon features some lovely color palettes. It’s probably the comic’s strongest defining feature. Palettes are typically simple. There’s usually varying shades of one or two colors, which create the illusion of three-dimensional depth while illuminating the characters like neon lights. It starts off with the website. You know how most sites use either white or black as a background. Ava’s Demon bucks the trend by featuring a deep shade of red. (“#4d0a00” for you color hipsters.) The color bleeds around the edges of the comic proper. It has the interesting effect of making the panel pop off the screen. An elven looking character named Gil is primarily rendered in sky blue. Another girl, Maggie, is awash in bright green and orange. Pretty much all the characters a walking bug zappers, and we are the poor moth caught in the thrall of bright shiny objects.
Pretty much the only character who seems to blend in with our maroon red background is our title character, Ava. Also, to a lesser degree, Wrathia, the demon who live inside her. At least Wrathia usually pulsates a fiery hot orange, threatening to blind the reader with her tangerine heat. Ava is often the same shade as the page itself. It occurs to me that this is probably intentional. Ava is a sad, shrinking violet. With a demon possessing her, she often exhibits embarrassing outbursts similar to Tourette’s. (Early on, she’s expelled from school and is fated to be in a Special Needs program.) Blending into the background? It’s totally a character trait.
But back to the colors. There’s another sequence that I like where the color palette is front and center. There’s a sequence when Gil shows Maggie a space Bible. It’s a little like an iPad, and a little like those glowing blue screens at the marketplace kiosks in the Mass Effect games. Czajkowski cheekily animates these panels to wiggle and flicker, a reminder that while there’s some pretty nice tech in the future, it’s not all perfect. However, my eyes were drawn on how the bright blue screen paired nicely against the red background. The color combination, as well as a brief moment that eliminates the panel borders (which, on other panels, resemble a torn out page), and, if I can be pretentious for a second, brings about a unity of form.
So yeah, I’m a pretty big fan of the art. So what about the story?
It’s not that I hate it per se. It’s got the seeds of some sort of epic space opera with demons and robots and vengeance and Goth Lolita snipers for some reason. Why it’s everything a little boy could ever want … and more! Unfortunately, it call boils down to a very common complaint that I wish I didn’t have to make: I just did not care about the characters at all.
I think we’re supposed to sympathize with Ava. Why wouldn’t we? She’s had a pretty terrible life. The demon, Wrathia, and a mad plan to be reincarnated into a powerful warrior so she could defeat Titan, who, in this comic, is sorta God. (Also, if one of the background images is to be trusted, Titan is apparently an EVA.) Instead, she ends up in the body of Ava. It turns out it was a really stupid plan. That’s OK, I suppose, since at this point Wrathia is more of a comic relief character than an actual threat. She’s not even the main character in this comic, despite it being named after her.
So Ava’s had a whole life of being shunned because people just didn’t understand what she’s been going though. It’s pretty much an allegory for the teenage years. She should be easy to sympathize with. And yet, I actually find it had to root for her. Oh, I don’t hate her. She’s likable enough, in a Mickey Mouse sorta way. But when Ava’s saying things like, “I used to dream about what it would be like if I could make friends… fall in love… what it would be like to enjoy waking up,” I’m pulling the same grumpy face that Wrathia’s got in that same scene. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a cynical old fart now. Or maybe it’s because Ava comes off as a total doormat who probably could’ve subdued a total doofus like Wrathia a long time ago if she had even an ounce of defiance. Or maybe she’s a little whiny. It makes it very hard for me to care if she ever gets her desire for “a new life.”
As for the other characters… they’re pretty. That’s all they have going for them. At the beginning of the story, Ava is essentially a stowaway on a ship with two other characters. One is Maggie, who is instantly abrasive. The other is a stuttering dude who apparently has ulterior motive that he’s told no one about, including the reader. Neither gives us any reason to like them. When Gil shows up, you sorta expect the blue pretty boy to be someone to care about. Yet, he just comes across as a loopy hippie weirdo. Granted, that’s a little more likable than the scheming green-haired girl with plant powers, but he’s too dense to be truly likable.
It’s not necessary for all characters to be cookie-cutter hero types, but there has to be some reader investment into seeing a character get closer to fulfilling his or her agenda. It’s what hooks you into seeing a story to the end. Ava’s Demon is an example of a webcomic I really wanted to love based on the art alone, but in the end felt ambivalent and let down because the characters didn’t interest me at all.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)