Category Archives: historical webcomic
You can say many things about webcomic veteran Kris Straub. Maybe you can say that for some reason he has an almost pathological fear of nostrils. Or that he replace the first letter of his name to a “Ch” to avoid gender confusion. Or that his beard is weird. Like I said, many things.
One thing that you cannot say, though, is that he has no ideas. Kris Straub is the sort of man where any fool thought pops into his head, and he has to go and make a webcomic about it. A webcomic space opera? Sure. Done. Got it. A comic about a struggling band? On it, buddy. A suit made out of chainsaws?
When you think about it, by the way, chainsawsuit (reviewed here) provides the perfect outlet for an ideas man. A thought pops up, and a hastily drawn comic later — BAM!!! — it’s the latest hit on Reddit, garnering tens of upvotes. In one of the Webcomic Weekly podcasts, Straub marvels how the comic was sort of done as a lark, but it turned out to be the one picking up the most views. I suspect, more than anything, that the format fit him like a glove … much like blogging about webcomics, for me, has given me a wide-ranging platform for my racist polemics.
The latest joint by the bearded man with an aversion for the olfactory senses comes in the form of Broodhollow. This time, Straub invites you to enter his particular vision of horror! Only it’s set around the turn of the 20th Century. And it’s still nominally a comedy. And people still don’t have noses.
Seriously, noses are for ethnic people.
Webcomic short stories tend to make a big splash with two audiences: the people who read Reddit and the judging panel of the Eisner Awards. In 2009, for example, a whopping three short stories were under consideration: Speak No Evil, Vs., and The Lady’s Murder. A fourth, Bodyworld, was longer, but structure to come to a finite ending. It’s a format, that, in a way, is more appropriate of an award that bills itself as “The Oscars” of comics. There’s a complete story, a more cohesive theme, and character progression… things that Oscar-worthy movies are typically judged by.
This year, we also have three short stories vying for the Eisner. There’s Sarah and the Seed (which I looked at here), perhaps the shortest work every submitted for Eisner consideration. There’s Bahrain (which I took a look at over here), which muses about politics in the titular country.
Then there’s Outfoxed by Dylan Meconis. Ms. Meconis has, perhaps, more webcomic-cred than the authors involved in this year’s round of Eisners. Her previous works, Bite Me and Family Man, have taken a look at classical horror elements (vampires and werewolves) in historical settings. There’s nothing of the sort in Outfoxed. I mean, maybe a werefox… if that’s a thing.
Through its relatively short lifespan as a genre, webcomics have proved they can do things just as good as any other form of media can. They can make you laugh. They can make you cry. They can make you poo your pants when you get a surprise animation of a creepy anime zombie girl. They can make you find the goodness in humanity through the flooded streets of New Orleans, and they can make you feel the frustration of trying to find a loved one in Iran.
And, yes, webcomics can teach. Moreso, I suspect, than conventional print comics can. There are a lot of webcomic creators out there — such as Kate Beaton and Randall Munroe — that actually respect the intelligence of their readers. They’ll give you a set up using an obscure historical figure or an advanced calculus mathematical equation and trust that you’ll laugh even if you don’t get it at first, and that you’ll do more research if the subject piqued your interest.
Take, for example, Sydney Padua’s 2D Goggles (subtitled The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), a webcomic about two historical characters that I hadn’t thought about since my high school BASIC programming class.
There are two ends of the reviewing spectrum that make me a bit nervous. The first, as I mentioned in the previous review, is when a webcomic looks so amateur that you’re a bit hesitant to talk about it.
Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes a webcomic is so polished that you’re sort of taken aback by how good it looks. “Wait,” I say, “is this even a webcomic, technically? I’m pretty sure this was always meant to go straight to print.” I’m not slamming the art in webcomics, by the way, which can be quite stunning. However, most have a distinctly non-commercial flavor, where the art is geared close to the heart of the creator. I’m talking about comics that seem so ready for prime time that you’re surprised that there isn’t already an animated adaptation airing on Cartoon Network with a live-action movie deal in the works.
That’s how I feel when I read Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (not to be confused with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), a webcomic about swashbuckling adventure in the 1800’s.
If there’s one thing I hate about Darryl Hughes and Monica McNaughton’s The Continentals, it’s Lady Fiona Fiziwigg’s stupid looking hat. Alright, to be fair, her entire outfit is completely ridiculous… and when she’s standing next to her partner, Jeffrey Tiffen Smythe, the ridiculousness goes up exponentially. It’s half Zatanna, half equestrian riding outfit. I’m tempted to say that she’s cross dressing because she’s a woman playing in a man’s world. It wouldn’t really be unheard of, since Gilbert & Sullivan, the Trey Stone and Matt Parker of the Victorian era, once mocked “the lady from the provinces who dresses like a guy.”
I wish that Lady Fiziwigg dressed more typical to the ladies of the era, though. If she had to be eccentric, I’d tend more toward Mary Poppins than Annie Lennox. Because, shockingly, no one ever calls her out on her outfit. You figure if this is Victorian England, she’d get sneers and snide remarks everywhere she went. But no, this crossdressing strumpet is never really brought up in conversation. Hence, Fiziwigg’s fashion sense becomes a very unnecessary and distracting detail.
The title to Brian Clevinger and John Wood’s How I Killed Your Master is a reference to the CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. On the TV show, the narrator, Ted Mosby (voiced by none other than Bob Saget), recounts the adventures of his younger self to his future children, which supposedly leads up to how he met their mother. (And, frankly, it gets a little disturbing, since most of it is about his and his friends’ sexual exploits. Call me old fashioned, but that doesn’t seem like appropriate bedtime story material.)
How I Killed Your Master employs a similar framing device: Master Chan Sen and his army breaks into the home of Master Liu Wong, seeking vengeance for the death of his master, Xu Li, long ago. Master Liu, though, strikes a deal: Chan Sen can strike him down now, or he can learn how to become even more powerful than his dead master. Chan Sen, figuring that Wong is a dead man either way, decides to take Wong up on his offer and sits down with him for some tea. And thus begins How I Killed Your Master, which flashes back to when the currently elderly Wong is just a young boy in the service of Master Fei.
We have this love/hate relationship with scientists an inventors. While we respect their contributions to society, we tend to find them kinda … nerdy. They lack a little something something that more straightforward action heroes possess. This, I think, is why we try to spice them up in media. Thomas Edison invents a lifelike android in Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s L’Ève future while Nicola Tesla’s turn as mad scientist led to the creation of a teleportation device in The Prestige.
Which brings us to today’s review of Newton’s Law, by Garrett Anderson and Dan Dougherty. I’m pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton was a chill guy and all, what with his Law of Universal Gravitation and invention of infinitesimal calculus … but wouldn’t it be more interesting if he was some sort of crazy warlock?
If there’s an American mythology, most of us would point to the era known as The Wild West. Fueled by Hollywood imagery, dreams of wide open plains, and memorable gun-totin’ badasses played by John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, the Wild West imagines a world that is dangerous and tough and yet adventurous at the same time. The truth of the era — which is probably more mundane and not quite as perilous for most prairie settlers — gets glossed over. Part of this mythology is evident in one of Zuda Comics’ most popular efforts, High Moon (reviewed here).
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Deep South in the era of the Great Depression and beyond. This time period is often regarded with utmost seriousness, since it’s highlighted by one of America’s darkest dilemmas. The entire region was gripped by fear. White people were still smarting over their loss and humiliation at the hands of the North in the Civil War. They saw their old world of plantations as a modern day Camelot, and the greedy Northerners took it away.
But for every aristocrat, there are about 100 serfs. If the Whites thought they had it bad, the Blacks — their serfs under the system of slavery — had it worse. Blacks were specifically targeted by angry White Southerners who saw “darkies” as inferior and dangerous. The blockbuster movie of 1915, The Birth of A Nation, didn’t do much to help matters: it’s portrayal of the Ku Kux Klan as heroes and Black people as immoral villains was one of the big reasons the Klan’s meteoric rise in popularity during the 1920’s.
So when it comes to romanticizing any aspect of the Deep South in that era, there’s a very real caution in taking any risks deviating from the real life hardships. Fantasize events, and you run the risk of inspiring the wrong kinds of people to do horrible, dishonorable things. (The Birth of a Nation‘s director, D. W. Griffith, seemed horrified by the reaction to his movie. His next film, Intolerance, tried to teach audiences a lesson about prejudice.) Maybe imagination has no place in real world trials and tribulations, and everything should be taken with the same stone-faced seriousness as To Kill A Mockingbird.
Which is why I was rather astounded when Jeremy Love’s Bayou, a Best Digital Comic nominee for the 2010 Eisner Awards, proved that notion wrong. The author doesn’t gloss over the horrors of that era. There are lynchings. Black people are denied the right to a fair trial simply due to the color of their skin. Police turn a blind eye when white people inflict harm on black people.
However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for flights of fantasy. Sometimes, that’s jus the thing you need to survive.