Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!
Most comics go through a publishing process where dozens of people influence what we finally get to read. Not so with webcomics, which are often written, illustrated, and published by the same individual. Without having to worry about marketing, conventions, and traditional formatting, webcomics have license to be different from what we read in issues and trades. Some of them release a few pages a week, some of them are like newspaper comic strips; a lot of them are unmistakably unique. Webcomics are where some of the most creative comic book stories are told! Here are our top three webcomics for 2020.
3. Crisis Zone
Whenever a crisis hits–whether disease, war, or Trump–there are always people who say “hard times produce great art,” which is normally the kind of pap that people who are definitely safe and comfortable like to push on people who are definitely not. Simon Hanselmann took up the challenge. He turned his industrious work habits on “Megg, Mogg, & Owl” and his various books and zines towards a singular new purpose: producing a new page every day of a brand new improvisational graphic novel: Crisis Zone.
The normal adventures of “Megg, Mogg, & Owl” alternates between building up a romantic and patina of youthful rebellion, and then stripping that crap away to expose the decaying heart of these character’s lives. In Crisis Zone, we’ve been treated to a daily view of the latter. Exclusively. When chaos rules the streets and every good thing in the world is immediately transformed into unhealthy escapism, all the characters we’ve grown to love have been stripped to their unhealthy core. Megg is a barely functioning human, Mogg doesn’t have any real friends, Werewolf Jones is Werewolf Jones, and Owl, oddly, can fly.
Webcomics aren’t often known for reacting in real time to the real world. The larger, dramatic strips have stories planned out for months or years in advance, and the smaller, newspaper-format comics that could quickly pivot to new stories are too enamored with their easy sitcom-level comfort zones to dig into current events. Simon Hanselmann has blown them all away with his raw productivity and fearless will to tackle any subject. Again, he’s writing and drawing a page a day. – Justin McGuire
2020 has been a bad year for America and the world. But Simon Hanselmann has given his fans a steady drumbeat of dark happiness to make our days a little brighter.
2. Order of the Stick
It’s no secret that “Dungeons & Dragons” has been seeing a huge resurgence of popularity in these past few years. D&D streams like “The Adventure Zone” and “Critical Role” have not only been seen massive viewerships, they’ve even gotten comic book adaptations. So with more and more people discovering D&D, the fact that not everyone is raving just as much about “Order of the Stick” almost feels blasphemous.
“Order of the Stick” has spent the year growing closer to its final showdown. There’s one gate left to protect, Durkon tries to convince Redcloak to turn on Xykon, and there’s no guarantees everyone will make it out alive. (In fact, judging by what the Oracle said years ago, at least one character who’s undergone some great development over these past few arcs won’t.)
At the same time, this year only had all of 31 new pages released – a surprisingly light year for “Order of the Stick.” Fortunately, we’re judging the comic by its quality, not its quantity, and the webcomic’s quality has not diminished in the slightest. Naturally, the humor hasn’t let up at all; We get everything from Elan playing on bardic tropes to Xykon’s gloriously nonchalant evilness, and plenty of humorous one-liners.
Not only do we get tense negotiations and battles between clerics, we also get to see each of the characters put their skills to use and watch their character development pay off. Roy even turns to Elan for advice on what’s the best choice to make for the narrative – something that surprises even him. Minrah also proves to be a welcome addition to the party, providing both banter for other characters to bounce off of and key support for Durkon and the rest of the party. Even the art has improved to add new designs for the characters and scenery without compromising the beautiful simplicity of “Order of the Stick.”Continued below
In terms of story progression, character development, comedy, drama, and good ol’ “Dungeons & Dragons” fun, “Order of the Stick” remains a reigning champion. If you haven’t started reading yet, get on it!
PS. Yes, I know it still uses D&D 3.5e mechanics while the game is up to 5th edition – that’s a credit to its longevity. -Robbie Pleasant
1. Lore Olympus
In a time where many re-imaginings of beloved tales are demonstrably hollow and soulless, the sheer vibrancy of “Lore Olympus” is intoxicating. Rachel Smythe has taken the Greek pantheon and brought them into modernity with a webcomic that uses the strength of the medium to deliver a comic filled with tenderness, honesty, and beauty. No matter your reason for reading comics, you will find something that touches you in “Lore Olympus”.
Smythe’s simple, elegant art style provides an accessible, aesthetically-pleasing entry point to what is, in actuality, a glimpse into the deep well of human experience through the lens of fantastical mythology. The way that Smythe deals with relationships (both problematic and not) and mental health issues is tender and careful. Moments that, from reading the comments to any issue, clearly help thousands of readers deal with their real-life problems are interspersed with manga-inspired facial exaggeration and countless moments that make the reader feel warm inside.
These complex emotions stem from characters that are well-realized, both visually and narratively. Using a bright, varied color scheme, with each god given their own color is a neat way to easily make it clear who is in a scene, even from a glance on a phone screen while you’re riding the subway. These clean visualizations belie layered characters, each with their own traumas that they are dealing with.
Smythe also uses the medium of Webtoon comics better than any other creator I’ve had the pleasure to read. She uses each millimeter of space in each episode’s scroll, spacing out each new panel to maximize its impact. Smythe has also included music at certain key points during the story to help give the reader an extra sense to set the scene with.
August saw the beginning of Season Two of “Lore Olympus”, and Smythe’s ingenuity and storytelling show no sign of flagging. “Lore Olympus” may be a simple story at its core, but part of its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s not trying to present a labyrinthine plot. Instead, it’s delivering a piece of well-crafted, charming, deeply moving story to millions of readers, every single week. Long may “Lore Olympus” reign. – Jodi Odgers