After a couple of bouts of the flu, “Mercy” is back (NSFW) with a very important concert for both Cassie and Anne.
Written, illustrated, colored, and lettered by Stjepan Sejic
Reading “Mercy” after the success of the previous series, “Sunstone,” has made for an interesting change in the process as a reader and critic. Readers now know that this strip that will eventually be reedited, collected, and published through Top Cow. It makes reading this strip something like viewing a work print of a film, all the big pieces are in place, but you can also see where things could be sanded down or changed in some way. I say this not as a predicate for going “easy” on this strip, if anything this view makes certain rough edges stand out even more. Besides fixing spelling errors and touching up the art, it gives Sejic a chance to go in a rewrite or omit dialog. This strip verges on overwritten at a couple of points, which due to narrating mechanics is something of a of a feature and a bug. However, when you are both showing and telling the same point it isn’t synergistic storytelling it becomes overdone and repetitive. If you want to see what can change in the remastering process compare the first chapter of “Sunstone” as a webcomic to the published version which is available as a PDF on his DeviantArt page.
In that vein, it continues to be interesting to see how the switch to traditional page construction hasn’t really affected the act of reading. Sejic still presents these as vertical strips in the limitless canvas style of webcomic. The separation between pages is evident at times, but hardly a meaningful delineation given the ease of vertical scrolling. It’s interesting to note how that low friction style compares to strips like “Switch” or “The After Realm,” which present and syndicate one page at a time. The last update to “Mercy” was roughly 6 weeks ago, and yet reading this update felt more fulfilling compared to the more consistent cadence of the previously mentioned series.
The difference of feeling comes down to concepts of ‘time’ and the friction, or lack thereof, created in the presentation as it relates to time. Even in the theatrically infinite canvas of the webcomic, this kind of storytelling still operates with a certain amount of compression. Because of the lack friction from a page turn, scenes flow together in a fluid state. Just because there is a lack of obvious friction, doesn’t mean this is a breezy read. A good chunk of this strip is built on Cassie talking to future husband Tom for about 37 panels or about 5 pages. That’s a lot of space for a comic to use on something that is traditionally not that interesting to look at. And yet it works well for a couple of reasons. Inside the panels, Sejic does good job of creating lively ones, which doesn’t mean they are just jam packed with figures. He fills the background with just enough players that make their own little arcs within an overall micro scene. Take Cassie’s exuberant reaction to the Wicked theme metal band, it’s 3 panels each punctuating a single word to make the overall moment. On the readers right, some guy head bangs and on the left, another gets distracted and shocked at something off panel. These background actions create perception of fluid time even though only one person really gets to talk at a time per panel. The other key to the conversation is their arrangement, everything flows horizontally. With the vertical freedom of the strip, this segment compacted but doesn’t come off as such due to the easy transition panel to panel. When this is remastered, I suspect this segment won’t read nearly as well. Turning pages creates a lot of friction and would disrupt the flow that is created in this presentation.
The strip begins to feel overwritten when Anne is alone, and her narration takes over, as she watches not-Nightwish and comes to a realization about her sexuality. On a mechanical level, the conceit that this entire series is based on retrospective narration is phenomenal, because it allows for some Rashamon narrative difference(you can see another version of when Cassie met Tom here). This narration becomes unnecessary when it and the art preform the same function. Early on as she describes the somewhat dominant-esque role played by the performer with the viewer, it works because it isn’t something I as a reader would readily understand culminating in “and then … it happened.” Anne realizes she is physically attracted to this woman. (How Anne’s realization and reaction is handled rang surprisingly true something I never really expect when this sort of stuff is handled.) Her realization is three panels and a speech bubble, it gets the point across Sejic as always nails her awe and realization. But those 3 panels are also filled with Anne’s narration and they just dominate the upper portion of their panels and it physically takes up too much space. The point is being made twice and it isn’t synergistic storytelling.Continued below
Anne’s narration as she “stress tests” her sexuality isn’t as bad because it’s dealing in a realm of specific fantasy and role play that requires a bit onboarding. The boxes also act as a better reading guide compared to previous ones.
This strip has been about showing friendship and dynamic between Anne and Cassie. And while dialectically, when Anne comes out to Cassie it falls into a bit of a rote “I like you but not that way” path, it’s how Sejic presents these characters that makes it land. The most important thing was the little physical reaction Cassie had, she put her bra back on. Which was something I’d missed the first time before the narration pointed it out. Unsurprisingly, like the long conversation and smart background work, Sejic manages to get the physicality right between these two allowing for clear rapport to exist. This and the creation of a beat made a trite joke get a decent chuckle. As Anne notes nothing really changed, just that Cassie had ammo to fire back at her stripper jokes. It’s that stuff that makes these strips and series work. On some level, like the lyrics from the concert, this is some cheesy smut but it works because the relationships come off as human.