Welcome back to The Webcomics Weekly!
I bet you’re wondering what the big tease last week was. Did anyone guess? Surely it wasn’t a second person looking at “Order of the Stick” nor is it a look at the new comic “The Red King.” Maybe it was us going on “A Nice Long Walk.” It couldn’t be the comic who’s photo is featured and also directly below this paragraph, could it? Only if this were “A Better Place.”
A Better Place
‘Saturday Morning Cartoons’ – ‘Hannah Saves the World’
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
Since these are the first five updates, I’m going to try to keep spoilers to a minimum but the central conceit is contained within these updates and I have to talk about it because, oh man, this is going to be a good one y’all.
“A Better Place” is a superhero story. “A Better Place” is a power fantasy. “A Better Place” is a story about two children, two siblings, and a deal with a god in the shape of the devil. OK, I say it’s a superhero story but only insofar as the comic uses the visual language of the genre to inform its narrative, rather than being a straight up take about capes and tights and superheroics. More in line with “Irredeemable” or “The Cape,” “A Better Place” asks us to consider what would actually happen if children got “superpowers,” and how do their personalities and naivete drive the way they wield them.
Much as the dynamic between Captain Ma~~Shazam and Black Adam is driven by the way they apply their powers after having been granted them from a god-like source, so too do Theo and Hannah. Theo is younger, more wide-eyed while Hannah has the faux intellectualism that comes with reaching the point where the allure of the complex greys of the adult world are present but without the knowledge that they are grey or that they are indeed, complex. Hannah also has a cruel streak in her. Hand her a magnifying glass and she’ll set an anthill on fire. Give her one wish, and she’ll use it to destroy god and remake the world in her image.
Visually, “A Better Place” strikes a balance between the detailed but not overly rendered or inked environments and expressive, cartoony character designs. Think Jeff Smith’s “Bone.” Clearly there is a high attention to detail but the actual linework is highly targeted to simulate depth without cluttering up the page. You wouldn’t know it by glancing at god’s creepy creepy hands but they’re defined more by the greytones and lighting than they are the actual linework. . .and even there it’s kept simple. But the cumulative effect is of this massive, awesome (in the biblical sense) fuck-off creatue that hovers over Theo and Hannah.
Additionally, Theo and Hannah both have large, exaggerated features, which lends itself to portraying the big emotions that children feel. Yet their expressions and and physicality are given high levels of nuance, at least in these updates. It’s also clear Harrodelted knows how to pace an opening and thanks to the visuals, that pacing is information dense and engaging.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk about the tags & descriptions because, friends, this comic goes full Jonathan Hickman on us at one point, using every aspect of the format to tell the story. I know, I know, looking ahead is bad but I wanted to frame why these pieces are important when they’re still little more than flavor text and teasing. Get in the habit of reading the tags — I have no idea how to do it on mobile but on the desktop it’s on the side at the bottom of each update — and the descriptions because they give insight into the pages you’ve just read, and an expansion of the world that does not fit in the narrative of the comic.
A Nice Long Walk
Just…the whole thing. (Parts 1-74)
Updates: I don’t really understand how Tumblr works soooo….weekly?
By Jake Lawrence
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
Who’s up for an adventure?!
“A Nice Long Walk” sees a lovely lass leave her little sister and papa for…well…a nice long walk. Along the way she’ll make friends and subvert several tropes of fantasy literature and pop culture. A goblin threatens to rob her but is wooed by her soup (it’s made from potato and leek). She’ll help a dark warrior and the frogs who ruin his entrance see the power of friendship. She’ll even have a civil conversation with a dragon about a dreamy bard.Continued below
It’s all very cute, and this reviewer does not often enjoy cute. But trust me, it is a very endearing strip created by Jake Lawrence. Yeah, the guy who does “Teen Dog.” Lawrence’s art is similar to what has been dubbed the “Calarts style.” That term is actually used as a derogatory jab but has begun to simply be a catch-all term for properties with a similar aesthetic. Lawrence’s work, however, does take on more of a line-thickness that feels visually pleasing and lends to the overall quirkiness of the art and story. Lawrence has created several strips both original and based on existing properties such as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Animal Crossing.”
“A Nice Long Walk” takes its own path though as does its central character and her companions, Mouse and Beetle. They’ve made their way across the Bad Bad Lands and most recently the City of the Dead. Where will they wind up next? Who knows? Wherever the imagination of Lawrence takes them, I suppose. Whatever lands, swamps, cities, and woods they visit though it is sure to be an adventure and an exercise in charming humor as Lawrence continues to craft a world of his own for this collection of adorable characters. Consider giving him some money over on Patreon if you like his work. After all, he’s working hard to entertain you and me, one strip at a time.
Order of the Stick
By Rich Burlew
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
“And knowing is half the battle!” There are several moments in “Order of the Stick” that the narrative and the comedic bits fuse into one. Those are often the best pieces of this great series, that is unrelenting on where it pokes fun, and how precise it is at doing that.
On this update, the real-life RPG party sets out on their main quest (or plot) to face the enchanted metal in a nearby patch of woods. After a longer series of done-in-one strips, it is nice to see the overarching story takes centre stage. These pages actually reveal quite a lot about the dangers and antagonists the group will be facing, which adds a layer of excitement to the comedy.
It is, nonetheless, on the bedrock of its humour that “Order of the Stick” shines the most. This time around, there are two particular sequences that are special. The first plays back to the trope of trying to apply RPG-world’s logic and physics to an actual situation, and visually displaying the absurdity of it all. The second, more geared to how fiction plot and script can often take over a semblance of normality, by forcing simplified situations and occurrences to what would normally behave very differently. Both poke fun at genre conventions and conveniences that are all but invisible to their audiences, but quite jarring when exposed to the light. Very funny.
On again, “Order of the Stick” is a fine blend of comedy and adventure, with a razor sharp habit for dialogue and absurd situations.
The Red King
Edited by Annie LaHue and David Lee
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
“The Red King” is as the kids say “A Mood.” The new fantasy-family drama strip is at its best when it is more about mood and style than substance, mostly because writer-artist Heylenne fails to create much substance in the initial five strips. “Red King” follows an ultra-wealthy and equally dysfunctional family, the Krasny and their wild child youngest son Ivan, while a supernatural (and maybe entirely natural capitalist) conspiracy swirl about.
Generically the idea of a fantasy-family drama is sound, but after reading the initial batch of strips “Red King” has failed to do the basic thing that makes it work: get me to care or at least be intrigued by the cast of characters. The strip is unwieldy with its perspective. The 0 chapter is primarily built around Ry, a teenager paid by the family to keep Ivan out of trouble, it builds a sort of unknowable class distance between the well of Ry and the exponentially wealthy Krasny family. It seemed like there would be a sort of early Arrow Ollie-Diggle dynamic. That isn’t the case as the strip begins to focus on Ivan and his excessive, self-destructive (like trying to imbibe vodka through your eyes) ways.Continued below
Ivan is a mess that is neither dramatically interesting or entertaining. Through 5 strips “Red King” gives the reader no reason to care or really put up with Ivan, the rest of his family, or Ry. Their dialog isn’t technically bad, it just uninspired and obvious in spots. In writing you don’t need everything to be ultra-witty but there were a few instances that made me wonder if I was reading a rough translation of another language.
The writing in “The Red King” may not be up to par, but Heylene’s artistic skills are evident. “Red King” does operate in that general manga inspired aesthetic whose cartoon sensibilities are used to good effect as Ry has to deal with Ivan’s business. Some of the spacing between panels feels too big in that general sense I get from most infinite vertical comics. However when things become “a mood” and all the supernatural business moves to the foreground things become far more visually and narratively interesting.
The supernatural stuff hasn’t been explained, but it at least held my interest compared to the family drama. In these moody sections as spirits and phoenix girls light the nights sky, Heylenne becomes like a cross between digital Bill Sienkiewicz and early Stjepan Sejic. Sienkiewicz for their use of scratchy lines that appear minimalistic but when taken in context are overt and painterly. That overt energy feels very early Top Cow Sejic to me where digital effects and painting reigned supreme – even if it made the books a tad hard to read at points. How they handle the phoenix transformations and the fiery trail it leaves behind set against a pure black background is beautiful.
“The Red King” didn’t hook me in their initial batch of strips, which is what you want to happen. The writing just felt a little off and failed to engage me. The art, however, has a real sense of style which can make up for a good deal in time. This wouldn’t exactly go to the top of my to read list, but I’d let it sit there and check in after a dozen or so more strips an see if anything has improved.