The Webcomics Weekly is back in your life. This week continuing coverage of “Agents of the Realm” and “Sam and Fuzzy” with the new addition of “Verse.” Meanwhile “Admiral” makes me want listen to ‘White Flag’ by Dido.“Kochab” is gorgeous and minimalist in its art. “Stasis Wake” lives up to its name.
Updates: On hiatus since August, updates soon
By Matt Aytch Taylor
Reviewed by Cathal Donovan O’Neill
You’re on the Titanic. You’ve found out it’s going down, you’ve seen it with your own eyes. You know that the unsinkable can’t escape sinking. You know it’s your fault. After all, you built it.
“Admiral” explores the last hours of Thomas Andrews Jr. and the boat he built. It’s a meticulously researched piece of work, but it never loses sight of Thomas’s character. Past and present blend together to create a portrait of a thoroughly decent man in a thoroughly awful position. The most recent updates ratchet up the dread. Andrews wanders the ship, observing the final moments of many of the passengers, helping where he can. As he passes the lifeboats being loaded, he casts his mind back to when Harland & Wolff decided that a meagre 20 lifeboats would be sufficient.
Throughout the comic there’s a feeling of detachment to Thomas. He knows that the boat has become a floating coffin and although he helps where he can, he becomes more removed from the events around him. Although he makes suggestions to crew members, he mostly exists to observe the final moments of ordinary people. Taylor puts a shimmer effect around Thomas near the middle of the comic (as of writing) and, as the boat reaches its end, the shimmer increases. He becomes a ghostlike figure, his aura of white energy disrupting the shadows around him. The inking gets darker throughout the night, but the shimmer becomes a cold glow. We know going in that Andrews will die with the ship, but this effect makes sure we never forget it. It’s like we see him slowly becoming a ghost. As it gets stronger, so does our sense of tension. The horrifying, the inevitable, draws closer to us.
One of the quirks of “Admiral”are the plaque-like captions that introduce characters and dates. At the start of the comic they serve as a stylistic flourish, a way to point out how much research went into the story, but as we reach the end of the Titanic they take on another meaning. Reading Taylor’s historical footnotes to every page isn’t required (although they’re super fun on a reread), but knowing that they’re there gives those plaques a weight. They become more and more frequent, identifying everything from otherwise-nameless strangers to lifeboats. It becomes overwhelming. Everything and everyone has a story, everybody suffered and almost everybody died, and as the plaques pile up we feel the personal scope of the tragedy balloon outwards. We become observant ghosts like Thomas Andrews, walking through a living memorial.
Admiral’s on hiatus at the moment, which means it’s the perfect time to catch up. There’s only fifty pages and it’s a great choice if you’re looking for some historical comics. The story of the Titanic has been told over and over, but this adds more than enough new elements to be worth your time.
Agents of the Realm
Pages 114-124 (Ch. 3)
Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays
By Mildred Louis
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
The last batch of pages left things on a rare cliffhanger, Norah and Adele are late for their meeting at the local museum! Once again the lettering by Louis just perfectly gets across the sense of panic and haste in a clean simple image. Adele is just walking along; Norah is madly dashing forward, word balloons stuffed to the brim with “shit” on repeat. Norah is a tiny figure in the opening panel, her speed and exertion is more implied by panel as a whole than just figure work involved. Louis uses the whole page to create that implication by the exhausted character acting she puts Norah through once she gets inside in the pages lower half.
Once inside Louis does something I didn’t really expect, she drops some lore on the reader. Or, atleast, a version of the lore as the larger fantastical apparatus that supports “Agents” is revealed in a long exposition sequence. The blunt exposition isn’t bad, the context in which it is delivered makes dramatic sense. It is primarily centered around Paige filling in Kendall, someone who wouldn’t know much about this place as opposed to Norah (who you’d think would know about all this stuff.)Continued below
The page design for this lore dump sequence is simple and effective. It is primarily a series of vertical reading lines with the core imagery in the center flanked by lettering. Through the use of color and more abstract design work, Louis creates a solid montage that sells the mystical elements. The page designs read like they’re Kendall’s thoughts as she imagines what Paige is telling her.
Norah meanwhile is trying to figure out how to deal with all this. Adele is pretty chill about all of it, surprisingly chill. The opening page is probably my favorite of the bunch, but the panel of Norah staring up at the restored portrait of Folami is the best single panel. The low angle perspective behind Norah captures the perfect amount of awe as things just keep getting really real for Norah.
While this set of pages deal with some of the big scaffolding that hold up the series as a whole, Louis also fits in several nice character beats and acting with Paige that begins to show a less steely side of the character. Her giving Norah that water, and helping point out some of the tangible macguffins of the piece is this nice little synthesis between exposition and character work. She is showing a softer side, but Louis still puts in a resounding beat where Paige closes her notebook and you sense that drive again. The character work in this series continues to be excellent.
Updates: Tuesdays and Fridays
By Sarah Webb
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: “Kochab” is gorgeous. What series creator and sole artist, Sarah Webb, is able to do with the series’s aesthetics is a level of consistency, of coherent design, that this fantasy world feels just as real as the one outside one’s door.
First comes the architecture of it all, with building, grottos, caves, and anything in between feeling fantastic, but aligned with each other. When characters move from one location to the next, it absolutely. feels like a natural, gradual transition.
Second, the drawings come to life, both from the delicate balance of a detailed approach (while still retaining every fairy-tale look to it), with minute animation that creep in on some pages, such as small fairy dust moving across a panel, or small lines of dialogue or sound spilling from the page’s border.
Finally, the main characters have a childish look to them, eyes wide in expression, that they become the perfect bridge for readers to take in this beautiful world as they are. On this chapter, for instance, there are several moment when they see something before the audience does, so they join on the gasping of an impressive new room or place.
Towards the plot, this is a very intimate, minimalistic book, which relies on dialogue to push the story forward. At it’s core, “Kochab” is about two very different individuals learning to see the world from the other’s perspective, as fantastic as that may be. It works more often than not, but there are passages that feel somewhat filler. Then again, with such beautiful backdrops to those fillers, it is still a joy to behold.
All in all, “Kochab” will draw readers in by the sheer virtues of its illustrations and designs, and will hold those akin to a slow-paced story of compassion and understanding.
Sam & Fuzzy
Sell Out parts 1-26 + Skull Panda Is Still In Love
Updates: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
By Sam Logan
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
Have you ever played a resource management game? Something like “Oxygen Not Included”–a Steam game I highly recommend by the way–is a good example. You’re required to balance the work your characters are doing alongside the benefits that accompany their deeds. Creating a simple base in a virtual construct is a complicated matter, and if you don’t make sure the needs are in a symbiotic relationship with the output everything will fall apart and you’ll see a game over.
Scratch that metaphor for the time being, though. Have you ever been a living, breathing human being in the continental United States of America between the year 2000 and today?Continued below
Creator Sam Logan hits a strong creative beat with the ‘Sell Out’ arc of “Sam & Fuzzy.” Supporting character Devahi finds herself nearly evicted when her paycheck from N-M-S bounces, prompting a coffeehouse discussion with some of her peers that nails much of the “Millenial problem.” It is impressive just how conscious this arc, written in 2010 just after the recession in the US began, really is.
The recession is a very complicated matter but one that affected nearly all of us living in this country. I was living in Nashville at the time, a city that had a very low cost of living–comparatively with other major metropolitan areas–which has lead to the influx of growth it is currently seeing. In that time the city went from being a place you could work a part-time minimum-wage job whilst being a student to a place where I became evicted from my home as a supervisor at my job.
This is a complicated issue that neither myself nor this meager webcomic can completely dissect, but ‘Sell Out’ takes an entertaining direction in dealing with Devahi’s personal dilemma of not wanting to abandon her employers but also not wanting to start a new diet of dumpster findings.
It is fun to see her employee her creeper flatmate Renaldo to create a commercial for N-M-S and the resulting product is hysterical as it creates one of the early memes of “these stupid pants.” But, again, ‘Sell Out’ is at its strongest in pointing out the difficulties of small businesses weighing their ability to properly compensate their workforce on a morally justifiable level with the operating costs they need to be realistic about.
Running a business is hard, especially for a character like Sam who takes the majority of the burden upon his own shoulders. But it is refreshing to see a series like “Sam & Fuzzy” take this type of ethical dilemma on in comedic fashion. While Dev’s friends point out that dropping overpriced coffees might help her financial situation, the strip also takes time to note one of the most prominent issues my generation faces: we shouldn’t be having to sacrifice our values or a job we truly care about simply because it may not pay the bills, yet we are forced to.
For all its smart humor this may be one of the most poignant arcs for this iteration of “Sam & Fuzzy” so far, simply for being real, and blunt, and honest.
Chapter 1, Pages 30-34
By M. Kalo
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
2001: A Space Odyssey is a torturously slow movie. Watching it today is a test of patience, as shots of spaceships linger for what feels like hours, set to a score that lulls you into an almost trance-like state. While much of the reason was to bask in the spectacle of the era and to convey the size and scope of the ship, sci-fi has a history of slow-burn, high-concept stories. Such is the case with “Stasis Wake.” The details of the story are tantalizingly opaque and it is only in these most recent pages that we’re starting to get a handle on what the comic is about.
This is both a positive and a negative as the pacing of the story oscillates between measured, imagery-driven scenes and fast, heavily expository ones, with the former being more enjoyable than the latter. Moreover, while I’m a fan of the slow-burn, a monthly page by page schedule will almost certainly harm the casual reader’s experience and understanding of the story. The basic premise is that Ria, our main character, is a member of a team that has created a device that allows for human stasis, thus making interstellar travel viable, but that causes horrific nightmares in the subjects.
Pages 30-34 take place in this nightmare world, leaning beautifully into the horrific and surreal nature of dreams. Kalo’s art is detailed like an anatomy textbook, bringing a grounded realism to the visuals, both foreground actors and background environments, and colored like a grittier, less bright “Euthanauts.” The demon and skeletons, with strings of spit strung across their mouths, sent a shiver down my spine while I was mesmerized by the ethereal blue butterflies. However, expressions are not the comic’s strongsuit and, coupled with an imbalance of hatching and realistic shading which gives faces a dirty look, it makes the comic feel more distant than it otherwise should, like we’re holding these characters at arms length while they settle into the uncanny valley.Continued below
The lettering, specifically dialog balloons, too, has a nasty habit of looking highly processed and computerized rather than integrated into the page. This isn’t the case with the sound effects though. Those are integrated rather well, Page 34 especially, which is also where the art style shines through. The mix of small ink hatches and digital/painted shadowing gives it an unnatural and invasive look, one which will haunt my dreams well after I close the page and make me eager to know what happens next.
Chapter 6, Pages 5-11
By Sam Beck
Reviewed by, Jason Jeffords Jr
“Verse” follows characters Fife and Neitya in a fantasy world that involves magic dubbed–Verse. In the previous chapter Wraiths member Magdalena was able to convince Neitya to undergo a spell overseen by Branca. With the spell failing and bringing down the building, Neitya was nowhere to be found. Pages 5-11 deal with the events succeeding what transpired.
Beck’s panels of worried villagers speaking in hushed tones while Ophelia gives them an uplifting speech speaks wonders on lettering usage. Instead of making their muffled dialogue scrambled words, Beck puts a blur on their words that give the feeling of the crowds speaking, but not audibly. By adding even more bubbles cluttering the panels, the sense of a large worried crowd all trying to speak shines through. As powerful as these panels are, its the following silent page that speaks the loudest.
As the events that Magdalena helped happened she now feels like an outsider in the group of outsiders. To give this feeling of isolation Beck has the panels start wide, then close in on a crying Magdalena. The first starting with her and Fife, proceeding to him leaving, then the crowd shying away from her. Within four panels on a page Beck is able to portray so much emotion and plot for the future.
Transitioning to the newly awakened Neitya we learn who the mysterious man in hat really is. “Verse” has been largely void of this character since his quick introduction; other than his fast cameo in the recent chapter. With his return and aid of Neitya, we are giving a great deal of exposition via a conversation between the two. The greatest part of this conversation (that seems far from finished) is how so much of what’s said can be seen littered throughout the series. This moment shows how much time and effort Beck has put in the world building and history.
“Verse’s” strongest part is how much world crafting Beck has sprinkled throughout the series. Each moment has furthered the plot, or character development greatly, but no pages have done so in the extent Pages 5-11 has. These pages alone feel like Beck may be coming to an end game, or setting up for a ton of revelations in the coming chapters. No matter what, I’m hooked.