Wednesday, January 09, 2008

WWWednesday: the road to god knows . . .

WWWednesday: the road to god knows . . .
by Von Allan

Every Wednesday, A Comic A Day boldly diverts from the printed page to read and review a different webcomic, examining at least its first, previous, and current installments. If you have a webcomic you'd like A Comic A Day to review, please e-mail me with a link to and a synopsis of your work. Put "Review my webcomic!" in the subject line so I don't mistake your request for spam . . . unless your comic is really called "Enlarging Your Manhood," in which case, tell me more!

Is it Wednesday already? Something tells me these mid-week attempts to review a different webcomic will creep up on me unexpectedly. While one of the many advantages of web publishing is its convenience, both for the audience and the artist, a webcomics novice like me looking for something new to read actually has to work for the material, rather than my usual, often blind grab for a comic from my "to be reviewed" box. Last week, I went with what I knew, namely old APE neighbor John Hageman, Jr.'s Social Vermyn, but even then, with so many strips at my disposal, I wondered where to begin. Some webcomics are as intimidating as their in-print counterparts. Imagine wanting to look a series in its entirety, and then choosing a title like Alpha Flight. You know where it began, and catching up to its present installments is feasible, but in a day?

So, I'm going with what I know again, and, speaking of Alpha Flight, I'm venturing over the Canadian border to Von Allan's Ottawa-based the road to god knows . . . I didn't meet Von at APE, but he and I shared the exhibitor floor, and I began a brief on-line dialogue with him regarding his LiveJournal analysis of the indie comic con. I had picked up his the road to god knows . . . sampler and reviewed it last year, so since then I've been anticipating the release of his graphic novel proper. GirlaMatic beat any other publisher in exposing Allan's opus to the public, releasing the graphic novel in four page installments every Monday, which definitely affects the building momentum of the story, but gets it out there nevertheless.

The road to god knows . . . features a tomboyish thirteen-year-old girl whose mother is battling schizophrenia. The first twenty-four pages are currently available, and while the first four beautifully establish the story's setting, I can't imagine that it was a substantial initial offering. Only when the characters appear and get to talking, some six pages in, does one begin to understand the emotional depth and poignancy to Allan's world. Though the lead character's thoughts are consumed with raising money for wrestling tickets, and she talks about it ad nauseum, the real story is told in the quiet moments of tear-swelling or brow-furrowing, a kind of visual empathy at which Allan excels. Ultimately, unfortunately, these first twenty-four pages are somewhat uneventful, presumably culminating in a yet-unseen explosion of conflict when we, the audience, inevitably experience the mother's schizophrenia firsthand, and consequently watch this thirteen-year-old girl grow up before her time. In this case, the comic's title is appropriate, because while we become attached to these characters and hope for their happy ending, there's no telling if Allan will let the consequences of his harsh context become a bitter reality.

Artistically, Von's work is a challenge; while he does capture the preciousness of the moment, his characters' proportions are often awkward or even twisted. Understandably, Allan is a grown guy drawing young women, so a certain element of awkwardness is expected -- a "lost in translation" attempt at accurately capturing the potentially foreign world of pre-teens, if you will. Still, in embracing the fine details of these characters' relationships, the visuals flow. As I mentioned in my review of Allan's APE freebie, I work with kids and enjoy comics that capture the truth of their inconsistent behavior (believe me, they aren't all Zoom Academy grads, okay?), so that mentality helped me understand the totality of this piece. Even the cutest kids take some of the most terrible pictures; in this vein, even the most innocent of worlds is touched by tenderness and tragedy.

I did enjoy the depth of Von's inks and the gray tones presumably added with watercolor. The texture of his page or canvas contributes to things like the overcast sky, the dimensions of the street, and even our young heroine's jeans, intended or not. In some cases this might pull me out of the story, but in this case it pulled me in. I guess familiarity with the artist's mentality doesn't hurt, either -- another advantage to the on-line format. Every four page installment is supplemented with commentary, either about the work itself, or some goings-on in comic book culture, etc. This "real time" effect just isn't possible with traditional comics, especially considering that some of them are written as much as a year in advance.

Further, anyone that references Captain Picard's replicator request, "Tea, earl grey, hot," is a winner in my book!

So the road to god knows . . . is a graphic novel turned webcomic. What exactly makes a webcomic? I mean, if I scanned every page of The Dark Knight Returns and offered it in weekly or monthly installments, would that make it a webcomic? Perhaps it's the road's on-line exclusivity that establishes the distinction, implying that the work will become a comic book when it finally sees print. It's an interesting avenue of exploration that Von has probably already addressed (at least he did the last time we exchanged e-mails, but I won't speak for him here), but while the reading experience is different, the content remains the same, and the road to god knows . . . boasts such charm and universal appeal that I think it would find its niche in any format. Where ever his characters are going, their plight undoubtedly brings readers back to his strip every Monday, which is a happy enough ending for me.

Also, finding GirlaMatic has exposed me to some more webcomics! Let's see what I can find for next week . . .

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