I haven’t had much time to seek out and read new books for Down the Stacks lately, but I have managed to discover a small set of new webcomics that deserve a little bit more attention. As before, I’ll provide a link to each comic along with a synopsis and what I enjoy about the comic.
The Glass Scientists (http://www.theglassscientists.com/) This comic is just barely over two years old at this point, but it’s already fantastic. The Glass Scientists is a somewhat lighthearted love letter to the classic genres of Mad Science & Gothic Horror in Victorian England, specifically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The normally horrific case of chemically-induced split-personalities has been reimagined such that Dr. Jekyll is the respected co-patron of a boarding house for “Rogue Scientists” whose specialities touch the realm of the fantastic, while Hyde is the wild, uninhibited, but ultimately good-natured nighttime protector of the place. Thus far, it seems nobody is aware that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. The comic begins with Jekyll rescuing and recruiting a young “crypto-biologist” who has contracted an unfortunate case of lycanthropy, complicated by a fumbling attempt to create a home remedy for the condition. In two years of mostly weekly updates, the tale has just barely left the initial set-up phase to bring in its first immediate conflict with one Dr. Moreau.
The author/artist’s day job is with Disney Television Animation, so her art style in The Glass Scientists has some recognizable elements from contemporary cartoons, but the comic’s style is still distinct. The characters are varied in appearance and highly expressive in typically “attractive” and “cartoony” ways. The personalities are a match to the designs, and Hyde in particular is great fun to see. For all his talk of engaging in drinking, drugs, and debauchery, it’s clear that nobody who knows him considers him dangerous to them or London in general.
The Glass Scientists usually updates on Mondays.
Skin Deep (http://www.skindeepcomic.com/) This comic’s been around a fair bit longer than the rest of the ones on this list, but I only recently found it, and I feel it’s still got a good bit of story to tell. Skin Deep is a Fantasy comic in the vein of “magical society hidden in the normal world,” with pretty much all the baggage that entails. Michelle Jocasta is a young woman entering her first year of college and feeling unsure about her ability to make new friends given her utter lack of any up to this point. Her roommate, Merial, makes short work of those fears by pulling Michelle into her tiny social circle, which includes the tall and green-haired Jim from England and the shy, perpetually-hat-wearing Greg. Things are normal until the day a strange man in a robe drops a medallion in front of Michelle and then disappears. Michelle takes the medallion home, only to pass out and wake up somewhere in the forest, transformed into a Grecian Sphinx (the riddle-posing kind). She shortly runs into her three friends, who turn out to be various kinds of mythical creatures as well (a Nixie, Griffon, and Satyr, specifically). As if discovering that she’s unknowingly been part of a vast world of mythical creatures using magic to hide as humans wasn’t enough, Michelle has become the target of a group of demons, a dragon, and other mysterious figures with more mysterious motives.
While Michelle’s story is the primary focus of the comic, there have been some long chapters dealing with Jim’s backstory and recent goings-on at the London Avalon - one of the secret conclaves where the mythic creatures don’t have to hide themselves beneath disguises and can conduct business of a magical variety. There are also short side-stories that star other characters and introduce or explore facets of the world that Michelle may not come into direct contact with.
The art of Skin Deep has improved significantly since the early, somewhat sketchy pages, but I think there’s still plenty of room for improvement. I’m not a fan of the design of some characters, but there aren’t any serious eyesores that aren’t obviously intended to be so. The characterizations and the depth of the world the story plays out in more than makes up for any visual shortcomings. Skin Deep’s world has a deep, rich history full of unknowns and questionable decisions that are having significant impacts on the modern world and Michelle’s life.
Skin Deep’s update schedule has shifted around throughout the years, and it’s presently on a hiatus scheduled to end on February 28. There’s plenty to read already, though, so jump in whenever.
Poppy O’Possum (http://www.poppy-opossum.com/) This comic’s setting is Fantasy in the “whole different world, populated by talking animals” style. The world of Flora is dominated by great, magical trees, each linked to a particular taxonomic family of animals, which according to myth act as the conduits for magic between the animals and the gods that created them. All creatures have access to magic, except for the Opossums, who are instead living magic nullifiers and have suffered a long history of oppression and ostracization as a result.
Poppy O’Possum is an Opossum (duh) who possesses superhuman strength that could rival Superman, and a temper that has gotten her into no end of trouble throughout her life. Seeking a quiet place to live out the last few years of her life and raise her little daughter, Lily, Poppy travels to the little town of Eggton and manages to get herself a job as maid to the town’s mayor. Unfortunately, trouble tends to follow those with unusual gifts, so Poppy’s quiet retirement quickly turns into misadventures pitting her against mobster birds, fighting tournaments, and dragons, and attracting the attention (and possible affection) of the local Queen, whose life ambitions include undoing centuries of prejudice against Opossum-kind.
Also, there seems to be a deep conspiracy regarding the real Powers-That-Be running Flora…
Poppy O’Possum is a balanced mix between comedy and dramatic action. I’d almost call it slice-of-life if it weren’t for the scale of shenanigans Poppy mixes herself up in. The drama mostly comes from situations, while the comedy is all in the characters. Poppy is a friendly character who tries to be laid-back and goofy but struggles with personal demons and her impending mortality. In general, she tends to be the counterpoint to the eccentricities of whoever she’s interacting with, whether it be the tightly-wound type-A personality of her friend and employer, Petunia Quibble, the wholly uninhibited and possibly unhinged Mary Moonshine, or the gruff but personable Sir Friedrich, captain of the guard to the cute but intelligent Queen Kit Darling.
I like Poppy O’Possum because of its balance of drama and comedy. It’s a superbly-crafted story with a deep, complex world, varied and lovable characters, and jokes that come at just the right time and typically land with perfection.
The comic currently claims to update Tuesdays and Fridays, but that schedule has apparently shifted throughout its history.
Paranatural (http://www.paranatural.net/) I’ve known about this comic almost since its inception, but for various reasons I’ve put off reading it until now. I deeply regret that procrastination. Paranatural a highly comedic “school kids fight evil” story involving ghosts, spirits, and a possibly unhealthy dosage of pure, distilled sarcasm, and I love every page of it.
Seventh-grader Max has recently moved to the small town of Mayview thanks to his single father’s nostalgia for the town and highly questionable sanity. Mayview is normal-seeming town, but on Max’s first day of school he starts seeing weird, transparent shadows all over the place and attracts the attentions of both the local bully gang (by accidentally landing his scooter on the leader’s face) and the crazy head of the school’s journalism club (because she has no sense of personal space or privacy). After a full day of dodging trouble and dealing with quirky teachers, Max gets pulled into the mysterious “Activity Club,” a not-so-secret front for a group of kids like him who can see and fight ghosts, led by the science teacher, Mr. Spender, who tries to look cooler than he actually is. Max joins the club out of a lack of other options for dealing with his awakening ghost-sight, but approaches his new job and the insanity that is his entire school with more snark than a normal pre-teen’s body could possibly handle.
Under the thin veneer of a typical coming-of-age story, Paranatural is a non-stop pastiche of coming-of-age stories, ghostbusting stories, schoolground drama, and any other trope that fits the setting. Max is a good kid at heart, but he is not shy about calling out actions, statements, or situations that he finds weird or mockable. He gets as good as he gives via the lead bully, Johnny, and the Paranatural Activity Club’s ace member, Isabel, although Isabel’s reactions are more downplayed. When Johnny and Max go at each other, though, all bets are off and faces will distort to extremes.
The comic does take a more serious tone when focusing on characters like Isabel and Isaac, who each have a lot of baggage related to the paranormal/supernatural aspect of their lives. Honest attempts at serious moments are made with Max as well, but the kid’s gut-reaction to snark at everything keeps things from getting too heavy when he’s around.
The art of Parantural is fairly simple and cartoony in order to facilitate the extreme facial reactions Max and others often exhibit during sarcasm benders, but the art’s also very clean and consistent within its style. Ghosts and Spirits have interesting designs, and the action scenes are pretty good.
Parantural is a comic that takes itself seriously but has no qualms about having as much fun as possible along the way. It has a Tuesday/Friday update schedule.