Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Webcomics--We know they exist!

Bear Creek Apartments, by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley
The Walk, by Ryan Pequin

Garrett Martin: Okay, yes, there are tons of benefits to putting your comics up on the web, what with the promotion and the infinite canvas and the quick turnaround time, etc. And whatever problems I had with the physical aspect of reading comics on a computer mostly evaporated years ago. Still, though, nothing beats the utility and portability of a damn book (one reason I'm glad that Great Outdoor Fight hardcover now exists, alt-text be damned). I'm more likely to spend time on a page if I'm holding it in my hands, more likely to soak up the details and appreciate the effort put forth by the creators. I just want to rush through webcomics, and in fact hardly ever make it past the first page of one that's split up among multiple webpages. Hell, Bear Creek Apartments and The Walk are the first multi-page webcomics I've ever actually finished. And although neither are bad, per se, I'm pretty glad I didn't pay to read 'em. Are you a big reader of webcomics?

Hillary Brown: I'm not, partially because, as readers may have noticed, I'm a bit of a print nerd, and comics are essentially art books for me, so I probably do prefer the physical product, but it's more because of a bias in its favor than a bias against webcomics. I read a few on a regular basis (Achewood, Cat and Girl, Bellen), but that's because those are short and I can add them to my Google Reader, making it very easy. I'm not opposed to the idea of reading more comics onscreen, though, especially as paper costs continue to rise. If, for example, it increases the output of otherwise much less productive artists and writers whom I like, I'm totally for webcomics, which is kind of how I felt about Bear Creek Apartments. Sure, it's not as absolutely awesome as one would like from the duo of Bryan Lee O'Malley and Hope Larson, but it's at least as strong as their mini-comics, and it's definitely got both their voices. I'm also not as crazy about The Walk as I have been about Ryan Pequin's diary comics and blog (dude can flat out draw), but at least it exists and means more might in the future. To make yet another analogy to another art form, these webcomics are kind of like the equivalent of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: not the pinnacle of what the creators can achieve but better than just better than nothing. They kind of make you want the real and bigger thing, but they also have their own charms.

GM: True, these comics are better than nothing. But Bear Creek wouldn't make me want to seek more out by Larson and O'Malley if I weren't already familiar with them. I've never read any of their mini-comics, but if the level of quality is similar to this then I may not want to. Now, O'Malley's art is nice, the color (both water and crayon) gives it a warmth lacking in Pilgrim, and (although this is totally irrelevent from a critical standpoint) he remains skilled at drawing girls that are incredibly cute despite cartoonish abstraction. And man, his pack of goats might even be more charming than Spiegelman's ducklings. So Bear Creek looks good. The problem is there's really nothing to Larson's story. Flipping the "manic pixie dream girl" schtick on its head isn't inherently a worthwhile idea for a story, and that's kinda all there is to Bear Creek Apartments, right?

HB: Aww... That's a little harsh. I mean, maybe I was only reading it with half a brain (Google is making us stupid, after all), but I didn't really see it coming. The inclusion of the supernatural--in an earthy way, without too many sparkles--is definitely a hallmark of both their comics, but I guess I wasn't paying attention or thinking about it as a possibility. I just sort of figured there was enough going on what with the break-up and the new apartment without "evil manic pixie dream girl" entering the picture, so it caught me by surprise and, therefore, amused me. And doesn't that silly schtick need to be flipped on its head? Both O'Malley and Larson write female characters who are real, which means they can be evil or weird or dorky or whatever, but maybe I'm moving too quickly into our next topic of discussion. Let it suffice that I think this comic is more interesting than it could have been. Plus, yeah, I love the color. And I wonder if it's going to be a series that centers around the apartments, as the title seems to have no relevance otherwise. I mean, this story isn't about the apartment, so that should mean that Larson and O'Malley have created the apartment complex as the setting for a series of stories, which would be ideal.

GM: Oh, is this going to be a regular series? I didn't know. Is this just a glimpse from a longer book, or the first of an on-going web thing?

I actually had to read BCA twice. After that conclusion I figured I misread that first page, that Paul must've been the one doing the dumping. But nope, he was the one on the wrong end of that transaction. It wouldn't made the comic any better, really, but it would've made more sense if his unfortunate transformation was some kind of punishment. Other than that bit of relationship info at the beginning, though, we know nothing about this character, and so the wood-nymph's actions are just mean-spirited. I guess I fail to see the point?

The Walk can't match up artistically, but at least the story was more coherent, and maybe also kinda slightly poignant. What did you think of it?

HB: No, you goof, the fact that it's not punishment makes it better! Punishment would be expected. The fact that he's some poor slob who just got dumped makes it much more interesting. Also, she's not mean-spirited. She's, you know, witchy. Witches do stuff like that. It's a fairy tale. I don't know if it really is part of something bigger or not, but I'd like it to be.

I like The Walk, even its slowness, and I agree that it is kind of touching. I also wish I remembered Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse a little better, but I'm not sure it's actually relevant. What makes the story both good and frustrating to me is its focus on the difficulty of communication. It's so obvious what he's trying to say, and, even though his caretaker is good and loving, the fact that one can't understand the other kind of stresses me out. Of course, conflict is the basis of narrative...

GM: All I know about To the Lighthouse is that the lighthouse is actually a penis.

I appreciate how The Walk deals with a potentially maudlin topic like... some form of mental instability without any schmaltz or histrionics. That difficulty in communication, and the non-linearity of memory, are both frustrating, and Pequin easily could've turned The Walk into a big ball of melodrama. Fortunately he avoided that trap, and made a comic that is stressful, like you note, but not really sentimental. And also more enjoyable than Bear Creek Apartments, which is just goofy.

HB: I don't know if I'd say it's more enjoyable, but it's definitely less goofy. Unfortunately, that's not a negative in my book! One more thing that needs mentioning: although these are indeed both webcomics, they seem to be so merely as a method of distribution, and their composition has nothing computery about it. Both are definitely created by hand with old, non-digital methods, which is part of what makes them a pleasure to look at.

GM: Hey, I love goofy more than most, but BCA just isn't my kind of goofy, I guess.


Abi said...

I'm not sure the two comics have anything in common, besides the fact that they are both on the Internet. I agree that Bear Creek Apartments had beautiful art, but lacked any substance story-wise. On the other hand, I really, really liked The Walk. It was simple, almost surreal, and lovely.

hillary said...

I'd agree that that's all they have in common, but neither seemed long enough to warrant its own post, so the fact that they were both web-only sort of smashed them together. Thanks for commenting.