It seems as if most webcomics are designed to run more or less forever. That’s par for the course with comics in general, really: It’s not like we really expect Action Comics or Garfield to reach a logical terminus any time soon. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any great completed narratives in webcomics, however.
Evan Dahm never left his world of Overside. He’s chronicled its history with Order of Tales, and he’s now continuing the story with Vattu. The latter was recently honored at Small Press Expo with the Ignatz Award for Best Online Comic. The first of the Overside stories may still be the best, though.
Rice Boy, like the follow-up stories, follows the outline of a hero’s journey, with the title characgter called away from his mundane life by a wise man (here named The One Electric) to follow a life of adventure. Rice Boy journeys through various strange lands and meets a colorful cast of characters on his way toward an epic battle.
What sets Rice Boy apart is its unique visual style. While Dahm’s art has leaned toward the abstract, the creatures of Order of Tales and Vattu look more natural and organic. Rice Boy, on the other hand, breaks down characters to their most basic of elements. Rice Boy, for example, is a simple mushroom shape with big, wide eyes. The One Electronic is more familiarly humanoid shaped, but with a singularly strange feature: a cylindrical head that flashes images at random. Sometimes it’s a scene from a cartoon, other times it’s a guy on a phone. Rice Boy remains thrilling on the level of an adventure comic. But its abstract aesthetics break the conventions of epic fantasy into its simplest components, touching on symbolism reminiscent of tribal artwork. It’s a webcomic that’s often quite hypnotic in its beauty, full of simple repeating patterns and religious iconography.
Another webcomic I’ve enjoyed on rereads is Andrew Hussie’s Problem Sleuth. This simple story rendered in crude stick figures will probably go down in webcomic history as The Hobbit to Homestuck‘s Lord of the Rings. They even take place in the same universe, with the characters of Problem Sleuth revealed as pop-culture icons and residents of Derse in Homestuck. However, Homestuck can be easily read as its predecessor, only operating on a far more complex level. Here’s the irony: Problem Sleuth deals with a sprawling multi-dimensional reality where size and scale change by stepping through portals, and where the entire cast is more or less generated due to temporal anomalies … and yet Problem Sleuth is still far easier to keep track of than Homestuck.
Problem Sleuth, however, is always funny. The story begins as a parody of adventure games, namely the frustrating Sierra-style point-and-click games. There are jokes about the weird results when you combine two items and how the inventory piece used to unlock the next phase of the story is never the most logical one. There’s a running gag about how a glitch seems to transform one item to another the moment you pick it up. (Lipstick, for example, becomes a chainsaw.) The fun of the story is about how all of it quickly spins out of control. We start with Problem Sleuth trying to complete the supposedly simple task of just getting out of his office (which is blocked by a gigantic bust of Ben Stiller from the movie Starsky & Hutch). By the end of the comic, our stick-figure characters are engaged in over-the-top Final Fantasy style battles over the fate of existence.
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