Ben Costa's work first caught my attention with the Xeric Award-winning webcomic Shi Long Pang, about a heavy-set, wandering Shaolin monk named Pang. The artwork had a simple elegance, with Pang's face drawn as a round dumpling-like thing with beady eyes and a mouth. The linework imitates the wispy brushstrokes you'd find in old Chinese prints. At times, the world looks serene and dreamy; other times, it's engulfed in unbridled chaos.
My favorite moment in Shi Long Pang -- perhaps one of my favorite moments in all of webcomics -- is when Pang's ladyfriend Yang Yang is struck by a rock. Up until that moment, Pang has been nice and meek, preferring to avoid trouble when he can. This one action, however, unleashes the fury within. Pang's muscles tighten as he becomes a flurry of fists. Costa's art depicts the action clearly; you can follow the motions of every movement, which gives you a better sense of Pang's speed and skill as well as the shock and unpreparedness of his assailants. To me, this is action done right. Too often, comic action comes down to characters striking a pose. In comparison, Shi Long Pang feels alive.
It seems that Shi Long Pang is going to be on hiatus for a while, though. Volume 2 has wrapped up, but Volume 3 is yet to come. Costa wrote the following in a post from September of last year: "I want to write Vol. 3 in its entirety before I start drawing it, which is not how I've operated these past years working on Vol. 1 & 2. This is the last volume and I want to get it right, and not feel like I'm getting lost half way through. After finishing Vol. 2, I really needed to step away from Pang and cleanse my palette a bit."
This palette cleanser? Well, it turns out Costa has been working with speculative fiction writer James Parks on a little thing called Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo. And, just right off that bat, you can tell from the title that this isn't going to be as somber as Costa's previous work.
Rickety Stitch is a skeleton whose face seems to always be smiling. He wears minstrel garb and loves to sing and play his lute. The problem is that this is unacceptable behavior in the world he lives in. Although he's in a medieval setting populated by goblins, everyone seems to be following the protocol of a modern workforce. His supervisor, for example, chews him out for failing to wash the torture rack on schedule. (A couple of adventurers will be arriving in 15 minutes!) Later, he's up for the most dreaded two words ever uttered in the English language: performance review.
Oh, and there's also a Gelatinous Goo, who spends his days reading a magazine. Things aren't looking too good for the laziest two creatures in the entire AD&D Monster Compendium.
Although Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo seems to be played mostly for laughs, there's also a hint of the chaotic mayhem that made Shi Long Pang so compelling. The comic opens, after all, with a staggering legion of the undead. (A flashback, perhaps, to a time long past. Parallels to Pang's own journey, maybe?) Surely this is going to pay off at some point. I'm confident that when the action erupts, it will be a thing of beauty.