Weeding Through the Right Webcomics

Recently, if you’ve been paying attention online, you may have noticed webcomics becoming increasingly popular. Unfortunately, so many of these comics are absolute dreck, and it becomes difficult to figure out what comics are worth spending your time reading. There are a huge number of comics with great art or a great plot, or great themes.

Here are five that I, personally, quite enjoy and would like to recommend as being some of those rare few that have all three.

Captain Estar Goes to Heaven (viruscomix.com/estar.html):

Currently running at the Virus Comix website is author Winston Rowntree’s major comic, Subnormality, which features one-off walls of text, nerdiness, and the occasional thought-provoking insight. Estar, however, is one of his older projects; unlike Subnormality, it is a single-graphic story, with beginning and end.

The art is interesting, but not perfect—highly detailed black and white used to great effect in most places, but which can sometimes be confusing, once the more futuristic elements enter the story. That’s right, Estar is a science fiction tale, one which touches on themes of suicidality, morality and redemption.

The titular Captain Estar is a hired killer who wants to die. As the story begins, she accepts a contract which leads to a man who can tell her how to get to Heaven. The rest of the story concerns, as the title implies, Captain Estar going to Heaven, and how she deals with it.

Captain Estar Goes to Heaven no longer updates, as it represents a complete story.

We The Robots (wetherobots.com):

Chris Harding’s We The Robots is a stark look at the deep-seated dread of mundanity and soul-crushing pressure to conform that we all experience as human beings (as played out by robotic caricatures). So, yeah, it’s a bit depressing sometimes. Unlike Estar, however, it also manages to be quite funny.

The main character, Bob, is an orange robot with a white stripe—the result of “frequent bouts of curiosity and passion,” for which he is ridiculed by his peers. He is a husband and father (“children are the horrible, horrible future”), and the story occasionally follows either of his two children, his coworkers, and his wife. Nearly every comic is rife with dark observations about society, and the role that any one person plays in it; fortunately, the moral (“we’re all screwed”) is delivered in a lighthearted or innocent enough manner so that it stays enjoyable.

The comic is acted out by an almost childlike series of round, square and triangular characters, colored to seem almost like construction paper. While it’s hardly complex, it very well suits the comic’s juxtaposition of innocence and hopelessness.

We The Robots no longer updates, and is on indefinite hiatus.

Happle Tea (happletea.com):

Happle Tea is, as its website proclaims, “a webcomic about mythology and other things.” It also claims to be “the only comic that excoriates religion, pop culture and politics while, at the same time, lauding the world of cryptozoology.” That quote is copied in full only because there seems to be no better way to describe it.

Scott Maynard, the author/artist behind Happle Tea, claims to have intimate contact with daimonic forces beyond the ken of most mortals, and his adventures are represented in the actions of his comic counterpart, Lil’ K. Lil’ K is only 8 years old (or 11, or something), but is on a first-name basis with many mythical creatures. His activities range from spending afternoons with a Japanese Tengu, who is going to be starring in a film, to scolding the trapped Fenrir, to actually being raised by a Sasquatch.

The humor is usually very whimsical, with frequent lapses into the surreal and occasional forays into the delightfully vulgar (Santa hits on Prancer at the year-end company Christmas party). Though the comic began life with fairly bland art copying the common anime style, it has since evolved into a look all its own, complementing the fanciful whimsy of the strip.

Happle Tea updates every Tuesday and Friday.

Rice Boy (rice-boy.com/see):

What is there to say about Rice Boy? It is a story about an insignificant little creature (called Rice Boy, naturally), who may or may not be the fulfiller of a great prophecy regarding the return of a third godlike consciousness to the Overside. He was chosen by a machine man named The One Electronic, and is joined by Gerund, a hungry and nervous creature with horns and an appetite (who is himself on a quest to kill the Bleach Beast, the creature that ate his brother). He is chased by Spatch II, the froglike son of the last one chosen to fulfill the prophecy.

An exercise in surrealism and full of religious commentary, Rice Boy is an exciting and epic story, dealing with destiny, religion and a good/evil dichotomy. The art style fits the almost psychedelic surrealism, and compliments the complex themes with a complex landscape full of strange life. Even the languages used can become surreal abstractions; there are a number of tongues used in the world of Overside, some of which are most interestingly represented pictographically, with meanings left up to the reader.

Rice Boy is a complete story and no longer updates, but the author has more stories to tell about Overside at rice-boy.com.

Erfworld (erfworld.com):

There are a number of stories and comics that concern people and characters entering into preexisting fantastic realms. Erfworld is the first that I’ve read that has a character specifically entering a turn-based tabletop strategy game. The man is Parson Gotti (an anagram of Protagonist, for those of you keeping the score), and the game is one of his own devising. The world that he enters is a comedic, almost cutesy parody of modern fantasy and war-gaming, with schools of magic appended with “–amancy,” and all curses censored as “boop.”

It is also a world, appropriately, governed by those rules that he designed—the way armies interact is based on their attack scores and the bonuses that they get, each unit has a certain number of “hexes” it can move across the world, and once an army has finished all of their moves for the day, their turn is over. Parson must learn all of these rules on the fly because he finds himself plunged into the last stand for capital city Gobwin Knob. Unfortunately, he knows the struggle that is about to take place, because it is a scenario he designed himself, and one he had meant to be unwinnable.

The art of Erfworld is appropriately cute and diminutive, with everything taking on the feel of parody even when the jokes stop and the combat begins.

Erfworld updates every five days, with periodic text updates in between.

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