There’s something to be said for stepping outside of your comfort zone. For someone who obsesses over movies and music that others may miss, I’ve had to come to terms with one of my own blind spots – the wonderful and often weird realm of webcomics.
I can’t really explain why I haven’t looked into them before. I don’t have a bias against them; we have crossed paths, but overall they just haven’t proved much of a draw for me.
So why the sudden interest? It stems from a recent video by one of the finest (and funniest) cultural commentators online: YouTuber “hbomberguy.” He recently looked at one of the most notorious webcomics of all time – Ctrl+Alt+Del by (not the singer) Tim Buckley. This video entwines criticism of the comic into broader topics around fandom and the nature of criticism itself. But of the many things I took away from it, one was an intense curiosity about what I’ve been missing.
I’m actually interested in exploring the history of webcomics in greater depth at a later date. But for now, I just want to dip a toe in. So to get started, I went to one of the highest rated webcomic aggregators: www.topwebcomics.com. From there, I present to you a few webcomics which have drawn me deeper into the waters.
- Twisted Dark –
Neil Gibson’s Twisted Dark is one of the highest ranked comics on the site. Its positive reception isn’t surprising, given the depth and quality of this series of psychological thrillers.
Twisted Dark looks beyond monsters and unknowable supernatural forces into something infinitely more horrifying – the darkest depths of the human condition. Though not beyond more fantastical settings, the majority of the stories focused on hideous acts that human beings can commit against each other.
The universe of Twisted Dark is interconnected to some extent; with references to other stories and narrative threads entwining and diverging and recombining throughout the entire body of work. The spectre of an international drugs cartel hangs over the series, but this isn’t what Twisted Dark is about exclusively. There are many powerful stand alone stories several of which absolutely stunned me – especially a heartbreaking story of suicide and an utterly deranged tale about the perils of abattoir work.
Gibson’s writing is nuanced but lands heavy blows when necessary. He also has a nice line in pitch-black humour. The series also showcases beautiful work from a rotating cast of artists, the quality of which is consistently jaw-dropping.
Of everything on this list, Twisted Dark is the one which has achieved the widest recognition. Several paperback collections have already been released; but for my part, nothing beats reading in their native climate. Alone. With the lights out.
- The Almigty Roof Girl –
Simply put: The Almigty [sic] Roof Girl is the greatest thing in the history of things.
Roof Girl proves that the quality of writing can carry a story far beyond the limitations of its visuals. I’m not sure what program creator “Libs” draws the comic with (let’s assume MS Paint) but I am sure that my 2 year old nephew has finer works stuck to his mother’s fridge.
But the playschool lines and grey scale fills perfectly suit the utterly batsh*t insane tone of the thing. Roof Girl fights for truth and justice, but like any great superhero; her immense power is balanced by a significant vulnerability. Superman fears kryptonite, Roof Girl can’t fight anywhere but on a rooftop.
On her terms she demonstrates determination, true moral fibre and a strength which strikes terror into the hearts of evil-doers. But beyond supervillains like Helmetman (he wears a helmet), Roof Girl also contends with corruption within the justice system itself. The first chapter features penetrating social commentary; as police officers decide the best way to combat crime is to shoot everyone. This leads to a court battle with the same dramatic force as A Few Good Men.
I cannot capture the true magic of the comic here. It’s imaginative, hilarious, and borderline schizophrenic. In a weird way it reminds me of Scott Pilgrim, but even this comparison cannot do justice to the migt of Roof Girl.
- The Nine Tails of Titsune –
Well it was inevitable that we’d talk about hentai.
Foxes (kitsune) feature prominently in Japanese mythology, and have been characterised in numerous ways. Mischievous tricksters, faithful guardians, shapeshifters – there are many different portrayals of them in folklore. The titular Titsune is a lustful, busty hermaphrodite who is on a legendary journey to screw nine people so she can fully harness her powers.
Welcome to the internet. There’s exabytes of pornography out there, and webcomics have always be very receptive to it. One reason that Nine Tails stood out to me (besides the obvious) was because it’s wildly (perversely?) creative and genuinely funny at times. Sometimes the pixel width around the text makes it a little difficult to read, but fortunately the action and dialogue is transcribed beneath each page. This has the added benefit of drawing the reader’s attention to the comments section. Some gems from there:
And my personal favourite:
Suffice to say, The Nine Tails of Titsune won’t be for everyone. But if you’re willing to spread your brain flaps; you may enjoy slipping it in.
- Night Twink –
There’s a long tradition of LGBT+ superheroes, but Shane Rivett wasn’t messing around when he created Night Twink.
At first glance it’s tempting to assume that Night Twink is satire. A secret identity specifically drawn from gay sub-culture and an alias which is right on the nose. Perhaps I should note that his costume is entirely inadequate for crime fighting and largely serves to emphasise the character’s physique and sexuality. Which is, of course, unheard of in mainstream comics.
Beyond all of this, Night Twink quickly reveals itself to be a well conceived story which functions on a number of levels. It confronts homophobia head on – both in terms of street level violence and media bias and manipulation (especially for political gain). It also does a great job of exploring the moral quandary and personal cost of vigilante justice.
Obviously I recommend everything on this list (even the hentai), but if you could only pick one; I would go with Night Twink. The dialogue is occasionally heavy-handed (yes, I know that’s hypocritical coming from me); but Rivett knows how to balance action and pacing. His characters are well fleshed out with believable motivations and the story is thought-provoking and carries genuine emotional weight.
Night Twink is part of an extended universe – Heroes of the World and Beyond. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet; but if Night Twink is representative of its quality, then I look forward to exploring it.
Thanks for stopping by. Do you have any comics you’d like to recommend? Hit me up in the comments or through the links below.