Oct 28 2008 4:27pm

Telling Stories Online

There are a lot of great webcomics out there. In addition to comic-strips that aim towards the humorous like PVPonline, Penny Arcade, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Questionable Content, XKCD, and Wondermark, there are a handful of webcomics I’ve been reading lately that have amazing ongoing SFnal/speculative storylines.

First up, we have Templar, Arizona (the image above is taken from it) by Spike (aka Charlie Trotman). The tri-weekly updated story is set in, not surprisingly, Templar, Arizona. But this Arizona is in a world just a little different from our own. There’s a heavy influence of Roman and Egyptian style in architecture, food, clothing, and more. Every panel takes everything familiar about our world and twists it slightly (or sometimes greatly) askew.

The characters are very well-developed and realistic, but for me, the best developed character is the city of Templar itself. Much in the way that someone like China Mieville with Bas-Lang, Jeff VanderMeer with Ambergris, or probably a better parallel with Jack O’Connell and his fictional city of Quinsigamond, MA, Spike has created a completely realized place. There seems to be nothing she’s overlooked in the creation of her city. Every new update is further exploration into what the city is. And that’s really what the webcomic is about. The events and actions of the people in Templar are secondary to how everything fits together in this unique place. The artist gives a little more detail about the story here.

The pace may be a little slow for people who are used to daily comics, but the wait is well worth it. I’m having difficulty putting into words how much I enjoy reading Templar, Arizona. I wish more fiction writers would put this effort into creating the world in which their characters live.

Next, we have Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s Freak Angels. I have to assume that many of you know who Warren Ellis is, and perhaps many of you are already reading Freak Angels. The webcomic concerns a group of young people known as the Freak Angels who have extraordinary mental powers. They can communicate telepathically, move objects, control people, etc. As Ellis writes in the opening panel:

23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment.

6 years ago, the world ended.

This is the story of what happened next.

The Freak Angels live in a portion of now-flooded London, and live as the protectors of a small group of normal people. People outside the Freak Angels enclave constantly work to infiltrate it. They do not have a good success rate.

The webcomic is updated with six new pages of full-color comic work every week (occasionally there are delays). Freak Angels has Ellis’ typical taut, aggressive storytelling. There are a lot of different characters, and they are all very well crafted. Duffield’s artwork really works well with Ellis’ writing. I can’t imagine someone else drawing these people and places. That said, there is a fair amount of foul language and violence (again, typical of Ellis) so if that puts you off . . .

And last, there’s Jump Leads created by writer Ben Paddon and artist JjAR. Jump Leads should appeal to those of you who like British science fiction television like Doctor Who or Red Dwarf. There are four writers (including Paddon) who write the comic, which allows it to keep a nice update pace without burning anyone out.

The story concerns two Lead-Service trainees: Thomas Meaney and Richard Llewellyn. Meaney is new and naive, and Llewellyn is cynical and bitter. The Lead Service essentially travels to parallel dimensions and works to keep things straight. Unfortunately, our heroes have a mishap with their first training mission, and get lost in a different dimension with no idea how to get home.

There is excellent conflict between the two characters, who are nice opposites, as well as a great bit of confusion that comes from moving through multiple parallel dimensions. The artwork is fantastic, and a little grungy, which works nicely with storytelling style. The writers and artist really work hard to make the different places and people Meaney and Llewellyn encounter unique and wonderful (or terrifying, as the case may be).

The thing I like about all of these webcomics is that a lot of care has gone into creating the world and its inhabitants. The ongoing storyline reveals more with each new update. In each webcomic, every time I think I know what’s going to happen next, I’m surprised with the direction things have gone. I think you’d do well to check out all three of them, although you may curse me as they eat up your productivity as you catch up to the current episode.

[Image copyright Spike; used with the artist’s permission.]

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
I'm a big Freakangels fan, but I hadn't heard of Templar, Arizona. Sounds really cool, gonna give it a look!
2. nothorse
Don't forget Girl Genius, which is not only great sf, well Gaslight Romance or Steampunk, but one of the longest-running adventure webcomics -- even when you count only the time since they went online.
Sammy Jay
3. Malebolge
Act-i-vate (http://activatecomix.com/) is a fairly fantastic 'serious' online webcomic crowd.
5. Scott Bieser
Shameless self-promotion: Big Head Press publishes speculative-fiction graphic novels serialized as webcomics. Also, we have an on-going adventure webcomics series, Escape From Terra, which just started a month ago, so readers can easily get in on the ground floor now, so to speak.
René Walling
6. cybernetic_nomad
Another shameless plug:

Anticipation, the 67th Worldcon will be awarding a special Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. The category may well become permanent and applies to works released both in printed form and online. And many of the works mentioned here could be eligible.

More information may be found here
Kip Manley
7. kiplet
Y'all can't possibly have forgotten about Dicebox, can you? --Added bonus: while Jenn's taking a bit of a break for the any-minute-now arrival of Taran Jack, Patrick "E-Sheep" Farley has stepped up with a fill-in strip.

--Y'all do remember Patrick Farley and E-Sheep, don't you? Spiders? (The fact that it isn't yet finished or even currently available on line is no excuse.)
Mike Barker
8. mbarker
Take a look at Schlock Mercenary while you're at it. Online comic space opera -- how can you go wrong with a cast of mercenaries and a galactic setting? Daily since June 12, 2000, without a single miss. Settle down with some Genuine Imitation Ovalkwik and enjoy the antics of a carbosilicate amorph and friends.

Did I mention there are books, too?
12. dwndrgn
Dangit now I've got to add all of these webcomics to my bookmarks and I barely have time to read the ones already there!

Thanks for all of the good info!
13. dwndrgn
I forgot to add Kukuburri...
14. Patrick Brown
Not sf, but it's got gods and stuff so it fits under fantasy - my Iron Age Irish epic The Cattle Raid of Cooley.
Paul Abbamondi
15. pabba
Should I do a shameless plug for my own webcomic? Hmm? Nah, I'll resist.

Instead, let me point you all in the direction of Octopus Pie, which is a fun, lighthearted drama with a bunch of quirky characters: Octopus Pie
16. AnnieEss
I love Templar and Freak Angels. I also highly recommend Eric Millikin's dark humour webcomics Fetus-X and Eric Monster. They have a lot of amazing sci-fi/fantasy/horror art.

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