To say the Internet has provided creative individuals is, at the least, a gross understatement. What started as an ‘information superhighway’ in the 90s — websites more akin to islands in a vast electronic sea, has evolved into more of a multi-cultural city. Social media allows us to make and share things with both anyone and everyone; millions of tiny voices speaking on countless topics, but in the end all saying ‘I’m here.’ The Internet has grown to reflect us — our little mundane activities, little thoughts, and worries. But it’s also grown to reflect our creative selves, our ideas and imaginings and personal visions.
The world of webcomics evolved similarly — in the beginning, formatting for many early titles resembled the Sunday funnies with often a small number of panels, and many popular titles were some mix of slice of life with copious video game references. That’s no longer the case. Odds are, regardless of your personal taste in stories, there’s a story online for you to enjoy.
Writing: Ananth Hirsh / Art: Yuko Ota
Website: Johnny Wander
Johnny Wander is by now, two things in one for Hirsh and Ota — it’s the title of the diary comic that they began the site with, and a hub for them to showcase their other works. With that in mind, I’ll try to go into sufficient details for both! The diary comic is exactly what it implies. The strips are little slice of life anecdotes that begin with the pair’s college graduation and documents common life changes that occur from then on.
From adopting pets, moving into new apartments, holiday visits to family or trips to the dentist, the subject matter has a comforting familiarity to it. Most of us young adults can relate to at least one story told, and if not, we at least can relate to the feelings involved with them.
After all, even if we didn’t get our face smashed in by a drumstick at a live show, we might know someone who did. Or maybe we’re the person in our group with the low alcohol tolerance. Maybe we too, had a case of squirrels living in the walls of our house. Maybe we, like them, also enjoy getting a new mug from Goodwill or have dreams of making a new kind of curry. The point is even if the details don’t match our own personal stories, the beats do, and that’s the core of Johnny Wander‘s charm as a comic. You can read a strip and find a tiny piece of yourself, or something in your life that mirrors what’s going on in theirs. It’s sweet and funny and provides the kind of comfort a blanket fresh from the dryer gives you, warm and soft and utterly enveloping.
Ota and Hirsh’s other stories on the site are also worth checking out. Lucky Penny was recently published as a trade paperback; it’s the story of a girl who’s anything but lucky. The book won a Junior Library Guild award this year and was an Editor’s Pick on Amazon when it went on sale, if you need that as a selling point. Frankly, if a story about a plucky protagonist who enjoys spicy romance novels floundering her way into adulthood doesn’t intrigue you on some level, I don’t know what to say.
Presently, their newest title Barbarous is updating on the site, sporting lovely color work by J.N. Wiedle. It’s too early to give many details other than there’s, fashion, magic, a monstrous looking gentle giant named Leeds, and one very angry mysterious girl. Where it goes from there, only time will tell, but I for one am already curious to see how things play out.
There’s also a third title, Is This What You Wanted, written by Hirsh but drawn and colored by sisters Sarah and Tessa Stone, both of whom are talented creators in their own right. Only chapter one is available, but in that short span of time it offers you young women trying to navigate adulthood, two brothers desperate to save their eldest sibling, and demon summoning. Yes, demon summoning. What else were you expecting? If it’s not obvious by now, there’s a lot to offer, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by missing out.
Writing & Art: Der-shing Helmer
Website: The Meek
If you’re looking for something that hits a little less close to home, how do you feel about the following:
- Political Intrigue
- Mature themes and situations
- Two nations, long at odds with each other, again poised for conflict
- Lost souls trying to navigate their lives after various forms of suffering
- God-like entities with their own personal champions facing off against each other
- Extensive, comprehensive world building including distinct cultural groups, religions, and ethnicities
If this grabbed your attention, then you should turn your attention to The Meek. It has everything listed, and more — the character development is wonderfully rich. Not content to populate this world with flat figures, even more minor characters feel like whole people with their own needs, desires, and flaws. Even more welcome is what Helmer is willing to show you about her characters; she does not shy from their flaws. She also doesn’t shy from situations people might describe as ‘adult’ or ‘improper’. Fair warning, leading character Angora is introduced entirely in the nude, and doesn’t bother with more than a pair of pants later. Luca and his wife Phe also share a moment of intimacy. In short, these characters are people, and they take actions you may not want or weren’t prepared to witness.
They make mistakes, they get into fights with others, they indulge in vices. Their various physical and mental scars are on display, and you never get the sense that they aren’t driving their narratives. That’s not always easily accomplished, particularly if an author becomes attached to a particular story twist, only to later discover it wouldn’t ultimately fit. Here, every choice made feels authenticate to what we know about the individuals.
Pinter follows after Angora on her quest, but he certainly never sounds thrilled about it. Angora has the brash bravery of a teenager needed for her journey, but lacks the maturity of judgment. Soli’s profession is definitely criminal in nature, but she hesitates to kill a witness. Luca is a powerful man, and one of the most powerful characters in the comic. He’s also one of the most deeply terrified; not-so-deep-down, he’s a father scared of losing everything he’s worked for, including his children. These facets to each character have tremendous impact on both their personal lives and the world as a whole, and it will be interesting to watch them play out once the primary protagonists’ lives intertwine. Helmer has a knack for the psychological, a gift that showcases itself in her other title featured here, Mare Internum.
Writing & Art: Der-shing Helmer
Website: Mare Internum
Where The Meek is a ‘big’ comic, with a vast world and multiple characters to follow on their individual journeys, Mare Internum has (so far) been, in one sense, smaller. Its focus lay on protagonist Michael Fisher, a scientist about to leave a station on Mars (and possibly the mortal plane). The physical setting is Mars, but the the story really centers on the characters’ mental issues. Chapter intermissions offer glimpses of Michael’s life prior to becoming a scientist or going to Mars; a myriad of pieces that try to help you understand the man in front of us now and how he came to this point.
This comic is much darker than The Meek; to be frank, there are some pretty serious issues presented like a suicide attempt (how the comic begins, actually), depression, and sexual abuse of a minor. I didn’t take issue with how they were presented (Helmer handles them with the utmost respect and thoughtfulness), but I’m aware that for some people these are heady subjects they would prefer to avoid for a variety of personal reasons.
If you’re one of those individuals, I advise proceeding at your own discretion. Michael’s troubled childhood and complicated personal relationships can be at times painful to read, but they’re critical to understanding how he’s ended up in his current situation and how he relates to others. He’s quick to judge others, harshly, while being slow to trust.
On the other hand, if you’re intrigued to explore these subjects against the backdrop of a terrarium on Mars with a disgruntled scientist and his alien comrade, then Mare Internum could scratch your very specific itch.
Writing & Art: Tom Siddell
Website: Gunnerkrigg Court
If science fiction and world-shaking political events aren’t to your liking, how do you feel about science fiction and fantasy meshing together against the backdrop of a child’s years attending an elite academy in a secluded location? Interesting? Then you might want to dive into Gunnerkrigg Court, a story that contains, in no particular order:
- Reynard the Fox
- The spirit Coyote
- A robot slowly becoming more human
- Children with fantastical powers
- Children with no powers but fantastical aptitudes
- A mysterious woman with a very long history
- A giant talking lobster named Lindsay
Gunnerkrigg has a long run online, so there’s plenty of chapters to wade through. Another fun thing to witness is the evolution of Siddell’s art — what began as arguably very blocky shaped people have evolved significantly since the comic’s beginning. Siddell also dove into experimenting with coloring styles, mixing digital with more traditional methods to evoke certain moods and feelings from the art.
The story has also taken on a multitude of layers in that time — mysteries about the school’s origins, the personal past of Jones, and the lives of other students in Antimony’s class.
Her best friend Kat at this point counts as a second lead, as we have watched her grow from lovable nerd with an interest in mechanics to a confident, gifted engineer the robots of the city call “The Angel”. Other classmates’ stories also intertwine with Antimony’s at times, offering a passing glimpse of what a day in their lives are like. The rhythm is a natural one; after all, I never knew everything going on in my classmates’ lives when I was her age. I was a bit too preoccupied with being the main character in my own story, much like Antimony is in hers. Because at its core, that’s what Gunnerkrigg is truly about; not the magic, or the origins of the Court, but Antimony growing from child to adult and trying to navigate the space in-between. We’re watching her grow up before our eyes, eager to see what kind of woman she’ll turn out to be when she’s grown up.
Writing & Art: Nicole Chartrand
Website: Fey Winds
As much as I enjoy in-depth stories with complex themes that tackle serious issues, I still enjoy laughing sometimes! For those who crave the lighter side, the fantasy story Fey Winds will likely do them right. What began as very much a humor comic with a fantasy coating (it feels like your average Dungeons and Dragons campaign, honestly) has slowly matured into a serious story with liberal doses of witty, breezy humor to help with the tension.
I wouldn’t call it niche necessarily, but people who are fans of shows like Galavant and movies like The Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Stardust are the ones quite likely to enjoy this comic the most. The characters have all broken the 4th wall (more than once), and there’s abundant pop culture references and jokes about standard fantasy tropes.
That said, there’s also a charming sense of camaraderie among this merry band of misfits that endears you to them all. Everybody’s more than a little eccentric (even brilliant, capable Larina), and serious plot points are often revealed in the same strip as Kit looking absolutely bananas, the foxgirl’s mysterious origins being an excellent example of this.
Chartrand also writes a magical girl comic titled Shattered Starlight in a similar vein (including magical trios with pun names), so between the two, grins and chuckles are guaranteed.
Writing: Megan Lavey-Heaton / Art: Isabelle Melançon
One part urban fantasy, another part alternative historical fiction, Namesake mixes myth with reality to tell the story of Emma Crewe, an average woman who seemingly at random winds up in the fictional world of Oz. Yes, that Oz, Dorothy’s Oz, the one somewhere over the rainbow.
Things only get more complicated from there as Emma learns more about the world of Namesakes, very special people with the gift to travel to worlds we all know from classic fairytales and other works of fiction and experience the story as a character within it. Their principal antagonists are the Rippers, former Namesakes who gave up their names to free themselves from a cycle that’s by no means as magical as it seems. Even Emma’s own seemingly banal origins are eventually called into question as the chapters continue.
Literature fans will appreciate the many nods and references to classic stories and authors — I can’t say I’ve often seen Christina Rosetti’s works quoted in a webcomic. Melançon’s art style wonderfully suits the tone for such fantastical references, too. Dark where it needs to (because even the most pleasant fairy tales have a touch of it), but also full of emotion. The love characters feel for each other is palpable, and Melançon is great with facial expressions. There’s also a wonderful diversity of female characters, in varying positions of power, that is a welcome sight. In a world where we don’t always get a lot of women characters in a title, to have one where every page features a lady other than the leading one is a delightful change of pace.
Not Drunk Enough
Writing & Art: Tessa Stone
Website: Not Drunk Enough
If you’ve gotten this far, one of two things has happened. Either one, you’ve somehow managed to enjoy everything I’ve suggested to you. Or two, I have yet to entice you, and you’ve been waiting for something that will at last match your tastes. Well. If science fiction, fantasy, slice of life or coming of age isn’t to your liking, might I suggest some good old urban horror?
Not Drunk Enough is the story of night time maintenance man Logan Ibarra having probably the worst shift of his life. Trapped inside a corporate lab with fellow unfortunates Bia, Maela, and Varker, the group has to navigate the halls and stairwells looking for the mastermind behind all this whimsical Frankenstein nightmare fuel to hopefully put an end to all of it. Along the way there’s a lot of blood, swearing, and gratuitous drinking from a flask to cope. The art for Not Drunk Enough is graphic and energetic. The lines often contain a frenetic quality when they really need it to add tension to a scene, but can also easily be fluidly smooth. The humor also comes up at just the right times to give the reader a break from the stress, but also enhance the serious moments that come after. Getting a laugh at Logan’s expense when he’s stuck in an air vent serves to both amuse and further endear him to the reader. Unlike earlier mentioned Is This What You Wanted, Not Drunk Enough has Stone in the writer’s seat, and her love for her subject material shows. The rules of the horror genre are followed to their logical conclusions, unlike many slasher films.
Readers should beware the gratuitous amounts of blood if that isn’t to their liking. But I would also re-state that this is a horror comic. Enter at your own risk, and enjoy the ride.
The list here is by no means complete or a comprehensive overview. Everything picked here was picked for the following reasons. One was; naturally, I’m a current avid reader. The other is I wanted them to all differ from one another — the greatest beauty about webcomics is they are so varied. So feel free to check out these titles, and I heartily endorse checking any others linked to them! You never know what you’ll find.