Webcomics, they’re a tricky beast.
The spiritual successors to daily newspaper strips, given the entire scope and resources of the World Wide Web in which to spread their wings. Just keeping up with a tiny fraction of what’s available can amount to a full time job and, for luddites like me, they represent a unique problem: I want to read them, but books are just so darn nice!
Luckily, some very nice people (publishers, mostly) have collected some of top webcomics into print editions. Here are five of my favourites:
Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby (published by Great Beast)
Ellerbisms came out in 2012, but the comic itself began way back in 2007 and charts Marc Ellerby’s own life, specifically his relationship with Anna: the girl he never thought he could have, then had and ultimately lost. Autobiography is a common genre for webcomics, the daily, or near-daily, nature of them being a great way to chart day-to-day experience. What sets Ellerbisms apart is the charming honesty of its warts-and-all storytelling. Ellerby himself is not always the hero here, but that doesn’t mean he’s the villain. There are no villains in this story, there’s just life. This honest account is tied together by Ellerby’s disarmingly simplistic artwork: simple lines construct amazingly expressive faces, with quirked eyebrows and slight frowns saying so much more than words could, the art belying the raw emotional punch this comic carries.
Bad Machinery by John Allison (published by Oni Press)
This webcomic had started almost 10 years before I got to it with Allison’s original webcomic ‘Scary Go Round’. In that strip he created the small English town of Tackleford, and in doing so created a universe as rich as anything by Stephen King, Robin Hobb or Marvel comics. Bad Machinery itself follows the travails of six kids starting grammar school as they grow from tweens into teens over a series that is now on it’s fifth print collection and still going strong online.
Tackleford isn’t your average town, however, but one overrun with mysteries and monsters - like onion-munching aliens, selkies and troll-men. What really makes this unlikely combination of elements a hit is Allison’s spot on humour. Peppered with delightfully folksy language and quintessentially British humour, there’s not a hint of the disingenuous ‘adults-writing-about-teenagers’ flavour that so many comics fall victim to. This is also a great all-ages comic as its younger cast and large landscape format make it a great introduction to comics for younger readers.
What to say about Nimona? The simplistic description is that it takes the villain/hero dynamic and flips it totally on its head. The more complicated description is almost too much to get into, but I’ll try. Nimona is the shape-shifting sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart (who might not really want a sidekick at all) as he tries to wreak havoc and revenge against the man who betrayed him, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.
Anyone familiar with Noelle Stevenson’s work on Lumberjanes won’t be surprised to find large amounts of quirk and humour thrown and re-reading it recently, it’s the truly off-the-wall humour that keeps me coming back. This fantasy tale of mad science, dragons and anti-heroics, and her artwork is as light and expressive as anything she’s drawn since.
Space Mullet by Daniel Warren Johnson (published by Dark Horse)
Okay, this one’s cheating a little bit as the print collection isn’t actually out yet, but will be released in March. While the title could lead you to believe that this will be a cosmic adventure with a touch of farce, or at least 80s-style comedy to match its choice of haircut, Space Mullet is actually surprisingly heartfelt and gritty. The story follows the owner of said mullet, Jonah, an ex-space marine who is attempting to outrun his demons, but ends up running into heaps of trouble instead. What could have been nothing more than a romp is filled with incredibly layered characters, each fighting their own demons but not becoming consumed by them, finding friendship in adversity in a way that uplifts and inspires. The art in this book is kinetic, its action sequences full of speed and drama, while its double page spreads are packed with detailed renderings of space stations, alien death-races and strange planets. Space Mullet may not have as long a run as some of the others on this list, but it’s an accomplished start to something that could be truly epic.
Help Us Great Warrior! by Madeleine Flores (published by Boom!)
Help Us Great Warrior collects the five-issue comic series that spun out from Flores’ tumblr cartoons. The Great Warrior is full of confidence: she’s a little green ball with a big sword and a pink bow, who knows that saving her friends and eating pizza bagels with hot guys is all you really need in life. Flores’ incredible comic timing, witty turns of phrase, and the cutest villagers you’ve ever seen set this comic head and shoulders above the rest. The tumblr seems to be in a bit of a hiatus at the moment, but that makes the existence of this print collection all the more important.
When not slaving away at his day job as the comics and graphic novels buyer for Forbidden Planet, Jamie (@jjbeeching) is reading all the comics he can while desperately try to improve himself. Since graduating from uni and living in Hong Kong for a year, he has done nothing of note.