Split Vision

Today’s Freefall was a shock, and through one simple thing – the coloring of the comic.

Freefall is a science fiction comic, and a good one. It sticks to genuinely plausible science, and explores a futuristic world that feels both feasible and natural. The main characters – Florence, a genetically engineered humanoid wolf; Helix, a fun-loving and innocent robot; and Sam Starfall, an alien swindler – are among the most original characters around. Freefall, for all its fun, is a strip that is good at helping the reader learn – learn about science, learn about society, learn about personal interactions.

But I’m not here today to talk about the story of the strip – though it is a good one – or discuss how capable Mark Stanley is at balancing casual humor and plot. Instead, I wanted to talk about the strip’s art.

Freefall is drawn in black and white. It is a good look for it, and the characters have a simple, cartoony look that fits in perfectly with the light and upbeat tone of the comic. His strips in the archives, however, are fan colored. The current fan handling that task, one George Peterson, does a good job with this, and his colors mesh perfectly with that same cartoony feel.

Today has a different guest colorist, known only as Patch. I’m not sure who this individual is – but their take on the comic transformed the strip into something else entirely:

Suddenly, we have a completely different world in front of us. Instead of a light sci-fi strip, I could see this as center stage for an intense space drama. The context of the strip, the plot thus far – all of it moves through a subtle shift in my perception, and everything suddenly seems much more solid, much more real, much more alive.

Which isn’t to say that one vision of the strip is better than the other – they are different, and that is the key. It reminds me of Arbuckle, a retelling of Garfield classics through another view entirely. That goes a step farther – removing Garfield’s text, and redrawing the strip in a different fashion.

In this case, it is the coloring alone that is a change, but man – what a change!I wasn’t expecting it when I clicked the link on my favorites – and being hit by such a scene when the page loaded was almost a physical shock.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about perception lately, and the way different people might observe the same object in different ways – and maybe that is why I was so struck by today’s Freefall. It didn’t leave me feeling that this strip will be lessened without this new style in future strips, nor believing that this style ruins the strip for me through a single appearance. It really has nothing to do with Freefall at all – instead, this was more of a lesson on the nature of the media in general. What it did was make me realize that there are many different factors in every comic that help guide my understanding of it – and that changing even a single element can transform the whole into something else entirely.

As usual, Freefall is busy teaching me lessons – and this time it did so before I even got to the content of the strip itself.

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