Seriously, everywhere I turn.
First off, The Stiff returned last week. One of the most genuinely spooky comics out there, it went on a sizable hiatus just as the story was really starting to get good. It appears to be back and fully in action with a weekly update, which is very good news indeed.
Continuing the zombie theme, they appear to currently be Dr. McNinja’s opponents of choice, which is usually as good a guage of the current internet craze as anything else. Also, he demonstrates the proper way for killing zombies – and by proper, I mean “most badass.”
Finally, I just discovered Last Blood, by Bobby Crosby and Owen Gieni, in which zombies have wiped out nearly the entire world, and vampires – in danger of losing their food source – desperately fight to keep the last remnants of humanity alive.
Come on, you can’t deny that is a great premise!
It’s well executed, too. As a matter of fact, I’ve been impressed with all of Bobby Crosby’s recent webcomic endeavors – not only are they good concepts and put together well, but there is an atmosphere of professionalism about them all. I should explain that my first encounter with Bobby was seeing him posting in one of the flame wars that were so prevalent in the webcomic community several years back – wherein he managed to make Scott Kurtz look like the most rational and even-tempered individual around. Bobby’s own comic at the time, Pupkin, wasn’t the most impressive strip out there.
I’d say he’s come a long way since then.
I’ve been sent more than a few links to quality comics hosted on Comic Genesis, and I’ve spotted a few good ones in thi’s years Comic Genesis Free Comic Book – but it will take some time to truly soak them in. So while I let my thoughts on them simmer, it seemed a good idea to switch focus for a few weeks to some of my favorite strips from another hosting site – Drunk Duck, which has been working hard at overcoming its previous less-than-professional reputation.
I don’t have much experience with Drunk Duck in the past, so I can’t say much about the state it was previously in. These days the site design is functional, if somewhat cluttered, and it seems much easier to search through the various hosted comics than it was even a few months ago.
What I do know is that, while there certainly seems a plethora of more amateur work on the site, it also has some real winners.
The Gods of Arr-Kelaan, by Chuck Rowles, is easily at the top of the list.
First, though, let’s talk about Dungeons and Dragons. One of many roleplaying games, D&D is often thought of as the king of the Hack and Slash genre – it is about looting monsters, levelling up, and fast-forwarding past the roleplaying part itself. To be fair, there are plenty of games along those lines – and there are plenty of times when just rolling the dice and chopping off an orc’s head is simply great mindless fun.
Even in more serious games with a much more dynamic plot, the thrill of combat has its place. But for all its focus on it, D&D certainly has the capability to be a game that indulges in story and depth. Regardless of the system at hand, that decision is one that comes down to the players – and to whomever is running the game.
I like running games. I am preparing to start one back up after several years on the sidelines, and I am remembering what is possibly my favorite part of the entire process – designing the setting. Developing an entire world, from creation myth to societal trends, from the rise and fall of past civilizations to the current dungeons and plot threads of the modern day.
I tend to think big, in terms of such things. It is both a strength and a weakness in many ways, and one felt just as much in my writing as in my games. It has one other added benefit – The Gods of Arr-Kelaan is able to win me over on the premise alone.
The main focus of the story is on a group of deities of Arr-Kelaan – ones who were, not all that long ago, ordinary people from Earth. Through mysterious circumstances, they end up on this strange new world with incredible powers, and find themselves settling into specific roles that fit their various personalities. Conflicts arise between them – and between other gods as well, including familiar deities from Norse, Greek, and Incan pantheons, all of whom have also found themselves on Arr-Kelaan.
One would think that such dealings would result in epic storylines, as vast and incomprehensible powers are thrown about – and that does happen from time to time, sure. But the real focus of the series is on the humanity of the gods and their worshippers. Exploring how mortals deal with ascending to divinity, how they interpret their power and responsibilities in different ways, and the goals and motivations that drive them.
The story starts with the star of the show, Ronson, waking up in this strange new land and slowly discovering the powers at his fingertips. Unfortunately the rest of that part of the story isn’t online (though it is available in print.)
From there, we leave Ronson for a bit, as we get a look at some of the heroes of the land – with a number of shorter tales mixed in, introducing us to the various gods that have started to populate the land. While not central to the main plot that begins to develop (and, in fact, set a significant amount of time in the future of the main plot), these stories do a great job of fleshing out the characters and the setting.
And after that… well, that’s when we get into the meat of the story, as we see Ronson learning to accept his new-found divinity, even as he searches for a way home. We learn how even gods can be haunted by the ghosts of the past – and the puzzle of how he and his brethren ended up on Arr-Kelaan all begins to come together.
The story is not just about him, of course. There is a whole slew of gods and followers and even the occasional oracle. Seeing them all interact – seeing them change, and seeing the changes they leave across the world – is a very interesting thing, indeed. It makes for a good story, certainly – and leaves plenty of room for humor, of course. Don’t let the epic nature of what is going on make you think otherwise – seeing these ordinary people given control over life and death is a recipe for all sorts of hijinks, and Rowles easily keeps the tone light and fun.
But even while he does so, there is a bigger story building up. The creation of a pantheon. That is a big deal, make no mistake – and lately, the stakes have been only getting higher. Ronson’s quest for the ghost of his wife – which has been his greatest focus since the series began – has finally yielded fruit… and a much more dangerous enemy than imaginable.
And from there… well, I suppose you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
…ok, I found the last one amusing. No, not the robots – sorry, Stevens & Jacques.
Outside of the strange world of the internet, I’ve been digging into my print copy of Zap! While my collection of webcomic books is not as vast as some, it is beginning to grow – I’ve got the Order of the Stick books on their way, and am looking forward to hunting down Birds are Weird when I can find it in stores. (Because, among other things, it is really, really cool to see webcomic books on the shelves, stocked as naturally as anything else.)
Reading through Zap! Volume One has reminded me of the benefits of collecting the books, rather than just reading them on the web – a chance to go back through and refresh oneself on backstory, for one thing. Archives are getting easier to use, but few can offer the same ease as being able to flip between dozens of pages at the drop of a hat.
Some webcomics translate to printed form better than others, of course, and I really don’t have the funds or interest to go and buy every single one released. Then again, that just means I can really enjoy the ones I do get – when Zap! arrived in the mail, it outright made my day.
Which is as good an argument for putting webcomics in print as anything else I could think of.