Sorcery 101

My big discovery from Otakon was Sorcery 101 – though it was less of a discovery and more of a final push. This is a comic I’ve been hearing about for months, and in all the right places. It is one of a very small list of comics of which I’ve had a review requested by someone other than the creator. And, you know – it’s urban fantasy, a genre I always like to see done well.

But it has hovered at the top of my “To Read” list for a while without moving, and it wasn’t until I saw the booth and heard the spiel that I really felt the drive to finally dive in. Doing a bit more research helped, as well – it is a comic dedicated to 3-5 updates a week, keeping an even balance of humor and drama, and having a month long buffer of strips done in advance.

Now, let me tell you – a buffer is Sign Number One that the artist is taking things seriously – or more accurately, preserving a buffer is. A lot of webcomics start out with a ton of strips done in advance, but that ends up translating to them relying on those strips rather than working at keeping the buffer full. The poster-child for the buffer, Schlock Mercenary, stands as a testament to it’s value. So seeing that Sorcery 101 has been able to keep a buffer going – that is has an entire page dedicated to a promise to the reader – really stood out as a good sign.

So, with high hopes, I delved into the archives, and found a good comic. More than that, I found a comic with the potential to be a great comic – though it wasn’t quite there yet.

Sorcery 101 has a lot going in its favor. The best way to describe the setting is as a slightly more upbeat World of Darkness – you have vampires, werewolves, mages, sorcerers, angels and all other sorts of magic types living in a modern society that seems to (mostly) mirror our own. They aren’t exactly common knowledge, but they seem to fit into the world with relative ease, and pretty much every character has something to make them stand out as special.

The characters are really the lifeblood of the strip, and it is generally their interaction and relationships that drive the show. They aren’t always likeable, but they are eminently human – despite their supernatural natures. For all their powers, the fight scenes seem dull compared to the challenge of seeing them teach, work, drink, raise their kids, go shopping, deal with their exes. Each character has their own history – no one stands alone in importance. For all the magic flying about, that gives the whole story a great sense of reality to it.

So does the attention to detail. The world is certainly fleshed out artistically, but it also has a great attention to minutiae. Posters on walls, t-shirts, cars and toys – little features that simply help to ground the world. In one scene, while making small talk, a character mentions a shirt they own; a couple hundred strips later, they show up wearing it. It isn’t pointed out, nor is attention drawn to it, but when you notice that connection, it is another small step in giving this world a sense of solidity.

The strip does, to be fair, have some room for improvement. Art-wise it has come a good way in just the two years it has been running, and promises to keep getting better. Story-wise it isn’t really lacking so much as not excelling, and while some scenes don’t stand out as strongly as they could, most arcs do succeed in blending jokes with character development to reasonably good effect.

But what the strip could really use is an editor. The web brings with it freedom, imagination, and an audience – but there are times when you can definitely feel the lack of someone standing by to catch mistakes before they go live. Reading through the archives, time and time again I ran into typos, poor grammar, or simply stilted dialogue and poorly managed word-bubbles.

It isn’t enough to kill a strip, mind you – merely to disrupt the steady reading. And, to be fair, I may have felt it more than most. As problems go, this is certainly not the hardest to fix – and with good characters and a solid setting, Sorcery 101 has the heart and soul of a great strip already in place.

Polishing and refining the rest of it? It may take some time, but the strip is certainly on the way – and judging by how word of it has been spreading, there are more than a few people eager to watch it make that journey.

And as of a few days ago, now I’m one of them.

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