In the last year and a half there seems to have been a slew of webcomics focused less on wacky hijinks and more on tightknit relationship-based drama. Punch an’ Pie, Scene Language and Octopus Pie all come to mind – and interesting enough, they are also all webcomics launched by creators with previous works under their belts.
What I have found most interesting, however, is that they are also nothing like what I have become accustomed to. Most such webcomics usually rely heavily on the tension of unrequited love – you have several character clearly attracted to each other, clearly meant to end up together, but events conspire to prevent them from doing so for years at a time. Sure, it allows for an easy hook to keep stringing readers along, but it also seems like the easy way out – and after seeing the same plot time and time again, it quickly grows boring.
Which is why I am very impressed with all these recent webcomics that decide to go in entirely the opposite direction.
Octopus Pie took only a handful of strips to break up Eve with her boyfriend – but it did a good job of focusing her personality and setting the stage for the dynamics to come, and how she relates to her roommate and how she deals with her newest potential love interest. Relationships are a fundamental focus of the comic – and not just specifically those of an intimate nature, but all the connections between Eve and the world around her, with her family, her friends, her coworkers.
Scene Language, meanwhile, has involved even more turbulence – the first major arc involved one of the four main characters, Charlie, breaking up with her boyfriend, while two of the other main characters discover themselves in something resembling a relationship. The arc concludes with what seems to be the status quo the story has been building towards – the four protagonists rent a house together, and it seems likely they’ve found their respective places in the strip dynamics. The second storyarc dispels that notion, however, as relationships continue to shift, develop, and fall apart.
Punch an’ Pie, on the other hand, features a split I never saw coming. Oh, it wasn’t done in a haphazard fashion in the slightest – but it still came as a surprise. From the beginning we were told that the strip followed the life of Angela, whom many still fondly remembered from Queen of Wands. But despite Angela being the star, her girlfriend Heather seems an equally vital part of the strip from the start – and given the strip largely begins with their relationship moving to a new stage (as they move in together), it seems like something integral to the entire comic, and unassailably intact.
Until it’s… not.
These three strips are not the only ones to deal with this kind of plotlines, and they all approach it in different ways – some have gone through changes that cannot be undone, while others leave plenty of potential for reconciliation. Yet I find one thing undeniably clear – all of them, within their first year, are willing and almost eager to break the status quo. They are not content with leading readers along through the same stories and the same situations, with the hope for an eventual happy ending dangling at the end of the string, eternally just out of reach.
Instead, they shake things up. People change, relationships change, and – in the end – the world moves on. This isn’t just more realistic storyline, it is also infinitely more ambitious storytelling. I mean, look at how long these strips have been around, and look at how much has happened within them. Some comics can take years to cover the events of a single day, or week, or month, and even when all is said and done, nothing fundamental has actually changed. Which can still make for a fun story, sure – but how much less rewarding is that compared to seeing a character genuinely grow, or seeing life actually taking place before your eyes?
These comics may not be alone in the route they’ve taken, but I still feel as though we’ve seen a growing trend towards this brand of comic in the last few years. Maybe because the creators have dabbled (or more) in the field before, and have learned from those experiences. Maybe because, with the vast number of webcomics out there, it requires a stronger story to get the attention of an audience. Maybe because the authors and readers simply have more life experience to capture within their tales.
Whatever the reason, the trend seems to be there, and the arrival of stories of this caliber is a development I can certainly get behind.