Let Us Talk Of Webcomics: Part 1, Dresden Codak.

I read a fair number of comics–you know the old school printed kind that one buys at speciality stores these days (admittedly some of them can be purchased at the larger bookstores as well, particularly the Asian imports, but most of what I read is speciality shop only). The “direct market” has been in some trouble for a while now, and there’s been a storm on the Internet lately about some changes being made by the (monopoly) distributor which may actually accelerate the apocalypse, and will certainly drive many smaller shops and independent creators out of that market.

I’m sad about this, but honestly not as much as you might expect. The reason why is that the webcomic world has reached a level of maturity where I think it will function as an alternate approach for the many of the kinds of people who would have been trying to work through those speciality channels. Hell, I suspect that “web-to-print plus merch” is probably easier to make profitable than trying to launch a serial comic in the current market, much less in the version that’s about to come into being in the wake of the distributor rule changes. At least a couple of really great books have moved from print serialization to web serialization, and profitably. And that’s not even talking about the people who started web and are having print success now.

And I’ve noticed lately that it’s often the case that when I get around to reading a stack of books from the comic shop that it’s often the print collections of web comics that I enjoy the most.

And every morning part of my reading is the opening of a lot of tabs to check out a pile of webcomics1.

So, let’s say I’m pretty pro webcomics. I’ve spoken about some before, but I think it’s time for me to talk about some other ones.

So let’s start with one of my favourites: Dresden Codak.

Miss Ross if you're nasty

I’m not sure how long I’ve been reading this strip: I started before the whole Hob thing (wait for it), so it’s been more than a couple of years now. In that time there’s been maybe 30 strips. Some people would see this as a problem–the kind of people who think a webcomic needs to be daily–but for something I enjoy this much when it happens I am totally willing to wait. Besides, for what it’s costing me, I don’t really get to complain, do I?

Anyway, I think it was someone referring me to the first Dungeons and Discourse strip that got me interested. So I went back and read through the archives–at that time there were 30 other strips. The first dozen or so were not memorable, with one exception that amused me greatly–and apparently Diaz agrees since the site currently doesn’t make it easy to get to those first dozen strips.

Things start to get interesting around number 13, which the site currently pretends is the first strip. It’s got some science fiction tropes, and some (admittedly sophomoric) philosophical underpinings, and it has an exploding head. Now we’re getting somewhere. I recommend you go there now, and just read every strip forward from there. There’s around 50 strips, so it won’t take you all day. I’ll hit some highlights in the description here, but to get the full effect you should read them all.

So, after the “first” strip we’ve got a well-executed fairy tale / quantum physics crossover, which is definitely a harbinger of great things to come.

But things really start to roll a few strips later when Kimiko Ross makes her first appearance. The philosophy is growing up, the cartooning is better (although it’s still got quantum leaps of improvement coming up), and Diaz has found a character that can carry the stories he wants to tell.

Then, a few strips later, we have a reflection on the nature of memory and the mind and allusions to Chinese sage Zhuangzi all wrapped in a science fiction tale. We see Kimiko in full on mad scientist mode as well. We didn’t know it at the time either, but this strip, named ‘Epilogue’ functions as foreshadowing for the Hob thing to come (wait for it.)

Which brings us back to that first Dungeons and Discourse strip. Of course at the time it was the Dungeons and Discourse strip. This is where I am hooked–D&D meets philosophy in cartoon form. This is like crack for me. If you’ve been reading all the strips in the archive take a minute to compare the rendering of the supporting cast in that final panel to their previous appearances–the changes as a personal style develops are pretty huge.

I didn’t think that strip could be topped… and then the next strip was the beginning of the Hob story. Yes, the Hob story. A 27-part serial that took more than a year and a half to run its course, that encompasses transhumanism, parenting (on about six levels), time travel, loneliness, cloning, von neumann machines, singularity, super powers, the end of the human race, and about a dozen other fun science fiction tropes and modern science notions.

I can’t being to compress the storyline for you. Read it. Seriously, it’s the real deal.

Note that the artistic ability on display here is again significantly improved over previous strips, with the style having settled into fluid cartoonyness that’s quite consistent between strips. Somewhere in this story I may have developed a little crush on university-age Kimiko–you can sure tell the author likes her, even when she’s nuts.

After the Hob sequence finally finished there was a long pause in updating the strip. And then suddenly this week, we get the second Dungeons and Discourse strip–the one you see a tiny bit of up top–and it makes the first one look like Sanka. “Baysian Empirimancer”, “Dark Kantian”, “Kierkeguardian“! Damn. All the good stuff from the first one, plus higher math and physics, and much cooler classes.

And now the waiting begins…

In the meantime, there’s a store, a LiveJournal, a forum (where there is some discussion of actually trying to make a Dungeons and Discourse ruleset–which I think takes away from the joke, but fans will be fans), and even a Twitter feed if you’re into that. Oh, and you can throw the guy some money if there isn’t something for you at the store–me I’m contributing through merch: everyone should have an “I will do science to it” shirt, or a Copenhagen Interpretation Fantasy Camp hoodie.

Oh, and this:

  1. Actually, many of them are not daily and are in my RSS reader, but I do check about 20 that update regularly as part of my daily routine.(back)

  1 comment for “Let Us Talk Of Webcomics: Part 1, Dresden Codak.

  1. Kira
    January 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I heart Dresden Codak so much.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.