Sunday, July 14, 2013

Have Some Art

None of my thoughts has been organized at all in at least a few weeks, and I've been feeling pretty inarticulate. But I always hate it when bloggers apologize for their poor posts, because I usually think they're pretty good anyway, and then it feels like false modesty.  So I'm just going to say that and then wander into my topic.

I recently found this story called Spera--well, let's be honest, Mike saw it somewhere, thought it might be up my alley, and was right.  It's a webcomic with one writer who works chapter by chapter with different artists.  I checked it out of the library to read it all at once, instead of online.

Now, this is interesting in a few ways. A while back I found and fell in love with Gunnerkrigg Court, which I read through online.  But when Sarah (hello, Sarah!) read it in book form, she didn't fall in love with it.  I was surprised, and I wasn't sure if it was just our different tastes, or if there was something about reading it online that fit better with the structure of the story.  Reading Spera--another story that was originally a web comic--I see that it does make a difference.  There is a slight difference in pacing, even when the comic is not a "strip" form, but rather individual pages of a longer story published serially.

Most comics, even those traditionally published, use page breaks as at least a subtle transition point.  It makes sense when your medium is visual, and therefore easy to catch at a glimpse.  Cliffhangers and other tension-building devices have to take pagination into account.  In webcomics, though, this goes to another level, since the unit of storytelling is, on one level, the page.  I can't quite define the difference, but I can definitely recognize it here.

It would be inane to say that the art in a comic makes a huge difference in the book, but that's the main thing to discuss in Spera.  The idea is that there's one writer, but each chapter is written by a different artist.  Some of the styles are similar, but most of them are wildly various, and each artist has their own conception of the characters.

This was a huge challenge for me in reading this.  The tone of the art varied so much, and it changed my sense of the characters, their emotions, the urgency, the tone of the story.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; I've read series before where the style changed.  But generally those were more mainstream comics, where the styles were all pretty standard--across the volumes of Sandman, say, or from Mike Mignola to other artists working on one of his series in a similar style. 

The story here is about two princesses.  Pira's mother has gone to war with Lono's father, and she's killed him.  Pira--who dreams of being a great warrior--runs away to save Lono and the two escape across the mountains toward the fabled land of safety, Spera.  With them is Pira's friend, Yonder, who is a shapeshifting fire demon, most often in the form of a huge fox, but sometimes of a man.

I suspect that before the story is over, Pira and Lono will fall in love.  Lono is learning that she's brave, even though she's never wanted adventure, and Pira is learning that maybe she needs to rein in her wilder impulses.  Along the way they face magic and danger.

In the first chapter, I wasn't even sure Pira was a girl; she dresses in boy's clothing (manly tights and bubble shorts) and wears her hair short.  It becomes clear from the story, and clearer in subsequent chapters with different art.  But I think I liked the earliest art best, where the lines were whispy and dreamy.  The later artists had more a more grotesque style, which added a darkness to parts of the story that I don't think would otherwise have been so dark.

The website for the comic is complicated, with lots of stories and notes about the stories and sketches and things.  I need to figure it out so that when I finish with the volumes I can explore it more usefully.

But you see what I mean by disjointed?  Because I didn't say much here, but my point is this: here we have a great adventure story with powerful transforming Yonder, two princesses on the run, meeting ghosts, fighting monsters, scrounging for food, and learning their own competencies, and it's a lot of fun and I'm going to go read volume two now.  Kthanxbye.

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