Webcomics Roundup: Complete Stories

New webcomics are exciting, of course. But there’s a certain appeal to completed ones, too. An entire story is waiting for you to read it at any pace you like! Besides, it can be reassuring in a way to know that the artist was confident enough to bring their story to an end instead of dragging it on until everyone lost interest. For that reason, this article is going to focus on three notable webcomics that completed recently. The entire archives are there to read, and for free, giving you something to do while you wait for their new series to start up.

(I know, it’s been several months since my last “monthly” webcomics article. I’ll catch up on some new comics next month.)

Below the fold, Bobwhite, Great, and FreakAngels

I’m actually quite surprised that I ever started reading Bobwhite. The Internet is overflowing with comics about quirky young college students and their earnest, socially awkward lives. (The early stories, where they complain about not having boyfriends but don’t want to go out and meet anyone, seem especially familiar.) But I’m glad I did give this a chance: After a few weeks of reading, it started to become obvious that the main characters had actual personalities, rather than checklists of cute traits strung together to provide punchlines. Cleo, Marlene, and Ivy may start out with the generic “odd trio” personalities that I’ve seen countless times before, but they slowly reveal new facets throughout the comic that are unexpected but still fair to the story.

The strip follows the gag-a-day format, with jokes that are above average, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Author Magnolia Porter’s strength lies in characters, though, and the stories progress fairly naturally even with the constraints of daily jokes. Humor is so much better with relatable characters. The comic takes place over their four-year college career, and the plotlines for each of the three women (as well as some supporting characters) manage to play out organically over that time. Even though this is in the daily joke format, the final story is so well-developed that it should feel very natural to read the archives all at once.

On the other hand, Great was probably intended to be experienced as it came out. The 135 updates (with multiple pages per update) meandered through a story that was pretty fascinating to watch unfold, but doesn’t have a traditional arc when viewed as a whole. I enjoyed it, so there’s no reason why other people won’t now, but it will definitely be a different experience to read in one setting than over months.

The basic story of Great seems to be inspired by The Secret and self-help gurus who claim you can achieve anything you want by visualizing it. The story opens with everything going wrong in the main character’s life. (It can actually be a little hard to read these opening pages. Most of the story is not like that, but it does revel in sadistic humor from time to time.) Beaten up, homeless, and friendless, he is taken in at a kindly local ramen restaurant. Vowing to become the world’s best ramen chef, the journey begins.

Without getting in to spoilers, the story meanders through quite a lot of phases, sometimes more focused on ramen, and sometimes focused on the effects that the gospel of “Be Great!” has on the frequently-changing cast. It’s not clear to me whether or not this worldview actually pays off in the story, but it was interesting to see.

While Great was definitely written as a long-form story rather than a gag-a-day comic, it was a story that benefitted from the system of serializing a few pages at a time. It can now be bought as a collected book. I think it will work in that format, but the meandering story will probably make it seem much more absurd when read all at once. This is a case where the flexibility of the webcomics medium made a story much stronger.

Then, of course, there is FreakAngels. Maybe it doesn’t need an introduction from me, as this was probably the most well-known long-form story webcomic out there. Author Warren Ellis is a fairly big name in the traditional comics industry, and so this has gained a following on both the print and web side of the fence.

Ellis is known as a cynical old man who crams stories full of ideas and isn’t afraid to make unlikeable protagonists. That style isn’t for everyone, but he’s highly recommended if that does sound appealing. Honestly, I’ve grown tired of Ellis not because of his writing quality, but because of his habitual lateness and the fact that he will let multiple works all drag on at once with no resolution. FreakAngels has been the only Ellis comic in recent years that actually published on time, not that that matters much if you are going to start reading it now.

The story takes place in a near-future post-apocalyptic world, with the titular group of characters presiding over a rare safe, somewhat civilized city. They have telekinetic powers and mental links to each other (in a world that otherwise has normal humans and technology), and they may very well have had something to do with the disaster that destroyed civilization in the first place. Remember, Ellis doesn’t always write sympathetic characters.

I can’t say anything conclusive about the series as a whole – I stopped reading it early last year after falling behind. It updated in weekly six-page chunks, and while the early chapters seemed to be paced around that, with scene changes or cliff-hangers every six pages, it soon felt more like one long story designed to be read in larger pieces. I keep meaning to go back and finish it, but after deciding to wait for a while, I never did. I can say that the half of it I read was good that I still intend to read the whole thing, even though I’ll probably need to start from the beginning after this much time.

FreakAngels was originally started as an experiment to see if a webcomic could lead to profitable sales for a comics publisher. That was an unusual move when the comic began in early 2008, but it seems completely normal just a few years later. Look at the three comics I highlighted in my initial January webcomics article: 2 of them have already completed, with a book planned from the beginning. The third, Bucko, is still going but has a planned conclusion, and I expect it to be printed as well. I don’t know if these comics all owe their existence to FreakAngels’ success, but it definitely was a trailblazer in the web-to-print strategy.

I think this is a good thing. The traditional webcomic format, with daily jokes trumping the long-term story, isn’t going anywhere, but the industry deserves as much variety as possible. Complete, pre-planned stories have been more rare in webcomics, and I’m glad to see them finally becoming accepted in recent years.

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