It’s only hour 4 of 24 hours of Webcomics and already I’m cheating a bit by spotlighting the work of a single cartoonist more than a single webcomic. But heck, it’s all about reading comic on the web.
Sam Alden is a young Portland cartoonist who is rapidly developing with comics on his own website and Study Group, and even a few in print. Like many young, prolific cartoonists, it’s hard to find a well organized archive of his stuff—he has several tumblrs and blogs and twitters and so on. The main outlet seems to be his site Gingerland. Fortunately he just posted a guide to everything he has online. HIs work covers a lot of territory—his art starts out in the Craig Thompson school, but he’s getting more and more experimental as he goes on. His work has everything from heavy duty autobiography to weird fantasy. I think what interested me the most about his work is that he’s very young and very talented and taking full advantage of the freedom to tell all kinds of stories that today’s younger cartoonists have at their disposal. It isn’t about drawing one thing or for one style any more.
To start out I’ll recommend Farmer’s Dilemma—it’s short and if you don’t like it don’t go on.
But I think you will like it. The less I say about it, the better, but it’s an anthropomorphic story of family, belonging, and survival starring a young fox who was adopted by chickens. There is a single panel in here that is perhaps the most horrific thing I have seen in a comic this year. It’s a beautiful, haunting piece of work.
If you like that try Hawaii 1997. Like a lot of Alden’s work it’s autobiographical, but it’s also mostly a wordless storyboard about a magic moment on a nighttime beach: a miserable young boy meets a girl on the beach and they run around together. Yeah it’s a little Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I think it transcends the cliche. If we’re lucky, we’ve all had one of these moments, when life becomes magical and full of possibilities…but the last panel reveals the price for such a moment. Alden draws it in pencil on yellow paper and still manages to captures the sparkling sky and water of the enchanted moment. It’s a technically very accomplished piece of work.
Haunter is a full color story of adventure and dread being serialized on the excellent Study Group webcomic portal. It’s another wordless fantasy, this one about a treasure seeking hunter who runs into an ancient spirit that is also a hunter. You shouldn’t try to steal stuff from ancient spirits. Told in almost animatic format, it’s a tense, exciting chase that’s still going on.
Finally, Alden’s longest piece to date is the still ongoing “Eighth Grade” which is about the most terrifying thing in life: middle school. Simon and Tom are smart kids about brutal survival mechanisms and about making witty but cruel jokes about other kids, but completely ignorant about everything real in life, and smart enough to know they’re ignorant. Emma is a classmate they torment, and torment is another word for craving the approval of. Throw in parents who have pretty much the same problems except they also are caretakers and you have everyone’s eighth grade.
Well not mine, since I was home schooled…whenever I read a painfully accurate depiction of what I missed out on, like this, I think I’m kind of lucky. “Eighth Grade” starts out a little rocky art-wise, but Alden’s use of black and white and lettering improve dramatically as the six chapters go along. It’s a soap opera, but one that rings true.
Alden has several comics mentioned in Buzzfeed’s big webcomics roundup and work in several magazines and comic anthologies coming up. He’s only 24, and I suspect we’ll hear his name a lot more in the next few years.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.