Journalist Oscar Wilde decides to leave his life in Chicago and rent a house from Craigslist in Podunk, Oklahoma because he wants an adventure. Most people would say rural Oklahoma is a bad candidate for adventure seekers, but Oscar soon meets the ghost of a 1940s mathematician, an angsty teen werewolf, and many more supernatural creatures than he bargained for.
Wilde Life is a fantasy webcomic inspired by Native American folklore written and drawn by Pascalle Lepas. Far from a high-stakes rollicking fantasy, Wilde Life melds its supernatural elements with an indie-drama sensibility. The characters are not adventurers, but ordinary people with crazy elements in their lives. The magical action of the story will be intercut with Oscar ignoring calls from his family, or teen wolf Cliff getting into an argument with his step-dad. There’s a real humanity to Lepas’s characters. The aforementioned Cliff is such a perfectly drawn out kind-of-shitty teenager. Rarely do teenage characters have the right balance of immaturity and agency, either falling into ‘dumb kids’ or ‘super cool mini-adult.’ Oscar as well feels like a person the reader might actually know. No one is absurdly cool or competent. They react to situations like normal people – freak out, make jokes, and keep going with their lives.
After finding out there’s a benevolent ghost in his house, Oscar starts treating her like a roommate, even buying her audio books she can listen to (her fingers can’t turn book pages), and after meeting a ginger werewolf whose name is Clifford he can’t help but make jokes. The ‘reality’ of the comic lets the magic feel more magical. When a giant talking bear shows up or Cliff just pops into wolf form the affect is appropriately ‘reality-breaking’.
More than just the writing, Lepas’s art really sells the blend between the ordinary and extraordinary. A few of you out there might know Lepas from her previous webcomic, Zap! which she worked on with Chris Layfield from 2003 till it’s completion in 2014. That’s where I first saw Lepas’s work and it’s been amazing to see her artistic progression from Zap! to Wilde Life. Lepas’s work has obviously improved over the past thirteen years, but it’s also interesting to see how she shifted styles between Zap! and Wilde Life. Zap! is a space opera (or spopera, if you would) with clear anime influences while Wilde Life is much more down to earth; the art of Zap! is colorful and shiny while Wilde Life is full of soft natural light and real-life details. As a comic’s reader, you learn to appreciate realistic costuming and background designs as they are so often absent.
Lepas’s backgrounds are really stunning. On one hand, she is able to capture very ordinary settings. It’s easy to spot a lazily drawn hospital hallway or farmer’s market because as readers, most of us have been to a hospital or farmer’s market. Lepas also gets the lighting correct in these scenes. Lighting is very indicative of genre. For example, when the reader sees the shadow of a venetian blind streaking across someone’s face the reader knows he or she is in a crime story. To capture naturalistic lighting is difficult but can create a sense of place like nothing else. These backgrounds support the grounded quality I’ve been talking about.
Alongside the mundane backgrounds, Lepas can also deliver on a beautiful panorama. The most ‘wondrous’ moments of Wilde Life are often not the magical elements but huge, gorgeous shots of the Oklahoma landscape. This is another way the comic plays with the magical and the mundane, and trying to blend the two.
Wilde Life is currently moving at a luxurious pace. Its structure reminds me of the first season of a television show. Each chapter has a conflict and an action resolution, while slowly furthering character development and the beginning hints of a longer arc. There are hints at a ‘big bad’ already, and I’m curious to see where the comic is going. Wilde Life updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.