Coming home from her boring grocery store job, Daisy stumbles into the Rainbow Dimension – a vibrant magical land filled with monsters, like the multi-colored bear that attacks Daisy immediately. Daisy beats the bear to death with her bike and is rewarded with the bear’s colorful coat and a new moniker – Snarlbear. Along with her self-appointed agent, floating elf Flint, Snarlbear embarks on a new career as professional monster puncher, but the dangers of the Rainbow Dimension are much more insidious than they first appear.
Snarlbear is a fantasy webcomic written and drawn by Natalie Riess. The comic begins with the classic portal-fantasy opening. Portal fantasies are a subgenre of fantasy that starts with a usually young protagonist falling into another world, like Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away or Wizard of Oz. Like the movie version of Oz, Snarlbear uses color to differentiate the mundane and magical worlds. The ordinary world is drab and monochromatic, but once Daisy enters the Rainbow Dimension the world explodes into color. The color in Snarlbear isn’t bound by realism, it’s vibrant and expressionistic. Outside of establishing shots, backgrounds swirl behind characters to emphasize their moods and actions. Characters themselves will often shift hues to reflect their moods. Snarl especially will slide up and down the spectrum especially as she starts to experience more sudden mood-shifts, which happens more and more as the comic starts to take a dark turn.
The Rainbow Dimension seems very silly at the beginning of the comic. It has unicorns with sunglasses, a city named Monochrome where the elves are monochromatic, and lots of silly creatures. In this way, it seems a lot like Oz or Wonderland. But, from its introduction, the Rainbow Dimension is a place drenched in violence. The main plot of the comic starts when Flint and Snarl become embroiled in a conflict between dethroned unicorn Prince Narcisso Indigo Floofram III and his usurper sister Cassiopeia, but the real tension is Snarl struggling not to lose herself in the violence. When she first entered the magical world, Snarl went straight into monster-slaying mood, but as time passes she begins to realize her fighting might be turning into something she doesn’t like or recognize.
(Slight Spoilers, Y’all)
Snarl discovers the realm is so littered with monsters because the longer people stay there, the more likely it is that they become monsters. The monsters she’s been gorily tearing apart were once normal people who succumbed to some darker part of themselves. This is where the goriness of the comic really helps the story. Reiss never shies away from the blood and guts spilled as Snarl rips into a creature. Even though Snarl is protecting her own life, we can see how monstrous she could be. Of course, the designs are still cartoony enough so the reader isn’t actually disgusted. Daisy’s color shifts are cleverly symbolic the corrupting power of the world. She becomes more and more the beast she slayed in the beginning, the one whose coat and name she now wears. She’s also positioned as a foil to PrincessCassiopeia whose quest for power is transforming her into something terrible. As Snarl is fighting to live, she knows fighting might be her downfall.
(End of Spoilers)
I must mention how much I love the monster designs for this comic. Each foe has a unique feel to them. There are also a lot of transformations in the comic, and Reiss has a way of adding elements to designs without eliminating what’s essential and recognizable for that character. Currently in Chapter 10, the comic feels like it is wrapping up soon. Reiss pulls off some great plot twists near the end that feel earned and I’m excited to see how it all wraps together.