Experimental Comics Roundup

Exciting, boundary pushing comics, particularly webcomics don’t seem to be as common as they once were.  Some experimental creators have moved on to more mainstream projects, some have stopped making comics.   And some comics that once were daring in their format, like Dinosaur Comics, have just ceased to seem experimental as they’ve become mainstays of the webcomics scene.  That last is a good thing, of course—normalizing ideas that were once bold is how the doors to further new ideas are opened wider.

Of course, unusual projects do still come along, so here are a few that have caught my notice recently.

!, by Tymothi Godek

Godek’s difficult-to-pronounce story “!” was originally serialized online, where the full magnitude of Godek’s achievement was difficult to appreciate until the entire work was complete and could be read in a single glorious scroll to the side.  And scrolling was essential here, as the entire story was one continuous flow, the background of each page blending fluidly into the next, as the many characters variously schlepped, skittered, and rampaged across.

Godek is at his best when he’s playing with form, and "!" is easily his best work to date—aside from playing with continuous flow, he’s also playing with simultaneous branching narratives (a favorite comics technique of mine), as well as skillfully using the panel as a frame of attention, drawing out individual details and moments from increasingly busy scenes.

And as if the original wasn’t good enough, ! is now available in print, thanks to a grant from the Xeric Foundation—but nothing is lost of that original continuous flow, as the print edition is a single 35-foot-long sheet of paper!  (According folded, for ease of reading.)  Plus, the entire story has been re-drawn, so even if you’ve seen the original, I expect there will be new surprises.  I haven’t actually seen the print edition yet—but I know I want one.

The Archivist, by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

A new hypercomic by Goodbrey is always a welcome thing, and his latest entry, “The Archivist,” which Goodbrey describes as an “examination of the intersections and echoes between our working, gaming and dreaming lives,” is a pleasure.

The story is divided into four parts “Work,” “Play,” “Dream,” and “Pop.”  The first three tell fragments of stories from the life of the Archivist, a solitary man working in a vast archive devoted to a single musical legend, “Infamous Glamrock Dictator, Heironymous Pop,” of whom the Archivist himself is not a particular fan.  The three portions of the story are each themselves composed of multiple branching narratives, sometimes depicting alternate courses the Archivist could have taken in his life/game/dream, and at other times simply showing multiple points of view of the same event.

The fourth section, “Pop,” appears to be a glimpse into the archives themselves, shedding more light on the larger-than-life figure who looms over the Archivist’s own mundane existence.  Only one entry is included so far, but Goodbrey promises new additions throughout August and September.

A Sort of Autobiography, by Warren Craghead

Pointed out by Scott McCloud, Wareen Craghead has created a three dimensional comic in the form of a series of cubes, each one representing a decade in Craghead’s life—doubly interesting in that he projects beyond the present day, imagining his future decline and eventual death at the age of 90.  If you have a printer and A4 paper, and are so inclined, you can print out the cubes and fold a complete set for yourself.   A nice discussion of the comic by Matt Brady can be found here.

One Page Wonders, by Idiots Books

And for those of you who just can’t decide between not-necessarily linear narrative and printable, constructible comics, there are the One Page Wonders, by Matthew Swanson and Robbie Behr of Idiots Books, obtainable from Tor.com.  There are four stories available, each of which can be printed on a single piece of paper, then folded and manipulated in a variety of ways to produce a multitude of narrative pathways.  Instructions for the folding are provided, but the handy instructional video really demonstrates that putting the stories together is easier than it seems.

Patrick Farley

If you follow experimental comics at all, by now you’ve probably heard that old-school experimental comics wizard Patrick Farley is actively creating again, thanks in large part to a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his creative endeavors.  Most of his original works can be found on electricsheepcomix.com, along with new comics in his Spiders series, in which Farley is doing amazing things with digitally modeled art.

One glaring omission from the site is Delta Thrives, one of the early mixed media digital comics that really opened my own eyes to the possibilities of what can be done in webcomics that can’t be achieved in print.  Sadly, though it appears in the site’s table of contents, it is only in the form of un-clickable text.  I very much hope Farley will be restoring this story to his site before too long, as I very much regret not being able to point readers or even my students toward it for inspiration.


Alexander Danner