If given psychic powers to predict the future, most of us would pick the winning lottery numbers and retire early. The title character of Dominic Deegan, Oracle for Hire, opens up a fortune telling business in a small town where he pays the bills by answering the annoying and downright inane questions of the local populace. Throw in plenty of bad puns, bungling thieves, arrogant knights, an assistant with an inferiority complex, and a smart aleck cat, and you have the makings of a genuinely funny online comic strip.
Michael Terracciano began posting his black and white strip comic on free-for-all Keenspace back in May of 2002, and was picked up by invitation-only Keenspot in the Fall of 2003. He just recently passed the 500 strip mark. To save you the math, that comes out to just under six comics a week. Having researched them carefully for this review, it can be attested that they’re all real, fully inked, comics – no pinups, quick sketches, or guest spots.
An impressive accomplishment, to be sure, but it’s not what makes Dominic Deegan interesting.
Terracciano is actually using the individual strips to tell a larger story, one dealing with cruelty, betrayal, and love. Practically, it makes sense: draw in new readers in with gags and jokes, keep them coming back to find out "what happens next."
But it’s also a tricky balancing act. If you’re serious about each strip having an immediate payoff, like a punch line or major surprise, can you properly build suspense or explore deeper issues of character?
And here you thought you were reading a review about a comic with a talking cat.
In manners of "serious storytelling" Terracciano’s greatest strength is his characterization. They aren’t deep in the soap opera sense, no intricate histories or dark hidden secrets, but they are true to their nature. Characters personalities don’t flip-flop to accommodate plot or increase tension, bad guys don’t suddenly reform and good guys don’t necessarily get the girl.
As for dramatic tension, this is where the quality of the art comes into play. Many of the techniques (extra large and differently shaped panels) aren’t available in strip comics, and others (varying camera angles, extreme close-ups, wide panoramic views) are difficult to implement. With his excellent ink work and strong command of the characters’ expressions, Terracciano pulls off some first rate pages. But there are other times where, because of the size of the panel, unnatural body postures or mistakes in anatomy, the panels fall short of their intent.
Still, in the end, Dominic Deegan clearly comes out ahead. Terracciano manages to balance the immediate humor and stand-alone nature of a strip comic with his overall storytelling. And, while there are things that could be done to improve individual panels, the emotion, honesty, and overall enjoyment of the story is evident. As long as he continues to introduce new twists and turns, and can deliver them at his current impressive prolific pace, it’s no grand clairvoyant feat to predict that Dominic Deegan will continue to please its daily audience for years to come.
How does one write a unique fantasy comic?
For starters, you could put a bit of variation in the main characters. For example, rather than a knight and/or mage, you could base a strip around a healer, or a bard. Something much less general than the usual hero powers, such as a specialist in divination. Maybe your side characters are just as different, like a spellcasting werewolf, or a gnome or knocks people asleep by transforming into a troll, or a woman who likes to break bricks with her face.
How about appearances? What if you had a healer character who was unable to heal himself? Or a female lead who was not only not a D-cup blond but had a physical deformity? And what if you used those issues to discuss prejudice and self worth, giving people very realistic emotions rather than the usual unchangably heroic?
A unique villain couldn’t hurt either. A villain with a unique title, perhaps with his own problems, such as blindness. Not just the usual silly “take over the world” type, but someone sadistically evil enough to rip your mother’s still-beating heart out of her chest. And while we’re at it, just how much danger will this comic strip have? Will you always see the light at the end of the tunnel, or will you put your characters in situations where it looks like they’ve honestly been killed, just to make your audience squirm a little?
And what is the mood of the comic? If the mood is lighthearted, what is the humor like? Is it the general snappy comebacks and slapstick, or do you go with something else? Maybe something a bit absurd to contrast the serious tone of the danger, like curses that make fish fall on your head, cripples who constantly forget that they can’t stand on their own feet, or some of the worst, stomach-dissolving puns in existance?
And after all of that, what about the general setting? That’s what amazes me about Deegan. It’s basically just good wizard, Tolkein-esque powers, save the world. But even though the setting is familiar, everything else about the comic is well thought out and beautifully executed. Deegan is a textbook example of how to do a standard, simple four-panel fantasy comic right.
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