Pirate Queen Marianne, written by Katie Henderson-Grady and draw by Stephen Henderson-Grady, is unabashed, dyed-in-the-wool pulp. Katie and Steven Henderson-Grady have created a mixture of science fiction and dime store detective novels similar to Buck Rodgers, Doc Savage, The Shadow and Flash Gordon. Unlike older pulp stories, the main protagonist is female.
This is a relatively young web comic, so reading it from start to finish won’t take long. Its archive is small and broken down by story, not by a calendar view or drop-down navigation. The first story, "The Pearl Bomb", is complete and can be easily read within a half hour. "A Priceless Antique", the current storyline, is (at the time of this writing) under 20 pages.
Suspend your disbelief while following this story: there are ludicrous, over-the-top elements to it. Character costuming for the crew is decidedly un-modern or futuristic in style. This clothing won’t protect you from projectile weapons or the void of space. Marianne’s pirate costume, which is closer to pirate clothing from the Golden Age of Piracy (1680 – 1730), is one example of this. Cannonballs used in space combat and crewmates using swords onboard the ship during fight scenes (instead of modern or futuristic weaponry) also heighten the pulp feel.
Steven Henderson-Grady’s lines are simple and clean in the beginning pages of "The Pearl Bomb". He mostly uses black and white, though a limited color palette is introduced near the end. Early in the story, he often uses a uniform, thin line to outline the characters. This uniform line lacks the fluidity of his artwork in later pages, and it makes the characters appear stiff during the action. There are also times when Henderson-Grady’s line work becomes too minimal, making it difficult to discern the action within panels. Two examples of this are shown in the last panel of this page (where Broad is reduced to a swirled bundle of lines), and Matey’s face here (in the first panel), which is also poorly defined.
"The Pearl Bomb" is comprised of 4-6 panels per page. Panels are laid out horizontally, with the occasional full-page thrown in. The only page in The Pearl Bomb that deviates from this format is the last page, which uses infinite canvas. To follow the story, you are required to scroll down to read each panel. The flow is somewhat hindered by the large chunk of text preceding the comic strip; when the last page of "The Pearl Bomb" was posted, this block of text served to inform the reader that the format would be changing to infinite canvas instead of a more standard strip format. Unfortunately, the text block chokes the visual presentation of this last page.
The strongest pages employ color or negative space (sometimes in conjunction) in the background to define the characters. In this example, the scenes are viewed from a dynamic vantage point slightly above and diagonal to the characters. Red is used to ground the characters in each frame, and the use of black to denote walls within the corridor also prevents Matey & Marianne from floating in each panel. Though highly stylized, the panels on this page use large areas of black (in panels 7-12) to form the city silhouette, distinguish characters within each panel, and strengthen the page’s downward flow.
"A Priceless Antique", which deals with Marianne’s origins, continues the same vertical infinite canvas to deliver its narrative. This second story begins with a black and white prologue then dives into full color. There is no inking within the colored pages; everything within each panel is comprised of colored shapes, with gradients to depict shadows and highlights. The end result is visually pleasing, but the real strength of this chapter lies in the composition of each panel. Since this chapter reads from top to bottom, attention to layout is needed in order to keep the story moving at a smooth pace. A wider range of viewpoints are used in comparison to the old hand-drawn strips: we begin to see vistas from directly above the figures, more close-ups of characters and objects, a creative use of text that increases the flow of the story, and in general a higher usage of perspective within panels.
Katie Henderson-Grady’s writing in Pirate Queen Marianne complements the artwork well. The dialogue is clever and humorous, with lines like, "Someone stole your family jewels. I can get them back" and "You’ll never find the pearl bomb I’ve hidden on your ship" that are intentionally corny. This writing serves as a great example of how fun, playful dialogue (with occasional voice-over narration) should be.
In regards to character development and back story, so far only two cast characters (Marianne and Bosun) have some back story. The bulk of Marianne’s origin is handled in "A Priceless Antique", and the first hints of Bosun’s origins appear at the very end of "The Pearl Bomb". Future stories will likely expand on all of the characters as the archive grows.
Overall, Pirate Queen Marianne is an entertaining, quick read. The artwork is still being refined, and the characters have yet to be fully explored, but that’s a factor all young web comics have to deal with. Fans of pulp comics should enjoy this tale of pirates in space.