Off the Radar: Piercing, Nowhere Girl and Brambletown

Nowhere Girl, by Justine Shaw

Nowhere Girl came out of (pardon the inescapable) *nowhere* in late 2001, and by 2003 had received attention from just about everywhere… webcomic peers, print comic notables — even going so far as to garner a 2003 nomination in the prestigious Eisner Awards themselves (the first time an online comic was ever considered for a traditionally print-only award).

This engaging story of a young girl growing was actually subject to the first review posted by Comixpedia in early 2003, not long after the 2nd chapter had been penned and posted.

As no new installment has yet to appear, there is no point in offering a new review; however, Shaw's work and its impact on the webcomics world is undeniable, as is her susbsequent lack of new material for the story, which is explained on her site as being "…no changes at this time. I am focusing on [other] projects in the evenings and my day-job in the daytime."

So updates appear to be coming nowhere, no-when, no-how.


Brambletown, by Brent Wood

Of the three works listed in this article, Brambletown is least like a traditional print comic, taking full advantage of an electronic no-bounds-means-no-holds-barred medium to convey a highly interactive, very captivating storytelling experience to its readers.

From the reader's very arrival to the Brambletown page, the immersive nature of the comic hits you with its pitch black background, sunset-palette title, dark neon chapter placeholders — and the eerie yet familiar nightsong of a chirping cricket chorus.

Chirping, you ask? Yes, sound is definitely a part of Brent Wood's toolbox of online storytelling. Far from being obtrusive or distracting, however, Wood uses sound as he uses color — subtly, to help set the tone. The homepage crickets complete the illusion of night-time, setting the stage for the story to be told.

Speaking of story, the delivery of chapter one is not like your traditional sequential page-turner. Rather than start from a "Comic Strip #1", and move to the next and so forth, you are first presented with a menagerie of characters, each with their own mini-bio appearing when you mouse over their personage. Clicking on any of these brings you to "their part of the story" — something that may seem a little odd and disjointed at first, but that — with each additional character click-through — slowly and clearly allows the reader to see and understand what is happening.

It doesn't matter which character you start with, as each side-scrolling sequential story fragment practically occurs "at the same time", and literally intertwines itself with the others. Most fragments also come with interactive clickthroughs that link you from one character to the next — or in at least one case, gives you extra 'elaboration' on a particular scene. Just as with the goings-on of life, there is never really a set "beginning", only a new chain of events that can start anywhere, anyhow, anytime.

The art is stylized, with straight-color fills and fairly simple, economical line work — but it's not weak by any means (think Scott McCloud line and color art). The color palette is very well suited to the atmosphere of the story, with rich dark colors and an almost vibrant Blacklight glow to it all.

Powered by Shockwave, the comic interface is quite intuitive, which is a good thing since no instructions or navigation hints are really offered. Shockwave also allows for the sound, as well as for some animation-laced panels — again, not obtrusive or overdone, but just enough to help enhance the already-immersive experience for the reader. A slow-blinking neon sign here, a ticking, moving clock there…

However, once you get "to the end" of the first chapter — in whatever order you happened to go through — you find yourself shocked out of the experience by the horrible realization that this, too, is a webcomic that started out with a bang, only to have its creator disappear without a whimper.

The only clue to Wood's abandonment of the webcomic can be found on his own personal website, which serves essentially as an online professional portfolio and resume of his work experience. Clicking on his resume, in fact, shows you that he has been quite a busy man, and appears to be making a decent living as a professional illustrator and graphic designer.

So the links to Chapters Two and Three only serve as a cruel tease, with a white-garbed cowpoke smiling coldly as he mocks our sadness with an abrupt "Sorry, Charlie!"


Piercing, by David Gaddis

Piercing was uploaded to the web at the turn of the millennium (1999-2000), and proved to be such a smash that its creator, David Gaddis, was deemed by some as one of the significant online comic figures of the time. In fact, his work was so popular that he was invited to be part of a special "Art of Digital Comics" panel at the 2001 International ComicCon, where he was showcased by Scott McCloud alongside Demian5, Triston Farnon, Patrick Farley, and Cat Garza.

The comic is a one-shot, dialogue-free story that spans a total of 65 sequential panels, all displayed on a single-page vertical layout. Without giving away too much of the abbreviated tale, the pictorial impression focuses on a boy-meets-girl, boy-warms-up-to-girl, girl-notices-piercing, girl-interacts-with-piercing, girl-reacts-to-piercing scenario that has to be read to fully appreciate its impact. While the voiceless narrative is more archetypal than original in its nature, Gaddis' delivery is fresh, marvellously paced in so few panels, and open to a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle interpretation.

The art of Piercing is almost a cross between Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder (particularly their Little Annie Fanny period), with a dash of Mort Drucker, though with very little of the Mad Magazine-esque humour/satire present — Piercing is much more a grotesque Human Comedy than it is a Funny Comic. The coloring seems to follow along Elder's style as well, particularly in the first dozen or so panels — a weighty, textured style more akin to a painting than a drawing. Even though the majority of the remaining panels are then more colored line art drawings than paintings, the colors continue to be rich and earthy.

Color has distinct meaning in Piercing, too — the girl's colors are very warm, and reflects her own actions and reactions throughout the story, while the boy's colors are colder greens and yellow-greys, with his skin acting as a barometer of his own reactions to the girl throughout the mini-tale. These changes are fairly subtle yet very telling, adding much to the atmosphere of the piece. By the end, the colors certainly match the denouement's tone (which you will simply have to read to see)…

As a testament to the lasting quality of Piercing, one only has to Google its (or its author's) name to see that people are still writing about it, as recently as a month ago.

But what of David Gaddis himself, and any future works?

The only hint available lurks on his very spartan website, where he announced god-knows-how-long-ago that "I'm currently trying to make myself into a better writer. I hope to have some new work available in the coming months."

So we wait and wait still.

* * *

Given that all three creators seem to be choosing deliberately to do something else than whip up a new installment of their work, it appears that we have found a trend for webcomic One-Hit-Wonders that you rarely hear about on the music or acting side…

These gifted creators have "other commitments", "a real life", a "day-job". Or more bluntly put, they don't seem to think that making a webcomic is as important/practical/profitable as their other chosen life options.

This makes for a sad, unfulfilling conclusion: considering the unquestioned talent these three (and numerous others not included in this article) have shown through the remarkable yet abruptly short works they produced once upon a time , we can't help but notice how different the One Hit Wonder scenario is here: they didn't burn out and fade away (i.e., try but fail miserably to live up to their initial success).

No, these short-lived icons walked out on us when we were still in love with them, pulled a James Dean/Kurt Cobain, only without the whole dying thing.

Which only seems to make it worse for the readers who wait still, pining for an update that may likely never come from people whose lives have gone on… without us.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.