In Search of Vanished Webcomics

As the new year brushes away the crumbs left from devouring the old one, I find myself thinking of vanished webcomics: those that’ve come to the end of their storylines, those that’ve just stopped, and those that’ve disappeared altogether.

As the new year brushes away the crumbs left from devouring the old one, I find myself thinking of vanished webcomics: those that’ve come to the end of their storylines, those that’ve just stopped, and those that’ve disappeared altogether.

That last group dismays me the most, probably because of the false intimacy of webcomics. That’s the web in general, though: world wide, sure, but more like a countless number of small neighborhoods rather than one big city. I can’t imagine many of us stray outside those few neighborhoods we’re actually interested in — I’m sure I’d be shocked to discover how many websites and message boards are devoted to, say, quilting or recumbent bicycles or such.

And in the neighborhood called webcomics, the way they show up on my personal computer screen can easily fool me into thinking I know the people who do them, especially when a click of a mouse button will send them feedback instantly, feedback they can respond to in kind. So, to torture the metaphor, webcomic creators have become my neighbors, and taking a link to find some cybersquatter or a "404" page instead of the comic that’s always been there before, it’s like knocking on a familiar door and having a stranger answer.

Octopus Pie The questions start immediately, and frantic Googling begins. Sometimes, this leads me to other comics by the same author — checking in on the url for Meredith Gran’s Skirting Danger the other day, for instance, got me a page not at all related to her comic, but a little poking around brought me to her new series, Octopus Pie.

Unfortunately, that series doesn’t appeal to me at all while the vanished one — a superheroine’s daughter tries to get into fashion design college in Manhattan and gets involved in adventures along the way, says my unrefreshed memory — was one of my favorites. So while I won’t be reading the new series, I’m certainly glad to see that she’s still making webcomics.

As opposed to, say, Chuck Melville. I knew his pre-web, self-published comics, so I was happy to discover when I found my first webcomics ten years ago that he had a website with not only new comics about Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, but also a couple other series, only one of which I can now recall: Stars and Stripes, I think was the name of it, about a circus tiger who escapes into the woods and befriends a local raccoon. I always liked it ’cause it was funny and well-drawn, but also because none of the animals actually spoke: the raccoon gave off "thought balloons," but that was it.

The Felicia stories, though, were some of my favorite fantasy adventures. Melville has both a sense of humor and a sense of the dramatic, and he’s not afraid to employ them both simultaneously. His artwork is just elegant, and he has a way with gray that makes his black and white work look better than a lot of the color comics out there.

But Melville’s site disappeared — yeesh, 2002, maybe 2003 — a while ago, at any rate, taking all his webcomics with it, and even though he has a Cafepress page selling books of his illustrated short stories about Felicia, I don’t find any references to his webcomics either in print or anywhere else. It’s a sad state of affairs, but not an uncommon one.

Webcomics that just stop is the category one step up from those that disappear completely. The archives still exist on a website somewhere for perusal or re-perusal, and that’s a lot better than nothing: wonderful odd things like Where Am I Now? by Jon Bakos and Ross Smith and the splendid Gossamer Commons by Eric Burns, Greg Holkan, and Peter Venables.

The one I’ll talk about here, though, is Brent Bowser’s Carried by the Wind. A fantasy/science-fiction epic, it reaches from ancient Roman times through to the Space Age and includes ancient prophesies, action, adventure, and some nicely written characters — all of whom happen to be talking animals. The story rolled along at quite a clip from mid-2002 until May of 2005 when Bowser wrapped up the most immediate plot line, announced a hiatus, and never came back. Other plot lines were still ongoing, of course, and I remain ever-vigilant, hoping to find out someday how it all came together.

But the happiest category among the vanished is that of completed webcomics. After all, if the story’s gotta stop, I’d like it to come to a natural ending. Some of my favorite completed webcomics include recent ones like Narbonic by Shaenon Garrity and Inverloch by Sarah Ellerton and not-so-recent ones like Demonology 101 by Faith Erin Hicks and The Class Menagerie by Vince Suzukawa.

LizardBut Dave Kelly’s the guy that comes to mind in this category. Living in Greytown and its sequel Lizard were at the time and continue to be to this day two of my favorite webcomics ever, and they’re both still available to Premium subscription members over at Keenspot.

Greytown was a city in a pocket dimension ruled over by the demon Phil. People, both human and otherwise, would wander in, discover that they couldn’t leave, and a society grew up there, a society that Kelly explored with low humor, high pathos, and a lovely but raunchy cartoon style for a couple years before wrapping the series up in satisfyingly mock-epic fashion: I’m a sucker for a well-earned happy ending, and Greytown’s is one of the best I’ve come across.

A group of characters who had formed a family in Greytown then moved to New Jersey and became the center of Lizard. I enjoyed this one even more than Greytown — Kelly doesn’t go in for any of the sex and violence that you’ll find in Greytown or some of his other series, for instance, and the experience he gained telling stories and creating characters in the earlier series really flowers here.

Kelly wrapped this one up, too, and as near as I can tell after all the publicity surrounding Todd Goldman plagiarizing his work earlier this year, whatever else he’s doing on the web, he doesn’t seem to be doing comics anywhere anymore. He did add notes to the Greytown archives at some point, though, and they make for an interesting read — especially since he seems to dislike the strips that I like the most….

The web’s an ever-changing wonderland, apparently, but it does have corners that’ve frozen in place. They’re nice places to visit — those that you can still find — and they have some good stories to tell.


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