The seemingly very popular (at least with print comics people) webcomic collective Act-I-Vate has been hit or miss with me, but one comic that really stands out is Leland Purvis‘s "Vulcan & Vishnu". The comic shows us "the travels and travails of two honest workmen devising their way around obstacles and through calamities on their way to fortune and glory." Vulcan is a hulking fellow in overalls with short hair, while Vishnu is a hulking fellow in pants and suspenders with a hat. The comic starts with the two (and their trusty mule) separated by a large crevasse in the earth. No indication of how they got there and by the time you’re a few panels into it you won’t care. They go about constructing a stone arch as a bridge across the gap and their work is shown in almost diagrammatic form, one step at a time. And this is the basis of the comic. Problem. Solution. It’s wonderful fun, not least of which is the way Purvis goes about it.
The whole comic is shown in a long vertical column of identical square (or almost square) panels. Being forced to scroll down through the story really gets me stopping and looking at each image individually. You could breeze through and follow the gist of the story as it is very clearly narrated (in a visual sense), but Purvis’s art is worth a linger. His compositions are esquisite and the drawings are wonderful: sharp lines, great use of blacks, and a spotty, splotchy tone (maybe computerized, maybe he’s just really good at controlling the ink). The drawings work with a careful choice of panel moments (i.e. the breakdowns) to really make the narrative clear, concise, and enjoyable. A scene in chapter 2 with an earthquake not only lets us see what is going on (we see a plate deep in the earth moving) but gives us the feeling of the shaking, the men’s surprise, and the movements of the various objects around them.
My appreciation of Purvis’s skill at visual narration is enhanced by the lack of words in the strip. No narrative captions, no dialogue. Everything is shown in the panels with images. Dialogue, such as it is, is shown as visual representations, often iconic. You can read it without trouble, aided by expressive and often exaggerated body language that communicates a great deal of the characters emotions and thoughts.
A fun, well-crafted webcomic. What more can you ask for? Check it out.