Zortic, a science-fiction webcomic created by Mark Mekkes and hosted by Keenspace, tells of the continuing adventures of a little green man in a flying saucer with his friends, as they putter about the universe. The protagonist, Zortic, is urged by his co-burger-flipper and prospective girlfriend Zoie to enter a gameshow – thanks to his knowledge of late twentieth century Earth TV trivia – in an attempt to win some money to pay back his student loans. Zortic wins of course, but rather than cash, he is instead given a spaceship (named the Entire Prize), complete with its own unusual mechanic (named Splink).
After convincing Zoie to come with him, Zortic heads off with his newly assembled crew to search for adventure, presumably some cash, and probably just to get away from loansharks. It’s a simple enough premise, and one fully established within the first twenty-or-so strips. While it may indeed be a little too simple, it does allow Mekkes to get to the meat of the strip and really get you entertained as fast as possible.
Parody is the name of the game in Zortic, and anything within the sci-fi spectrum is fair game. From the very start, the Jabba the Hut-esque loan shark gives you an idea of what to expect, and Mekkes turns his eye to a myriad of other sources such as Blade Runner, Star Trek, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and some rather unexpected parodies such as The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol, or even Popeye.
Because of this, reading Zortic is a fair bit like a roller-coaster ride, with the reader trying to pick out and recognize the sights as they go past. Half the fun of the strip is the sudden enlightenment and joyful yelp when the reader suddenly clicks in with the reference. Add to that some wickedly funny jokes and a speedy pace, and the strip as a whole makes for a great read.
Unfortunately, this fast pace and use of parody also mars the strip somewhat. Character building is often pushed aside in the face of a gag at the end of a strip. Moreover, the fact that most of the comic is generally a parody of some source or another means that a good deal of the gags and situations can, with the right knowledge, be spotted a mile off. As a whole, the plot swings and veers from parody to parody, lessening the overall cohesion of the master plotline.
The art is pleasant enough, if a little stilted in the earlier phases of the comic, but this is made up for by a marked increase in quality in later times together with a flair for backgrounds and composition. In particular, somewhat confusing panel layouts in earlier strips have improved to encompass some complex designs, a particularly effective example involving one of the main characters and actually being ‘inside his mind‘.
Ultimately, Zortic is a very fun read. It’s not a comic strip to "think about" too much; instead, it’s better for the readers to simply relax and allow themselves to be entertained. There’s little doubt that the strip will be of particular interest to those who can recognize the influences and the parodies, but no-one should let that stop them from missing an amusing romp through science fiction cliches.