Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry Two: Spacetrawler

This week on Webcomics Worth Wreading, I’m going to take a look at the sci-fi adventure known as Spacetrawler. Before we begin, I’d like to make the following notes:

1. Unlike last week’s Reptilis Rex, Spacetrawler is heavily plot-focused. While I make an effort to avoid major spoilers, it would be impossible to say anything meaningful about Spacetrawler without giving something away. If you prefer to go into works of fiction with a completely fresh perspective, I recommend just reading Spacetrawler right now and coming back to this blog later.

2. Each Spacetrawler page is too big to fit the entire thing in a blog like this, so I’ve taken panels out of pages and arranged them to fit nicely here.

3. As a result of the above two points, and the fact that each image here links to its page on the Spacetrawler website, I’d recommend that you not use the image links to go read the comic. There may be spoilers on the full page that I omitted through panel selection. Really, the only place to start reading Spacetrawler from is the very beginning.

All right, now we’ve got that out of the way. Let’s begin.

Take all of the corruption and incompetence of global politics, scale it up to a galactic level, and you get Spacetrawler.

The comic takes its name from the piece of technology that makes interstellar travel practical. If you’ve got a spaceship, you’ve got a spacetrawler. And like most technology, it wouldn’t be possible without Eebs.

The Eebs are enslaved, and nearly every race in the galaxy has made use of their technological prowess and natural subservience. No one with any political power dares oppose the Eeb enslavement, and they lack the willpower to oppose it themselves.

There are, however, a few people who do wish to free the Eebs. But without any support from the general population, there’s little they can do. Every civilized species understands how important it is to their way of life to keep Eebs enslaved.

Humans, though, have no experience with interstellar flight or reliance on Eeb technology. So Interplanet Amity comes up with a plan to bring humans to speak to the government in space and demand freedom for Eebs.

The humans in question were all selected because they were the type of people who would go along with this cause... except for one.


Dustin is there because the aliens accidentally grabbed him instead of his identical twin. And, really, Dustin is the character that sets Spacetrawler apart from other science fiction. In any other work, Dustin would be the protagonist. He’s an ordinary guy, he doesn’t want to be there, and his main priority is going home.

Science fiction is full of characters like Dustin. Hell, in Avatar, the protagonist is also only in his situation because he had an identical twin who was better suited! There’s a strong tendency in science fiction toward extremely ordinary protagonists. I think this has to do with the perceived lack of appeal that science fiction has to general audiences. Creators try to make up for this lack of appeal by creating protagonists that the general audience is expected to identify with. Science fiction fans will enjoy the story anyway, and the “relatable” protagonist sells the story to everybody else.

But Dustin, Spacetrawler’s stand-in for the typical human, is mocked and reviled. Spacetrawler is science fiction for science fiction fans. Identifying with the guy who doesn’t want to go fight for civil rights in space is not necessary. Rather, he is mocked and reviled.

The characters that come off well, the ones who actually receive enough development and definition to be relatable, are the ones who embrace this crazy adventure. The reader can feel the pain of their failures and the joy of their triumphs as they try to adjust to everything they’re experiencing.

And adjusting is difficult. The humans soon witness plenty of the horrors our galaxy has to offer, from difficult moral dilemmas to acts of extreme violence. Luckily, there’s a therapy-bot on hand to help them deal with their experiences.

While the events portrayed in Spacetrawler are often grim and upsetting, the tone of the comic is always fun and comedic. It’s easy to go along with the story when it gets dark, because there’s a feeling of levity that permeates the entire work.

My favorite moments are the ones that combine humor and tragedy, such as this sequence with a potty-bot, which is one of the funniest and most horrific things I have ever seen.

Another thing that impresses me is the variety of alien designs. Most sentient aliens in most works are basically human-shaped. Spacetrawler gives us some significant characters who are not remotely human-shaped, such as Krep, a quadruped without hands who manipulates objects with his face-tentacles.

Krep is very friendly, as you can tell.

This type of diversity is one of the advantages to comics as a medium, as opposed to filmed science fiction. It’s difficult to create a believable alien on-screen unless they’re played by a human in a costume. Comics have no such restrictions, and it’s nice to see Spacetrawler making use of this advantage.

If you like space battles, complex moral dilemmas and dark comedy, Spacetrawler is for you. Go and read it! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Spacetrawler is written and drawn by Christopher Baldwin and updates reliably on Mondays and Wednesdays. I believe the story will be wrapping up soon, and when it does, I will be filled with the bittersweet mixture of emotions that always comes when a beloved work reaches its conclusion.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry One: Reptilis Rex

Welcome to the first installment of Webcomics Worth Wreading! And welcome... to the world of Reptilis Rex.

It’s a world much like our own, but a few years ago, loads of internet geeks had their crazy suspicions confirmed when a race of reptilian humanoids emerged from their underground civilization. Since then, humans and reptoids have been struggling to live alongside one another, with reptoids being treated as second-class citizens. Literally.

Er, if they qualified for citizenship, that is.

The comic focuses on two reptoids:

Krel, an obnoxious asshole who confirms all of humanity’s worst suspicions about his race,

and Snive, his friendly, likeable slave.

What really sells Reptilis Rex is the creator’s unique blend of faith and cynicism. I use “faith” not in the religious sense, but to mean faith in humanity, or rather people in general, since many of the characters are not human. Many characters are selfish, deceiving and even hateful, but they can always find common ground. People may be horrible, but at least all people can be horrible in the same ways.

People can take their shared hypocrisies and other flaws, and instead of using those to build barriers, can actually make connections based on mutual fear and misunderstanding.

...And that’s what Reptilis Rex is all about: Mutual fear and misunderstanding. Most reptoids and most humans are decent people, but neither really understands the other, and they both have ample cause for fear. What’s astonishing is how often humans and reptoids use that fear to establish commonality, to bring them together instead of allowing it to keep them separate. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens often enough that it just might inspire a little hope.

It’s not all poignant statements on our differences and our similarities being one and the same. A lot of elements in Reptilis Rex are just plain fun. Take mutos, the shapeshifting gelatinous cubes that reptoids keep as pets.

And there’s the source of much of the strip’s humor: Krel being a stupid, careless jerk.

Don't worry, that guy recovers from his eye injury.

To the extent that he resents all implications that he's done something remotely kind-spirited or even just slightly relatable.

See? All better.

Now, I happen to be a huge fan of this artist’s style, and this is one of the few comics on my list that I go to more for the art than the writing. Considering how much I love the writing, that’s saying a lot!

I haven’t spent time here praising the art, because it’s much more effective to just show it to you. If you share my sensibilities, you’ll want to see more of this guy’s character designs. It’s worth it to read the comic for that reason alone. The dude can make up cartoon people like nobody’s business.

Like these two!

I’ve shared with you some of my favorite Reptilis Rex installments, but there are MANY MORE that I love, that I just didn’t have space for. You’ll just have to head on over and read the rest of them! Reptilis Rex has only been going for a little more than a year, so there’s not too terrible a backlog to catch up on. (I reread the whole archive in an hour or so as I was preparing this post.)

There is a continuing story to Reptilis Rex, but it’s not a plot-heavy comic - individual strips are often part of a short storyline, and there are some surprises here and there that I was careful not to spoil, but you don’t need to worry about keeping track of things or getting bogged down in continuity. So go ahead and jump right in!

Reptilis Rex is written and drawn by William Tallman and updates Monday through Thursday. Tallman is pretty good about sticking to this update schedule.

What's that? You want to see just one more example of how Krel's an unlikeable jerk, but at least he's amusing. Very well. I’ll leave you with this.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Introducing Webcomics Worth Wreading


This is Webcomics Worth Wreading, a blog dedicated to discovering and discussing quality webcomics. Every week I intend to put up a new post about a webcomic that I enjoy. This is a way both to share comics with new audiences, and to provide some worthwhile analysis or commentary on comics that may already be familiar to readers.

Welp, I don't think much more of an introduction is required. Feel free to jump right in and start reading about some webcomics.