Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry Eight: Dresden Codak

We are always looking to understand more about our universe. For all the questions we've answered, there are always new ones to ask. Humans are very good at developing explanations for the things that puzzle us. Some of our explanations are founded in evidence, and these are the ones we trust. But there are times when evidence is scarce or difficult to gather, or when the question we are trying to answer is so new that we haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. This edge of human knowledge, where we don’t fully understand something but we think we know what questions we should be asking, is where you can find the subject matter in Dresden Codak.

Dresden Codak is often science fictional, frequently philosophical, and always surreal. There are two types of Dresden Codak comics: standalones and storyline comics. The standalones don’t necessarily have any continuity with anything else, but they sometimes include characters that also appear in the storyline comics, and in those cases you can typically assume that they take place in the same continuity.

Regardless of whether a particular installment is part of a storyline or not, it will typically feature compelling ideas coupled with absurd humor.

I’ll note here that, while there are storylines and there is continuity, I won’t be overly concerned with spoilers in this post. The events in Dresden Codak are not the point... It’s all about the ideas being presented and the impact of those ideas. The events themselves matter less than their context, and context is much more difficult to spoil.

Dresden Codak deals with an extremely diverse range of subjects, and it tackles those subjects in equally diverse ways. Sometimes there are engaging illustrations of theories that are fun to think about despite (or perhaps because of) their complete disregard for established scientific knowledge.

That same tendency shows up in a different form with “Caveman Science Fiction,” applying a modern fear of the unknown to ancient technological advancement.

Every Dresden Codak comic addresses some idea about the nature of reality. Sometimes those ideas are dealt with in a serious and thought-provoking manner, and sometimes they’re dealt with in a facetious and thought-provoking manner. What connects them all is an absurdist streak and an enthusiasm for asking the hard questions and exploring whatever answers come our way.

Some installments thoroughly explore a single concept, allowing enough atmosphere and pacing to let the central idea breathe.

Other installments cram so many concepts into one package that it seems as if it might burst, spewing bits of idea all over everything and ruining the carpet.

Last week I praised the striking composition that can be found in Family Man. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Dresden Codak often has truly innovative composition. Even in the most straightforward grid layouts, every bit of space is put to use, and often the flow of action goes in unexpected directions. For example, take this development in "Dungeons and Discourse," the Dresden Codak roleplaying game of choice. In the space of a single panel, events curve around a barrier and reverse direction.

Begin at the top and to the right.

Difficult questions about the future, dependence on technology, and the nature of humanity provide frequent subject matter. While developments in Dresden Codak are rarely reassuring, they are typically refreshing. There may be a cynical viewpoint at work, but it’s tempered with a sense of humor and humility.

I say “humility” because I feel that nothing expressed in Dresden Codak is definitive. The world may be depicted as cruel, but the world may turn out to be kind. Some installments seem to promote messages contrary to other installments. These messages are all worth hearing, but none are to be blindly accepted. They are suggestions, not statements.

And the overall message is one of enthusiasm for ideas and progress, and one of hope for the future. Even if we must temper our expectations with what we know of human nature, Dresden Codak encourages us to enjoy what we see when we look ahead.

Dresden Codak is written and drawn by Aaron Diaz and updates irregularly, with a new page typically appearing every few months or so.

The storyline currently running at Dresden Codak is called “Dark Science,” and the first page of “Dark Science” is possibly my favorite page in all of Dresden Codak. It made me laugh harder than practically anything I have ever read.


  1. Hey there! Phenomenal list. Aaron Diaz's Dresden Codak led me here, and I was absolutely thrilled to find seven other fantastic works of webcomic art. Your reviews are succinct, well-written, and informative. I've spent the last few days poring over the works you've highlighted, and with only Lackadaisy and Family Man left to finish, I am more than satisfied.

    I really enjoy webcomics of all kinds, and have been an avid reader for many years. Whenever I've finished delving through the archives of a particularly well-crafted series, I'm always a bit saddened, and can't help but think that I might finally have finished the last decent webcomic- however, I always end up finding another masterpiece. Thank you for helping me find such talented artists!

    1. I'm so glad to hear this! That kind of reaction is exactly what I was going for when I started this blog. It's good to know that my write-ups are having this kind of impact.

      I hope I can continue introducing you to talented creators.

  2. Um, I hate to criticize, but you failed to mention that Dresden Codak has the most gorgeous artwork of any comic on the web.

    1. Well, I figured the excerpted artwork could speak for itself in that regard. But you're right, the artwork is gorgeous without parallel, and I neglected to explicitly say so.