There’s a saying that my dad likes, and I’m going to mangle it here. “When a man is in the marketplace, he yearns for the quiet of the cave, and when he is in the cave, he yearns for the bustle of the marketplace.” Discontent is natural to humans. We want stability and excitement and comfort and unpredictability all at once. When you take all of these conflicting desires, and mix them up with a sense of poetry and laughter put them against a suitably beautiful and melancholy photographic background, you get A Softer World.
A Softer World is frequently funny, but it has a sharp edge. Frequently it is less funny than it is poignant. The tone is mixed, like constantly trying to make the best of things in the midst of a terrible depression, or being unable to curtail one’s negative worldview even in the midst of true happiness. This is the kind of comic that can make you feel bad for laughing at it, and it’s kind of amazing.
You don’t need to read every comic, since almost all of them stand alone, (though Baby Doom does show up before the comic above), but I’d recommend it anyway. When I was searching for the installments that I wanted to include here as examples, I almost bookmarked all of them. Nearly every one is exemplary of what makes A Softer World appealing. And though there are a lot of them, they’re short, so the whole archive is still a pretty fast read.
Discontent seems to drive most of the sentiments expressed here. The way to turn discontent into a positive is to embrace life, to go crazy and expand upon what is wonderful in the world. A Softer World contains numerous ideas of how to do that, from the mundane to the criminal to the merely elaborate.
As you can see, the art consists of text overlaid on photographs. At times there is a person in the photograph, who may be the subject or the object of the text. At other times, the relationship between the text and the photographs is less obvious. The tone of the image may inform the reading of the text, or suggest a setting or a new interpretation.
Most of the comics are appropriate (or inappropriate) for any context. Some, though, are clearly related to a particular event or season. Rarely there will be topical humor. The connection to a current event is not always explicit, but reading through the archives there are many comics that will remind me of whatever was going on in the world at that time, and the relationship between the comic and the event always seems clear to me.
|This is a recent one!|
For some reason, comics about people who don’t fit in with the dating services they’ve selected get me laughing like no other. The speed dating comic up top is my favorite A Softer World of all time, and the one below cracks me up every time I read it.
The perspective changes from installment to installment. Sometimes the speaker or the subject is someone easy to empathize with. Sometimes they are pretty much monsters. Typically they are complicated, messed up people and all we get to know of them in three panels is something that they would normally keep hidden. That’s one of the major components of A Softer World: Internal thoughts and desires made external. Sometimes that’s merely through the text, allowing us to read things that no one would say aloud, but often it’s clear that these people do say unexpected and socially inappropriate things, or act in inappropriate ways, far beyond the realm of "normal" inappropriate behavior.
And sometimes the perspective shifts to come from a different unexpected direction. Not everyone is constantly struggling with conflicting desires. Sometimes hatred and vitriol come from a place of pain. Sometimes we’re jealous of what other people have even when we’re scared to be like them.
Oh, and as someone who grew up coastally and has never lived in a place where it snows, I really related to this one.
You should read A Softer World if you’re interested in a funny/sad exploration of obligations and possibilities. It’s a great encouragement to seek out the novel, the exciting, the strange, and to embrace everything about life that makes you want to live it, and to downplay, change or escape the things that make you feel otherwise. Life is a mixture of horrible and beautiful, and sometimes that mixture feels more interesting and wonderful than if all you had was the beautiful.
A Softer World is made out of words written by Joey Comeau and photographs taken by Emily Horne. It updates irregularly, but usually about three new comics go up in any given week.
Part of me feels like I didn't need to write this post because David Morgan-Mar already wrote about A Softer World over on Irregular Webcomic! and what he wrote was better and more succinct than anything I could come up with, but I pressed on anyway.