You may have heard of Questionable Content, a popular slice-of-life webcomic by Jeph Jacques. But today I’m not talking about Questionable Content. Jeph Jacques started a new webcomic last September called Alice Grove. And now that it’s far enough along that we can see what it’s actually about, I think it’s time to recommend it! Alice Grove is a sci-fi story involving humans that look and act like aliens, biotechnology, and of course, our protagonist, Alice the witch.
Mild spoilers below!
Jacques is doing an incredible job so far of introducing tropes and familiar situations that make you think things are going one way, when they’re really going somewhere else entirely. For instance, our setting at first appears to be an ordinary rural town in the American Midwest or South, with clothing styles that could be straight out of the 50s or earlier. But already we know something is not quite matching up here, because before we see the town, we’ve met Alice at the top of a modern-looking wind turbine. Well, eight months later, we still don’t know where we are for sure. Hints later in the series about space travel and other technological advances seem to imply that this town has been sheltered or has regressed from thousands of years of technology for some reason. Is this the far-flung, post-apocalyptic future? Is it an alternate universe? Is it even Earth? Wherever it is, it’s definitely not what readers would expect upon first seeing the town.
Another unexpected twist: The blue-skinned guy who came to the town from Space is not, in fact, an alien, and neither is his floating, fireball-wielding sister. They’re just humans enhanced with genetic engineering and biotechnology, respectively.
Meanwhile, the protagonist, Alice, is a completely badass female hero, and we still don’t know what her deal is. She calls herself a witch, but since this seems to be sci-fi and not fantasy, that doesn’t help us much. It’s likely just the label that the townspeople have given her. But she knows what’s going on much more than any of the other characters do, and it’s the mysteries surrounding her that are most intriguing to me about this series so far.
I have a feeling that Jeph Jacques has wanted to write sci-fi for a while now. Even though Questionable Content is supposed to be modern-day realistic fiction, it has elements like fully-functioning AIs and a highly advanced space station that show Jacques’s interest in sci-fi tech. But he hasn’t really had much chance to develop the sci-fi side of things in QC, since it tends to focus more on character development and interaction. It’s sort of taken as a given that AI robots are also characters included in that, rather than dwelling on ethical dilemmas and whatnot that surround AI technology. With Alice, it seems Jacques has a chance to develop the sci-fi to its fullest extent, including interesting ethical implications of technological advancement, whether that’s by contrasting a pre-industrial society like the farm town with the one that the two visitors from Space live in, or in differing perspectives over the morality of biotechnology. There’s some implication that some technologies have gotten out of control, as well. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
As for issues of diversity and representation, Jacques has a good track record with LGBTQ+ and ability diversity in Questionable Content, but has struggled with including characters of color in the main cast. With Alice, it’s probably too early to make a call. It only updates twice a week, we only have three main characters so far (knowing Jacques, I’m sure more will be introduced eventually), and things like their sexual orientation have not become salient yet (though the blue dude seems to be hetero). While the protagonist is white, the very first character we see in the entire series is in fact a character of color. Unfortunately he does not become a main character and we don’t see much of him after that first scene. But like I said, we’re still very early in the story, and from Jacques’s statements online, it seems as if he’s on the right side of the debate about diversity in fictional media even if he hasn’t always delivered 100% of the time in his own work, so I’m optimistic.
Alice Grove clearly has a lot of room to grow and improve. But so far it’s a super interesting premise with a lot of potential, and I encourage you to check it out here!