Magic and science are generally considered antithetical. You have one or the other, and never the twain shall meet. That’s why one of them is the realm of fantasy and one is the realm of science fiction. Even within science fiction, powers like telepathy are explained using science, and in fantasy, technology like long-distance communication or transport is the stuff of magic. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I think that a society where magic and science exist in some sort of relationship with each other is much more interesting.
If you know me (or if you have read, like, any of my posts) you know that I am obsessed with comics. I spend most of my time ranting and raving about more classic media, like the standard comic book, trade paperbacks and hardbacks, and graphic novels. I can often be found defending the notion that comics are as deserving a form of art as any other, and that they serve as a sort of folktale medium in our modern culture.
In fact, I believe that comics popularize literary concepts, like hubris and dramatic irony, can advance a social agenda like any other art form, and that they can influence other art (film is a good example of this). Perhaps more importantly than any of that, sometimes they are just stupid freaking cool. Some comics are brilliantly witty, or written absurdly well. Others have brilliant art, or have excellent backstories and others combine these elements.
I have two Web Crushes this week, both of which are things that I sadly discovered only recently. The first is the webcomic Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson, whose fantastic Tumblr is here. Nimona, tells the story of a dark knight mad scientist supervillain who reluctantly employs a plucky and diabolical redheaded shapeshifter as his sidekick. She quickly 1) becomes as much the protagonist as her employer, Ballister Blackheart, and 2) guides him to a supervillainous ascendancy with her considerable powers and her willingness to flaunt the rules. Part of what makes Nimona so much fun to read is that she holds on to her clever and rebellious style whether she becomes a small child, a kitten, or a fire-breathing dragon. Watch them team up against a corrupt government and an Aryan poster boy hero who is occasionally more annoying than early Jaime Lannister.
Nimona’s art is lovely, and I’m rather certain that you will recognize Stevenson’s art style on sight. The design and layout work is good, and the dialogue is witty, well-done, and consistent. The comic is receiving more and more critical acclaim, being named “one of io9’s top ten Best New and Short Webcomics of 2012, and having been awarded the Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Webcomic of 2012 by Slate Magazine and the Center for Cartoon Studies.” I read all of it today, and reaching the newest comic made me very sad.
Moving on, Jake Wyatt’s upcoming work, Necropolis. I stumbled upon this on my Facebook feed, and promptly fell in love, first with the art, and secondly with the apparent protagonist. “The Third Sword,” as is her title, is a swordswoman with no shortage of either talent or bravery, who strolls into a necropolis filled withed horrors armed, it seems, with only her “useful steel” and full confidence in her abilities.
I can’t say enough good things about what little I’ve gleaned from Wyatt’s Tumblr. I am fully enamored with the art work, and the creepy atmosphere against which he’s set his badass female lead. He has a brilliant, color-rich style and a just-soft-enough touch in terms of attention to detail. If you’re interested in his other work (of course you are!), take a look at this short he did back in 2012. If the test panels were enough to make you want more (of course they were!), then you’ll be happy to know that there will be a webcomic, beginning in August.
What really brings these two together for me is their use of female leads who seem to be possessed of power, self-assuredness, and complexity. The complexity of Nimona becomes apparent as you read that webcomic, and even though we have no back story on “The Third Sword,” I’m betting she’s more than just a sharp sword.
I’m hoping that this is a trend in independent comics: well done, female-led comics whose art and characters are genuinely compelling. There’s so much potential here, with characters that are fresh and aren’t subject to the weight of the forty other interpretations that have come before. They’re not overdone, they don’t fall victim to the stereotypes which often plague female leads, especially in comics. That’s fantastic, frankly. I’ll leave you with this, from Wyatt’s Tumblr: