Welcome back, readers!
I’m sad to say that this will be the final installment of the series. I’ve had a lot of fun hunting down webcomics–some print ones, too–and sharing them with ya’ll, but unfortunately I feel as though it’s time for me to move on to other projects. It’s not easy because I’ve had so much fun and put a lot of effort into what I do. Getting thanks from both readers and creators alike has been an absolute blast. Before I go, I want to leave you all with one last list of recommendations, three webcomics that I’ve been meaning to cover forever now and what better time than my retirement? This trio are from a wide range of genres: an epic science fantasy starring anthropomorphic characters, a mythological saga for all ages, and a black-and-white drama about childhood sexual abuse.
Hey, given what I’ve covered in the past, are you really that surprised?
Anyway, let’s get started!
Vagary is a sci-fi/fantasy series set in a steam/dieselpunk society populated by furries. However, don’t ask me what species they are. This isn’t your garden variety furry comic where staples of the local zoo are made into bipeds and given big, dopey eyes. Hades went the extra mile to create a species that’s unique, clearly with inspiration from real animals but not adhering rigidly to any one in particular.
Furthermore, this isn’t your typical diesel or steampunk. Much of I’ve seen from the subgenres involves gritty Victorian or 50s Americana locales with characters wearing ridiculous gear-centric attire, like the Tin Man decided to become a fashion designer or something. All fine and dandy, but it doesn’t hurt to break up the mold every once in a while. Vagary splendidly diverts from the norm in many ways. For one, the color palette has far more range than brown, browner, & sludge. Soft blues, neon greens, and warm purples bring the world to life, each page a delight to look at. Fashion reflects this lean toward the majestic as well. Most people wear clothing made from soft fabrics with unique patterns and accessories. Yes, it’s still very Eurocentric but you’ll definitely spot the difference between the series and dudes dressed as R2-Sherlock or Android Presley.
The architecture is just as colorful, In fact, the whole world of Vagary has so much life and uniqueness to it. There is an attention to detail that grasps and draws you in. If I could compare the series to something else, I would say Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga. That’s a hell of a comparison, but I do believe Eric Hades is an artist that is able to invoke an epic story with both the big and small details. Most importantly, they make you feel like you’re living in the world with the characters.
The story centers on two children, Thal and Ark. They’re both struggling with their home lives and sense of identity while a civil war rages on. What that war is about is, quite honestly, unclear. The story is still in the beginning stages, mostly centered on getting to know the protagonists. The war, politics, geography, and even how this all ties back to supernatural elements like gods has yet to be revealed. Heck, I don’t even know how the two protagonists’ separate tales relate to each other.
With that said, I do feel myself hooked. Thal and Ark are both well-defined characters, even for children. I empathize with their struggles. Thal has a gift that is powerful yet also dangerous. He has accidentally killed animals and feels deep shame for it. His mother shares the same gift and both have to keep it hidden because their kind are discriminated against. If that wasn’t bad enough, Thal’s aunt is part of a rebellion and shows up wounded. Thal’s mother doesn’t approve of her sister’s actions, calling her a murderer. Aunt Zarka thinks she and Thal are freaks and constantly insults them. And, boy, once I learned about the true nature of Thal’s relationship to Zarka, I wanted to smack that lady from here to the moon. Desperate to gain control of his power, Thal agrees to follow a mysterious man named Lucifer to become the apprentice of Lord Oriael, a god with a mysterious plan of his own.
Ark’s father is away at war (I’m guessing he’s on the side that Aunt Zarka is against). Her special gift is not as much a secret, and she constantly deals with bullies over it. Her only friends are Jo and Briar, who are always trying to keep Ark out of trouble for the sake of her poor Nana. Unfortunately, Ark may have gone too far this time, and a neighbor is threatening to report her to a peacekeeper that will take her away from her aunt, just like they did her cousin.
Both Thal and Ark share similar stories that are universal despite taking place in a fictional setting. Many children have faced discrimination of some kind in their lives, whether it’s because of their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, neurodivergency, or interests. It’s hard not to feel for and cheer them on. It’s not like they’re just victims though. Both are relatable and show clear signs of unique personalities. Thal is a kind, gentle boy who wants to become stronger. Ark is hot-headed and snaps easily, but only because she is protective of her loved ones. I think we can all relate to both Thal and Ark. We were all like them at some point. Also, their desires for love, family, self-determination, and trying to understand themselves are things everyone wants.
The supporting cast stick out as well. Thal’s mother is a saintly figure willing to do anything to protect him, even lie. Jo is a loyal friend, and Briar has a John Constantine kind of sarcastic charm that I’m always a sucker for. As for Nana, well let’s just say that you come to her house and threaten her niece, there’s gonna be some trouble.
I do wish there was more to the story, but Vagary shows a lot of promise with its relatable characters and gorgeous art. I hope that more of the story unfolds soon and I get to dive in more.
You know, with all the fantasy out there inspired by Greek mythology, Norse mythology, Japanese mythology, yadda yadda, you would think it’s about time for Hispanic mythology to come into play. That’s where Cosmic Fish comes in! It’s a webcomic based off of Puerto Rican mythology and all about the afterlife. Oh, and as a bonus, there are monsters! AAAAAAH!
Now, these aren’t the kind of monsters that eat your brain, at least not all of them. Some of them are in charge of guiding lost souls over to the part of the underworld they need to be in. If they don’t, the souls will turn into monsters. You think at this point someone would come up with a better recycling system or something. Anyway, that’s where our two protagonists, Acantha and Krazzle aka Phil (although he prefers the former) come in. Acantha is a lizard-fish-amphibian thing and Krazzle is a giant furry creature who wears pointy boots, smokes a pipe, has a Nu-Metal goatee, and whom I imagine being voiced by John DiMaggio. Why? Just because.
These two aren’t necessarily in charge of guiding spirits, but in their first appearance the duo run into a child spirit and know immediately that they have to transport her to Bells, the guardian of children. What immediately struck me was just how good the art is. Much like the previous comic, Cosmic Fish has a lot of eye-popping color and detail to it. The style is much more pastel, probably because the series is targeted toward a young audience. That is not an insult by the way.
Whereas Vagary’s world is a cross between steampunk and dieselpunk, Cosmic Fish is inspired largely by Puerto Rican folklore. Now, I don’t know much about Puerto Rican folklore or history outside of some vague facts about the Tainos. That said, I can tell by the visuals alone how well incorporated it is (also helps that Falcon-Dvorsky is Puerto Rican). The visuals are so uniquely inspired by their culture of origin that I’m not sure I’ve read any other comic like it. You see a lot of line art in common with that of Indigenous tribes like the Tainos. It’s all so authentic even while being in a completely fictional setting.
Also, let me not forget the character designs! I have never seen monster designs quite like this. Each one has a unique look and anatomy that shows a fountain of imagination, combining a large assortment of animalistic, cryptid, and even human characteristics. It’s like the Island of Dr. Moreau, you know if the experiments weren’t hideous abominations (though there are quite a few slimy fiends in Cosmic Fish as well).
This uniqueness in mythology also extends into the story. There is the aforementioned issue of lost souls turning into monsters, which makes you wonder about Krazzle, Acantha, and other characters who show up. Furthermore, there is a deep mythology involving a variety of guardians who represent a different concept. The most prominently featured is Bells, Guardian of Children. She is pretty self-explanatory, especially given that she is the one Krazzle and Acantha must visit to save the soul child.
(Btw, doesn’t she kinda look like Nights from that old Sega game?)
Other guardians including that of sky, earth, water, etc. A lot of info about all of them is given in a side comic after the first chapter, and what’s best is how it’s all told within a story about Belle trying to return a child’s doll. You get a clear understanding of her personality, relationship to the other guardians, and world-building without it becoming a boring exposition dump. You really do get an idea of the mythology without knowing everything at once and feel excited to learn more.
Cosmic Fish also has the benefit of strong characters. Acantha is a rebellious mischief maker who loves being lazy when not stealing food. They also have some real beef with Bells. It isn’t specified but does lead Acantha on hesitating to help the child’s soul even though they know it’s the right thing to do. As for Krazzle, he takes his job seriously and often clashes with Acantha. This makes them quite the odd couple. They don’t necessarily work well with each other, in fact they often have mishaps that would rival the Three Stooges. I quite like this dynamic myself. It allows for a lot of humor but also enduring moments when things do get serious, kind of like Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo. That’s even true for Belle who never speaks, yet you can just tell what a kind, selfless guardian she is by facial expressions and actions alone.
I have only read one chapter of Cosmic Fish so far, and honestly it was enough to read more in the future. It’s a delightful comic with a unique, culturally-inspired art style and characters that are relatable even while out of this world. Each page brims with adventure and folklore rich as anything published in mainstream prose novels. There are already seven chapters to the series, so there is more than enough reading material to keep you entertained for a good while.
OK. Let’s get this out of the way:
CONTENT WARNING: THIS IS A COMIC ABOUT CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE! DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO THE TOPIC!
Now that we’ve gotten that done, let’s continue.
In my time covering webcomics, I’ve gotten used to most of them being genre fiction with a heavy emphasis on heart-pounding excitement and flashy colors. So imagine my surprise when I come across one that is a realistic drama. I’m not complaining though. Much as I love a good rush of adrenaline, it’s nice to have something that’s more down-to-earth and gradual. Of course, that slower pace is like an escort into the lowest depths of a dungeon. As you get closer, the louder the screams and the colder your blood runs.
Apres Moi Le Deluge doesn’t at first appear to be a story about a horrific topic. It’s drawn black-and-white in a cutesy manga-style. Everything is simplistic, from the character designs to the background sets. It feels a lot like the kind of art you would find in a pre-teen or teenager’s sketchbook as they learn to draw, which is not a negative at all. This style feels natural given it’s focused on the story of a 12-year-old. There is a youthful, almost innocent aesthetic to the series that makes what’s coming all the more horrific.
I also love Hyde’s attention to space. There are a lot of wide shots that show characters in the middle of a large room or area. You might think they’re unimpressive given the style. On the contrary, these panels are brimming with a still, often melancholy atmosphere that weighs heavily on you. Scoff at this comparison, but I’m reminded of the way artists like Frank Miller and Moebius utilize space in a similar fashion.
Another thing I love about this art is character expressions. I’m always a sucker for artists who can make their characters express emotions on a visceral level, and in Apres Moi Le Deluge it cuts you like a knife. Expressiveness comes natural to the manga style, but it’s the context of the situation and who is affected that causes the handle to twist so cold and agonizing. Sometimes it was hard to read, such as when Quintin–the protagonist–lies in bed crying uncontrollably after his own mother verbally abuses him. I had to take a moment to process the anger and sadness that I felt.
I already gave a warning at the beginning, but it bears repeating: This is not a comfortable series to read. It’s not just because of the subject matter. That actually has yet to happen. Quintin may come from a wealthy family, but he is not happy. His family are scum. Both his grandparents and actual parents express bigoted believes, bicker, and constantly put pressure on him to do things he doesn’t necessarily want to. Quintin shows no interest in going to Catholic school, but his father is sending him there or else Grandpa will cut him out of the inheritance. Also, according to Mother, public schools are for Jews and immigrants. Yeah, she is by far the worst of them. She verbally abuses Quintin, gaslights him, and thinks he should be grateful for all the things she buys without giving him an ounce of affection.
It doesn’t necessarily get any better at school. Quintin is out of place, constantly alone and buried in a book. He does show remarkable intelligence and due diligence, often the first to be fully dressed in the morning. If Quintin was simply a victim, he would be a little boring. Thankfully, this is not the case at all. As for the other characters, they aren’t quite as fleshed out yet. There is Ms. Schwartz, the matron to Quinton’s group. She is a caring, maternal woman, much more than Quinton’s own mother. There is Mr. Garneau, a handsome man with a stern face but kind manner. And then there’s Mr. Geigan, a man whom one of Quintin’s classmates warns him about. For what reason? Well, that is to be seen.
If there is one criticism I have of Aprois Moi Le Deluge, it’s that the slow pace is a little excessive. At the same time, I can’t help but keep coming back to it. The art draws me in and I legitimately love these characters and want to see them develop more. I realize that this series may not be for everyone given what it deals with. However, I can’t help but admire the artistry and empathy of which it’s treated with. If you’re in for a good ol’ fashion cry, then grab your tissues and get ready.
Well, that’s it dear readers. It has been great. Thank you for reading. It has been a blast, and I do hope ya’ll have found new favorites because of these little articles of mine. Maybe one day the folks here at the Herald will be writing about my own comics. You never know!