Webcomics and Kickstarter have come into their own at similar times. Kickstarter has been debated by PW and Tor.com and other places as a publisher/major funder of the indie comics industry. (In 2012, Todd Allen at PW suggested in 2012 that, by cash totals, Kickstarter could be considered the #2 comics publisher in America; Steven Padnick at Tor.com rebutted that they’re a funding source but not a publisher at all. Which is more than semantics, but I think neither would argue against how important Kickstarter has become for the comics industry.) What’s exciting about Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sources is that — like digital printing and web publishing in general — it gives a sense of immediacy and connection between readers and creators. Namesake is one of the webcomics that I follow, and I was excited to contribute to their Kickstarter to get my very own print versions of the first two volumes of the comic. And I was even more excited to pick those books up in person last weekend in New York, at a delightful meet-up in which I got to meet writer Megan Lavey-Heaton, Yamino of Sister Claire, and a number of writers and artists in various stages of publication. It was a fantastic cross-section of geekdom, with comments being bandied across the table about such topics as Doctor Who, Spiderman, and even My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
So if it is with a rosy demeanor that I write about the excellent webcomic Namesake, I’ll be the first to divulge that I’m personally invested. (And for the rest of the full disclosure, Megan Lavey-Heaton backed my Kickstarter to self-publish the third novel in an otherwise publisher-abandoned trilogy. The admiration goes both ways.)
In the world of Namesake, people with certain names — Alice, Wendy, Jack, Dorothy — may have the ability to travel between worlds, and some of them do. Which doesn’t initially explain how a seemingly normal young woman named Emma ends up in Oz after a horrific murder and arson at the local public library. But while the mystery of why Emma has traveled doesn’t get resolved for some time, it’s all right, because the characters in Oz are so entertaining and so fully created that readers get sucked right into the story. Where is Ozma? What’s all this about poppies? And is Warrick, the Warlock of the West, really Wicked? (And is the romantic tension between Emma and Warrick really there, or are we fans just sure it would be adorable if it was?)
Meanwhile, back home, Emma’s sister Elaine is frantic to figure out why Emma disappeared. She soon becomes embroiled with a shadowy group of (presumably) good guys (since they’re not committing murder and arson) called Calliope, headed up by a modern day Alice. Calliope is seeking to protect namesakes from another organization called the Rippers, who are as dastardly as they sound. Or are they? Is it cruel to make namesakes keep repeating the same story over and over? Or is taking their names setting them free? And how is it possible for Emma to change the story when no other namesakes can?
Interspersed with the main story is a retelling of the original Alice and her relationship with Lewis Carroll. From them, we get a picture of what life has been like for the namesakes for generations — and also the perils they bring back with them by traveling to other worlds.
And, beyond the story, there’s the art. Isabelle Melancon does a brilliant job of bringing characters to her life, and her use of color in a mostly black-and-white comic is sparing and gorgeous.
The Oz arc takes up the first two volumes — now pretty in print — and Megan leaked at the meetup that there are plans for a full 10 volumes of story. So if you start reading Namesake now, not only do you get a great backlog of material to start with, but you’ve got a long future of reading ahead of you.
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and worked as the writer for the webcomic Cowboys and Aliens II. She is the author of three novels (one recently funded by Kickstarter) and two multiple-choice novels for Choice of Games, the second of which, Showdown at Willow Creek, released today. You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.