Alana Joli Abbott is the author of the novels Into the Reach, Departure, and Regaining Home, the interactive multiple choice novel apps Choice of Kung Fu and Showdown at Willow Creek, and was the writer for the webcomic Cowboys and Aliens II. Her game writing has been featured in Steampunk Musha, the award winning Serenity Adventures, and Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Alana has visited ancient ruins around the world; sung madrigals semi-professionally; and is a black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate. She lives near New Haven, CT.
Spotlight on Fantasy Webcomics: Off to See the Wizard in Nakesake
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.)
It’s the official release date for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and posts on Norse Mythology, the Thunder God, and the Trickster Loki are cropping up all over the Internet. (Fantasy author Max Gladstone’s post on “The Real Loki” at Think Progress is one of my favorites.) I’m grateful to Marvel for drawing attention to Asgard, especially because it gives me the excuse to write about one of my very favorite webcomics, Thistil Mistil Kistil (TMK) by Sarah Schanze. It’s a unique spin on Norse mythology that features Loki as one of the major protagonists — and while he’s still a trickster with a distinct tendency toward chaos (and probably ADHD), he’s not the villain that the stories so often make him out to be.
The story begins with Coal, a young Viking warrior who ought to be on his way to Valhalla. But despite his heroic death, he’s brought to Odin and the All Father (with the help of an irritable Thor) explains that Loki has stolen the weapons of the gods and it’s up to Coal to get them back. Since Loki once saved Coal’s life, Coal believes he might just be able to accomplish the task — but Loki being Loki, it’s not going to be simple. Set during the Viking Era, with plenty of detail about the world in which the historical (rather than mythical) Vikings explored, TMK combines fantasy, history, and mythology in one big quest tale. And as Coal and Loki search for the missing weapons (because of course Loki doesn’t have them any more — that would be too easy!), new non-Viking characters–including shy Hedda, the former thrall, and Ibrahim, a Moor scholar–get pulled into the adventure.
I discovered TMK in 2010, through Comic Creators for Freedom, a group that does a fundraiser every year to promote awareness of and fight against human trafficking. That was where I first met Hedda, who doesn’t appear until Chapter 5 of the story (so I had to wait a while to actually see her appear). For people unfamiliar with CCF’s fundraiser, the comic creators collaborate on a desktop wallpaper featuring characters from each of their comics, which donors to the fundraiser receive. All of the donations go to the charity Love146. I’ve found several of my favorite webcomics through the fundraiser, and I feel good about supporting artists who are involved with the charity.
In my first blog post, I wrote about getting hooked on web comics, but I have an older love that vies for my Internet time. I speak of interactive fiction, a type of storytelling in which I’ve indulged from childhood. I am a game writer and I also like to write about games. (Back in 2008, I wrote a long post about games and interactive storytelling for Journey to the Sea; this long interest continues to crop up in my blogging and my hobbies.)
The Internet is the perfect environment in which interactive fiction can thrive, whether it’s through forum games, freestyle shared twitter and blog communities, or games that are a little more structured. Since the user-driven games are hard to judge from outside the community, I’m interested in discussing the latter style. And the perfect place to start for that is with Choice of the Dragon, the first game put out by small game company Choice of Games. (Disclosure: I write for Choice of Games, but I played Choice of the Dragon long before I started working with them.)
Released in 2009, Choice of the Dragon was the first multiple-choice novel game I’d ever played. Reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, the story narrates in second person, allowing you, the reader, to become the main character. In this case, you’re a dragon.
As the story opens, a knight charges you. Do you deal with the predicament by engaging in combat, fleeing the scene, or quickly incinerating the knight with your fiery breath? The story progresses through a number of challenges, including a flashback to your hatchling days, a quest to find a proper mate, and a decision of how to deal with local humans.
I read a lot of webcomics. Back when I was writing Cowboys and Aliens II for Platinum, I started reading a bunch of the comics that were up on the now-defunct Drunk Duck and I got hooked.
What happens when you start reading webcomics is that you often follow links to other webcomics, until your bookmarks bar is full of comics you’re following on a regular basis and your inbox is full of recommendations from friends of the comics you should be following. That e-mail from a friend is how I discovered Digger by Ursula Vernon, which was the Hugo Award Winner for best graphic story and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award winner, both in 2012.
It starts with an anthropomorphic wombat named Digger who, by page 6, has met a statue avatar of the god of wisdom Ganesh. Wombats being a race of logically minded architects and engineers, they don’t care much for gods and magic — but Digger is thrust into the middle of a story that has both. Magic has deliberately interfered with her tunnel, something no wombat takes kindly, and her sense of direction is askew, meaning she can’t get home until Ganesh helps her figure out just where home is from where she’s ended up.
While researching a trip home might seem like a harmless endeavor, it’s not as simple as it sounds, and soon Digger is up to her ears in strange characters: a young healer known only as the Hag, a shadow child who might or might not be a demon, an unnamed hyena exile who Digger calls Ed, a female warrior monk who is probably insane, and a whole tribe of hyena people who might want to eat her.
This might sound like a lot of silliness in one webcomic, and Digger has its share of humorous moments. But what happens between the words, the art, and the story is the stuff of magic — quite possibly the kind that Digger herself would approve of.