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Webcomics Get Serious(ly Good)

Somehow I’ve been slowly turning into a webcomic junkie. It started innocently enough with the lovable video game dorks featured in Penny Arcade–no doubt some of you are a part of the site’s 4 million monthly readers. It was a nice little five-minute hobby, logging onto the site three times a week to check in on my good pals Tycho and Gabe. Soon I was roaming to Achewood, Order of the Stick and a littany of others, amazed at the freedom this form enjoyed over the stifled, regurgitated schlack that’s been writhing on the back pages of newspapers for the past five or six years, really.

A Starbucks explode's in Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman's Shooting War, written for SMITH Magazine

But all that changed when a former colleague of mine who contributes to SMITH Magazine recently turned me on to some truly inegnious graphic novels his site has been serializing over the past year. First on my list of raves is Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War. In this sharp and poignant DMZ-esque satire the year is 2011, John McCain is President and hipster vlogger Jimmy Burns lands a contract to cover the Iraq war–yup, it’s still ragin’–first hand for a major news network.Now, I became interested in webcomics probably because I liked the idea of Calvin swearing, but this is a different animal altogether. The novel weaves commentary on our country’s politics, the ever-growing insignificance of the mainstram media, the importance of the blogosphere (ahem, thanks AOL!) and the disturbing realities of war. And the real icing on the cake is the artwork, which has as much depth, color and detail as any Vertigo trade you might pick up while still subtly reminding the reader that yes, you’re looking at a computer screen because hey, that’s the age we’re living in.

Shooting War is on to bigger and better things–the scribes have signed with Warner Books and a hardcover should be hitting stores this November. Now SMITH is running a new serial by American Splendor artist Josh Neufeld called A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

The story begins with two ominous prologues in which Neufield depicts the city of New Orleans in the days leading up to Hurrican Katrina, during the storm, and its inevitable aftermath. In a mininalist artistic style very much akin to Alison Bechdel’s stellar graphic novel Fun Home, Neufeld creates the sense much of the world had during Katrina of seeing the mayhem from afar–of depersonalizing the horror.

Hurricane Katrina approaches New Orleans in Josh Neufeld's A.D.: After the Deluge, written for SMITH Magazine

The main story–the second chapter of which was released this month–tells a much different tale, focusing on a cross-section of lives in the Crescent City before and after the levees broke. Among the main characters Neufeld paints is Kevin, the football player excited at the prospect of missing a few days of high school for the storm; the aristocratic Doctor, throwing a party to wait out the hurricane; and Hamid, the convenience store owner determined not to leave his property in the hands of looters. Each character is in their own orbit, unable to comprehend the significance of what we all know is about to occur, making their stories all the more human.

Citizens flee New Orleans before the storm in Josh Neufeld's A.D.: After the Deluge, written for SMITH Magaazine

These webcomics are worth far more than 30-second laughs in between porn downloads–er, I mean, news websites. They represent what I see as the natural evolution of the art form, and are far more interesting than a lot of the paper issues I happily shell out four bucks a week for. Penny Arcade still has my attention three times a week, but its competition is getting pretty stiff.

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