The Emperor Calls: Should You Be Reading ‘Drive’?
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One of the advantages of the webcomics scene is that creators who find success in one genre can often persuade their existing audience to follow them into another. Dave Kellett's Drive is a sci-fi webcomic that combines the Sheldon creator's sense of humor and cartooning skills with great worldbuilding and a compelling story.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Years in the future, a ship from a far-distant race called "The Continuum of Makers" landed on Earth, unnoticed by all except one man in Spain. The man managed to reverse-engineer the technology --- a "pinch-drive" that enables faster-than-light travel by somehow folding space outside the ship --- and set out to create a new cosmic Spanish Empire.
143 years later, a little alien is woken up by Nosh, a Veetan (a big lizard-man who talks like Yakov Smirnoff because he got stranded in Moscow for a few years) and finds that a.) Nosh is in prison for supposedly killing the Emperor and b.) so is he, but he has complete amnesia. Nicknamed "Skitter," he and Nosh get broken out by the crew where Nosh serves as science officer on the derelict scout ship Machito.
Things aren't good. The Continuum has found out what the Empire did, and is prepared to go to war. Luckily, it turns out Skitter can pilot through "pinched space" better than anyone because his mohawk lets him "see" gravity waves. Problem is, the Empire needs 10,000 more of him. So off go Skitter, Nosh, and the rest of the Machito crew --- including Captain Taneel, new xenobiologist Orla, and fourteen-year old chief engineer Fernando (only royalty can service a ship's drive, and there's a bit of a labor shortage) --- across the galaxy.
WHO'S IT BY?
Dave Kellett is one of the elder statesmen of webcomics. His humor strip Sheldon has run since 2001 and garnered two Eisner nominations. He's also the co-director of the documentary Stripped, about the history and evolution of newspaper strips and webcomics, and is one of the authors of How To Make Webcomics from Image Comics, along with Brad Guigar, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Kellett brings his trademark humor and pacing from Sheldon, and it works so well. The strip is compulsively readable with jokes and story beats working in tandem.
A neat detail that makes this comic stand out from other SF-inflected webcomics is that Kellett slots in full encyclopedia pages of biological data on the various species and bits of Empire or Continuum history, right alongside the main story updates. The encyclopedia add to the reading pleasure, but like the songs in Tolkien, you can easily skip them without missing any of the story.
Kellett's cartooning style is charming, and the space-cool shades of blue and grey help tie together the comedy and drama.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Fans of Questionable Content and Alice Grove. Anyone who wants more all-ages SF stories in comics, but also wants the same humor and seriousness that they've enjoyed in strips like Jon Rosenberg's Scenes From A Multiverse.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
The strip updates weekly thanks to Kellett's Patreon supporters, and is available to read for free on drivecomic.com. Three book collections have been funded on Kickstarter but are currently unavailable.
Currently, regular updates are alternating with "Rare Earths," a series of stories by guest talents like Rosenberg, Ryan North, and Dylan Meconis, which were funded by a recent Kickstarter campaign to print a new hardcover collection of the series.