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Eric: Trodding the caves: Ursula Vernon's Digger.

Digger(Images all taken from Digger.)

I chatted a few snarks back about Graphic Smash. And I mentioned a few GS/Modern Tales webcartoonists by name. There's several on Graphic Smash worth mentioning. Graveyard Greg and Webtroll. T. Campbell and Jason Waltrip. Stephen Notley. Amber Greenlee. Yadda yadda yadda. We could be here all day.

I'm not here to talk about them. I'm here to talk about Ursula Vernon. I'm here to talk about Digger.

Complete disclosure time: I know Ursula Vernon, somewhat, via the internet. We have friends in common, which have led to some chatting. I wouldn't say she'd let me sleep on her couch for a month, but if she were to meet me face to face at a party, she'd have a look of recognition at my name and then feign interest in me with the best of them. She also knows I like her artwork.

And when you look at Digger, so will you.

Vernon brings a perspective fewer and fewer Webcartoonists bring to their work: an artist's perspective. She didn't come from comic book fandom or comic strip fandom. She came from a fine art background. She's produced paintings and illustrations alike for RPG companies galore, and she's built up a fanbase purely for her beautiful (and admittedly) quirky art. Hit her website to see some of that. Heck, looking at that art's wholly free. And if you buy the "Tea with a Griffin" painting before I get a chance to, I will hunt you down and kill you like a dog. Just, y'know, so you know.

wombat118-kidney.gifDigger is a female wombat, technically in the anthropomorphic animals category, though no one can call her a furry. For one thing, she... well... she looks like a wombat. No breasts. No hands, really. She looks far more like an illustration out of the Wind and the Willows than a funny animal cartoon. She's trying to get home, and has discovered that's not as easy as it seems. She has fallen into adventure, and is really quite ready to leave it now, thank you. And unlike most 'unlikely heroines,' you honestly get the sense that when Digger makes it home, she's going to go to bed, get up the next morning, apply for an Engineer's job and get on with a proper sort of life, thank you anyway. I have faith, however, that Vernon won't let that happen for some time to come.

This is a strip that brings the Story. The Funny is here, too, but it's subtle and mild -- liver jokes and rabid vampire squashes aside. Vernon is drawing what she wants to draw and making it as funny as it needs to be, but the point isn't humor. The pacing is slow -- far more bookish 'page at a time' than daily strip comic art. Now, if you've been paying attention, you know this is one of the things I knock Megatokyo for. The difference here isn't that the pacing works better (though the simpler cast and backstory help make it work better, in my opinion). It's still very slow. But Vernon is absolutely rock-steady on updating. She's under contract to Graphic Smash and she treats this like a job, making her deadlines and having new pages out every Tuesday and Thursday, on the dot. And so a slow pacing is excusable, because twice a week there's new stuff to see. We get a sense of momentum from Digger, and the Story she brings is well served by it. If you plunk down the money for Graphic Smash and get access to the archives, it's a good read, and because new stuff comes out regularly you don't lose the narrative thread.

Let me diverge for a second and say how refreshing it is to see a strip that updates Tuesday and Thursday. In a world of Monday, Wednesday and Friday updates (to the point that Comixpedia has done articles extolling Wednesday as "webcomic day," since the daily, thrice-weekly, and a good percentage of the weekly strips all update on that day), it's nice to have something to look forward to the other days.

And as for the art....

Oh dear God, the art....

This strip is astoundingly beautiful. Its linework is sublime, with a sense of woodcuts and of children's book illustrations and of japanese calligraphy all wrapped up into one. I've asked permission of the artist to reproduce one of her strips here -- clicking on the thumbnail to the right of this paragraph will pop up a full sized version. Just look at her use of positive and negative space, her line work. Just drink it in and relish in it. It might not be what you expect a webcomic to look like, but by God you can't look at it and not groove on it. It's stunning, and it feels like it's more than we deserve, almost.

There's a few bits that would improve Digger. Like I said, the pace is slow, though I doubt that will change. (An eventual graphic novel will be a welcome thing, though.) And it needs a cast page, badly -- it doesn't promise us one and the retract it, but especially given the nature of Graphic Smash, where you can read the latest strip for free but must pay for the archives, actually getting a page letting us know who the principles are and what they're doing is absolutely necessary. Still, these don't mean I don't look forward to the next strip.

And so should you. Damn it, read this thing. Indulge yourself.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 30, 2004 12:58 PM

Comments

Comment from: John Bankert posted at August 30, 2004 2:34 PM

It's fortunate for you that disposable income hasn't been seen in my household since 1992, otherwise we'd have a problem.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at August 30, 2004 9:55 PM

Man, that is some SWEET looking art. Just wow.

Comment from: tynic posted at August 30, 2004 10:08 PM

This has inspired me to subscribe to GS - thanks for writing about it.

Comment from: larksilver posted at September 13, 2005 11:17 AM

So. I'm at work, searching the internet on a break, trying to get my Tuesday Digger fix since the DSL is broken currently at home (ARGH!). I do a search on google for Vernon Digger and this was the first link that popped up, even before the comic itself.

Which reminded me, by the way, that my drooly-fangirl-ishness over Ms. Vernon's work is all your fault! Thank you. I continue to be astonished by the artwork, and vastly amused by the story and content, in this graphic tale.

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