Eric: This may be the first review of a non-magic webcomic to invoke a White Wolf Role Playing Game *and* 1984.
(From The Broken Mirror. Click on the thumbnail for full sized well colored shades of grey.)
One of the side effects of Project Wonderful is the sudden block of strips I haven't heard of or haven't gotten around to suddenly being brought to my attention. Which I'm a little uncomfortable saying, because I don't want people to think that advertising here on the 'Snark is the fast track to getting an essay written about them. And of course, I don't want there to be a conflict of interest in anything I write.
But of course I go to the strips that advertise with me. Of course I do. It would be rude not to. And so I went to The Broken Mirror, by Elanor Cooper and J.J. Nääs. I went there earlier today. I read through the archives.
And, to be honest, I'm still trying to dissect how I feel about this work.
Let me open by saying this is brilliant. The writing is astounding. The artwork is amazing. And the two blend together into one of the most beautiful examples of graphic storytelling I've ever, ever seen on the web. Cooper and Nääs are very very good.
But, halfway through the first chapter, I posted the following to my Livejournal:
....beautiful artwork. Superior storytelling. Extraordinarily talented.
Depressing as fuck. Man, I think I'd need Zoloft to read this regularly.
Well, I persevered, and I'm glad I did. The story is elegantly told. There is a long section of kids at play, making sandcastles on the beach. And that could be cliched but it isn't -- instead, the kids feel like children. With all the flights of fantasy and one-upmanship and casual callousness and desperate love that children have. You buy it. You believe it.
But through it all there is darkness. While the subsequent chapters aren't the jackboot stomping on the face of hope that the first chapter is, there is still an echo between melancholy and despair throughout the work. This is a gorgeous comic, but it's a very difficult one to push through.
I have the serious feeling it will all be worth it. I have the serious feeling this will be one of the most important and significant webcomics that develop -- that it will go from the web into collected form and win Eisners and Harveys and influence the next generation of writers and artists (at least, the next generation of indies). It's amazing, and I cannot praise it enough. I literally didn't see a single thing wrong with this story, in pacing, execution, writing or artwork. It is very, very close to perfect.
But getting through to today's strip, I feel....
Weirdly, I have to invoke a RPGism. Specifically, Changeling: the Dreaming. This was a role playing game about faeries and magic in a mundane world -- specifically, about holding onto that sense of wonder and magic that makes the fae the fae, in a world that would make them banal and ordinary and mundane, crushing magic and wonder alike and leaving the world cold and real and terrible and mundane, forever.
Some of the agents of this change are called the Autumn People. They are the ones who cut you down to size, who mock you or talk to you or drug you to make you conform. They are the ones who force you to wake up and deal with the pain of reality, so quit your damn dreaming.
I was never a major Changeling fan. It depressed me, which wasn't what I looked for in my role playing games. (I had friends, it's worth noting, who were and are passionate fans of Changeling, so do not take this as an indictment of the game.) But the concept of the Autumn People stuck with me. I know Autumn People. I see them. I understand where the concept comes from.
Well. Cooper and Nääs aren't Autumn People. They hold magic in their hands. Beautiful, terrible magic. But The Broken Mirror is a story about Autumn People -- about the victims of Autumn People. It is a story about the end of wonder and the end of magic. Of the coldness and harshness of the world. Which they acknowledge. From their FAQ page:
What inspired you to write this morbid and bitter tale?
In short, deep and terrible cynicism... ^^
But I don't know that I believe them. Maybe at the end of the story we can see if they're cynical or not. They're clearly building to something. But as we travel this path they're laying for us, we step into bear traps, fall into pits and have our wallets stolen. This story is hard to read.
It is hard to read in part because they're so good. You care about these characters. You care deeply for Galen, in the first chapter. You care because you recognize some of yourself in him. You believe him. You believe this story. And when horrific things happen you believe them too. You feel viscerally about them. You want to shield the eyes of others reading them, because this is going to fucking hurt.
I don't know how I feel about this strip. I can't help but extol its brilliance. These two understand their medium desperately well. But I'm not sure my own fragile ego can take reading it on a regular basis. I might not be strong enough.
But I'll try. Because it's that damn good. Maybe the secret is to wait until another ten or fifteen pages have updated. Or maybe that's the worst possible way to do it. Maybe you need to read it slowly, each and every day, and hope for the best. I don't know. I really don't. I'll experiment a bit.
And maybe... just maybe... there will one day be some sense of hope for these characters.
Or maybe I need to face reality, grow up and put away such childish things.
We'll see which lesson they teach, in the end.
Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 8, 2007 1:14 PM
Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at March 8, 2007 3:05 PM
Is it supposed to hurt? All I'm reading is someone who understands some of the things I've felt. It just makes me feel less lonely.
I'm more curious than anything else, since the various summary pages seem to hint that this is really just a prelude to Something Else.
Comment from: RMG posted at March 8, 2007 5:24 PM
Especially since, as Between Two Worlds shows, the authors are brilliant at defying expectations, and good at slow build-ups to things grand and strange. From the opening strips and cast page, I thought that Between Two Worlds would be a wacky strip about the adventures of a bunch of Scandanavian IRC nerds and... well, it wasn't. :)
Comment from: aaronbourque posted at March 8, 2007 6:20 PM
Damn. That is good. It better start picking up, though. 700 pages? Goddamn Norse and their goddamn epics.
Comment from: Ford Dent posted at March 8, 2007 6:42 PM
I've been reading both this and Between Two Worlds for a while now--I actually (to brag, which is kinda silly) got in on day one with Broken Mirror, because by then I knew what they could do (having read Between Two Worlds, their talent was apparent).
And yeah, it's pretty harsh. The first chapter is almost gut-wrenchingly depressing, to say nothing about the current arc.
You're absolutely right, of course. It's brilliant, and if it doesn't wind up having a major influence in the webcomics world (to say nothing of the print world), I will be fucking disappointed in the entire internet.
Moreso than usual, I mean.
Well it’s a sad story but in a reminiscent way to me, the memories it brings back are depressing to me not the story itself. I’ve gone through bad times and I know people who have gone through even worse times. I guess this is almost normal or at least expected from my point of view, a story in one form or another that I’ve seen before first or second hand. I can rattle off a long list of things that have happened to me or people I know well.
I still miss Desert Rocks, though.
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