By Jason Karlson
Call me old fashioned, as I'm sure many of you will, or point out the absurdity of writing a series dedicated to online comics, but I like my comics to be honest to God physical objects. The thrill of visiting the comic book shop on your day off, dozens and dozens of trades all lined up neatly and sequentially on a bookshelf, the unmistakable smell of ink and paper. You know, all the usual sentimental old bollocks. While I've also admittedly been very slow to transition into the new landscape of downloads and non-physical media when it comes to music, which came about only through the combination of the undeniable ease of downloads and the serious looming threat of dying under an avalanche of albums. It took years sure, but at least it happened eventually!
Not so with comics. I have yet to download a digital version of a comic, so stubborn is my kneejerk prejudice against them. I only mention this so you understand how utterly taken I am with Jen Lee's webcomic, Thunderpaw: In the ashes of Fire Mountain. If we're all slowly pushed reluctantly into digital comics through dwindling resources and low physical sales, I'd hope that Jen's comic will at least form part of the blueprint from which creators will draw from. I'd give up all my trades in an instant for more quirky gems like this.
At its heart Thunderpaw is a buddy-roadtrip story staring Bruno and Ollie, two anthropomorphic dogs seemingly caught in the middle of the apocalypse. When we join the pair they have already been separated from their human companions and then start to navigate their way home as the increasingly surreal and dangerous world crumbles around them. While it's a familiar story it's the hauntingly strange world, it's inhabitants and the unique art style that set it apart from its Homeward Bound roots. Disney this ain't!
Lee's creation isn't merely trying to ape it's paperbound ink-based cousin with a few bells and whistles, but instead strives to be something subtly and beautifully different. A unique beast that could only work in it's native online environment, using the multi-media capabilities of the internet to enhance her work. Her panels, if they can still rightly be called that, never stop moving. Constantly glitching and twitching with a frantic energy. Some frames show us characters and creatures in motion, while others show the disaster stricken landscape flashing and strobing, all presented in a limited orange and grey colour palette. As well as perfectly portraying her two main characters as hyperactive, jittery puppies it also gives her world a restless and unnerving quality to it. It constantly reminds us that something is not quite right with this world, but what? It's even more remarkable that this seamless animation is being produced by someone who is being self taught on the fly as the comic is created, having never taken a formal class in the subject.
Pacing in comics is a subject that's often discussed as being something difficult to control and it's something that Thunderpaw tackles using an 'endless canvas' technique, stretching the boundaries of what would be possible with traditional print comics. In one particular scene that stands up to any big budget action movie Ollie and Bruno are thrown into danger once again on a collapsing bridge strewn with abandoned cars and debris. Using an infinite scroll sideways and the placing of the characters multiple times across the page you find yourself dragging the page across quicker and quicker to see them stumble and leap across the increasingly treacherous terrain. In another employing a downward scroll our protagonists work their way through psychedelic soaked imagery both deeper and deeper into the ground and through an accidental hallucinogenic nightmare.
As well as Thunderpaw, Lee has also frequently put her talents to use on many variant covers for Boom! Studio comics including Teen Dog. Next July will also see the publication of her new work Vacancy from Nobrow press using the thoroughly old fashioned paper and ink method, the luddites.
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his origins are wholely fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self depricating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf