For my 200th blog post (Yeah! Pop the champers! Unfurl the victory flag!) a something…a little different from me.
I read a fair number of webcomics, some of which update daily, others periodically – from the sublimely crafted 9 Chickweed Lane, the inventively profane Penny Arcade through to the rather more esoteric and minimalist Chief O’Brien at Work. Generally they tickle my geeky funny bone, and make for perfect fodder while I struggle to get my brain to function in the morning (living without caffeine remains a sloooow start to the day). My sense of humour runs to the sci-fi/gamer/geeky end of the spectrum I will confess; but generally the titles I follow are one shot gag strips. One notable exception has been Crossed: Wish You Were Here by Simon Spurrier & Javier Barreno, which has just come to a climactic (pun perhaps half-intended) close after its 4th volume).
WARNING: Crossed: Wish You Were Here (WYWH for short) is very much an adult cartoon – don’t go clicking on the above link unless you have a broad mind/strong stomach*
Unlike the other strips I follow, WYWH ran in a weekly format (with periodic skip weeks filled with text interludes normally) telling a story over 20 or so pages each time. The narrative following an author substitute character named Shaky (short for Shakespeare – a nickname as he’s a comic book writer…ooooh, spooky coincidence) trying to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic zombie filled UK. The story is told part in the present day, and also in flashback as we learn how and why various characters are the way they are, and just how Shaky made it to the island of Cava in the Orkney Isles. To call Shaky a…difficult character to love would be an understatement, and certainly the more we learn of his back story, the less likeable a protagonist he becomes. That said, he does represent a very human response to a terrible situation; flawed in many ways – and perhaps more believable than someone taking up a gun and fighting back against all odds.
I should add that the Crossed he faces aren’t really zombies; they’re more creatures of unrestrained crazed Id – all unfettered self-centred desire which seeks outlet in the most unpleasant and often self destructive of ways. In fact they’re just so monstrously horrible, that Shaky and those he meets and lives with and the compromises they make in their morality start to seem not so bad after all. I should note by the way, that I’m not generally a fan of horror; Army of Darkness and The Walking Dead aside, but there was just something so gripping about Shaky’s tale that kept me coming back week after week, and cursing the damned skip weeks when the artist and writer needed a break (fair play to them mind you).
This is also the only comic I’ve ever read where I frequently got out Google Maps to chart where the action was taking place – and its left me with a strong desire to go visit the Orkneys where much of it is set. WYWH indeed!
Now its finished, I’ve no great desire to go and read any of the other Crossed comics that are out there (although there is a promise of something more to come on the website in due course). In preparation for the recently published final issue I did go back and re-read the entire thing from the start, and it hangs together very well. For those coming to it afresh today, I guess you can consume it whole Netflix style rather than week by week like I did and I guess it won’t be quite the same experience. The cliffhangers, large and small, trite and horrifying, human and monstrous made for wonderful hooks to bring me back each week, eager to see how the whole thing played out. Suspense was certainly part of the experience.
As too was the chance to read a new, professionally created comic book for free. Would that other publishers did this sort of thing (DC/Marvel – how about a free quality web comic eh? Nah, you’re too busy chasing almighty dollar aren’t you!) and to this high standard. You can buy the collected editions if you’d prefer to have it sitting on your bookshelves instead.
I guess the hardest thing about making a recommendation of WYWH is that I know that for a lot of my friends (Mrs Llama included) this almost certainly won’t be their cup of tea. Fair enough, I wasn’t sure it would be mine on first reading. But the longer I read, the more I was able to enjoy it. Yes, it is genuinely shocking in many, many places. No, it isn’t for the easily shocked. Nevertheless by damn it is a fine read, an engaging and well crafter tale and more than worth a look if you’ve not yet been exposed to the Crossed (heh). It’ll probably make you laugh/cry in equal measure I suspect.
Just try not to let your SO catch you reading it in bed! They might not talk to you for a while…
*Frankly don’t even put the search term into Google, as your eyes might pop out!