When you try and summarize Namesake, you sound like an idiot. (This is true of most summaries, so I don’t feel bad.) It’s the story of a woman named Emma who goes to Oz. There, I said it. But it’s so much more than that. It has action, intrigue, romance, some sort of (I assume) evil conspiracy, and the stunning lack of cell signal in the realm that L. Frank Baum gave us. In short, it’s one of the best uses of public domain material I’ve seen.
Written by Megan Lavey-Heaton and drawn by Isabelle Melançon, this is one of the webcomics that I’ve put into every feed possible. It’s in my Google Reader queue, and I follow the creators on Twitter and Google+. If they sent out snail mail, I’d give them my address. I was hooked the first time I read it.
That, gentle readers, means it’s a DAMN GOOD STORY. I read a fair number of webcomics, and it usually takes me a while to get into the groove of it. Questionable Content took me a few dozen clicks before I decided that it was worthwhile. Girls With Slingshots took a few weeks of watching. And so on.
Namesake took two panels.
On, then, gentle reader, to why YOU should read this fabulous comic:
Many webcomics are written and drawn by a single person, and this can work well. It can also be a tad annoying, especially when a creator refuses to accept that the obscure joke they’re trying to make simply doesn’t work for 98.2% of the internet. Namesake is a two person job, and they keep each other focused. No tangents, no in-jokes that no one gets (or if they’re there, they are so well meshed into the story that not getting them doesn’t detract from the story).
Megan and Isa clearly work well together. According to the official history of the comic, the project came about by Meg bugging Isa to turn some parody comics into a book. That idea morphed into a comic, and finally a webcomic. The story being written is obviously in it for the long haul. Unlike “joke of the day” style comics, Namesake is going somewhere. I have no idea where, but I know that I don’t want it to stop.
Megan crafts story arcs like Norm Abrams crafts fine furniture. That is, to say, with style, aplomb and a deft touch. And like Mr. Abrams’ creations, she obviously takes pride in everything she creates. There are no wasted words, no filler and no shortcuts. This is actually the only problem I have with the writing.
In chapter 1 (of 5 chapters so far), we’re introduced to a lot of characters, many of whom we haven’t seen since then. I’m told that they’re going to come back, but the story Meg crafted there is much too interesting for the wait… I want to know what’s happening to them! Emma, our main character, is off gallivanting down the yellow brick road, but she has family and friends and a conspiracy back home in the “real” world. Not that I mind the Oz stuff, it’s wonderful, I just don’t want to forget Elaine, Ben, Alice, Jack and Wendy. If some of those names seem familiar, well, they are. Oz isn’t the only other world out there, it’s just the only one we’ve seen.
Really, that’s the only complaint. I want more story, and I want it now. The site updates three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, which means that there are four days out of every week that I can’t get my fix.
UPDATE: Megan contacted me to correct a few assumptions I had about the process. She says:
…[Isabelle] deserves as much, possibly more, credit for the story arcs. Isa developed the overall idea behind the story. I helped refine it into a logical narrative. It’s kind of like two women stitching on the same quilt to make a cohesive whole. I think we’ve both agreed that Namesake wouldn’t be what it is if one of us had just did it on our own. It’s strong because we work together.
There’s certain parts that are definitely her and definitely me. Our ultimate villian is someone I developed, and Jack’s story. Also the concept of the Shrine of the Dorothies.
There you have it, straight from the creator’s mouth. Isa, I grant you more credit for this wonderful story!
Isa is some sort of artistic genius. The art of the comic should be jarring. Some pages are glorious full color masterpieces that I would pay top dollar for. Some are simple black and white. The majority use a splash of color here and there. And in general, I’m not a fan of that style. BUT SHE MAKES IT WORK. Every time.
The lines are clean, backgrounds only stand out if they’re important, and the characters come alive, even if they’re not prominent in the panel. I can comfortably compare Isa to any artist working in traditional comics and have no issue saying she’s one of the greatest talents out there.
Check out the detail on the scary woman with vines coming out of her eye.
I hadn’t literally cheered for art in years, and then saw that. Art can easily make or break a comic. Isa’s work is in the make column. I expect that someday, I’ll be at a comic con someday, listening to her talk on a panel, and I’ll think to myself, “I saw her art before she made it to [whatever comic company was smart enough to hire her].”
This is one of the best webcomics out there. If it were a print comic, it would be one of the best out there. Meg and Isa are in this for the long haul, so I’m not worried about the story petering out.
They are so talented, in fact, that both of them are going to be featured in Womanthology, one of the coolest things to ever come out of Kickstarter. If you haven’t already, go and support that project!
They’re also friendly, and totally willing to talk with their fans. Megan recently started a circle on Google+ (like a facebook group, but more interactive) for fans that features tidbits, art and photos that don’t make it up on their main site. She and my partner, Evilbob, have become good internet friends over Twitter. Heck, they reopened a preorder on their store for us because we were napping and forgot to order it.
Beat that, most other creators. I dare you.
The Good: Excellent writing, strong art. Creators who are willing to talk to their fans, and are genuinely nice people.
The Bad: The story isn’t done yet, and I want more! Updates only thrice weekly (which according to my partner is insanity causing).
Everybody Get On The Bus! Start reading here, and don’t stop until you’ve READ THE WHOLE COMIC!