Pixels and Panels #2: Online Comics

Here are two web comics that feature world-building on a grand scale.

This is the second installment in my irregular series about sf comic strips on the web. If you’re thinking it’s been a long time since the first installment, you’re right, it has been. My apologies.  This time, we’ve got two strips set in two very exotic, but similar, worlds.

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            Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether Greg Rucka (script) and Rick Burchett (art).  New pages Monday and Thursday.          

Generalizations are a bad thing (generally speaking) but, this time, I can’t resist the temptation to make one. If you’ve got a story and it has the word “aether” in the title, chances are it’s a steampunk story. That’s certainly the case with Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. But this strip does more than redress Victorian England. It offers a new universe.

According to the site’s “About” section, “Lady Sabre” is set in the Sphere, a volume of space filled with planetoids called the Lands and—yes, you guessed it—aether.  The Lands range in size from  a city block to a continent,  and many of  them are inhabited.  Aether is an invisible substance that allows steamships and dirigibles to fly between the Lands , and for people to breathe without special protection.

Not surprisingly, these ships are often the targets of pirates. Some of the most prominent members of that group are Sienna Sabre and the crew of the Pegasus (although Lady Sabre insists that she is a privateer, working for one of the super-powers in this universe.) With the reluctant help of Miles Drake, a marshal from a Land that resembles  the Old West,  Lady Sabre has acquired a document that shows the path of a bizarre reality-changing storm that will pass through the Sphere. It shows  which Lands will be destroyed and which ones will be turned into paradises. Now, all she has to do is get the document back to her sponsor, without being killed.

Writer Greg Rucka is probably best known for his crime novels, but  he also has an extensive list of comic book credits.  “Lady Sabre” moves at a rapid clip, but Rucka doesn’t skimp on characterization.  The cast is delineated with quick, but deft, strokes, giving them a larger-than-life flare.

Burchett has both comic book and animation credits, and “Lady Sabre” may be his best work.  The closest comparison I can make is to the work of the late Russ Manning on Tarzan of the Apes and Magnus Robot Fighter.  The world is elegantly designed, detailed but not cluttered.  You really get a sense that something exists beyond the borders of the panels.  Lady Sabre is very sexy,  but in a sophisticated way, not in a Oh-My-God-Is –She-Wearing-That-Into-Battle? Way.

Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether will celebrate its second anniversary this summer, so there’s plenty of material on line to read.  Also,  the creators are running a Kickstarter campaign to publish a collection of the strip. You can read about that here.

Lady Sabre goes into battle

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   Virga . Adapted from the novels by Karl Schroeder. Jeff Moss (story) and Guy Allen (art). New pages Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The setting of this strip, Virga, is similar to the Sphere in “Lady Sabre”  because it’s set in a  volume of space that allows for some unusual methods of transportation. But there are significant differences too.

Bascially, Virga is gigantic balloon, 3,000 kilometers in diameter. (I think  that’s  just over 1,800 miles,  but I’m not sure.) .Inside the balloon, tiny artificial suns provide heat and light for wheel-shaped cities.  Each sun serves several  cities and it looks like there are bubbles of oxygen around each group of cities. It’s only when you’re traveling from group to group that you need something like a traditional spaceship.  Virga was definitely built by someone, or some thing, and there’s a physical barrier to his universe.  (If there’s a wall surrounding the Sphere, we haven’t encountered it yet.)

Before we go any further, let me make this as clear as I can: I don’t consider the similarities between Virga and the Sphere to be anything other than an interesting coincidence.  For my taste, there’s too much talk on the web about who is ripping whom off, and I don’t want to add to it, even accidently.

Anyway, Virga is adapting Schroeder’s first novel in this series Sun of Suns. The protagonist is young Hayden Griffin, a prince in exile from the conquered city-state (wheel-state) of Aerie. He’s living in Slipstream, the nation that conquered Aerie, trying to find a way for his home to regain its independence.

Hayden’s a likable character,  and writer Jeff Moss, with Schroeder’s input, is adapting the story very meticulously.  The art is a bit looser and more cartoony than the art in “Lady Sabre,” but it’s still a good-looking book that captures some of the weirder elements of the environment.

There are roughly 20 pages of this story available so far in graphic novel form. There are four novels in the series: Sun of Suns; Queen of Candesce; The Sunless Countries  and Ashes of Candesce. Schroeder’s web site is at www.kschroeder.com.

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If you know about—or are working on—a  web comic that you think I should check out, just leave the information in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

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