||[Aug. 21st, 2008|11:18 am]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#73 A SOFTER WORLD – Joey Comeau, Emily Horne
“In the caves behind my house I found a softer world.”
Weekly repetition cemented the formulas of comic strips long ago. The typical three-panel gag strip has one panel for setup, one panel for elaboration and one panel for the punchline. Sometimes there’s an ironic counter-punchline delivered in the third panel or a fourth; sometimes the setup will be so outrageous that the second panel will be entirely silent to let the reader pause for a moment and have time to be shocked by it. There are permutations and weekend variations on the formulas, but at its most basic this structure is invaluable to the cartoonist trying to be funny on a deadline. A Softer World treats that structure the way sonnets and haiku treat the rules they follow – as boundaries broad enough to contain worlds. It’s poetry in the form of a comic strip.
Each Softer World is based on photos taken by Horne. The images are then cropped, repeated or otherwise toyed with by Comeau, so that a given strip might show the same photo three times at different distances or three entirely different shots. The photos, often Canadian landscapes or portraits of people gazing off into the distance, lend A Softer World an appropriately arty ambience. Comeau’s text, layered in to look typewritten, either enhances or subverts that ambience. Though the strips are sometimes hysterically funny, they are just as often insightful or wistful or frightening. A Softer World is rare among strip comics in that it doesn’t aim to grab hold of your funny bone and shake it every single time, and rarer in how often it succeeds at evoking other emotions by cramming an entire world into three panels.
In Reinventing Comics Scott McCloud talks about the potential webcomics have to break free of the formats imposed on comics composed for the page, how they can be interactive or stretch so wide you have to scroll for a week to see the end of them. A Softer World does something only a webcomic could do, but nothing so extravagant. Images on websites can have brief descriptions called alt text attached for those unable to view them – the words that pop up when you mouse over a picture. The alt text of A Softer World has evolved into a part of the comic, a series of explanations, confirmations and cheerfully ironic one-liners that act as imaginary fourth panels of their own. Delivered in ordinary browser text rather than the faux-typewritten font of the strips themselves, they read like plain talk delivered at a distance.
A quirkily poignant strip shows a woman at an angle that makes her look like she towers over the scenery. As the viewpoint wanders up and into the sky the text says: There will always be people taunting me / laughing because I tower above them, a giant. / Pointing with fingers that have never touched a cloud.
The alt text continues with a wink – never slapped five with god.