Hey guys! Long time no see huh? I have slain the terrible beast that is the dreaded “midterm essay” and have had a lot of free time to dig through some of my favorite webcomic archives for nostalgia and to catch up on some updates… And to be quite honest, I respect webcomic artists for a variety of reasons: webcomics allow the freedom for creativity and direction limited only by the artist’s ambitions, and webcomics are (usually) free of charge. So basically a webcomic is a labor of love and regular commitment; it’s a lot of work for little to no pay, but still artists find the effort to get it all done.
“Art for art’s sake” is what I feel is the creed of many a webcomic artist, which is why for this week’s review I had to talk about one comic that caught my attention for its bold strike at the typical comic formula and tried to combine the artist’s talent with graphic design and fonts and apply it to a comic series.
So without further ado, let’s get on with the show, and talk about a comic known as Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name:
So what is there to be said about HINABN? (By the way, last time I checked that was a legit fandom acronym sooo – yeah) Well, if you like a supernatural, somewhat dark, yet very “buddy-comedy” detective story with a lot of vampires, selkies, werewolves, a very iconic zombie, and a bright-eyed (woobly) protagonist then you’ve come to the right place. Set in a nondescript but supernaturally rich world, HINABN follows the misadventures of one Hanna Falk Cross and his newest partner in solving supernatural crimes, “…” the zombie (He cannot remember his name so is often address with various mythological monickers such as: “Izanagi”, “Odin”, “Gallahad”, etc). What starts out as a routine mission to help a friend with a vampire-infestation leads to a series of (somehow) interlocking events that reveal a more sinister twist for our perky and empathetic-to-a-fault protagonist.
The plot is narrated through “…”‘s thoughts, hinting that these are all events way in the past and that the current timeline is a recollection of what had happened the minute he was resurrected from his grave. Actually, it’s arguable that the story is as much about this tall and stoic zombie as well as it’s namesake main character. Either way, whatever direction this story was about to go in — and it was getting to a good part with the HINABN crew up against a vampire hunter with a cute ferret sidekick — but alas, nearly a year or so ago, HINABN’s creator, Tessa Stone, left the project on “hiatus” and hasn’t checked back on it since.
So… Why bother with Hanna Is Not a Boy’s Name if it is stuck in “hiatus” mode?
Well, while the plotline can get a little twisted — and not the good kind of twisted, mind you, more of the “many interlocking plotlines with no clear direction” twisted — I will have to argue that HINABN is memorable and, as I said before, iconic because of it’s style. Whether you appreciate graphic design, or are a sucker for that hip pop-art-look, you have to admit that there was a lot of love and effort put into the visual appeal that is unique to the comic.
Tessa Stone has a sense of character design and of balance, each of her characters’ personalities shine through at first glance: we’ve got our zombie, “…”, who’s easily recognizable by his orange shirt and black tie combo, not to mention that hair, then we have Hanna who screams — in inverseman’s own words — “spikey haired protagonist”, that is to say, we know he’s a goody-two-shoes. Tessa Stone is able to work her characters’ personalities not only into their appearance, but in their mannerisms and their very movements — it’s the kind of work that should be commended for her attention to detail and to giving that extra depth to a cast of characters that only seems to grow with each arc. (Which isn’t necessarily a good thing; remember what I said about “twisted” plot lines? Yeah, too many characters introduced too quickly doesn’t really help)
The next most unique feature of HINABN is Tessa Stone’s panelling and use of fonts or, in this case, lack of traditional panelling. No two pages are the same, and Tessa seems to avoid using the same panel style for each page which is both innovative but, at times, a weakness, especially in this important points where the directional flow of the comic is difficult to follow or requires one to double-back to read the panels in their “proper” order. Along with this attempt to break out of the traditional panelling formula, Tessa Stone experiments with fonts, sometimes creating garish, hard-to-follow graphics, and sometimes using different fonts effectively to create a unique reading experience. Going through a run of the archives, one notices that Tessa made more liberal use of fonts in the early stages of the series, toning her experimental font work down as the comic progresses to the very last page.
Personally, I appreciate Tessa’s work and her attempts to make all aspects of her webcomic a visual experience: from the stylized characters, to the liberal use of different, bold fonts, and her brash disregard for conventional panelling methods. Could it all have worked out better to be easier to read? Sure, but one must remember that this was a work in progress. Also, one can argue that Tessa Stone was working her technique as the series progressed and the difference between the first few pages and the final entries are a testament to her development process. Could the plot be less convoluted and intertwined with many sub-plots? Certainly! But, we the audience will perhaps never know because of its current “hiatus”. So, while HINABN had the potential to be a unique, visually engaging webcomic, Tessa Stone had to stop.
And to be quite frank, I respect that; in being something that is “free” to internet users around the world, and totally dependent upon the artist’s ambition, if the project is stopped that’s the final nail on the coffin, so to speak. (Get it, because of all the vampire characters)
So why bother to check out Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name? To appreciate “art for art’s sake”, to take a look at a comic that is visually engaging and that is — in my opinion — of an experimental caliber that is hard to find in the webcomic world. So if you have the time and want to try something new, something that took a risk to be different, then give Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name a chance and see for yourself.