Welcome to the resurrection of Weekend Webcomics! This is the column that not only recommends, but actively analyzes some great webcomic series or shorts that you should be following. If you’re facing a long stretch of downtime between TV episode and manga updates, consider some of these free reads from your homegrown artists and writers. As someone that likes modern-day humor but fairy tale style visuals and plot, I, Vidasoy, am joining Fenrir as one of the two writers that will try to bring some webcomics into your life. To start off with, I will be going straight for the kill with Namesake, one of my all-time favorites in terms of art, plot pacing, and relatable but fun characters. It is a comic that adds some spice of danger in revisiting classic children story lands.
The lovingly crafted project of co-creators Isabelle Melanson and Megan Lavey-Heaton, Namesake began nearly four years ago as the story of Emma Crewe. Stocky, snub-nosed, and darker-skinned than most fairy-tale heroines, Emma is a plucky and refreshingly everyday woman that just so happens to fall straight into the Land of Oz. Several generations past the events of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Oz is faced with new threats as their beloved ruler Ozma is nowhere to be seen. Emma is faced with the dilemma of being a Namesake – those with the power to travel into story worlds.
The only problem? She is no Dorothy, the traditional telltale role of girls with the same name that travel into Oz and restore the story land’s peace in their time of need. As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Emma is no simple Namesake like those before her. Still, she needs to work out her new powers to influence the story’s history before she can get back to Toronto – her version of Kansas.
With Megan’s journalism awards combined with Isabelle’s fluid art, Namesake is a very professional piece. The two are actually editing a new comic anthology of rewritten female-leading fairy tales compiled with other well-known artists, called Valor, which you can also check out at their kickstarter with a week left to go (and funded quite securely past their goals). All credentials go to prove their teamwork in creating strong but realistic women even in the most fantastical settings.
Apart from the reappearance of the now wise Scarecrow and the somewhat late Tinman, Namesake introduces a few well-developed characters of its own. Emma travels with the sensible munchkin Agha in some magical kicks of her own, except they talk back. Readers will grow attached to the green warlock of the West, slightly wicked but cute Warrick and his tumultuous relationship with his sister Selva, the purple Witch of the East. The imaginative character designs add variety.
Parallel to Emma’s story, her younger sister Elaine is left dealing with the forces of Calliope and the Rippers, two organizations revolved around the business of Namesakes. In returning home, Emma will discover that there’s more questions than answers to be found. Throughout her journey, the emphasis is on characters learning to work together. We get a familial relationship, a devoted but questionable same-sex relationship, and finally, friendships that are about learning to trust one another. The tensions and pacing allow shades of gray in both the good and bad characters.
Although the art style in the beginning of the comic is not as refined and detailed as it soon develops into a few chapters on, it is unique and expressive from the start. Another great treat is the expansive worldbuilding that goes beyond simply lifting established Wizard of Oz lore and adding a few twists. There’s citizens, a corrupt government, some talented unpredictables, and revolutionaries all traveling along the yellow brick road. On one hand, you get some traditional tales of heartbreak and curses. On the other, you get Emma fighting doggedly along with her twenty-first century spirit. Namesake uses pretty traditional panels that at times in the early stages might seem a bit overcrowded.
We get a deliberate use of color in Namesake as well. As you can see from the example, flat but bold colors punctuate the more gray tone storyboard. Usually they serve to be striking in terms of highlighting a character or particular object’s features. The most notable trait in the artwork is the use of sweeping lines, so too much color or extra shades would make it look even busier. On some pages, however, a lot of grays and whites may look unbalanced next to too much or little color, so there is a trade off.
Four books under their belt with 19 chapters and counting, Namesake gets a noticeable improvement and stabilization of the art composition. One thing the webcomic never lags in is its clear storytelling and grasp for dialogue. What rockier pages in the beginning there might be are swept under the rug once you also get swept into the plot. What’s more, Namesake has a very reliable update schedule for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (for 4 ongoing years!), and the two travel regularly to local cons. So check out Namesake for an engaging new read, and also check out the Valor kickstarter they’re doing.