Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wormworld Saga

Quick Overview:
Title: The Wormworld Saga
Author/Artist: Daniel Lieske
Started: December 2010
Ended: -
Pros: Magical art; nostalgic appeal; unique layout
Cons: None evident so far

This came out on Christmas last year, and what a spectacular present it was. All the artists I follow on Twitter were positively falling over themselves with delight. Lieske is a German artist who works on computer and console games as well as freelance illustration. The Wormworld Saga is his first webcomic venture.

It is a very unusual comic in that each "page" is a single chapter, and consequently they take a very long time to create. Only Chapter 1: The Last Day of School is available right now, but a bunch of concept art and background information can be found here. The most recent news on Chapter 2 (via Lieske's Twitter) is that he's finished the preliminary grayscale version and given it a title: The Journey Begins! Once you take a look at Chapter 1, you'll understand why his process can't be rushed.

The story: While spending the summer at his grandmother's old house in the country, a young boy named Jonas discovers a portal to another realm, a magical place inhabited by all manner of fantastical creatures and strange powers. Granted, all this is just an educated guess. None of this has actually happened yet, except traveling to grandma's house. But it's hardly a secret that this is where the story is headed, so don't worry that I've spoiled anything.

The setting: Jonas comes from the "real" world — the summer of 1977 in what seems to be an America. I don't know how much longer it will be before he's inevitably sucked into "Wormworld," or whatever it's going to be called, but given that it's the name of the comic, I imagine that it will be the more important setting. Not much to say right now, except that Lieske's great sense of lighting, variety of perspectives, and breathtaking establishing shots will bring any setting to life.

The characters: The characters are developed through natural dialogue and eloquent facial expressions. Jonas is a gentle-natured, artistically inclined daydreamer. He doesn't do very well at school due to his constantly wandering mind, but he's not a troublemaker. His father is a serious, practical man who disapproves of Jonas's daydreaming tendencies. There has been no allusion to Jonas's mother — perhaps her absence is related to the traumatic housefire flashback we see towards the end of Chapter 1?

Jonas has a crippling phobia of fire. The mere sight of an open flame brings on a panic attack. I'm predicting that his adventures in Wormworld will force him to confront and overcome this fear.

The art: The Wormworld Saga is created entirely digitally, in a luscious, painterly style. Jewel-like colors and a dreamy, hazy glow make the images appeal to the eye and the heart in equal measure. Thick, soft brushstrokes give the comic a friendly, accessible appearance perfectly suited to all-ages fantasy. You can tell the artist worked in game design for years — I mean, I want to play this webcomic.

Perhaps the most unique feature of The Wormworld Saga's art is its layout. The entire chapter is one long page that flows seamlessly from panel to panel — all you have to do is scroll. It is designed and destined for viewing on a screen — I really can't imagine how it would be printed without destroying the flow. This is a beautiful example of how comics can successfully evolve away from print. Although I love print comics, there's no reason they have to be printed anymore.

The writing: I hesitate to draw too many conclusions when there's only one chapter out, but it's pretty clear where this story is going. Read up on the tropes Trapped in Another World and Down the Rabbit Hole. I don't mean to suggest that the comic feels clich├ęd — it simply feels familiar and classic. It fills me with the same childlike excitement that The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland all did. It's a time-honored scenario — ordinary kid gets transported to magical universe where they turn out to have prophetic significance. If done right, it's delightful and magical. And so far, I'd say The Wormworld Saga is on the right track. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

The bottom line: Although it's still in its infancy, all signs indicate that The Wormworld Saga is a delightful, rollicking fantasy that will fill you with a childlike sense of wonder and fun.

Rating: Five stars

>> Read The Wormworld Saga here! <<

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