Your Spaceships do What? Webcomics and FTL Travel

So, I’ve been catching up on Dave Kellet’s excellent sci-fi webcomic, Drive. Trawling back through the archive not only reminded me how much I love the universe Kellett has invented, but also how unparalleled webcomics are at ‘driving’ innovations in storytelling and genre. In this case, bringing ever new and unique takes to the ubiquitous faster-than-light travel of Space Opera.

If you’re unfamiliar with Drive (pretty mild spoilers ahead, but be warned nonetheless!), Kellett’s FTL technology follows some pretty familiar concepts – on the surface. Each of the starships that use the drive technology are fitted with a ‘drive ring’, the unseen technology inside which is used to manipulate gravity fields. By doing so, the rings create singularities through which “pinches” space, therefore allowing FTL speeds. Where it gets interesting, though, is that Kellett implies the technology in humanity’s drive rings may be sentient. And that little development becomes the driving force behind the conflict in his plot – because the alien race that invented the technology which humans copied view it’s budding sentience as an abomination, and take exception to our using it to forge our empire.

It speaks to the value of webcomics – and sequential art in general – that Kellett is able to develop and explore the implications behind this technology, and spin an entire galaxy-spanning plot around it. And he’s not alone. Longtime webcomic fans will recognise the parallels found in Kris Straub’s Starslip and Howard Tayler’s (recently mentioned) Schlock Mercenary. These classic webcomic space operas also spend a great deal of time and plot centrality focusing on FTL technologies – much more than you get in other forms of storytelling (such as film or television). For example, the hyperdrive of Star Wars is certainly used as a plot device, but the way in which it actually operates is barely mentioned. Neither is the warp drive of Star Trek central to the development of plots in the movies or the TV series’ – it’s just a device to get you to the place where the story happens, or break along the way so the characters have something to do.

By contrast, the crisis that resulted from using Starslip engines to jump between parallel universes was the whole focus of the original series’ plot – and marked the separation between original narrative arc and the new focus of time travel in the soft reboot. In a similar way, the invention, spread and subsequent ubiquity of the the teraport drove the plot of Schlock Mercenary’s first two books, the ripples of which still play out in the background of the series.

It’s an approach you can only get from webcomics – taking the time allowed by months and years of updates to develop the narrative around these technologies and make them more than simple window dressing in the background. Even better, by having the time to play around with new things, webcomics get to invent the sort of complex and weird technologies that you couldn’t get through to the audience of a movie. Or which end up getting TV series cancelled. Kellett, in Drive, is taking full advantage of the format and the creative freedom it allows. And even if it’s a little frustrating to wait soooo long for the answers we’re slowly getting, it’s still thrilling to watch him spend the time to really develop and explore his technology and from that fabric, weave his grand narrative.

What do you think? Do you know any other space-sailing webcomics with a unique take on FTL travel? Or is our interest in this getting lost in space? Let us know in the comments!

And until next time, remember – don’t eat the clickbait!

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Digital Strips Episode 466: Lumping Things Into Boxes

Dan and Casey from Sports NightOn the second day of Christmas, Steve and Jason gave to me, so much webcomics stuff you’d think it was already the 12th day! Stuff like a new webcomic team-up from Legendary and Jessica Chobot, a fun video about how maybe NOT to do webcomics, a hiatus for Kris Straub’s Broodhollow, the gorgeous art of Rising Sand, and how Angela Melick has wrapped up Wasted Talent.

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Digital Strips Podcast 315 – Horizons Watch – Broodhollow and Muscles Diablo

You know when we talk about both reality TV and Dr. Strangelove in the same episode that we have the makings of something discordant and chaotic. Luckily, we agree on the things that matter. The others, not so important (if you don’t know which is which in that scenario, then I feel sorry for you).

dr_strangelove

Should this feel dirty? Because it feels dirty.

Speaking of disagreeing, it’s time once again for Horizons Watch! We pick two fresh-ish comics and bring them before our two-man tribunal (hush) for judging, mockery and entertainment. Before we get to those more in-depth looks, we have other comics that have crossed our paths recently:

(5:39) The Sundays
(7:26) Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh’s Fortune

The big news this (past) week was the launch of Penny Arcade’s much-anticipated reality competition series …

(9:10) Strip Search

While Steve has long since sworn off shows like this that don’t involve sweaty dudes rolling around together and 30 Rock parodies, I watched the first episode and came away feeling like it was a show that was produced by a production company (Bionic Trousers Media). More thoughts can be found in the podcast proper. During our discussion, we couldn’t help but pick out one contestant who we’ve previously talked about and reviewed on the show:

(11:03) Skadi

I read an article recently about the purpose of video game reviews in the modern gaming culture, specifically with regards to setting discourse. Many reviewers find themselves tasked with establishing the faults and/or strengths of a particular property and leaving it for the audience to judge whether they are right or wrong. While it can debated whether or not this should be the goal of a critic, it is certainly true that I have set the discourse for this series and the remainder of its episodes will have to work to change that. For me, at least, I hope you will tell us if your experience was different.

One of our featured comics has the word “diablo” in the title, so naturally I picked something from the game series of the same name for our midshow chat.

(15:30) ‘Wet Grass Inspired’ by AmIEvil

Two great comics come over our Horizons this time, both wildly different, and showing how things should be done in comics while also displaying some missteps in their lives on the Web. First up, Kris Straub’s newest comic confection:

(19:34) Broodhollow

If you want a comic that looks like Starslip (a previous, now completed Straub creation) but has a sinister undertone, Broodhollow has what you’re looking for. Protagonist Wadsworth Zane represents the everyman while also possessing demons, both figurative and (possibly) literal. It makes for a fun read that offers just enough mystery to keep you coming back for more.

Our second pick:

(28:02) Muscles Diablo

In the fun and nothing but category, Muscles Diablo stands second to none. Muscles is, as described by creator Pat N. Lewis, “a tough guy with a shady past who punches a lot of things”. No mystery there! The only question we had is why would you host such a great comic on such a terrible template for Tumblr (re-reading comics is a chore, though this may not affect non-reviewing types). We’ve encountered this problem before, and speaking of that, here are the comics that naturally came up in our conversations:

(24:51) Lovecraft is Missing
(24:56) Sin Titulo
(27:39) Epicsplosion (still no idea if this currently has a home on the Web, if you find it, please let us know!)
(30:41) Little League (now JL8?)

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