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!


Book Club Bookmark: Schlock Mercenary

Back in 2014, our very own Digital Dynamic Duo took on a challenge of truly diabolical proportions – bringing the vast, 16-year old sprawling universe of Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary into your earbuds, through the tried-and-true stalwart of the airwaves: the Digital Strips Book Club!

Turns out, though, that reading through every update of a webcomic that’s being going since June 2000 is a galaxy-sized task all of itself. So rather than saddle you, dear readers and listeners, with the boredom a grind like that can bring, the Geek and the Midnight Cartooner moved on to greener pastures vowing that they would, one day, return.

And so, in the spirit of that fine tradition we introduce the Book Club Bookmark: A look back at the comics which have been covered by the podcast in Book Club form, and seeing where those comics are today (if they are still updating at all). Continue reading


Episode 393: Tiny Rock Boobs (Book Club feat. Schlock Mercenary – Vol. 5)

How you look in real life in an Assassin's Creed hoodieLOOK OUT! Here comes a spider, man. We take care of the day-to-day goings on with our Whatcha Been Readin’ picks, Crossed: Dead or Alive by Garth Ennis and Daniel Gete and AC Stuart’s Noob the Loser (beware, there be GIFs afoot) before we delve once again into the deep dark of the Schlock Mercenary archives. And after the show proper, we have an announcement about the Book Club format for future shows.

The midshow music is provided by Main Reaktor.


Episode 388: Please Don’t Hit Me With That Chair, Please Don’t Hit Me Anywhere (Book Club feat. Schlock Mercenary – Vol. 4)

WWE Superstar Triple H in Blade 3What happens when you stretch out one work over many, many installments? You get something that may or may not be entertaining all the way through! That multiple-edged sword cuts so many ways. Before we dive into our fourth installment of the Schlock Mercenary Book Club, we take quick peeks at Emily Carroll’s All Along The Wall and Everblue by Michael Sexton. Enjoy the holidays and we’ll see you in 2015!

The midshow music is provided by nocopyrightsounds (I don’t know, ask Steve).


Episode 384: Geology Is For Nerds (Book Club feat. Schlock Mercenary – Vol. 3)

Comet cleanerIt’s a week of amazing feats, as we take on week 3 of the massive back-catalog that is Schlock Mercenary! Oh, and some probe landed on some comet. We also chat about Matt Chapman and Andy Suriano’s Cosmic Scoundrels and Seaclops by Andy Duggan, as well as the recent woes that Marc Lapierre faced when his amazing work was co-opted without his permission. Happy endings for everyone, though

Ok … maybe not the probe.

The midshow music is provided by Little V.


Episode 380: That’s (Not) What Friends Are For (Book Club feat. Schlock Mercenary – Vol. 2)

Monkey from the movie, OutbreakWe’re all sick up in here, but while we’re quarantined, why not look at some webcomics? In between coughing fits, we check out Lake Gary and The Black Brick Road of Oz. Then, when the aches and pains subside, we continue our decades-long look at Schlock Mercenary with our second edition of that Book Club. You’re already infected, so come join us!

The midshow music is provided by Chet Porter.


Episode 375: Rise of the Faplets (Book Club feat. Schlock Mercenary – Vol. 1)

Japanese girls model the latest phabletsPeople in our circles typically follow the gadget world pretty closely. For our podcast, that assumption would be half right. Listen to Jason tell Steve about all the devices he’ll be pining for in the next year! Marvel as Steve couldn’t give less of a crap! All this, plus a sad tale of misaligned brotherhood and our first of many forays into the deep, dark area of space that encompasses Howard Tayler’s long-running classic, Schlock Mercenary.

Midshow music provided by Emitremmus.