Serial webcomics are hard. Pacing and scheduling are a must, and even we readers can have trouble keeping plotlines straight. I completely understand why some people don't follow a comic regularly but instead binge every few weeks after a chapter has finished.
Supernormal Step is one of my favourite webcomics and one of the few serial webcomics I read regularly. It's about Fiona Dae, a woman pulled into a strange parallel universe where magic exists and all sorts of non-human creatures co-exist … um … not so peacefully at times. Fiona finds herself with power of her own, but more importantly she becomes an object of interest to certain powerful people. So she quickly find herself on the run even while she tries to figure out how to get back to her world.
M. Lee Lunsford has created an impressive world here. The very first chapter starts in media res, with Fiona already having spent some time with Jim and Van (and already quick sick and tired of them, naturally). As comics are wont to do, we're right in the thick of it, with magic battles and larger-than-life characters dominating each page. It's confusing at first, sure. But it gets better once you understand that you really only need the basics: Hendersons, heroes, magic, curses, and portals, oh my! Once you accept that, hey, some people are penguins or robots, and yeah, that Mr. Kite is up to no good, then you’ve pretty much got the gist of what’s going down. The true pleasure then comes from seeing the hints of depth to Lunsford’s world. There is so much more story to Supernormal Step than meets the eye, and Lunsford does an excellent job implying it with every panel and speech bubble.
And then there are the characters. Fiona is gutsy and opinionated, strongly influenced by her homeschooled upbringing by her father. She can hold her own in this world—but at times it’s very clear how close she is to just freaking out and shutting down. In this way, Lunsford portrays her as more than just “a badass girl”—she’s three dimensional, vulnerable as well as strong, sympathetic as well as sassy. It's tempting to describe her arc as kind of following the Hero’s Journey, but that wouldn’t be accurate—while Fiona is increasing in power and command of her abilities, her journey is much rougher than the straightforward progression the traditional Hero’s Journey implies.
Van and Jim are excellent supporting characters. As with how he presents the world itself, Lunsford heavily implies that both have deeply checkered pasts we’ll hear about in the future. Jim, of course, is a superpowered badass levels above Fiona—when he isn’t forced into the form of a stuffed bunny by a temperamental, unseen judge who punishes him for bad deeds. Some of the almost overwhelming aspect of Supernormal Step might come from the sheer number of characters Lunsford introduces so he can populate this world; he makes it seem like every character, no matter how minor, has secondary motivations or is running games on the side. From Cecilia to Akela to Hall and Eva, there’s just so much going on here. This first volume isn’t so much, “Gee, whiz, look at that!” as “Gee, whiz, I can’t wait to learn more about this!”
I don't talk much about the art when I review comics/graphic novels, because I'm not much of an artist or art critic (despite hanging around an art gallery for nigh-on ten years now in return for minimum wage). One of the pleasures of reading a long-running comic like this is seeing how the artist’s style evolves. Indeed, if you start from the beginning or pick up this volume, you’ll see that the first chapter has a very different style and feel to it from subsequent chapters. (Alternatively, Lunsford remade Chapter 1 and summarized the rest of Part 1 of the story at the end of Part 2, which might help new readers.) I love watching Lunsford do new things with his panels and character poses.
Perhaps my favourite thing about the way he draws is his ability to convey so much emotion with his characters’ arms/stances. Even from a distance or in a silhouette, a character’s posture says everything about what they’re feeling. This talent allows him to save on text and use it to convey other information, and it results in some beautiful panels. My favourite example from this volume is this page, where Daisy throws up her arms, yelling, “Ah! Massive downer! We need to fix this ASAP!” and then continues to talk in a quick, clipped manner in the next panel as she practically forces Fiona to her hairdresser. Love it.
The nice thing about a volume collecting a webcomic is that you don’t have to take my word for it; you can just read it all yourself, for free. I bought the hard copy version because I wanted to support the creator, I hate reading one page at a time on a screen on the website, and I can’t take an ereader into my bath with me. As far as the physical book goes, it looks and feels just like you’d expect any trade edition of a graphic novel to feel. (It’s also available as an ebook, though, if that’s your fancy.)
Next up I’ll review Volume 2, and I’ll share my thoughts on Fiona’s arc, Henderson, and the backstories Lunsford reveals.