Webcomic Wednesday - Haunter by Sam Alden
Look, I’m not saying spectacle is never empty. I saw Independence Day on opening weekend, man, I remember. Bigness and loudness are often ways to compensate for a lack of ideas and imagination. But in the right hands, spectacle — the ability of art to overwhelm — can communicate just as clearly as a quieter approach.
Case in point: Haunter, the lushly colored science-fantasy adventure by cartoonist Sam Alden currently being serialized at Zack Soto’s fine webcomics portal Study Group. (Full disclosure: Zack’s published two of my horror comics there, though I was on record as a fan well before that happened if I do say so myself.) Alden’s simple hunter-becomes-the-hunted story of a young woman who stumbles across an ancient guardian in Earth’s apparently remote post-apocalyptic future is a wordless action romp through a vividly imagined fantastical environment after my own heart. His line is as crystal-clear as his characters’ “acting,” and the design for the titular creature — imagine the Statue of Liberty shrunken and gone feral, like Shardik the Guardian in the Dark Tower series — is just the right blend of goofy and menacing.
But where Haunter truly impresses is that dazzling color you can see above. There’s no need, strictly speaking, for the palette to be so fervid and febrile. Those trees could be brown, the water could be blue, the brushstrokes could be obscured, the tones on the young hunter could remain consistent throughout. But Alden’s choice to ramp everything up into a psychedelic freak-out makes his kill-or-be-killed scenario that much more intense and nightmarish, without making a single change to how he draws or writes the thing.
Comics, even alternative comics, has carved out a pretty healthy place for spectacle these days (to a fault, perhaps?), but I like to point this stuff out anyway because it’s far from universally supported. Analyses of television shows like Boardwalk Empire, for example, tend to focus on trainspotting all the real-life gangsters, or complaining that it doesn’t share the restraint of Mad Men, or cataloguing the mere facts of the violence like a ratings board would do. If you ignore the white-hot emotional intensity expressed through spectacle — through the pacing of the seasons toward truly mad climaxes, through knowingly theatrical performance styles, through almost dreamlike editing choices in key scenes and episodes, through the way the violence is used to embody and express the characters’ emotional states like the singing does in a musical — you’ve missed half the show. So by all means, Haunter, break out the watercolors. Let’s get crazy.