Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dominic Deegan: Oracle Retired

Webcomics, with their open-endlessly ready availability and quick, effortless ingestion, serve as the equivalent of soap-operas to many of the geek and nerd persuasion. While we disdain those middle-aged housewives watchin' their "stories" we tune in religiously to see whether Sluggy Freelance's Torg and Riff vanquished the evil of the month or Questionable Content's Marten and Faye finally got together. To make a study of such oeuvres is to become all too comfortably familiar with the cheapest of theatrics, with love triangles, dramatic whiplash-inducing plot twists, overblown heroic achievements and yes, oftentimes amnesia.
What was I talking about? Ah, yes, also cheap humor. I mean, what can you do with a comic that starts out mostly with one-liner running gags, puns and alliteration? You run those gags for ten years is what you do!

Fortunately one can also run across self-conscious attempts by many authors to transcend those soap-opera or vaudeville limitations and serialized, single-author works which span a decade or more can often become a fascinating record of a creator's artistic growth. Dominic Deegan is not fundamentally the most original or coherent... or high-brow... or best-drawn... or trenchant... or well, you get the idea - comic out there. Nonetheless, Mookie's constant and often successful wild stabs at bringing something new to the tired old tropes of high fantasy superheroics eventually yielded a unique personal style, world and characters. Each aspect brings a strange mix of the cheesily overdone and the truly inventive.

In terms of character growth, many shifted gradually over the years from simplistic foils and straw men defined by their plot roles into believable, multi-faceted individuals. Luna did not remain an awkward, depressed victim. Szark did not remain a recurring shadow of Dominic's past. Miranda did not become entrenched as some all-purpose Mr. Miyagi or deus-ex-momina. Though the visual style progressed very little, mostly acquiring some polish, it occasionally illustrated intriguing visualizations of magical processes, especially when the author did away with standard newspaper format. The humor slowly diversified from purely linguistic whimsy past self-referent in-jokes to wistful, believable character-centered comic relief. The drama grew out of superheroic villain-of-the-week parades to complex fantasy-world societal concerns.

Most interesting to me in my fascination with world-building however was the development of that world itself. Dominic Deegan did not start with a carefully-crafted fictional universe, and many of the original gimmicks had to be downplayed ("see the truth!") in order to allow for greater coherence as its horizons slowly expanded from a single hut to a village to a kingdom to an entire fantasy world. For those of us so uptight we get stuck on universal constants instead of ever getting into the writing itself, this is an inherently captivating process.

So long, you alliterated savior of the universe, and thanks for all the fish-jokes.

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