Saturday, June 25, 2016

A look at Science Fiction webcomics: Part 3

What makes a science fictional webcomic? Many offer insights into science or space, artificial intelligence or how technology impacts our lives. Some have speculative fiction plotlines and are set in the distant future… but not all. A  good number depict spaceships, colony planets, faster than light travel, time travel, or alternate universes… but not all. Many portray alien species or talking anthropomorphic animals -- and reflect on the nature of humanity. 

More than a few explore post-apocalyptic scenarios after a fall from plague or widespread war; others have more mundane modern day settings, but deal with technological quandaries. Some offer drama or adventure; others are humorous or wry... and a few are rather dark. They tend to avoid tales of wizards and superheroes… or excess magic or mysticism. 

TV Tropes offers an extensive source of information about the common concepts of sci fi webcomics. 

This is a follow-up to my earlier postings on science and Science Fiction related comics: Part 1 looked at many excellent works such as Dresdan Codak, Schlock Mercenary, Girl Genius, SMBC, and xkcd; Part 2 moved on to Brewster Rockit, Outsider, Freefall, Drive, Quantum Vibe, and many others.  Here in Part 3 we'll do cleanup, covering some neglected treasures and others that you readers suggested, down in comments. (And yes, the Contrary Brin comments community is one of the oldest and most articulate/interesting blogmunities on the web, consisting mostly of erudite folks who care about ideas... and almost troll free!)

== Continuing our Web Comic Roundup ==

First a suggestion. Support these talented webartists -- and those listed in Parts 1 & 2 -- on the crowd-funding site Patreon – for these talented artists consistently post their work online for free.

Questionable Content, by Jeff Jacques, has been running since 2003, with well over 3000 episodes. A “slice of life” comic, the light-hearted, humorous series is set in Massachusetts in the near future. It follows the ever-evolving relationship dramas between Marten Reed, an indie-rock fan, his friends Faye and Hannelore (who grew up on a space station), his mischievous and often sociopathic robot Pintsize, and a cast that expands as the series progresses. Most tech is present day, other than the anthropomorphic sentient robots -- called AnthroPCs. 

The storyline takes many twists and turns over the years, at times developing the more futuristic and science fictional aspects of the plot, such as androids and artificial intelligence. See Issue 2017 for the start of their trip to the space station.   

Trying Human, by Emy Bitner follows Rose Marie Williams, a secretary for the New York City police, who wakes each morning suffering form insomnia and nosebleeds. Under hypnosis she discovers she is being abducted by aliens, the telepathic Greys; one male, Hue, has become fixated on her. Unknown to Rose, her boyfriend has become an agent of the secretive “Majestic 12” – a "Men in Black" - like unit which monitors alien activity on Earth. 

On a parallel plot line, flashbacks from the 1940s follow Phillis, a translator for the Air Force, who develops a special connection to an alien, EBE1, who has been recovered from a crashed ship. The title comes from a “trying human circuit” – which aliens use to appear human during their time on Earth. Start from the beginning here.

Trekker, by Ron Randall: This retrofuturistic adventure story begins in the gritty city of New Gelaph in the 23rd century, but later expands to encompass an interstellar society. It centers around the no-nonsense, kick-ass Mercy St. Clair, a bounty hunter or “Trekker,” tracking down criminals, gang members, underworld bosses, “…alive or dead, the pay’s the same.” In more recent issues, she takes on political intrigue and war as she ventures out to other planets and colonies. Wherever she goes, trouble always finds her. 

Released in print by Dark Horse in the late 1980’s, the series has been revived online. Nice artwork, vivid story with lots of action and fight scenes. Start from the beginning here, or indulge in the collected Trekker Omnibus

Inhuman, by Icarus, is set 1000 years in the future, after aliens have contacted earth. Near light speed travel has been achieved and Jump Gates enable rapid interstellar travel. A militaristic religious group, Rulerism, has spread across the galaxy; violence and massacres have followed as they forcibly seek converts with the mantra, “Save everyone’s soul. Save them from themselves.” Many of the (animalistic) aliens are prejudiced against humans for their role in the Ruleristic cult. Grey, a blind, mute, schizophrenic human, covered in scars, has escaped from an alien psych ward… and the Rulerists are desperate to find him. Flashbacks and hallucinations begin to fill in the often dark backstory. Hand drawn in ink and watercolors … a reflection on what it means to be human. Start at the beginning here.

Crowded Void, by Mike West offers one of the more unusual concepts. Finding Earth too crowded and people rather distasteful, Vincent Foxwell thought he could find peace when he took a job on a cargo vessel, hauling junk in space, with only an AI for company. Space turns out to be more crowded than he imagined…. when his spacecraft is swallowed by a massive space worm, where there is already an intestinal civilization of over a million humans and aliens, jockeying for position in the worm's digestive cycle. He must find a way to escape… before digestion is complete. But first he must deal with the The Joint Intestinal Monarchy, which controls the worm, harvesting parts from spaceships. No end of good material for humor… a new theory of wormholes? Start at the beginning here.

O Human Star, by Blue Delliquanti, tells the tale of Alastair (Al) Sterling, an inventor whose work sparked the robot revolution, but didn’t live to see it. Sixteen years after his sudden death, Al wakes up in a synthetic replica of his original body, with his memories intact. His technical designs have become reality; advanced robots coexist with humans. Meanwhile Brendan, his former business partner and best friend, had tried but failed to resurrect Al. However, Brendan did succeed in generating a synthetic being, Sulla, that looks like Al -- but decided to become female. She’s like him in every other way, except that she doesn’t have all his memories. Flashbacks illuminate Al’s formerly intimate relationship with Brendan (some sex scenes). And now Al must struggle to figure out who had him resurrected -- and discover his role in this new world of ever present artificial intelligence. Start at the beginning here.

Sunset Grill, by Kat Feete, is set in in a bar in the year 2426, in the gritty streets of Kieselburg, somewhere in the Midwest. “Earth is a patchwork quilt of restive, squabbling Domains, loosely joined under the mantle of the Empire, whose primary goal is to present a united front to the dozens of technologically advanced, land-hungry, and not particularly moral alien races.” The serial comic centers around the bar’s owners, workers and patrons, as well as the street kids, criminals, gangsters, corrupt cops, prostitutes, drug dealers… the low-life of the city’s slums, as well as glimpses of the justice system and Imperial officers. Science fictional elements are rare (genetically-engineered greenies) and some advanced technology. 3D computer graphics, with lots of backstory on the website. Start at the beginning here... and see it reviewed more extensively on Tangents Review. 

The Wandering Ones by Clint Hollingsworth An action comic set in the post-apocalyptic world of the mid 21st century, after a man-made viral weapon, a plague bomb released from orbit by religious zealots (as they were leaving earth) - has killed off most humans. But not all. The comic follows the stealthy scouts of the Clan of the Hawk, in the Columbia River area of the Pacific Northwest. These rebels, led by the tough female Ravenwing, use their survival and tracking skills (as well as some modern technology and a fair amount of mysticism) to live off the land as they struggle against the encroaching fascist Farnham’s Empire, aka The Reich. Start at the beginning here.

A Miracle of Science, written by Jon Kilgannon, drawn by Mark Sachs. This light-hearted webcomic ran from 2002 to 2007. Set in the year 2148 in an interplanetary civilization that extends out to the Jovian moons. This romantic comedy follows two members of the Vorstellen Police, whose job it is to track down and stop a virulent plague of… mad scientists. Bwa ha ha ha! The onset of Science Related Memetic Disorder (S.R.M.D.) has led to rogue scientists conducting dangerous research (to make robot armies) to achieve world domination. Lots of chase scenes and explosions, plus advanced tech like AI, androids, big attack robots, orbital cannons and terraforming. Fun. Start from the beginning.

Thunderpaw: In the Ashes of Fire Mountain, an animated comic by Jen Lee. This is a buddy roadtrip tale with anthropomorphic talking dogs. It was the brightest night… when humanity suddenly disappeared. “They’re not coming back are they?” Doggy pals Bruno and Ollie are trapped inside a car when fire rains from the sky and breaks open the vehicle. They can’t help but wonder…If only they hadn’t chewed up the garden, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Bruno and Ollie wander across a post-apocalyptic fiery wasteland, with danger everywhere… and they just want to return home to their doggy bed and backyard where treasures are buried. Lee’s gray and orange panels jitter and flash to create a sense of immediacy. Start at the beginning here.

Sluggy Freelance, by Pete Abrams. This humorous strip has been running since 1997; longer story lines developed over time. The main characters are Torg, his inventor friend Riff, ZoĆ«, Gwynn and a psychopathic switchblade-wielding, talking mini-lop rabbit, Bun-Bun. They encounter aliens, monsters, ghosts, demons, vampires, mad scientists, and alternate universes.. with large doses of pop culture references, puns, parodies and gag lines.  Read the New Viewer’s Guide  or sample the Sci-Fi Adventure, where Riff invents a “dimensional flux agitator which opens rifts in random reality paths,” intending to blast Bun-Bun into another dimension – but of course things go wrong…. 

Anna Galactic, by Christopher Baldwin (creator of Space Trawler), is a sci fi web comedy. The spaceship Mary Celeste has landed on a carbon-based world when their lauridium power cube nearly died. But why were no SOS signals sent? And why hasn’t the captain gone in search of lauridium on the planet? 

Passengers Foxglove and Anna, with crewmember Dilvan -- and a nannybot Pewter -- suspect something’s amiss… and head off to the planet surface seeking answers. They encounter bizarre and hostile alien lifeforms and landforms and a mysterious colony settlement. Start at the beginning here.

Stand Still. Stay Silent, by Minna Sundburg is a post-apocalyptic adventure webcomic set in Iceland, which sealed its borders after a virulent pathogen wiped out most of the “Old World.” Ninety years later, a poorly funded research crew has set off to explore the outside territories of the Silent World – and gather info about those dark lands outside the known world, which consists of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. Their journeys bring them in contact with a multitude of dangers -- beasts, giants, trolls and monsters – many the result of mutation from the plague. Elements of Nordic mythology arise, as much of the population has reverted to worshiping the ancient Norse or Finnish gods. Start at the beginning here.

Space Junk Arlia, by Alex Miller and Orange This relatively recent space opera follows a gang of pirates aboard the frigate Dela-Ru, their tough captain, Rana Borlei (known as Lady Luck) and their partly alien crew. Anyone going up against her “is gonna need all the luck they can get.” Even so, these pirates barely eke out a living, smuggling goods, avoiding the law when possible. When they agree to secretly escort a member of royalty, they find themselves under attack, enmeshed in webs of conspiracy… even as Rana’s past comes back to haunt her. Vivid space battles and starships. Start at the beginning here.

Erin Dies Alone, written by Cory Rydell and drawn by Grey Carter. A darker offering, this comic is about “isolation, mental illness and videogames.” It centers around a writer named Erin, a lonely young woman who has not left her condo in two years, her meds delivered through a slot in the door. Erin spends her days immersed in video games, hallucinating and talking with imaginary video game characters, particularly Red Panda, “the one who will save us all.” Is it all in her head… and can she step back into the real world? The strip satirizes classic video games from Sonic the Hedgehog to Halo and Final Fantasy, video violence, and leveling up. Start at the beginning here.

Brief Looks:

Space Mullet
Space Mullet, by Daniel Warren Johnson, is “an episodic style comic about a washed up, Ex-Space Marine trucker named Jonah, and his alien co-pilot, Alphius. Together they do their best (and usually fail) to do good throughout the galaxy.” (>Pictured to right.)

Relativity, by Beck Kramer: “When Irina Novak set off on NASA’s first light speed travel mission, she knew the flight would change her life. She just had no idea how much.”

Bicycle Boy, by Jackarais, is a post-apocalyptic story: “Our protagonist – a cyborg who calls himself “Poet” – can not recall anything before they day he woke up in the middle of the desert, surrounded by corpses." (Pictured to left.)

Space Corps, by Bryan Richmond and Gannon Beck: this series follows “a platoon of Space Marines fighting in a planet-hopping campaign in an intergalactic war.”

Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life, by Kit Roebuck and Alec Reed. "A philosophical road trip about two unemployed robots on an improvised interplanetary voyage of self discovery."

Greasy Space Monkeys, by Reine Brand and Mark Kestler, tells “the adventure of two idiots in a dead end job on a run-down space station.”

Velocidad by Kasey Quevedo
Velocidad  Bikers in Space, by Kasey Quevedo is “a sci fi genre webcomic about fast ships, space-heists, and even faster space bikes.” (Pictured to right.)

Supermassive Black Hole A!, by Ben Chamberlain. A hard sci fi webcomic, the story follows “human civilization at the center of the Milky Way galaxy,  an area of space dominated by a gigantic black hole, where energy is abundant and life is cheap.” 

Am I recommending all of these? Well some are better than others, but I leave that to you.  Also, many of the very best were listed already, in Parts 1 & 2.  But the number one consideration is this...

...enjoy!  But also protect your lifespan and productivity! Our wondrous civilization is filled with distractions. Have fun. But ration yourself and get done what needs doing! Then... rewards await...

              and Part 2: Science-fiction webcomics


Anonymous said...

Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life is a good one that seems a little undiscovered.

Robert said...

I suppose Megatokyo has sufficient science fiction elements (gynroids, the occasional mecha, widescale destruction and reconstruction of parts of the city as a matter of everyday life, and other elements) that it might be (with squinting) be considered SciFi. :) Mostly it's a fun deconstruction of anime tropes. Thus elements found in scifi and in manga finding their way into the story.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Once again, a very tempting list - though a few too many whose titles start with "Space..." Erin Dies Alone sounds just a little too close to home for too many people today...

Anonymous said...

Hard to say if it really qualifies as sci-fi, but if I had to recommend one comic from this list, it would be Stand Still, Stay Silent. Beautiful, creepy, often light-hearted, but obviously carefully thought out. I have to admit that as a science-fiction reader, and a web-comic reader, I've found very few sci-fi webcomics that I've actually enjoyed. Most approach it in a jokey, satirical way, and never get beyond that. And a couple of the more serious ones I followed fell prey to permanent update-fail, as is the fate of 85% of webcomics.

KaseyQ said...

Thank you so much for the mention of Velocidad! It's my love letter to all my favorite sci-fi movies, books, games, and, of course comics.....and a lot of great finds on here. I'm a sucker for anything sci-fi.
....and Earth was always one of my favorite books. Thanks again!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Damn it - more bloody comics!

Although this time it probably won't steal as much of my time as I'm still working through the previous list

Going back to politics.

Remember the Scottish Devolution referendum in 1979?
(Probably not)
The English MP’s (when there was not a single Scottish MP in the house)
Voted that an actual majority of the electorate had to agree - not a majority of the votes
We won that referendum - but didn’t get 50% of the registered voters so they ignored it

As the UK does NOT have a tradition of the graveyard vote the registration system is more about getting people ON the register than it is about taking people OFF the register
Because I had moved a couple of times my own “yes” vote was outvoted by the other two places where I was on the register but did not vote

I whined and moaned at the time but that was actually a much more sensible way of looking at the results of a referendum

Duncan Cairncross said...

A lovely quote I read

Make America grate again,
Ban shredded cheese.

Tim Whitten said...

That makes a lot of sense, Duncan - the proportion of registered voters who voted leave in the Brexit referendum is actually only 37.4%, not all that much at all, and clearly demonstrating the foolishness of the statement "Britain has spoken".

The petition for a second referendum has passed 3 million signatures - although I also see it is now being investigated for fraud (allegations of people adding fraudulent signatures to it... arrgh). I suspect it would never happen though - any MPs that comment on the idea say "no way". Tacitus was probably right on the previous thread that there would be fury from the other side if such a thing happened - although it is interesting that Nigel Farage (our UKIP leading home-grown Trump-wannabe) said a few months ago that a 52% vote to remain would be "unfinished business by a long way", and would have then worked for a second referendum from his side. Of course he's being very silent about such a thing now. But that just underscores the idea that small majorities are not a victory for any side.

Tony Blair was being interviewed this morning, and said that (of course he was for Remain) he's not surprised Leave could win, bearing in mind:

1) a population distrustful and resentful of those in power,
2) fairly stagnant pay levels over the last few years, and above all
3) the fear of immigrants (which has been stoked by a right wing press and the aforementioned Farage and his army of flying monkeys).

He suggested you'd probably get a similar result in most European countries at the moment.

One other thing Blair said that made my eyebrows go up - he couldn't recall a single time in his ten years as PM of having Brussels dictate something or over-rule him on a decision, except on issues specific to the EU as a whole. So much for having no sovereignty.

Paul SB said...

It's too bad Blair hadn't made that point before the vote.

Given how much of the leave vote was motivated by fear of migrants flooding into the country, I think a whole lot of the blame here can be pegged on Bush II. Taking his family vendetta against Hussein to the point of invasion is what set the stage for the massive upheaval happening in the Middle East today, and directly led to most of those refugees flooding into Europe. The consequences of bad policies by our (so often Red) leaders can stretch on for decades, sometimes reverberating for multiple generations.

As numbers games go, it does not always take a huge percentage of a population to shake up the system. Look at old Ollie Cromwell! But then, democracy is supposed to arrange things so a greater percentage of the people get their way. It works, more or less, but it gets to be an increasingly complicated system, and as Montgomery Scott once said, the more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Hopefully the selective pressure of increasing complexity will lead to better plumbers.

Tacitus2 said...

Thanks for the new Distractions. I have been following Stand Still Stay Silent for quite a while now.


Dave Moore said...


Not suprised by that comment by Blair, but its probably best that he didn't get involved nuch with Remain. He is so unpopular here he is poison to any cause he supports.

With regards to one day returni g to the EU ("Brinsert") things would have to go REALLY bad, as we would have to join the Euro.

Tom - glad to hear from another 48er, they are in short supply here on the Thames estuary.

Anonymous said...

Thank Buddallah I have all my Entangled Clones so I can read all these gems! Boy would it suck to be stuck in a single body and perception reference.


David Brin said...


raito said...


I've pretty much given up on Megatokyo. It updates so seldom that there's really no story (or point) these days.

There's Perils on Planet X, though that's much more planetary romance than sci-fi.

Penny Arcade's Automata could be good, if there were more of it. Film Noire w/ robots. A PI-based Alien Nation. With robots.

Berial said...

I feel the same about "The Wandering Ones" sometimes, though that one does update more often than Megatokyo. It's the way of long running webcomics I guess.

Tim Whitten said...

Hi Dave Moore, good to see you here too - but who be this Tom you speak of...? :o)

Actually, Tom is probably one of MY entangled clones; it does all feel like I've woken up in an alternative universe. I dreamt I was a man called Tim... but now the dream is over... and the UK is tearing itself apart. The insect has awoken.

Aye re Blair's effect on any campaign - finding myself agreeing with pretty much everything he was saying added to the air of unreality to it all.

I had a dental checkup today, and the locum who saw me was extremely happy with it all - she'd campaigned on behalf of Ukip, and had read Nigel Farage's book and everything. Ay Caramba. The kool-aid had well and truly been supped! Of course we got into an argument about the result, and.... then I remembered where I was and the conversation turned politer. At least I think it did (how many teeth am I supposed to have again?)

Brinsert! Yes! The process by which an optimistic viewpoint is injected into current and future issues*.

Speaking of which, isn't it about time the Gubru invaded? Or the Tandu? I always liked the Tandu. I have to confess my optimism that we can sort this little planet out has taken a kicking, and as Reagan said:

"Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world".

* Plus dolphins.**
** In space.

Tacitus2 said...

"Brinsert" was my suggested term for future attempts to bring Britain back into the EU.


Paul SB said...

Cetacea ad astra!

Though "Brinsert" could be taken more ways than one...

Atomic Zeppelin Man, when are you going to get that solar upgrade? Flexible panels are way lighter than a nuclear reactor!

Tony Fisk said...

An interesting collection to consider.
I've been casually following Girl Genius and Dresden Codak (which has started a slow but more regular update of about every fortnight) Gunnerkrigg Court has been briefly covered before. A blend of SF and fantasy, it could perhaps be given a signal boost for its services to robots in search of meaning. It helps that, while his timeline may be loose, Siddell has a very firm idea of where he's ultimately taking all this. Also, his artwork keeps on getting better and better. Be warned, though, that the main protagonist has just been going through a harrowing period of character development.

As for Brexit... I think all decisions that could be taken from here would be labelled 'courageous' by Sir Humphrey.

greg byshenk said...

Tim Whitten wrote
But the wording of the petition is that if the result of a referendum is less than 60% one way or another, with a voter turnout less than 75% (we were 72% - impressive by normal standards, but still low for such a fundamental issue - Scotland's IndyRef1 was nearly 85%), then it should be repeated. Otherwise it does not represent a clear majority.
An interesting thought -- but by those rules the original 'join' vote would not have been valid, either.

A.F. Rey said...

I have to second Anon's recommendation of "Stand Still, Stay Silent." I've found the storyline a bit slow at times (could use a little infusion of "Walking Dead," IMHO), but mainly like it because Minna Sundberg is a Finn, just like my dear, departed mom. I've found that Finnish/Swedish perspective refreshingly unique.

You should also check out her wonderful language tree, that shows the relationship and relative popularity of the most popular extant languages:

A.F. Rey said...

"Brinsert" was my suggested term for future attempts to bring Britain back into the EU.

Oh, great. Now David is going to get blamed for any riots in England over going back to the EU. :)

But, hey, any publicity is good publicity. Trump has proved that. ;)

Paul SB said...


I haven't read the comic, but I did take a look at that language tree, and you're right, it's quite nice, artistically. I would love it if she linked to something more like a modern cladogram, so readers can engage both hemispheres. It's fairly easy to google.

or this more complete (but complicated) one

Of course, now I'll expect a 5-page essay (typed, double-spaced) with citations in AJA format on the price plasticity of Uralic vs. Romance languages. It will be due next Thursday.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding Brexit, have any of the royals expressed an opinion yet? Just curious since there seems to be a good chance of more independence votes.

David Brin said...

Supposedly the royals would still be monarchs of Scotland.



Unknown said...

I found these posts through Quantum Vibe, which I just discovered. You have already mentioned most of the SF comics I read, but I follow hundreds of them, so here are a few I think are worth mentioning:

Cassiopeia Quinn, a relatively new webcomic by Gunwild and Pseudonym, about a daring young space pirate and her cyborg space cowboy boyfriend.

Vexxarr by Hunter Cressall, about the eponymous green, tentacled alien "conqueror", whose incredibly sarcastic exterior hides an even more cynic interior. Really, it's an open question why so many bizarre creatures call his ship home, and insist that he is their friend\savior\family\nemesis.

The Last Cowboy by Zoe Coughlin. I'm not entirely sure what this comic is about, except that it is set in a not too far future, where humanity is trying to cope with galactic society without its males, who were wiped out by an alien disease from an early contact situation.

Quentyn Quinn - Space Ranger is a spin-off of Ralph Hayes Junior's fantasy comic Tales of the Questor. Set in the far flung future of the earlier series, it details the adventures of a lonely lawman, isolated from the society he polices by the distances and times involved in intergalactic travel.

And finally, Cosmic Dash by David Davis is about the adventures of the multi-species, many-talented crew of the cargo ship-for-hire the Lucky Strike.

M. Northstar

Paragravity Films said...

Clock Anti-Clock is a 6 minute science fiction experience on time travel that talks about reverse and forward time travel.