Saturday, 29 September 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Paranatural vs. Vibe

This week’s Two To Review features webcomics that both follow a young teenage boy learning to use superpowers against spirit monsters, but more importantly, both of these webcomics were recommended to me specifically to review! Thanks MSPA forumite Pixel20!

Paranatural is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Zach Morrison. The story follows a snarky sarcastic boy named Max who moves to a new town with his family, and not long afterwards gains the ability to see ghosts and spirits. So not only does he have the headache of trying to fit in to a new school and make new friends, he has the additional migraine of investigating and battling spectral weirdness with the help of the school’s “Activity Club” - a front for a group of supernaturally-inclined students led by the mysterious teacher Mr Spender.

The first thing you need to know about Paranatural is that it is seriously funny. Humour is the primary concern here, and in my opinion this comic ticks that box with gusto! Another big plus point is the art; after Max learns of the existence of ghosts, each painstakingly-drawn panel literally becomes a spot-the-spirit puzzle. Weird-shaped creatures fill every nook during indoor scenes, and the larger beasts lolloping on rooftops and swimming in the lake add to the beauty of every outdoor panel. An additional highlight is the energetic tone of the story. It may have been the speed in which I read through the archive, but to me the overall feel is that of a non-stop freight train, quickly passing through junctions of action and humour in quick succession, only briefly pulling in at stops for a quick hit of unexpected emotion or a silent scenery page.

Of course, the downside to a formula like this is that sometimes the train passes things by all too quickly. For example, Max briefly touches on the subject of his dead mother in a bonding conversation with a new ghost friend, but this quickly gets interrupted by the introduction of the next big spirit antagonist to fight. And it’s clear that the fantastical elements of the setting runs on fixed rules, but it appears that for the most part these rules don’t even matter that much to the author, merely acting as stop-gap explanations of why this thing is trying to kill you now. Another drawback to this comic is the bewilderingly large cast of characters - when Max starts his new school the audience is just as in-at-the-deep-end as him, meeting potential new friends and enemies as well as the array of goofy teachers to contend with.

Vibe is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Dan Ciurczak. Vibe revolves around the character Baron, a teenage boy learning the ropes of being a Witch Doctor, which entails him seeking out people with bad emotional problems and physically manifesting these bad “vibes” as huge monsters he then battles and defeats. While he does this, the long-term story arc concerns Baron’s quest to find his missing sister, who is hinted to have gone to the bad side of voodoo.

Vibe takes itself a lot more seriously than Paranatural, with humour used sparingly via banter between Baron and his pocket-sized Loa (voodoo spirit) companions, whose powers he borrows to fight the bad vibes. Of the two webcomics, Vibe is the place to be if you want a deeper, more involved story. The artwork is utterly gorgeous, and would not look out of place alongside the best examples of Marvel or DC art. I especially like the use of vibrant colour and lighting against the backdrop of the dark city at night, when much of the action takes place.

There are elements of the comic that I personally don't like though, including the heavy use of graffiti-inspired special effects and the writing used to capture the accent of the antagonist character Furio. I totally understand that the story has strong links with specific cultures but I’d just like to understand what he’s saying without carefully re-reading every word bubble.

Compared side by side, it appears that these webcomics share a great deal of similarities. But to me there is a very clear winner that has earned its place on my favourites bar, and that would be the hilarious Paranatural.

Todd Marsh learned everything he needed to know about ghosts from the Ghostbusters films.

EDITOR'S NOTE: this article was edited on Monday 1st October, following a retraction. We apologise for any offence the original article may have caused.