Monday, November 17, 2008

37th Leg: Dresden Codak

Comic: Dresden Codak
By: Aaron Diaz

Setting and Elements: Surreal, Sci-Fi, Semi-Futuristic
Content Type: Philosophical, Adventure, Action, Satire

Art Medium: Full Colour, Tablet
Art Style: Semi-realistic Cartoony

Is About: Kimiko, a transhumanist roboticist and her adventures dealing with her disillusionment with humanity, space robots and other things.

Frequency: Irregular weekly
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation: I really like the website design. It's clean but not sterile, and is generously sprinkled with samples of the cartoonist's art style. Navigation is clearly linked... my only beef is I'm not sure where to start from.

You would think that clicking the Comic Archive button would solve everything but it doesn't. Yon reader is presented with a list of comics, but there's no clear indication of the beginning, so I guess I'll go by date and take the earliest one.

The Concept:

Dresden Codak is one of the first examples I've seen of a non-serialized comic. There is no clear beginning or end, it's more of a collection of stort stories and philosophical ramblings of the author. The beginning pages you can read out of order if you like, they are standalones. 

It's only up to the "Hob" storyline when things get a little more sequential and there's more a semblance of a contiguous storyline.

Don't expect your typical webcomic setup here. No siree. No-four-friends-in-an-apartment making wisecracks, no party-of-adventurers setting out to vanquish evil overlord, no band-of-freedom-fighters waging a desperate war against a robotic sentience. Oh wait... forget what I said about the last part.

By the way the title Dresden Codak doesn't really have much to do with the comic's naming. It's more of a pen name. At least, as the creator Aaron Diaz says it:

Why "Dresden Codak"? - Because I don't want to be confused with Latin sensation Aaron Diaz.

The Art:

The art for the comic is downright gorgeous. Aaron is a professional artist, and you can tell that from every panel of art, design, layout and detail in his work.

Apparently he does most of his work digitally, with computer and tablet, though many people might think he inks the art by hand and colours digitally (not so). I think I learned more about drawing just from looking at his technique and detail than I have for a long while.

Words are poor choice for describing the art really, I'll let the self-insertion do the talking:

The Writing:

As nice as the art is for this comic, the writing is the most distinctive thing here.

You know how I always complain about subpar comics with boring and cliched writing and such? And how we should all read comics that are out of our comfort zone once in a while?

Well I can assure you Dresden Codak does not fall in the boring and cliched category. This here is a comic that requires quite a bit of outside reading and thinking to grasp. I'll candidly admit I didn't get all the references to quite a few of the theological discussions. (And poof, there goes the illusion I had that I was reasonably well-read. Apparently when you start working you get depressingly practical and what you read and lose all your idealistic theory :( )

Back to the topic of the writing, the messages behind the comic are surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. The topics cover range form science, religion, psychology etc etc. One might not necessarily like or agree with them, but they do make you think. And I like comics that make me think, even when they make me think of things I'd normally wouldn't choose to think about. Lastly, I like comics that introduce new concepts and topics to me. (First time I've heard of "Transhumanism", for example.)

Oh I should also mention, this comic is unapologetically and proudly atheist. If religion is a taboo subject for you, you might not find this comfortable reading. As one of the Dresden's tagline goes: "Alienating audiences since 2005".

The Hob storyline is a merits a seperate section on the writing, being less of the standalone ramblings and more of a full blown epic storyline. There is a detailed story and characters that we have been briefly introduced to are given a deeper characterization, Some of it had me in stitches. 

It's a little easier to follow than the preceding pages, but still has quite a lot of "thinkety think" involved to understand the whole argument on why the characters do what they do.

It is a satisfying read though.


I don't think it's a "problem" per se, but more of an on-purpose designed obstacle by the author that so much of the writing of this comic requires effort to understand. 

The thing is, many people don't really read comics to think.

Frankly? People read about star-ships and alien and fantasy elves not because they want to study alien civilizations or elven anthropology (or whatever you call the study of elven culture *chuckle*). No, they read books and comics about these things as a form of escapism from their own real lives. Even if it's for a little while.

So I suspect many readers will be attracted to something that looks like a steampunk/fantasy comic to them, and then when they start reading they're going to end up with a philosophical brickbat in the face.

And the sadistic part of me is going to giggle when they make a hasty retreat back to those comics about blond elven archers and womanizing starship captains vs space aliens.

You know, the old and comfortable well-worn stuff. And it's probably better that way.


Dresden Codak is a well done piece of work, but it's something that isn't for everyone, and I get the impression the creator made it with a niche audience in mind. No pandering to the lowest common denominator here. 

And that's what makes it excellent in its own right.

There are cute references to obscure (or not so obscure, eg. Star Trek) things everywhere, and the Flaming Lips-que page names are (I apologize for the gamerspeak) pure win.

All in all, I find it interesting and refreshing, and a bit of a challenge. I might not exactly be checking it eagerly daily, but I will pop back once in a while to see what Kimiko and gang are up to whenever I need something to think about and want something different.

ps: I had no idea until after I had written this that Dresden Codak was the WCCA winner for 2008. Out of touch much, Ping?
ps again: Oooohhh.... guilty

The Next Leg:

Well this looks interesting. Westernized manhua? Easternized comics? Depends on how you look at it I suppose.