Far-Out-Mantic is a unique full-colour webcomic by Sarah Burgess. It can be read on her SmackJeeves account and at the time of writing this post it has pages numbering into the mid-60s and continues to be regularly updated.
Recently, Sarah has also self-published a printed ‘Book 1′ of the comic which will debut at this weekend’s London Web and Mini Comics Thing (28-29th March 2009), so look out for it if you’re going to be there! She doesn’t have an online shop but if you would like a copy to be posted to you (with payment probably via cheque), you can contact her on her email address which is on her profile page at SmackJeeves.
(As with Sammy Borras’ comic ‘Late’, which I covered in my last post, do go and support Sarah via the comment system on SmackJeeves if you like her work. You don’t have to be a member of the website to comment so there’s none of that annoying account-setup business to deal with.)
So onto the subject at hand! The comic begins with Penelope, a somewhat scatterbrained young woman who is not so lucky in love, but has an utter adoration for a certain hip hop band: Far-Out-Mantic. After she is jilted by the rascal Billy, she bumps into a mysterious book-reading stranger, who later turns up again in her life at the space-wear-only 24-hour disco called Meteor Flo, where the band Far-Out-Mantic are playing to a packed house.
The comic can get pretty fantastical at times but the overall pacing fits into the ‘slice-of-life’ genre quite well. We follow Penelope for the first two chapters, but switch our focus in chapter three to different characters. Rather than being told about events with narration or overly verbose pages, we are taken along for the ride and shown what is going on, as if we were standing nearby peeking in.
The setting of Far-Out-Mantic is a wonderful slightly off-kilter version of the real world, one where 24-hour space themed discos exist, but above this its the characters that really bring this piece to life. Penelope herself is a girl-next-door with a shot of determination and a heart full of dreams. Book-man is a mysterious stranger with a quiff and some good advice. Characters you meet later include some air hostess lookalikes, some evil musicians and an utterly charming man who sports a green afro with yellow stars in it.
These off-the-wall designs might sound a bit throwaway to some, however each character has his or her own unique personality and these are well-realised through their individual facial expressions and body language. A loose and sketchy style drawing style, coupled with delicate washes of watercolour, complements this expressiveness. Each chapter of Far-Out-Mantic has a different predominant colour which has been chosen to fit the mood (trivia: the creator says in her comments that this was inspired by Chloe Citrine’s webcomic ‘Rainbow Carousel‘, which also changes colours with each chapter).
A reason for the creator’s emphasis on expression and flow over tightly inked figures and ruler-straight panel boundaries can be found in her comments printed in ‘ The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga’ Vol. 3 (in which she has an 6-page short entitled ‘Purikura’). Sarah states that when she draws, she wants to ‘…back away from the obsession with symmetry, accuracy of bodies and form…’ that she prefers ‘…to give a natural life, movement and expression to my characters…I always try to make my comics flow rather than look stiff, wishing to put my heart and tears into every stroke’
So, whereas a lot of comic artists begin by focusing on perfecting drawing human bodies and environments very realistically, Sarah has chosen to explore how to bring her characters and their feelings immediately to her audience via the flow of their emotions. The strengths of an approach like this are that none of Sarah’s art becomes wooden or overdrawn; everything flows very well. Sometimes characters and backgrounds even verge on the abstract, as although characters’ bodies may not always be proportionally correct, the artist may use this to her advantage to improve the pacing of a page (for an example of what I mean, take a look at the singer on the right hand side of page 29).
Fortunately the comic does not break down into complete abstraction and is easy to read throughout. Although pages may look quickly drawn, the panel layouts throughout the comic are well considered: little explanation is required for readers to know what is going on other than simply by following the flow of images.
For these reasons I can imagine how some readers will fall in love with this comic’s art. However, others may find that the drawing style is not accurate or considered enough for them to enjoy it completely. Personally I feel that some of the art could benefit from a little more accuracy, however too much tightening would ruin the delicate hand-drawn feel of the comic. For example, the vertical lines in the backgrounds sometimes trail off diagonally, but rather than stamp ruled lines all over it, if the artist could just keep in mind that all of these lines should normally be parallel to the edge of the paper, it shouldn’t affect the flow of the piece but would help the solidity of the backgrounds.
Art style aside, probably the most interesting thing about Far-Out-Mantic is the wide range of influences that have inspired Sarah to draw it: music, fashion from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and of course the retro futuristic sci-fi trend which also spanned those decades. She talks about her influences in the comments that she writes on some of the pages, making them an interesting read. Perhaps the overarching inspiration for the comic though is the album ExpoExpo by the Japanese hip hop band M Flo, so I will leave you with one of the links Sarah posted in her comments, to a YouTube video of the song ‘Prism’, which captures a lot of the fun space-pop feel of the comic – enjoy!