Content warning: mental illness, racism, drug use, sexual harassment
I have reviewed a few graphic novels on here that were originally webcomics. However, I don’t think I have ever reviewed a webcomic that has not yet been published and is still being updated. I first came across this artist well over a decade ago when she was creating a different webcomic called “Cheap Thrills“. “Cheap Thrills” was a story about a group of teenagers illustrated in a style the artist often referred to as humanimals but that others may recognise as furry/anthro. In 2012, the artist posted that the comic was no longer going to be updating regularly and that she couldn’t say if or when it would again. Many fans who had become immersed in the complex lives of these kids were heartbroken but understanding at the announcement. Then, in 2018, she announced something new: the same characters we all loved, but rebooted with a revitalised setting and a more sophisticated plot.
“Rigsby WI” by SE Case is a coming of age webcomic about a group of teenagers called Jeordie, Beth, Anna, Erik and Frank who live in the eponymous town Rigsby in Wisconsin, USA. Jeordie, a talented artist and basketballer, navigates small-town racism as a biracial person and explores his sexuality. Beth, his next door neighbour, is homeschooled by her aunt after a tumultuous time with her family and early school years. Her best friend Anna struggles with maintaining high grades in a dysfunctional family situation, staying over with friends and her half sister more than she does at home. The friend Anna grew up with, Erik, is trying to reinvent himself to impress a girl and pursue sports. Anna also gets to know Frank, an older student who has repeated several times, who lives in the same trailer park as her sister and is known as the go-to weed guy.
This is a hard-hitting, slice-of-life webcomic that tackles a range of social issues while paying homage to the cultural touchstones of early 2000s. Each of the three chapters published so far use a slightly different style that reflects not only the season but the overall mood of the chapter. The webcomic is extremely immersive with the characters engaging with the music, fashion and historical events of the time. I was even inspired to make a playlist of the songs referenced in the comic. Case sensitively but boldly explores issues of class, race, sexuality and mental illness through realistic dialogue and extremely relatable characters. She has a real knack for capturing both the emotionally charged interactions and sheer irreverence of teenagerhood. The characters visibly develop as the comic progresses and the whole story is infused with a sense of growth.
I’m just as hooked as I was on “Cheap Thrills” and I can’t wait to watch how this comic evolves.
Fictional podcast about a death at a mysterious girl’s school
Content warning: bullying, suicide
The time had come to choose my next running audiobook. I was flicking through the options and came across this: a fictional podcast. I really enjoy fictional podcasts and I’ve listened to more over the years than I have reviewed on this blog because I’m never quite sure if they count as books. I actually find fictional podcasts (or radio plays) easier to listen to than audiobooks: I think the extra sound editing and production makes the story more immersive, and the voice actors make the characters more distinct. Anyway, maybe I should review more fictional podcasts but in the meantime, let’s start with this one.
“The Orchard” by Mike Jones and Mike Cowap is a fictional podcast about a detective and single dad called Adam Durwood who is about to resign from the force. His last case is to investigate the unusual death of a teenage boy by the orchard of an exclusive all girls’ school. His superiors are eager to write it off as a suicide but Detective Durwood is not convinced. He questions students and staff but their responses are confounding; hinting at the school’s secret history. As impartial as Detective Durwood thinks he is, something about the case is pulling him in and while he is distracted, something is pulling his daughter away from him.
This was a really eerie, well-scripted story with exceptional voice acting. There was a surprisingly stellar cast of characters, with Eric Bana as Adam Durwood, Magda Szubanski as Barbara and Gary Sweet as DI Simes. Bana in particular was a standout and captured the nuance of dogged detective and struggling dad perfectly. Each episode was only about 20 minutes or so, which was a pretty ideal length for a short run. There was quite a sinister vibe and I found this podcast really quite creepy to listen to when I was running by myself at night after work. The story covered a range of issues, and I thought one of the most compelling elements was the impact something like a catastrophic car crash can have on a family, the way we process grief and what you would do to get your family back.
As enjoyable as the podcast was, the closer I got to the ending the less convinced I was with the plot direction. I thought that there had been some really strong groundwork around the school, secret societies and the way alumni connections can be used to propel students towards success. However, the final reveal in the story took a completely different path that I found less interesting and much less convincing.
An enjoyable story with a great cast that didn’t quite land the ending.