Space Dock 7 is a web comic portal which brings together seven sci-fi stories from seven different creators. It’s a great idea to have a site which acts as a hub for several web comics, as it gains exposure for the creator’s work and helps to bring web comics to more and more people’s attention.
Launched in May 2010 the site was scheduled to be updated regularly but it appears that the creator’s busy schedules have occasionally got the better of them. However it is still very much active and the seven comics that are featured on the site are still being updated.
I’m going to take a look at each of the comics on the site and hopefully give you an idea of what you can expect from the titles. While I have tried to avoid major spoilers I will be discussing details and plot points of each of the comics so be warned.
Escape From Planet Nowhere
Fist up is Escape From Planet Nowhere, created by Otis Frampton.
We are introduced to the hero of the story as he is running away from a giant robot across a desert-like planet. Always a great way to start a story in my opinion. As the pages progress we learn that the protagonist is a surf-loving military man, recently re-assigned to New Toledo after an unfortunate dalliance with his commanding officer’s “just south of legal” daughter.
New Toledo is called ‘Holy Toledo’ by the marines but it soon becomes clear that this is a God forsaken place.
The artwork in Escape From Planet Nowhere is absolutely stunning. Frampton uses the available space really well, filling the panels with stunning landscapes and fast moving action. The comic has a really strong cinematic feel, which is bolstered by the clever use of muted colours, shadows and silhouettes.
Our hero is attacked by more robots and escapes down a sewer. Throughout the first episode he is confident, almost cocky and he seems to have the measure of the robots he is fighting. The cliff-hanger ending of chapter one therefore comes as a huge shock.
Last updated in June of this year Escape from Nowhere is one of the most stunning web comics I have come across so far. I devoured the archive and I thoroughly recommend you do the same here.
Cleopatra in Spaaace!
It’s not a new idea for writers to take recognised historical figures and play around with their legend, putting them in unfamiliar surroundings and scenarios. It is not an easy thing to do however, due to all the details people already know about that person. Mike Maihak has taken one of the most recognisable figures from ancient history and transported her far, far in to the future. The result is the fantastic Cleopatra in Spaaace!
The first episode was posted in August 2009 and the series is currently on chapter 3. There have been some changes over that time, not least the fact that Maihack started doing the strip in colour, and it has really developed into one of the most entertaining web comics currently doing the rounds.
The basic premise is a simple but brilliant one. Transport Cleopatra from ancient Egypt to a far future galaxy somewhere in space. The more detailed premise is that Cleopatra’s destiny is to become the saviour of the entire galaxy and she is taken away from 52BC Egypt as a 17 year-old girl and transported into the future to fight alongside P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. (Pharaoh Yasiro’s Research And Military Initiative of Defense). The galaxy is under threat from the evil Xauis Octavian and Cleopatra is tasked with liberating the galaxy from the Xerx race, with help from her feline teacher Khensu.
The character of Cleopatra is really well depicted by Maihack both in words and visually. Because she is a teenager she has to deal with the usual growing up issues and angst, at the same time as being trained to save the universe. And you thought your teenage years were difficult. Maihack manages to balance Cleopatra’s typical teenage traits with her gung-ho attitude to the mission and a feisty attitude. She’s like a sassier Barbarella.
The art in this series is fantastic. It looks great in the black, white and grey tones, with great use of shading and shadows. It looks great now it is in colour as well, and Maihack has been able to add a greater depth to the landscapes, especially Hykosis, the setting of Chapter 3.
After an almost year long hiatus Cleopatra in Spaaace! returned in May 2012. It seems to be going from strength to strength and Maihack clearly loves doing this comic. Check out the archive here.
Topaz, which is written and illustrated by Joel Carroll is one of the newer additions to Space Dock 7. As such it is not as established as the other titles I have looked at so far. Carroll has produced four pages of Topaz, but those four pages contain so much detail, character, setting and intrigue that I am immediately hooked and I really hope he continues with this comic.
What I love about the first installment is the sense of quiet and solitude which comes from the images. There is no dialogue and no commentary on the first page. We see a spacecraft serenely drifting towards an unidentified planet, then the female occupant of the spacecraft floating in zero gravity.
The spacecraft, Konghou Express, is turned away from the planet and its course re-set for Cavi East Rocket Garden.
The fourth page introduces another character, a male operative of the aforementioned rocket garden. He apparently knows the occupant of Konghou Express and is very excited by the announcement of her arrival. What is their relationship? Will the female character also be pleased to arrive at Cavi East? The questions begin in earnest.
The artwork is really impressive in Topaz. Featuring bold colours and smooth cartoon style line-work, Carroll manages to pack a lot of detail into each frame.
Topaz is definitely worth a look, and if you like it let Joel Carroll know that you want more of it. Go to the website here.
Next up we have Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman. Red is a 10-year old girl growing up in a foster home in small-town America. She hates her nickname and is either bullied or ignored by her foster brothers and sisters. She longs to escape her life and it appears she has tried numerous times but she always gets picked up by the local sheriff.
In the first chapter Red ditches her foster siblings and avoids getting on the school bus. Instead she wanders off and spends the day walking through the countryside. We soon realise that she is attempting to cross the County line and get away from her foster family. She is picked up by the sheriff who gets called to a high speed chase with a UFO. With Red in the back of the car the pursuit is on. Eventually they catch up to the UFO and, after it knocks over a cow, it abducts Red and the sheriff’s car. The first chapter ends with a panel showing Red’s empty sneaker.
It’s a great introduction to the character and the comic. It feels like Pittman is taking his time to set up the story and slowly build up the interest and the excitement. For me this works really well. The background we are given to Red’s life really helps the reader identify with her as the story progresses.
Chapter two introduces some characters that will feature regularly including Tawee, a young farmer’s son and Chief Operating Officer Betamxitron, or Bea. Red wakes up in the sheriff’s car which is currently on a huge trading space-ship. By the end of chapter two the ship is plummeting through space.
Red’s Planet is now on its third chapter and it is developing into a really compelling adventure. Red’s initial shock at meeting the strange aliens on the planet they crash land on to, is soon replaced by a child-like wonder and curiosity and she realises she is a long way from home. And she loves it.
Pittman’s art in this comic is gorgeous, his talents as a cartoonist really shining through. He is skilled at the wide screen panels featuring planets and spaceships on a background of star filled space, and has a great imagination when it comes to the alien life-forms that populate the series.
Red’s Planet is suitable for all-ages and is huge amounts of fun. Updated regularly you can check out the story so far here.
Ellie on Planet X
Ellie on Planet X is the creation of talented illustrator James Anderson. Launched in June 2010 the premise of this much loved web comic is that the eponymous Ellie, a robot, is sent to Planet X eight light years from earth. What we are presented with now are the transmissions which are finally coming back down to earth.
We follow Ellie’s first tentative steps on this unfamiliar planet and her first encounters with the alien life-forms that populate it. Ellie’s curiosity and boundless enthusiasm for her mission is manifested here in the fun she clearly has naming the life-forms she discovers on the planet. Examples include ‘The Streamlined Mobile Homollusk’, the ‘Celophane Wing Flutterby’ and several types of ‘Caterslink’ including ‘The Pretzel Leg’, ‘The Sausage’ and the ‘Keepontruckin’.
As the comic progresses Ellie meets some more intelligent inhabitants of the planet, which soon become her close companions. Jeff is a ‘Warbling Orange-Crested Quadrapus’. He befriends Ellie and although they have an initial language barrier they soon communicate and Jeff’s curiosity about Earth and its inhabitants lead to some amusing scenes. Muffin is a ground dwelling ‘Marf’ who is introduced as quite grumpy and easily annoyed. He says he wants to be left alone but Ellie makes sure that doesn’t happen.
Ellie on Planet X is similar to Gronk in its humour and in terms of its sense of fun. It also reminds me of Jeff Smith’s Bone in some ways, and I can see a Bill Waterson influence, which for me makes this web comic a new favourite.
If you want a regular web comic strip that is smart, funny and will remind you of those cartoon strips you loved when you were growing up, then Ellie on Planet X will bring you much joy.
It is updated on Mondays and Thursdays and you can check out the archive here.
One of the comics featured on the site is the recently Harvey Award nominated Gronk, which I featured in the previous World of Web Comics post. Created by Katie Cook Gronk follows the adventures of a disillusioned monster as she tries to integrate herself into her newly adopted human family, headed up by Dale Wilco.
Gronk is a very likeable creation and the way Cook illustrates her interactions with Dale, and her cat Kitty and her Newfoundland dog Harli is very endearing. As I previously pointed out, Gronks misunderstandings and accidents create a lot of funny scenes for Cook to draw.
Cook’s talent as an illustrator and cartoonist really shines through on this comic and it is definitely worth a look. Gronk was updated and moved to a new site this week and you can see the latest here.
My Sister The Freak
My Sister The Freak is another web comic that is suitable for all ages. Created by Dani Jones, it started in March 2010. Since that date it has built up a loyal following and is now a very popular, regularly updated comic. It even has its own spin-off comic in The Adventures of Captain Bacon.
While it is a sci-fi story in terms of its themes and narrative it is also a story about family, growing up, sibling relationships, and dealing with life and its many issues.
The story follows Al and her little sister Mary. At first it is not clear which sister is the ‘freak’ of the title. The first chapter of the story is written cleverly to keep the reader guessing. Initially it seems that Mary is the one who is going to be the focus of the story, not least because she encounters an alien being in the early part of the story. Whereas Al appears to be a normal teenage girl trying to cope with adolescent issues while also dealing with her annoying little sister. However by the end of Chapter 1 we discover that Al was adopted by her human family from a visiting alien, and it would seem that Al is the ‘freak’ in question?
The interplay between the two sisters is well-written and believable, and the complexity of their relationship, notwithstanding the fact that Al is adopted from aliens, is slowly revealed and utterly compelling. It is clear that, like many family relationships, a bond exists between the two sisters that goes beyond familial love and it is this element of the characterisation which makes it easy for the reader to identify with the characters and the comic a joy to read.
Jones’ experience as a children’s illustrator really shines through in My Sister The Freak. The cartoon style of drawing is endearing and perfectly suited to the story. Some of the little touches that Jones brings to the panels make it stand out, such as the moment the two sisters spot the undeniably cute cat Captain Bacon and their eyes turn into heart shapes.
Another great aspect of this comic is that Jones posts a lot of videos on Youtube showcasing her processes for drawing and colouring the comic. This is a great resource for aspiring comic creators, and anybody interested in how web comics are created.
My Sister The Freak is definitely worth your time. You can see the complete archive here.