I came across Alpha Shade when reading Feeding Snarky on Comixpedia; it looked interesting enough, with a strange bird-creature lying on top of a person drawing in a book, and a simple enough caption about a girl keeping her friends together while the world changed in one night. I then proceeded to devour it in the next hour, amazed by the graphics and the intense storyline. This was not a web-comic. This was a graphic novel, given page by page on the net.
As a writer and reader, I tend to prefer storytelling comics over the joke-a-day strips. One of my favorite strips, Clan of the Cats, goes on epic story arcs, with the most recent having lasted over a year. Other strips, CRfH, Sluggy Freelance, Wandering Ones… these too often have far reaching stories in them, relying on the story as much as jokes to keep people interested. Even the more humorous strips, like Todd and Penguin or Alice will often have small stories that draw me in and keep me interested. Alpha Shade is in this vein, a storytelling strip that tosses you head-first into the story, and assuming that the reader is smart enough to figure things out for themselves rather than being spoonfed each little bit of background information.
We start with a general preparing for war. A young, blonde-haired lady with a cat, waiting for an artillery bombardment to begin, for the battle to start. Heh. A cat, of all things. Again, this caught my attention, as I like cats, and often use them in my stories. Cats know things. And soon we learn that cats in this story are much more than just egotistical companions who communicate by headbutting your hand or meowing loudly.
I mean, it’s got cats, and magical cats at that. What’s not to like?
The world itself is a strange mixture of technology and magic, with biplanes flying and fighting against strange giant crow-serpents who are dropping bombs on the troops below, tanks and artillery along with telepathy and more. This is war, and things are not explained. You’re left to puzzle at first as to why people are bowing down to the small grey cat and then be surprised when not only does the cat have thought-balloons, but can communicate with the soldiers and give orders that are instantly obeyed.
Alpha Shade doesn’t rely on narrators to explain what is going on. It doesn’t use thought balloons or other exposition to explain things. It doesn’t use info dumps (to use a Turkey City Lexicon term) to fill in what is up with this strange world. Instead, it tells a story and does so compellingly and in such a way that you want to learn more.
It won’t be everyone’s cup of coffee. Any humor in the story is incidental to what’s important here: the story itself. And not everyone enjoys epic storytelling or not knowing what’s going on here or why it’s happening. But Alpha Shade is a superbly drawn comic with a compelling and well-written storyline that makes me at least want more. The first 90 pages are even now available in trade paperback form so if you have dial-up and don’t want to struggle through the first 90 pages… you can buy it and read it at your own leisure.
Besides, it has its own animated trailer. Now that rocks!