(Family) Sanity Circus (Edition 10/18/2022) – Multiversity Comics

Welcome to Webcomics Weekly. This week, Elias takes us to the circus, the “Sanity Circus”.

The mental health circus
Prologue – Chapter 2
Updates: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
By Windy aka Tasha Mukanik
Reviewed by Elias Rosner

One of the trickiest things about reviewing very long-running online comics is that the opening chapters are often not indicative of where the story is. This is true for all media to some degree, but it seems to be a particularly acute problem in webcomics, especially narrative webcomics from the early 2010s. You can read two, three, or even four chapters and keep reading the first trials and errors of an artist that comes into its own. It’s quite wonderful to experience in real time. Less when I have to draw conclusions and recommendations solely on this basis.

I mention it to contextualize my criticisms of these first chapters of “The Sanity Circus”. The series launched in 2014, joining Hiveworks in mid-2018 if the dates on the website are to be believed. It’s a horror series; or perhaps a series of supernatural mysteries; or maybe an urban fantasy series about a world similar to ours but different in one important way: demons and magic are real and part of everyday life. Well, demons are. They are like bears in this series. Scary, will absolutely ruin your day and work great as a plot device to put the main character in danger.

We follow Attley Grimshaw, a newsie-looking young girl with a pet tarantula who suddenly finds herself attacked by, first, said demon, then chased across town by her “friend” Posey. Along the way, she meets Fitch, a violinist, and so many questions I wouldn’t even know where to start with the red string. Honestly, that’s a lot and while I’m very grateful to have short and long-term mysteries to follow, the “everything and the kitchen sink” feel of the presentation is quite overwhelming.

However, it is not obvious that this will happen from the start. The prologue is actually pretty well paced, giving us the broad characterizations of Posey & Attley, introducing us to the otherness of the world, and teasing just enough intrigue to keep readers coming back. It’s only once the first chapter begins that things speed up way too much, way too fast. Rather than giving us more time to get to know Attley or his life, we suddenly discover a number of new concepts, a bunch of new characters, and a lot of mysterious backstory and motivations that the characters understand but we don’t.

I think the idea was to show an interruption in Atley’s life – think “Percy Jackson” – and also to establish why it’s important from the start; like how she doesn’t seem afraid or why her blood hurts others. To get to the good stuff, so to speak. It’s just by doing this that Windy undermines her story and makes the comic feel like it lacks confidence. We don’t enjoy the regular enough for its hiatus to have an impact when we’ve spent a bit too much time in the mundane for the mysteries to feel like anything more than a sudden hiatus from the more engaging character work in progress. .

And it’s engaging. Windy’s characters are vibrant and fun, even if they’re archetypical right now, and questions about Atley’s unique status, what Posey’s deal is, why Atley’s mother is so protective of her, etc make me want to know more. Even though I was frustrated with the lack of answers, or even a slowdown for the exposition, the cartoon made me laugh, tense me up, and keep me turning pages.

I can also say that Windy’s art and coloring are improving tremendously over time. A look at the last page shows the stark difference between the simple, somewhat muddy colors of those early chapters and the sharper, richer colors of Chapter 21, though I like the evocation of “Silent Hill” it creates in chapters 1 & 2 His shading also improves a lot, even during these two chapters. What starts out as blocky, unnatural lighting turns into something more natural and cohesive, though still overexposed for a while.

That aside, the line art is nice and fluid. I don’t like the thin outlines as it makes the lack of detail lines more apparent and the empty backgrounds stand out, but the freedom it gives to comic book movement makes up for that. I also love the character designs, especially the weird-eyed birds. These things are scary and I want to know what their deal is.

I wish I could more definitely recommend “The Sanity Circus” based on these three chapters. It certainly interested me, but the mix of a slow intro with too much contextless information tempers my curiosity for these mysteries. Obviously it’s weaving a sprawling tapestry and we only see a few threads at the moment. The strength of attraction of these threads will depend on who you are. If you can stomach a slow and somewhat confusing start, the charms of Atley and Posey will be more than enough to keep you invested as the art and storytelling inevitably improve.