Hello everyone ! Elias here, bringing you that sweet, sweet webcomics content you crave. This week, I had the chance to review “Immaterial”, which is anything but. Read on, fellow webcomics travellers!
‘Material Things’ – ‘A Distant Memory: Scene 3’
Updates: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
By Sarah Ellerton
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
One of the really neat things about “Immaterial” is that it’s 100% done but not completely finished. This means I can better judge how the story is going at this point in the game, since it’s about three-quarters complete. It’s rare that I get the chance to do this here at The Webcomics Weekly so I’ll take it! Thank you Sarah Ellerton.
For those curious as to why that name sounds familiar, Ellerton is the co-creator of Dreamless, a webcomic I haven’t read yet but am now very interested in checking out thanks to the highlights of “Immaterial”, although I Make it worry about stepping back in time with this art style. You see, “Immaterial” and “Dreamless” before it, is a fully digital painted comic – think “The Marked” or “Jules Verne’s Lighthouse” at Top Cow, only less shiny and with far fewer ugly browns and grays . Of all the webcomic styles I’ve come across, these unfortunately age the worst, even when an artist is gifted. Going back to a 2009 comic with this approach? 1 Fear.
Tangent aside, “Immaterial” is the story of Alex who, after 19 years of constant travel, has just moved into his cousin’s apartment. While there, she is (temporarily and non-lethally) thrust into the “Island of Lost Toys,” the consequences of which shape the rest of the comic so far – like how which, upon returning, she discovers has been turned. This is all done at the end of Chapter 1 as well, which already gives the comic high marks for pacing. OK, she finds out she writes backwards and so on in later chapters, but that’s okay.
As of Chapter 2, she is joined by Ethan, the apartment’s other roommate, who helps balance out the strange world Alex finds himself in. It may seem like a small detail, but in doing so, Ellerton reframes the narrative of “Immaterial.” While I love a good solo adventurer story, it grounds “Immaterial” and turns the tale from pure fantasy-adventure into a bildungsroman with hints of fantasy drama, Ethan’s presence swapping the significance of desire of Alex to get his life back on track & fix the whole “turnaround” issue and deal with his unresolved traumas around work, usefulness and attachments, both to things and people. Both remain essential , as we were already set to explore the latter by chapter zero, “Material Things”, but now Alex’s panic over boxes at the start of chapter 1 becomes central instead of just a character moment.
Due to the richness of Ellerton’s character and the simplicity of the fantasy aspects, I devoured everything that came out in two sittings, only breaking because my lunch hour ended before I could. I needed to know what happened next and get used to the art style. This is probably a sticking point for readers as it took me a few pages, in fact an entire chapter, to get used to it.
Now visually and structurally I think “Immaterial” is brilliant, the panel I used as the banner above perfectly captures everything I love about Ellerton’s visual storytelling. On the one hand, we have a calm sunny day, with Alex’s mother promising a bright future without moving, the first balloon sitting in that blue sky. The ball is split in half, with the “I promise” significantly removed from the rest by a large cue, injecting our first hunch into the backboard.
The rest is done visually as Ellerton presents the comic’s title with a beautiful logo that captures the sense of immateriality we see later in the fantasy aspects but also in Alex’s life, where everything is transient and nothing is ever really there. Above, there is a dark sky, full of storm clouds and wind, the pastoral greens and blues giving way to dark grey-blues and shaded, almost black greens. An empty landscape that stretches miles away from the implicit idealism and comfort of the suburbs into an unknown full of promise that we know is going to be wasted. This is multi-level storytelling at its finest.
The actual style, however, is where I struggled.
Ellerton’s art strives for high visual fidelity and semi-photo-realism which, combined with the digitally painted colors and the lack of borders on anything, creates this almost eerie valley feeling in most of the early chapters. Think Ratatouille. There’s enough stylization to create a cohesive world that our brain can accept and appreciate, but it’s close enough to the “real” look that we sometimes wonder why something looks weird. Not because it looks wrong but because it is not quite correct.
You can also see it in the restraint Ellerton shows when the characters speak or move. There’s little hyper exaggeration one might expect from the more cartoonish style of the characters – a style mostly due to their large eyes and streamlined body types. Facial expressions don’t push boundaries beyond what a human face should do and movement is maintained in the average body realms. There is a real weight to every action, or inaction, and it is both a blessing and a drawback. That means things can’t be beefed up the way they seem to be, like the cousin’s introduction, but the quieter moments are made more impactful by that restraint, like the flour fight in Chapter 6.
Another small detail I have – aside from not being able to use the arrow keys to navigate back and forth – is the interaction between coloring and lettering. There are a number of panels where the tails get lost because of the way Ellerton does his lighting, lighting I to like Besides. Since the balloons and tails are borderless and pure white, you can see how being above a light source or just very bright white space can create some confusion as to who is speaking or how to read balloons. Luckily, that’s not often the case, and the rest of the stream is clear enough that it’s not a major issue.
Let’s not end on a sour note, however. “Immaterial” is an engaging short story that focuses on its strongest aspects. This narrative focus and tightness is what sets it apart from most other charming, yet sprawling fantasy/fantasy-adjacent webcomics. The work of a seasoned professional and of a clear and manageable duration, “Intangible” is worth adding to your weekly rotation.