Frankenstein’s Influence Over Two Centuries

The front cover of the Pennyroyal Edition of "Frankenstein," designed and illustrated by Barry Moser. The monster looks as if he's screaming in pain.While living in Switzerland, Lord Byron (Yes, that Lord Byron) held a writing competition among some close friends. The goal: Write the best horror story. Among the close friends were John Polidori, author of The Vampyre, and Mary Shelley. Unknown to Lord Byron, Shelley would eventually craft one of the most influential books of all time—Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Frankenstein’s influence reached not only into the literary world, but also far into pop culture making reader and consumer alike question the power of science.

Frankenstein has always been a ubiquitous book of discussion whenever the science fiction genre comes up in conversation, but that conversation wouldn’t even be possible without Frankenstein. Brian Stableford from the University of Pennsylvania and Brian Aldiss, author of many anthologies and science fiction stories, argue Frankenstein was the first ever science fiction novel. Since Shelley created the catalyst for the science fiction genre, without Frankenstein, we wouldn’t have many of the great stories we do today such as H.G. Well’s The Time Machine and Frank Herbert’s Dune. These stories, much like Frankenstein, rely on science as the literary tool which moves the story along.

Poster for Thomas Edison's film production of "Frankenstein" in 1910, featuring an image of the monster.If you’re familiar with the mad scientist motif, Dr. Frankenstein’s depiction in Shelley’s novel is said to be that of the first mad scientist. And this is where Frankenstein has influenced pop culture the most. Picture all the TV shows and movies that play off the mad scientist motif. There’s a lot. Without Frankenstein, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy movies like The Fly or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There have also been movies based entirely on the concept of Frankenstein such as Son of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and so many more. Speaking of movies, Frankenstein may have been the first ever horror movie to be filmed. Though its title of first horror film might be only slightly surprising, the creator of the first Frankenstein movie was none other than Thomas Edison.

While Thomas Edison’s film may be a thing of the past, Frankenstein is still influencing current pop culture. In more recent history, Frankenstein has influenced dozens of musical works and has been referenced an uncountable amount of times. “Weird Al” Yankovic, a parody artist, has a song titled Perform This Way which references Frankenstein in its lyrics stating, “Don’t be offended when you see my latest pop monstrosity. I’m strange, weird, shocking, odd bizarre. I’m Frankenstein. I’m Avatar.” And who can forget the ever-present-at-every-Halloween-party-song Monster Mash where a mad scientist tries to teach his new creation some groovy dance moves?

Besides music, Frankenstein has entered the airwaves in the form of radio broadcasts since 1931. The first ever broadcast of Frankenstein was a thirty-minute adaptation by Alonzo Deen Cole aired during a segment called The Witch’s Tale. This radio adaptation spawned many other adaptations, with the most recent being a broadcast in 2014. This broadcast featured different voice actors taking on the roles of Dr. Frankenstein, the monster, and Alphonse.

Cover of "The Monster of Frankenstein #1" from Marvel Comics. The monster breaks free of this holdings and a scientist shouts "It's--Alive! Heaven help me--IT'A ALIVE!"On paper, Frankenstein has been the subject for many novels like William A. Chanler’s sequel which picks up in the artic after Victor’s death and Stephen King’s IT where King’s monster takes the form of Frankenstein’s monster. In comics, DC and Marvel have printed issues featuring Frankenstein’s monster or loose adaptations taking part in their universes. DC’s first use of Frankenstein was an eight-page adaptation of the movie Son of Frankenstein, making it an adaptation of a spinoff. That’s a lot of remixing! Marvel has used the monster of Frankenstein in its X-Men series and even created a five-part comic which recreates the original story of Frankenstein.

Though Frankenstein’s use in pop culture is often times gimmicky and playful, there is much we can still learn from the original story, and the snippets we encounter through movies, radio broadcasts, and comics are reminders of Frankenstein’s message. Since Frankenstein’s monster is treated so poorly throughout the novel, we ask ourselves about our own humanity. Are we actually the monsters? Shelley was able to introspectively look at herself and her humanity which provokes us to do the same. Shelley makes the reader confront how they may have changed someone’s life by living our own. While Frankenstein may be rustic at 200 years old, it provides a message that will never fade: be accepting and kind to those around you, and you will change the course of history for the better.

Celebrate Franken Fridays with us! Frighteningly fun events are held each Friday to celebrate Frankenstein’s 200th publishing anniversary. Connect with us on social media using the #FrankenFriday tag.

Upcoming Events:

Friday, Oct. 19:

  • 11 a.m. to noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—Visiting artist Drema Montgomery, who creates art by assembling various found objects, will demonstrate her work and correlate it to Dr. Frankenstein’s manufacturing the monster.
  • Noon to 4 p.m., Forsyth County Library and Cumming Campus—Frankenstein-themed rock art by World Literature II students
  • 1 p.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—English faculty panel including Dr. Diana Edelman, Anita Turlington and Dr. Kasee Laster
  • TBA, Student Resource Center 311, Oconee Campus—The Many Faces of Frankenstein: media and roundtable discussion with Drs. Dan Cabaniss, Stephanie Rountree and Shane Toepfer

 Friday, Oct. 26

  • 11 a.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—”Frankenstein and Posthumanism” faculty panel featuring Dr. Lynn Berdanier, Dr. John Hamilton, Dr. Jeanelle Morgan, and Dr. Kristin Yager
  • Noon to 3 p.m., upstairs lobby, Cumming Campus—PoeDown and costume contest
  • Noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—“Monster Theory” faculty panel featuring Dr. Jeff Pardue, Dr. Phil Guerty, Dr. Patsy Worrall
  • 3-5 p.m., Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega Campus—“Secrets from the Grave” guided tour of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Mary Shelley: Her Life and Works

Mary Shelley was born on August 30th, 1797, to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Her mother, a renowned philosopher and feminist, died only a month after her birth. Raised by her father and a stepmother that she was not fond of, Mary’s early years were dark and lonely ones. Despite this, she distinguished herself by her thirst for knowledge and her love of writing. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she kept a journal in which she composed short stories about the grounds of her father’s estate and philosophical concepts from her education.

When she was seventeen years old, Mary met Percy Shelley. What followed was a tumultuous affair that resulted in Percy leaving his wife and Mary running away from her father. Her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, accompanied them. For the next two years, Mary suffered greatly as she endured poverty and ostracism from society due to her relationship with Percy. The greatest tragedy, however, came when her first child was born prematurely and died on February 22nd, 1815. In a deep depression, she withdrew from Percy and began to ruminate on what would become the theme of her greatest work: the idea of bringing the dead back to life.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, from Wikimedia CommonsIn an effort to repair relationships with family members, the couple decided to marry in 1816. During this time, Mary returned to writing. Her first published work was a travel narrative, History of a Six Week’s Tour, which detailed two journeys that the couple took: one to Europe in 1814 and another to Geneva in 1816. During their stay at Byron’s estate in Geneva, an eerie incident gave Mary the inspiration she needed to start work on her most famous novel, Frankenstein.

After a year of feverish work, she finished writing her story in May 1817. Due to her gender and the nature of the work, she chose to publish anonymously to avoid censure. Initially titled Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, it was published in January 1818 with a small run of only 500 copies. Despite this, it sold extremely well and gave Mary ample motivation to continue writing.

During this time, Mary Shelley’s life was in a constant state of upheaval. Percy, having run through most of his funds, was in danger of being sent to debtor’s prison. Her stepsister Claire was now pregnant with Byron’s illegitimate child. Facing the very real threats of prison and the potential loss of their remaining children, the Shelleys and Claire decided to move to Italy.

Their time in Italy was comprised of both light and darkness. Mary’s second child, a boy named William Shelley, contracted malaria and died in 1819. This, combined with the loss of her third child Clara just a few weeks after birth, threw Mary into an even deeper state of depression. During this time, she focused entirely on her writing as her only source of solace. Her relationship with Percy, already strained due to their financial insecurity and his womanizing, could offer her no comfort.

Her first longer work after Frankenstein was a Gothic novella called Mathilda, which she worked on from August 1819 to February 1820. She sent the completed manuscript to her father with the hope that he would praise it and submit it for publication. However, he was so disturbed by the theme (a father’s incestuous love for his daughter) that he refused and the work was only published posthumously in 1959.

In the summer of 1822, Mary Shelley moved with her husband and her stepsister to an isolated villa near the sea. It was here that Percy revealed to her that Claire’s child, sent to live in a convent by Byron, had died from typhus. Mary was so horrified by the news that she had a miscarriage, which prompted her to once again withdraw from Percy. In response, he chose to pursue a relationship with Claire and to spend the remainder of his free time with his new sailboat. In the midst of Percy’s return from a trip down the coast, there was a violent storm. Waiting anxiously for any correspondence to indicate that all was well, Mary felt the specter of death hover over her once more. Ten days after the storm, his body washed up on the shore. He was cremated on the beach with select portions of his remains taken as mementos by Mary and his close friends. From that point, Mary resolved to sustain both herself and her infant son, Percy Florence, on income from her writing.

For the next two decades, she edited Percy’s poetry, submitted short stories to magazines, and published four novels. The first of these, titled The Last Man, was published in 1826 and focused on a world that has been almost entirely wiped out by a plague. Her second novel, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, was historical fiction set during the War of the Roses. Her third novel, Lodore, illustrated the precarious situation of women in a patriarchal society as the wife and daughter of Lord Lodore struggle to stay afloat after his death. Her fourth novel, Falkner, further explored the theme of family as the heroine negotiates a reconciliation between her father and the man she loves.

In 1831, she returned to Frankenstein and published the edition that is most commonly used today. In an effort to make her work less controversial and more acceptable for a mainstream audience, she made a significant number of changes. One notable change is that the characters were now presented as being victims of fate rather than exercising free will. She also changed certain controversial elements, such as Victor’s love interest, Elizabeth, being his blood cousin.

For the last decade of her life, Mary Shelley’s health continued to decline. Debilitating headaches and bodily paralysis largely prevented her from reading and writing. Her last work was a travelogue, Rambles in Germany and Italy, detailing a trip she took with her son and his friends from the university. She died on February 1st, 1851 at the age of 51 and was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth.

Although her life was marred by tragedy, she nevertheless left behind a rich legacy as a writer. Throughout her literary career, she emphasized the importance of cooperation and compassion in order to create the best possible world. As her most famous work, Frankenstein perfectly illustrates the responsibility that we have as humans for ourselves, for those around us, and for whatever we choose to bring into this world. For these reasons, Mary Shelley’s writing will remain relevant for centuries to come.

Celebrate Franken Fridays with us! Frighteningly fun events are held each Friday to celebrate Frankenstein’s 200th publishing anniversary. Connect with us on social media using the #FrankenFriday tag.

Upcoming Events:

Friday, Oct. 12:

  • 1 p.m., Library 134, Gainesville campus—”The Many Faces of Frankenstein” film presentation by Dr. Candice Wilson of UNG and Dr. Tobias Wilson-Bates of Georgia Tech
  • TBA, Student Resource Center 311, Oconee Campus—From “Frankenstein” to Fake News: A brief history of science fiction by UNG instructor Derek Thiess
  • Film screenings of 1931 “Frankenstein” and selections from Films on Demand by Drs. Melissa Schindler and Ann Marie Francis and co-sponsored with the Student Government Association, Forsyth County Library (1931 film) and classroom on Cumming Campus

 

Thursday, Oct. 18:

  • 3:30 p.m., front of Library, West End Art Exhibit in Library, Dahlonega Campus—Birthday Party for Mary Shelley’s Creature. Reading by Scott Fugate

 

Friday, Oct. 19:

  • 11 a.m. to noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—Visiting artist Drema Montgomery, who creates art by assembling various found objects, will demonstrate her work and correlate it to Dr. Frankenstein’s manufacturing the monster.
  • Noon to 4 p.m., Forsyth County Library and Cumming Campus—Frankenstein-themed rock art by World Literature II students
  • 1 p.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—English faculty panel including Dr. Diana Edelman, Anita Turlington and Dr. Kasee Laster
  • TBA, Student Resource Center 311, Oconee Campus—The Many Faces of Frankenstein: media and roundtable discussion with Drs. Dan Cabaniss, Stephanie Rountree and Shane Toepfer

 

Friday, Oct. 26

  • 11 a.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—”Frankenstein and Posthumanism” faculty panel featuring Dr. Lynn Berdanier, Dr. John Hamilton, Dr. Jeanelle Morgan, and Dr. Kristin Yager
  • Noon to 3 p.m., upstairs lobby, Cumming Campus—PoeDown and costume contest
  • Noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—”Monster Theory” faculty panel featuring Dr. Jeff Pardue, Dr. Phil Guerty, Dr. Patsy Worrall
  • 3-5 p.m., Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega Campus—”Secrets from the Grave” guided tour of Mount Hope Cemetery.

Bringing Horror to Life: The Origin of Frankenstein

The story of Frankenstein started during a rainy summer night in 1816. After a year marked by an extremely long and bitter winter, Mary Shelley and her lover, Percy Bryce Shelley, sought to escape the weather by visiting Lord Bryon’s villa in Switzerland. The three friends wandered around the vast expanse of the lake on Byron’s property, searching for inspiration in the serenity of the natural world around them. Unfortunately, frequent rain showers confined the group to the house.

Victor Frankenstein looks at his creation in horror and disgust. Illustration from the frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein.
Illustration from the frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein.

Sitting in Bryon’s library by the dim light of assorted candles, cradled by the dull roar of the storm outside, the three writers turned to ghost stories to pass the time. Both terrified and enlivened by the tales of monstrous apparitions and cursed households, Bryon proposed an idea: Each of them should write a ghost story and share it with their peers. From that point on, Mary Shelley pushed herself to write a story that would chill the blood, haunt the mind, and set itself apart from all other works of supernatural fiction that had come before it.

Inspiration did not come quickly or easily for her. The loftiness of her goal and the immense pressure she placed upon herself to see it through forced her into a state of writer’s paralysis. As Percy and Bryon shared the results of the previous night’s work, Mary repeatedly had nothing to show. During this time, Bryon and Percy spoke at length about philosophy; specifically, the concept of life and whether it could be created using current scientific technology and methods. Of special interest to Mary Shelley was the concept of galvanism.

Luigi Galvini introduced the idea of galvanism through a series of experiments on the remains of dissected frogs. Holding a copper probe at one end of the frog’s legs and a piece of iron at the other end, he was shocked to find that the legs twitched as if they were still alive. His nephew, Giovanni Aldini, took his research a step further and applied it to the human body. In a public demonstration in 1803, Aldini subjected the body of an executed criminal to a series of electrical shocks. The result was bone-chilling. The corpse moved as if he were still alive. His muscles spasmed, his jaw opened, his hands clenched, and one eye actually opened due to the electrical shocks.

The men eventually lost interest in the topic and went to bed. Mary, however, remained haunted by the horrific potential of science to give humans power over life and death. She tossed and turned in her bed, finally falling asleep in the middle of the night, but her sleep was far from peaceful. She had a singularly vivid and horrifying nightmare which impressed itself on her mind, described here in her introduction to Frankenstein:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.

She finally had come up with the perfect ghost story: A man who, in trying to test the boundaries of scientific potential, creates a monster. Her protagonist, named Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is so hungry for knowledge about life and the human body that he turns to charnel houses and grave robbery in order to experiment on the bodies of the dead. After cobbling together a makeshift human from the remains of deceased criminals, Dr. Frankenstein uses the electricity from a lightning storm to give the monstrous creature life. Horrified by what he has created, Dr. Frankenstein flees from it and sets into a motion of series of tragic events for both his creation and those around him.

On that night in Byron’s villa, Mary Shelley took her worst nightmare and fashioned it into a living and breathing monster that would haunt readers for centuries to come. This Halloween, celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s release by visiting this classic. Find a dark corner, settle down, and see for yourself just why Mary Shelley’s “midnight specter” has chilled the blood and haunted the mind from the moment it took its first lumbering step in her dreams.

Celebrate Franken Fridays with us! Frighteningly fun events are held each Friday to celebrate Frankenstein’s 200th publishing anniversary. Connect with us on social media using the #FrankenFriday tag.

 Upcoming Events:

 Friday, Oct. 5: “Frankenstein’s Originality” by Anne Williams, University of Georgia professor and Gothic Writer

  • 11 a.m. to noon – Cleveland Ballroom, Nesbitt 3110, Gainvesville Campus
  • 2-3 p.m. – Hoag Auditorium, Dahlonega Campus (reception to follow)
  • 2-3 p.m. Student Resource Center 581, Oconee Campus (broadcast from Dahlonega)
  • 2-3 p.m. Cumming Campus (broadcast from Dahlonega)

 Thursday, Oct. 11:

  • 5:30p.m., Library Lobby, Dahlonega campus—David Plunkert, artist and illustrator for The New Yorker will present his creative process of illustrating the gothic novel and 200th anniversary edition of Frankenstein with modern influences. There will be a book signing before the event and afterward in the Library lobby.
  • 6 p.m., Rare Books Collections, Library 382, Dahlonega Campus—“The Monster in the Music of Mary Shelley’s Romantic Period.” Aria Performance by Benjamin Schoening, UNG Department Head of Music.

Friday, Oct. 12:

  • 1 p.m., Library 134, Gainesville campus—”The Many Faces of Frankenstein” film presentation by Dr. Candice Wilson of UNG and Dr. Tobias Wilson-Bates of Georgia Tech
  • TBA, Student Resource Center 311, Oconee Campus—From “Frankenstein” to Fake News: A brief history of science fiction by UNG instructor Derek Thiess
  • Film screenings of 1931 “Frankenstein” and selections from Films on Demand by Drs. Melissa Schindler and Ann Marie Francis and co-sponsored with the Student Government Association, Forsyth County Library (1931 film) and classroom on Cumming Campus

Thursday, Oct. 18:

  • 3:30 p.m., front of Library, West End Art Exhibit in Library, Dahlonega Campus—Birthday Party for Mary Shelley’s Creature. Reading by Scott Fugate

Friday, Oct. 19:

  • 11 a.m. to noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—Visiting artist Drema Montgomery, who creates art by assembling various found objects, will demonstrate her work and correlate it to Dr. Frankenstein’s manufacturing the monster.
  • Noon to 4 p.m., Forsyth County Library and Cumming Campus—Frankenstein-themed rock art by World Literature II students
  • 1 p.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—English faculty panel including Dr. Diana Edelman, Anita Turlington and Dr. Kasee Laster
  • TBA, Student Resource Center 311, Oconee Campus—The Many Faces of Frankenstein: media and roundtable discussion with Drs. Dan Cabaniss, Stephanie Rountree and Shane Toepfer

Friday, Oct. 26

  • 11 a.m., Library 134, Gainesville Campus—”Frankenstein and Posthumanism” faculty panel featuring Dr. Lynn Berdanier, Dr. John Hamilton, Dr. Jeanelle Morgan, and Dr. Kristin Yager
  • Noon to 3 p.m., upstairs lobby, Cumming Campus—PoeDown and costume contest
  • Noon, Library 134, Gainesville Campus—”Monster Theory” faculty panel featuring Dr. Jeff Pardue, Dr. Phil Guerty, Dr. Patsy Worrall
  • 3-5 p.m., Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega Campus—”Secrets from the Grave” guided tour of Mount Hope Cemetery by Thomas Scanlin

Webcomics, Part IV: Unsounded

Written by Matthew Pardue

By now, hopefully you’ve all seen Coty’s review on Berserk. I’ve heard a fair bit about it before, although I’ve never read the manga. Still, I was glad to see his choice, because a dark, adult fantasy story with horror elements makes for a nice lead-in to Unsounded, a…dark, adult fantasy story with horror elements. I guess that description isn’t entirely fair; Unsounded has a lot of different tones, to the point that I’m surprised it flows and fits together as well as it does without feeling schizophrenic. I can’t think of many stories in any medium that successfully mix horror and humor without sacrificing either, so if nothing else, Unsounded deserves credit for that. And for so, so many other things, because this webcomic is amazing.

I’m gonna pause here to do the disclaimer early; more than almost anything I read (save for perhaps Cyanide and Happiness, which I don’t think I’ll review, since if you’re the type of person who’d enjoy it, you probably already follow the comic. Plus, it has maybe ten good strips scattered over eight years that I could post on here without being called into the office of an unhappy administrator), this story needs a warning label. We have the standard things you’ll find in a part-horror narrative: language, pretty graphic violence, truly evil villains, and so on. But mostly, I want to say from the start that some straight-up terrible things happen to small children. One kid in particular will quickly come to the minds of readers. The scene where the protagonists reach said kid is possibly the most memorable, heartbreaking four pages I’ve seen in any webcomic; I actually found Unsounded because of it. Even so, I assume some readers will feel sufficiently uncomfortable at the content to wash their hands of it, so you’ve been warned.

But if you stick around, what can you expect? Sette and Duane, a pairing that starts off hilarious and largely stays that way even as they develop what seems to be a potential surrogate father-daughter relationship (and good Lo…um, holy Buddha, does she need a new parent to replace her current one). I defy you to see all their interactions and not quietly Awwww to yourself at least once:

Original at: http://www.casualvillain.com/Unsounded/comic/ch01/ch01_07.html

That’s just seven pages in, so it’s no spoiler that Duane is undead (“zombie” is a functional yet misleading term). Also take note of Sette’s sharp teeth and her tail; her inhuman nature comes up as a plot point now and then.

Clearly, they have their differences. As time goes on, they do become fond of one another to some degree, but I’m hard-pressed to find a page where they agree on anything without having to argue about it for a while. Such conflicts can spiral out of control as they…well, mostly they just get in trouble wherever they go, but their goal is for Duane to guard Sette and help her reach her cousin, a thief she’s supposed to somehow bring back into line. Sette, you see, is (supposedly) the daughter of essentially a mafia Don. Stockyard, the cousin, moved to expand the family operations, but stopped sending home proper tribute. Multiple characters question the logic in sending a young girl (however capable Sette turns out to actually be) to walk into a violent criminal’s territory, far from home with only one bodyguard, and start making demands. Coupled with the detail that Sette’s father doesn’t have a dental plan from National Geographic, much less a tail, Duane in particular wonders if this is fully the suicide mission that it seems. The flashbacks of the thief-king, in which he appears increasingly abusive and manipulative, don’t help. Sette’s blindly optimistic view of him makes for a key source of tragedy:

Original at: http://www.casualvillain.com/Unsounded/comic/ch03/ch03_36.html

Other than occasional sad pages like this, Sette is a hilarious, vulgar kid with few morals and fewer inhibitions. Assuming that you don’t come to resent her after she makes you spit coffee all over your computer for the fourth time, her lines alone might hook you on Unsounded (either that, or they’ll make you hate the comic; it might depend on whether or not you have children. Maybe I’d be less amused by Sette channeling George Carlin if I pictured her as my own daughter). Either way, I think the mix of we-can-censor-that-later Sette and eloquence-is-my-second-middle-name—skill-is-the-first Duane makes for some great dialogue.

Speaking of the spellwright, his vision in the last panel is ongoing foreshadowing; we see the girl again, briefly, and I half-suspect she has something to do with the dark-haired ghost of a similar age that starts floating around in later chapters. Whatever his past, and in spite of his present (being undead is a very bad thing in this setting), Duane is ten pounds of awesome stuffed in a five pound bag. He’s a kind protagonist who shows during the first chapter that he’s deeply ethical but won’t sacrifice innocent life for principles, unlike some others (I’m looking at you, Ned Stark from Game of Thrones). He goes out of his way to help people and injures rather than kills when possible (a rule he might break with the people responsible for the kid I mentioned earlier in the review). When I say that Duane’s a hero, I’m not speaking in literary terms:

Original at: http://www.casualvillain.com/Unsounded/comic/ch02/ch02_39.html

He’s also got the skill and creativity to back up his morals, even against enemies who’re more naturally talented than he is:

(Use the url address in the citation below; it’s apparently two different images overlapping in the original, so I can’t post it properly.)

Original at: http://www.casualvillain.com/Unsounded/comic/ch05/ch05_41-42.html

To clarify, Duane is fighting someone with more raw power and less honor (he quickly starts breaking the rules of their duel, but I don’t think Duane ever does), but tricks this rival by making him think that he’s (that is, Duane) readying a big, desperate, direct attack, draws him closer to the cliff, and then uses the terrain to win (more or less). Duane is good about working intelligently with his environment, which is another reason I like him.

You know the basics of the plot; now for the mechanical stuff. The artwork is good, as you can see; sometimes the creator (her name is Ashley Cope, by the way) will play with panel layout, angles, and arrangements to give certain pages a different feel. She also shifts the art style itself for some characters or displays of magic. Duane especially gets up-close, realistic shots when his illusions wear off. So, that’s all in the comic’s favor.

The pacing and tone are better, though. In this case, they’re closely intertwined. Cope is an expert at handling the flow of action, drama, horror, and comedy so that we get them all right when we need them. You won’t see a tense moment ruined by inappropriate humor; you won’t be pulled through one mood long enough for it to dominate the comic or grow stale. The plot and dialogue collaborate to give us this great mixture of different themes with smooth transitions between them.

Really, the only problem I can think of is one inherent to fantasy webcomics. Fantasy in general sits at the top of genres in which you’ll probably need lots of background information, just above science fiction. Cope has rightly said during interviews that you can’t just heap page after page of raw setting details onto readers in graphic novels (traditional print is slightly more forgiving about this). She does a great job of handing out pieces here and there, but that only limits the issue rather than removing it: some people just aren’t going to want to memorize this much stuff in order to fully understand the story. In addition to the various history, nations, rulers, and peoples that’re important to the plot, some commonly set fantasy elements work differently as well, like magic (“pymary”) and zombies/liches (“galits” and “plods”). Ironically, the gradual pace with which Cope gives us this information might disappoint readers who want to know more right now. Tons of the world lore is scattered over the Wiki (there’s a link on the top of every comic page), some other sites that Cope uses like Formspring, and various interviews, so if you’re willing to hunt around, you can learn far more than Unsounded itself presents. At some point, a fan or few will inevitably make a Wiki of their own and compile all this stuff, but for now, finding anything not on Cope’s main site might be a bit of a chore.

Nevertheless, Unsounded is quickly becoming one of my favorite webcomics, so I obviously recommend it. Here’s the first page (thanks to April for showing me how to insert links into text; I’ve been looking for that). The archives aren’t as long as the big webcomics out there, at least not yet, so now’s a good time to catch up to the current chapter. Let me know what you think.