Artist puts a bit of Calgary into webcomic
by Vanessa Gillard
Whether you read Calvin and Hobbes in the paper, can’t hold yourself back at your local comic shop or are obsessed about the next instalment of your favourite graphic novel, comics have captured the imagination of many young and not so young. The visual panel to panel format portrays a story like no other. Styles, writing, plot and characters vary wildly and it should come as no surprise that the Internet has for some time been a haven for the digital take on the medium.
Local webcomic creator Ben Rankel has always been fascinated with comics and cartooning and says that in many cases, the childlike characters contrasted with adult themes inspired his own creations, especially in the strip format.
One of Rankel’s webcomics was a series called 3 Panel Opera. The main character is Ernest Doubt, a meek boy who cries a lot. Ernest is suddenly faced with the unnerving fact that he has an imaginary friend, Svin The Pink, who is just as displeased with the situation as Ernest. The characters are drawn in a boxy yet bubble-like style with classic large cartoon features set against simple backgrounds that make the characters the main event. Rankel’s cynical sense of humour is increasingly apparent as more characters are introduced, including a “tragic” beheaded bunny.
In his newest endeavour, Wretched Little Creatures, which began Feb. 14 this year, the cynicism is still evident but the character development and drama is more palpable. The protagonist, Kurt, is seen waiting for the C-Train. He dupes an old lady out of a spot in the sardine can as she calls him an asshole. Suddenly, what’s revealed to be a violent daydream finds Kurt jumping to his doom from one of the Banker’s Hall buildings. The way that Rankel uses the panels is theatrical, conveying movement, and this resonates well with his writing style. The cartooning is less surreal than his last project but still includes some very cartoon-like features contrasted with a more realistic vision of the characters’ world: Calgary.
Rankel’s characters are inspired by many things but he tries to focus on what he knows best.
“I’ve worked on five comics that have been published online at some point and thus far three of those comics have included some sort of a characterization of me,” said the artist. “I’ve always been told to write what you know and I feel like I know myself better than I know anyone else. Maybe that makes me a bit self-centred? After that I try to create characters that have attitudes that are in contrast to the main character, to keep things interesting and make sure there is conflict in abundance.”
According to Rankel one of the advantages of reading and publishing webcomics is that there are so many on varied topics, as opposed to the little “variety in content from the big two print publishers. It’s kind of superheroes or bust.”
Rankel concedes that there isn’t much money in what he’s doing yet — so far he’s made a few hundred dollars — but he thinks commercial success is possible with hard work and a little luck, like any other business. So far creating a community around his work and developing relationships with people interested in it has been very rewarding.
“My favourite part of putting up a new comic page or strip is reading the comments people leave behind and interacting and responding to those people. In lieu of any monetary gain, I’d say getting comments from cool readers is pretty damn good payment,” said Rankel.
Wretched Little Creatures is updated every Tuesday and Thursday. You can find the webcomic at www.wretchedlittlecreatures.com