Friends With Boys

Read It: The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

Private school is where to go for the best education, right? That’s what Juniper thinks. Her hard work has won her a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy where she’ll finally be able to surround herself in studies and like-minded intellectuals that get along. Well… not quite.

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks is a perfect graphic novel for pre-teen or teenage girls. The book has a fresh tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t shortchange the characters’ emotional states. There’s humor but it’s grounded in the story, which expertly captures childhood dynamics among girls. There’s also a little hint of fantasy but it’s used sparingly and imaginatively.

Jun is instantly likable. She has a tough, cool exterior but it’s clear she’s worried she’s made a mistake going to private school. The cast is kept small, and everyone retains a unique look and voice, instantly recognizable. From the cover, Hicks’ art initially appears to have a Scott Pilgrim vibe to it, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s doing her own thing and doing it so well because she’s always serving the story. You always know how Jun is feeling because of her strong command of portraying facial expressions and body language – clearly, honestly. Her environments are so consistent, you never drop out of the story. It’s all so effortless and charming.

If you like that, check out Hicks’ current webcomic Friends With Boys, a fascinating tale about a girl entering public school after being raised home schooled her whole life. Once the entire story gets serialized online, it’ll be published as a graphic novel by the excellent publisher First Second Books, likely sometime in February 2012. Judging from what’s up now, it may surpass The War At Ellsmere.

Faith also has a sillier webcomic called The Adventures of Superhero Girl that updates every Tuesday. It’s also published in the free alt-weekly newspaper The Coast, published out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

How to Find the Webcomic for You

Screen shot of inkOUTBREAK's reader

The internet is a big place. Discovering a webcomic can be next to impossible unless you’ve determined to comb the intertubes for an entire weekend, or you visit just the right sites. Fortunately, there’s a promising new alternative called inkOUTBREAK that doubles not only as a portal to discover new webcomics, but a way to bookmark your current favorites so you never miss an update.

Sure you could subscribe to an RSS feed, but what if you’re at a different computer? Or have no clue about RSS thingies? Or just don’t really like RSS feeds? inkOUTBREAK lets you follow webcomics you like and takes you to the specific website that houses the webcomic, so you get the entire experience. And every time your favorites update, they’re at the top of your screen. Plus, it does what RSS feeds can’t, it recommends new webcomics to discover. Through the use of customized tags, you can specify the kinds of webcomics you’re interested in. Combine that with the “bump” of a thumbs up you can give strips you enjoy, you also get a suggested stream of webcomics, somewhat similar to exploring music on Pandora Radio.

I’ve just never been a fan of RSS and my email inbox gets pretty cluttered, that I’m reluctant to subscribe to webcomics that way. So this is great news to me. Thanks to inkOUTBREAK, I’ve been able to find several webcomics I lost track of because I’d forgotten the title after some late night internet-wandering (notably Amazing Super Powers). And I’ve already discovered some new ones I’m liking (such as I am Arg!, this surreal Cat and Girl, and this visual treat on Ellie on Planet X). And I’m very happy to be able to read some of my favorites without having to remember their update schedule (like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and The Abominable Charles Christopher).

Having said that, it’s not perfect. It’s still in beta after all. Some of the navigation to work out your settings, like tags and favorites, isn’t the most intuitive to me. You definitely have to be willing to tinker around with it a little bit. Because of just how many webcomics are out there, even a site like this can’t be expected to have everything, especially right out of the gate. But there are a few surprising omissions, as well as some of my favorites that are missing. No Hark! A Vagrant, no Max Overreacts, no Sheldon, no Destructor, none of Kevin Church’s Agreeable Comics, no Now It Can Be Told (or any of Act-I-Vate, for that matter). You get the idea. And unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way to suggest webcomics to be added to the service. (It looks like that option used to exist but now the creator of the webcomic has to do it themselves.) Friends with Boys is there but something in the code seems messed up. I’m sure a lot of this will be fixed in the near future.

But it’s a promising start and a fantastic idea. For more on the site, check out this walk-through.