I believe that webcomics are the future of sequential art. They tackle themes often overlooked by their print ancestors and approach the sequential medium with a fresh, unjaded eye. But just as often, they are sabotaged by poor quality artwork and production values.
However, Romantically Apocalyptic stands out because it combines an off-beat quirkiness with sumptuous artwork that can be compared to that of top professionals.
Romantically Apocalyptic is reminiscent of the painted comics from 2000 AD. Like them, it’s beautifully illustrated and rich with a twisted black humor that sets it apart from the usual fare I associate with mainstream American comics and webcomics.
Romantically Apocalyptic pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved by webcomics. It may have started off as a series of humorous strips but over time, evolved into an elaborate maze of interlocking stories. Each story arc and character exists in a world rich with atmosphere and mythos. Despite the humor of this comic, the crumbling setting still evokes tragedy and loss.
Yet many of the characters’ manic, childlike antics (which may or may not be indicative of mental instability in the face of the Apocalypse) prevent it from ever slipping into unrelenting grimness.
The artwork is a mixture of elegant, suggestive digital painting blended with photographic elements. The comic’s website describes the art method as utilizing “Photoshop, live actors, dead actors, sexy assistants, greenscreen, a camera, and a Wacom tablet.” It’s a bold and experimental technique, a wide-screen approach to storytelling, and it works.
Many would-be visionary films and comics prove that innovation alone is not enough. It has to married to execution. Luckily, the team behind Romantically Apocalyptic succeeds at this.
The style is beautifully executed – photographic elements are flawlessly harmonized with the painted ones, producing a mouth-watering final product. Each page feels tactile, as solid as reality yet surreal as a dream.
The palette is almost monotone – clear greys, rich blacks and creamy pale shades. Occasionally splashes of color enrich a page, drawing attention to significant characters or moments. Vitaly S Alexius, the creator and driving force behind the comic, has cleverly “color-coded” his main characters and each color choice is significant.
Most of the main characters have names, such as Captain, Pilot and Engineer, which refer to their professions or positions. Yet every character is unique and memorable, playing a vital role. The characters work well both as protagonists and symbols. Their names, combined with their masks and muffled forms, render them both iconic and relatable to a large demograph. Race, gender and features are seldom revealed until later in the comic by which stage the reader is already emotionally committed.
The writing possesses a humor that is hard to classify. Yes, it contains all the necessary elements of black comedy. Madness, misguided religion (in the form of a Lemonade -worshiping cult) and mass graves are all present in the comic.
But it also plays with our awareness and emotions, taking what should be horrifying and rendering it humorous instead. There’s an absurdist quality to the humor that’s both fresh and endearing.
I was strongly reminded of the Monty Python films and skits. Vitaly S Alexius has the same ability to play with the sacred and shocking, to ridicule both our deep fear of mortality and our ability to live in the moment. Like Monty Python, the punchlines in Romantically Apocalyptic often contain wisdom and a deeper awareness of the human condition.
This is an irreverent, gleeful contemplation of mankind’s capacity for destruction and our resilience. It slyly celebrates our ability to endure as a species, both physically and psychologically. It’s odd but I would argue that one of the main themes of this comic is that of hope.
If one can still play in the bones of cities, if one can turn skeletal remains into companions, one can triumph over the Apocalypse itself.