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My Webcomic Heroes: Zebra Girl

January 5, 2014

So, I read a lot of webcomics, and there are a great deal of them that have had a very formative impact on me. Both generally as a person, and specifically towards my decision to make a webcomic of my own. I wanted to share some of my favorites as I move forward with my comic in 2014.
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Next on the list is Joseph England’s Zebra Girl <www.zebragirl.net>. Still running, this comic has updated unpredictably since 2000.

Zebra Girl is a magical farce that culminates in moments of intense drama. The humor and serious bits act as powerful contrasts, fitting for this black and white comic. However, at every turn, identity is it’s driving principle.

Joseph England has created quite a world for himself. The comic pitch is simple: roommates find an ancient tome of mystical power in the attic and accidentally turn Sandra, our protagonist, into a demon. The comic then follows the misadventures of getting Sandra sorted out.

From this simple seed of an idea, England grows an incredibly diverse series of plot lines and characters. A lush multiverse of magic and science and Judeo-Christian mythos mixed with a healthy amount of ancient folklore. A complex setting and background, but unified by strong focus on character identity.

“Magic hijinks” is a catalyst for a lot of plot, but Zebra Girls story arcs tend to focus on either a search for identity or what happens when a character has an identity thrust upon them.

The consistent theme of identity helps tie together the broad nature of the comic, and in fact allows the comic to push into strange territory without losing the sense of narrative.

At various points the comic hits incredibly disparate moments and plot arcs:
-A romantic comedy (Sandra deals with the normalcy she’s lost)
-An adventure story set in a parallel universe based on a children’s show (Sandra comes to terms with her internal identity)
– A reversal where Sandra becomes the villain.
(Supernatural imposition of identity)
-A folk tale journey through a non-physical mystic plane of magic.
(A recovery of identity)

The unifying principle, that the characters’ identities are constantly brought to the surface, takes settings and artistic directions that would otherwise seem drastically different and forges them into a solid world-line.

The result is a story more whimsical and character conscious than most. Staying true to that core principal allows Joseph England to spin the other elements of the comic to match the emotional needs of his characters. The comical moments can be more light hearted and absurd, and the serious moment can be all the more intense. It is a comic with very heightened sensibilities and strong storytelling principles.

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It’s a unique story, and a fantastic read, but there’s one more element that I admire about Zebra Girl: persistence. Joseph England has been at his comic for 14 years, with all manner of hiatus, late comics, and difficulties. Updated unpredictably is a apt description of the comic’s schedule.

And yet England presses on. When a comic artist stumbles, it can be very difficult to get back into the artistic process. It’s clear by England’s comments that he struggles, but after 14 years he shows no indication of giving up. With all this time, his art and storytelling skills have grown tremendously. He is certainly an artist I admire and consider a webcomic hero.

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One Comment
  1. Well absolutely there is no denying, Zebra Girl is indeed awesome and fun loaded with amazing characterisation in a dramatic situation. I couldn’t agree more, thanks for sharing this post 🙂

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