Thursday, 24 April 2014

#CBR6 10: Digger: The Complete Omnibus Edition, Ursula Vernon

Page count: 850 pages
Time taken: 4.5 hours

Digger-of-convoluted-tunnels is a wombat who accidentally finds herself digging to the surface through a temple to Ganesh, where the statue of Ganesh - also a god in its own right - helps her to work out where she is, what's going on, and what she needs to do to get home. Unfortunately, things quickly stop being simple, as Digger meets a weird shadow creature who needs lessons in basic morality, and a nameless hyena she calls Ed after he agrees not to eat her. And that's just Chapter 1. Lots more stuff happens, involving mad priests, dead gods, why obligatory herbivores shouldn't eat meat, ghosts, vampire squashes, and things that skin people and wear their faces as a mark of respect and are actually really cute.

This is an omnibus edition of a webcomic that ran for several years, although I'd never come across it until a friend told me I would like it. She was right. I read chapter one one evening, and then I read the next eleven chapters instead of playing Mass Effect one morning. That's how good this graphic novel is. The humour is mostly dry, the action is compelling and the characters are lovable and memorable even several weeks after I read it, last month not having been a great month for blogging because of health stress and laziness.

Unlike a couple of the webcomics I follow, Digger stuck to one story arc which by and large sticks to the initial premise: the plot resolves, the characters develop and move on in the way you expect, and there aren't many new characters after the first couple of chapters. This makes it a much better candidate for novelisation than, say, Least I Could Do, or even than Garfield and Peanuts: short story arcs followed by random funny interludes don't really work as novels, although they're great bathroom books for precisely the same reason.

However, webcomics are different from graphic novels in that it's a more organic process of development over time, and reader interaction can be much easier, so this isn't quite the same as reading 850 pages of Sandman or Preacher. It's tightly written and plotted, but there are a few points which feel much more "I have a cool idea about vampire squashes" rather than  "I shall now introduce the major plot element of vampire squashes". I'm pretty sure Vernon just likes the idea of undead gourds.

The artwork is lovely, black and white with good shading, and it's easy to follow what's going on. I really enjoyed this, and I recommend it without reservation to everyone regardless of how much of a comic fan you are; it's very accessible and a really good example of what the medium is capable of. It's also a lot easier to read than most of the big names in quote-unquote literary graphic novels, whilst still being complex and thought-provoking.

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