What better way to ring in a new year than to read a webcomic about the end of the world! Jen Lee’s weird and captivating Thunderpaw has the look of a children’s story about two dogs going on an adventure. Well, for few panels, anyway. Then things get trippy. (I’m going to echo Lee’s opening warning, here, that this comic contains flashing images. Please be aware of that if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing.)
Ollie and Bruno are two dogs who find themselves locked in a car and not sure whether they’ve been left behind for good. There’s something odd going on outside—a stillness in the air and a strange brightness in the sky. Bruno tries to keep a positive attitude about their predicament, but Ollie is beset by anxiety, not only about the storm raging outside (he’s terrified of thunder, in true dog fashion) but the idea that they’re being punished by the mythical Thunderpaw, a beast with four conjoined dog heads, who rains down fire and fury from the heavens. Despite Bruno’s skepticism, flashes of a scary beast and birds carrying flaming seeds down from the clouds seem to suggest that Ollie is right.
Once they escape their car and see the extent of the destruction around them, they traverse dangerous rubble, noxious fumes, and freaky holes in the ground that hint at something deeply sinister going on. Bruno is still determined to get home, but Ollie seems to be cracking. He sees odd visions and menacing dogs that Bruno somehow misses, and as they make their way through abandoned cars in traffic jams and into the woods, the creeping dread grows even stronger. The combination of the anthropomorphized-dogs’ buddy adventure and an apocalyptic journey in the spirit of The Road manages to make the tension even thicker.
Lee’s figures quickly move from cartoonish to surreal and back again, and her metamorphic style emphasizes the shakiness of the very world Ollie and Bruno occupy. Perhaps the creepiest and most atmospheric element of Lee’s ongoing webcomic, however, is her masterful use of animated gifs, some of which constitute entire pages in motion. The seamlessly looping, constant flickering motion of fur, debris, and lightning in the sky—particularly in the limited palette of noxious oranges and blueish grays—amplify the suspense deliciously. Animation is one thing digital comics have over print, and Lee deploys it with remarkable skill. This understated and unsettlingly riveting comic updates monthly.