Occasionally, choosing a webcomic for Webcomics Wednesday can be utterly overwhelming—there are so many comics out there, and so many of them are great, that narrowing it down to one can leave me paralyzed by indecision. Sometimes I’ll track down the site of an illustrator I already know I like (for example, here, here, here, and here). Other times, I’ll peruse Hiveworks, a site that hosts some brilliant webcomics (like this, this, this, and this). This time, my pick is all about following the right people on Twitter. I have to credit Black Girl Nerds’s “Try a New Comic” feature for turning me on to this week’s selection, Nilah Magruder’s funny, mysterious, and affecting fantasy, M.F.K.
In the midst of a swirling sandstorm, Magruder introduces wanderlust-stricken Jaime and his grandpa, a grizzled old coot with a kind heart and a sharp tongue. They’re in the middle of a sand-collecting job when a coyote-like creature catches Jaime’s attention and leads him to an injured young girl, Abbie, and her moa (a large, flightless bird), who’s at death’s door. Abbie tries to resist their help, but she’s too hurt to put up much of a fight. That’s how she ends up in Little Marigold, a sandy town with little in the way of resources—though that doesn’t stop magic-wielding bandits from demanding tribute offerings whenever people pass through.
Abbie is desperate to leave and continue on her mission—traveling to the North to spread her mother’s ashes—and she wants to do it alone, but Jaime’s aunt, Nifrain, a doctor, aggressively demands she stay until she’s fully healed, while Jaime eagerly tries to convince Abbie that he’d be a good companion for the journey. But, of course, the situation is not as simple as that. Parapsi, magic-wielders, are reviled in Little Marigold, since rogue parapsi use their powers to exploit non-magic-folk, and Nifrain has discovered that Abbie, too, has magic skills. Things change, however, when Abbie, though she’s widely considered a pariah, steps in and defends Little Marigold from some villainous raiders (though not out of an overwhelming sense of justice). The townspeople reluctantly accept her has a hero. Jaime, meanwhile, has a complicated origin that not even he knows about yet: that coyote-like creature from the prologue, a rakuna, is tied to the disappearance of his parents as well as his own fate.
Magruder neatly weaves backstory and world building throughout this western-inflected fantasy adventure. Bits and pieces of information slowly trickle out, which makes for incredibly enticing storytelling (which can be torture, since she only updates once a week!). The desert panels are beautifully rendered in sandy, sunset colors and rich textures and shadowing. Her figures telegraph emotion in quiet, subtle, yet unmistakeable ways. The contrast between no-nonsense Abbie and effervescent Jaime, for instance, is an object lesson in cultivating crackling chemistry.
Apart from the great storytelling and superb manga-style artwork, it’s refreshing to see a fantasy peopled with diverse characters in a setting that, filled as it is with desert wastes and Middle Eastern–like architecture, looks nothing like northern Europe. At this point in the story, Abbie and Jaime are finally setting off on their journey, so it’s likely there’s way more to come. Fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona will love M.F.K. for its salty girl lead, full of secrets. Readers who love Thomas Siddell’s Gunnerkrigg Court (also here, in webcomic form) will be enchanted by the immersive, magical setting.