Sometimes a webcomic offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process. An artist might start a webcomic one way, then veer off wildly in a different direction, or gradually hone his or her process. There’s a lot of room for exploration, and that in particular is a great segue into introducing Aliza Layne’s all-ages fantasy adventure comic, Demon Street. Layne begins her comic following a young boy, Sep (short for Septimus), as he wanders around a weird new world. He’s come there on purpose, curious about the street in his town everyone else ignores, and he seems to know a little something about the land that lies beyond the portal. At first, her artwork consists of loose, black-and-white figures rendered in thick strokes.
But before long, Layne begins filling her panels with boisterous color and lots of fine details, packing the scenes with imaginative creatures in surprising compositions, like this one:
What a thrilling transformation! Look at all that texture! Those fantastic colors! As her artwork gets more explosive, so, too, does the story. After Sep meets a vaguely ominous witch, Essie, she recommends he team up with Raina, a girl with a magical bracelet of weapons (they start out as tiny charms but easily grow to dangerous sizes). Raina arrived in Demon Street when her block, along with her family and friends, winked out of existence, and she stepped through the portal in order to find them. Months later, she still hasn’t, and she somewhat reluctantly enlists Sep’s help. After trekking through a monster-filled forest, they finally arrive in the city, where they will confer with some other human children.
It’s there they meet Kate, who has four arms; Celine, who can conjure magical fire with her hands; and Norn, who has a third eye. Wait, they’re supposed to be humans, right? Well, in Demon Street, human children have mysterious magical powers, which come in spectacularly handy for quests like Raina’s. She’s equipped with a map for the next step of her journey, but she needs help to understand it, so she, Kate, Sep, and Norn head to the library. Only, this library isn’t merely a building housing volumes a books; it’s an elaborate ant colony protected by the archivists—giant ants.
The archivists help the kids decipher some mysterious symbols on Raina’s map, but they hint at something ominous and much, much bigger than missing parents. But a quest is a quest, after all, and Raina and Sep need to be on their way, so they bid farewell to their friends, hop on a giant crab, and set off toward a spiraling forest that just might lead them to where they need to be.
But, as in any good quest, there are troubles bubbling in the distance. Sep’s been having odd nightmares about a giant, spindly black hand creepily calling his name. In Demon Street, names are valuable enough to become a kind of currency, and Sep’s seems to have slipped into the wrong hands. Soon, his nightmares become a reality: tiny but vicious dragons swarm the skies of the city, whispering “Septimus, Septimus.” That’s not the worst part, however: those tiny dragons (dragon flies, get it?) meld into a giant, inky creature capable of real damage. Kate and Norn worry about their friends’ safety and quickly hurry off to find them, and, finding them gone from their house, Celine takes some desperate measures to track them down.
Layne’s rich fantasy world of unusual creatures and folkloric magic comes to vivid life in her beautiful art. The bright, sunny highlights, dusky shadows, and organic shapes are at turns moody and cheerful, while the rounded, cartoonish characters—looking like a bit like they stepped out of a Peanuts strip—add a touch of childlike levity (not to mention the jokes and puns liberally scattered throughout). As Layne’s world gets fuller and she gradually reveals the characters’ backstories, the mysteries get more troubling and the perils get more perilous, which deliciously escalates the suspense. Though she updates twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), there’s still lots and lots left to go, so settle in for an enjoyably long ride.