This week’s Webcomics Wednesday takes us down a metaliterary rabbit hole. Dutch comics artist Maikel Verkoelen’s To Be a Comic opens with the cartoonist, Mik (Verkoelen’s pen name), tumbling from the top of the page and crash landing at a desk, where he discovers a talking coffee mug (Cup) and sheet of paper, waiting for him to get cartooning. But that’s not the only weird thing: in the world of To Be a Comic, Mik, who elsewhere writes and draws the much darker comic, World of Dik, has cartoon hands and, let’s say, a limited vocabulary.
As he explores his new surroundings, in which nearly every object can talk and has an opinion, Mik tries to uncover why he’s fallen into this reality, who sent him, and how to maintain his existence as a cartoon character (hint: it involves believing wholeheartedly in the Reader).
It seems at first like an easy gimmick, but Verkoelen uses it to fantastic, varied effect. He not only pulls off great jokes with Cup and Paper, but he playfully explores comics art, helped along by his limitless power as both creator and star of the comic. In one arc, he decides to track down the house where Calvin and Hobbes lived—it’s fallen into disrepair, but Mik and Cup find some very useful artifacts from the iconic strip. In another arc, Mik ponders how an individual artist’s unique linework can affect the overall feel of a comic.
Apart from exploring the artistic side of comics, the strip also becomes a handy way for Mik to address some of his neuroses, and Cup and Paper in particular give voice to some of his internal struggles. It’s a pleasant, well-rounded, and lighthearted dip into the imagination of a comics artist, and Verkoelen manages to consistently keep it fresh and interesting.
That freshness comes in large part from Verkoelen’s inventive page layouts and use of white space. Sometimes readers have to scroll through pages of nothing to get to a punchline, or several single panels in quick succession down the center of the screen. Not all webcomics artists consider how scrolling down a long page will affect comedic pauses or create suspense, but Verkoelen has made masterful use of the digital format.
Given the limitless possibilities to the plot of To Be a Comic, it’s easy to imagine this particular comic having a very long shelf life, with plenty of unpredictable twists along the way. And while it’s still in its early stages, the most recent plot turn—Mik’s character Dik vengefully dragging him out of To Be a Comic and into World of Dik—promises lots more brainy, slice-of-life mayhem.