Most of the webcomics I’ve been featuring for the past few months have been long-running, detailed stories that emerge over years of page updates, but this week’s pick, Stuart Campbell’s These Memories Won’t Last, is utterly different. For one thing, Campbell’s memories of his grandfather don’t unfold over multiple pages; rather, he presents a contained comic in one long, downward scroll. His loose, scratchy figures, all in blue, move down the center of the page, while the captions—all in red and connected by a gracefully arcing line—float up to meet the images. Once the words and artwork match up, they gently drift and bounce around each other in constant motion.
Campbell tells the story of his grandfather’s decline into dementia in artful, spare snippets with vivid imagery. His grandpa, always depicted as a rumpled old man, recounts tales of his cleverness as a soldier in WWII, but those memories of war become much darker when a trip to the emergency room triggers a psychotic episode that makes him believe he’s back in battle.
From the beginning of the comic, a rope twists between panels connecting elements of the story. As Campbell’s grandpa’s mind begins to go, the rope becomes knotted and individual elements of his memories get caught up in its grasp. It’s a poignant metaphor for memory, and Campbell deploys it beautifully.
The evocative artwork and minimalism of Campbell’s work are stunning, but what sets it apart is his creative use of the webcomic medium. The scrolling action of the pages drives its animation, and his clever use of obfuscating cloudiness drives home the emphasis on declining memory. The panels and text are crystal clear when they’re out of sync, but as soon as they line up properly, they appear behind a translucent panel, giving them a misty appearance. And scrolling backward to see something you’ve already read is impossible—tiny glimpses of the passing artwork are visible, but everything else is hidden in foggy white.
Campbell’s affecting, pithy remembrance of his grandfather is captivating for both his compelling visual narrative style and his inventive, engrossing use of the digital medium—ncluding an atmospheric audio element—to supplement the story. This is a knockout example of what webcomics can be, and it’s definitely worth a thoughtful, unhurried look.