What do classic characters get up to when no one’s reading their stories? That’s the question pondered in this week’s pick, Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melançon’s cavernous rabbit-hole of a webcomic, Namesake. (In the interest of full disclosure, I only got about halfway through the existing chapters, but since there are 24 already, that’s no small feat!) The premise is a doozy: Namesakes—anyone with the name of a famous literary character (Alice, Wendy, Jack, and so on)—can slip through portals into the world of their preordained story and enact the plot. The system’s worked for generations, but as the story begins, Emma, who doesn’t like to read, finds herself unceremoniously plopped into Oz, a story notably lacking any Emmas.
Upon her arrival, the Denizens of Oz, expecting another Dorothy, are terribly surprised to discover Emma’s not a Dorothy at all. But rules are rules, and Emma must follow the “Dorothy Protocol” in the hopes of getting home to her sister, Elaine. Back in reality, Elaine and Emma’s friend Ben learns that Emma’s disappearance is quite a big problem. Agents of Calliope—the organization monitoring and protecting all Namesakes—are on alert for the theft of magical objects, and Emma’s surprise portal throws them into a frenzy. As a result, Elaine and Ben are stuck at home, guarded by a card soldier from Alice in Wonderland, while Calliope agents try to get a handle on Emma’s appearance in Oz.
Back in Oz, Emma’s discovering some problems, too. Ozma, lauded princess of the magical kingdom, has gone missing, and sleep-inducing poppies are overtaking the land. Ozma had long protected Ozites from illness, aging, and death, and with her disappearance, her citizens are noticing wrinkles in previously wrinkle-free skin. As they mobilize to rescue Ozma, there are bigger schemes at play with wide-reaching implications. Emma, along with a pair of twins, warlock Warrick and witch Selva, get swept up in the search for Ozma, while filling in some compelling backstory about the history of Oz and the Dorothies. Meanwhile, Emma’s frequent fainting spells take her to an eerie in-between place, where she learns more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her arrival in Oz.
All that’s a mere drop in the bucket of this immersive story, which switches between the early days of Calliope in the nineteenth century, the present, and Oz, with frequent flashbacks to fill in backstory. Melançon’s cinematic artwork has a pretty, art nouveau flavor, and her restrained palette nicely mimics Baum’s color-coded fantasy world. Swirling, stylish, full-color illustrations start each chapter and help set the eerie, lush mood.
With 24 chapters, a handful of bonus stories, and even more to come, this webcomic takes some dedication, but for lovers of classic literature who want to lose themselves in a meta-literary funhouse of magic, mystery, and beautiful artwork, this is just the ticket.