What Did I Learn?
“Pretending is actually a lot like dreaming. But dreaming is easy.”
Hero by Hwei Lim is a comic that has some depth to it. The self description sums things up very nicely: “HERO is a story about a perfectly ordinary boy with no memory of the past and no urgency for the future; who one day accepts a most extraordinary offer to travel to distant places and invisible cities.” I’m first going to talk about the story and the art and then I’ll get to the unique aspects of the website itself. As I began to read Hero, I really wanted an immersive story. You know, something I could relish in for a little while.
Besides having the world setup explained, we find there is a priest, a witch, the narrator, a cat and a wolf all introduced in the first four pages. I am probably at a loss here, since I am just knowledgeable about this kind of comic to know that when it mentions specific character types like these then I probably don’t know properly know what (say) a priest, wolf and cat might symbolize for the story. In any case, we quickly get a sense of the world being as promised and who the characters are and what they are about. On page four alone we learn what the cat likes and that it talks, the witch only does certain kinds of tricks and the narrator is an androgynous looking young boy. There is a lot of information exchanged.
I don’t want to spoil the reading for you but I’m not aware of too many comics like this one. The sun is compared to a wolf, memories hide in the clouds and we find invisible distant cities with lonely, wide open spaces full of surprises. The language of silence is considered and there are discussions about the value in rereading books and what doors, windows and walls have to do with each other. Most importantly, though is that we have a boy looking for something but he doesn’t know what. He is more than bored.
Did I get what I was hoping for? A story that I could immersively wander around in? Yep. In some ways it reminds me of my favorite Sandman stories without their affairs of the cosmos focus. The conversations are similar to the one the Endless had … many of them include things unknown and not understood by the boy (or reader.) It also seems most of the conversations are cut short even while the speakers refer to past experiences in the kind of shorthand discussion that you only get with someone who was there with you at that certain time – it’s indecipherable to others. Hero is fragile and dreamlike and revolves largely around the boy and how he’s navigating this dangerous place he finds himself in. Nothing is entirely what it seems to be and yet it is always what it seems and more.
The art looks like deftly handled watercolor over very light pencils with some other color added at places in the story where some imagination or dreaming is involved or we see the actual world in its glory- especially the sea. Over time, more color is added yet it still retains that dreamy lack of crispness. In my mind’s eye, I kept honing the linework down so it was easier to work with mentally. I didn’t even realize I was doing that until chapter nine where the art becomes very vibrant with lots of contrast and more defined lines. I had to manually make a mental adjustment back to just reading the comic instead of shaping what I read into something solid for easy understanding. Plus, the layout takes an interesting new angle with a more standard narration and nonstandard page navigation. But that was only for chapter nine. Alas.
“Sometimes, though, I am very sure that there is a deep pool in each of our dreams, and none of us understand what it means.”
In case you wonder, the little stars to the side of each comic are the navigation. At first I thought my initial confusion was because of the star shapes instead of more standard vcr/dvd play/back shaped buttons or text. That wasn’t it, though since stars work just as well as anything else for the purpose. They show up as light blue on my screen so they didn’t stand out strongly as something to click on. The navigation in chapter nine was probably the most fun I’ve ever had going to the next page in a comic. That’s something that fits Hero very well but other comics could use that same technique to great effect.
Now for the elephant in the room: there are no word balloons (aside from rare ones like these.) To read the comic, you hover your mouse over each panel and a tool-tip box pops up. I like the effect – it’s reminiscent of illustrated books where you have to confront the image before you read the words. The text was a little small but expanded nicely when I increased the browser zoom. In the end, I chose to just make the effort to read the little words in order to enjoy the comic’s visuals at the same time on my 1280 by 800 screen settings. It just doesn’t feel the same to only see part of a comic page at a time when reading comic – to me, anyway. Oh, and make sure you swing the mouse over each page when you’re done reading the panels. Sometimes there is a narration and sometimes there specifically is not a narration to great effect.
Lastly, I’m not sure I would have found Hero unless it had been suggested by a pleasant reader named Susan. I lost her email when my hard drive crashed but I’ll thank her right here for taking the time to point me toward this comic. While I’m at it, I’d also like to thank Hwei, the artist of Hero for being very helpful when my earlier computer was having trouble displaying the text or displaying the comic site at all. I’m now pretty sure it was just my computer but Hwei responded immediately when I emailed her about it and offered to look into the code to see if something had gone wrong. It’s enjoyable to interact with such nice folks.
What Did I Learn?
For starters, I learned that we can make our comics fun to navigate through. Most of us use that new fangled WordPress ‘technology’ but what other technological terrors do we have at our fingertips? What software does every computer come with that is being overlooked as a comic-delivery system? I also learned there is a place in the comic world for comics that exceed the copy-the-newspaper approach. Take a look at Hero and let me know what else I ought to have included in the review.
Edit: After I wrote the review, I later wondered what other reviewers had to say about Hero. Not many have done so, which I found to be very odd. I found one comment which coherently sums the comic up in far less than my ten paragraphs and it’s worth reading. I also found one other place which gave the artists’ full name and led me to discovering her other works.