It’s Victorian England, 1889, and London is still reeling from the aftermath of Jack the Ripper. Queen Victoria has ordered the creation of a new breed of investigator to ensure a murderous rampage of such magnitude and viciousness can never happen again. Enter, the Continentals: part Sherlock Holmes, part James Bond, part The Avengers.
The Continentals is a new web comic by Darryl Hughes (scripts) and Monique MacNaughton (art); who previously collaborated on G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures, nominated for the 2007 Glyph Comic Award. Together they have created a gripping storyline with superb artwork in the style of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Hughes’ scripts are wordy but not excessively so. He has managed in only a handful of pages (so far) to develop unique characters with their own clear personalities and mannerisms.
There is the eloquent Jeffrey Tiffen Smythe, a wordy Sherlock Holmes style of analytic detective; and the far more action-oriented Lady Fiona Fiziwigg, a Welsh fishwife who married a Lord (now deceased) and spends her time pushing Smythe’s buttons while acting like Lara Croft. Together they form a somewhat competent detective duo, with their differing skills working well in the pursuit of criminals.
What initially drew the acclaim of many in the webcomic community was not the scripts but McNaughton’s amazing artwork. It’s no exaggeration to say this stands well above the majority of what passes for art in the average web-published comic.
Each page leaps from the screen, with every character and background rendered in a level of detail is generally seen only in print comics. If this is not picked up for publication by the likes of Dark Horse, it will be a surprise.
However, the pacing of the comic is likely to be a major turn-off for its potential audience. As Hughes himself has remarked on The Webcomic List Forum, a popular gathering point for webcomic creators, the comic’s once-a-week update schedule means the story moves ahead at a snail’s pace.
Anyone coming to the comic afresh will find plenty to read but once the archives are exhausted, even visiting once a month only garners four more pages. When the plot moves slowly, this means a long wait between interesting plot points.
The overall design of the website leaves a lot to be desired, too. There has never been a real convention on how a webcomic should be displayed so it is essentially up to the creator how they want to present their work. Nevertheless, certain things are generally expected by readers and one of those is that the comic be the focus of the site. The Continentals falls down flat on this major point – the comic is not even visible on a 1024×768 display without scrolling down!
If you’re new to the comic and want to jump to the first page so you can read it in order, it’s best not to press the ‘First’ button (which is not displayed beneath the comic but, instead, beneath any comments left by readers; another problem in its own right) because that takes you to the first of many ‘preview’ pages, detailing the background to the story.
This is all excellent material which is well worth reading, but it’s not the background info most readers come for, it’s the comic. To get to the first page, you have to click on a separate link.
It is a well-written, well-drawn comic that is rightly deserving of the critical appraise it has already garnered, but it suffers from poor site design and a slow update schedule.