Today’s review is a little bit different, as the comic in question isn’t the same type of longform, narrative comic I’m used to reviewing. So I’ll have to be a bit creative with my categories ;)
As the creator describes it, Outer Spaces is “A comic about Life, Anxiety, and Space Llamas.” That captures it pretty well, I think. I just want to add and clarify that it is primarily a series of inspirational messages over art and characters from the sci-fi world Wandercreature has created. The majority are standalone pages with inspiring words on them, but sometimes we actually get some plot as the characters go on a bit of an adventure, giving us a taste of story in the world for several pages.
As mentioned, Outer Spaces is not fully a plot-based comic, so in this section I’ll include discussion on the content of the comic as a whole as well as the plot of the story arcs.
The majority of the inspirational-message style comics tend to focus on dealing with anxieties, depression, and combating social stigmas. While not explicitly detailed in the comic itself, the author makes it clear that many of these are intended to help the LGBT population deal with challenges both internal and external. However, the themes of accepting yourself, finding the good, overcoming anxiety, etc, are relatable and applicable to everyone.
The story arcs take these themes and place it in a story, as the characters overcome difficulties and teach lessons about handling stress, adversity and anxiety.
Each plot and story arc generally ends with similar inspirational messages encouraging us to recognize, confront, accept, and thus overcome our fears and anxieties.
Personally, the story arcs were my favorite part of Outer Spaces, as the mini plots grounded the platitudes in meaningful context, helping me think about them better than then standalone inspirational-poster style pages. They also allow for more development and worldbuilding in this interesting sci-fi world the author has created, as well as character development. The creator seems to be producing more story-arcs compared to posters as time goes on, a trend I’m hoping will continue.
Outer Spaces has two main characters: Wander and Wilder. In a universe populated mostly by dull green blob people, they are “Inks”, physically standing out with their color scheme as a representation of their differences (and symbolic of LGBT and diversity themes, unless I’m horribly mistaken).
Across the comic archive so far we get to know the two protagonists rather well, as well as some supporting characters who pop up now and then. Their character designs are loose, but distinct and in an interesting style, and I’m curious about how they’ll grow.
Again, not always a story, so not always dialogue. What dialogue is there often waxes poetic and didactic. But while it isn’t the most natural sounding in terms of conversation, it doesn’t really need to be, as most times the dialogue is still just a vehicle for the message. More common than dialogue is actually narration, which does a good job at being uplifting. Still, I’d like for the dialogue to be a vehicle for character growth in a more natural way.
The hand lettering of Outer Spaces is loose and a bit inconsistent, but stylistically in line with the rest of the comic. The font, color and size of the text changes rapidly, often on a single page. Each character generally has their own color for their speech balloon/text, which helps to keep track of who’s talking. Text placement is an issue though, especially at the beginning, as dialogue and narration overlap in a confusing manner. It’s not as obvious here below, because I’ve shrunk the image to make it fit into the review better, but on the site itself the sheer size of it requires scrolling up and down to follow the intermixed narration and dialogue.
It gets better as time goes on, but consistency, size and placement of text could be improved.
As you can see from the examples so far, Outer Spaces has an abstract and loose artistic style, with a limited color palette. Backgrounds are often very simple, as is character design, but the artist will sometimes make more detailed backgrounds and settings.
The artist is certainly capable, and I enjoy when the pages get more details and background to go with them (something seen more frequently on the “story arc” pages than on the “inspirational poster” types). I’m not an artist myself so I can’t give much in the way of advice, but generally thought that the simplistic style worked, even if I did enjoy and wish they used details, contrast, etc, more.
Paneling and Visual Storytelling:
Some of this has already been covered in the Dialogue section, and will be covered again in the Website section, but one of the bigger issues with Outer Spaces is the sheer vertical size of the pages and the placement of text and images. I often had to scroll up and down multiple times to follow the visuals and text, as the narration/message would be a single sentence spread over the entire page (2-3 screens in height) with dialogue interspersed. It was noticeably difficult to read at times, knocking me out of the feel and message. The panel-less style was very creative, but I recommend the creator take a look and consider the best format to share the comic, even if it means rearranging page sizes or going for a more traditional paneling approach to aid the reader in following the flow of the page.
Outer Spaces appears to only be hosted on Tapastic and on Tumblr, neither of which are my favorite webcomic host. The vertical scroll and width of the pages on the screen exacerbate some of the problems in flow I noted above. Maybe with time Outer Spaces can become self hosted on its own site where the creator can have the control to provide the features and formatting best for it. I couldn’t find any links to social media pages for OS, which is a shame, as I feel like sharing the “inspirational poster” style pages on social media is probably actually the optimal format for the comic.
Outer Spaces is a well made comic, albeit in a different style, yea, even a different medium than I normally read. It does what it set out to do and does it well, though, weaving a mix of inspiration and character growth across some short story arcs. It’s not my personal cup of tea, but I respect the effort and plan on checking back on it now and then to see how it grows.