From long-running soap operas to comedy-drama slices of life to daily gag strips, the digital comics scene has exploded over the last decade and readers have never had more options. Feeling overwhelmed? Joe Stando is here to take you on an expedition through the webcomics wilderness and show you the best specimens in our monthly Deadshirt Webcomics Field Guide.
Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran
Realism is an important ingredient to balance in comics. Comics creators are in a somewhat unique position where they can include fantastic elements in their stories without paying for huge effects budgets or the like. This lends itself well to fantasy or sci-fi elements, but can just as easily slide into overwrought worldbuilding or “this is my robot girlfriend” stories. On the other hand, too much realism, even in slice-of-life stories with a lot of verisimilitude, tends to make a comic either dull or depressing. The medium almost demands a level of elasticity and verve.
Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran is a perfect example of a good balance at work. The story began in 2007 as a sort of odd couple yarn about straightlaced Eve Ning and her stoner roommate/long lost preschool classmate Hanna Thompson, but since then it’s expanded out into an immersive snapshot of their lives and circle of friends in Brooklyn. Octopus Pie has traced Eve and Hannah’s lives through jobs, breakups, moves, and family squabbles, all while maintaining an earnest, relatable sense of realism. It’s also a comic that includes a secret society of baristas, a sentient rock lobster, and a murder mystery arc with for-real ghosts. These kinds of things are equally important in making the comic work.
Octopus Pie has a sense of humor about itself, which is what lets these elements coexist. In the current arc, dealer Will gets stiffed and jumped at a party he was delivering to and barely manages to escape. It’s a striking, tense scene, but it’s leavened with dialogue parodying obnoxious partygoers and the tendency for white twentysomethings to feign outrage when confronted. Fight scenes in Octopus Pie (and there are quite a few of them, as I noticed while rereading) are convincingly rendered but often include cartoonish exaggeration. Both elements work together to “sell” you the scene, with the accuracy showing you what’s happening but the humor and hyperbole making you feel it. Over the comic’s run, it’s sort of moved away from storylines like “the cast goes to the beach” and focused more on letting arcs unfold from characters’ personalities and interactions. Fittingly, the designs and linework have also loosened up over time, making movement and action even more flowing. Stories defy expectations, and sometimes don’t resolve neatly or happily for everyone involved.
This isn’t to say that it’s not still hilarious. Octopus Pie has one of the best casts in webcomics, from major characters (<3 Hanna 4ever) to bit players like bad dates or acquaintances. Gran has a great eye for pop culture tropes that are ripe for parody without ever resorting to “hipsters, amirite?” laziness. It’s also been kind of charming watching the characters evolve over time, especially as Eve transitioned from being something of a sourpuss to a more mellow, relaxed roommate. I started reading early in the series’ run in 2008 when I was 19 and it’s been nice coming into my adulthood while being a fan, as cheesy as that sounds. There’s a lot of solid life experience and advice portrayed in the comic, without ever being too preachy or on the nose.
The comic also plays with format in ways that utilize the multimedia nature of the internet. It’s been over a decade since Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, and the furthest afield most wedcomics get is eschewing easily-printed page sizes and layouts. Octopus Pie is different. Gifs and splashes of color pop up sporadically to punctuate gags. The most impressive was a recent collaboration with Lacey Micallef that I’m just gonna link to here. It’s easily the most surreal the comic has gotten, but it’s set up and grounded in a way that allows it to work in-context. So much of the characterization and dynamics in the series ring true that occasional flights of fancy serve to enhance, rather than distract.
Octopus Pie is one of a growing number of webcomics partially supported by crowdfunding site Patreon. At the current milestone, Gran posts ten pages per month. It’s an accessible comic for new readers, and there’s in the archives to binge on while catching up. All in all, it’s one of the comics I’ve been following the longest, and one that may have had the most impact on my development into a (semi) functional adult.