About once a month, Deadshirt.net will single out one free webcomic to gush about. First up is Monster Pulse by Magnolia Porter, an imaginative and compelling adventure that’s getting all the right attention. I got the opportunity to interview Ms. Porter about her process, her adoring fanbase, and her plans for the future.
The Premise: A group of everyday kids get mixed up with shady super-scientists and get their body parts transformed into adorable fighting monsters.
Frequency: Updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
Support: A kickstarter-funded print collection of the first six chapters is due out this summer. Meanwhile, she does accept PayPal donations at email@example.com.
It’s been a big year for comic writer and artist Magnolia Porter — it began with a successful Kickstarter campaign for the first print volume of Monster Pulse, which is due out this month. Last week Monster Pulse celebrated its 2nd birthday, and next month her art will hit comic shops for the first time, as she contributes one of the four covers to Adventure Time: Candy Capers #1.
With two completed projects under her belt, The Good Crook (2007-2009) and the critically-acclaimed Bobwhite (2008-2011), Ms. Porter has attracted a whole new audience by diving into the world of all-ages fantasy adventure.
Monster Pulse centers around four pre-teens and the four awesome-yet-adorable pet monsters that sprung from their bodies after they each came into contact with a shadowy scientific think-tank. As their journey unfolds, friendships and rivalries (and perhaps young love?) develop amongst the unfortunate kids, who make it their mission to prevent their bizarre fate from befalling any other children.
“The concept for Monster Pulse developed out of my desire to do a ‘kids with monsters’ story like the kind I had been obsessed with as a kid,” says Porter, who like most of her generation grew up with the Pokémon games and cartoons. “For me the most compelling part of those stories was the bond between the kid and monster, so I tried to think of a reason why an intense bond would form between them and seem understandable (and not too overblown) to the reader. I came up with the idea that the monsters would actually be part of them, parts of their body, and developed it from there.”
While its ever-expanding roster of unique, imaginative creatures based on hearts, eyeballs, and larynges is certainly a big part of its appeal, the greatest strength of Monster Pulse is the way the creatures never upstage the human characters. A story like Monster Pulse could easily have devolved into endless monster fights, but instead the personal stories of each hero, their family lives, their feelings toward each other and toward their monsters take center stage. It’s not surprising that Monster Pulse has drawn favorable comparisons to Pokémon and Digimon.
One of the ways Porter’s Monster Pulse breaks away from the pocket monster pack is in the author’s ability to strike a delicate balance between childlike wonder and grown-up maturity. The kids behave and speak like kids, not like tiny, super-intelligent adults, and the adults are complex rather than being straw-man villains. This is an all-ages story, not a kids’ story, and it hits that mark with precision.
Porter’s command of young voices isn’t surprising, as she works as a nanny in Brooklyn, NY. While she says she’s never based a character in Monster Pulse directly on one of the kids in her care, that’s not to say that her work life never influences the comic.
“My friend Lela pointed out to me that I had developed the baby storyline shortly after beginning work as a nanny,” says Porter. She’s referring to the chapter “Cry Baby,” which featured a monster, Greenie, who was actually the disembodied larynx of an infant. “The child I took care of at the time had special needs and had trouble speaking and being understood, and I wrote a story about a baby who had lost its voice (in the form of a monster) and needed to have it returned. I hadn’t made a conscious connection, but when Lela pointed it out to me it seemed to fit.”
While Monster Pulse never loses its sense of fun, the two most recent story arcs have leaned toward the darker side. The two-part “Killer” arc forced young heroes Abel and Julie to make some very heavy life-or-death decisions that neither of them will be getting over any time soon, and the current chapter “The Autonomics” focuses on Dr. Lulenski, our viewpoint character in the grown-up world of SHELL, the morally bankrupt laboratory responsible for our heroes’ mutation, who’s dealing with a recent trauma of her own. Lulenski is becoming one of Monster Pulse’s best characters, as she finds herself promoted from morally-gray researcher to apprentice to the Big Bad.
“I think the dark subject matter is where the story naturally goes, but I try to keep it light and fun as I can without being too jarring. I’m trying to have one big Dark Moment per volume, so they stay spread out. But mostly its an intuitive thing, trying to feel out what’s appropriate and what kind of tone the current chapter needs to stay consistent.”
Monster Pulse’s active and enthusiastic fan community has contributed over $18,000 to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, a lengthy and up-to-date TV Tropes page, and a wealth of fan art.
“I am so excited and encouraged by all the fan work,” says Porter, who personally curates the Monster Pulse fanart tumblr, which features several new pieces every week. “I’ve done webcomics before this one, but NEVER with this level of creative, involved reaction. I’m so happy I’ve created something people really seem to respond to and want to be a part of. It is my greatest source of joy and fulfillment some days.”
Other sources of joy and fulfillment for Magnolia Porter include the films of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, and other New Hollywood classics, as well as a ton of webcomics. (More on that later.)
“I’ve also been reading a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin lately, and it’s kind of changing the way I think about stories and characters, and I hope that will show up in my work in some way.”
I asked Ms. Porter for any advice she could give someone just starting out in comics.
“My only advice is: Just make the comic. Don’t worry about not being good enough and not being ready. The only way to get better at making comics is to make comics! Maybe start with shorter stories to ease your way into it, but start generating content so you can learn how to be good at it.”
As fans of Monster Pulse will attest, Magnolia Porter’s practice has made damn-near perfect. And while she’s expressed interest in more freelance work as an illustrator, Monster Pulse remains her primary concern for the foreseeable future. Ms. Porter does have an ending in mind for the series, but plans for the series to run for at least six volumes, and with their support, readers can expect Monster Pulse to keep on beating.
Magnolia Porter is reading (among others):