Part of a recurring series of relatively brief recommendations of books, movies, music and other media, intended to share my interests and help me blog more frequently.
You can understand the entire tone of the webcomic Snowflakes by reading just its sixth strip:
Over just five panels, Snowflakes demonstrates what makes it a worthy spiritual heir to one of the greatest comic strips of all time, Calvin & Hobbes:
- It captures the humorously over-heightened drama of children, in which three kids talking at a lunch table can become a menacing alliance
- Its main characters are intellectually advanced for pre-pubescent children. A nine-year-old is casually conversant with Roman idea of a triumvirate while a seven-year-old is reading Alexander Pope’s 1733 philosophical poem “An Essay On Man.”
- Two key characters are instantly sketched: the humorously violent Wray, consumed by thoughts of strife and battle, and the lethargic intellectual Sloan, never once looking up from her book.
- So is their odd-couple friendship, with Wray rash and delusional and Sloan playing along but trying to check her friend.
Over the strip’s four-year run, Snowflakes would feature adventure, farce and jokes aplenty. But the core of its enduring appeal are its child characters in the vein of Calvin: precocious in knowledge but not wisdom, and transitioning seamlessly back and forth between reality and the world of the imagination.
The strip was drawn by Chris Jones with story by James Ashby and dialogue by Zach Weinersmith (of the ongoing webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It tells the story of a group of children left largely to their own devices in an orphanage high up in the Andes.
The tone is whimsical, largely without the real-world grounding that Bill Watterson featured in his all-time great strip. People who enjoy Weinersmith’s SMBC will find the dialogue to their liking, including his trademark intellectual humor:
But Snowflakes’ serialized narrative and rich characterization lets it surpass the gag-a-day style of (enjoyable) strips like SMBC.
In a nice touch, each of the seven main characters embodies (but isn’t constrained by) one of the seven deadly sins. (Somehow I didn’t pick up on this my first time through, even though each characters’ name is derived from their sin.) Wray represents wrath, of course, and it’s a testament to the strip’s light touch that a sociopathic bully is so thoroughly charming. This is in part because she melds her violence with the most intense commitment to her imagination of any character:
Some of these main characters are sympathetic, including well-meaning Lu, dorky Greg, sweet Glory and introverted Sloan.
Others are more malevolent, such as Enzo, an envious five-year-old willing to do nearly anything to get what he wants.
Then there’s prideful Priti, whose stereotypical girliness only makes her machiavellian scheming to rule the orphanage all the more ominous.
Annoyingly, the creators seem to have let the comic’s website lapse entirely. snowflakescomic.com is defunct, along with all the links to it. The strip itself still survives on GoComics and other websites.
Wherever you find it, though, if you enjoy clever humor and the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes, then Snowflakes is right for you — and it’s sitting there for free online! Give its first 25 or so pages a read; I bet you’ll be hooked.