Subnormality: Walls of Text, not Concise Little Quips

I’ve been interested in comics for as long as I can remember, but didn’t really have easy access to them in my teenage years (meaning, I was far too shy to actually walk into a comic book store). So I turned to webcomics, keeping bookmarks organized by days of updates, faithfully opening 20+ tabs every time I turned on my computer to read a new instalment of the dailies. I’ve drifted away from all this over the years – partially because I’m a big girl now, but mostly because most webcomics really aren’t very good, the gems scattered in a murky swamp of badly drawn slice-of-life peppered with Star Wars jokes… not to mention the mind-numbingly boring takes on fantasy/science-fiction/elves-with-big-boobs. A few I’ve retained an affection for, a few have my respect and gratitude (and live rent-free in my head*).

*I’ve only encountered this idiom in a positive context (somebody cooing over a picture of a cute capybara, for example), but I just discovered that it’s supposed to be an insult. Apparently it can be used as either; I associate ‘rent-free’ not with loafers on welfare, but, say, our cats’ lifestyle.

One of the leftovers of that era is Subnormality, created in 2007, priding itself in being a ‘comix with too many words‘. While it can certainly be accused of being quite heavy-handed at times, not to mention self-consciously ponderous, it can also be genuinely touching, portraying society’s outcasts (and supposed bimbos, and successful businessmen…) with unflagging empathy and understanding. Its author is Winston Rowntree, who I believe lives in Toronto, Canada, and is very evasive on the subject of himself.

Subnormality not only has a lot of words, it also has sprawling expanses of panels, so that sometimes reading a comic feels like playing a board game. For that reason, as much as I would love to have a printed version of the stuff, I realize that it would be impossible to fit all that inside physical pages, lest somebody springs for an edition where each page folds out to a poster. It was quite difficult to choose which strips to feature, but below are a few examples that are on the smaller and less wordy side (for an example of the aforementioned mushrooming sequence of panels or prolixity, have a look at no. 244, Subnormality Tells the Truth, or no. 98, 7 Dichotomies in a Bar).

Rowntree also occasionally writes for CRACKED, has two published books (Finding Jesus, 2014, in which you have to locate Jesus in a crowd à la Waldo, and the graphic novel Watching, 2016) and recently-ish (2017 is recent, right?) started an animated web series, People Watching, that’s now in its second season.

No. 42, Sphynx III. An early appearance of the Sphynx, shown in company of other monsters, whereas in latter strips she is usually hanging out with (or devouring) humans.
No. 79, In Defense of Weird
No. 63, Mrs Smith Is a Nasty Piece of Work
No. 104, There Are Two Kinds of PeopleUs and them/ and after all, we’re only ordinary men
No. 97, The Further Adventures of the Sphynx. She may be a man-eater, but she’s a very personable one, and one of many recurring characters who’s considerably fleshed out (heh, heh) as the series goes on.
No. 198, Mini-Golf Hell. The green demon lady (sitting on top of Oblivion) is also a recurring character.
One of my favourites, no. 199 (titled ‘…’), in which two friends hang out and watch the world go by. Read the full thing here.

New strips do come out, though not often (which is understandable, given all the other projects Rowntree is engaged in, not to mention the sheer size of latter-day instalments) – follow Subnormality’s Facebook page, or keep abreast of recent developments on his Twitter.

~ ds

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