London Flooding: Warren Ellis & Freakangels

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Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield's new weekly webcomic debuted this February. Published by Avatar Comics the comic updates every Friday. Broken Frontier takes a look...

Freakangels is a post-apocalyptic Steampunk tale set in a flooded London, updated once a week in a six page episode with art by Paul Duffield. The art is quite strong; clear line work, a subdued but expressive color range and an interesting blend of Western and manga influences. The details are conveyed confidently, as each piece of machinery and building is depicted with the skill of a master draftsman.

The steam helicopter featured in the first two episodes looks like it leapt from a blueprint while the weathered and rundown buildings of London are drawn with an appreciation for the picturesque ruin aesthetic. The characters each have a unique look, both in physiology and costuming. The only downside seems to be their lack of emotional range, but that’s more of a script issue, as they haven’t had a chance to show much other than smug disdain, irritation or anger.

The first episode begins with a scant but intriguing bit of exposition. "23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. 6 years ago, the world ended. This is the story of what happened next.” Nothing else to explain the backstory.

We’re thrown into a future flooded London, where a young woman, KK, finds herself racing to save a friend, Connor, from Alice, an angry woman with a shotgun. Connor finds out that Mark, another Freakangel, killed Alice’s brothers and sent her after the Freakangels. There’s some telepathy thrown in, but so far that hasn’t been a major plot element. That’s all we have so far but that’s all we need. Each episode ends a bit too early, leaving us wanting more.

The episodic serial format works perfectly for the Internet, because Warren follows the best practices in web comics. The site has a RSS feed, allowing readers to subscribe for free. The archives are freely available, allowing readers to catch up with the entire comic. Furthermore, the site is integrated with the Whitechapel community , an Ellis fan site with an active user base. Discussions of the comic have already started, with speculation about the future plot and analysis of the existing episodes. In its first week, Freakangels received over 77,000 unique visitors so it’s starting strong.

While Freakangels is a great deal for the comic reader, as you can’t beat free for a cover price, it begs the question as to why Ellis has started this comic. As any of his blog readers know, Warren has a keen understanding of future trends and movements in today’s society. The webcomic business model has been established by pioneers like Penny Arcade . Release the comic for free and build a fan base. Then, make your money from advertising and merchandising. Warren has already stated on message boards that “This is the TV/DVD model. Freakangels is free-to-air, but it will eventually pay for itself with print collections. So, for this first experiment, I'm keeping it in a format that'll translate to print easily”

Unlike the timid, control-freak approach of DC and Marvel’s online programs (Zuda and Marvel Digital Comics) Freakangels is the right way to get comics to online readers. Hopefully this will be the first of many print to web transitions. After all, the average comic fan spends more time online than in a shop these days.


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