Earthsong is a Canadian webcomic by Crystal Yates that began in 2004 and ended in 2016. I was unaware of it when Yates was publishing to the web, and would not have heard of it had I not stumbled across the five self-published print versions at my local library.
There are markers of the early webcomics scene in Yates’s presentation: the comic has a very early digital art look, with blurred background and too-smooth gradients, that I think fare better when printed than on a screen. The story and dialogue, though, is much more controlled and consistent than I’ve come to expect from serialized work.
Yates conveys a very complicated cosmology extremely effectively. The visual language of Earthsong is sometimes clumsy, especially in often hard-to-follow action scenes, but I never felt lost or over-loaded by worldbuilding, and it was only later that I came to realize how many moving pieces were entwined in the plot and the setting. The same goes for a very large cast of characters in what is not, going by page count alone, a very long comic series. Everyone felt like they got their due. While Yates focuses the story around the main character, Willow, there is actually an immense amount of stuff going on in any given chapter, but it’s never overwhelming.
So while I didn’t feel lost reading it, I do feel lost trying to summarize the plot beyond: a woman named Willow wakes up on a planet filled with creatures pulled from other realities and has a month to decide whether she will serve the planet’s avatar, Earthsong, in the fight against another planet whose list of grievances grows longer in each book.
There is a distinct amateurish quality to the beginning but I found my respect for the series grew as I read on: Yates has a talent for facial expressions, dialogue, and pacing. At the end, it was simply nice holding a complete story that never strayed from its initial aims in the way so many webcomics do. Nothing ever feels superfluous, and even through the technical flaws you could see a lot of planning and careful decision-making at work.
The bonus material in the print books includes sketches and notes on how Yates might have done things differently, but Earthsong falls into the category for me of a work that has strength in its uneven edges. Somehow the bumps in its creation just made the core themes and good parts shine brighter. More than anything, you can just tell how much affection Yates had for her characters and an ever-present joy in making this work that comes through on every page.
I enjoyed this far more than I expected, and its a good primer in the promise webcomics held at the beginning of the medium: of just having an idea and releasing it to the world, with no intermediary, and hoping something wonderful comes as a result.