Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Now That It's Finished: Queen of Wands




(All pictures from Queen of Wands by Aeire. Click on the pictures to see them within the context of the website. All pictures link to the original run.)

I hope Aeire approves.

Yes, I know that Queen of Wands is still running, but the story proper has come to its conclusion. For those of you that have never heard of a site called Websnark, or who don't read comics at all, Queen of Wands is a comic by Aeire, sort of based on her life, which ended in February 2004. During it's run, Aeire built many multifaceted characters who interacted with each other in a interesting and realistic (if at times melodramatic) way. It is also a great comic to read to see how a writer/artist changes and improves over time, since Aeire experiments with many different techniques throughout the run, from layout changes to art style to storytelling, and by reading the archives we can watch a writer grow and change over time, and finally find her own style. There are many comics which are worth reading just for that.



Queen of Wands is now rerunning all the strips with commentary. It's worth reading just to hear the writer's opinion. I highly suggest you read this, especially if you become interested after reading my article.

The Concept

As I said before, this is a 'real life' comic. It starts off as a humor strip, and to some extent retains that humor later in its run. However, Queen of Wands is more about the story than anything else, and in the story it's more about backstory as well. At least it has more backstory than most comics I read. Queen of Wands works very well as a character study, dissecting everything that makes the chracters act the way they do.

Soon after deciding to focus on the story, Aeire also changed the format of the strip, going from a typical four panel layout to floating panels with a background which serves to help the flow between panels as well as set the mood. This added interest in the visual design and also allowed more free more for the words, making space less restrictive.

Yes, Aeire is wordy. Very wordy, in fact. There are a few pages that seem to have more words than pictures, but it's engaging. The large number of words do not take away from the visual effect, and it wouldn't hurt anyone to read more.

The infamous lightning path

Anyway, another prevalent idea in Queen of Wands is the return of ideas and conversations with different meanings. (Aeire mentions this several times in her commentary, and it's kind of fun to notice them) I didn't notice them the first time, but now that I see them, it holds the comic together that much better. It kind of reminds me of a sonata in a way. Since the comic is running again with commentary, we can possibly see that as the return of the main theme with variation. Yeah, I'm stretching, but Queen of Wands is very much like a sonata. It starts with one idea, goes through a development, and ends on a different version of the beginning idea. (I'm sure Aeire will mention it, but Kestral does the same thing in the last strip that she did in the first strip: wake up her roomates because she made pancakes.)

Story

Kestral is an ex-Wiccan who lives with her two roomates, Felix and Shannon. She also works at a tech-support job and eventually part-time at a toy store. There she meets Angela. The comic chronicles the lives of these characters up to the time that Kestral moves to Boston, and no, I don't ruin the comic in any way by saying that.

The charm of the story is such that I could probably tell you everything that happened over the course of the comic and not ruin the experience for you. This is because the greatness of the story is not in the story itself, but how it's told. The characters interact with each other in a wonderful way which seems very human and interesting at the same time.

There are many times when reading this comic when I just stopped and said "I was that guy" or "I knew that person." Even at the tender age of 20, I have lived through some of these problems. This alone lends to the greatness of the work. It's very familiar, and at the same time, the situations are so over the top you just have to laugh at them, even though you lived through them yourself.

The story also features the some of the tightest crossovers out there. Queen of Wands collaborates with Something Positive multiple times. Each time it makes sense with what's going on in both comics, and it also serves to advance the plot, which many crossovers fail to do.

The Characters

I'd say the strongest point about Queen of Wands is the characters themselves. Even though the comic focuses on Kestrel, this is a large ensemble cast, and although the characters are all similar in some way, they're different enough to hold interest. They'd have to be the same to hang out so much anyway. It's much more fun to be around someone with similar likes and interests (and intelligence levels) than someone completely different from you.

One thing that separates these characters from most of the characters in other webcomics is they are complex. None of the characters are run by one personality trait. They are all able to change, and to do things that might seem out of character anywhere else. In this comic it just serves to flesh out what was already there. Noone is completely innocent. Noone is always right, or always wrong. In effect, these are humans. They make mistakes even though they're always trying to do what they feel is right.

Kestrel



Kestrel is the central character of the strip. The story follows her around, and ends with her as well. Whenever she's not in people are discussing her. (I'll probably get trouble for saying that because there's one strip where that's not true, but.. eh)

Kestrel's personality is somewhat childish, somewhat naive. She is a very intelligent woman, but she hides it behind her love for toys and children's books and her slightly selfish nature.

Because of her nature, Kestrel also attracts lots of children. This proves an annoyance to her because she doesn't like the attention children give her, or children in general for that matter. Children have a tendency of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and of making assumptions. Kestrel can't deal with them at this stage in her life.

Kestrel is also very much a character of whims. She'll say and do certain things without thinking of the consequences, and will speak her mind without worrying how she will be perceived. She is very much in the moment and easily distracted.

Other small things: interests include: Renfaires, hentai, Square role-playing games, and cats. She also really hates dealing with stupid people and bigots, which leads to the comic below, which I'm just putting in because I like it so much.





Shannon

Shannon is Kestrel's best friend and roomate. She's also married to Felix, whom Kestrel used to date. More on that in his section.

Shannon is the more level-headed of the three roomates. That doesn't mean that she can't go along with their schemes if she wants to. She has been through a lot during her life and has come out on the other end stronger. She also has a firm grip in the so called "real world" and is the most normal character out of the cast. Some of the funniest strips, however, are the ones where Shannon gets involved in the jokes and/or shows off her weird side.

(..um, ouch on both of those, as a guy for the first one, and just on principle for the second. I've heard corsets are rather uncomfortable.)

Shannon often treats both Felix and Kestrel as a mother would treat her children. She's always there to support them and to set them right if they stray. She's also rather protective of Kestrel and does everything she can to make sure her love life doesn't get too hard. (Sometimes she takes a little too much interest in Kestrel's love life.)

Shannon sets herself apart the most just by being a good friend. She's incredibly loyal and trustworthy, and always willing to listen to The problems of both Kestrel and Felix. She can get emotional at times, but also knows how to control those emotions. Basically she's just a realy good person to know.

Felix



Felix is one of two males who appear semi-regularly in the strip. He is, of course married to Shannon and living with her and Kestrel (if the grammar there is wrong, I don't care! You know what I mean).

Felix tends to be a little thickheaded and slow. It takes him a while to get things, especially when he just woke up. He, like Kestrel tends to not think about consequences at times, and gets wrapped up in his own thoughts quite a bit, becoming oblivious to the world around him. He also is more capable of being mean than the other people in the strip, and has done many things in his lifetime just to spite someone.

During the time in which the storyline takes place, Felix is a happy person. He is also avoiding responsibility. He has recently (some time before the comic started) dyed his hair blue, and although he has a job, it's still a low end job, which he doesn't seem to have much respect for besides the fact that he gets his paycheck there.

Considering this, it's amazing how many times Felix turns out to be the voice of reason in this comic. Despite being a little immature, he is very perceptive. He also seems to be the character with the most control over his emotions. He has been in many situations where he did stupid things because he let his emotions take control of his actions and has decided not to let that happen anymore.

Like Shannon, Felix cares a lot about Kestrel. He has a different way of helping her, though; namely forcing her into social situations. This doesn't always turn out the best for Kestrel, and sometimes makes things worse. Felix is very supportive, though, and knows to let Kestrel make her own decisions when she has to.

Angela



Angela embodies cuteness. She's short and perky, and enjoys taking advantage of these facts whenever possible. She's able to explode in fits of rage (in which her hair sticks out. I don't know how she does it.) She's also bi and polyamorous, if you wanted to know. Don't know what those two words have to do with her personality, but they're there.

Angela is friends with Kestrel (and kind of in love with her) and works with her in a toy store. Since she's short, it's really easy for her to deal with the kids. She and Kestrel bond through similar personalities and quickly become very close. Angela has a unique perspective on the world. She's a little bit more of a realist than Kestrel is while at the same time being just as childish, and as controlled by her emotions.

As much as she lets certain things get in her way, Angela does seem like a genuine person, one who says what they think and doesn't try to get what she wants in a round-a-bout way, most of the time. She does have her moments of weakness, which seem to come when she's afraid of losing someone in her life. At those times she's very much like a lost child. Angela's biggest problem is she doesn't know how to express her emotions.

Indeed, one of the main sources of conflict near the end of the comic comes from that one inability. When Kestrel annouces she's going to move, Angela doesn't like it, and she can't seem to tell Kestrel why that is. I'm not sure if she ever actually succeeds, although she gets close on multiple occasions.

Angela serves as a nice foil for Kestrel. She's a lot like her, except she's a lot more confident with who she is and where she's going. Kestrel's relationship with her helps to underline her growing maturity. While Angela remains very much rooted in her childhood, Kestrel moves beyond that.

Seamus



Seamus is the catalyst for a lot of the story that takes place in Queen of Wands. He is the primary love interest for Kestrel, and on top of that he seems to have an innate ability for saying exactly the wrong thing for a given situation.

While Seamus likes Kestrel, and is indeed attracted to her in some way, he is not ready for a relationship. He is still hung up on his ex, who from what we see of her seems like a nice enough person. He often sends mixed signals to Kestrel, though, which leaves her confused.

Seamus also suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome, which causes many problems for him and the people around him (not the least of which was a little bit of animosity between Kestrel and Angela). This could be seen as kind of bastardly, but I just think he doesn't know when to shut up. He demonstrated this many times before it became a large problem. I'm not sure how Seamus comes off in the end, but I think a lot of fans lost respect for him in the later strips.

Seamus is a little less developed than Angela, Felix, Shannon or Kestrel, but that's just because he doesn't appear as often. He doesn't seem out of place in the world and he acts like a real purpose, even though of the most basic level he just serves one function. Seamus does a good job of rounding out the cast.

As I said, all the characters are complex and multifaceted. I could talk forever about them and still not do them justice. You have to read for yourself to truly appreciate how Aeire writes people.

The Wrap-up

Queen of Wands is a rather famous strip (probably most famous for causing a series of car accidents in other webcomics after it finished), and deservedly so. By the end of the run Aeire had become a master of her own style, and it shows. The characters are very deep and the story is quite interesting.

Good points

-Strong characters

-Engaging story

-Good humor

Negatives

-Some long and involved storylines. If you don't like those, it'll be hard to read.

-Wordy

- Quite a few filler strips, although with the overall structure of the comics, they fit. Also the filler and guest comics are usually high quality.

By the power in me, Queen of Wands goes in the Now That It's Finished Shrine. Congratulations, Aeire. I can't wait for your next project, whatever it might be.

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