I'd never heard of O Human Star until yesterday, and I notice that its first Kickstarter was already funded this past fall, so maybe this review will be old news to some of you. But to those who haven't discovered this interesting treat before now:
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti is a long-form, ongoing story available once a week (five times a month, to be precise) at www.ohumanstar.com. It's a science fiction story wrapped around a three-character family drama, grappling with compelling questions of identity.
The story starts with Alastair Sterling, the father of the robotics revolution, dying and then waking up years later in a synthetic body that mimics his own in every detail. Who preserved his memories and installed them in this body is a mystery that drives Al to find his old partner. Things take off from there.
The book is drawn in an economical style that is cartoony enough to portray the characters' emotions, but detailed enough to show off science-fiction gadgets when the story needs them. The character designs show clearly-defined individuals with rich emotional expressions. (Even the robots look charming: a short valet robot, Gimel, has a face consisting only of a rectangle with two small circles for eyes, but manages to show eagerness as well as dutiful attendance.) As the story jumps back and forth in time, the characters age realistically. They also are clearly of several different ethnicities and backgrounds, which Delliquanti evokes well, in about as few lines as necessary. I've seen much more detailed superhero cartoonists (e.g., the team of Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary) who couldn't draw a consistent southeast-Asian face from one panel to the next (e.g., the Wasp in The Ultimates -- is she Vietnamese? Korean? Anglo? depends on the panel!).
Sometimes, a simple drawing style without lots of detail is a crutch for a lazy artist. I was initially afraid of that here, but the lines on the page effectively show a rich, complex world and its varied inhabitants. Then they get out of the way of the character interactions. Delliquanti's hub site (www.bluedelliquanti.com) shows other comics with other, sometimes more detailed styles, like the war-journalism comic she's drawing, "War is Boring."
Delliquanti's writing is engaging and subtle, and, like in the best comics (most expertly, Jaime Hernandez's stories in Love and Rockets), much of it is conveyed without words. The characters' faces and stances show conflicted emotions and buried pain struggling to the surface. The few, brief dream sequences go by without heavy-handed explanation. In any science-fiction story, exposition is a necessary evil, but Delliquanti limns her world in a few deft strokes, in story as well as in art. (It helps that the main character wakes up abruptly in this world and needs to be introduced to it along with us.) The author carries us along confidently from the very beginning, always appearing sure of where she wants to go.
There are thorny questions of identity swirling through the book: Is it harder for a robot to pass as a girl or as a human being? If a woman's prosthetic robotic legs are convincing enough, are they her "real" legs? Is a man gay if he only ever falls in love with one other man? How many genders can there be, and then what if people come in "organic" and "synthetic" varieties? Delliquanti explores the issues by presenting us with characters and situations we can empathize with, never becoming didactic.
The book is told in two very simple color schemes: blue tones over black lines for present-day sequences, and red tones over black lines for flashbacks. This works well with the simple line art. A few key things in the story get a more complex color treatment, again with a light touch that almost subliminally suggests their fraught significance. I've seen a few isolated drawings in color on the Kickstarter page, which tell me a few other things (like that two of the main characters have red hair), but mostly it's not needed.
Cartoonists looking to find an audience could learn a few things from Delliquanti's presentation: For example, in her Patreon page, she talks about how we can enable her to create comics that we will enjoy. It's not about her getting something off her chest; it's about us, the audience. I always appreciate that. Also, her drawing and writing styles are consistent from the beginning of the book, showing that she did a lot of prep work that we don't see; she's not figuring things out as she goes. I know that I (and probably a lot of us creators) are impatient to get our stuff out there, and to find our audience, but it shows more respect for that audience when we put something out only when it's ready. I do wish that her online store were updated, making it easier to find and buy hard copies of the book now that the Kickstarter is over, but I expect that will come in time.
The website dumps you at the latest page, so if you're just starting to read it, skip to the bottom of the page and click the "<<" button to get to the very beginning. I could wish for a more convenient "Start Here" button. Despite that, there are other things that I like about the website -- basic things, like that the author bought a domain name that is devoted to the comic, which allows access to the author's main site but puts it in the background. Also, although there are navigation buttons at the bottom (first, back, next, latest), clicking anywhere on a page will advance you to the next page -- hard to give readers a bigger, more convenient button than that. As is common on webcomics, there is an extensive comment-and-reply section below each page. I like being able to interact with authors this way, and it's always interesting to see just how much discussion a single page can generate. As a creator, this is a real treat, since it took a lot more time and work to make that single page than it took to read it, so it can be nice to dwell on it with readers.
I'm constantly astounded by how many talented, disciplined, hard-working cartoonists are out there, and the great work that we can find if we look. Blue Delliquanti and O Human Star are one great example. I hope she posts a lot more of it.