The Becoming

Creator/s: J. Alan Shelton, Douang Khamsitthisack
Run: 2/10-current
Schedule: Random
Section/s: Ch. 5

Website: The black-and-white colors are appropriate for the webcomic's gothic style, although the layout's somewhat generic. There are plenty of extra features to be found here, including bonus comics, wallpapers, a glossary, a store, and videos of the comic being illustrated and colored.

I expected the "New Reader?" button to lead to something like a recap of the story, but all it does is link to the first page of the webcomic, which makes it basically useless since there's already a "First" button beneath each page. It's also strange that the comic's blog hasn't been updated since April, even though it's one of the site's main navigation buttons.

The exceptional part of the site's the pursuit of feedback, which is handled through various polls and surveys. The creators ask such questions as "How did you find out about The Becoming?" "Which character would you like to see more of?" and "Which [event in the comic] has peaked your interest most?" This shows readers that the creators care about making an enjoyable webcomic, and it provides an easy way for the creators to get some anonymous commentary on their work.

The update schedule's been turbulent lately. While the webcomic's supposed to update every Monday, only nine pages have been posted since September, and less than half of those updates were on Mondays. This led to a Dec. 13 news post in which the main creator announced that the secondary creator's leaving the project, and that the webcomic's going on a two-month hiatus.

Writing: I read a section of The Becoming a while ago, and, impressed by its sophisticated writing and attractive artwork, I was gonna write a positive review of it, but I never got around it. I didn't think much of it at the time, but since then, it's still the only time I haven't followed through with a review. So, what's different about this webcomic? Others around the web have noted a similar feeling of indifference towards The Becoming. Reviewer "Antione Strife" of I Am Legend mentioned that it "lacks the suspense you would need for a comic with limited to no action," explaining that "it doesn't have me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what will happen next." Reviewer "Helen" of Narrative Investigations, who's normally enthusiastic about every webcomic she comes across, shows a lack of interest in The Becoming, writing, "There has been at least one time, probably more, when I've considered dropping this comic." And reader "Occasional Sage" of the Order of the Stick forums is in agreement with them, complaining that the dialogue's "a bit leaden."

Reading a new section this time, it's become more apparent how rushed every scene feels, which kills any dramatic tension the webcomic could've had. Right from the start, The Becoming seems to try to get through the narrative as quickly as possible, taking Oscar from melancholy to anger to shock within just the first two pages of the chapter (1, 2), giving a manic feel to the opening scene that doesn't seem intended. And the webcomic only goes downhill from there, as Page 3's the first of the chapter's many text-heavy pages (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The dialogue's competently written, and it has a certain charm to it, but there's just too much of it, drawing out static scenes and crowding the artwork with speech bubbles.

The creators throw in a random action scene, apparently as an attempt to break up some of the monotony with the dialogue-heavy scenes, but there isn't enough of a sense that the characters are actually in danger. After three pages of buildup, Jeannine effortlessly kills the cannibals in one page, and then, after some more buildup, challenging enemies enter right before the scene ends. That's eight pages' worth of comics where nothing really happens, seemingly for the point of "teasing" readers that an interesting fight might happen sometime in the future. I think this is an ineffective strategy that's going to cause readers to lose interest; a better approach would've been to show the fight with the Disciples so that the buildup isn't wasted, or maybe to have Jeannine fight a greater number of cannibals so that the action isn't over so quickly.

Lastly, I'm confused by the splash pages that started popping up in the chapter's second half (1, 2, 3). I've been pointing out how the scenes seem rushed, like the creators are in a hurry to get to the next part of the story, and these splash pages have the opposite effect, unnecessarily slowing things down. Each of the text-heavy pages I linked to would've been more appealing if they'd been split into multiple pages, and these splash pages could've been cut from the webcomic in order to make room for the dialogue.

Artwork: It's split up between the two creators, with the main creator drawing the first two-thirds of the section, while the secondary creator drew the most recent pages. While the main creator labels himself a "non-artist," his artistic abilities are better than average, and the secondary creator's even better, with the cover and the banquet scene being the section's standout illustrations. The art's defining feature's the extravagant outfits worn by all the characters, which are drawn with a high level of detail and creativity (1, 2, 3). Anatomy and perspective are spot-on, and while the webcomic can have a "talking heads" feel at times, it generally manages to provide a solid variety of shots.

Backgrounds need a lot of improvement, as while the creators are successful in conveying a gothic/Victorian atmosphere, all of the scenery's vague and minimalistic. The most blatant example of this is the action scene, where the background for eight straight pages is the same shot of grass and a gray sky. While it's plausible that the characters could fight in the middle of a flat, empty field, it's boring to look at. The interior scenes are more detailed, but they're all in huge rooms that are mostly empty (1, 2, 3), with the exception of the banquet scene I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In addition, too many panels just have a solid gray or tan background (1, 2, 3), and the occasional panels where the characters are shown outside are unusually indistinct (1, 2). I get the impression that the creators are avoiding spending time on backgrounds because the ubiquitous dialogue balloons take up so much space, but it takes away from the webcomic's visual appeal, and seeing page after page of gray backgrounds gets dull pretty quickly.

The other big problem with the art's the lack of shading on the characters, which clashes with the detailed illustrations and the gritty nature of the setting. While the scenes are consistently bleak and dimly lit, the figures are often colored brightly and with minimal shading, and this makes them look unintentionally cartoony. Some examples of this can be seen here, here, and here. The creators should try to convey a more natural sense of lighting by taking into account the intensity and locations of the light sources in the rooms.

Overall: Both of its creators are highly skilled, but The Becoming falls short of being a great webcomic because it's just boring to read. While updating consistently has been a major challenge, the creators need to demonstrate a mastery of comics fundamentals, and that they have the patience to deliver their story properly. I expect that readers are willing to wait for updates if the story's good enough, and the creators' focus needs to be on providing that level of quality, not on getting through the narrative as quickly as possible.