Author: Sarah Jolley
Genre: Drama, Psychological, Fantasy
One thing I've noticed doing webcomic reviews is the comics with middling ratings fall in two categories. They either have good art and bad writing or bad art and good writing. It's like authors think they're in some sort of RPG where they have to pick a character class and pour all their experience points into one specialty or they won't win. Rarely do you see a comic that has both good writing and good art, but The Property of Hate manages to do both, combining a psychological mystery with painterly surreal visuals.
The story begins with a TV headed figure named RGB who comes into a girl's room in the middle of the night and asks her if she wants to be a hero (which also becomes her new name). She says yes and he takes her to the roof and walks on the clouds into a world in the sky inhabited by creatures that represent various emotions. After a surprise attack from Fears, black scythe bladed creatures, RPG and Hero go to heal at a shopkeeper named Madras' house. Based on his interactions with Madras and other characters that RGB meets on the journey that he has an ulterior motive. After a while Hero becomes suspicious and refuses to continue the trip, and RGB goes on without her until another horde of monsters attack.
What I like most about the comic is that there is some ambiguity in the story that leaves it up to speculation, but it still works as a standalone story. And like the first comic I reviewed for the site, Moth, the reason is how the story is plotted. The events that the reader doesn't know about have all happened before the story starts, so there's no need for awkwardly cutting away from something that the author wants to show but not give away, or a vague conversation between the protagonist and some shadowy figure we're not supposed to see. Things are already in motion when we start, and RGB and other characters talk about things as if they know each other well and know what they're talking about without having to explain it. Anything else that we wouldn't get is explained to Hero as she explores this world with RGB.
And speaking of the things Hero encounters, the abstract concepts depicted as creatures in this world is surprisingly well executed. The attributes and abilities of these creatures are based on wordplay, giving these bizarre creatures some rules that make sense to the reader. For example, Lies are small and harmless, but can grow in the right circumstances. You can be consumed by Doubts. You can be rooted by Fears. You can get carried away by unstoppable Ideas. While it can be on the nose at times it also makes sense given this world seems to be made of thoughts and the creatures can serve as a visual shorthand for the character's emotional states. In one of the later scenes, RGB and Hero get into an argument, and Doubts can be seen hiding in the tall grass. It's only after Hero breaks down that the Doubts start latching on. And while RGB pretends that he doesn't care about her, he still has a wriggling Doubt sneak up on him. I imagine that some of these creatures are being introduced for similar reasons, setting the groundwork for later chapters.
The art appears to be all done digitally, with characters inked, colored, and shaded while the backgrounds are mostly lineless and look more like a painting. It gives the comic a dreamlike quality that fits with the subject matter. Most of the time the looser feel of the digitally painted background doesn't clash with the characters, although at times it can look too loose or blurry for objects that are in the same plane as the characters who are always in focus.
Other than that, there is little to complain about and plenty of examples of concepts that artists should be using more in their own comics. For example, being a TV-headed humanoid whose face is always on a test pattern, RGB compensates for a lack of facial expressions with body language. There's some clever character design, with RGB in classy 40's-50's garb (probably a reference to how television is a long running but still relevant medium). Dial, a radio microphone character, has outdated 80's clothes (a reference to how radio isn't much of a storytelling medium anymore), and Madras constantly has tears going down her eye and is wearing a faded plaid color (a reference to the fabric, which usually would be plaid and wasn't lightfast, which is called bleeding madras. It also is another example of wordplay when RGB says that Madras is going to “bleed me dry one day.”). Finally, the last panel of this page is a great example of how to lead the reader's eye where the author wants it, as the word balloons travel down and out towards the bottom of the page, with the last balloon “Help me,” being the biggest as if it's being drawn in perspective like the vial, which is what the author wants the reader to look at so they know what Hero needs to get.
The Property of Hate is a great read featuring both strong art and strong writing to create a unique fantasy world worth exploring. The author knows to hold back on story information, but doing it in a way that doesn't impede the story. The art has some clever character design, interesting presentation, and painterly backgrounds, with only some minor imperfections that barely deter from the otherwise dreamlike quality.