Dresden Codak is a comic by Aaron Diaz (possibly with the help of an uncredited assistant) who receives $4500 a month to update every other week. It updates once a month. It’s also one of the most mocked and criticized webcomics in existence, due to its barely-existent update schedule, its bad writing, its horrific page layout, and Aaron Diaz’s own penchant for being a huge douchebag with no defenders. At the time of this writing, its current arc, Dark Science, has been running for seven years. It’s 81 pages long. 

What else is there to say that hasn’t been said a million times? Probably nothing, but I’ve been paid fifteen bucks, so let’s go over the basics one more time.

Writing

Dark Science is almost too short to review, being in it’s entirety about the length of Household Slime Mold‘s first chapter. In that first chapter of Household Slime Mold

  • Mildew was introduced as the protagonist
  • Pen was introduced as a secondary character
  • Ramparts was introduced, and we learned a little about him
  • Chancel was introduced, and we learned about him.
  • We learned Mildew’s motivation (to become a which), and an obstacle to that goal (Chancel won’t teach her)
  • There was a little stand-alone adventure
  • Mildew impresses Chancel, and becomes his apprentice. 

I criticized HSM for being too slow paced, and stand by that, but there’s a progression of events here that I can recall from memory even though I read it all the way back in January.

Similar in length to HSM’s first chapter is the first four chapters of Comicide, in which the following things happen

  • Pandora is introduced, and has a stand-alone adventure establishing her
  • A storyline involving employees thinking Faustine is going to be fired, setting up the world of the comic and characterizing her by proxy.
  • Faustine is introduced
  • Drae is introduced, and his personality is established
  • A short standalone story establishing Oili as a character
  • Paradont is introduced
  • A big reveal about Paradont’s past is made. 
  • The first major change to the status quo of the series occurs

Now, let’s compare this to the plot of Dark Science, which for a webcomic this popular probably has a dedicated wiki recapping it.

*Googles*

Huh. Weird. 

Anyway:

  • Kimiko is introduced, and her motivation established: Get a job
  • Yvonne is introduced
  • Kim’s bag is stolen by The Shadowy League of Evil, who are introduced
  • Kim fails to get a job; some worldbuilding is done.
  • Melchior is introduced
  • Vonnie returns Kim’s bag
  • Balthazar is introduced
  • Alisa Caspar is introduced
  • Thomas Caspar is introduced
  • Vonnie is emotionally devestated that no one will be her friend
  • Prince Robot From Saga But A Cat is introduced 
  • Leviathan is introduced
  • Kim and Leviathan fight
  • The giantslayer is introduced
  • In a plot twist, Kimiko uses an amulet to shoot lasers out of her head
  • In a plot twist, Leviathan is revealed to be Thomas Caspar
  • Thomas Caspar explains that Dark Science is separate from real science, implying it’s some kind of magic.
  • Kim and Vonnie go to jail, but are busted out on the same page they’re thrown in. 
  • Asmodea is introduced
  • In a plot twist, Vonnie turns on Kim and rats her out
  • Belphegor is introduced as an individual character (as opposed to part of the league of villains)
  • In a plot twist, it’s revealed that the robots worship Kim as a goddess
  • Vonnie becomes the new Leviathan 
  • Kim becomes an Exode
  • In a plot twist, Asmodea is revealed to not actually be Asmodea
  • In a plot twist, Kim’s memories  are revealed to be fictional
  • Nod and Enoch are introduced
  • Melchior helps Thomas Caspar escape from the League of Evil’s prison
  • In a plot twist, Kaito Kusanagi is revealed to be a dude name Kim Young-Soo who was assigned the name by accident, and Kusanagi is revealed to be a PR stunt. 
  • Thomas Caspar attacks Kim, but it’s a hallucination
  • In a plot twist, Balthazar turns on Kim and Asmodea
  • Dark Science is revealed to actually be regular science that the Aligeri keeps from normal people, contradicting what Thomas Caspar said earlier 
  • In a plot twist, in turns out that the Caspar attack actually did happen
  • In a plot twist, Kim realizes that her memories are correct and everyone else is wrong. 
  • In a plot twist, the Aligeri save Kim from the city police, and it’s revealed that they’re opposed to the city
  • In a plot twist, Kim is revealed to be a Dark Scientist that Kusanagi freed and programmed to think was his daughter. 
  • In a plot twist, the Aligeri are revealed to have a vampire-like inability to cross running water
  • Kim and Melchior escape Nephilopolis. 
  • In a stinger end to the storyline, Kim realizes that her dad’s alive somewhere. 

Wew. 

That’s a lot of stuff, and it all has to stay in your head (unlike, say, the details of Oili’s story in Comicide, where you only need to remember the gist of her personality). The first storyline of Dresden Codak, at 80 pages, has twelve significant plot twists, several of which over-ride previous twists. The status changes constantly without ever settling into a quo. While most webcomics feel very slow live and read better in the archives, Dresden Codak reads better when you have a month between each page to get used to, but is such a rapid-fire series of plot reversals that reading the archive is a little mind-boggling. I’m having trouble keeping it all in my head, even though I just did a write-up. If you read at a normal pace, and aren’t too messed up by the slow-loading site, you can get through the first storyline in about 20 minutes, leading to a plot twist every ninety seconds or so. 

 And, really, thinking through the plot in to much detail is probably a fool’s errand. In ten pages it’ll be revealed that Kim is a dream of the Fayth or some shit, so nothing that happened up until now matters. Just like a whole lot of Dark Science doesn’t matter, because it keeps getting invalidated by later twists. 

Like how Thomas Caspar gave a speech about how Dark Science was “long before science”, which is invalidated by the reveal that Dark Science is just regular technology the Aligeri keep to themselves. 

 

Art

What order do the images on this page go in? Seriously. Stop, take a moment and look. You’ve got three rows of panels, with the middle one offset, that are each telling a bit of a story. The “normal” way to read a 3×4 grid of panels would be left to right, one row at a time, but you can’t do that here because the middle panels aren’t lined up, so you can’t follow the panel layout. The first time I read this page, since the panels didn’t line up, I followed the word balloons, and did this

Which is clearly wrong, because it makes no sense and I literally skip 8 panels. So, I read it again. 

Which caused me to read everything in a logical way, but it still felt wrong because my eyes were shooting all over the page with no rhyme or reason. So I stared at this page, thought about it for a minute or so, and came to the conclusion that this was the intended order.

Because we have Balthazar on one side, Kim on the other, and then they meet up again in the middle. (Well, actually, they meet up on Kim’s side of the page, even though it’s literally Kim coming to where Balthazar is, but let’s not get into visual storytelling right now or we’ll be here all week). The problem is that there are these posters between them and the posters are offset. This causes confusion, because there’s not a clear direction to go. Left-to-right is natural, but there’s not a panel that lines up, so I’m confused if I should follow the left-to-right order or follow the text and read it in columns. How can we fix this problem? The obvious way is to just make the top middle panel of the gates opening taller, and resize everything to fit in a 3×4 grid. Simple and clean (is the way that you’re making me feeeeel tonight). 

Or, since the point of the middle rows in worldbuiding and mood-setting, you could also just use a background image that doesn’t have text, like this Ghost in the Shell wallpaper I googled

Which could still be read left-right-left-right-left-right or down in two columns, but is much, much cleaner, simpler, and better conveys the idea that Kim and Balthazar are separate, so that them coming together at the end hits a little harder. Sure, you’re losing the poster jokes, and I’m generally a big fan of a more-the-merrier approach to jokes, but they actively detract from the page anyway by cluttering shit up. But if you think page density is worth sacrificing page clarity for, you’ve probably got at least one guy who agrees with you.

Anyway, you can always do the 3×4 grid if you absolutely must have the posters.

Most pages aren’t as bizarrely laid out as this one, but the art suffers from a similar lack of focus. Often times the story will try to draw our attention to one thing, while the art is more interested in a couple of other things. 

Cheesecake collage stolen from Magnolia Porter’s “An Open Letter to Aaron Diaz”

The point of this panel is to draw our attention to the symbol on the back of Kimiko’s black crop top thing, but it’s her boobs that get the center-frame treatment. As a consequence of this, we see  TWO symbols on her back, one on top of her shirt, and one peaking out from beneath it, and we don’t know which one the robot is referring to. 

Later, Kim develops a robot body, but forgets to develop pants. This isn’t a Dr. Manhattan thing where Kim has given up on her humanity and Zack Snyder will have to work out CGI dick physics, she just….doesn’t have pants, and is walking around in her underwear. 

Her underwear that has a zipper in the crotch, for robot reasons. 

I’m certainly not the first to point out that Aaron Diaz draws his female characters in heavily sexualized ways nigh-constantly, or that there’s a dissonance between his fetishy art and his claim that Dresden Codak is a feminist female empowerment masterpiece, but take a look at this image. What’s happening in the story is that Kim is staring at the stars and is overwhelmed by her own power, but none of that is conveyed. We just get an ass shot. This doesn’t tell us anything about what Kim’s seeing or how she’s reacting to it. It’s just a booty. And while I’m certainly not prudish at a little bit of gratuitous nudity in my own work-

The sheer amount of it is Dresden Codak is hard to put into words. But here’s a point of reference for you. The first storyline of Dark Science is 80 pages. The first chapter of infamous trashy 90s harem manga Love Hina is 77 pages. Love Hina is basically a long excuse for PG-13 female nudity to arouse and confuse young Japanese boys. Which series do you think have more objectifying shots of women in it’s first storyline?

Because Love Hina has five. 

 

 Dresden Codak has….a lot more

This one was eventually edited after Magnolia Porter put it in the collage above

This isn’t just me being a prudish SJW. This comic is 80 pages long, has serious issues with not giving its plot points time to breath before moving on to the next one, and devotes a LOT of panel space to T&A, in place of moving the story along. In fact, much of the T&A actively inhibits the story, because it doesn’t get its own Filler Beach Episode space, but instead distracts from the plot events that have to work around it. Just like they have to work around the constant barrage of twists

 

Dresden Codak is a mess of a comic, whose plot is buried under a pacing so fast that none of its many twists have time to leave an impression, and an artistic direction that devotes precious panel space to gratuitous fanservice shots when it could be letting the plot breathe. Any talent or ideas in this comic are buried under mountains and mountains of terrible decisions. I award it no stars, and may god have mercy on your soul. 

 

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