1. Rice Boy Comics
Rice Boy isn’t the best webcomic out there. It’s probably not even the best webcomic on this list. It is, however, the comic you most need to read.
Technically speaking, “Rice Boy” is actually three comics, all by Evan Dahm and set in the world of Overside: the eponymous Rice Boy, Order of Tales, and Vattu (there are also a few short comics not part of any one story, though still set in Overside). Together, these three mark an impressive feat of fantasy world building.
Rice Boy was the first comic, and gave its name to the franchise as a whole. It’s a disjointed, confusing mess, full of half-baked ideas and pretense–
And it’s amazing. While Rice Boy is, indeed, a confusing read, it’s at least partially on purpose. In Rice Boy, Dahm is seeking to create a truly unique fantasy world. He largely succeeds in this, in no small part due to the sheer weirdness of it all. It gives the impression of a fever dream, full of strange creatures and half-explained myths. Though it is a term that is far overused, Rice Boy cannot be adequately described without using the word “surreal”. For someone like me, who has always loved the feeling of mystery and exploration in fantasy, of learning just enough about some exotic place or strange people, it’s exactly the kind of fantasy setting I like.
If the story is weak, then it can be forgiven for the story’s delightful plethora of visually stunning characters and mysterious lore; still, though, the story is weak, which brings us to Dahm’s second major undertaking in the world of Overside:
Order of Tales. If Rice Boy reads like Tolkien on LSD, then Order of Tales is a lot more like a folk tale. On the whole, it is a mature undertaking than Rice Boy. The story is better, by far, and Dahm has traded in some of the weirdness for a bit of coherency. There’s still plenty of the strange, but this time it’s more of the type that one finds in folk stories and myths, rather than of the surreal variety (for example, one of the characters is an enchanted glass bottle full of a some magical solution. She’s named Bottle Woman).
Mostly, I like Order of Tales because, as the name suggests, it’s about stories themselves. Tales play an integral part in the plot and in the comic’s art. The result is a kind of ouroboros: a story that is mechanically reminiscent of a folktale is, itself, about folktales. The only downside Order of Tales holds compared to Rice Boy (unless you really like surrealism) is the fact that it is done in black and white, whereas Rice Boy is in full, feverish color.
Also, it’s a prequel, and one of my favorite characters from Rice Boy makes an appearance.
Rice Boy and Order of Tales are complete. The third comic of Overside, Vattu, is still in progress, but already I can tell that it will be the best of the three when it’s finally finished. It steps beyond the metafictional narrative of Rice Boy and Order of Tales – Rice Boy, with its very conscious usage of the “Hero’s Journey”, and Order of Tales with its examination of story telling in general – to tell a story that could be real. By that, I mean that while Rice Boy and Order of Tales are very consciously stories, Vattu tells a story complicated enough that it could be about real life.
Vattu is about cultural exchange, and the problems and opportunities that goes along with it. It finally abandons the hero’s journey motif utilized by Rice Boy and, to a lesser extent, Order of Tales, in favor of a sprawling tapestry of politics, culture, and worldview.