Judecca is a fascinating piece of storytelling and a good example of the ways in which the new media universe has changed what is possible and how people tell stories. Judecca is a webcomic that updates more or less weekly and started way back in 2009. It is beautifully, hauntingly illustrated by Noora Heikkilä, and is co-written by her and Jonathan Meecham.
The story starts with and follows ‘Shaky’, a man with shark-like features living in a strange foggy seaside town where people arrive by boat, sometimes live for a while, sometimes are changed physically and mentally in preternatural ways, and sometimes move on from – going ‘inland’ as the residents call it. No-one ever comes back from going in-land and everyone in the town is restive, grey-minded and perhaps even faintly groggy and tired all of the time. You fairly soon start to work out that this seaside town is a waiting room for the afterlife, and perhaps in particular the waiting room for those who have died at sea or at least ended up in the sea as corpses. Maybe a person thrown overboard after death might end up here? It’s not explicitly explained one way or another, and one of the charms of the story is how very little is explicitly explained. This is a slow, subtle and uncompromisingly sparse tale. There is weird magic and talking animals and human-creature hybrids, but they’re all just sort of pedestrian and tired and give off the air of being more full of ennui than enchantment.
The reason I think this is such a fascinating example of new media at work, is that it is difficult to imagine a big comic company, or even a mid-sized independent, producing such a lavish, high-colour, high concept piece or work that is at the same time so uncompromisingly gradual and subtle in the way it is telling its story. This is not a tale for people who read superhero comics – I’m not even sure if it is a comic for those who like Sandman and Saga. Judecca is a whole other level of subtle, almost as if Noora Heikkilä and Jonathan Meecham were the spearheads of a slow comic movement. This is a comic for people with long attention spans, time and the inclination to think carefully about the nuances of a gradually unfurling tale.
That said, the great joy of the work is two-fold. The characters, in particular Sharky, Frederick Dickinson (the rabbit) and Neihkoo (the mute girl) are wonderful, humorous and brilliantly sketched as people. The other brilliant sketching (and inking and colouring) is the artwork. It has a strong pop-art, modern feel to it, and some of the panels wouldn’t be out of place in a pop-art catalogue, framed and ready to be hung on someone’s wall.
Judecca is currently not finished, but the work is ongoing and so far there is no sign that it will be abandoned (the fate of so many webcomics). I’d recommend reading it on a quiet night with a hot cup of tea (or coffee if that’s your preference). For choice, pick a night with very cold rain beating on your windows. Perhaps light a candle to keep beside you. This is a comic of mood, character and subtle, intricate movements of plot. It is to be enjoyed slowly the way you might enjoy mulled wine slowly. It is not bubbly or sparkly or in any way overt, but give it time and you’ll find the secrets swimming under its surface.