I was first introduced to Bardsworth in a popular webcomic forum artist Peter Tarkulich and I are both members of. Five strips in I was hooked, and I've been a fan ever since.
Though the light humor and cute character design certainly helped catch my attention, it was the realistic relationships that really won my affections. Perhaps it's an extended quality of the natural dialogue, or an aspect of the casual pacing... regardless of it's cause, the relationships are almost instantaneously endearing. So much so that I hesitate to say the story is character driven as much as relationship driven. It's a refreshing change of pace, especially considering that, at it's base, Bardsworth is a fantasy comic.
Yes, I almost hesitate to mention that this falls firmly in the fantasy genre. It's been done poorly so often that a simple mention is enough to turn some people away. This one is a bit different though - yes, there are fairies and elven girls present and the concept is riddled with magic and burgeoning power... but Bardsworth isn't cloying. Stylistically the comic is more reminiscent of coming of age stories than typical fantasy, and I suppose I prefer to think of it that way. The fantastical elements of the comic offer humor and plot, of course, but they also advance the story and provide insight into the characters.
The artwork started out as a clean black and white, only to transform into a brilliant full color strip over time. Appropriate use of light and shadow bring the characters forward into center regardless of the backgrounds, and the use of rich colors in clothing and other textiles more than makes up for the necessarily monotone castle walls. Accurate body postures and proportions, combined with detailed clothing, rounds out the character designs and gives a sense of movement and fullness. Backgrounds are sparse on occasion, but never at a detriment to the individual strip. The character's expressions are absolutely delightful in their simplicity and range.
The website itself is quite nice, with easy navigation and clear menu items. There's a wonderful blog space under the comic serving up the latest news as well as a paragraph or two featuring the current Spotlight Comic - webcomic's the creator feels are worth another look. A Twitter box, Chat widget, and forum round out the communicative aspects, giving the website it's own friendly feel. The About page offers not only information about the comic and it's creator, but also a declaration of intent titled The Bardsworth Manifesto. Quite worthy of respect, indeed.
Bardsworth is one of the few comics I read I don't hesitate to share with my kids. Not because it's childish, but because of it's good natured appeal and quality story telling. Updating thrice weekly, I look forward to following this story through to conclusion.