Let's start with full disclosure, shall we?
When I first placed Autumn Lake on the review list it's creator, Mark Savary, and I had only crossed paths on a couple of webcomic related forums. Since that time Mark has become a fellow co-host on The Webcomic Beacon and I count him among my virtual friends. Now, granted, I'm not much of a pissy reviewer to begin with and no one is going to be surprised to read yet another mostly positive review. Still, I didn't want to be charged with being biased without first coming forward and openly stating that I'm biased.
I'd also like to mention that I think Savary is incredibly sexy... but that isn't really related to the comic or the review. It's just something I wanted to mention. You know... because I can.
I'm going to do something a little out of place and start out by calling your attention first, not to the comic itself, but to the very first blog post beneath the very first comic. Go read it. Did you catch all the professionalism? All that "Hey, I actually care about my comic so I'm going to go ahead and act like it"? That attitude right there is a minimum requirement for anyone even hoping to make a living off their webcomic. You don't necessarily need it right off the bat, some of us are a little more scattered than others, but eventually you're going to have to pull your head out of your ass and act like you care.
Just sayin'... and on we go...
When I first took a gander at Autumn Lake I rather expected that I'd find it a bit boring. Fashioned not only in format but also in style after newspaper comics, I assumed there just wouldn't be anything there to hold my frankly crude attentions. Imagine my surprise when I consumed the first year in a single sitting and found myself chuckling aloud more than once. The comic is, quite simply, good. The introductory awkwardness that accompanies lesser newspaper style strips is quickly and easily overcome, and new characters are brought in with the same quirky effortlessness. The jokes are simple, sometimes punny, but they don't fall flat or overreach. Savary is clearly comfortable with the format, effortlessly traveling from simplistic jokes to the exploration of larger philosophical concepts in the space of three or four panels much like Bill Watterson. Also reminiscent of Watterson is Savary's ability to expand the comic to accommodate more abstract concepts, be it watercolor backed quotations or poetry. More often than not he tosses these strips off as filler - but they don't feel like filler, they feel like a special treat. Nice trick, that.
The artwork for Autumn Lake matches the feel of the comic perfectly, which should be the goal of any comic artist. The character designs are clean, consistent, and individually appropriate. The backgrounds range from non-existent to eye catching as needed, yet another nod to Savary's ability. I very much enjoy the occasional water color caveats and spot color strips and don't feel they interrupt the flow of the comic any more than the longer Sunday and special strips do. He clearly enjoys what he's doing with the strip and it comes through. Most of the time grey tones grace your weekdays and newsprint color graces your weekend and Savary does both equally well. What I've gone on for three paragraphs (so far) to say is that Autumn Lake is damned professional. Had I learned that it originally appeared in print only later to be relegated to the web as newspaper after newspaper went under I wouldn't have been surprised. Savary could hang with the big boys, and if he isn't, I think he should.
My one and only criticism: the depreciation of the main character, Mark, weighs a little heavier on me than I'd like. I do understand the Charlie Brown like nature of the character, but Charlie Brown's issues were those of a child - they were never that complex, never that... relatable. I like Mark. I like his philosophical charm, I like his gentle romantic tendencies, I like his sense of humor and whimsy, and because I like him I wind up feeling protective and maternal where I realize, intellectually, I'm supposed to be chuckling as life once again craps on the poor fellow. I want desperately for him to be loved, to be honored, appreciated, and just to feel good about himself. Maybe this is what Savary wants from me. Maybe I'm over-analyzing. Maybe I'm projecting...
Maybe I'll kidnap Mark and bring him over to BetaPwned for a break.