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Webcomic Wednesday: The Captain of My Soul: “Cottonstar” Review

Callum’s Webcomic Corner

Callum Waterhouse ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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Image Credit: Ben G Geldenhuys & Danelle Malan

Story and Art By Ben G. Geldenhuys and Danelle Malan

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One of the truly great things about the webcomic revolution that has occurred over the last ten years is that comic fans have been granted access to entire sections of the world they would otherwise never be exposed to.  Some of the greatest works of graphic fiction from Europe and Japan have never been properly released in the United States, and the ones that do are often difficult to track down.  And these are the countries with comparatively robust internal comic book industries.  There are cartoonists working diligently in practically every country on earth, but how often will any of us get to see their work?

Webcomics have changed this.  There are no more releases.  There are no more national boundaries.  Anyone with an internet connection can log into a website and see the updates at the same time as someone half-way across the world.

A few weeks ago, Emertainment Monthly published a review of the webcomic Greasy Space Monkeys by the Melbourne based team of Reine Brand and Mark Kestler.  This week, we are bringing you a webcomic from a part of the world that you may not think about when you think comics, South Africa.  

Cottonstar is a collaboration between the Cape Town based team of Ben G. Geldenhuys and Danelle Malan.  The comic is set sometime after an unspecified “incident” left much of the world, including most of South Africa, underwater.  What remained of civilization has turned into a delightfully wacky version of a future-tech pirate adventure.  

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Image Credit: Ben G Geldenhuys & Danelle Malan

Our story follows hapless deck-swabber, Renier Du Preez.  Renier had been working as a hired thug for the ominously named “Company” that rules most of future South Africa.  That is, until he decides to flee and joins up with the pirate ship Cottonstar.  

The Cottonstar of the title is captained by a lovely ball of snark named Dominique Jezebel Hartwick.  Domino, as she is known, is a tough, loyal Captain with a penchant for making Renier’s life hell.  The rest of Cottonstar crew consists of an upright-walking Saber Tooth Tiger named Noah, cook/ship’s doctor Reka, and Vuis, a skilled mechanic with a unique sense of fashion.  

The great thing about being able to view comics from another culture is that comics do not look the same everywhere in the world.  Those who have only ever been exposed to mainstream American comics may have come to expect a certain, homogenized look.  However, those who have expanded their horizons have seen that there is a whole world of art styles out there, each vast and distinct onto itself.  And just like the ship it was named after, the art of Cottonstar is always pushing towards some new horizon.  

It is not only the art where Cottonstar sets itself up as a product of its culture.  The speech is also peppered with the unique flavor of South African dialect.  This goes a long way towards setting this comic apart and helping it craft a unique feel.  For those of you concerned about being separated by a common tongue, Geldenhuys and Malan do occasionally include translations to some of the more esoteric Africaans words and phrases.  

Image Credit: Ben G Geldenhuys & Danelle Malan
Image Credit: Ben G Geldenhuys & Danelle Malan

What is most striking about Cottonstar, however, are its characters.  Geldenhuys and Malan have mastered one of the most important early rules of graphic fiction.  Namely, they have given each character a unique silhouette.  Better yet, these characters are framed against one of the most colorful and imaginative settings in recent memory.  All of these factors add up to art that immediately captures your attention and demands that you explore further.  

Part of the reason the artwork in Cottonstar is so eye-catching is the color work by Geldenhuys and Malan.  The duo has a habit of framing the more action heavy scenes against warm colors to draw you in.  Each of these panels is framed against a background designed to look like the page of weathered manuscript, adding to the feeling that you are peeking through the pages of a long forgotten children’s adventure novel.  

It is that sense of adventure which makes Cottonstar so accessible.  Though this story was written half a world away, it taps into something truly universal.  As children, we all were thrilled by tales of pirates and sailors, of adventurers taking off to faraway lands.  Those stories make children yearn for the freedom and the adventure that we imagine can be found at sea, and that yearning really does not go away when we grow up.  

That is what Cottonstar does.  Geldenhuys and Malan have created the type of world we wish we could have visited as children.  A world of wonder and excitement, where pirates battle ninjas on the decks of their ship and where dollars bear the pictures of T.V. personalities instead of presidents.  Wherever you are, wherever you grew up, be it Cape Town or Ottawa, chance are that you imagined going off to some faraway place when you were a child.

Cottonstar can take you back to that place, if only for a few minutes each day.  

 

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