Webcomic review: The Forgotten Order
- Comic: The Forgotten Order (1st page) by Christy Bontrager
- Reviewer: Tom Speelman
- Status: Ongoing; 1 new page every Monday; 194 pages as of March 26, 2016.
- Art style: Digital, full color
In today’s literary world, where YA Paranormal Romance is a shelving category at Barnes & Noble and fantasy fills movie and TV screens everywhere—there’s a damn Shannara show on MTV now, if you want proof that nerds rule the world—it’s easy to forget that, for most of history, anything containing magic or monsters was consigned to fairy tales for children. Same with comics.
But given that most modern comics are created by fans for fans—the medium as a whole, not just superheroes, though that’s the biggest example—it’s hard to find work appropriate for younger readers. Particularly with webcomics which exploded in part due to creators being able to do whatever they want, however explicitly they wanted.
Thankfully, we have comics like Christy Bontrager’s The Forgotten Order which embody the best kind of storytelling: appealing to all ages while talking down to none. Adult connoisseurs of fantasy will appreciate Bontrager’s immense talent for worldbuilding and detail while kids and teens will find themselves relating to the struggles the heroines face.
The plot revolves around Trystan Wicker–a sickly fauni child who, unlike the rest of her race and particular her triplets Mariwen and Merrick, has no aptitude for magic or spellcasting—and a “bone doll”—a sort of voodoo doll like talisman—who’s been alive for centuries but can’t recall anything about her past and frequently wanders through the mystical dreamscape while sleeping in search of answers. When Trystan comes across the bone doll in her uncle’s shop, she names her “Kay.”
Both Trystan and Kay have mysteries to unravel. Trystan wants to discover why she can’t do magic as well as every other fauni, which has led her siblings and mother to ignore her and her herbalist father to withdraw. Kay’s crisis is twofold. In addition to trying to figure out her own past, she keeps getting tangled up with a strange blue figure in the dreamscape who is more—and more sinister—than he seems.
Bontrager states in the “about” section of her website that the completed story will consist of 3 multi-chapter books with the first book being almost completed as of this writing. The commitment to structure is evident from the beginning; like the best ongoing stories, this reads with the skill of knowing there’s an end but being surprised along the way. Of course, there are pacing problems early on; the first chapter is very long and could have been condensed.
While most webcomics tend to show the artist’s skill greatly evolving over time (compare Faith Erin Hick’s Demonology 101 with her more recent work), The Forgotten Order has its style, look and tone down from the beginning (the comic has been running since 2011). Bontrager draws her world and characters with the vibrancy of Nintendo games and the depth of artists like Hiromu Arakawa or Erica Henderson.
Unsurprisingly, given Bontrager’s day job as an artist in the games industry, a lot of the story recalls video games. In her longing for acceptance, Trystan resonates the same way Sora did in Kingdom Hearts. The surreal dream world Kay ventures through recalls stuff like the opening of Ocarina of Time and the fantastical side of the Persona series. If anyone’s looking how to take the simple success of good video game storytelling and apply it to comics, this is a fine template.
The Forgotten Order’s website is very simple to navigate. Built in a Comicspress-like format (although the site doesn’t say explicitly it’s built on the platform), the site has comments enabled through Disqus and a purple backdrop to evoke the owl that follows Kay around in the dreamscape. There’s also a drop-down archive for each page as well as links to the start of each chapter.
Because of the comic’s weekly schedule, it’s easy to catch up on. Furthermore, during chapter breaks, Bontrager does the traditional webcomic things like fan art contests and so on but has also serialized a couple of prose stories that flesh out the fascinating backstory of the Fauni people from both their perspective and that of humans. There’s a lot more going on than it appears and it’s entertaining and engrossing to watch Trystan and Kay navigate it. It’s a series worth diving into and sharing around.
- An engrossing, compelling story with empathetic characters
- A well fleshed-out fantasy world that has a lot of depth
- Pacing problems in the early going
- Story: ★★★★☆
- Artwork: ★★★★★
- Website: ★★★
- Overall: ★★★★½
* Note that our rating system is much more strict than most and 4 stars are already reserved for comics which are significantly above the average in the specific regard.
* Note that the overall rating is not the average of the other three ratings, but represents the overall impression of the comic.