Webcomic review: Beyond the Canopy
- Comic: Beyond the Canopy (1st page) by Jonathan Griffiths
- Reviewer: Elena Cordero
- Status: Ongoing with an irregular update schedule; 487 pages as of 28 May 2016.
- Art style: Digital, first gray-scale, then full color since the start of chapter 7 on page 216.
As someone who harshly judges everything with an iron hand and cold black heart, I’ve encountered many reasons to judge a work negatively. The classic is calling something bad because it’s… well, bad. Aside from low quality though, you can also say something is boring, or overhyped, or fails to live up to its potential. There are many ways a story can leave you on a sour note, and mistakes like that are bound to happen. It’s understandable.
One word of caution I’d like to throw out to anyone wishing to get their work out into the world, though, is this: you can be bad, you can be boring, you can be comically sub-par, but for the love of god, don’t be forgettable.
Beyond the Canopy is a lighthearted comedic adventure fantasy by Jonathan Griffiths. Part of me is tempted to let that sentence be the entirety of the review, but that might imply that I’m being more negative in this review than is my intent. You see, Beyond the Canopy is by no means a bad webcomic. It has its strengths, and can be pretty charming, but sometimes the worst thing you can be is just “alright”.
At first glance, Beyond the Canopy does very little to meet you halfway in terms of getting you interested. The site layout goes for a minimalistic approach, having as few things cluttering the solid colored screen as possible, and the absolute minimum of links in the top banner. No “About” page or information on the author is found anywhere, and aside from a few typed out links, all you’ll really get aside from the comic itself is a series of simple character bios that don’t mean much in hindsight. Each comic is also accompanied by one of the briefest and to-the-point set of author commentary possible.
And none of this, absolutely NONE of it is a problem. All these traits have and will continue to be used by both clever and silly artists. Minimalistic site templates are aesthetically pleasing and less common than a default template. Character bios show off the cast in a colorful and cute manner, telling you more about the artist making them than the comic itself. And short, direct commentary also has its charm in getting a chuckle from the readers simply by how the comic is presented.
Unlike, say, an actual bad webcomic, Beyond the Canopy didn’t set off any red flags. It made me expect a cute and simple adventure with an author that doesn’t take himself too seriously and just wants his comic to speak for itself. This is admirable, and gets the job done for many successful and well written comics or all genres and tones. After all the cluttered messes that popped up over the years in this growing and uncertain industry, it’s nice to see more artists go for the more lighthearted approach.
The art compliments this lightheartedness rather well too. Everything looks cute and cartoony, more in line with children’s fantasy than traditional. Once the comic switches to colored pages they’re vivid, with a solid and simple palette, all with cute faces and silly expressions to keep invoke good, simple fun. Further into the comic we begin to see more creative creature designs, with exaggerated but still simple characters forming the basic art style. We even eventually see hints of the vast fantasy realm the comic is set in.
To go alongside all this, the comic boasts a very straightforward sense of humor that would be at home among modern children’s shows, never going for anything too clever or complex, but still doing its best to give occasional giggles at the goofiness on screen. Hardly anything in the writing ever stood out in particular, but it’s extremely clear that Griffiths wasn’t attempting a big epic with his playful story, instead settling for a charming light read.
If you want a cute adventure with simple and easy humor, then Beyond the Canopy is the comic for you. Unfortunately, so are several other webcomics that are much better, which is where the positive phase of my review ends. Try as I might, I can’t think of a reason to recommend this comic in particular out of the bountiful list of charming adventurous fantasy comics. This is ultimately the biggest curse of being average quality.
A good sign of how average Beyond the Canopy can be is its very plot, which can be summed up by the phrase “the adventure begins.” It opens with a young forest kid named Glenn, who literally stumbles upon the plot as vaguely evil people try to steal the magical stick guarded by Glenn’s grandfather. And I mean literally. It’s an actual stick. Like the kind you find on the ground. This is admittedly a clever use of the magical McGuffin trope that sets up so many fantasy stories, but sadly, the clever use of your standard adventure formula ends there.
See, the villains in the story work for the main antagonist, who’s a flaming skull head man that’s apparently just evil, and might want to take over the world. He wants the stick because of vaguely defined reasons and so Glenn steals it to keep it safe, because he is the protagonist and has to become important somehow. This is immediately brushed aside so Glenn can then hang out with his friends in town, followed by multiple chapters of flashbacks to previous shenanigans Glenn and co. have gone through. Over 400 pages in, the story finally kicks off once the main antagonist’s forces show up to retrieve the stick and Glenn is sent off on a vague adventure that, to be honest, hasn’t been given any purpose yet.
Not much has come out of this plot so far, with main events only occurring in the most recent chapters. The overall setup is very by-the-numbers, with little context given to anything aside from the obvious archetypes characters and settings are molded out of. Scenes are presented out of order or are accompanied by awkward exposition for no real reason other than the comic having to adhere to a basic formula, and the plot just sort of happens whenever the comic feels like it, regardless of how well the story sets it up.
The story doesn’t go for much, and expects little from the reader, which isn’t really an issue. A simple approach could have worked, but the overall package here could really use just a tad more creativity to get things going. Beyond the Canopy is essentially a rough draft in need of a simple edit here and there. All its issues are minor, and a quick sweep of the messes left unchecked would have made a world of difference. As they are now though, these issues pile up too much and have too little support to reward patience or keep someone like myself interested. In the end I was left with too few highs and not enough disappointments to have any high hopes for the comic’s future. It’s stuck in a very awkward middle ground that might be improved in the future, or might not.
Being entirely fair, I have no reason to recommend Beyond the Canopy, but also no reason to brush it aside either. If you look at Griffiths’ art and think this comic is worth a read, you wouldn’t necessarily be wasting your time, and there are far worse things to invest in. I, personally, though, had low expectations which weren’t exactly met, and I’m not holding my breath for anything to change in that regard. I can only hope you enjoy a light read from time to time, because this comic is not one I expect many people to follow closely.
- Cute but simple art
- Light read
- Predictable characters and plot
- Awkward plot pacing
- Very little stands out as noteworthy
- Story: ★★☆☆☆
- Artwork: ★★☆☆☆
- Website: ★★☆
- Overall: ★★☆☆☆
* 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.