When I was in high school, I became obsessed with webcomics. I tore through the archives of Sluggy Freelance, Gunnerkrigg Court and Narbonic. I visited the website of No Rest for the Wicked every week to see if the author had uploaded a page. But the comic that introduced me to the medium was RPG World, a broad riff on Japanese roleplaying games drawn by Ian Jones-Quarterly. But as I discovered upon reaching the final battle, RPG World had been visited by the curse that would claim other webcomics, No Rest for the Wicked among them: the author had either lost interest or been too busy to work on the comic, and the story was abruptly stopped in time. Hero and his friends would never escape the elevator leading to the final boss chamber. It was over.
Years later, I no longer read as many webcomics as I used to. But I’d argue, based on what I’ve seen, that the overall quality has shot up astronomically. Old standbys like Gunnerkrigg Court have improved massively over time. The shitty video game comics that used to be the bane of the scene have mostly fallen out of fashion. Kids and young adults with actual art chops and storytelling instincts have gone on to draw excellent, risk-taking comics that touch subjects mainstream graphic novels in the US are only beginning to broach. The older cartoonists and writers from the field, like John Allison and Ryan North, have gone on to contribute to mainstream comics, writing the fantastic Giant Days and Legitimately Good Marvel Comic Squirrel Girl respectively. And Sluggy Freelance is still going, somehow.
But for me, the biggest webcomic surprise of the year wasn’t even a webcomic. As it happened, Ian Jones-Quarterly continued to draw after putting his comic on hold. He broke into the animation industry and eventually became one of the creative leads on Steven Universe, a show I’d argue is one of the best animated series airing anywhere in the world right now. Finally he created his own series, OK KO: Let’s Be Heroes!, inspired by the video games and cartoons he watched as a kid and still loved as an adult. It’s looser and not as nuanced as Steven Universe, but a fun and experimental cartoon nevertheless. And in episode 30 of the series, Jones-Quarterly did the impossible.
“Ian finished RPG World!” I heard on the net. After a few minutes of frantic research, I dug up the most recent episode of OK KO. In it, Hero left the elevator and passed the torch. At long last, closure!
You get the sense that Jones-Quarterly’s a little embarrassed by his early work. I’d feel the same way; sometimes I look at things I’ve written just a few years ago and wonder about the person who wrote them. Was that me? But when I tweeted about what Jones-Quarterly had done, friends of mine started freaking out. It turned out that I wasn’t the only person who loved RPG World as a kid. They all did too! Besides nostalgia or shared interests, there’s something incredible about seeing a newly successful artist use his platform to bring an end to a story that used to mean a lot to him. Especially a series like OK KO, which goes out of its way to credit the artists, storyboarders and animators who worked on each episode.
I don’t know if RPG World would hold up for me if I returned to it. But the OK KO staff’s indulgent ending to their boss’s amateur video game comic was a genuine bright spot for me in the hell year 2017. Also Hero and Cherry ended up together. Hooray!