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Hard truths in “A Softer World”


BY Sarah Colgrove
Illustration courtesy Emily Horne and Joey Comeau

“Strips have that sameness of rhythm that haikus have,” observed Canadian cartoonist Seth. He was talking about Peanuts, but he might well have extended his comment to A Softer World, a webcomic that artfully positions bits of text over three panels of photographs to tell larger stories than 20-odd words typically allow.

With no consistent characters and virtually no dialogue, A Softer World is held together by its whimsical photographs and halting narratives, the latter a result of an attention to line breaks and spacing typically characteristic of poetry. The other common thread is the strip’s few pervasive themes: escapism, hope, sexual deviation and—as writer Joey Comeau puts it—people doing terrible things.

“It’s trying to express something that you never see in comics,” Comeau muses. “You never see a comic about kids who were sexually abused.” Abuse is one among a range of taboos that the former Halifax zine has been able to treat with a rare, gentle poignancy. “It’s not necessarily a joke—a lot of them are stories,” he explains. “The twist at the end is that it’s sometimes sad instead of funny.”

After five years of exploring why people do terrible things, Comeau says he still has no idea, but at its darkest, A Softer World offers a glimpse at the forces that drive us: petty, absurd, weirdly familiar. The rest of the time, it trades in one-liners, longing, sweetness and zombies—“truth and beauty bombs,” three times a week.

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