A few weeks ago when Rene Engstrom posted the final installment to her wildly popular webcomic Anders Loves Maria, there was a great lament and weeping throughout the webcomics and cartoonist community. Or so I could gather from the various tweets and blog posts in my RSS reader from critics, colleagues and even close personal friends. I say “even,” because it was the first I had ever heard of the series.

That’s right: Until the commotion attending it’s final post, I had never heard of Anders Loves Maria. In fact, I thought I was the only practicing webcomicker to have never heard of it until I mentioned it to Barry, who confessed to having never heard of it either. Thank you, Barry, for granting me a brief moment of hipness, however fleeting and truly unearned.

Anyhoo, last night I sat down and read the whole thing start to finish in one sitting. I liked it. But it raises a question: can a webcomic be truly appreciated in those terms? The Half-Pixel guys have written in their How-to Book on the importance of developing a relationship with one’s audience, cultivating reader enthusiasm and emotional investment in the characters, thereby ensuring their loyal return for the following week’s installment. Engstrom has certainly earned this loyalty, at least as judged by the hundred of comments readers leave with each new page. This developed over a course of years, whereas I read the whole thing in under three hours. Can I judge it properly this way?

Or it’s simply a different vantage point — an unavoidable one for any reader who comes to Anders Loves Maria or any other webcomic once the artist has completed the story. To Engstrom’s credit, she started out with a pretty solid story structure in mind, so she was able to tell the story coherently — engagingly, with many surprises and interesting twists — as she told it through the years.

Still, while I was emotionally involved with the characters, it lasted only a few hours, not the years the series devoted readers had invested in it. So I guess my take will be inherently different.

So, after all that preamble, here’s What I Thunk: The artwork is gorgeous, the story is gut-punching, and the sexual politics are all fucked up. In other words, I liked it, but it bothered me. Which is probably a good thing. Without giving anything away, Engstrom has created a world where class and male privilege are destructive yet casual forces in the lives of women. The resolution she comes to really can’t be called a resolution; if anything, the ending left me deeply concerned for one of the characters whose life is in the hands of the others. That’s a pretty powerful bit of storytelling there then, eh?

I don’t think that gives too much away, does it? Barry, if you are reading this, just wipe what I have said from your mind. I know you can do it. Just about anyone else who regularly reads this blog had already read the series, so I’m not spoiling anything for them.

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