Last week, we spotlighted some of this year's best new and short webcomics, but there are plenty of remarkable and beautiful webcomics that launched this year that could have made the list. One of those comics is fantasy webcomic Spindrift, by artist and author Elsa Kroese and co-writer Charlotte English. Spindrift tells the tale of Morwenna, a half-breed blacksmith living in the racially pure city of Aureate, where the purebred Alar citizens fly about on mystical wings. But when Morwenna's father, a deposed nobleman of the war-loving Ildrei race, learns of her existence, he schemes to learn the secret of the Alar wings and sets in motion a series of events with tragic consequences not only for Morwenna, but the Alar as well.
Spindrift opens on Aureate, a beautiful mountainside city obviously designed for people with wings. And sure enough, the first person we meet in that fair city is Neva, who cruises into view on a pair of wings she can summon and disappear at will. Aureate is sacred to the goddess of purity, and she charges the Alar with keeping her mountain safe and her sacred fountain pure. In return, the Alar are gifted with their wings, which allow them to defend themselves from the other races of their world, especially the extermination-happy Ildrei. But that means Aureate must follow their goddess' dictates; those who aren't full-blooded Alar can't become full citizens of Aureate and don't receive the gift of wings. And those like Neva, who choose to leave Aureate with their wings, are considered outlaws.
Neva chose a traveler's life instead of the privileged life on Aureate's rocky crags. But in the midst of her adventures, she had a child, Morwenna, and despite her daughter's half-blood status, decided to give Morwenna to her brother, Cimos, to raise.
Many years later, Morwenna has grown up in relative safety alongside Cimos' son, Hayden, despite the prejudices of the Alar. Morwenna is an apprentice blacksmith, and is physically strong enough to navigate the city, even without wings. But Neva never told Cimos the secret of Morwenna's father: he is Neburas Rugon, an Ildrei of a troubled aristocratic family. Neburas and his sister, Inez, have been looking for a weapon that will help them defeat the Ildrei leadership and once again take his place as one of his race's leaders. Recalling his affair with an Alar woman, he wonders if wings might be the key to restoring his power. And the Ildrei have their own ability, the Spindrift, a psychic link which lets them commune with and control members of their bloodline. Morwenna may be the one to unlock the secret of the Alar wings.
One of the first things you're sure to notice when you start reading Spindrift is how lovely Kroese's art and colors are. But beyond that, this is a comic filled with characters who are fully realized the moment they appear on the page. The winged Alar contrasted against the horned Ildrei resemble classical angels and demons, but this is not a world of the racially good and racially evil. Aureate is a strictly segregated society, but Cimos is both a loyal citizen and completely devoted to his outcast sister and her half-breed daughter. Neburas comes from a vicious warlord society, but he's capable of tenderness and jealousy. Neva's life of adventure has left her lonely and weary. Morwenna is mocked and treated as a second-class citizen, but seems largely content with her life of close family and skilled labor—and far less angry about her mistreatment than Hayden is. These are characters you want to spend time with, whose actions are understandable even when they are neither noble nor wise. And Kroese and English know how to raise the stakes; like many webcomics, Spindrift is on a brief holiday break, but the creators have left us with an "oh shit" moment that makes us eager to see what happens come January.