All year long, cartoonists have been giving away beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking pieces of webcomic goodness for free online. From goofy girl warriors to time-traveling artists to emotionally and physically intimate pieces, here are our favorite new webcomics from 2013.
Top image from Mother Ship Blues.
Some of these comics are ongoing comics, and some of them are complete shortform comics, but all launched in 2013 (with the exception of Steve Rogers' American Captain, which sneaks in after launching in December 2012). But of course, we were not able to scour the entire webcomics Internet, and there are likely worthy webcomics that aren't on this list. Add your favorite new webcomics from 2013 (as well as older ones that knocked it out of the park this year) in the comments.
Mother Ship Blues by Sophie Goldstein: Jo is an organism engineered to live and work aboard a living ship, but it's a lonely life. His sole companion is Mat, the cranky and sycophantic peon of the ship's distant operators, and Jo has become obsessed with the notion that the ship is sad. Goldstein spins a melancholy story about isolation and looking for connection in the wrong places, and while her setting is an alien one, the emotions that drive her characters are tragically familiar. Incidentally, Goldstein also wrapped up a long-form comic this year, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, which she co-created with Jenn Jordan.
Paola-4 by Boulet: Once again, the cartoonist Boulet has had a remarkable and prolific year, from documenting his trip to America (over several installments) to milking the infinite canvass in the video game-styled The Long Journey. But his standout comic of the year is Paola-4, a time-traveling comic that starts as a typical wish-fulfillment fantasy, but turns into something more. Thirtysomething-year-old Thomas wishes he could relive his childhood and his adolescence—and finds himself in those times of his life, although reliving them isn't as satisfying as he imagined. In the meantime, his child and teenaged selves are displaced throughout other times of his life, perplexed by their sudden shifts in time. The results of these displacements are hilarious, but Boulet sticks the landing with a surprising and sweet ending worthy of a time-travel tale.
Help Us! Great Warrior by Madéleine Flores: Flores puts a twist on the conventional fantasy hero by introducing us to Great Warrior, who is both a brave protector of her village and a serious girly-girl. Sure, vanquishing that terrible beast is great, but so is meeting a hunk bearing pizza rolls. Flores' gags are both good-natured and remarkably charming, even when the Great Warrior is battling not monsters, but sadness.
Battle Dog by Andrew Duff and Matt Cummings: Battle Dog is another send-up of the fantasy genre, but one that comes from a more narrative angle. Princess Wyra is a reluctant magical girl off on a mission to challenge the (maybe not so wicked) Necromancer, accompanied only by her faithful dog. She figures she's genre-savvy enough to have this hero business wrapped up, but it's clear that Wyra is in for more than a few surprises. So far, the comic is great goofball fun, and it has a playful sense of the intimate relationships between heroes and villains.
Out of Skin by Emily Carroll: Emily Carroll has proven herself a master of creepy fairytale webcomics, and in Out of Skin, she combines a fairytale tone with body horror and a heaping dose of self-delusion. After a woman finds a pit filled with dead girls, the slowly take over her house, until she is willing to face the truth about her life. It's a short story, but a chilling one that sits at the intersection of supernatural and earthly horrors.
The Titular Hero by M.K. Reed and Jonathan Hill: While Reed and Hill's short comic is a skewering of the body-bearing lady armor that shows up on so many fantasy stories, the characters chortling their way through an issue of Lady Bosoms feel fully developed—so to speak. I would personally love to see a longer series involving these characters in this universe, Lady Bosoms and all.
Mystery Object by Tom Scioli: Tom Scioli took a break from Satan's Soldier this year to offer up seven installments of his Nintendo-inspired comic Mystery Object. Where most video game webcomics focus on the joys and frustrations of gaming, Mystery Object feels more like something that would creep into your brain at 4 o'clock in the morning after one too many rounds against Bowser. It's hard to distill the moody comic into a central idea, but it places Mario in a mundane but surreal life, one where he can't simply jump on his obstacles and courting the girl he likes involves something sweeter, but also less climactic, than rescuing her from a giant lizard.
Galaga by Ryan North, Christopher Hastings, and Anthony Clark: For those who prefer a heavy dose of "Fuck, yeah!" in their video game comics comes Galaga, a licensed webcomic written by Dinosaur Comics and Adventure Time's Ryan North and drawn by Dr. McNinja's Christopher Hastings and Nedroid's Anthony Clark. ShiftyLook hosts a number of webcomics about classic Namco video games, and Galaga is a riff on the shoot-the-aliens game so many of us spent so many quarters playing. Betty and Penelope are a pair of video game-loving "ladybros" who get the tools to fight off an alien invasion—which takes the form of that Galaga bugs. This comic throws around enough "awesomes" and "aww yisses" to approach self-parody, but what makes Galaga work is that, for all its goofiness, it takes its conceit—that it's the backstory behind the video game—extremely seriously. It even offers justifications for its 8-bit ship and 2-d battlefield. Plus, there are plenty of explosions.
Oh Joy, Sex Toy (NSFW) by Erika Moen: Best known for her autobiographical webcomic DAR!, Erika Moen launched a new webcomic this year that gets more personal with her nether bits than her daily life. As the title would suggest Oh Joy, Sex Toy features first-person reviews of various tools for sexual pleasure, with Moen occasionally accompanied by her husband, Matthew. It's a fun and funny tour through the various pieces of orgasm-aiding technology, with occasional detours into sexual health.
Graveyard Quest by KC Green: KC Green is known mostly for his impulsive webcomic gags, but occasionally he delves into longer stories, and with Graveyard Quest he has launched an epic that is by turns silly and sad. A gravedigger has long lived with the bones of his mother while being plagued by the ghost of his father. After his father steals his mother's bones, the gravedigger takes a journey through the underworld, where he will have to face his father's disappointment and the possibility that he may need to move forward with his life. And it's all told through a bonkers version of the classical underworld quest.
Steve Rogers' American Captain by Robyn: What if Steve Rogers captain an autobiographical comic diary? That's a conceit behind Steve Rogers' American Captain, which chronicles Rogers' life as he adjusts to present-day America. From the beginning, the comic has focused on Rogers' feelings of dislocation and his connections and disconnections from his fellow Avengers. But as the comic has progressed, it has delved more deeply into the nature of heroism, the power of art, and how we go about deciding what to do with our lives. Recently, Kenealy broke out of the diary format to tell a longer story, titled "Little Dog," which is essentially a dialogue between Steve Rogers and Pepper Potts. Kenealy's Captain America may not be your Captain America, but her comic does a nice job of using Marvel characters to explore real human issues.
Something Terrible by Dean Trippe: Cartoonist Dean Trippe shares an incredibly intimate story about a terrible event in his childhood and how fictional heroes, especially Batman, helped him cope with his feelings through his adolescence and into his adulthood. It's a powerful reminder that fictional characters really do matter and that we can be more than the things that have happened to us.