Orio, a silent doll, appears in the city of Cobble, an apparently idyllic place in which dolls and stuffed toys spend their days in useful labor. But something dark has appeared in Cobble, something that threatens to shatter the city's peace, and it might be connected to Orio herself.
From the opening pages, mystery and bureaucracy dominate Meredith McClaren's webcomic Hinges. The doll Orio finds herself in the clockwork tower of Cobble, carrying only a pocket watch emblazoned with her name. She isn't alone for long, however, as she's quickly and efficiently shuttled around by the city's chief orderly, who arranges for clothes, an animal companion, and an adjustment liaison who will settle her in Cobble city life. We quickly get the impression that Cobble is a place of rules and routine, in which citizens happily march to the tick-tick-ticking of the clock tower and do their best to keep the city running according to plan.
It's probably significant, then, that Orio has a watch of her own, since her orientation veers off course rather immediately. Each citizen in Cobble receives an Odd, sort of a living stuffed animal familiar. Before even reaching the Odd room, Orio encounters Bauble, a mischievous skull-faced cat creature who clearly wishes to become her companion. Although Bauble strikes Cobble's other citizens as a little, well, odd, Orio feels an instant connection with the strange little beast.
Although she's paired with the relentlessly cheerful liaison Alluet, Orio has trouble slipping into life in Cobble. Bauble's destructive behavior aside, Orio might be slightly too square a peg to fit into the round hole Cobble wants to make for her. And there is something darker, something violent on the move, something apparently connected to Bauble.
Although Hinges is by no means a dialogue-free comic, McClaren relies on her artwork to convey most of the themes and tone of the story. Cobble feels almost like an explored pocket of Oz, a place in which strange creatures are trying to live out very mundane sorts of life, but the larger, scarier world threatens to intrude. Orio herself has yet to speak (it's not clear if she can), but McClaren is wonderful in portraying her uncertainty, her shyness, and her warmth. And she uses her lighting, muted colors, and scenery to convey everything from loneliness to shame without words or exaggerated facial expressions. It's a comic that asks you to immerse yourself in its world, to feel the emotions that the characters are feeling. There are mysteries here, it promises, and perhaps there are solutions to those mysteries. But the key is the characters and how they experience life in the Clockwork City and engage with one another.