Monday, July 29, 2013

An Appreciation of Emily Horne and Joey Comeau's A Softer World at Ten Years and 1000 Strips

The Best of A Softer World at Ten Years and 1000 Strips

I first brought up the webcomic A Softer World here on the Comic Pusher a few weeks ago in my review of Force Field Fotocomix and the inherent difficulties involved with fumetti. A Softer World by Canadians Emily Horne & Joey Comeau is a unique and beautiful exploitation of the comics form that manages to transcend what is possible with photo comics. In each three-panel strip we get a perfect melding of Comeau's verbal poetry and Horne's visual poetry, executing works of narrative art that are concise, moving and powerful.

A Softer World strips are often very funny, thought provoking, beautiful, or sad, and always an astonishing combination of images and words. Horne's photography and design is intimate, her panelization and editing emotive and dynamic. Comeau's narratives always translate pure accessible emotion in expansive narratives packed in a short space with a stunning economy of words. Both are poets of extraordinary skill who have forged a visual and narrative partnership of uncanny felicity.

Strips in A Softer World often poetically explore themes of loss, sex, love, and depression. Those strips that are short narratives involve zombies and relationships and science fiction and divine absurdity, all the while commenting on the human condition. Even the slightest strips execute a timeless, efficient humor evocative of Jack Handey.   

For ten years Comeau and Horne have been publishing A Softer World several times a week, a total which will soon reach 1000 strips. Some more of their best strips are after the jump

So many of Comeau and Horne's strips explore loss and depression. So many of their strips so perfectly capture, in a few images and a few words, the terror and hopelessness and darkness that can engulf the human soul.

They capture the way it turns one against the self, rationalizing the pain inflicted...

And the greater darkness that can seem unavoidable.

But they are just as effective at capturing the small victories that mark the transition to acceptance and treatment.

Perhaps my response to their work exploring deep sadness is rooted in my own experiences; this is not a bias but a deeper understanding and appreciation of the remarkable way they can so effectively translate the specific feel of profound depression.

Of course, not all their strips explore melancholy but can be quite funny with a brevity and interpretiveness not seen outside of the aforementioned Jack Handey.

Science fiction is best when it is used as a way to comment on some aspect of being human that might not work otherwise, and A Softer World illustrates that beautifully.

In all of these examples, we see the unique combination of the two artists' poetry. Horne manages to imagery both straightforward and elegiac, Comeau's prose the perfect counterpoint or illustration.

Their strips continue to be vibrant and original masterpieces that transcend the comic form, narrative art in its truest sense.

The full A Softer World archive can be found here. For more, including other projects from Horne and Comeau, see

Update!: A Softer World has been printed in three collections so far. There's a brand new Kickstarter up for Volume 4 here.

If you are a Babylon 5 fan like me, A Softer Babylon 5 is sufficiently mind-blowing.


  1. One of the best parts of A Softer World is how it speaks to so many different people. If I were to write a blog post of my favorite strips, strips that I frequently quote with no one around me understanding, it wouldn't include a single strip on this post. But that's because so many of them are beautiful.

    1. Indeed! When I was putting this together I originally pulled out about 50 favorites and whittled it down to 20 or so for basic fair use's sake. What I put here doesn't even scratch the surface.