Focus: Beyond the Tree

Hello! This message has been beamed across the vast expanses of the Interwebs by the mysterious art of email; this being the arcane and esoteric mechanism that it is, the post may come out a little wonky. Unfortunately it’s the only way I can post at present due to some problems with my home Internet service.

Anyway, continuing the theme of using the “Focus” slot to focus on stuff that’s not at all normally the purview of this blog, today I’d like to look at something completely unrelated to Elemental Shaman theorycraft: an out of the ordinary WoW-themed webcomic called Beyond the Tree, created by Nhani and updated most Thursdays and Sundays.

Nhani describes the comic as follows:

Beyond the Tree is a World of Warcraft-based webcomic about a mismatched duo of Night Elves trying to find their place and purpose in Azeroth. It is mainly character driven, mixing both lighthearted adventure and witty humour with a more serious and in-depth grounding – both in character and in the world itself.

The journeys of Hani Foonmall and Rei Tiny are as much within as without, exploring both characters and world as they travel down the well-worn path of story and myth. Leaving as much to find between the lines as spoken outright, it aims to entertain while simultaneously exploring concepts such as friendship, being outcast, finding where you belong and more.

What first drew my attention to the comic was the odd mix of serious and silly that pervades pretty much the whole thing and somehow makes it seem incredibly authentic and real. The characters are deeper than most you’ll find in WoW-related stories, being rather definitely “small fry” on the world scene and having plenty of faults and foibles and eccentricities as well as some rather curious histories, but you’re somehow induced to care about them. And very cleverly, the path they follow is instantly recognisable to the average WoW player, as they get involved with NPCs we’re familiar with from quest chains when we were lowbies – and then embark upon those familiar quests in a way that’s both familiar and entirely convincing and in-world. Then we find out that everything’s not quite the same as we remember it from when we did the quests, and the plot arc is born.

It was this modesty and intimacy of character and story that I found most appealing to start with, but what really amazed me as I kept reading was the comic itself. Nhani has taken the normal everyday models we’re used to in World of Warcraft and done amazing things to them, to the point where each character is instantly recognisable, fully expressive, totally personalized and utterly convincing. It draws you into the world the comic’s set in, and then keeps you immersed there as the story progresses.

The great thing if you’re a WoW player is how this immersion adds depth and breadth to the world we’re used to playing in. For example, we get to see the cultural awkwardness of two night elves finding themselves in a human city, and the curious issue of what happens when a race used to living for thousands of years has to take seriously a guy who’s by their standards a mere child (but is by human standards a great warrior). And we get to see knee-high gnomes coping with huge crowds, giant mechanical monsters and bar tables built for humans. And so it goes. Little details that we tend to skip over when we’re playing that are actually really weird or interesting get picked up in the comic and explored in that same authentically silly-but-serious way.

And did I mention the expressiveness of the models? It just astonishes me how those uniform faces that we’re so used to can be made to show so much subtlety of expression and body language (be sure to check out the How-To!). Here are just a couple of examples pulled almost at random from the most recent arc:

I read a lot of different webcomics during the week, many of them absolutely great and some of them WoW-themed. Despite that, Beyond the Tree is always a highlight, and I feel confident recommending it even to those who wouldn’t normally bother with webcomics. So if you’re looking for something relaxing, amusing and curiously interesting to read this weekend, give it a try!

Hopefully my Internet will be fixed by Monday evening.



One thought on “Focus: Beyond the Tree

  1. I think you really nailed it in describing this comic’s appeal: it was an enjoyable read ^.^

    Posted by trypr | December 1, 2009, 3:34 am

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