Sin Titulo is a master class in comics storytelling, courtesy of the ridiculously talented Cameron Stewart of Seaguy, Batman and The Other Side fame. It is also the only webcomic I’ve experienced genuine rage when reading, because my goddamn 16 MB/s connection wasn’t loading the next page fast enough.
The comic is a “dark, neo-noir semi-autobiographical mystery thriller concerned with dreams, family, and memory”, a description that doesn’t quite do justice to either the phenomenal artistry or the clever and paranoia soaked storyline. After a dreamscape beginning, we follow Alex Mackay as he discovers that his grandfather has passed away since his last visit to the nursing home. Things soon take a sinister turn as a photograph left in the old man’s personal effects show him smiling with an unknown and mysterious looking woman, before the photo is hurriedly snatched away by staff.
As Alex clearly observes an orderly exiting a resident’s room after sounds of sexual abuse filter through the closed door, the first tendrils of claustrophobic dread start to take hold and Alex’s obsession takes root. But this is a story where nothing is as it seems, and each instalment ends on an enticing cliffhanger. Not an ordinary comics cliffhanger mind, but one which changes the entire shape of the story, often in Lynchian fashion.
While the story reader in me wanted to race ahead and find out what the hell was happening, the comics aficionado in me was busy cooing over the expert way in which mood and pacing are deftly handled. Sin Titulo is drawn with loose lines and a noirish palette, using an effective blend of realistic backgrounds (and grotesque bad guys) with a more cartoonish lead, but it packs one hell of an emotional punch. The smallest of gestures root the reader firmly in Alex’s world, with tight shots and changed perspectives ramming up the tension to an almost unbearable level. The use of shadows and black in particular is creepy as hell.
Frequently slipping into the surreal and dreamlike, the comic nonetheless keeps Alex and his past front and centre as his relationships – and failings – drive the story forward even as he seems to be losing his grip on reality. The hooks planted early on start to tug, the threads unravel, and comparisons to Lost were not unexpected. Indeed, racing through this comic I began to have nagging doubts – what if the questions Sin Titulo were raising could simply not be matched by the ending? Lost was a programme I soon ran out of patience with, smoke monster and polar bears be damned. It became less about intriguing twists and more about impossible scenarios that could never be satisfyingly resolved.
To my great relief, Sin Titulo nimbly escapes that fate, with an ending that is both startling and narratively rewarding. Stewart did go on hiatus near the end of his run but the comic came to its end in October 2012. Fortunately, for my sanity, I only found out about the comic the following month when Stewart appeared at the Dundee Comics Day alongside Grant Morrison and other collaborators. Being able to read through the comic in one go is certainly a different experience from the tenterhooks that longtime readers must have gone through – and I’d love to hear their thoughts!
I’m a big fan of Stewart’s work (he draws ladies with muscles! and boobs! and chub!) but what still amazes me is the sheer speed that he works at while delivering such high-end work – whether that be on Batman & Robin, Seaguy or his own webcomic. Here’s hoping another is in the works!
Sin Titulo has won a Shuster Award for Outstanding WebComic Creator/Creative Team and an Eisner for Best Digital Comic. Like the Abominable Charles Christopher‘s Karl Kerschl, Stewart is also a member of the Transmission X collective.
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.