The Guild Gets Melancholy in Comic Book Form

Looks like in the case of The Guild, the gestation of a comic book project is about the same as a human pregnancy. Nine months after announcing that she’d be writing a Guild comic book for Dark Horse Comics, Felicia Day’s first foray into the world of panels and talk bubbles has hit comic store shelves.

While there’s no denying that the crossover between web video watchers and comic book readers exists — if it didn’t, there wouldn’t be much point at all to the comics review/interview series A Comicbook Orange — there’s also no denying that this is a new medium and thus a new audience to engage. Fortunately for newcomers to the world of The Guild, the series isn’t a continuation of the web series’s third season; instead, it’s an origin story exploring just how all the members of the series’ eclectic gang came together.

Reading it this morning, the most surprising thing I found about the first issue is that for a comic inspired by an multi-award-winning comedy, it’s actually pretty sad. The reason is that right away, we’re thrust head-first into the head of Cyd, not quite yet known as Codex (who Day plays in the series), and it’s not a happy place. Cyd, as we meet her, is struggling with an insensitive boyfriend, an unfulfilling job and the intense need to escape — problems her therapist is useless at solving, leaving her to find her own solution.

Day’s use of classic comics writing techniques like thought bubbles, fantasy inserts and other classic comics tropes makes the issue an intimate exploration of Cyd as a character. It’s why things get a little uncomfortable halfway through the issue (when — SPOILER ALERT — Cyd starts playing the game), for, as much as you want to emphasize with her finding an outlet for her feelings, it’s uneasy watching the early signs of addiction take hold. It’s tough to speculate on how much of Day’s past experience as a hardcore World of Warcraft gamer informs the storytelling here, but there’s no denying the narrative’s personal feel, which makes at least this first installment very affecting.

Adapting a live-action franchise for comics is a tricky proposition, as the artist is challenged to accurately capture the look of an actor while still managing to make them work in a comics context. Fortunately, artist Jim Rugg manages that ably here, drawing in two different styles — a clean minimalist look at the real world (which will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his past work — Street Angel is an old favorite of mine), as well as a water colored fantasy-novel-inspired approach to the world of the game, which also gives audiences their first look at what the in-game personas of the Guild might look like beyond their avatars.

The Guild is not the first web series to get a comic book prequel with Dark Horse — the Zack Whedon-penned Dr. Horrible single-issue came out last fall — but Dr. Horrible only sold about 25 thousand copies, placing it at number 80 on the November 2009 sales charts. When I picked up my copy this morning (from a stack on display at the front counter), the friendly counter jockey at Meltdown Comics said that several regular customers had requested that The Guild be included in their weekly orders — but those were customers who also read comics set in the “Whedonverse,” including the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series. However, this isn’t the first time that Day has delved into a new medium and found an audience — we’ll have to see how many converts she finds in the comic book world with the release of this and the next two issues.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): New Use For Web Stats: Finding Hot Markets, Offline