Webcomic Wednesday: Road of Knives by Shawn Cheng, Matt Wiegle, Nick DiGenova, and Zak Smith
Equal parts collaborative comic and arty party game in which the sole Calvinball-style rule is “create mayhem,” Road of Knives is less a story than an ongoing event.
Back in 2006, artists Shawn Cheng and Zak Smith (likely the only artist who’s both exhibited in the Whitney Biennial and maintains a must-read RPG blog, Playing D&D with Porn Stars) began battling one another with art. One artist would draw a monster, the other would draw a new monster attacking that monster, the first would draw the progress of the battle, and so on. And so on. And so on. It’s now 2013, artists Matt Wiegle (replacing Smith as Cheng’s main opponent) and Nick DiGenova have been drafted into the fray, and the battle continues.
Taken a page at a time, Road of Knives is easily enjoyed as a showcase for the detail-driven art of its participants, for their inventive and almost fractal approach to creature design, and for their shared facility for both eerie atmosphere and kinetic combat. But when read as a “story,” tracing the drawings from one artist’s contribution to the next (that’s Wiegle and Cheng in tandem above, for example), new values emerge: a wild sense of humor rooted in totally unexpected shifts in the action (you never know when we’ll be whisked away to another region or even dimension, where some new creature or character is observing the action through dark sorcery, only to be attacked itself and start the cycle anew); a perhaps unintentional but still inescapable sense that life is governed by the arbitrary and capricious whims of a “Duck Amuck”-style demiurge; and the meta-message, expressed through the implicit trust between the participants, that the way forward is to have faith in your fellow travelers not to fuck things up.