This week I’d like to introduce you to The Secret Knots by Juan Santapau. It’ll evoke connections to A Softer World, as it should, plus it may get you thinking about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Erratically updated but beautifully done (perhaps these things are not mutually exclusive), The Secret Knots is worth your time.
It’s also, I think, worth noting that the comic’s creator is based in Chile. While we think a fair amount about webcomics as a global medium, I can think of maybe a handful based outside of the United States which have popped up on my radar, and even fewer where English is not the creator’s first language. He started “posting these single page comics on a blog, in 2005” and decided to continue the series through its own website. He explains that the “name of the series comes from something Athanasius Kircher wrote once: ‘The world is bound with secret knots’ which I find somehow connected to the tag line that Iâ€™ve been using: ‘comics about things we do without knowing why‘ (even though Kircher was talking about magnetismâ€¦).”
While Santapau has a disclaimer explaining that he isn’t a native speaker of English, his writing shows a degree of precision I haven’t yet seen in any other webcomic. There are occasionally a few very small errors, but they do not by any means adversely affect the work. Honestly, the language usage is so breathtaking in its range of vocabulary–and combine that feeling with reading those words in some of the evocative lettering Santapau composes. The total effect is almost haunting in places; overall, The Secret Knots is a fabulous example of just how powerful the combination of skillful word choice and the way in which those words are represented can be. Simply put, the webcomic is truly striking.
I wish there were more of it, and I’m so glad that there’s an English language version. The spare composition reminds me in many ways of fiction writing; it is somehow reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s style, of how graceful language can become in the hands of someone working very hard to capture the perfect word and all its nuances.
For some episodes, such as “A Map” (from February 23rd, 2007), Santapau elicits reader-response, stating, “Often I search through flickr (or google images) for references of people and backgrounds for my drawings. (yes, I do draw backgrounds sometimes, and they usually end up as some almost imperceptible color variation behind the characters and the speech balloons). In doing this, Iâ€™ve found great pictures and interesting people and places, and Iâ€™ve thought about contacting them to ask permission for the use of the â€œmodelâ€? but I didnâ€™t, out of embarrassment I guess. So my question is: are any of you, readers of The Secret Knots, interested in inspiring a character for a comic? If so, send me one or two pictures of you and keep in mind my very lax updating schedule, and the possibility of inspiring someone really different from who you really are, as I cannot give any warranties of not turning you into a pervert nun, a despotic boyfriend, a lonely stamp collector or whatever. I canâ€™t even assure that there will be a remarkable resemblance to the picture and much less to the 3-d you. But it might be fun?”
I love this idea. It’s one we’ve seen before, of course, but it’s still charming. The following episode, Hints (posted April 2nd, 2007) actually used a number of those images, complete with responses from readers in the comment section about how they looked!