Writer/Illustrator: Mars Heyward (@marsoids)
Publishers: Mars Heyward (webcomic)/IndyPlanet (physical editions)
WHAT IS IT?
Long Exposure is a light sci-fi, coming-of-age webcomic about a nerd and his bully who are forced to work together on a school project. The duo uncovers more than they bargained for in the form of strange superpowers, government conspiracies, and unexpected feelings.
Think Life Is Strange meets Stranger Things with a bit of X-Men flare.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Jonas is an honor roll student who is trying to make his final year of high school as painless as possible. His hopes are dashed when his long-time bully, Mitch, comes back to class after a stint in juvie. The two are paired together for a project and, while out doing research, they stumble across a facility deep in the forest filled with hazmat-suited men. Things take a strange turn when Mitch and Jonas discover they’ve developed unnatural powers and blacked-out cars begin to follow their every move.
Mitch and Jonas are forced to spend more time together than either of them would like. As emotions begin to shift, they must not only navigate ever-evolving superpowers but the simple problems life continues to throw at them in their day-to-day situations. Will they collapse under the pressures of society, or can this newfound infatuation defy the expectations of the world around them?
Mars has a unique style to their art and character designs that channels a classic Cartoon Network gritty nostalgia (reminiscent of Ed, Edd, and Eddy) with a sketchy aesthetic. The characters feel as though they were pulled straight out of a post-school afternoon favorite from the early 2000s. The series is a delight to look at and stands out amongst its peers.
Some pages are enhanced by pops of color to bring out the super-powered moments (usually shown in a way that portrays lights as they are captured in a long exposure photo). Full-color pages that are rich with subdued, almost melancholic hues and color palettes were added to emphasize important moments. These moments are always powerful.
The story is both funny and moving, with situations and conversations that are oftentimes much more relatable than many would like to admit, the heart of the story is set in the conflicts of growing up in an unkind world, and Mars handles the tough topics with taste and honesty.
The lettering is phenomenal. Each speech bubble is carefully crafted to portray the appropriate tone; lighter grays for whispers, static-like font for more impact, wavy text when characters are under the influence, etc., and it makes the emotions in the conversations not only understandable but tangible and natural.
There’s a diversity to the cast that plays into the individual and collective narratives in ways that feel more fact than fiction. The varying and realistic body types, ethnicities and sexual orientations, economic situations, and upbringings are all showcased in a manner that is respectful and truthful. It adds to the realism factor.
The character development for both protagonists is well-paced and satisfying. It is an emotionally gripping and honest portrayal of not only growing up, but growing into your own person despite your circumstances and the odds society places against you.
With its moody, coastal setting, the comic channels the melancholic tones of a Pacific Northwest town that many fell in love with in the mid-2010s due to media like Life is Strange, Gravity Falls, and Oxenfree. It's one of those series where the setting itself feels like its own character with how detailed it is.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Contains strong language, mild violence, drug/alcohol use, sexual situations, sensitive subjects and some censored slurs. Mars has tried to make sure the pages, including moments that might be triggering, are noted at the top of the page.
As with many debut pieces, a few elements of the earlier pages feel a bit unfinished (i.e. some background characters look more like rough sketches). This is isolated strictly to the first few pages in chapter one.
In regard to the superpowers; there’s not a lot of deep-diving into the lore behind it. The powers themselves are used prominently but the why and how is never really covered. It is mentioned that there are/were others and a bigger government plot is eluded to, but the focus on the main characters overshadows those plot points. It does not pull anything away from the narrative, but it can leave readers with some questions.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Long Exposure debuted in September of 2016 and has built up a steady fanbase over the years since its first page dropped. Ending with over four hundred pages and critical acclaim, this webcomic is perfect for fans of lengthy narratives who long for character development and substance.
A queer story that does not lean too heavily on its queerness to propel the narrative forward, the real world situations and down-to-earth conversations about love, loss, coming out, and growing up adds a weight that is substantial and honest. The use of superpowers feels natural for the world Mars has created and does not hinder the heart of the story by using a supernatural force as a cop-out to fix Mitch and Jonas’ problems. It's refreshing to see that trope be kicked to the curb for a more human resolution, lending itself to the truth that you don't need superhuman abilities to find happiness.
With the announcement of a Kickstarter project that aims to put chapters 1-5 into a single collection, alongside a newly debuted project from Mars called Ride or Die, a resurgence in the Long Exposure fandom has brought a much-deserved influx of hype to this webcomic. With its relatable and realistic cast of characters, high school drama, and light sci-fi elements, this coming-of-age story is poignant and captivating. It’s perfect for fans of the bygone years of 2000s cartoons who long for that nostalgia, but still want a maturity and emotional heft to their content.
If you're craving a thrilling and memorable read that will stick with you for a long time after the story concludes, I highly suggest getting your hands on Long Exposure.
HOW DO I READ IT?
Click one of these:
IndyPlanet (Physical copies)
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Mars Heyward characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Mars Heyward or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED