The Mansion of E by Robert M Cook :: introduction
The Mansion of E is a long-running Science Fiction/Fantasy webcomic which combines witty, realistic dialogue, wholly believable and for the most part likeable characters of all genders and species, in-depth world-building with convincing theology and politics, and a complicated multi-strand plot. It's also a meditation on the art of comic-making itself: there are comics being produced within the universe of the parent comic, and many of the characters belong to a religion which has a creator-deity visualised as the Brush which painted the world. In a curious fourth-wall breach, characters may become de-colourised as a result of magical depletion, and the more magic is present, the more intensely each scene is coloured.
Set in a world in which magic exists, but is treated as just another form of technology (and one which for unknown reasons failed catastrophically fifty years ago), the story centres around the eponymous mansion, a rambling, bizarre-looking castle whose basement connects to an underground cave complex in which a vanished non-human race called the Ettins built a zoo for many different species of sentients who have since broken out, mingled and formed their own society. Both the basement and the mansion above it are riddled with leftover Ettin technology, much of it of unknown purpose, and are so large they still contain many undiscovered secrets and hidden rooms - even hidden inhabitants.
The story has a cast of hundreds, in multiple overlapping groups. Significant human(ish) characters include Sylvester, the current Earl of E, nominal owner of the eponymous mansion and major geek; his good-natured, handsome and spectacularly accident-prone brother Mortimer; the brothers' new friend Rosemary Ripley, fugitive and hired sword; and their great-aunt by marriage, who may or may not be a captive demon and is generally known as The Scary Lady.
Significant non-human characters include Comshaw, a male Gnoll (a sentient species vaguely resembling tailless, spindle-limbed baboons) who is a Poker, a kind of cross between a knight errant and a detective; Sina, a female Gnoll who starts out as a party-organiser and ends up managing a multi-species disaster-relief team; the Operator, a major-league devil trapped and forced to work as a lift-operator; and Frowgler, who may or may not be another demon but who looks like a frog with horns and a dragonish tail, and has a retractable claw in every local pie. Frowgler shares his name and his appearance with a character from a long-running in-universe comic called Roshambo the Warrior-Beetle, which seems to be the local Mansionverse equivalent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: it is possible he actually is the comic-book character who has somehow gained independent life, although he himself denies this.
At time of writing, the Mansion of E webcomic has been running for about eight and a half years and has recently uploaded its three-thousandth daily strip. Its sheer size means that even with the help of Robert's own recap. page it's difficult nowadays to locate a particular strip or refresh your memory of a plot-point by loading page after individual page of single strips, especially if your internet connection is not of the fastest. For this reason, I have prepared an alternative layout which groups all the strips from each section of the story on a single page, so readers can scroll up and down through multiple strips in a similar way to flicking through a printed comic.
Each individual strip on these group pages is linked to the equivalent individual strip in the parent webcomic: if a strip is unusual in some way or reintroduces a character not seen for a long time, you will often find that if you click on the image and follow the link to the original webcomic strip, Robert will have added a helpful comment below it. Some of the odder strips also have explanatory notes if you hover your mouse-pointer over them, as well as the usual date and chapter information.
In a few cases, strips have been displayed in narrative rather than chronological order. For example, at one point a character reminisces about a cat he met when he was much younger. Nine months later Rob showed this scene as a non sequiter flashback, as a memorial to a real cat who had just died, but I have displayed it next to the earlier strip in which the character refers to the scene. Two pieces of fanart were accepted as canon and I have inserted them at the point where the scene portrayed would have to have happened - in one case during dinner at the Mansion, in the other in a restaurant, while the characters concerned were waiting to be served. The restaurant one includes conversation about a photograph which Rob later drew, and I have placed the drawing of the photograph with the conversation which refers to it.
As you read, be sure to pay attention to the background details, especially the graffitti on the walls, labels on packages etc.. Handy keys for translating the minimalist "Manglish" script used by most basement-dwellers, and also the Futhark runes used to render the language of the Ichyoids and the Sinhalese script used for the alien Ettins, into the standard Latin alphabet can be found on the background information page. And be sure not to miss the parallel strip Sundays in SubShaft 44f, which contains a lot of information relevant to the main story.
Go to The Mansion of E home page or backup site for the latest strips, news from Robert, numerous links to supplementary and background material such as the cast-list, searchable transcriptions and forum, and a rolling chatbox for reader comments.