Kill Six Billion Demons: A Lesson In Worldbuilding – by Mark Rempel
A few quick questions: How important is the image of California to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath? How pivotal is the description of Mordor to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? What would the story of Lord of the Flies look like without its island? These stories and countless others depict unique and memorable characters, but without the tantalizing environments in which their tales are told they’re just figures in a vacuum, with no context to provide meaning to their action. Books are a fascinating sort of magic, just ink on wood pulp which suspends one’s disbelief, and immerse the reader into a story and world that is totally different from their own. This process, of building a world for your characters to inhabit, is (not so) creatively referred to as “worldbuilding”. Of course, worldbuilding is by no means unique to literature, and some of the most fantastic and enveloping fictional landscapes can be found in comics. Recently, I came across a webcomic whose world is as vast as it is deep, a world that at times feels as well lived-in as our own. This comic is Abbadon’s Kill Six Billion Demons. KSBD tells the story of Allison Ruth, an ordinary girl who is plucked from her comfortable life, granted immense power as a “wielder of names” and dropped into a gargantuan cosmos of monsters, demons, and cruel gods. I do not use the term “gargantuan” lightly either; just look at this image from the first chapter.
Abbadon (the author of KSBD chooses to go by a pseudonym, though he has revealed that his first name is Tom) creates painstakingly detailed landscapes and cross sections of each massive environment (this one, of the Red City of Throne, is on the small side compared to some of the later chapters) with an art style that is as interested in giant architecture as it is with the tiny decals on a character’s weapon. This comic reaches a Star Wars level of extended universe, with each demon or demigod having a detailed backstory that defines their image and behavior. Sometimes a story can suffer from this level of detail, and though Abbadon has entire tomes of psalms which explain the origins of this universe and the characters within it, this information is never necessary to understand what’s going on. By seeing the world through Allison’s eyes, the reader can share her disbelief and terror at the vastness and horror of the Omniverse, a collection of universes which push outward like the spokes of a wheel. Each spoke has its own collection of worlds, and each world has its own set of challenges. Allison’s complete frailty and confusion in the early chapters let the reader know that it’s totally fine to not know what the hell is going on. Yet as the reader begins to understand the rules that govern the story, so too does Allison, who slowly becomes accustomed to her role as the wielder of names, learning from her mistakes and growing stronger from every conflict.
One of the reasons that KSBD is so successful in creating a believable world is due to the meticulous attention to consistency within the Omniverse. Much of the artistic direction of KSBD is inspired by Eastern religion and culture. The sing-song proverbs of YISUN (the central god of KSBD’s Omniverse) and his Psalms and Spasms often feel ripped directly out of Buddhism, something which Abbadon has openly admitted in interviews. This ideology informs so much of the look and feel of KSBD. From the flowing patterned monk-like robes that characters of status adorn, to the cruelty and hubris of the gods, every visual detail carries meaning and importance. that feels out of place. The Omniverse in KSBD is arguably the most important character within the series. The chaotic clutter of Where’s Waldo-esque pages force the reader to clutch to the few characters that they are allowed to understand, making their stories especially interesting and important as they navigate a dangerous and ever-changing landscape.
Of course, the backgrounds of KSBD are not merely a tumultuous stage for the main characters to romp through. As I mentioned earlier, Abbadon takes special care in his work to ensure that each character is visually consistent with their role in the story. Every shopkeeper has a visually distinct outfit that is unique to their wares, every faction of warriors employs a different sort of armor that reflects the wealth and resources available to them, and entire cultural styles change completely when Allison and her crew enter a new region.
The effort it takes to tell a good story with deep, interesting characters is difficult to measure. Yet when you add the extra dimension of telling that story in a world that is wholly different from the one we live in, it becomes infinitely harder. The attention to detail in KSBD reflects a level of creative control rarely seen in most webcomics, and pushes the medium to its fullest potential with every new page. Abbadon has said that he has enough material for KSBD to continue for five years, and yet he maintains a level of interactivity with his audience that is astounding for what he is trying to create. Abbadon frequently allows fans to dictate aspects of the story, and even recently held a contest to design five new characters for the heist mission slated for Book Three of the series. It boggles the mind to consider how much time and effort has gone into this comic but the payoff is immense, creating an entire universe for readers to explore and re-explore over and over again.