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Webcomic / A Softer World

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"In the caves behind my house, I found a softer world. They understand what I had to do for love. They don't believe in restraining orders."
Narration, comic 3

A Softer World is a Photo Comic, full of dark surrealist comedy and just plain weird stuff. Generally, Emily Horne takes the photographs and Joey Comeau writes the captions. The comics often focus on death, love, loneliness, or other similarly heavy themes. There are few if any actual characters, apart from Baby Doom (now deceased) and a small cat.

In almost every comic slightly cropped or zoomed versions of one photograph are arranged into 3 panels, with a short line of text over each one; the writing is usually divided into a straight line, a subversion and an over-the-top punchline. A frequent variation will have a second punchline in the rollover text.

Shares a forum, Truth and Beauty Bombs, with Dinosaur Comics and The Perry Bible Fellowship.

The strip officially ended on June 1st 2015 after 12 years with its 1243th strip, but came back for five strips due to meeting a Kickstarter goal for the Best Of book.

This comic features examples of:

  • 90% of Your Brain: What if instead of only 10 precent of our brains, we could access 9 percent. Just one percent less, how happy we might be!
  • Abusive Parents: Jimmy, the narrator's boyfriend in 182, is beaten by his father after he hits the narrator during their fight. The narrator thinks that he's lucky to have a father, and aims to hit him in the fresh bruises during their next fight.
  • Always Someone Better: 1220 remarks on it, saying that while there's always going to be someone out there better than you... "But, on the bright side, who cares?"
  • Ambiguous Situation: The girl who killed herself in 46 mentioned the main character in her suicide note in a way that could be read as affection or condemnation: "You were always laughing."
  • Apocalyptic Log: The narrator of 1185 realizes that they're too far from help and that what they're currently saying to their tape recorder are going to be their last words. The comic ends with "[RECORDING ENDS]". What exactly happened to the narrator isn't explicitly stated, but the photo shows a forest, implying that that they met a typical slasher-movie protagonist end.
  • Affectionate Parody:
  • All Just a Dream: The narrator of number 44 would like to see the depressing stories in newspapers end with "But it was all just a bad dream", for once.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The narrator of 1075 has creatures inside them that go silent whenever the person they're addressing the comic to is near. They note that "i have never seen them scared before"
  • Alt Text: Nearly all the comics have unique alt-text. It's usually a toss-up if it's depressing, or comedic.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: 767's narrator thinks that nothing matters in life, so they might as well be nice to people.
  • Babysitter from Hell: "Spare the axe, spoil the child." says the text of 715, with the alt text commenting that maybe they should fire that babysitter, implying that they hired someone who disciplines children with medieval weapons to watch their children.
  • Bathos: The main source of the strip's humor is the sudden and surprising tone shifts from dark comedy to absurdity to nihilism and back again within the span of three panels.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: The narrator of 656 says that their love interest is beautiful while sleeping, "But that's not good enough." They then request for their love interest to Please Wake Up, revealing that it's a far darker situation than the reader had been led to believe.
  • "Before" and "After" Pictures: The narrator of 221 says they have no use for them, since they can't remember starting and they're never done.
  • Best Years of Your Life: Over a picture of two kids on a ship.
    "Childhood is the best part of life. So don't worry, kids. You won't be missing out on much." (Alt Text: "I honestly thought the iceberg would chicken out first.")
  • Black Comedy: When the strips are humorous at all, it's with very dark comedy, usually joking about the pointlessness of life and the inevitability of death. It's also common for the actual strip to be poignant but have darkly humorous alt-text.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Parodied in 1015, where the person is indeed calling from inside the house... about the ad that the homeowner placed in the paper.
  • Call-Back: 26 twists the John Lennon song "Imagine", with the protagonist saying that yes, they're a dreamer and they aren't the only one: more importantly, they have bombs, truth and beauty bombs. Over two hundred strips later, this is referred to again in 227, whose protagonist takes a darker view of the original comic. They comment that while truth and beauty are nice words, the bombs' shrapnel is the same as ever and they must live with what they've done.
  • Came Back Wrong:
    • In 668, the narrator buries someone in a creepy ancient cemetery and they come back to life, but different than they were before. The narrator doesn't mind though, as the person was "kind of a dick, originally."
    • In 232, the narrator is just irritated by the changes that bringing her dead loved one back to life has brought on them. Her zombie significant other now demands she bring them brains, which pisses her off.
  • The Chessmaster: Subverted painfully in 364. The narrator of the strip begins to compare life to a chess game requiring strategy and forethought... Before he trails off and instead says how lonely he is, implying that his worldview of life as a game has driven everyone else away from him.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "and my party was cancelled."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The alt text of 886 ("To drown would be an awfully great adventure!") is one to the alt text of 221 (to die would be an awfully big adventure").
    • In one of the earliest strips, number three, the narrator finds a softer world behind their house. In one of the last strips, 1237, they find the ruins of a softer world behind their house, with the comic's tone far bleaker than three's darkly humorous one.
    • Strips 227 and 667 are nods to strip 26, referencing 'Truth and beauty' and 'Love and dreamer' respectively.
  • Cozy Catastrophe:
  • Cute Kitten: Used to mock Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 427 by supposedly doing the same thing, but with kittens instead of zombies. This creates "Pride and Prejudice with kittens. No, Kittens and Kittens and even more kittens, oh my goodness, by Jane Austen."
  • Dead Sparks: In 524, the narrator and their partner have fallen out of love... and the narrator feels weird about the fact that not being in love somehow makes the sex they have exciting again.
  • Deal with the Devil: Parodied. The narrator in 686 sold their soul to the devil, but not for money or power or anything concrete. Apparently he just told them it would be good experience, as if it was an unpaid internship.
  • Death by Origin Story: Invoked; the narrator of 314 says that while they never wanted anything to happen to their parents, "a hero needs an origin story."
  • Defiant to the End: The narrator of 791 says that they aren't going to give up and die, even as it seems that their struggles will be in vain. "I fought my way into this world. I'll fight my way out."
  • Destructive Romance:
    • The narrator of 709 admits that her love will hurt the person she's involved with; in the alt text she says that all romances end up Destructive Romances because of human nature. "I love you the way a knife loves a heart, the way a bomb loves a crowd, the way your mother warned you about, essentially."
    • In 876, the narrator says that their love is both intense and will probably end up killing both of them, but doesn't seem at all regretful of it. "Our love is a forest fire and we are the little things that live in the trees."
    • The narrator of 1055 compares their love to a meteor impact and a volcanic eruption, saying that they and their love interest aren't going to survive their relationship but at least they won't die bored. In their view, that makes it worth it.
    • In 234 the narrator admits to their love interest that "We are terrible for each other, and, yes, we are a disaster." They continue on to say that despite knowing that, they don't regret their love even if it is a mistake.
    • Strip 908 has the narrator stating that their love was 'doomed, a burning building, a broken neck'.
  • Disneyfication: Subverted. The narrator of 528 wanted a fairy tale romance, but hadn't actually read any actual fairy tales. The implication is that they ended with something far more in line with the Brother's Grimm version than they wanted, continuing on to say that it's the "First time I've ever wished for a disney version."
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Implied in 707, whose narrator muses that just as we need happiness to appreciate sadness, "we need sadness to appreciate alcohol."
  • Dying Dream: The narrator of 228 realizes that she and her friends probably didn't survive a crash after she realizes that they've spent five afternoons just making cupcakes together.
  • Evil Is Cool: Invoked by the narrator of 972. Addressing someone unseen, they comment that "You aren't a very good person, but god damn, you make bad look awesome." invoked
  • Fair Cop: The narrator of 482 is very appreciative of good looks of the police officer arresting him. "I don't mean to seem disrespectful officer, but god damn. I want, like, three of you."
  • Flipping the Table: Subverting the phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all", the preferred action of the narrator of 586 when they can't think of anything nice to say is flipping the table.
  • A Fool for a Client: In 604, the narrator is dealing with someone choosing to represent themselves while under the belief that "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" is a valid legal defense and who is, according to the alt text, eating pizza in the courtroom.
  • Godwin's Law: Zig-zagged by the narrator in 803, who says that "People who compare every petty evil to Hitler...are worse than Dracula!"
  • Gratuitous Latin: The alt text of 632 is "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", a Latin phrase that's come to name the logical fallacy of assuming that something that occurred before an event caused that event. It's relevant to the comic itself, whose narrator says that sex doesn't ruin friendships, people do: it's a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy to say that because the sex happened before the friendship was ruined, it was ruined because of the sex.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: In 158, the narrator found that his significant other was cheating on him, and took pills to commit suicide after finding out. They ended up just making him poop all over their bed instead of killing him though, which he cheerfully concludes is a funnier story in the long run.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: In the alt text of number 716, the narrator claims that everyone knows Hitler was a waiter, therefore making it okay to be mean to them.
  • Hope Is Scary: The narrator of 880 is afraid now that they have the chance to experience something better than they have before. They compare themselves to a lion raised in captivity whose keeper left the cage open.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: The narrator of 251 takes waking up in the woods covered in blood surprisingly well because in their view it means that they're either crazy or a werewolf... but they definitely aren't a nobody.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: In 746, the narrator thinks that to make everyone love her, all she needs to do is be herself but with money.
  • I Like My X Like I Like My Y:
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • Summed up in 164. "Love you. Miss you. Wish you weren't queer."
    • Subverted in 868, whose narrator clarifies that yes, they're gay...but they're gay for the person they're dating.
  • It's All About Me:
    • While the protagonist of 883 does eventually realize that other people have feelings, their main concern is how rough it was on them to realize that.
    • The protagonist in 65 is upset that for the second year in a row someone they loved died on their birthday... because that means that their birthday party is canceled again.
  • Kill the God:
    • The protagonist of 244, a young, innocent-looking child who picks up a telephone and asks the operation to put God on the line. He proceeds to threaten God, telling him "You're next."
    • 909 twists the saying "man plans, God laughs" by comparing it to the fable of the hard-working ant who prepares for winter and the grasshopper who just laughs at the ant until winter comes and it has to beg for help because it didn't stockpile any food. That it means humanity outlive God is stated in the alt text, which claims it's like "the real version. Where the ant let the grasshopper die."
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: Often used, and often twisted.
    • The narrator's grandma starts to tell a knock-knock joke in number 30 but can't remember how it goes, leaving her in tears. "I can't remember" she says and starts to cry.
    • Number 732 starts off following the structure of a knock-knock joke, but it's then revealed to be the police knocking on the narrator's door to tell them that there's been an accident.
    • The narrator of 268 relives their boredom by using knock-knock jokes to play cruel jokes on their grandma. They start to tell her one, but when she asks "who's there?" they pretend as though she's asking a serious question and ask if she remembered to take her medicine.
    • In number 600, it starts off as a normal joke but it quickly becomes evident that the person has serious depression when they reply with "I'm so sad I could die."
  • Living Statue: In 138 all the statues in town came to life, but they've all seen enough to know not to show it.
  • Love Makes You Crazy:
    • The narrator of 647 tells their love interest that seeing them smile gives them crazy impulses, in ways they like. "Like I want to step in front of buses, in a good way."
    • In 642, the narrator wants kids one day to tell scary stories about the things they and their partner did for love.