The webcomics blog about webcomics

Transit Day

Much of [web]comics is on the move today, heading to sunny Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat Bethesda, Maryland and SPX. Me, I’ll be driving down for the day tomorrow, waaay too early, so if you see me on the floor and I don’t recognize you, my apologies.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the globe, Ryan Estrada reports that tomorrow morning (which may be about now, given time zones) that he will be (already is?) the MC of the inaugural Busan International Shakespeare Festival, with twelve teams of performers from around the world. It’s all thanks to a group of expats in Busan that love Shakespeare, and who may be the same group of crazies (or at least significantly overlap with them) that put on the live-action Choose Your Own Hamlet as part of Ryan North’s Krazyass Kickstarter.

So what I’m saying is, wherever you are in the world, there is entertainment to be had this weekend so get on that.

Spam of the day:

That is a good tip especially tto those new to the blogosphere.
Brief but very accurte info… Appreciate your sharing this one.

I’m not sure, but I think the first line and second line each form a haiku. I guess it depends on how many syllables are in accurte [sic].

Breaking Walls

I don’t know too many people that do webcomics under pseudonyms any longer — it was once pretty common, as an outgrowth of gamer/message board handles, or just nicknames; in most cases those weren’t meant to obscure identity as much as establish it. Sometimes they came about gradually, such as how the main characters of Penny Arcade spent six months without identities before becoming Jack and John, and only later being actually identified as Tycho and Gabe, but the names Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik were always there in the copyright info. You were more likely to find such in days gone by in the comics that featured boning (such as Sexy Losers, credited for many years to Hard, and eventually the mononymic Clay), but that’s gone by the wayside, too.

So I’ll be perfectly honest with you when I say that upon first encountering Surviving The World, I had no reason to suspect that Dante Shepherd was a pseudonym¹, and even once I realized it was, it didn’t make much difference — he was writing under a pseudonym to keep his comic life and his professional life separate², something that authors have done with pen names since time immemorial³.

Once “Shepherd” announced that he was moving into academia and he let clues drop in public about which school, it was pretty trivial to figure out his actual name (if such was your desire) by checking the faculty listings of the Chemical Engineering department at Northeastern University and looking for the guy that looks like this, only minus the lobster hat (funny thing, first time I went looking for him I missed him, because he wasn’t wearing a hat in the faculty photo; I’d started to think of that Red Sox cap as part of his actual skull). No need to bring up that info in public, though, since he found it valuable to maintain the fiction, despite mentioning more and more on social media that his students recognized him immediately.

Dante Shepherd, meet Lucas Landherr:

The pseudonym served me well — turns out many/most/almost all academics don’t use the internet, so while my students recognized me pretty quickly, I flew under the radar for years with the people who had real influence on my future career prospects — basically allowing me to do years of comics work without it influencing my professorial chances. At this point, with my students making hash of what had been a secret and with my colleagues all in on it, the pseudonym isn’t needed anymore, so I may as well be honest about it.

Truth is, I’m still gonna think of Herr Doktor Landherr as Dante for a good long while, because that’s how I’ve interacted with him; while I’m not going to go so far as to think that Landherr is the pseudonym and Shepherd the real person (à la Batman/Bruce Wayne, or Superman/Clark Kent), I will say that the lobster hat picture would do pretty well as an official portrait on the faculty page4. Give him a couple of years on the tenure track, and they’ll let him do a photo without jacket and tie, I bet5.

All of this is to say, if you show up for Shepherd/Landherr’s talk on Kickstartering next Wednesday in Boston (refreshments provided!), you can decide what to call him and he’ll probably answer, as long as you don’t call him a Yankees fan.

¹ Not that “Dante” kept the fact that it was a pseudonym secret; it only really became obvious when he mentioned his wife, The Swede, and eventually his kid, Cannonball. This isn’t too different from how Howard Tayler has had a policy of not naming his kids online until they’re adults or close to it. Heck, I tweet under the identity of Fleenguy, but that’s only because both Fleen and Gary Tyrrell were taken.

I’ve tweeted back and forth with Gary, by the way. Nice guy.

² I suspect that Gene Ambaum, now removed from day-to-day librarianing, need not keep up the wall of secrecy, but at this point the pen name is too valuable to give up.

³ I still have a moment of confusion when I get email from the actual real-life name of Xaviar Xerexes.

4 The lobster hat photo is objectively better; there’s too much shadow on the face in the faculty photo.

5While I haven’t been in academia, I recall being a very junior member of an instructional staff when I was younger than Landherr, and feeling like I had to break out the jacket and tie. Now I’ve been doing the job for more than 20 years, I’ll use any damn picture of me I feel like. There is at least one official professional forum where my headshot is supplied by Principal Tyrrell/Cousin Gary.

Midweek Miscellany

No theme today, just not finding enough things that resemble each other.

  • Via the twitter machine of A Girl and Her Fed creator K Brooke “Otter” Spangler comes news of a really well-written discussion of publishing contracts by Hugo winner Kameron Hurly, via the blog of Chuck Wendig. That’s a roundabout way of getting to the item at hand, but it’s through a series of really smart people, so that’s all right.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about contracts since the news of Ron Perazza’s job shift yesterday, since he was fairly synonymous with Zuda and I spent a lot of time picking apart their contracts back in the day, and I’ve always had a particular interpretation of contracts¹.

    Or as Hurley puts it, the people offering that contract are not your friends and boilerplate is inherently a screwjob:

    I hear this a lot in publishing “Oh, but they are such nice people!” The people at my current publisher, Angry Robot, are super nice people. I love them to pieces. But I’ve seen their boilerplate contracts. Many of the editors at Tor – also nice people! But… I’ve seen their boilerplate, too. Name a publisher and I can name you nice people there who nevertheless will hand over boilerplate contracts to new writers because that’s simply corporate policy (“Boilerplate” refers to a standard, unnegotiated contract that the publishing house’s lawyers have approved and hope authors will blindly sign, thinking it can’t be negotiated or that it must be totally on the up and up because shouldn’t a major publishing house be trustworthy? No more than any other corporation, my friends). Publishers and online platforms like Amazon and Kobo are not here because they necessarily love authors and the written word (some do) but because there is money to be made. They offer their services because they are businesses.

    There have been a long string of really nice people running publishing houses who still stole their authors’ royalties, went bankrupt, or worse. Someone being “really nice” says nothing about what kind of deal they’ll offer you. At the end of the day, you can be sure that even if you’re thinking that writing is a happy, pleasant friendly circle jerk among friends, your publishers are thinking they’re engaged in a money-making business, and they’re treating it as such. Even if you’re signing with some mom-and-pop shop publisher that’s your best friend and her husband stapling pamphlets themselves, if you sign over all your rights to them, your rights become something they own, so if they go bankrupt or want to sell off rights to license your work to someone else, you’ll have zero say in the matter.

    All that protects you in this business is the language in your contract. And that’s language that you sit down and study before anything goes wrong, when everything looks great, when you’re heady with the idea of publishing your first book, or your first book with a major press, or your first series, or whatever. It can be difficult to imagine, in that heady, carefree moment, all the things that could go wrong. But having been through many things that went wrong in my career, let me say this: there’s a lot that could go wrong, and you need to keep your head out of the clouds when you’re sitting down with a contract. [emphasis original]

    It’s a good, important read for anybody that’s self-publishing, non-self-publishing, or in any way engaged in the business end of creation.

  • Raina Telgemeier continues her domination of the new-to-comics set; if she weren’t such a darn nice person, I’d start worrying that her real goal wasn’t just to make excellent YA comics, but to develop an entire generation of fans who will eventually grow up, and regard her as their living Goddess-Queen. Should it turn out that the teeming crowds that gather around her at every appearance and book tour stop in fact are laying the groundwork for an eventual worldwide coup d’etat, let me remind them all that I’ve been a Telgemeier fan and booster since before some of them were born and welcome their future regime. All hail.
  • Oh jeeze, oh jeeze, David Malki ! has gone and launched a Kickstarter. So far this one hasn’t seen the enormous takeoff of the fabled Machine of Death game, with the day one funds equalling only about 10% of the funds raised in the equivalent time of the earlier campaign. Which means that at this time, it’s “only” on trend to succeed, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to have enough backers (yet) for the Fleen {Funding | Fudge} {Formula | Factor} to be utilized yet.

    Malki ! always brings something new to projects and this time it appears to be in the Add-Ons:

    Feel free to choose any tier, then add the amount below to your pledge total to add any of these items à la carte to your pledge. Feel free to add as many instances as you like – we will ask you later which designs or titles specifically to send you.

    The weird penny amounts are so we can easily track which add-ons you’ve ordered! Please add the exact amount listed, otherwise it will confuse us and make everything take longer.

    • ADD ON 1 OF ANY PUZZLE = ADD $25.03
    • ADD ON 1 OF ANY POSTER = ADD $15.05
    • ADD ON 1 OF ANY BOOK = ADD $10.07

    Those odd numbers of cents will add up to totals that uniquely describe which add-ons somebody opted for; I’m going to bet that makes Malki !’s life significantly easier come fulfillment time, and makes me wonder why nobody has used parity-code pricing before. Clever!

  • Speaking of crowdfundings, there will be one soon enough for my favorite new webcomic of 2014, Stand Still, Stay Silent:

    There we go, now chapter 3 is officially over and the dreaded chapter break begins! Two weeks this time, because I’m going to be preparing the oh-so-imminent print drive for SSSS book 1 so that I can launch it around the same time as chapter 4. So nothing next week while I try to get everything up, and then the adventure continues either on Tuesday or Wednesday the following week. I haven’t quite decided yet, just got to see how efficiently I manage to get everything done. :3

    In case you haven’t been following Minna Sundberg’s postapocalyptic dram-com, she’s put together 178 updates of full (sometimes multiple) pages, in color, between 3 and 4 a week on average, since 1 November of last year. Holy crap, that’s a lot of comics, and the story hasn’t even introduced all of its main cast yet, but it doesn’t feel slow or dragged-out in the least.

    My guess is it’ll end up being as long as your BONEs or Vattus², and it will be worth every damn page. It’s smart, it’s gorgeous, it’s engrossing, and it’s going to stand as one of the great longform stories in comics. Get caught up now so you are ready to order up Book 1 in a couple weeks when the fundraiser goes up.

Spam of the day:

The lack of transparency and credibility in banks’ balance sheets fuels a vicious cycle. When investors can’t trust the books, lenders can’t raise capital and may have to fall back on their home countries’ governments for help.

I believe that you are concerned with banking transparency about as much as I believe that “Greg” who called me this morning really was “from Computer Support Windows Microsoft”.

¹ The specific quote doesn’t actually appear on that page; it was alt text for an image, which was lost in a past server migration. It’s been quoted a couple of places in the Fleen archives, though, and I stand by the sentiment, so I’ve reintroduced it in the alt text of today’s image.

² Which, by the bye, is back from interchapter hiatus on Monday, hooray! And his OZ illustrated edition is on the verge of completion, double hooray!

Diesem Fetten Fliessenden Sofa

Almost everybody’s busy with the Apple product announcements going on today, so it’s a boring day for me; I mean, the only Apple product I own is a second-generation Nano that’s still got the Stuff Sucks Gelaskin wrap on it. Let’s see what’s happening within webcomicdom.

  • In case you hadn’t heard, David Malki ! has a sofa that needs a good home. Okay, fine, he’s calling it a couch, but if we call it a sofa, we can make the obligatory Zappa reference.
  • There are few people who have done as many different types of comics as Dylan Meconis, and there are even fewer people that I could stand to be stranded on a desert island with. She’s got an amazing line, a keen sense of story (whether serious or comedic, short form or long), and is just a little bit evil¹; she also knows more about Star Trek than you do, just deal with it. Today’s her birthday, which means I get to appreciate her even more than normal. Happy Birthday, Dylan!
  • Going to SPX this weekend? One of the issues that has dogged the show since its move from downtown Bethesda to the northern, highway-ish reaches of town has been the relative lack of food options within easy distance of the convention hotel². It’s not really that there’s no food to be had, but it is spread across a divided road and a bunch of strip-malls; as a result, it was a delight to see the official SPX tweet-feed contribute to the likelihood that attendees and exhibitors might end up well fed:

    The amazingly talented @yaoxiaoart did us a huge solid this year. She created a beautiful food map for SPX!

    It’s less “map” (in that it’s not a representation of places and their locations relative to landmarks) and more “illustrated guide”, but it’s still wonderful. Click through to help make your plans.

  • Ron Perazza has been involved in comics, particularly the digital/webcomics-adjacent end of them, for a long time. He was the driving force behind DC’s Zuda, and if that was an imperfect experiment, it was a case of a large publisher trying something at least. He also involved himself in the production end of things at Marvel in the wake of the Zudaplosion and shakeups at DC, and has continuously — I believe, at least — been trying to find ways to bring major publishers into closer accord with independent creators, without screwing them.

    Today, he takes that (largely self-defined) mission to a place where it might actually take root:

    So this is new. I left Marvel. Today was my first day as Creative Director for Amazon Publishing. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.

    Watch this closely; particularly, keep an eye on to whatever degree Perazza can influence how Amazon runs comiXology. Good luck with the new gig, Ron — do good work, and we in New Jersey are sorry to see you decamp to sunnier climes³.

  • Seriously, it’s a nice sofa, and there’s totally a map under the right-hand cushion that leads to pirate treasure.

Spam of the day:

In just a week you will reduce 4″ guaranteed.

I’d think less of this if it weren’t from the same people trying to sell me other stuff to add 4″ guaranteed.

¹ She may have encouraged me to take a picture in front of a Portland food truck pod to send to Rich Stevens knowing that it would evoke massive feelings of envy in him. She’s the devil in my ear, whispering to me that I should live my life in the most amusing fashion possible.

² This is almost an unfair complaint, as downtown Bethesda is practically wall-to-wall restaurants, with representatives of just about every world cuisine imaginable. I surmise this has to do with the proximity to Washington, DC, and the many embassies therein; if you’re tired of cooking for the ambassador and want to take a whack at running your own place, the town is full of diners that readily accept new national dishes.

³ That is purely a metaphorical statement; today it appears to be sunny in Seattle and it is cloudy in New Jersey; I gather that much of the year it is suicidally drizzly in the Pacific Northwest.

Still Waiting On The Official Site

This just in: my dog is ridiculous. Dude was just napping like that all afternoon until the sleep wore him out and he flopped his legs over onto the floor without otherwise moving. I’m not entirely sure, but I think he might have modeled for the Spider-Woman cover that everybody finds ridiculous.

  • The Harvey Awards have always been the comics awards that are the most insider-basebally, what with the voting being restricted to the pool of comics professionals. For whatever reason, they’ve also had an an occasional tendency to be somewhat lackadaisical about distributing information once the ballots are in — they were given out over the weekend at Baltimore Comic Con and there still isn’t an update at the Harveys official website to indicate winners¹. As such, I’m basing my information on that supplied by Heidi Mac on Saturday night.

    Best Online Comics Work went to Mike Norton for Battlepug, which he also won last year², in addition to the Eisner in 2012; although I would have given the nod to Gunnerkrigg Court, it appears that Norton’s peers regard him highly. Either that, or webcomickers don’t vote in the Harveys.

    There was also a run of Canadian webcomics (or webcomics-adjacent) winners, as Ryan “Muscles” North took the Special Award for Humor in Comics for Adventure Time, which book was also the winner for Best Original Graphic Publication For Younger Readers (which it also won last year), and Chort Zubaz was recognized as Most Promising New Talent³, as well as being co-recipient of the award for Best New Series on Sex Criminals.

    Adding in the Humor in Comics recognition for Kate Beaton in 2012, and for Bryan Lee O’Malley in 2010, there’s a strong argument to be made that the category should in future years just be renamed Funny Person That’s Essentially From Toronto4 (a distinction that would preserve Jim Zub‘s shot at the trophy next year). Fleen congratulates all the winners.

  • Fleen also reminds all attendees of SPX this coming weekend that they get to vote on the Ignatzes (Ignatzen?). Since it looks like I’ll be driving down for the day, I’m throwing my vote for Outstanding Online Comic to Evan Dahm, Outstanding Graphic Novel to Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, Outstanding Story to Meredith Gran for Brownout Biscuit. Those were some tough decisions, what with the likes of Jason Shiga’s Demon, and This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki and more.
  • In other news: It’s official now, can’t go back on it, The Sculptor is on its way and nothing short of the destruction of all life on Earth will prevent it from ending up in my hands, dammit.

Maybe spam of the day:

Out of curiosity, where would you get medical grade superglue? I’ve used the normal stuff in a pinch before, I’d be more comfortable with something designed for the purpose. Is there a store you’d recommend getting it at?

It got caught in the moderation filters, but on the other hand it’s not trying to sell anything, is rather specific to something I wrote, and reads like it was written by a human, so I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt.

I didn’t have any medical grade superglue, since it’s a by-prescription device, so I had the sticky stuff applied by the Emergency Department of my local hospital. Also, given that the medical device in question is prescribed, I’d trust any place that’s offering it for sale about as much as I’d trust places selling boner pills.

¹ For that matter, the list of Previous Awards & Nominees stops in 2011; there’s nothing listed for 2012, and while the ballot for 2013 is present, no list of winner will be found there.

² The Harveys have a habit of repeat winners in the category, with Perry Bible Fellowship winning in 2007 and 2008, and Hark! A Vagrant in 2011 and 2012.

³ Despite not being new to the game at all, what with having his own convention and all. Odd award, that one.

4 For the current decade, Toronto has apparently been the locus of funny comics, with a quick detour to New Zealand/UK for Roger Langridge in 2011. Apparently, in the modern world, comics spells humor with an extra “u”.

A Public Service Ernouncemint

Lemme tell you a story, one that takes a little background.

This (fig. a) is a mandoline. It’s a kitchen device that lets you slice things quickly, uniformly and with fancy effects like julienne and crinkle-cuts via sliding motions and razor sharp, v-shaped steel blades. See that sombrero-looking deal in the picture? That’s a safety guard (fig. b), which we’ll be coming back to in a moment.

This (fig. c) is a guy who regularly admonishes his wife for leaving kitchen knives on the counter (say after washing) for even two damn seconds instead of returning them to their proper storage location immediately to avoid the danger of uncontrolled sharps. He turns pot handles in so they don’t stick out over the edge of the stove, he cleans and sanitizes aggressively, and while he is atheist, he is downright religious — evangelical, even — about kitchen safety.

So when fig. c gets a brand-new toy over the weekend and is still figuring out all the things he can do with it (more specifically, trying to decide exactly how thick he wants to cut a bell pepper for use in fajitas) and decides he can make just one or two test cuts using fig. a before utilizing fig. b for the rest of the job, you can tell where this is going.

I’ll spare you the details¹, just suffice it to say that it was entirely operator error, took about three hours from injury to back home (much of that spent watching Project Runway on the bedside TV while waiting for the PA to clean the wound³; Kini got robbed last week and Korina seriously needs to stop being her own biggest fan), and it’s a hassle to type right now. I did manage to avoid the worst possible outcome, which would have been having to call 911 and have my own squad come and transport me; there is nothing worse than getting transported by your own crew because you’ll never hear the end of it.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

I’m telling it because I was reflecting on the cost of healthcare as I was fishing out my insurance card and noting that my current plan wants a US$100 copay for an emergency visit and the old insurance wanted US$25, and shut up you baby you can afford it and you have all those self-employed friends that don’t have a deal anywhere near that good. We’ve seen accounts of people getting into ACA plans over the past year, and those that missed out should start researching in advance of the new open enrollment, because we also saw lots of unhelpful insurance companies trying to steer people into plans more expensive/less useful than what the ACA mandates.

And all those thoughts reminded me of something that happened last year when I got an envelope in the mail out of nowhere, and it set off my bullshit detectors because it claimed that the City of New York was sending me two cards that could be used to obtain discounts on prescription drugs.

Weirdly enough, it turned out that it was exactly what it claimed. New York City has worked out deals with large drugstores and small to offer discounts on prescription meds, and they will send a card that gets those discounts to anybody that wants one, for free, regardless of whether or not you have any connection to New York City. You can even send them to other people, which is probably how I got mine.

Great, you’re saying, that’ll do me a whole lot of good if I get sick in New York. Actually it’ll work far and wide. For example, this is the first of five pages of results for accepting pharmacies within five miles of the first address I thought to test with: that of Periscope Studio in Portland, Oregon. Hi, guys, need cheaper drugs? You’re good.

Maybe you have no need of this; maybe you’ve got a health plan — like I do — with decent prescription benefits. Or maybe you’re dealing with a pretty bare-bones plan and find out that nasty fever you got hit with last winter required some pricey drugs to let you not die. They may still be pricey with the card, but they could be considerably less pricey at no cost to you and that ain’t nothing.

So that’s the story. If my moment of terminal dumbassery means that just one of you finds it easier to obtain the care that you need in future, then it was worth it. Kinda. That cleaning really hurt, you guys.

Non-spam of the day:

  1. Bring this card to your pharmacist Over 2,000 NYC pharmacies and 58,000 pharmacies nationwide honor this card.
  2. Every time you get a prescription, show the pharmacist your card and ask for discounts on your prescription drugs.
  3. Save an average of 47% on your medications!

For more information on BigAppleRx or questions regarding your card, please contact us: or call 311 or 1-888-454-7140.

¹ The triage nurse at the ER turned pale when I tried to describe the injury and said I can’t handle fingers; come in with your arm hanging off or a screwdriver in your eye and I’m fine, but I can’t handle fingers. Don’t want to see it, let’s get you in there. How’s your pain? 10?² Okay she’ll print out your chart and then you’re going in good luck before shooing me away as quickly as possible.

In all my years of delivering people to the ER, I had never learned this simple rule to getting in to see a doctor quickly: have a condition that squicks out the triage nurse.

² It was more like a throbby 3 or 4.

³ Which was a legit 8.5 on the pain scale and a big part of why I went to the ER in the first place; no way I could have done that myself. Also, I didn’t have medical-grade superglue to get everything closed back up.

Fleen Book Corner: Amulet Book Six

But first, Randall Munroe continues to pop up on the radar, what with being the guest on last night’s Colbert Report and all. Also, did everybody see that Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes have teamed up to do a new :01 Books series to teach kids to code? Dang, Holmes, all that time I saw you at SDCC and then for drinks at my bar and you didn’t let even a hint of this out. Well done.

Right. Amulet Book Six. Kazu Kibuishi’s tale has, as they say, grown in the telling; originally slated to be a three book series, it was extended to five, and then ten volumes, meaning that what might have been a much briefer, tighter narrative has been given more room.

Rather than becoming overstuffed or padded, the story of Emily and Navin, and their struggles in the underground world to break an ancient power’s corrupting influence, have instead been given more room to breathe. Background characters get promoted to speaking roles, the backstory that only Kibuishi knew got to be featured on the page. The result is a story that is far more organic, a world that feels far more lived in than it would otherwise. Give Kibuishi as many books as he wants to tell his story, there will always be another corner of Alledia for him to explore.

So how does this volume, subtitled Escape From Lucien, stand on its own? Particularly given the lengthy delays associated with Kibuishi’s severe illness in 2012 and prolonged recovery in 2013? Unsurprisingly, the answer is pretty damn well.

By now the outline of the story — mystical force corrupts the guardians of the world, conquering army headed by suborned (not to mention dead) king must be opposed — and the characters are familiar to us. We aren’t getting this is what happened before and here’s who this person is any longer; it feels like all the major players are in place and moving towards their respective destinies. As a result, this is the first book in the Amulet series that really feels like it concentrates purely on story advancement via what’s happening right now — and that sense of right now is at it’s right nowiest, given that the bulk of the action takes place over maybe a day or two.

Furthermore, the scope of the story has expanded to the point that entire swaths of characters are half a continent away from the main events of this story, and it only feels natural. If you’re going to have a struggle that unites multiple countries of people together to remove the blight from all the lands, it doesn’t make sense that all the action and all the important personages will be in the same place at the same time. Most of them, though, are in the vicinity of the title city of Lucien, where one adversary will fall, another behind him will be revealed, and a onetime enemy stands revealed as perhaps the most crucial of several prophesied saviors.

While the impromptu Guardian Council of Stonekeepers try to determine who — or what — the voice behind the Stones is and how to stand against it, the non-supernatural characters are engaged in critical missions of tactical significance and trying to keep the unarmed away from the worst of the fight. Terrible things are massing, and as much as the Elf King’s armies are what prosecuted the war, it’s the things that exist in the interface between the seen world and the unseen that are the real enemy.

With three books left to go, it’s clear that the conflicts now in place are where we’re going to be spending the rest of Amulet; fittingly, this is the first book in the series that doesn’t start or end at a narrative resting point — it picks up immediately after the end of Book Five and ends with all the major characters in motion. Forces are converging, characters are in the middle of life-or-death situations, and we’re going to lose some of these people we care about before things are done. To protect as many as possible, the Chosen Ones are going to have to sacrifice between now and the ending — themselves or each other, maybe banishing the mystic powers from the world (both the malevolent and the protective), or perhaps merely shattering the evil into bits small enough, scattered enough to deal with by less extreme means.

As we’ve seen since the earliest volumes, there are bargains and choices that have been made, and these things have their costs. Sorrow awaits, because nothing worth fighting for is going to be earned cheaply. This theme has been there from the beginning¹, and if it’s heady stuff for a children’s series, it’s also a sign of the supreme respect that Kibuishi has for both his story and his readers; there will be no cheats to make everything turn out well for everybody we like while roundly defeating the villains.

That’s Disney, and as we’ve observed before, Kibuishi is a latter-day Miyazaki, in full Nausicaä or Mononoke or The Wind Rises mode. The world is fantastic, but the consequences of faltering are real — Emily knows that even the best possible outcome will be bittersweet and she chooses to fight on not because it’s her capital-D Destiny, but because if she doesn’t the price of her abstention is suffering on a grand scale.

Her choice is to do what’s necessary because it’s right, and that resolve is what inspires her brother as well her impromptu family to do the same. It’s more empowering than any Patronus, and yet far more fragile. The characters of Escape From Lucien barely have time to process more than their immediate situation, but we can absorb Kibuishi’s message at our leisure: Be as brave as possible, stick by your friends, protect as many as you can. It’s a message that we all need to hear, and it’s presented so naturally as to be inarguable. Give this book to everybody you know that needs to be reminded that things can be better in equal measure to what we choose to do.

Spam of the day:

From: Raina Telgemeier <hannu>

Hello Gary,
[link that no way I'm clicking on]

That’s new — using a name that frequently shows up in my writing² as the fake sender of crappy spam emails. How unfortunate for you, spammers, that I have a low and suspicious nature and highly doubt that Raina would be sending me links for off-brand who knows what³.

¹ As opposed to, say, the Harry Potter series, which started out as a much more light-hearted romp and didn’t really turn serious until the end of Goblet of Fire when the deaths of good guys start to happen in front of us. Kibuishi is likely second to none in his appreciation for JK Rowling’s work, but to my eye there’s a fundamental difference to how the hero appeals to readers: Harry is somebody we want to be because we know he’ll prevail; Emily is somebody we admire but her Chosen Oneness looks a lot less fun than Harry’s.

² Already anticipating the spam email I’ll get tomorrow from “Kazu”.

³ Footnote because I really don’t want her name to be near the words boner pills on account of that would cause some weird search results in the future.

Fleen Book Corner: Sisters

But first, a quick note that Randall Munroe is feeling creative again, and on a day when my scrolling wrist is feeling a little carpal-tunnely. Make sure you’re set to allow Javascript, and see how far you can dive in before the madness takes you.

Right. Sisters. If you’ve spent any time on this page at all, you suspect strongly what I’m about to say: it’s a masterwork, and Raina Telgemeier is going to be remembered as not just one of the great comics storytellers of our century, but one of the great storytellers, period.

But as I was reading (and re-reading) Sisters, I found myself wondering why I like some of Telgemeier’s books better than others¹.

Smile just grabbed me more than Drama, but Sisters I enjoyed as much as Smile. The scope of the stories is similar — middle school girls are the protagonists and the stories center around their interactions with family and friends — the conflicts and problems are not of the earthshaking variety, but are obviously important in a personal sense. There’s a sense of growth suffused in each book, and the technical skills (both words and pictures) are beyond reproach.

I don’t think it’s because I feel a disconnect with the topic matter, as I’m at a remove from the main thrust of all three books: I never had braces, nor was I involved in drama club or had my relationship with a too-similar sister define the first half of my life. I don’t think it’s because of the self-contained nature of some of the stories — Smile and Drama come to clear conclusions, despite the sense that the characters will continue to grow and change after the last page — versus the relatively open sense of but what about? at the end of Sisters.

And in the end, I think it comes down to the fact that Smile and Sisters are autobiographical; not simply because Drama is fictional, where the other two aren’t, but because the Smile/Sisters stories are specifically taken from Telgemeier’s life.

This flies in the face of the McCloudian notion of being able to identify with a simpler character (and what can be less simple than a messy, actual, human life?) where specificity keeps us at a distance as an observer. Call it appreciation of the honesty that has to go into telling your story vs the fiction that goes into making up a story, call it empathy in knowing that sharing some hurts from her adolescence must have challenged Telgemeier in ways that putting the fictional Callie through heartbreak would not (indeed, could not).

I think that gets to the heart of it — in all of her work, Telgemeier avoids the trap of making her characters too sympathetic; Callie and Raina can both be moody (or cranky), and they can be blind to the situations beyond an immediate focus on themselves. But putting those flaws into somebody you created in your brain is not the same thing as finding those flaws in yourself and saying This was — this is — me, these are my failings. It’s an incredibly intimate act of sharing, as Telgemeier invites us to live the highs and lows of Raina’s life along with her. It’s a razor-thin line that she walks, between sharing all and pruning out that that doesn’t serve story, between maintaining honesty and honoring dignity of her family by not delving too deep.

And in the end, she pulls off that balancing act, and weaves us into her story in a way that makes us live it along with her. Set primarily in a concentrated couple of weeks of tension (involving days cooped up in a VW minibus with no A/C with mom and siblings, driving from San Francisco to Colorado and back) with flashbacks to recount the highlights (lowlights?) of her relationship with her sister up to that time, we follow the story of Raina and Amara² as they confront challenges in different ways: different tastes in nearly everything, jealousy and envy, realizing that you don’t fit in and reacting to that in diametrically-opposed ways, recognizing cracks in their parents marriage, and finding that one thing that might bring them closer together — drawing! — is also a wedge between them.

By the conclusion of the story, Raina finds that five years younger Amara is more perceptive than she gave her credit for, and about that time there seems to be a realization dawning in her that one of her lifelong assumptions was wrong. You see, Raina wanted a baby sister from the time she was little because it was going to be awesome and they’d be best friends but that didn’t happen and what is wrong with Amara why can’t she be the way she’s supposed to be instead of so different from me? The epiphany is that relationships don’t come pre-packaged, that they require give and take and work from both ends, and you get the sense is that Raina will be approaching a lot of things in that more conscious fashion from now on.

But that’s only a sense, because that’s where things wrap up. No montage to show that Raina and Amara became Best Sisters Forever and can’t go two days without talking to each other. No indication if their parents found themselves drifting further apart or pulling back to each other. No neat little and it all turned out happily in the end, because that’s not the story Telgemeier was telling. Smile was the story of Raina through the lens of four-plus years of corrective dentistry; Drama was the story of Callie through the lens of the Spring musical. Sisters is the story of Raina coming to a realization over two weeks about her life to that point, with few clues as to exactly when it occurs in the broader story of her life³.

It’s simultaneously a smaller and larger story than Smile, and if Telgemeier never shares the answers to those dangling questions, we’ll get by. We’ve seen — stepped into, really — a critical time in her life, one where she made a choice about what kind of person she wanted to be. There may be other inflection points in her life that are as important to Telgemeier as this one, but we’ll have to wait and see Because even though the events of Sisters led to a choice that led to becoming the Raina Telgemeier that could share her story with us, “Raina Telgemeier” is as open and unfinished as Raina the character. She’ll share more with us when she’s ready, and it will be wonderful.

Spam of the day:

Do you need your website to be successful to maintain your business? Do you need targeted visitors who are interested in the services and products you offer? Are looking for exposure, to increase sales, and to quickly develop awareness for your website?

In order: No, no, and no. Thanks for asking!

¹ Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she’s got a bad book in her; we’re talking about the difference between two things that are excellent — one of which you prefer to the other — either of which is far beyond almost all other things of a similar nature.

² And to a lesser degree, that of their parents and younger brother, Will.

³ Telgemeier avoids drawing teeth in Raina’s mouth throughout the book, but the back cover shows a smile with braces. We also see Raina with a shirt referencing her junior high school, and at one point she mentions starting high school in two weeks, so we’re just before the time that she takes another huge leap in becoming a whole person: cutting off the why am I friends with these people again? crowd that had grown increasingly mean towards her.

Fleen Book Corner: Books On Tour

It’s shaping up to be a week of Fleen Book Corners; let’s start with data and numbers before we get to reviews.

  • I was lucky enough to pick up Sisters by Raina Telgemeier and Amulet Book Six: Escape From Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi over the weekend, and reviews are forthcoming, but I need to work in a few more readings of each, first. There’s a lot of depth and quality work in both books, which by the way made their debuts at #6 and #5, respectively, at the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels (paperback). That struck me as unrealistically low until I saw what’s in the top four slots: a Walking Dead collection, Maus, and two editions of Persepolis, and considered how the list is compiled.

    First things first: although the list is dated 7 September, it reflects sales for the week ending 23 August, or three days before Amulet 6 and Sisters went on sale; it incorporates pre-orders and stores stocking up, but does not include actual kids went to the store and plunked down money, necessitating restock orders. You also have to consider that the zombie book comes as summer convention season drained stocks, requiring reorders at the distributor level, and the others occur as college bookstores stock up on mandatory reading lists, a place where both Persepolis and Maus have been found for a decade or more. Look for both to bump up next week, and to hang around for a good long time¹.

  • Randall Munroe’s What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, which I will be obtaining at the first opportunity, is releasing today (at least, in the US/Canada in print and audio editions). In two days it will hit in the UK and Commonwealth countries, next week in German, next month in Brazilian Portugese and Dutch, and in November in Czech and Spanish. Not content to stop with that fairly impressive percentage of the world’s readers², future editions will be released in Japanese, French, Russian, Hungarian, Chinese, Polish, Greek, Turkish, and Korean, a total of 18 editions in 16 languages (counting English as one language, but simplified and complex Chinese as two), for a reach of approximately 4.75 billion readers out of 7.05 billion, or 100% of the people on the planet, using Munroe’s beloved Fermi estimates.

    Furthermore, assuming all the foreign editions have the same dimensions as the US edition³, stacking those 7.05 billion copies up in a tower will produce a stack 232,650 km high. Naturally, the weight of the tower (some 5.77 billion kg, or about equal to the mass of enough uranium to fill the Rose Bowl4) will compress the lower levels to be thinner (not to mention the ground beneath it), but 85% of the tower will be beyond the geostationary height (some 36,000 km due up), thus making the real challenge keeping the damn thing anchored to the ground and not allowing it to fling out into space.

    In conclusion, WI?:SSAtAHQ has the potential to end all life on Earth and any other planet that is unlucky enough for the stack to fall onto it. Something tells me that thought secretly pleases Munroe. Before our inevitable doom, however, Munroe will be making a series of book tour stops between now and Sunday, 14 September, where he will likely sign your copy, and maybe apologize for dooming us all.

  • And since we’re talking about book tour events, Scott C’s Hug Machine continues with the fun and hugs. The latest announcement is that the official launch party will take place at Books of Wonder in New York City on Tuesday, 16 September, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Spam of the day:

you should opt for a car service by a company that lets you know in advance exactly how much the car service will cost. Additionally プラダ ハンドバグー

Although my Japanese is both narrow and rusty, I can still work out katakana. I mean, bonus points for the attempt, but this is not really the venue to try to entice people into buying expensive Italian purses.

¹ Similar to how, say, Telgemeier’s Smile has sat on the list for 115 weeks of the 239 weeks since its release more than four years ago.

² Remember, and Commonwealth countries includes India, population more than 1.2 billion.

³ 23.1 x 18.3 x 3.3 centimeters.

4 The inadvisability of gathering that much uranium into one place is a discussion for another day, but no doubt Munroe could tell you how long such a collection could last before runaway nuclear reactions dispersed it, along with a goodly chunk of Southern California.


Hey, welcome to the holiday edition of Fleen, where we are taking the day the heck off

That being said, I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t let you know that the latest hiatus has resolved, and You Damn Kid (The Next Generation) is now live at As you may have surmised from my parenthetical comment on the strip’s name, Dunne is not only updating with new comics away from the old domain, he has time-jumped forward from the 60s to the present day. The Kid now has his own (highly similar) son, and I imagine that while Dunne didn’t mind referring to his younger self as “You Damn Kid”, he may well feel different about tagging his own sprog too closely with such a moniker.

What with the time jump¹ and all, not all the characters from the original strip will still be alive; here’s hoping that Jethro and The Poz made it, and I’m pretty sure some of the ancient nuns are functionally immortal. While Dunne works at fancying up his website, YDK:TNG will appear in the blogroll next to YDK:TNG; at some point when the archives get unified, I imagine there will be enough internal pointers for you to hope to the oldschool or newschool versions; undoubtedly, we’ll get some annotation in the characters list to indicate which time frame each character lives in.

For me, I’m just happy to be seeing Dunne update again, after five years away; look for the all new You Damn Kid on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Spam of the day:

Hi Gary,

Wanted to send you a few images (LINK AND CAPTION BELOW) from an event that we had today to celebrate SUBWAY’s birthday! Jared the SUBWAY Guy joined forces with Star Wars Stormtroopers and kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Bridgeport, CT (home of the first SUBWAY restaurant). For the month of September & October, fans can stop into SUBWAY to receive a special Star Wars Rebel bag, free with every kids meal purchase!

Judges Scores:
Coming via email instead of blog: 2 points out of 2
Addressed to me personally instead of spewed out randomly: 2 points out of 2
Providing both an attached medium-res photo and link to a hi-res version: 2 points out of 2
Brevity: 1 points out of 2
Command of English language: 2 points out of 2

Seriously overestimating the appeal that pictures of Jared the Subway Guy with Stormtroopers would have for readers of this page: -3 328 987 points out of 10

Total: -3 328 978 out of a maximum possible 10.²
Thank you for your time, and please enjoy this photo of Wil Wheaton collating papers.

¹ Time Jumps: Not just for Funky Winkerbean!

² This would involve maxing all five scoring criteria and accumulating no penalties.