The webcomics blog about webcomics

Fleen Book Corner: Let’s Talk About It

It’s inescapable. There’s no part of life — modern or at any point in history — that humans have spent more time and worry and brain cycles to the point of obsession on than sex. And yet we as a society — modern and I’ll wager at nearly every point in history — do a crappy job of preparing people for it. They get all fizzy with hormones as teens and starting messing around without really knowing what they’re doing and maybe they muddle through to a good understanding and maybe they don’t.

Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan think that we should do better. Fortunately, after nearly eight years of cartooning about sex in all its forms — a cartoon that turned into an exploration of what it means to be human so gradually I didn’t even notice — they’ve got a ton of knowledge to draw upon (and even better, a metric ton of resources to pull from) and have produced the book that they wanted at that age¹.

Let’s Talk About It is that book, and it’s not only useful for the teen in your life, it’s a damn good primer for anybody that is looking to better navigate the world of sex, which isn’t as much about sex as you might think. If you want to sum up the message of Let’s Talk About It (a PDF ARC of which was provided to me by publisher Random House Graphic) with a quick glance at the index: the topic that gets the second most references is sex, whereas the most cited is relationships. Or, as Nolan and Moen observe in an afterword:

Really, sex education is relationship education, because while we’re not all going to have sex, we are all going to have relationships with the people around us. When you learn about the wide world of sex, relationships, and intimacy, you learn more about yourself and others, which helps you to be a better person and to do better by others.

So the It that is going to be Talk[ed] About is nominally sex, but really not. Sex is a huge part of being human, and just as you can’t be a full human without determining what sex means to you, you’re also not going to be good at sex unless you’ve learned to be a good human.

The bulk of the book is a series of short vignettes, featuring two or three main characters, almost none of whom get names² or backgrounds, and all of whom share their feelings, experiences, wants, and information with their friends, siblings, (would-be) partners, and others.

They give each other respect, attention, and consideration, through conversations that are short and sweet or long and difficult (the most challenging being the recognition that you could be in an abusive relationship in either role; this is the first book about sex and relationship for teens that I’ve ever seen that addresses the idea that we have to examine ourselves for shitty behavior, and it appropriately does so by looking at a teen cis male who is at a crux — he could fall into some really toxic behaviors or choose to better himself. The book is worth the purchase price for this section alone, and should be presented to every person before they get to dating age).

Most of these interactions finish on an ellipsis, a cliffhanger, a chance for the reader to decide themselves where it goes as they consider the full lifecycle of relationships — Wow do I start? What do we do? What next? What if I don’t like ____ about myself? What if I get rejected? — is presented, and in all of them, a key nugget of wisdom jumped out at me. Some that have stuck with me:

  • Consent is not lukewarm, the absence of a no, surrendering to badgering, impaired or unconscious, jumping to conclusions.
  • The most important relationship you’ll have is with yourself. Relationships will come and go. But you? You’re with yourself for life.
  • Chat it out before you pound it out.
  • The vocabulary of gender is still growing, so if you don’t see something here that fits you, don’t sweat it. Your identity is still real and valid.
  • There’s no one correct way you’re supposed to feel about it.
  • Sex is a SUPER personal thing, so there’s no official “right time” or “falling behind anybody else”.
  • Good sex and bad sex are subjective and depend on A LOT of things.
  • If you want to judge the success of the sex you’re having, do it by how much fun you’re both having. Good sex is consensual, communicative, fun, and enjoyable.
  • Thoughts and actions are different things.
  • Punishing yourself doesn’t solve anything.

And, my favorite line in the book:

  • I want to so baaaad.³

I found it striking how many of those quotes could apply to multiple, many, or most of the topics discussed. So much of this book — the parts about sex and the parts about things that are adjacent to sex and the parts that maybe aren’t about sex at all — boils down to one perfect little thought, a universal sentiment (much like the universally-applicable New Yorker cartoon caption) that applies to nearly every situation:

There really isn’t such a thing as “normal”. Just try to be the best YOU that you can be.

It’s a spectacular job, one that treats its subject and its target audience with the utmost respect. I’d only change one thing (and again, this was an advance copy, subject to further pre-publication edits and may not be valid complaint): there’s one reference to latex gloves (in a panel without much room for words) and one to latex or nitrile gloves (where there was more space to play with).

<EMT voice>Latex is an allergen, kids. Use nitrile gloves.</EMT voice>

Apart from that maybe-not-even-there concern, I will unreservedly recommend Let’s Talk About It (available wherever you can find books from next Tuesday, 9 March 2021) for anybody wanting to know more about sex and being a good human.

Which is to say, anybody you think is not going to freak at truthful, but occasionally textbook-explicit, information about mashing junk together. And maybe one or two who will, but need the info anyway.

Spam of the day:

The best smart water fountain for your kitty & doggy

Smart water for my dog, who eats condoms off the ground and tissues out of the trash can and would drink out of the toilet if the lid wasn’t down? Yeah, don’t think it’s smart water that she needs.

¹ Teen!Erika and Teen!Matt make an appearance at the start to set up the conceit.

² I’m not counting the plants named Queen Beth or Sir Gumbleleaf. In one case, there’s a non-trademark-violating Siri-alike, who is rather more conversational and situation-aware than the real deal. In another, a person in distress is helped by a friend-to-be and they introduce themselves. In a couple of conversations, a third party is referred to by name, but doesn’t appear in the conversation. Considering there’s nearly 20 dialogues in the book and not a lot of specific people, there’s a lot of room for readers to project themselves into the conversations and become involved in the topic at hand.

³ This one had nothing to do with sex. It was the response to the observation You want to tell me where to find more [information about sex, relationships, all of it], right? The one time in a book about sex where somebody admits to wanting to apply pressure to convince somebody else to do something they maybe don’t want to do, and it’s to share more information.

I love you, Erika and Matt.

It Is March Again, The March That Never Ended

It is today, roughly, 350 days since New Jersey went into lockdown. Today is, roughly, the 366th day of March, 2020, the Fimbulmarch, which will run for another two years and then end in Ragnarökövid. As far as unending tedium and hiding in the house venturing out in the killer environment only in times of great need to obtain sustenance goes, it could be worse. I mean, there’s lots to binge on streaming at least.

And, this being the nominal first week of the neverending month, there’s some [web]comics events you might want to keep an eye on.

  • Know who’s awesome? Gale Galligan, who had one of the biggest how do I follow that opening act? high-wire travails ever, taking over the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations from Raina Telgemeier and all¹. She’s working on her own original graphic novel now, as well as another project that finished around March 240th that was a little bit more important, all of which are wonderful. She’s also been to Bunny Island and survived.

    Know who else is awesome? Ngozi Ukazu, who had a very big couple of years before and during the Inifinte March, what with the release of the :01 Books collected editions of Check, Please!, which are just delightful². She’s been working on her next project, as well as dropping some primo cartoons into The New Yorker and the Tweet Machine.

    Know what’s particularly awesome? Galligan and Ukazu are both serious about promoting the interests and skills of younger cartoonist, those who will someday be their peers. Galligan’s been mentoring since the Before Times, and the pair of them joined forces to promote transparency into page rates. And they’re teaming up again to offer two free workshops on comic making:

    Howdy! @robochai and I are offering two workshops covering fundamentals for comic making. Workshops are free, but space is limited. Apply by 3/5!…

    That link will take you to the Google Form to sign up; the two workshops are on Perspective (Saturday, 20 March at noon EST) and Coloring (Satruday, 27 March at noon EST), with connection info presumably sent to registrants.

  • For those looking for happenings between now and Sunday, let this be your reminder that the first week of March is Read AGraphic Novel Week/Will Eisner Week; the ongoing pandemic means there’s less in-person going on than prior years, but that hasn’t stopped the Cartoon Art Museum from organizing a graphic novel read-athon as fundraiser (helping to offset the loss of income from the whole no visitors in lockdown thing). You can sign up via the CAM 99 Pledges page, to support those reading, or to add your eyeballs to the -athon’s effort.

Okay, that’s what’s going on now. We’ll try to keep an eye on what’s happening — and what’s not — in The March That Never Ends. Case in point: it was announced today that WonderCon will be online-only (26/27 March) and San Diego Comic-Con is delaying again until July 2022, with a supplemental 3-day in-person event in November (all details pending as of now).

It’s actually an open question how much society might be back to accessible by summer, but kudos to the showrunners for injecting a little certainty instead of delaying decisions. It’s not a fun decision, but it’s probably the only right one at this time.

Spam of the day:

Elon Musk says he’s a supporter of bitcoin and thinks it will get ‘broad acceptance’ in finance & Bitcoin Rally Takes Crypto Market Value to New Record

Since Tesla announced it had bought a position in Bitcoin on 8 February, their stock has declined by 16.8%, and Bitcoin is down 2.4% (or, more impressively, down 23.1% since their high eight days ago). Your entire contention that I should give you money to put into their two financial vehicles is … misguided.

¹ In turn, handing the series over to Gabriela Epstein, and now to Chan Chau.

² Reminder: the fourth self-published book is coming, sometime before the end of Evermarch.

There’s Something I Never Considered

A while back, faithful Fleen follower Mark V pointed me to a series of Kickstarter things that he thought I might find interesting. It’s not a [web]comic Kickstarter, it’s a game Kickstarter, but there’s a webcomic connection — the creator (by name of Michael Prescott) sprinkled a comic through the campaign updates to demonstrate aspects of the game, which I thought was a clever idea (start with Update #3 and work your way forward; not all updates have comic entries).

There was also a lessons learned post from the start of 2020, the sort of thing you’d find from a posting or conference presentation by your Spikes, your Lasers Webber, or Bradleys Guigar. Good solid advice, but the sort of thing you might find in other channels.

But the real meat of Mr V’s pointers was a posting from this month on Kickstarter math that was presumed to my cup of tea — you were right on that one, Mark; I love this stuff — and inside was an argument that I’ve never seen made around Kickstarter campaigns. It’s probably more common in the [baord]game space than the [web]comics space, as it involves sunk costs in a way that doesn’t necessarily come up in webcomics, but I still wanted to talk about it.

The way everybody thinks of Kickstarts is How much money do I need to make it to break-even, and preferably profit?. You’ve got a project that will cost (summarizing here) US$10,000 of your time to make, with a unit price of US$30 (what the backer pays), a unit cost of US$20 (what it costs you to produce and ship), and a margin of US$10. The break even point is 1000 orders — US$30,000 raised, US$20,000 in your costs, US$10,000 left over that offsets the US$10,000 of your time, meaning a total profit of zero. Order number 1001 and every order after nets you ten bucks.

Simple. Everybody does these calculations. The goal is US$30,000 or more; any less, you don’t make the thing because you’ll lose money.

But this example does something unique. What if you’ve already put in US$5000 of time in figuring out the Kickstarter, and know that once it goes up you’ll have to spend another US$5000 worth of time to finish your design. Where do you set the pricing? The simple answer is US$30K like before, but there’s a more complex answer:

You’ve already put in that US$5K of work; if you fail to fund at US$30K, you’re not zero in the hole, you’re at a US$5K loss. It may be possible to set the goal lower so that you do the project and yes, lose money, but lose less than if it doesn’t fund.

Let’s say you can’t get 1000 orders, but you can get 800; that’s US$24K and US$10K in your time, US$16K in production costs, a total of US$26K so you lost two grand. That’s a disaster! But if you don’t fund, if you never do the project at all, you’re out five grand. It’s a loss, but it’s better than holding out for break even. Prescott’s argument is that you shouldn’t set the Kickstarter to compensate all costs, but rather to compensate the sunk costs before you launch the campaign. You might not make a profit, but you won’t be any worse off than if you didn’t do anything.

The reason that this doesn’t necessarily map one-to-one to [web]comics Kickstarts is that the sunk costs aren’t going to occur in the same way — most creators don’t make a comic every day for a year in preparation to launch a Kickstarter to print it and get nothing in return; they did that because they were updating their site, selling ads or other merch, and the print run is a secondary sale of what they’ve already been paid for. By contrast, the game space can demand significant, project-specific work to get to a point where you can determine if the project is viable going forward (say, a demo to gauge interest or practicality).

If you’re not making money on the pre-campaign work, you probably need to do a campaign that’s specifically designed to pay you to make the comic and pay for physical production (not many creators have the track record to support that kind of prepay). Either that, or consider that your real goal needs to not just pay for the print run, but to compensate you for the work you’ve already done in which case, yeah — consider the reduced-loss target for funding rather than full break even.

Anyway, this is a very short summary of Prescott’s points, which I find well-presented and persuasive. Give them a read before you do your next Kickstarter plan, and thanks to Mark V for pointing me towards the analysis.

Spam of the day:

It is with sad regret to inform you [nope] is shutting down. Any group of databases listed below is $49 or $149 for all 16 databases in this one time offer. LinkedIn Database, USA B2B Companies Database, Forex South Africa, Forex Australia, Forex UK [that’s enough of that]

So you collected a metric squatload of email addresses and account names and want me to buy them so I can spam them? Can’t imagine why people don’t want to do business with you.

This Little Girl Is Five Today

She was such a skittish, skinny little thing when we got her around two and a half years old, having spent her entire life not more than six months in any one place with any particular people. It took her a while to relax around us and let her goofball personality show from behind the veil of stubborn stoicism. Right now, she’s napping in a sunny patch and waiting for the work day to be done so she can collect her due allocation of skritches and get her walkies in. So that’s all right.

Oh, right, webcomics.

  • Subscribers to The Nib, the folks that get the magazine 3-4 times a year, you’re going to want to check your email and maybe your spam folder. They’ve sent you a message that you get to give away one copy of The Nib’s Pandemic issue (in print form, no less!) to somebody that you think would appreciate it. The instructions are in the email that went out to you this morning; me, most of the people I know are already subscribers or contributors to The Nib, so I’m not sure who to give it to.

    Let’s do a contest, then. Send me an email with the subject FREE MAGAZINE to me (that would be gary) at the name of this-here website (fleen), which is a dot-com, and I’ll choose one of you at random to get the issue, a US$15 value and probably the best done by the lauded group of contributors. Let’s make the deadline … 11:59pm MST on Sunday, 28 February, the last moment before my evil twin sees his birthday skipped over because he’s a Leap Year Baby.

    You have to make yourself a promise, though — if you enter the giveaway, you have to ask yourself if you should be a subscriber, or at least buy some stuff from The Nib’s retail operation to help support their mission — to find the best cartoonists in the world and pay them properly for their best work.

  • I wrote a while back about Shing Yin Khor and Jeeyon Shim were Kickstarting an interactive game, with prompts to be delivered by email (and physical ephemera sent to high-tier backers), under the title of A Field Guide To Memory. I hadn’t mentioned that the Kickstarter overfunded, that other creators were brought in (and paid!) to enrich the story, and that gameplay had started.

    With today’s email, we’re about two-thirds of the way through a deeply personal, deeply weird, and somewhat unsettling tale, wherein you adopt the persona of a scientific researcher whose mentor — cryptid field evolutionary scientist Elizabeth Lee — has been declared dead after going missing five years ago on a research trip. I have, for the past two and a half weeks, found myself bound up in my personal history with a woman that I never met, who never existed, who may or may not have definitively proved the existence of Dipodomys antilocapra, the Pronghorned Desert Rat.

    I have dug up memories of my own life and that of my in-game equivalent (who is looking for the evolutionary descendants of pterosaurs — they’re out there still, dammit, just like the coelacanth!) and at times been unable to separate them. The game has you write letters and journal entries, keep field notes related to Dr Lee’s work, research animal track patterns and bird calls, dredge up anger and betrayal, and possibly mentor members of the Little Citizen Scientists Club. I will not tell you how to play the game, as it’s highly individualized and therefore there is no right way to play, but I will say this: if given the opportunity, if you are in future days passed a PDF of gameplay prompts (or even physical artifacts like D. antilocapra antler casts) and you come across an email address?

    It works. Send the email. The only thing that isn’t real, as near as I can tell, is the address shown for the Institute for Theoretical Evolutions in Bethesda, Maryland. The Pronghorned Desert Rat, the other cryptids, the bureaucrats keeping you from Dr Lee’s notes and artifacts, the letters from her students and colleagues and lovers? All real, every bit of it, even the parts that are fiction. Especially the parts that are fiction.

    If you’d like to learn more — and perhaps end up with more questions than answers — search the hashtag #FieldGuideToMemory. If nothing else, you’ll see some breathtaking photos of the very lovely artifacts that players are creating as we delve into mystery and self-revelation at a rate of one prompt per day for 20 days.

Okay, have a great rest of the day, and tell the doggo(s) in your life that they are very good dogs because they’re all very good dogs.

Spam of the day:

I tried to find you on google maps, but I couldn’t,


This Should Be My Last Day Of Restricted Hand Usage

Know what will involve little typing and hasn’t been done for a while? Spam roundup!

Spams of the day:

I have a company is a reliable cabinet installers Glendale Az

I might be slightly interested if I lived in Arizona and needed cabinets, but your alleged email address is a modified version of “David Duke” so fuck off.

I like MojoHeadz.

In the immortal words of MC Frontalot’s friend Little Timmy, Okay, dunno know who that is.

I would let you fuck me if you was here

Good to know?

It is very easy to funk up your interior or make a fashionable design.

I have all the funk in my interior design that I require, thanks.

remedies for itching

Unless you have a better way to get to that one spot in the middle of my back I can’t reach with the lotion, you’re not of any use to me.

My good friend Alex was devastated the day her mother nearly died. But she never could have guessed that battling this traumatic experience would cause her mom to suffer from humiliating “pee leaks” for years.

Gotta say, I was not prepared for the downshift from nearly died to excess peeing.

Hi, this is Jenny. I am sending you my intimate photos as I promised

Hi Jenny, or should I say “Brole”, when I run you tinyurl through a link expander, it sets off all these alarms and flashing lights that say NO. Is it supposed to do that?

This E-mail lottery was sponsored by International software organization, Your e-mail address was attached to the lucky number that was how your E-mail won the lump sum amount.

Are you the person that teaches conversational English to the guy that’s always calling and tells me This is call from IRS Internal REvenue Service, you are arrested as fraud? And yes, he somehow always pronounces REvenue with an extra capital letter.

Get discounts on prescriptions and other expenses with your Medicare Plus* Card

Godsdammit, how many of you idiots do I have to tell that you have to wait another 15 years before you try to Medicare scam me. I’m not old enough for Medicare yet!

Okay, hopefully that will keep the spammers happy for a bit (47 spams collected since yesterday’s post, 3 since I started this post).

Last Week Was A Wash

And the start of this week will largely be the same, sorry. Ortho doc says no lasting damage and doesn’t need to see me again, but I have to go easy on my right hand/wrist so I’m cutting down typing for another day or two. Network is back, snow is largely gone, EMS work turned out better than I expected, so that’s all right.

But I can’t bear to give you nothing today, so please enjoy Gemma Correll’s contribution at The Nib today, which had me laughing so hard I woke up my dog, who was snoozing behind me¹. For that matter, Maki Naro has a great piece up as well on the mutations/new strains of COVID-19 that is as neat a piece of science comicking as I’ve seen this year so far.

Spam of the day:

A new study from Harvard Scientists has revealed that ONE of the following foods is linked to combating Alzheimer’ s and dementia. Can you guess which it is? 1. Red wine 2. Fish 3. Avocados 4. Clams

One of those is a singular food, one is booze, and two are broad animal classifications with almost limitless species variations. I’m going to guess 5. You guys are full of shit.

¹ This is half faithful hound routine (particularly considering she tends to keep spindly legs and/or tail right behind the casters of my office chair, a position of extreme hazard) and half recognition of the fact that one of the heating ducts runs directly under the floor of my office right behind my chair and thus it’s a warm spot for napping. She wags hi, by the way.

Yesterday Was Just A Delight

12 hour network and cable outage, snow, and after dinner I wound up in the local ER with a wrist injury because these things never happen during daylight when you could go to a walk-in clinic.

I’ve got a brace on and I’m largely typing one handed, with instructions for rest and elevation for the next 48 hours minimum, so no posts until I’ve cleared whatever the ortho doc says later today. If I have to restrict typing and computer use, it’ll be work that comes first.

Thanks for your patience.

Network Outage Due To Winter Storm

If I can post today, I will. If not, we’ll try again tomorrow. ¯\_(?)_/¯

Sorry Folks, Got To Take A Skip Day

EMS stuff came up. Nothing earth-shattering, but time-dependent. See you tomorrow.

Trust Randall To Find A Simple Way To Explain It

I speak, needless to say of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna which are helping the fight against the novel coronavirus.

The idea of vaccines has always been simple — we’ll give you a tiny bit of what causes the disease, not enough to make you sick, but enough to teach your body how to fight it — even if we’ve sacrificed accuracy for comprehension. But how to discuss this new generation of vaccines, where we convince your body to make that
tiny bit? What analogy could possibly serve?

Death Stars, naturally. I do feel bad for that one guy from Construction Crew B in panel 17. I don’t feel bad at all for befuddled Darth Vader in panel 29.

In other news:

  • Ever since David Morgan-Mar (PhD, LEGO®©™etc) got de-jobbed ’bout two years back, he’s been trying his hand¹ at a number of things; kudos to Australia for having the kind of social safety net that he has the opportunity to do this without worrying about dying from some hideous disease for the crime of being unemployed. Today, he announced another endeavour, one that you might want to take advantage of in these days of kids being thrown into a situation where the education is largely ad-hoc:

    I’ve signed up as a teacher on Outschool, an online teaching platform, and today I listed my first class. It’s a one-off class on Human Vision and Colour Perception, for students aged 12-14 years. If you have (or know) children of this age who might like to learn this stuff, please feel free to sign up for a class! It’s taught via Zoom and is available to students all around the world. Here’s a link to the class. I’m currently offering two time slots in a couple of weeks, but will open up more slots as demand allows. I’m also planning to add other classes on different topics, so you could follow my teacher profile too, if you like.

    Impressively, given that Morgan-Mar is in the Far Antipodes, he found a daylight time for himself (9:00am in Sydney) that will work well for many folks around the world: 5:00pm EST translates to times between 1:00pm and 6:30pm in the Western Hemisphere, and pretty reasonable through the Pacific coast of Asia (7:00am in Tokyo and Seoul, 6:00am as far west as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore; 11:00am in New Zealand). 10:00pm in London or 11:00pm in the western half of Europe might be acceptable, but probably anybody between Athens and Jakarta will probably have to wait to see if he’s willing to do a class at 5:00pm Sydney time.

  • We at Fleen have discussed the ability of comics to provide scientific literacy in the past, pointing to the likes of Lucas Landherr/Dante Shepherd, Maki Naro, Darryl Cunningham, Cathy Leamy, and more². To that, we can add a collective effort from some former grad students at University of Wisconsin-Madison (together known as JKX Comics), who are Kickstarting an anthology about STEAM research. Here’s where I have to throw in a disclaimer: the named creator of this campaign and the J in JKX Comics is Dr Jaye Gardiner, who is a friend of mine from Comics Camp; she’s also figuring out how to cure cancer, which is just the baseline level of awesome you tend to get from Camp folks.

    Gaining STEAM!: Illuminating Research Through Art will be seven comic books in color, adding up to about 200 pages, spanning the full range of STEAM fields: microbes! DNA! squirrels! and more! It funded in about five hours yesterday, is currently over 200% funded, and according to the ol’ FFF mk2, is on track to US$22K to 33K (or about 6x to 9x goal) by the time it’s done in a month. Give this one a good look, and point the science-intrigued in your life to JKX Comics for more.

  • Finally, it’s cold through much of the country, particularly in places that aren’t used to extreme cold. Spare a good thought or two for the folks in Texas who’ve lost power because deregulation is now allowing price-gouging at the utility level, and if you’re hunkered down right about now: stay warm, stay dry, do not bring grills, heaters driven by combustion, or generators indoors, and keep your faucets at a trickle so your pipes don’t freeze. And whatever willfully truthless shitbags might try to tell you this disproves global warming, Randall would like you to know better.

Spam of the day:

Best Hair Loss Treatment | Worldwide Delivery

Since I’m now double-vaccinated (woo hoo! Dolly shot!), I’m getting stuff done that I’ve put off. We mentioned the dentist and I went to the doctor yesterday, and tomorrow I get a haircut because right now my hair is long enough to get tangled in my moustache. But do tell me about your hair-loss scam, I’m fascinated.

¹ Just a little hand joke. Keep moving, folks.

² I seem to recall a pair of guys named Randall and David, for example.