The webcomics blog about webcomics


Small things I found amusing today.

  • Readers of this page know that I dig everything Erika ‘n’ Matt do over at Oh Joy, Sex Toy, but of late I’ve come to have a particular appreciation for one part of their work. The reviews are still helpful, the guest comics about the wide range of human experience still valuable and enlightening, their educational work still invaluable.

    But lately they’ve been absolutely killing it on the funny, and I am so here for it. No prize for guessing who the mysterious contributor to today’s comic is, for surely that disguise is impenetrable¹.

  • Irony of ironies, Ryan Estrada was actually banned with respect to Banned Book Club, in a manner of speaking. Tell us the story, Ryan:

    I just learned the National Library of Korea, the 76 year old fortress that protects 800 year old foundational documents of Korean history through multiple dynasties, also has [a copy of ]Banned Book Club.

    And it’s two blocks from the last leg of my bike trail route.

    Guess where I’m going?

    I’ll be almost 500 miles and almost zero showers into the trip at that point, so I proooobably won’t introduce myself this time around.

    Got a stack of these ready to slip into any books I spot in the wild.

    But it was not to be:

    Wow, I’m not allowed in the National Library. Need an appointment, and can’t get one without my passport. Amazing. I didn’t realize this place was so locked down. Our silly book’s protected like a national treasure (There’s no treasure map on the back)

    Wow, wait, this means I was banned by the Korean government from reading Banned Book Club* this is the best day of my life.

    *because I wasn’t carrying my ID

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¹ Ahem.

Fleen Book Corner: My Own World

Mike Holmes has been doing a lot of work in comics, from illustrating graphic adaptations of Tui Sutherland’s Wings Of Fire series to collaborating with Gene Luen Yang on the six-part Secret Coders graphic novel/programming primers. But he hasn’t yet done a full story of his own, until now.

Holmes has produced one of the most affecting portal fantasy stories I’ve ever read in My Own World; as is common the story type, the hero (a not terribly bad off but disaffected youth) finds a way into a fabulous world away from his problems. You’ve seen it a million times before, the Narnia series being the ur-example.

But protagonist Nathan isn’t in a world of fantasy beasts and people and great quests. In his realm there’s him and … not much else, really. Time doesn’t pass, others aren’t there, there’s a primordial goo he can shape into constructs or even facsimile life, but it’s basically all him. He’s not escaping to adventure, he’s escaping from the tedium and drudgery of not fitting in and (although he maybe doesn’t realize it) an incipient tragedy about to befall him. He has absolute mastery of everything that exists in his pocket universe — think hard-light Minecraft responding to his hands and thoughts — but there isn’t anybody there except him.

Before the actual magic, Holmes does maybe an even better job of portraying a different kind of magic — the everyday magic of a time a few decades ago when kids could roam as long as they were back when Mom said, there a trail through the woods might lead to a secret spot with gathered detritus to make it cool; Illicit fireworks or nudie mags a bonus. But secret hangouts in the woods only work if you’re there with friends and Nathan’s kind of short on those.

The tough kids and sorta-friends of his older brother, and the older brothers of his sorta-friends don’t really have time for him. His parents don’t really understand that setting him up on playdates doesn’t really work any more. And so he’s back to his own world, where everything stops except his hunger, leaving to make snack runs and return and heedless of the fact that he’s not where he’s supposed to be and returning anyway. There’s a sense of addiction to a place where reality is subject to whim that I don’t recall seeing before. Nathan’s not processing it in those terms from his POV, but it’s there.

And because Holmes is very, very good at storytelling, he’s not afraid to make Nathan a bit unpleasant, as surely almost all pre-teens are¹. He’s self-focused, worships his older brother (while ignoring Very Large Truths about him), and heedless of the feelings of others. Almost pure impulse and resentment at not getting to do what he wants to, Nathan rings true for anybody that remembers what they were like at nine or ten years old with an honest eye.

The escape has its cost once Nathan ends up back in the real world — the timeless time has to be paid for, and unpleasant truths he didn’t know (or tried to didn’t know) are still there. He can’t put them off, he can’t stop the wheeling of the world, he’s going to have to confront it and grow up.

My Own World is a deeply melancholy story, one best suited for readers that can look back on being Nathan’s age rather than actually being Nathan’s age. All of the awkwardness and discontent you remember feeling when much younger are brought to the fore and laid out for you to remember your own escapes into your own worlds, and how the things you sought to escape were still waiting for you when you returned.

My Own World is published by :01 Books, with words and pictures by Mike Holmes and color assists by Jason Fischer. It’s available wherever books and comics are found.

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¹ Teens bring their own unpleasantness to the table, but they aren’t the focus here.

Got A Little Something Special For You Today

Readers may recall that about a month ago we checked in on Doug Wilson — animator, comicker, and about to be Kickstarter — and his now-completed story, Jack Astro. I told you at that time that the campaign to print Jack Astro would go up in two days and to check it out. Some of you might have had some difficulty doing so, as Wilson explained to me:

I actually had to delay the kickstarter because of [reason]. Apologies for any confusion.

The Jack Astro Kickstart actually went up this past Monday, but the delay hasn’t hurt things — it funded in about six hours and is presently sitting around 250% of goal. Even better, to make up for the confusion, Wilson sent along an exclusive one-page comic he drew to promote the book (you can see it up top, or embiggen by clicking that last link), as well as a three-page section and process art.

Everybody thank Doug, and if you like what you see, you’ve got another 26 days to get in on the campaign.

Jack Astro: pages 136, 137, and 138.

Initial thumbnail. Pencils of the same pages.

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Fleen Book Corner: Jukebox

This review is going to be a bit briefer than many of my past reviews; it’s because of other stuff in my life, not because the book doesn’t deserve more words. In fact, I’ll say that it deserves all the words (some of which are spoilers), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Jukebox is the sophomore graphic novel from Nidhi Chanani; full disclosure, she’s a friend of mine and we have spent time at Comics Camp in the past and hopefully will do so again in the future. When her first graphic novel, Pashmina, came out, I said:

[W]hen the worst I can say of a book is that I wish it had another three dozen pages to spend on its protagonist, you’re doing pretty damn well, and debut stories aren’t given the resources of proven creators. I expect that Chanani’s next book will reflect an increase in confidence from the market and the pages that will come with it.

I’m going to modestly declare, called it; Jukebox gets the pages needed to let the story breathe and as a result it’s a more satisfying reading experience. It’s also got one of the most unusual structures I’ve ever seen in a complete story, in that there isn’t really an antagonist¹.

Let me back up.

Jukebox is the story of Shaheen, San Francisco tween who’s relationship with her father Giovanni is defined by music. He’s a vinyl collector with eclectic tastes and determined that his daughter grow to love the depth and breadth of music as he does. Every song has a story, and a backstory, and context and history and details and, and, and … and Shaheen thinks that maybe Dad could take a bit of interest in what she likes. Anything other than the latest, timeless acquisition. It’s a point of friction between them.

Until he disappears. As does his vinyl dealer. They’re traced to a room with a mysterious jukebox that’s been designed to play whole albums rather than singles, and Shaheen finds herself and her cousin Tannaz flung through time and space as she plays her Dad’s favorites. He was lost somewhere relevant to whatever was playing on the jukebox when he was whisked away, and has no way to return unless Shahi and Naz can find him.

So if Shahi’s the hero of this story — which isn’t afraid to make her alternately timid, stubborn, scared, and a bit selfish — and Naz is the sidekick and Dad is the princess to be rescued, who’s the villain? Earl, the vinyl store owner who created the jukebox and has been using it to plunder the past of valuable first pressings to sell? Not really, he’s misguided.

The real antagonist is the overly obsessive focus that both Earl and Giovanni have for their music collections, which their lives revolve around in different ways, which alienate them from others. It’s not greed so much as it is excessive fanboyism, and if that’s not a lesson for the modern culture, I’m not sure what is². It’s only by loosening up, finding other interests, becoming broader people that Gio and Earl can put their lives back in balance. Their health, too, as the jukebox carries a cost to use it — it steals your hearing in one of the great ironic punishments. Seriously, this is the genie in the lamp ironically fulfilling your wish territory, which never turns out well unless you’re a sociopath.

Uh, maybe don’t share that last link with any of the 10-14 year olds that you give the book to. But definitely give them the book and an afternoon to devour it. They’ll learn about some key points in history (that don’t revolve around white dudes — that’s part of why Shahi and Naz don’t find Gio in their first four or five jaunts), about taking care of vinyl, and about how you can love somebody and still be totally exasperated at them at the same time.

All of it is wrapped up in Chanani’s open, inviting, slightly cartoony and very vibrant art that shifts color palette a half dozen times to portray a half dozen different moods. You’ll finish reading and want to put on a favorite playlist — just don’t go so loud you hurt your ears.

Jukebox, with words and pictures by Nidhi Chanani, is published by :01 Books and continues their long streak of excellent graphic novels. It’s available at book and comic shops everywhere, and maybe even a record store or two.

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¹ To those confidently stating a compelling story must have an antagonist I have one word: Totoro.

² Honestly, it reminds me a bit of the heedless interest in food that Chihiro’s parents have at the start of Spirited Away. Her journey to redeem them has more than a few parallels here. Miyazaki’s influence reaches far.

Congratulations To All The Eisner Winners

And, as much as it pains me to say it, it looks like Jerry was right. Not that Ryan Estrada can’t win an Eisner, mind you, just that he didn’t this time around and when your competition in the category is Adrian Tomine, that’s not such a hard loss¹.

If you want to watch the ceremony, it’s here, and if you want to just read down the list of winners, you can find that here.

Surprisingly absolutely zero people, Gene Luen Yang was the big winner, taking two Eisners for the collected edition of Superman Smashes The Klan (Best Publication For Kids (Ages 9-12), Best Adaptation From Another Medium), and one for Dragon Hoops (Best Publication For Teens (Ages 13-17)). Dragon Hoops was also nominated for Best Writer/Artist and Best Reality Based Work but you know what? Dude’s mantelpiece was crowded before last Friday night, no need to bounce the rubble.

Other web/indy comics folk that came away with spinny globes include Ben Passmore for Sports Is Hell (Best Single Issue), Jillian Tamaki for Our Little Kitchen (Best Publication for Early Readers (Up To Age 8)), Derf Backderf for Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio (Best Reality Based Work), Simon Hanselmann for Seeds And Stems (Best Graphic Album — Reprint) and also Crisis Zone (Best Webcomic).

Congratulations to all the winners, and if Fleen faves like Ryan North, Ngozi Ukazu, and Lily Williams didn’t come up winners, you just have to look at who they were competing against (Yang, Yang, and Yang, respectively).

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¹ And what the heck — they made up and are buds now.

Nearly Upon Us

Hey folks, a quick note before we get started. Something’s come up in my life that is going to be taking a lot of mental cycles for a while. I’m going to likely be a bit less verbose than normal until it gets worked out. Nothing bad, just … big. Thanks for your understanding.

Spam of the day:

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The ocean? You mean where fish poop? No thank you.

If You’re Reading This, The WordPress Update Worked

If not, then I have more work to do. Technology today, webcomics tomorow.

Fleen Book Corner: Catching Up

Readers of this page will recall that on more than one occasion I have noted how Diamond (until recently, the only distributor that the comics industry allowed itself to have) absolutely refused to get me books that had been on order. Sometimes, the better part of a year would go by, much to the consternation of myself and the staff of my local comics shop (who I hold blameless in this fiasco).

Thus, somewhat recently, books that have been in release for a really long damn time have come into my possession and I’d like to talk about some of them. Since they’ve been long out in the world and other people have talked about them, these will be somewhat briefer reviews than normally found here. Oh, and spoilers may abound.

  • Evan Dahm’s The Harrowing Of Hell first came onto my radar in the summer of 2018, and I made a habit of asking Dahm about it at MoCCA each year. It was delayed by COVID for some months from the appropriate Lenten season last year¹, finally releasing about eleven months ago.

    Given that it’s a 2000 year old story — accounting for those days between the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Resurrection — maybe waiting not quite a year isn’t such a big deal. On the other hand, it’s such a gorgeous book, I reserve the right to be annoyed. Dahm’s taken what is often a triumphant story — various apocrypha tell of Jesus tearing things up in Hell, rebuking the fallen angels, and redeeming the souls of the righteous — and turned it into a cautionary tale.

    The mocking of demons echoes the cries of Jesus’s own followers: Blessed, Hosana, this is the Son of God. Their message is one of twisted praise, predicting how his message will be corrupted in the years to come: he will be remembered not as a teacher and storyteller, but as a conquering king, bringing punishment and retribution rather than redemption. The greatest damnation that the fallen can offer Jesus is to grant his name power and glory rather than humility.

    The book is done in stark black-and-white (with the occasional splash of red in the robes of Sanhedrin or the uniforms of Roman soldiers) in the scenes of Jesus’s ministry, and given a lurid blood-red fill during the descent; there’s not a bit of white on the Hell pages, except to depict Jesus’s figure. It’s a first-rank mood-setter, as well as drawing the eye to exactly where Dahm wants it.

    Regardless of one’s own belief system, it is not possible to move in Western society without acknowledging the influence of the Christian faith; here’s a story that even many Christians don’t know, and those that do will find a very different interpretation, one that casts a very different light on that historical and pervasive influence.

  • Dahm also released Island Book 2: The Infinite Land this year, a sequel to a quiet, contemplative story that’s reminiscent of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. In that review, I noted that in the many sequels Dorothy would return to Oz and get her companions back together to meet the next challenge, and in Island Book 2 Sola does the same. Like Dorothy, Sola is hailed as a liberator in a way that isn’t really warranted (witch-killer in Dorothy’s case; monster slayer in Sola’s), and given power and authority (Dorothy as a Princess of Oz, Sola as a leader of her people in a new nation, one that is rapidly moving forward in technology²).

    But Dorothy didn’t find one of her peers hellbent on turning Oz into an empire, determined to sweep all unknowns away in case they became threats later. She didn’t have one of her companions fall into the dream of empire. Dorothy remained an innocent, Sola is nothing but doubts and wondering if she’s unleashed a great plague upon the world in the form of her own people.

    We’ve left Oz behind and found ourselves in a place more like the Empire of Sahta, and it’s going to take Sola a hell of a lot of work to stop what is starting to look like colonization, pogroms, and genocide. Island Book 3 is going to have a tightope to walk, and I know that Dahm’s up to the challenge.

  • There might not be anybody better suited to adapting an elliptical, almost Möbius-shaped story like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five into graphical form than Ryan North. He gets nonlinear storytelling and the sometimes counterintuitive way that something that happens here/now can be intimately linked with something that happens there/then. Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, and having pictures (by Albert Monteys) to navigate the branching paths is a tremendous aid.

    One of the first page spreads shows Billy Pilgrim at the various key stages of his life, and the way he looks at each age on this timeline go a long way to demystifying when Billy lands as he jumps back and forth within his life. We know where the story is heading, because Vonnegut, North, and Monteys tell us almost from the beginning (after, as it turns out, a brief few pages where North notes that much of what occurs in the book actually happened to Vonnegut), but the journey is still full of surprises and despite that.

    Slaughterhouse Five is rightly regarded as one of the most brilliant, most important novels ever written; this new version of Slaughterhouse Five for a different medium can stand next to the original with head held high.

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¹ You got a horror book, you want that out in October. Book about what happened when Jesus threw down the gates to Hell? You want that out at Easter.

² The better analogy might be the leap from agrarianism to an industrial revolution between Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend Of Korra.

SDCC 2021 Programming@Home

Well here we are, about three weeks into July, and San Diego Comic Con is again not happening in person. Given what was known back in the spring when CCI organizers needed to make a call, it was the right decision. Given what is happening now with more contagious variants of COVID spreading like wildfire among the unvaccinated¹, it’s a damn good thing they made the decision that they made. So it’s online for SDCC again, with a full list of participating exhibitors (whatever that means; it wasn’t too clearly defined last year) releasing on Thursday, to coincide with the first full day of programming.

Speaking of, let’s look at what’s coming to a video stream near you. Like last year, these panels appear to have been entirely pre-recorded and will premiere at the date/time given (all times PDT). Also, I’ll note that thing appear bit sparser than last year², in that a slate of in-person programming was well in development by the time lockdowns started; looks like they just started with less this year.


Teaching And Learning With Comics
3:00pm — 4:00pm

Not just another panel on the educational potential of comics, but a panel on the educational potential of comics featuring Kelly Sue Deconnick and Matt Fraction, which ought to be real good. Joining them in the discussion will be Peter Carlson (Green Dot Public Schools), Susan Kirtley (Portland State University), and Antero Garcia (Stanford University).

ComiXology Presents The 33rd Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

Last year, as I recall, it was just about an hour start to finish on the prerecorded announcement of winners. Certainly nobody’s agitating for a return to four-plus hour marathons, but two hours seems like it could allow things to breathe a little better. Phil Lamarr returns for hosting duties, along with Sergio Aragonés presenting this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.


Launching Your First Kickstarter
11:00am — noon

Seems like something called almost exactly this is on deck every year, and weirdly it never features the same folks twice. This one gets props for including Kickstarter’s director of comics outreach, Oriana Leckert, and some prominent cartoonists who’ve used Kickstarter of late: Tina Horn, Eric Powell, Afua Richardson, and the irreplaceable Jeff Smith, along with the director of brand, editorial (not 100% sure what that means) for Skybound Entertainment, Arune Singh.

Keenspot Turns 21! Ninjas & Robots–Junior High Horrors–The D Ward Spotlight
1:00pm — 2:00pm

This is how you know it’s a weird year. Keenspot always gets programmed late in the day on Sunday, almost at the very end of SDCC, but this year they’re in the middle of Saturday. Weird. Anyway, it’s still Keenspot, probably not going to look very different from the previous 20 iterations.

First You March—Then You Run-Celebrating Congressman John Lewis’ Legacy
4:00pm — 5:00pm

It’s been a year since we lost John Lewis, and six years since he cosplayed as his younger self and led a march of young folks at the San Diego Convention Center; you can’t get a costume more authentic than the same damn coat you wore when you were nearly beaten to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday for the audacity of wanting to vote.

Of course, Congressman Lewis’s March trilogy is a masterpiece and though he has left us, he and his collaborators were well into the creation of the sequel: Run, which starts the story of Lewis’s quest for elected office. Author (and onetime Lewis legislative aide) Andrew Aydin and co-illustrator L Fury will be joined by Lewis’s nephew, LA County firefighter Anthony Dixon, moderated by professor Qiana Whitted.

Given everything that’s going on in the country today, this is probably the most important panel of the weekend. Tune in, and then call every elected official that depends on your vote and demand that they spend as much time and effort as necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.


Comics Made Me Who I Am Today: Kids Graphic Novelists and Their Influences
11:00am — noon

Ooooh, there’s some good folks on this one: Nidhi Chanani (whose newest graphic novel, Jukebox, will be getting a review here soon), Jerry Craft, Betsy Peterschmidt, Dana Simpson, and Judd Winick (Hilo) in discussion with Cartoon Art museum curator Andrew Farago. Bet there’s a lot of happiness in this one.

The Adventure Zone And Bubble: Podcasts To Comics
noon — 1:00pm

Yeah, yeah, McElroys, got it. Bubble was a wickedly smart podcast, and the bits of the graphic novel adaptation I’ve seen — with art by the stellar Tony Cliff — hint at a really good adaptation. Not a straight copy but telling the story in the way best suited to a different medium. Cliff will be there along with Bubble creator Jordan Morris and adapter Sarah Morgan; from the TAZ side you’ve got Travis and Griffin McElroy and illustrator Carey Pietsch (it’s been a delight watching her grow on the series), and they’re all wrangled by Alison Wilgus, who edited both projects and thus maybe knows more about adapting podcasts to graphic novels than anybody else.

Comic-Con@Home is listed as running 23-25 July, and that’s when they have pretty full days of programming, but there’s actually panels as early as Wednesday the 21st. See the programming page for more info.

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¹ Making up something like 99% of the current infections, and closer to 99.6% of serious illness/hospitalizations. I was almost used to taking patients to the ED and not seeing signs about which rooms were subject to special isolation precautions, and now they’re popping up again — and I’m in a state with a pretty high rate of total population vaccinated, an even higher rate of 12-and-up vaccinated, and pushing 90% of seniors vaccinated. We’re not taking in the very elderly for COVID any more; it’s people in their 30s and 40s who are otherwise healthy. Get your godsdamned shots, people.

² Want to know how I know it’s a different process? The long-runnning and much beloved Best & Worst Manga panel is missing! Maybe somebody decided it just doesn’t work without a live audience of howler monkeys with opinions (it totally works without them).

In The Best Squirrel Girl Fashion, He Made An Enemy Into A Friend

I refer, of course, to this, this, this, and this. My only regret in life is that the reading referenced in the last link wasn’t recorded because I desperately want to see that in action.

But Ryan Estrada is nothing if not a magnificently generous human being, and he asked himself, perhaps I don’t need to have this conflict with Jerry. And thus:

Hey @fleenguy I taught Jerry how to make comics and we told one another that we both think the other is capable of winning an Eisner. We believe in each other now. It was a very touching moment. Jerry’s cool.

Doreen Green couldn’t have done it better, and we at Fleen welcome Jerry’s transformation from villain (or at least antihero) to friend (with the acknowledgment that future writers might retcon this). Glad I no longer need to have a nemesis. Go forth, Jerry, and make comics. Make so many, and so good, that you do win an Eisner some day, and hopefully you’ll remember Ryan Estrada’s name when you give your speech.

In other news, Diamond finally got some weeks-overdue books to my shop¹, so look for some reviews in the coming week. In fact, I’m going to get a head start on reading, so we’ll pick this up again on Monday. Have a good weekend, everybody!

Spam of the day:

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¹ While not managing to get this week’s releases to me. I need to get Bubble so I can break out the LASER DONG pin!