The webcomics blog about webcomics

I Picked The Wrong Day To Come Back To Writing

On account of I do the majority of my blog writing in midafternoon, and against all past historical precedent, it’s clear skies for today’s solar eclipse. I needed to ease back in anyway, so let’s do this briefly, yeah? Since I’ve been gone, there have been two things I noticed in my greatly-reduced webcomics-attention-paying:

  • Ugly Hill! Oh good glob, Ugly Hill! There’s nothing at that link, and even the Wayback Machine has most all of the art missing, but Paul Southworth has brought it back via his Patreon:

    ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m re-releasing “Ugly Hill” from the beginning for $5 Patreon subscribers starting Monday, 8/7/17!

    Add this to the recent revival of Lake Gary and we’re getting what all that is good and right in the world tells us we deserve: hideous Southworthian creatures behaving terribly. And it will go on forever; at five updates a week, it may take four or five years to get through the entirety of Ugly Hill.

  • The latest Iron Circus anthology sent out its call for submissions. FTL, Y’all takes as its theme the prompt of a cheap faster-than-light drive — like two hundred dollars cheap — and asks for stories of the situations that result. As readers of this page will recall Iron Circus Benevolent Dictator For Life Spike Trotman runs successful projects that pay (including, historically, bonuses based on how the Kickstarts go), but that she does not suffer fools gladly.

    Got a great idea for the anthology you want considered? Great! Read the damn FAQ first so you don’t waste your time. Then read the damn submission guidelines so you don’t waste Spike’s time, or that of project editor Amanda Lefrenais. I can pretty much promise you that the best looking and most original story in the known universe will be kicked to the reject pile if you don’t follow the guidelines. Submissions close 15 September, and contributors will be announced 15 October.

Okay, time to observe the majesty of the universe.

Spam of the day:

Find Your Perfect Credit Card!

Wow. They claim to be Credit One Bank in the images included in the email, but can’t bring themselves to maintain that fiction in the return address. They’re really just a partner of Credit One Bank! (they’re not)

Stepping Away, Again

William “Bill” Pierce died in his sleep over the weekend; he was as welcoming of the moustached goofball that married his baby girl as ever I could have hoped during the 25-plus years I knew him.

I don’t believe we get an existence after this one, but I’m pretty sure he did, and I’m certain the thought of resuming a certain acquaintance brought him great comfort over the past sixteen months.

I’ll be gone the next little while. Take care of each other while I’m away, yeah?

Fleen Book Corner: Spinning

[Editor’s note: The inestimable Gina Gagliano at :01 Books sent a review copy of Tillie Walden’s Spinning that I received just after San Deigo Comic Con, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s due for release in about a month’s time (12 September, to be precise), and I normally wait until the ten-days-to-two-weeks prior to run a review of a forthcoming book.

But heck, Kirkus and Junior Library Guild and Publishers Weekly have had theirs out for weeks now¹, about the same time Walden was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly. So early or not, I’m diving in. Needless to say, you may find spoilers ahead.]

I find myself with thoughts that so completely mirror an earlier book that I feel compelled to quote some of what I wrote three years back:

[I]t’s a story that hurts in a real, tangible, maybe-necessary-maybe-not way. I suspect that if I’d been an almost-teen girl at any point in my life, it would ache and resonate even more. Getting to the truths below the surface of the One Summer in question is like having to peel away a bandage and finally let the healing of the wound below finish up.

That was in reference to This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki; I’m years further from being anything resembling an almost-teen girl, but Spinning is helping me understand what that point in life (and the half-dozen years since) are like. Which is not to say that it’s the same story, not at all.

Spinning is autobiographical, it’s telling a story that bumps up to just a few years ago in Walden’s life (the book functionally ends when she’s 16 or so; she’s just recently turned 21), and it works in a hazy, dreamlike, spare fashion (some pages entirely lack panel borders, with huge swaths of white space and widely-separated blocks of text and images making the moment hang




forever) to act less as memoir², and more to serve as an emtion-delivery mechanism. 400 pages of Walden’s personal history digested, I can’t tell you more than the broadest outline of when things happened to her.

Although presented linearly, I’m left with an impression of Walden’s life that’s more akin to the skating diagrams shown during the first instance of her testing to determine her competition level — swoops and swirls, crossing her own path, which suddenly disappears and reappears further along after a jump.

The curlicue patterns in the ice may as well be her life’s path: intense shyness and dissatisfaction followed by a cross-country move; solitary nature exacerbated by having to adjust to a new home, new school, new teammates and rivals, and even a new vocabulary of skating³. All of which were eclipsed by the effort of dealing with the fact that she’s gay and wondering if she’ll ever be allowed to love somebody openly.

That lack of straight-line storytelling leads to a potentially unreliable narration — there’s just enough sketches of a schoolgirl bully to wonder what really happened (and when), for instance — which is not a drawback. Walden indicates in her afterword that she intentionally did not seek out any reference material, photos, or recollections of others in making the book, preferring to get to an essential truth over a literal one. This is maybe the greatest storytelling strength in Spinning.

I may not have a clear understanding of what point in Walden’s life the Skate Moms at the rink — Walden’s own mother is shown as variously distant, disinterested in her skating career, and complaining of its costs — decided to be total bitches to her about paying for rink time, but I am acutely aware of the depth and breadth of how that incident — and the others in her life — made her feel.

Some of those feelings were imposed on her, some of those feelings propelled her or paralyzed her, some of those feelings that she may never have shared before this book. The emotional charge is such that, more than once, I was left gasping after a too-long period of not breathing, not daring to disturb a years-and-miles distant Walden in a moment of crisis.

I used the word dreamlike earlier, and the more I think on it, the more I think it’s the most precise word to use. Spinning leaves you in that same state as you’re in when waking from a dream and everything is bright and perfectly detailed in that moment before it fades, leaving impressions. It’s a story where you don’t start at the beginning and move to the end; you start at an arbitrary point and then you get dragged in and filled in on the bits you need when necessary. I won’t tell you everything, the story whispers, just true things.

Spinning is transformative. It the story of one person, with just enough true things to make its points, some of them related to skating but most of them not. It requires you to open yourself up to the truth of being Tillie Walden, at the expense of not being solely you, just a little. Take the leap, find yourself in other shoes (err, skates), and you’ll be different for having invited in somebody else’s truth for a short while.

Spam of the day:

Need Medigap?

What sets this scam for fake Medicare coverage for senior citizens apart from others of its ilk is the photo embedded. A guy that’s meant to look like a go-getter of a senior, with a don’t screw with me, medical-industrial complex look on his face instead looks like a bald, poorly dressed, constipated Larry Bud Melman.

¹ As of this writing, there are 33 reviews on Goodreads.

² That is, a recounting of these are the things that happened at these points in my life.

³ New Jersey, where Walden lived until the end of fifth grade, and Texas, where she moved, belonged to different competitive organizations with different standards and criteria.

As well as her critically-lauded webcomic, On A Sunbeam.

I Refuse To Believe This Is A Coincidence

In the week since I declared a return of the Six-F, I’ve had a gratifying response from readers (and friends of readers, and friends of friends of readers …) who have sent me their receipts from donating to The Trevor Project to support LGBTQ youth in crisis.

Thankfully, the week has seen a broad swath of society push back against the sloppy, steamy tweets of the man inexplicably elected to the presidency, and his pathetic little tantrum against some of the most vulnerable Americans seems to have stalled. I believe with all my heart that’s because people are willing to say No and back it up with the money to fight this unrelenting assholery.

Last time around, The Trevor Project saw US$305 in reader donations over two months, rounded up to US$500 for the match, because Round Numbers are good. This time, in only a week’s time, you donated US$420 — exactly one weedsworth, no way that’s a coincidence — which I will be rounding up to the classiest of all class money amounts: We lookin’ at a six hundo.

One other thing: I neglected this time to contact donors and get explicit directions on how to identify them in this post so I will only be using two names (one included explicit directions on how to be identified, the other self-identified on social media); the others are going to be listed by initials, but anybody that donated can contact me and I’ll update the list.

Thank you then, to (in no particular order) LP, DH, LB, MV, MC, Marian Call and her LA concertgoers, and Pierre Lebeaupin. The donation is being made in the name of Donald Trump, so that he can be sent a nice thank you card for sparking some good to offset the monumental damage that he’s done.

Spam of the day:

Visit the 20th Largest Island on Earth!

I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but that’s probably not how I would describe Ireland when spamming people with fake travel resources. Just sayin’.

Late Post, Good Reason

Namely, I was reading Abby Howard’s new graphic novel, Dinosaur Empire!¹. For those that are looking for a quick verdict: thumbs up. Waaaayyy up. Like, all the thumbs in the vicinity. If you in the near future hear about a vicious criminal attacking random people and hacking off their thumbs, it’s only because I need those thumbs to make them go up to indicate the degree to which this book is good.

Slightly longer version: Howard’s crafted a story around a broad topic (the entire history of dinosaurs and similar extinct critters which were not dinosaurs — spanning a range of 140 million years or so — without reducing it to bare facts. There’s a plot to it, as Ronnie (who scored a 0 on her fifth-grade dinosaurs quiz, and has until tomorrow to take it again or suffer a damaged academic future) learns (reluctantly at first, then with increasing interest) all about the evolution and extinction of archosaurs, sea reptiles, flying reptiles, mammals, plants, insects, and dinosaurs.

She’s disinterested at first — just skip ahead to the T rex, please! — but Ms Lernin wins her over. Ms Lernin is the eccentric (that means weirdo) former paleontologist that lives down the road (and who bears a striking resemblance to Howard herself) with a recycling bin that’s bigger on the inside and lets her travel to different points in time and space². By cycling through the various eras of the Mesozoic, Ronnie watches evolution in action and learns about ecological niches, convergent evolution, the phylogenetic tree, continental drift, global weather patterns, how large herbivores with armor probably means there’s large predators around, and feathers.

Glorious, colorful feathers, from early late Triassic protofeather fluff to fully–plumed nonavian dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous. We didn’t always know about warm-blooded feathered dinos, Ms Lernin tells us³, but that’s one of the joys of paleontology — we’re always figuring stuff out. There’s a joy of discovery that suffuses the entire book: new species to discover, new relationships to figure out, new behaviors to determine, and that fact that anything from cat-sized crocodylomorphs to the first snake can be considered cute (and in many cases, soft and fluffy).

The variety of creatures will engage readers of the target age group (and anybody that’s every been a member of the target age group, which let’s call 8-12 years old), and the repeated lessons told at each time period will subtly reinforce complex ideas. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is probably the best introductory, full-breadth book for teaching kids about dinosaurs and dinosaur-like animals.

Now give me your thumbs.

Spam of the day:

Dear Coffee-Drinker #2324,
As a thank you for your years of loyalty to Starbucks, we’re giving you a coupon for 5 complimentary-cups of Starbucks Cofee(Venti-Sized Cups Only)

I don’t drink coffee.

¹ Which is listed as volume 1 of the Earth Before Us series, but I can’t find anything on the publisher’s page to indicate what the subsequent books in the series would be: topic, publication schedule, creative team, nada.

It appears that Ms Howard will have a Reddit AMA on Monday, 7 August at noon EDT. Maybe somebody can ask her?

² Asked how this is possible, she shrugs and says Let’s just call it Science Magic. Science Magic also keeps Ms Lernin and Ronnie from drowning, dying from falls, getting squished, or eaten (but still requires them to run from wasps). Hooray for Science Magic!

³ And she points out some desert-dwelling varieties lost the need for feathers even after they evolved.

August Already? That’s Unpossible!

Well, I guess time continues forward at a rate of one minute per minute after all. Today being the first of the month, let me remind you that you have until 11:59pm EDT tomorrow, 2 August 2017, to email me a copy of your donation receipt to The Trevor Project, which I will match. Last time we raised US$500 in matching funds (rounded up from US$305) and I’d like to exceed that if at all possible this time around.

As of now, we’re at US$360 in receipts sent. If I could make a suggestion? All of the super cool Kickstarts that you’re backing right now? Pick one, and donate an amount equal to just the shipping charge. If just one out of every ten of you did that, we’d be into the thousands of dollars and my budget for the next month will be happily blown. I know that Fleen readers are, in general, the sort of people that would make Mr Rogers proud and happy. I know you’ve got this.

  • I didn’t know how much I wanted a Jess Fink guest comic at Oh Joy, Sex Toy until I saw it. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled as broadly as when I got to the panel that said, quote, SO you want to draw DOWNTOWN KISSES, followed by art tips to make oral sexytimes look better. Thanks, Jess, Erika, and Matt!
  • I confess, Chris Yates not boothing with Dumbrella for the comics shows the past couple of years means that I haven’t kept as close an eye on his Baffler! puzzles as I should. He just released a tranche of new ones, bringing the total number of brain-numbers up to three thousand, nine hundred and thirty-six. As Big Round Numbers tend to bring out Yates’s most extravagant work, look for the imminent Baffler! #4000 to feature about a dozen levels, multiple sub-puzzles, and a solving time measured in fortnights.
  • TCAF remains one of the very best shows on the continent, and it’s never too early to start planning for May 2018. News went out today by means of the Twitter machine that applications will be open starting Monday, 14 August, until the end of October. My experience? Lots more people want to exhibit than the Toronto Reference Library can accommodate, so get your applications in early is my advice. Sign up for their newsletter if you need a reminder to check out the process rules come Monday after next.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have to make a bookstore run to pick up Abby Howard’s new dinosaur book, Dinosaur Empire!, which releases today. Heck, yeah.

Spam of the day:

Can’t see tiny buttons? Get a senior phone

I’ma tell you exactly what I told the Medicaid scammer that called yesterday, thinking me much older than I am: I can see a church by daylight. Besides, aren’t there enlarged button dialer apps for all the phones now?

Arrivals And Departures

Hey there, how was your weekend? My wife learned how to make sauerkraut and we understand that it’s nearly past the fartsmelly stage of fermentation. Here’s some other things that have been going on of late.

Arriving: Readers of this page know that I love me some Digger by the entirely wonderful Ursula Vernon. Readers of this page will also recall that I really, really loved Vernon’s serialized novella, Summer In Orcus¹, which ran from September to December. It’s one of the best YA reads of the past decade for me, and I encourage you all to go check it out.

And, as of a couple of days ago, I urge you to purchase the physical item, something I’ve been eager for ever since it was announced back in March. The Summer In Orcus Kickstarter (words by T Kingfisher, pictures by Lauren Henderson, logistics by Sofawolf Press) is now up for your consideration, and I suggest you look most carefully at the tier that gets you a hardcover copy (for keeping) and a softcover copy (for giving … or maybe you’re more altruistic than I am towards your elementary school niece and will give away the hardcover). You have a month to get in on the campaign, with delivery slated for October; get in while the gettin’s good.

Departing: There’s a lot of critters in SIO: frogs and bears and wolves and wasps and weasels and birds … so, so many birds. A lot of them would feel right at home in Your Wild City, the exploration of flora and fauna and how they’ve adapted to the urban environment by the invaluable Rosemary Mosco and the inimitable Maris Wicks. At least, they would until today.

Dude to the demands of time on both of their careers of popularizing and interpreting science and nature via the medium of comics, Mosco and Wicks have decided to wrap up Your Wild City. It’s a sore loss, but there’s a wonderfully broad and weird archive that isn’t going anywhere. Thanks for all the comics explaining the birds, bugs, and beasties of our cityscapes, ladies!

Arriving and Departing: See, because elevators both come and go on a regular basis, like they’re helping Grover explain spatial concepts or other opposites, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Readers will recall that Kelly and Zach Weinersmith are collaborating on a book about technologies we expect to have Soonish, one being the idea of cheap lift capability to escape the gravity well.

A prime possibility for such cheap lift is the long-fictional, maybe-someday-real space elevator, which has great potential and only a few drawbacks. And you (for values of you that incudes iDevice users; Android coming soon) can now experience space elevators yourself, thanks to a new augmented reality app. Point your phone at the cover of the book (or an image of same) and you get to see a space elevator in action. Neat!

Spam of the day:

Steven Never Knew His Secretary Could Swallow (true story)

Steven was under the impression that she suffered from a lifelong disability, requiring feeding via a cannula implanted directly into her GI tract.

¹ Released under her alias T Kingfisher, which identity she uses for writings that are not strictly for kids. The books she releases as Ursula Vernon feature more hamsters and shrews and not much real danger.

For Some Sense, Let’s Head Across The Ocean

Shit is bananas these days, so let’s just step back and have some wisdom from Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin on the most hated part of modern computing. It relates to bandes dessinées web, promise.

Adobe just announced their intent to put Flash in end-of-life mode by the end of 2020: they will no longer update the plug-in or distribute it. Since no one will want to run vulnerable software, this will be nothing less than a death sentence for the venerable multimedia engine.

I came to not particularly like Flash: a few years ago, I was more than skeptical of Adobe’s insistence that Flash was appropriate everywhere, and was glad when they stopped their effort to try and push it on mobile devices. And its track record when it comes to security is abysmal. That being said, from a digital history perspective this means we will somehow need to find the means to preserve an enormous amount of digital culture that was originally published as Flash files; Homestar Runner, of course, but the list only begins there.

But one piece just made the jump (were they tipped off?): Yves Bigerel’s (better known as Balak) visionary creation, About Digital Comics¹, was just remastered using modern web technologies². Among the benefits: it is multi-language, with the language being automatically selected according to your browser’s language setting. Go rediscover this masterpiece, and along with it you can discover the Turbomedia creations that many people have been busy creating on that site in the meantime.

Speaking of Balak, I discovered on this occasion that the Internet video series he co-wrote, Les Kassos, has been fully dubbed in English and is now available on Vice as The Wakos. Enjoy; I suggest you begin with The Pokemal Trainers [NSFW], then Totogro [NSFW] will do nicely.

¹ Originally published as Flash in English and French.

² Many thanks to BatRaf, Turbo Interactive webmaster, for fixing a few outstanding issues — during the evening, no less — within a few hours of me reporting them.

Good stuff as always, but I have a quibble with one bit — I am less convinced that FSFCPL that no one will want to run vulnerable software, given that there’s plenty of vulnerable, unpatched, unsupported, deprecated, end-of-lifed, and otherwise completely insecure crap out there right now. I suspect that we’ll see Flash persisting for years and never quite going entirely away. But the sooner, the better.

Spam of the day:

These women are willing to do anything at all that you can ever imagine!

Awesome. I’d like the winning Powerball jackpot numbers and a removal of incompetent vandals from the federal government.

Kicking, Starting, And Suchlike

How’s Thursday treating you? Good? Good. Let’s see what’s up with a Kickstart that wrapping next week, one that’s starting next week, and some good feels along the way.

  • Lucy Bellwood, distilled essence of enthusiasm and Adventure Cartoonist, is getting ready to wrap the campaign for 100 Demon Dialogues, and is rapidly closing in on doubling her US$25K goal¹. To celebrate, she’s holding a wrap party for backers on Monday evening, to coincide with the conclusion of funding:

    If you’re in Portland, OR, come along to the Base Camp Brewing Company outdoor patio next Monday, July 31st from 8-10pm for a group hangout. Base Camp is all-ages friendly till 10pm, so younger friends are welcome, and there are delicious food carts right outside for those who want to get dinner. I’ll bring the demon prototype so you can all discover just how soft he is (VERY SOFT) and maybe even some original art.

    “But wait,” I hear you cry. “I’M NOT IN PORTLAND.”

    Never fear! You can join us for the last 30 minutes of the campaign via a neat feature called Kickstarter Live. It’s an online video stream where you can tune in and join us at the party, ask questions, release glad cries of victory, and other stuff. That’ll go live at 9:30pm and last until the end of the campaign at 10.

    This link will take you to the live stream.

    Wish I could be there; attendees, please alternately berate and kindly pet the demon plush for me.

  • Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett hasn’t had a Sheldon book out for a while, but that’s about to change. Over the past, I dunno, year and a half, two years, he’s been doing one-off strips of wildlife anatomy, as seen here in the latest iteration. He’s got dozens of these now, and he’s about to launch a Kicker to make a book out of ’em come Tuesday morning. So basically, party with Bellwood and wake up with Kellett.

    I’ve seen some of the Kickstarter video, and some of the process pages — the entire thing is going to look like the sort of very serious scientific treatise that they would release about a hundred years ago before they really knew how things worked. I once went through a chemistry text that my grandfather had saved from high schoolwhere much of the Periodic Table was missing and they spoke about the new a-tom-ic theories with trepidation. It’ll be like that, only with anachronistic references to guacamole and Grindr. It’s gonna be a hoot.

Spam of the day:

*_*Refinance Today and Save!*_*

Dude, my credit score is like 849. You want me to refi, you’re gonna have to offer me negative 2.3% interest.

¹ The FFFmk2 would place her about US$70K +/- 14K, or US$56K – 84K; I think the likelihood is that she’ll fall into that range once the top-up purchases via Backerkit kick in. For example, I intend to supplement my Fancy Pants Package (that’s what it’s called) with another five or so copies of the book, for gifting.

I Think Paul Will Understand

There’s so much going on that’s infuriating me today, and I want to talk about webcomics, I want to share news about stuff that will bring people joy, but I’ve also got to take today to take a stand. So quickly, then:

Paul Southworth has been a favorite of all of us here at Fleen for years and through multiple comics — the lost and lamented Ugly Hill (even the Wayback Machine is unable to provide a good run of that strip), the first half of Not Invented Here, and the intermittent (and very funny) Lake Gary. The latter has (as of Monday) returned with a Patreon behind it, and a message from the creator this morning:

I’ve never done anything like this before and I feel weird about it! Very much appreciate any and all contributions to my dumb comics :)

It also feels weird and wrong to announce or enjoy ANYTHING when the US is rotting from the inside but there’s no good time to do it anymore

I have a tendency to veer into darkness and soapboxing, but my mission statement with this project is “Keep it light, weird and funny.”

Because that’s what *I* need right now.

I’m sectioning off this ONE space for silliness. Use the other 99.9% of your week to call your representatives and beg for your lives. <3

Go read Lake Gary, and with reference to the other 99.9% of your time …

This morning Donald Trump engaged in an unconscionable attack on transgender members of the US military (and, by framing their existence as both other and unnecessary, every other trans person in existence). Thankfully, his authoritarian pronouncement is seeing fairly immediate and unambiguous pushback from even the most right-wing members of the Senate, and inchoate gibberings do not change the law of the land. He can neither govern by diktat nor by tweet.

So while the policies of the military (and the status of trans members of the same) may be unchanged for the moment, the attack will likely provoke members of his cult to engage in similar behavior, and will make the lives of trans folks even harder than they already are.

Fuck that, and fuck him.

I’m declaring a revival of the Fleen Fight For Fungible Futures Fund. Last time around, the Six-F raised US$500 for The Trevor Project, and in response to this atrocity we’re matching donations again.

Send me a screenshot of your donation receipt to The Trevor Project by 11:59pm EDT on 2 August 2017 (that’s a little more than a week from now) and I will match it. Any amount helps — in the last go-around, I matched single contributions to various causes ranging from US$10 to more than US$1000. Give a single dollar and I’ll match it. Give six hundo¹ and I’ll match it. Spread the word, let your friends know, cost me some money.

And since that steaming shitgibbon cares about nothing but himself, let’s let him know precisely how unloved he is.

Spam of the day:

The Dirty Sex Secret No Girl Will Ever Tell You …

But you’re telling me, Jessica. Are you betraying the secret?

¹ Reminder: Six hundred dollars is class money.