The webcomics blog about webcomics

Because Chuck Got It Right, Dammit

When I saw the email from the good folks at the Cartoon Art Museum, I knew I had to talk about it. After, a story about why I had to talk about it.

Mark your calendars for a celebration with the Chuck Jones Gallery special guests and the Cartoon Art Museum as we ring in the holidays with a spotlight of original artwork from How the Grinch Stole Christmas showcased as part of our Treasury of Animation exhibition.

The Grinch, and not that Cumberbatch-associated abomination that somebody felt the need to make. When will people learn that the 26 minute original, starring Boris Karloff, June Foray, and Thurl Ravenscroft is definitive, and needs no reinterpretation? Particularly not a 90 minute long 3D animated version, but at least it’s got to be better than the previous abomination.

Ahem. It’ll be a week from Saturday, 1 December, at 6:00pm for US$8 advance/US$10 at the door, with CAM members free with RSVP. You’ll get to marvel at original artwork until 9:00pm, and I’ll wager there will be at least some cocoa and cookies (although probably not Who-pudding or roast beast). But there is one piece of artwork that won’t be there. It’s at the top of this post, or more accurately, a photo of it is at the top of this post.

Because it — the original it — hangs on my wall.

I mentioned a story, and here it is — at least, the short verion. When I got this piece from Chuck Jones’s gallery in Santa Fe more than 20 years ago, the gallery director told me about a previous customer who knew he wanted a Grinch cel, but wasn’t sure which one. He went flipping through the entire collection, skipping over such highly sought-after cels as full-body Grinches and horned Grinches¹. Suddenly, he stopped, pointing to one of the cels of the Grinch and Max on top of Mount Crumpit, and said That one².

She wondered about the choice — it’s a distant shot of the Grinch and Max, the sled is really the focal point, but wrapped it up. Finally she asked about his choice. He explained (and this is thirdhand, so don’t take this as a direct quote) I’m an aerospace engineer and I love this scene. If we assume the Grinch is about human sized — five and half, six feet — then those clumps of snow are falling correctly. They’re accelerating downwards at 32 feet per second squared. Chuck Jones didn’t have to get that detail right but he did, and it’s always stuck with me.

For all the lumpy, stretchable, rubber-limbed implausibility of Grinches and Maxes, for all the ways that the laws of physics were stretched to the breaking point throughout the story, Chuck Jones knew that at the moment of tension he had to make it feel intuitively correct and let us spend all our brain cycles on the danger and not have even a single fleeting nanosecond of whatever the physical world equivalent of the uncanny valley is.

That’s why there no need for any of the reimaginings or reboots. That’s why I’ll never admit that the Grinch has ever been portrayed by anything other than a single book and a cartoon from 1966. That’s why, if you’re in the Bay Area Saturday next, you should drop in and let us know how it feels to have your heart grow three sizes.

Spam of the day:


Unless Danny Trejo is playing Roxanne, I ain’t interested. And screw you, PR shop, for having no unsubscribe link in your email, that’s why you end up in spam folder.

¹ Me, I knew I wanted a Grinch-and-Max. Even in the 90s, damn few of those were still available.

² Not necessarily this exact cel, but one very similar to it, as we will shortly see.

The First Thing We Do: Let’s Alienate All The Content Makers

If there are people that have thought more about how to interact with their respective audiences than Zach Weinersmith, Ryan North, and Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett, I’m not sure of who they are. And when they start kibbitzing in public about how you done screwed up and made them want to not work with you any more, then Sparky, you screwed up.

And by Sparky, I of course mean Facebook.

LArDK’s feelings have been well-established for some time now, and Weinersmith cited Kellett’s thesis in his public musings on Friday:

For the record, though: We used to do lots of “free” stuff on facebook, back before they turned into an extortion racket for artists.

Btw, @davekellett pointed this out in 2015 ( …) and I poo-pooed it. But, facebook’s basically just gotten worse since. I personally have doubled my facebook “audience” since then, but my reach among them has dropped.

… which prompted concurrence from North, LArDK, MC Frontalot, and others:

yep! same here. I actually did an interview for an article explaining this and giving numbers for why it was so bad, but then the next week it was revealed how bad Facebook was for DEMOCRACY ITSELF, so I think the article got canned :0

I’m actually really close to closing down DC on Facebook – I don’t want to lose the readers, but at a certain point supporting FB becomes a tacit endorsement of what they do… and besides, if they’re not actually showing my stuff to the readers there anyway… SHRUG EMOJI

I would love love love to see Facebook become a vast content graveyard, just page after page perpetually autoposting “we’ve moved on…”

I ended up taking down my personal FB page. For me, their role with Cambridge Analytica and the other groups tacitly working for the FSB/GRU was the final straw.

The last being a reference to the fact that Facebook, presented with evidence that it was being used to spread propaganda, responded by hiring a political hit-firm to spread stories that their critics were paid by George Soros, playing into the most vilely antisemitic tropes that — gosh! — they’ve been so instrumental in spreading. Not that Zuckerberg knows anything about it. Nope, not it.

Which is leading to a fairly fundamental question: why should (in this case) Weinersmith post content for free to Facebook, who then sells ads and makes money that they don’t share with him, and which further charges him money to actually deliver his posts that might make him money so he can afford to keep making the content they’re monetizing? Why should anybody?

And, as I’ve been writing this post, I’m seeing word that Tumblr is apparently taking down NSFW accounts, despite the fact that NSFW content isn’t prohibited by the terms of service. If you don’t trust Tumblr randos, trust George, who’s reporting the same, and back up your content.

There’s been a major shift away from webcomics folk maintaining their own sites in the past few years, with Tumblr and various portal-type sites (Taptastic, Webtoon) offering free hosting and eyeballs that might not have landed on an individual site in this mostly post-RSS (and bookmarkless) world.

But any time you rely on somebody else’s infrastructure to run your business/art/lifestyle/whatever, you run the possibility of it being taken away by somebody whose priorities are not yours. Let us not even talk about Flickr’s forthcoming changes or the fact we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Great Patreon Balls-Up Of AughtSeventeen.

So today’s sentence¹ is as follows: use other (free) services all you like, but keep your content someplace besides the free service. You don’t have to put up your own site! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want! But please, for the sake of your work and my peace of mind, keep a copy someplace so you can rebuild when the free service du jour decides you don’t get to use them for free (or at all) after today.

Spam of the day:

Furnish Your Outdoor Area in Style

Let’s leave my area out of this.

¹ And how is it more than ten years since today’s sentence?

Join Us

I was of two minds about using that title, Join Us, because there’s only two ways to read it. Either it’s what you hear from creepy cult folk as they try to entice you into whatever their deal is, or else what you hear from a kaleidoscopic frenzy of Broadway circus folk in full Bob Fosse mode¹. And the thing is, what I’m talking about bears² at least a little resemblance to both of those.

Readers of this page will perhaps recall that on an occasion or two, I have had the distinct honor and pleasure of attending the Alaska Robotics Comics Camp in Juneau, and I may be a bit of a proselyte about it. Cult is possibly too strong a word for the intentional community that’s grown up around Camp, but there’s a depth of feeling and fellowship that’s realer than any church I’ve belonged to³.

And, since Ben Hatke will be there, there will be plenty of circus artistry. Seriously, any time he does a talk for kids and there’s room, he’s going backflips. He’s a skilled archer, and he’s been known to engage in fire breathing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he’s got mad trampoline, rope-walking, or trapeze skills. Dunno his opinions on Bob Fosse, though.

But you don’t have to talk my word for it; applications for Comics Camp 2019 are now open. A description of Camp is found here, a preliminary list of guests here, and questions are answered here.

As I’ve said before, I will return to Camp as often as the organizers are willing to have me (and should they decide that their curation of attendee backgrounds/experiences would favor one less white guy, I completely understand), and as a disclaimer, I sponsor one attendee’s fees besides my own because I’m in a position to do so. I figure the creative interplay that results will cause comics to be made over careers that otherwise wouldn’t, and I consider that to be a terrific investment.

Applications are due by 15 December, and you can find them here here (an abbreviated version is available if you’ve been before). Comics Camp and its associated events will take place 25-30 April 2019 in Juneau, Alaska.

Spam of the day:

Implant Dentistry

I swear, I read the word implant and my brain went some very weird places.

¹ That is to say, vaguely menacing.

² No pun intended.

³ Brought up Methodist, seriously questioning by the time I went to college, where a lot of my fellow students were Born Again and that accelerated my exit from the realms of doctrine. I maintain Shannon’s Figure 1 is as valid an inspiration for a philosophical system to explain the universe and our place in it as anything, and it’s what I had in mind when I accepted ordination. Plus, I recommend that everybody officiate at least one wedding in their lives. As my friend Yakov (rabbi, cantor, mohel, and jazz trumpter) says, conducting a wedding for those you love is a mitzvah.

On The Value Of Artificial Scarcity

Leave it to Dave and Brad — sorry, I meant Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett and Brad Guigar¹ — to come up with a great new method to drive interest and support in their work. I don’t want to use the word scheme because it’s full of negative connotations, and this is actually completely above-board. But it’s got a hook, and it’s brilliant, and it’s got a means to extract more than the intended recipient is necessarily aware of, which is why the s-word is so tempting. Nothing else that’s brief and punchy that conveys those concepts, and so we’ll just have to do without.

Here’s the deal: join their Patreon at the US$5 level by [American] Thanksgiving, and get something awesome. In Guigar’s case, the full e-library of Evil Inc, ten volumes worth. It’s a great deal that costs Guigar probably nothing — the books are already produced, the back library probably sells negligibly compared to the latest volume, that’s five bucks he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and with a download code, it’s even on the recipient to provide the bandwidth.

Kellett’s come up with a more intriguing offering — a 55 page compendium of the non-story pages to Drive, all material that you could read for free, but scattered through the nine year archive (which is distressingly linear and offers no ability to find particular strips quickly) (get on that, LArDK). They’ve taken a similar idea, but put two different spins on the execution.

Guigar will give you the chance to pull down the books any time between now and Thanksgiving, then it’s back to purchasing them like a chump. Kellett is offering the material in a form that will be available on the day of only, then it’s taken down; I think this will do a lot to deter the jerks out there that would load a relatively small offering to pirate sites and undercut the people that want it, but are maybe a little cheap.

Consider, too: you have to be signed up in the next eight days. A person that wants the book (and oh my, I want it — but more on that in a moment) but doesn’t want to really lay out that much over time might join Patreon at the US$5 level (or increase their pledge) knowing that they’re going to get charged, but cancel or revert their increase right after they get the goods. But in the meantime, they’re getting all the other stuff one gets at that level of Patreonage and then they even have another week-plus after Thanksgiving before the next end-of-month charge to decide — I like this.

That’s why this is a smarter play than having a one-day sale on the book set or offering the book for one day only; up to two weeks to get somebody used to the idea of being a Patreon, and you don’t have to decide to stop until after you’ve read a goodly chunk of ten books, or read the ultra limited edition bonus material² and then get sucked back into reading the whole damn story again. It’s the sort of thing that makes you really well-disposed to the creator and figure Well, I’ll stay at the five buck level for another month. He deserves it.

Hook. Line. Sinker.

Except it’s entirely benign. The value you get is far more than the fiver you spent, and any continued support past that is voluntary. Once, I was talking with Howard Tayler³ about a particular piece of work that he managed to get paid for three different ways and witnessed the fabled I got paid three-ee-ee ti-imes dance. I think that Guigar and Kellett need to work up their own choreography, because this one is in a league of its own. What they’re doing is getting the less-committed fans the opportunity to try out being more-committed fans, and charging them five bucks for the privilege of doing so.

In fact, I’m ready to get that book from Kellett myself except — I’m not going to.

Understand, I’m a tremendous fan of Drive, and all that he is (and via Tales Of The Drive, his guest contributors are) doing with the story and the universe it occupies. But (and I think I mentioned this once before, but if not, here goes) I have to draw an ethical line.

I buy a lot of comics and graphic novels — including via Kickstarter. I accept review copies when offered the opportunity to request them. My reviews are based solely on my reading of the work, and not on whether or not I paid for whatever I’m reviewing (and I count myself lucky to have mostly reviewed work that I honestly enjoyed from top to bottom, because I really dislike writing negative reviews … whatever Anton Ego may say, I don’t find them fun to write). So I have no problem either giving money to creators4, or accepting something I wouldn’t have otherwise bought.

But I draw the line at Patreon, because that’s where you start getting into the territory that I get access to material that not everybody gets access to. I think it’s also possible to influence a creator by having a financial stake in the support a career beyond that of purchasing a specific finished thing. It’s possibly a meaningless, pedantic line to draw, but I’ve drawn it. I’m not a Patreon of anybody whose work I may discuss here. So if you do cash in on the 10-volume set, or the Secret Book Of Forbidden La Familia Knowledge, enjoy them for me.

Spam of the day:

Lil Elf Paper Cutter

I read that subject line and all I can think of is David Sedaris describing Santa Santa in his brilliant Santaland Diaries: Oh, little elf, little elf, come sing Away In A Manger for us. He had a name Santa, and it’s Crumpet.

¹ He’s dreamy.

² Never underestimate the nerd’s tendency to go for the exclusive premium packaging.

³ Evil twin, etc. Hi, Howard!

4 Often via the facilitation of the fine folks at TopatoCo, who celebrated an anniversary yesterday. Happy Birthday, you old building and loan marvelous collection of weirdos. ANd congrats on being the one 14 year old that isn’t terminally snotty about everything!

Things To Check Out

Well I mean I would bet basically one dude or maybe none in a million from the vast Fleen audience is unaware that Noelle Stevenson’s take on She-Ra debuts at Netflix today, so I’m not sure why you’re reading this instead of binging. From here, I can tell you two spoiler-free things:

  1. It’s cool that the closest thing to costume cut-outs are on characters that appear to be dudes; no boob windows here!
  2. It appears that episode 8 (Princess Prom) is going to be cameoriffic. Keep your eyes peeled for awesome people in animated form.

That keening sound you hear in the distance, ever so faint? That’s either the whiny manbabies who are upset that these characters are no longer designed for the male gaze¹, or my new dog when she perceives and insufficient amount of attention is being paid to her².

The much louder cheering sound is a mix of adult animation fans seeing something well-made and entertaining, and younger kids seeing something aimed at them that broadens their perception of who can be a protagonist — shapes, sizes, skin tones, and apparent genders are are broad enough that kids who didn’t get to see themselves as the hero now have a chance to. Bravo.

In other news:

  • We mentioned comiXology’s move into creator-owned stories back around SDCC, and how they’d tapped a series of webcomics creators to help launch the new comiXology Originals endeavour. One that looks particularly promising is The Stone King by Kel McDonald and Tyler Crook. I had a chance to read issue #1 before its debut tomorrow³. The story’s a little Moebius, the art is a little early Finder crossed with War Child-era Grendel. If you’ve got a comiXology account, I strongly recommend checking this out.
  • Ever since Goats celebrated 20 years of comics last year, we’ve been in the territory where more and more webcomics (and/or webcomickers) of a similar vintage would be meeting the mark. The Walkyverse hit 20 about five months after the Goatsiverse, and Penny Arcade will roll over the two decade odometer on Sunday, with a retrospective up at the site.

    PvP actually cleared the Big Two-Oh back in May without much fanfare; the actual day didn’t have even an oblique reference in the strip, unless you count that obvious 20-sided die in panel two. And now, it’s clear there was a reason for the earlier quietude.

    Scott Kurtz is doing a comprehensive reprint of the entire damn thing. Oh, sure, you can get a single hardcover with 200-odd pages of the best PvP strips (plus Kurtz’s Wedlock and Elementary, the former of which hasn’t been seen in forever and which I still maintain is his most promising work) for US$50. Or you can admit you’re a completist and get the strips not in the 20th anniversary volume. That’s nine damn hardcovers, every single strip, 2500+ pages, for US$200 which is kind of a bargain.

    I mean, it’s not spare change, but US$50 is an eminently reasonable price for a 200-ish page color hardcover, and by rights nine of them should come to US$450. Oh, plus whatever it costs you when you go to the doctor for painkillers after you throw your back out lifting the box they came in, because it comes to more than 22 frggin’ kilos.

    The PvP Definitive Edition 20th Anniversary Collection Kickstart runs for another 24 days, and by the FFF mk2 can expect to raise US$92K-138K (the midpoint of that range is about 153% of the US$75K goal). One potentially important factor: due to the relatively high price points on all rewards (US$10 for 1 PDF, US$45 for all 9 PDFs, physical rewards from US$50 to US$2000), this is going to be a relatively low backer campaign (as of this writing, the amount pledged per backer averages a staggering US$141!), and campaigns with fewer than about 200 backers on the first day (Kurtz had 90) are notoriously hard to fit to the prediction model.

    The McDonald ratio (hey, there’s Kel again) is probably a better predictor and it says US$108K. We’ll all find out together in a bit less than a month, and I for one am intensely curious to find out how many superfans out there are willing to engage in this degree of purchase.

Spam of this day:

At launch, the service includes comic titles such as, ‘Give My Regards To Black Jack’, ‘Vanguard Princess’, ‘Danity Kane’, ‘God Drug’, ‘Soul Ascendance’, original animation videos such as ‘Demian’, ‘Break Ups’, ‘Short Age’, the official soundtrack to the video game ‘Vanguard Princess’, and the award-winning feature-length animated film ‘Padak’ among others.

I wouldn’t even have mentioned this one except for two magic words: Dannity Kane. Because now I get to point you again to the one of the best editorial cartoons of the year: Reality Star’s Son Allegedly Had Affair With Reality Star by Kendra Wells. It never fails to make me giggle.

¹ That’s pretty much their entire argument — if they can’t see copious titties in the kids cartoon, it’s devoid of worth and a dire insult.

² So same thing, really.

³ And dropping new issues on New Comic Day? Smart. Getting the readers to accept these are just another form of comics is going to drive readership, I’m sure.

New Dog In The House

She is getting settled, and learning that not everything has to happen at the same time, that kitchen counters are off limits, that small animals are not the be-all and end-all of life, and what an acceptable amount of whining is. She’s actually very good, but it’s also apparent some of her ultra-chill the day we got her was from being overwhelmed by the changes she’s undergone since leaving the dog track.

We’ve been here before and she’s leaving the withdrawn stage with rapidity, and then she’ll hit the acclimation stage. Until then, we may be a bit sparser with updates than usual.

In the meantime, please feel free to bust your holiday spending plans on a series of beautiful Baffler!s from Chris Yates, taken from Rosemary Mosco’s bird sounds comics — you got your Indigo Bunting (Fire! Fire! Where? Where? Here! Here!), your Common Yellowthroat (Witchity, witchity, witchity.), and your Acorn Woodpecker (Wake up! Wake up!).

They’re each US$295 (plus US$32 shipping and handling — and Yates ships his puzzles with vault-like protection), feautring 98-125 pieces, and fall 6.8-7.1 out of 10 on the Yates Difficulty Scale¹, which means if you’re me², you’re looking at an hour or so to put these handmade, unique artworks back together.

Spam of the day:

Juice Cleanses

Get out of here with that cleanse bullshit. Stay the hell away from my colon.

¹ Which he once allowed may be logarithmic, just like warp factors.

² I don’t believe I’ve ever managed an 8/10 on the Yates scale; I have #2161 (rated 7/10) and number 3400 (unrated, I’d guess about the same) and they’re about as complex as I want to go.

I’d never attempt one of his notorious complex multi-level behemoths if I didn’t have a week to set aside. And with a new dog in the house, I’m not sure the pieces would be safe, anyway.


  • I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it, what with it being one of my absolute favorites for the past half-decade, but Stand Still, Stay Silent has returned from inter-chapter (and in this case, inter-adventure) hiatus. The gang are exactly where we saw them last — locked in quarantine aboard a freighter, returning from the Silent World with their lives and some intelligence, but not as much loot as was hoped.

    The dead are still dead, the trolls are still trolls, and it’ll be interesting to see how Minna Sundberg motivates any of them to want to head away from the confines of home again. They’re all still haunted by the loss of Tuuri, but perhaps Lalli most of all. Emil’s been forced to grow the hell up some, and might see the value in staying somewhere that isn’t trying to kill him or drive him insane at all times. Maybe he’ll take up Finnish so he and Lalli can finally converse.

    Mikkel is tough to read; I get the feeling that he’d go back with others out of a sense of obligation, but not otherwise. Sigrun has been a hell-raiser, but losing somebody under her command like that gave her a real pause. And Reynir just wanted to see the world outside of his sheep meadow; he had no idea that it would be the Silent World. He’s ready to take up the crook again and never leave the paddock … except for those mage stirring’s he’s feeling. Kitty just wants scritches, and I wonder who’ll she’ll choose to go with.

    It’s as good as it ever was, and while I can’t see the road ahead, I’m sure that Sundberg knows what she’s doing. Updates Moon’s day, Tyr’s day, Thor’s day, and Freja’s Day, with gorgeous full-color pages.

  • Kerstin La Cross’s Bashers, an autobio telling of a particularly challenging (in more than just the physical sense) hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, started in June, ran for a chunk of summer, then hit hiatus (appropriately, La Cross was out hiking for a bit, then had to catch up on her work). It’s been back for a bit less than a month (keeping in mind that it updates Saturdays and Sundays, so you haven’t missed that much) and the tension is ramping up on Day Two of the adventure.

    We know from the prologue that things come to a head on Day Three, and at that point she and her husband will be far enough out on the trail that displeasure with one’s partner can’t be avoided by going to another room. You’ll have to get to the pickup point together, if only because food and shelter have to be shared. I can’t imagine getting into a spousal argument (the worst kind) and then not being able to clear off and cool down until days later. I said it when Bashers started, this is a brave thing that La Cross is doing, sharing this history. Give it a read.

  • So there’s this guy, Rob Rogers. He was the editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years (picking up a Pulitzer nomination along the way), and then one day he wasn’t. Like editorial cartoonists are supposed to do, he took aim at politics, and these days that means the screamy idiot who is inexplicably occupying the White House. Turns out the publisher and editor of the Post-Gazette are major trumpaloompas, and fired Rogers for doing his job too well. He’s since been replaced by somebody willing to meet the publisher’s sensibilities¹.

    Rogers, however, kept ownership of his cartoons when he left, which is why he’s able to print a new collection, which was announced today by publisher IDW. Enemy Of The People: A Cartoonists’ Journey. While the press release I received lacks certain details other media indicate it’s due out 11 December at a US$25 price point. Order it now to get under Reality Show Mussolini’s skin.

Spam of the day:

Give Yourself a Makeover with a New Hairdo | Hair Extensions

I may not be handsome in the Jon Hamm mode, but one thing I got? Lustrous hair. Drunk women in bars want to get their hands all over it.

¹ Not sure where you’d find somebody of sufficient deference this side of Ben Garrison or Michael Ramirez, but he managed to. No links because those guys suck. Really, Garrison’s a white supremacy propagandist, and Ramirez is just this side of Kelly when it comes to hackiness.

I’m Not Obsessed With Elephants, You’re Obsessed With Elephants!

We approach the ending of the epic that will cement David Malki !’s reputation as a panopticonic pachydermic panjandrum, The Elephant Of Surprise, with reckless disregard for sanity and panel count. The latest installment (the next to last, if there be any reason left in the world) is 27 panels of mayhem and at least five new variations on the sick elephant key phrase. It’s like a woodcut sestina.

One thing that I note is that both the current update (TEOS, part 9) and the previous (TEOS, part 8), contain links to much older comics — Wondermark numbers 13, 245, 425, and 838, from 2003-2012. All of them relate to elephants somehow. The latest just so happens to contain within in words that can be fit into Malki !’s current obsession with variations on the phrase check out my sick elephant.

Which presents two possibilities: that Malki ! foresaw all of this, going back to the infancy days of webcomics and has been laying the groundwork for the past fifteen years, or that it’s all a giant hoax and the referenced comics never existed in the first place, dropped into the history of Wondermark at this late date, his entire archive redone for the sake of maintaining the illusion that these earlier comics just so happened to be adaptable to his present whims¹. He’s just enough of a madman for either to be true, and certainly determined enough to pull either of them off.

The wrap up of The Elephant Of Surprise (part 10) is due this week, and will likely cause all of Wondermark to collapse into a singularity of cross-reference so dense, so complete, that not even light can escape.

Spam of the day:

Need New Furniture? | View Black Friday Furniture Offers!

Do people really go looking for doorbuster sales on furniture? Doesn’t seem the sort of thing you could drag out of the Wal*Mart through the madding crowd.

¹ Having in my possession all of the Wondermark books, I can confirm the first three strips appear in print and are likely genuine, or that Malki ! is cooking up more interesting things in his workshop that he’s previously let on, things that are capable of altering the contents of my books years after the fact.

Conveniently, the putative strip #838 appears in no print collection and the volume, Friends You Can Ride On, will by sheer coincidence not contain strip #838. Not content with the assumption that nobody would wait until the April 2019 release date to see if strip #838’s existence could be confirmed or not, Malki ! has put off the moment of reckoning for years, perhaps a half-decade or more. Only the most determined (or deluded) could keep their eyes on this prize for that long and my friends, I am that man.

I mean, have you seen the upper tiers of his Kickstarter? Somebody is getting a book with all the pages individually glued together. Somebody else is getting a book with random Sharpie censor bars applied to dialogue. There were options to receive books that had been set on fire, or … that’s it. That’s it! That’s where the proof that all of this was faked will be found, in the copy set on fire, the copy blacked out, the copy glued together, he’s taunting us with the truth almost in sight. Only Nicholas Cage can help us now!

Election Day

Vote, dammit.

And since I’m here, can I just say that it’s really impressive that when Jon Rosenberg puts himself into his comic, he always comes up with a different, inhuman hue for his skin, and that of his family? Check it, and also here (which could be zombie makeup, but he’s just tired, and Amy looks the same). It’s either a real dedication to his craft, or complete laziness and I am here for it either way.

Also: vote, dammit.

PS: New Perry Bible Fellowship. Fern’s a little bit more … mature than I remember.

Spam of the day:

PMP Certification

Man, I looked over that subject line too quickly and thought that the pimps of the world had gotten a petition through ISO or something.

Fleen Book Corner: The Hidden Witch

Do I need to say it? There’s spoilers ahead.

The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag released last Tuesday, and I’ve been reading it (in whole, front to back, back to front, certain sections again and again) nearly nonstop since then. I must confess that I feared I wouldn’t love it as much as I builtit up in my mind. After all, I loved the first book in the series, The Witch Boy (just yesterday, I was earnestly recommending it to the youth librarian in my town’s public library), and it was possible that it wouldn’t live up to my expectation.

I should have trusted Molly.

Which, in a way, is the lesson of The Hidden Witch. Trust is a tough thing to give, a tough thing to receive, and if we are brave enough to trust, and lot of grief can be avoided. If we can trust those who are different than us, can trust ourselves to see the good in them, we can maybe heal the hurts of the world.

Quick primer for those that skipped The Witch Boy: go read The Witch Boy. Do it now. If you absolutely can’t do it now for a damn good reason — like you’re on a ship at sea, or that one Russian dude that stabbed somebody in your Antarctic research station for being a jerk about spoilers is giving you the hairy eyeball, here’s the deal:

Aster’s just on the edge of his teen years; his family is magic, and the rules are clear: boys are shapeshifters, girls are witches. You can bend or stretch any rule you want except that one, and for damn good reasons — within living memory a boy that was determined to learn witchery was corrupted by dark magic and became a dangerous beast. Aster doesn’t want to become a beast, but he feels he’s a witch. Nobody really understands him but Charlie, the girl from town who’s nonmagical and doesn’t get the rules. Oh, and that beast? It’s picking off Aster’s cousins as they learn shapeshifting.

It’s also Aster’s grandmother’s brother, Mikasi; he had a talent for witchcraft, she has some skill shifting, and he got lost. It’s only because Aster escapes Mikasi’s notice that he’s able to help capture the beast — no boy would be a witch, no shifter could resist Mikasi’s power, and so he doesn’t think to guard against a witch boy. At the end, Mikasi is captured (but not redeemed), the family still loves Aster (well, they haven’t kicked him out or anything), and they’re trying to figure out what to do. It helps that Grandmother puts her foot down — Aster’s a witch.

Fast forward to the current book and Aster’s still finding his way in his family; not all of them are accepting of his choices in life. Mikasi is still captive and bestial, and while Grandmother knows how to take the darkness from him, she needs Aster’s help. That means that more than anything else, Aster must be open to understanding what drove Mikasi to become corrupted. Aster doesn’t want to understand, he’s much more comfortable retreating — and it’s not unreasonable for anybody to say he Hey tried to kill me and corrupt my cousins (even if they’re dicks to me sometimes) and I’m not cool with having to forgive.

But he does. And little by little, Mikasi starts to emerge, a half-century or more older than he remembers being.

Meanwhile, Aster’s cousin Sedge is having misgivings about his role in life; unlike Aster, he went along with the way things are done, but now that he’s seen darkness he’s not sure he wants to shift again. Maybe he never wanted to shift in the first place. But now that Aster’s shown mold-breaking is possible, Sedge is admitting it out loud, and to himself. He doesn’t want to be a witch, though — he wants to be a nonmagical kid, go to middle school, study math and science. It might be an even bigger break with How Things Are Done than Aster’s was.

And then there’s the unknown witch, one who’s messing with dark things not understood, one at risk of falling into the same corruption that took Mikasi. She’s a new kid in Charlie’s class, one that just wants friends but has so convinced herself she doesn’t have any (or deserve any) that she pushes everyone away. And there’s this helpful shadow that she can use to torment those who are mean to her (or pre-emptively before they get the chance to be), and her temper is shorter by the day. Charlie wants to be friends, but untrained witch Ariel doesn’t really know what that means. Her conception of friendship is full of exclusivity — almost possession — and runs riot with a jealous need to protect what she regards as hers.

Charlie isn’t magic except that she’s got empathy, and will risk danger among all these magic-slingers for the sake of a friend, even one that doesn’t think she’s a friend. Aster and Mikasi have the magic to clean up the darkness that tries to claim Ariel, but it’s Charlie that makes it possible. This is the central message of the story — magic is not greater than the bonds we make between ourselves.

Nowhere does Ostertag get at the heart of the contradictions that define us all (but especially teens and tweens) as in two simple panels. Charlie, Aster, and Sedge have made it past Ariel’s creatures and arrive to confront her — not in anger, but out of concern. Ariel is just starting to realize that she can’t control what she has unleashed and when she sees Charlie she’s relieved and grateful, followed quickly by closed off and resentful. She doesn’t like herself, she can’t believe anybody would like her, and so Charlie can’t be here to help her and screw her anyway.

Two panels. A heartbeat’s worth of time in the gutters between them. Two pictures. A lifetime of hurt and mistrust conveyed with utter crystalline clarity by the simple motion of Ariel turning away. And then the exchange that gets to who these characters are in eight words:

Charlie: Ariel —
Ariel: I won’t want you here.
Charlie: Too bad.

Oh, there’s more. Charlie not letting Ariel wall herself off, telling her that she deserves friendship, she’s worthy of it, to not be afraid of accepting it, to not let her darker impulses rule her emotions. There’s other small moments that pack as much in (Aster revealing to Sedge that he’s been helping Mikasi heal, Mikasi admitting the monster still resides in him), and there’s more sacrifice and growth on the part of nearly everybody. But those two panels, those eight words are the high point of the book. They pack all the emotions and lessons learned into their truest form — I’m here for you, and if you try to push me away, I’m still here for you. You’re hurt. You’re family.

There’s a reason that Charlie is the larger (and foregrounded) character on the cover; Aster’s story may be the throughline, Ariel’s may be the central focus, but Charlie’s the hero this time. She doesn’t need to study or dabble in esoteric knowledge — she’s got the simplest of the powers of anybody here. She knows how to offer friendship and to accept it in return. She knows how to call you on your crap when you deserve it, but let you know that she still loves you unconditionally. She knows how to bring out the best in people. She’s willing to help you with your damage. And she’ll literally dunk on you if try to mess with her friends; that basketball ain’t just for show.

The messages of The Witch Boy are still there, still being expanded on, but The Hidden Witch adds a very important truth to the mix — being different doesn’t mean you have to be alone, and those who aren’t perceived as different have the ability to welcome the lonely, the distressed, the outcast. If The Witch Boy taught every kid struggling with feelings they didn’t know how to process about who they are and who they can be, The Hidden Witch reminds every reader that being welcoming and open to who people are is our job. I know in my heart that in the past year, kids that see themselves in Aster are better off for his example; I know that in the year to come, kids that see themselves in Charlie are going to help those Asters and Ariels and Sedges find the space to be themselves.

And that’s magic.

The Hidden Witch, words and pictures by Molly Ostertag, is available at bookstores everywhere. It’s appropriate for every age that has the patience to consume a 200 page story.

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