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Fleen Book Corner: Banned Book Club

I’m not sure that Ryan Estrada and Kim Hyun Sook could have written a more appropriate book for these times. We’re getting right into it, so if you don’t want (admittedly, 30 year old history) spoilers, stop reading now, buy this book, and read it instead.

When I was in college, things were happening in South Korea; my political science professor talked about how critically important it was that the first reasonably credible elections in decades were happening, and what led up to it — regular student protests, which had rules:

The students would go out demanding the authoritarian regime step down; the regime would reflexively brand them as Communists and North Korean agents and send out the riot cops with their Darth Vader helmets, truncheons, tear gas, and water cannons. They’d fight for a while, the students would retreat to campus, and that would be it for the day. Get nabbed off campus and you could be disappeared, but like a game of tag, campus was Home Free.

Then one day, the riot cops went onto campus to continue the beatings and arrests and the world started paying more attention. The Olympics were granted to Seoul, the country beyond the students started to join the protests, change happened. The first elections were still won by the members of the regime because the opposition was at a disadvantage (their leaders having only just been freed to start parties and organize), but by 1992, they had prevailed. Korea dismantled the fascist structures that had been in charge for three decades (and completely remade the police), and generally became a better place. Not perfect, but better.

Banned Book Club is the story of what happened in the years before things got better, when the tear gas and beatings, the contrived charges, show trials, and deaths were happening and a large part of the country — most everybody except for those darn students — just sort of agreed not to notice. It had been that way for 20 years, after all, since the military coup back in ’61, and the second coup in ’80 and second coup leader was still in power but he was only fighting against criminals and agitators, right?

And the books they banned, and the students and teachers in prison for reading them, they were all subversives, right?

And the factory workers being forced to work and the President’s friends getting rich, and the critical newspapers being burned to the ground for spreading “lies” about the regime, and the President not caring if anybody believed him or not, that was just how things worked, right?


Kim Hyun Sook was part of the generation who’d been shielded from what had actually happened until she made it to university, and fell in with students reading Chomsky and Betty Friedan, Locke and Sartre, Marx and Guevara, Simone de Beauvoir and unapproved Jack London (White Fang was okay, The Iron Heel decidedly wasn’t) and watching bootleg VHS tapes of foreign news reports about Korea.

She watched the cop who was assigned to kill stories in the student newspaper that the regime didn’t want published miss the stories that were being passed hand-to-hand; she watched students on government-sponsored scholarships inform on their classmates; she watched fellow protesters get swept up and subjected to state violence with the lucky ones being released days later.

And now, we’re in a place that’s pretty much exactly where Hyun Sook was, only it didn’t take decades for so many in America to become willfully blind to what’s happening. We have the opportunity to be at the point she and her compatriots were at, with maybe the most prescient lesson being: the fight is never over.

See, in 2016, the daughter of the first coup leader (who was eventually assassinated by his own security forces for being too brutal) became President and tried to go back to Dad’s way of doing things; the people of Korea went into the streets, every weekend for months, as many as 10% of the country’s population at any given time, and demanded that she be impeached for her crimes.

It wasn’t just the students, it was too many to ignore, the reformers had done too thorough a job of dismantling the fascist state¹ and they weren’t going back (and, this time, the cops were marching with the protesters). She was removed from office and then charged with bribery, coercion, leaking government secrets, and abuse of power, leading to a conviction, a 25 year prison sentence, and a fine of nearly US$17 million.

Which is what you need to do when there is a man (and later, his daughter) that regards the presidency as his birthright. Or, and Hyun Sook concludes:

The villains of the past are never really gone. Now we have another President Park blacklisting authors, journalists and filmmakers, and trying to ban textbooks that criticize her father’s regime.

But this time when the people rose up, it was not in the shadows. Not just behind closed doors, and not just a handful of them. It was everyone.

People don’t get that organized unless someone is stubborn enough to fight for what’s right, even when no one’s listening.

The lesson is clear — fight with everything you’ve got, and don’t ever think that the defeated would-be Presidents For Life won’t revive with another face. Even when you do win, keep fighting to ensure that the systems are stronger, better, fairer than they were so that the next nascent fascist doesn’t have as much of a foothold of grievance to work with, because there’s always something that needs fixing. And while we’re figuring out how to do all of that, let this coda keep you warm at night:

In March 2017, President Park Geun-hye was impeached, removed from office, and imprisoned for corruption. The final vote was struck by her own judges, many of whom she had personally placed in office. A special election was held, and the new Preisdent was Moon Jae-in.

Can’t imagine why that thought makes me so very happy. Yep, that’s a stumper.

Banned Book Club is based on the lived experiences of Kim Hyun Sook, with actual people being blended into composite characters for privacy and safety². Kim’s husband Ryan Estrada turned Kim’s stories into a story that works in comics. Ko Hyung-ju provided open, appealing art that draws you into the lives of the characters, emphasizing their ordinariness and the shocking treatment they receive for demanding truth. It is available at bookstores everywhere, and should be read and passed to as many people as you possibly can.

Spam of the day:

LETION LED Torch, UV Light 2 in 1 UV Torch Black Light Flashlight with 500LM Highlight & 4 Mode & Waterproof IPX 4 for Pet Clothing Food Fungus Detection/Night Fishing/Travel

Food Fungus? Look, never bring a UV light into your home unless you want to find out exactly how much dandruff, blood, urine, and semen is hanging around.

¹ After the fall of the military dictatorship, leaders were charged and convicted for their crimes, with the second coup leader — Chun Doo-hwan — ultimately sentenced to death for ordering a massacre of a town¹. He was pardoned by the current President, who was advised by the President-elect, who in turn had been sentenced to death by Chun’s regime 20 years earlier.

² But they’re talking [grin].

Some Books And Also Some Good News

Stuff leftover from yesterday, that honestly? Better to put it today. Otherwise, the mass of information would mean something worthwhile would be lost.

  • Once upon a time there was a very fun webcomic called Gastrophobia that had three books (currently sold out in physical form, available as ebooks) about an Amazon (Phobia) and her son (Gastro) running around the mythic age of Greece. It was a sitcom, complete with theme song, and it was great.

    And a bit into volume 4, it stopped. But now, in concert with the twelfth anniversary of launch, it’s back, with a story to tell below the update:

    If you’re not in touch with my social media, you’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing all this time.

    WELL, in 2017, three things happened to me:

    • I turned 40 and had a small mid-life crisis.
    • I finally admitted to myself that I’m transgender!
    • Lost most of my stuff in Hurricane Harvey (my home was under water).

    My name’s Daisy and my pronouns are she/her! Everyone’s been ridiculously supportive and I’m way happier now than I’ve ever been! ?

    Gastrophobia is getting a partial reboot.

    The first 3 volumes are still canon. The 43 story pages I drew from 2015-2016 are retconned. They still exist and can be found here.

    I’m different now and I’m taking the comic in a different direction.

    If you read Gastrophobia in the beforetimes, you know that Daisy McGuire¹ has always been a terrific cartoonist. There’s no better time to hop on the (quoting the character bio here) Barbarian MILF funtimes train than now, complete with a new RSS feed.

    As a side note, the number of folks I know who’ve undergone gender transition has increased a zillion percent over the past 15 years or so, and they’re all people I know through my association with comics. Maybe it’s just the passing of the times, or maybe there’s something about comics and storytelling, the creation of which demands your brain be open to possibilities and what-ifs, which allows one to imagine a different way of being that’s closer to what should be than what you’ve always been told. Good on you, comics, for letting people find themselves and be happy.

  • Ryan Estrada is kind of on a roll these days. He’s not even done with the critical and popular acclaim from Banned Book Club (a copy of which I am still waiting on from my local comic shop, on account of Diamond is the worst²) and he’s just dropped another book on us, one that takes an experience from his own youth and turns it into what would have been way cooler:

    After literal decades of trying to get it off the ground and months of shipping delays, my dream project is finally out in the world. Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon is now in bookstores everywhere!

    I’m overjoyed to give kids a multicultural hero who represents his country and does good in the world. Whose superpowers are empathy and active listening.

    And I’m proud he has an odd-couple partner who’s a selfish jerk so that doesn’t get annoying.

    I’m proud to create a world where kids can learn that world leaders aren’t always right, even if they are kinder and gentler than in ours.

    I made the US president in my story latinx as well. Because in fiction, you can do whatever you want and the cops can’t stop you.

    I’m proud that the kid who made a hand-written, leatherbound book about his student ambassador travels in 1997, and dreamed of making a book about what he WISHED the trip had been like finally got his wish.

    One of those nerds is me. Can you find me?
    [photo of actual kid student ambassadors in Sydney, Australia, 1997]

    If this book is a success, I am super excited to jump right into making the next Joseph Bazan mystery, Student Ambassador: The Silver City where they explore the mysterious caves under Zacatecas, Mexico.

    Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon is written by Ryan Estrada, and illustrated by Axur Eneas. It’s the start of the Iron Circus kids line, and is available starting yesterday. I’ma say go get this one for the overly-enthusiastic and imaginative kid(s) in your life.

Spam of the day:

The CIA has been doing intensive research for the past fifty years researching on what we call so called life. That information has been collected and presented for you here [link] This has been the finding as of seventeen years ago as of today. Now governments and other large organizations have develop technology around these concepts for their own deceptive uses. Soon you will be contacted by other means for counter measures and the part that you play in all this.

I’ll tell you something — this is slightly more plausible than the guy with the broken English and Tagalog accent that called earlier claiming to be Social Security Agent Mike Hammer letting me know my number was being revoked for abuse and fraud. When I pressed one to talk to him, I was instead connected to Agent Katherine (same accent and command of English) who was entirely plussed when I told her my name was Harry Mourningwood.

¹ In accordance with the Fleen Manual of Style, persons who transition will only be referred to by their current name/pronouns once that change is announced, but old posting referring to prior identity will not be altered.

Where necessary, context will be given without using deadnames, as in I had some memorable pub crawls with Daisy McGuire — who at the time used a different name — and other NYC cartoonists in the 2005-2008 timeframe. It was fun.

McGuire’s actually done something similar, comparing original author bios with current author bios from volumes 1, 2, and 3.

² At my suggestion, they’ve opened a merchant account with Ingram, the book distro giant. They may be nearly as much of a monopoly as Diamond is for the comics direct market, but damned if Ingram isn’t an efficient, competent monopoly that believes it can make money by giving stores what they friggin’ ask for instead of jerking them around with perpetual backorders (a lie) and shorted shipments (on a weekly basis). Right now Rick (who owns the store and is a nice guy) is going through all of the previous book orders placed through Diamond, re-requesting them from Ingram, and trying to figure out how to cancel them at Diamond so they don’t show up months or years from now with an invoice that says We finally decided to ship these to you, pay up.

Two Parts One And One Part Two

Some new things kicking off, and a very cool thing returning for another go.

  • If you’ve read Fleen ever, one indisputable fact will jump out at you: Ryan Estrada doesn’t do things by half measures. We’re on the eve of release of his new collaborative graphic novel, Banned Book Club (co-written by Estrada and his wife, Kim Hyun Sook; art by Ko Hyung-Ju), based on his wife’s experiences in the former South Korean military dictatorship. Not content to rest on any laurels (a mountain of glowing press, and continually-increasing pre-orders of the book count as laurels), Estrada decided to launch his latest project: a podcast of sorts.

    Big deal, I hear you cry, everybody and their dog is startin’ a podcast during quarantimes. To which I reply, a) Estrada’s experience of quarantine is very different from yours and mine, as he and his wife live in Busan, South Korea, which has managed the pandemic better than probably anyplace else on the planet¹ and b) it’s not a podcast. It’s a series of radio plays based on the sequels to A Christmas Carol that Dickens wrote and the world promptly forgot about. Let’s let Estrada tell it himself:

    I’m the new writer/host/director of BeFM Drama!

    I’m turning Charles Dickens’ 22 weird forgotten Christmas Carol sequels into brand new radio plays for Korean radio. Not direct adaptations, but kinda like how Clueless is based on Emma.

    Please enjoy episode 1 of my new radio show!

    This one is about a man who has such a bad day that he wishes he didn’t exist. But he reconsiders his position when he’s tricked into believing he’s already dead.

    Yep, sounds weird. The Riverside Chimes is a bit under 20 minutes, and if you like it, there’s three more stories already posted to the Tubes. And if that doesn’t satisfy you, BeFM Drama has a few dozen audio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and other classic English language short fiction for your listening pleasure.

  • Also kicking off, The Nib is partnering with Reveal, the investigative reporting project from The Center For Investigative Reporting; the new series is called In/Vulnerable, and it’s chronicling the ways that the COVID pandemic is hitting all layers of society, where billionaires are demanding everybody else go back to work with insufficient protections.

    Up today: the story of Manuel, a refugee from Cuba who’s been in prison humane and efficient temporary detention for more than a year, and is watching the threat of the virus creep closer. Whatever your views on immigration, you cannot possibly argue that fleeing a repressive government (it’s even one that Screamy Orange Racist Grandpa hates!) is a crime merits being thrown into inhumane conditions until a deadly disease kills you.

    And if you do argue that? Do me a favor and leave my page and never return. I make it a policy not to consort with sociopaths.

  • Lastly, the :01 Books virtual comics show, Comics Relief, has announced sign-ups for its second session:

    Comics fans, mark your calendars for Comics Relief: June 2020 on Saturday, 6/6 from 12pm-4pm ET! Click here to register for the next virtual :01 festival: #ComicsRelief

    Four sessions this time, with a discussion of space comics at noon EDT (Maris Wicks! Jim Ottaviani! Alison Wilgus!), a discussion of Maker Comics at 1:00pm (Falynn Koch! JP Coovert! Sarah Myer! Robyn Chapman!), a discussion of documentary comics at 2:00pm (Box Brown! Calista Brill!), and a talk about whatever’s on their minds at 3:00pm (Clint McElroy! Leuyun Pham! Mark Siegel!). Sign up at the link above, and I’ll see you in the conference on the 6th.

Spam of the day:

New project started to be available today, check it out [redacted].com/?renee

I’m including you because you listed out a series of porn genre terms, and one of them was tannie. Assuming this is a new genre based on, I dunno, well tanned people gettin’ it on, okay for giving people what they want I guess?

But if you managed to misspell the derogatory term for trans folks, then you get double my normal dose of contempt, which I assure you is both well merited and considerable.

¹ Which is what happens when your country demands competency from its leaders, and learned the lessons of the SARS outbreak and determined to never fail in pandemic response again.

That Was A Sucky Night

Busy EMT shift on Tuesday night, including my first definite (as in, previous positive test) COVID-19 patient; with the decontamination and sanitization required, everything takes about twice as long as it does normally. I am short on sleep and despairing for the safety of everybody working the healthcare end of this crisis¹, but at least there’s some good stuff happening in Webcomickia:

  • Rich Stevens often reacts to uncertainty by throwing himself into merch design and/or giving away stuff. He can’t really get out and work, but he’s got a bunch of envelopes, a bunch of stamps, and a bunch of stickers ’round the house, and figures giving them away will while away some hours. Details here, first come first served.
  • Ryan Estrada has had the great good luck to live for a number of years in Busan, South Korea, a country that knows how to treat pandemics — particularly the respiratory kind — seriously. COVID-19 may have delayed his next book (see Monday’s post re: Iron Circus), but it’s about to come out and his co-author/wife, Kim Hyun Sook, have made a comic about their experience making the graphic novel.

    In case you didn’t know, Kim has had experience living through an authoritarian regime, having grown up in South Korea in its military dictatorship period; that time in her life is the basis of Banned Book Club, as she and her friends defied a repressive government to read forbidden books. If the thought of Estrada living in a society that’s functional in the face of pandemic threats isn’t interesting, maybe learning from Kim how to undermine the grip of a jumped-up authoritarian with a cabal of noncompetent sycophant enablers will be useful to you at this time.

  • We’re light on specifics at the moment, but :01 Books (a place where everybody there is just the best person) have announced a virtual book festival for a week from Saturday. On 18 April from 11:00am to 5:00pm EDT (8:00am to 2:00pm PDT), creators will come together to show how the comics you (and they) love are made. Info here, register here (they’ll get back to you with further info), and we’ll share details in the coming days as they’re released.

Spam of the day:

Introducing the multi-state concealed carry certification. One ONLINE ONLY Certification is changing the way Americans get multi-state concealed carry permits.

Oh yes, please, all you gunhumpers please give this scammer your money for a piece of paper and try to conceal-carry in the state of New Jersey. No, don’t look up our laws, or how multi-state concealed carry isn’t a thing, just do it and see what happens.

And be sure to do it where there’s lots of cameras, because I can’t wait to watch that video on YouTube.

¹ And let me be clear, I am doing this once a week, with sufficient PPE; if that ceases to be the case, I will not put my crew in harm’s way because nothing about being an EMT requires you to commit suicide, especially when you’re doing it for free. So for the sake of whatever you hold dear, keep your ass at home, no exceptions, until we’ve got a handle on this shit.

I myself am too spiteful to die in a pandemic that Donald Trump is mismanaging out of a combination of ignorance, stupidity, and malice (no matter what, I will live long enough to shit on his grave and to see his spawn and also Jared sent to prison for the rest of their lives) but others won’t be so indestructible. Stay home and leave the good masks for those doing the work.

Life Finds A Way

For certain values of life, that is; in this case, the value would be The minions of a belligerent, poisonous space potato. The way found is how to ship the finest in webcomics merch to you in times of isolation:

Hello! Here’s some good news. Starting today we’re shipping orders again! We’ve figured out a one-person-in-the-warehouse-at-a-time policy that includes rigorous sanitizing before and after shifts.

The precautions we’re taking exceed those advised by the CDC and WHO, both of whom have indicated there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

Due to these precautions, shipping will be slower than normal. Please allow 4-8 business days for your order to ship (this is subject to change depending on the Situation¹).

However, due to widespread service disruptions that change on an almost daily basis, we will be holding on to non-US orders for a while longer until things clear up. As always, if you have any questions please contact us here or at

And huge thanks to our team: Agent Paperklip, @tomselleck69, @CptOblivion, @MrReciprocity, and The Marlboro Kid!

Hey, you know how you can add little notes to your TopatoCo order that get read by whoever is doing the packing of your merch? This would be the place to include a thank you, or some little token of appreciation². Maybe if we ask nicely, Topato can add a button to the ordering process that lets you add a tip for whoever is sending out your t-shirt, poster, or book order.

Spam of the day:

Shocking Proof God’s Plan Is Coming True…

Humanity has worshipped a few zillion gods and I’m curious which one, but I have a feeling you’re talking about the god referred to by the tetragrammaton, YHWH (which Larry Gonick reliably informs me is pronounced Yahoo-Wahoo). So tell me — if this proof is so awesome, why are you trying to get me to pay you to see it instead of spreading it far and wide? I really hope that you’re right and it is proof that your god is real, because as I recall he had some nice bits of vengeance planned for the profiteers and falsely pious like you.

¹ Editor’s note: this is the general situation we live in right now, not the person who calls himself The Situation who last I heard was in federal prison for tax evasion.

² I will usually include a recipe for a cocktail that I’ve worked up, or a playlist suggestion for the next impromptu warehouse dance party.

³ Depending on how bad the world breaks further.

You Can Tell The Measure Of A Man By The Enemies He Attracts

Not to mention the calibre of their attacks on him; in this case you have on the one hand Ryan Estrada, world traveler, bon vivant, endless creators of [web]comics, films, podcasts, radio drama, nonradio drama approximately legitimate theater, and all-around cool guy.

On the other hand, a bunch of whiny you’re oppressing me by trying to be a professional artist instead of giving me what I want for free and anyway it’s totally simple and I could do better than that but I don’t wanna chuds.

Estrada has been holding this mindset up to general ridicule for several years now via the For Exposure Twitter account, where he is scrupulously careful to attack the behavior, not the person. Everybody that demands art for free and berates artists for (gasp!) wanting money for little things like groceries and rent has their message shared, but carefully anonymized; Estrada doesn’t want the internet mob to form, and has stated he’ll close down For Exposure should that happen.

I think he might be reconsidering the policy:

The person(s) behind the scraper site, perhaps not appreciating the irony in asking for money to fulfill the holy mission of punishing artists that ask for money in exchange for their labor, has/have proved to be unreasonable; creators that attempt to follow legal processes to assert control over their copyrighted material find their emails posted for griefers to spam for months. Lacking anything better to do, they’ve decided that Estrada is the World’s Worst Person¹ and subject to their most withering insult.

Ah, yes. Cuck. The opprobrium of choice for GamerGaters, pseudoironic alt-righters, and outright white supremacists. I suspect that Estrada is so cut to the quick that he has retreated to a closest in shame, wondering why his wife prefers those specimens of obvious genetic quality to him.

Oh, no, wait, he’s working with PayPal to get their accounts suspended. It’ll be a game of Whack-a-Dipshit, but once it happens, others will join in. There will always be somebody pissed off enough in future to make a complaint to the financial providers, and the malefactors may learn the hard way that getting a PayPal account revoked for being a massive internet jerk carries over into other parts of their existence. Plenty of legit creators have had their PayPal accounts frozen or seized outright because of overzealous policies that misconstrue freelancing with nefarious endeavours; I can’t wait to see what happens when people are found to be engaging in fraudulent behavior.

And because Estrada deserves far better than to be associated with these bottom dwellers, let’s end on a positive note. As mentioned previously, Estrada and his wife Kim Hyun Sook are writing a graphic novel (to be illustrated by @kevin9143, whose actual human name I am not able to locate) about her experience defying South Korea’s military dictatorship by reading banned books.

A new Twitter account, Banned Book Clubs, will follow Estrada as he reads all the banned books she read back then and adding sassy commentary on them. So far: What Is History by EH Carr², The Iron Heel by Jack London, and Two Treatises Of Government by John Locke. Just the sort of thing any aspiring dictator would want to keep the populace from reading; not saying that there’s a pressing need for any USAians to start skimming, but maybe not the worst idea, either.

Spam of the day:


Pretty sure one of those women you’re promising I can date tonight is a Kardashian, and another is Denise Richards in the role of the worst Bond Girl ever, nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones. Try harder, scam-mongers.

¹ He’s not; I’d be willing to bet that in the competition for that title, Ryan will be coming in last, tied with Mr Rogers, Tom Hanks, and Mr Rogers again.

² Per Estrada: 22 people were arrested, beaten, tortured and imprisoned for reading this book in the Burim Book Club case.


Frank Zappa, in his autobiography, recounted the story of playing his then-favorite R&B tune for his high school music teacher and asking why he liked it so much; the reply was Parallel fourths. That was his introduction to twelve-tone theory and understanding why music works the way it does.

Similarly, when I read a comic and can’t figure out why I like it, there are a few people that I trust to make it clear — Zainab Akhtar, David Brothers, and Oliver Sava are at the top of the list. Sava heads up comics writing at The AV Club, and has gathered other writers that also get comics.

Today, they (that would be Sava, joined by Caitlin Rosenberg and Shea Hennum) talk about the best of the year, and there’s a significant representation of webcomics, and comics from people that cut their teeth in webcomics. Sava holds forth on Julia Wertz’s Tenements, Towers & Trash, Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell (respectively: words, pencils, inks, colors, letters), and Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi (words, art, colors).

Rosenberg adds Tess Stone’s Not Drunk Enough, Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas, Noora Heikkilä’s Letters For Lucardo (via Spike’s Iron Circus Comics¹), and Abby Howard’s Dinosaur Empire! Hennum’s additions are slightly further removed, but include offerings from Retrofit Comics (founded by Box Brown), Koyama Press (friend to indies everywhere), and 2d Press — Hennum’s definitely further into art comics than I usually read, but the writeups are making me revisit that decision.

The point here being, much like Mark Siegel promised his Macmillan overlords that :01 Books would contend for literary prizes within ten years of launch³, this recognition’s not just for bragging rights. It offers credibility, visibility, and the opportunity for further work, not just to the creators that have been called out by one of the premiere popular culture sites, but to their contemporaries and colleagues as well.

On a day that I noticed some chud on Twitter (no link for him … of course it’s a him) declaring that Andrew Farago was irrelevant and that real geeks don’t care about some museum in San Francisco, and it’s not like he’s Scott McCloud or anything4, it’s just further proof that comics is becoming more and more about new creators, new voices, new kinds of stories, and (crucially) new points of view, and the old stereotypes of what comics are/who reads them are slipping further into irrelevance. It’s a good day to read about some great comics, and an even better day to read some great comics. The list by Sava et alia is a damn good place to start.

Spam of the day:

Girls battle for your heart: choose Veronika or Kristina

Mail order bride spam, or anime series episode title? I can’t decide!

¹ Separate from the best of the year list, Rosenberg also reviews Crossplay, presently funding on Kickstarter, also from Iron Circus².

² Speaking of Iron Circus, Spike spent some time today pre-announcing ICC’s 2018 offerings, and it comes to at least six books (two of which are anthologies); Banned Book Club, previously announced, is due in 2019. Let that sink in — a one-plus person shop is making plans more than a year out, wrangling at least seven books in that timeframe. Try to deny her achievements, I dare you.

³ It actually took less than a year to break out the tuxes at the National Book Awards for Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese.

4 McCloud on Twitter in response: Andrew Farago is a prominent authority on comics and a good guy. Anyone saying otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Take that, chud!


There should be a picture here, but it was all blurry so, oh well.

[Editor’s note: As in the past, these panel recaps are based on notes typed during the session; all discussion is the nearest possible paraphrase, except for direct quotes which will be italicized.]

Here’s the thing about panels — lineups change. Things get in the way, or you realize that you agreed to do about three more sessions than a reasonable person could wrangle this week, and maybe you need to step back from two of them. With a good moderator, though, you’d never guess and the panel on Superstars In Children’s Graphic Novels picked up a substitute moderator who is top notch. Or maybe they just didn’t want the world to know that Raina Telgemeier would be slinging the questions, so that kids would come to see the other folks on the panel? Either way, it was a great piece of expectation-management, and a great way to ensure a smooth experience for all¹.

And a good thing, too, because kids? Kids are utterly fearless about what they love. There were two in line who their dad said were normally shy around adults, but they peppered me with questions, wanting to know what I was, why I was coming the panel for, who my favorites were, and do I know ______ ? I’m pretty sure they hit everybody on the dais for autographs and photos afterwards. Those folks (all of whom are published by Scholastic) were, in addition to Raina:

Gale Galligan (who is continuing the Baby Sitters Club graphic novels), Ian Boothby (Eisner winner and contributor to Bongo comics), Molly Ostertag (creator of my favorite book of 2017), Aron Steinke (Eisner winner and 2nd grade teacher), and Jarrett Krosoczka (author and/or illustrator of 25+ books including the Jedi Academy and Lunch Lady series). It was some star power, is what I’m saying.

Raina opened with a two-part question to the entire panel, then tended to follow up ideas with particular creators, and finished her part with a Lightning Round before moving onto Q&A. That two parter was to ask the panelists about books from their own childhoods that had an emotional impact, or made them laugh. There was a general agreement on newspaper comic strips among the panelists (IB: Peanuts, GG: Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side; JK: I’d read the comics page and pretend to understand why some were funny. Yeah, lasagna’s awesome and I hate Mondays too.; MO: I didn’t understand all of The Far Side, but I loved the absurd way that Larson would draw a cow with a face and glasses) regarding laughter, but the emotional impact books ranged all over: Ostertag loved the His Dark Materials series and remembered listening to audiobooks and sobbing w/emotion, happy to be sad. Boothby also found emotion in Peanuts, where all the kids seems to be having a rough time, it was funny but also the kid was bummed out, talked about all his problems, quoted a bible verse, and spoiled Citizen Kane. Linus would bust out a bible verse, but he worshiped the Great Pumpkin.

Krosoczka cited The Mouse And The Motorcycle in particular, and all of Beverly Cleary’s books in general (he revisited them with his daughter last year, and was relieved they still hold up). I had a hamster, always thought he could learn to ride a motorcycle, but he never did. Galligan was a huge fan of the Animorphs series, which started out about teens that can turn into animals and ends up being a story about the horrors of war and I would just sob. Steinke loved Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series, particularly the illustrations — so creepy, they’re challenged and banned in some places. Ostertag chimed in that she loved reading those stories, but was afraid to touch the illustrations afraid they’d come off in her hand.

The second general question was why each of the authors writes for children, and what makes the audience distinctive. Boothby challenged the validity of the question, emphatic that he doesn’t write for kids. I write a story and if I put a swear word in I take it out. He asked if stories like Ratatouille, is for kids, or just all-ages safe and kids jump into the parts that they don’t quite understand yet. As kids, part of your job is to learn and you want things you don’t get; I try to write for all ages, kids are so open, will try something new. Galligan added that Diana Wynne Jones said “I like writing for kids because they’re used to figuring thing out everyday.” For adults, I have to explain it four times for them to get it.

Krosoczka countered that his writing for kids is more driven by the art than the writing — he likes to draw pictures, and books for kids have a lot of pictures. When I was 17 my high school art teacher brought in two picture books, which were beautifully illustrated, and he takes that as the start of his inspiration. Kids are so more ready to accept the reality of this crazy world you create” like having a wacky lunch lady that fights crime with stuff in the elementary cafeteria; the adults, he said, wanted to know how the Lunch Lady’s superhero gadgets worked logically, as if fighting with utensil-based nunchucks could have a logical basis. Steinke cited his love of teaching and reading literature for that age cohort, as well as the idea that stories for that age are short and he can’t see himself working to novel length.

Raina followed up to ask if Steinke’s character Mr Wolf, a 2nd grade teacher, is the character he identifies with, or it’s more the students. Answer: Mr Wolf is 95% me. Obviously, I’m not a wolf, and I don’t wear a tie. I actually got voted at one school “Most likely to dress like a student”. In previous work, Steinke had done an autobio comic strip, but as his work becomes longer in form, the short things that he did as autobio don’t apply as much. But he allows that a lot of things that happen in his books happened to him as a child.

The next question was to Krosoczka whose latest book (Hey, Kiddo), which is pure memoir; it’s a raw story, about growing up with alcoholic grandparents because your mom’s an opioid addict. It means writing for older readers, a switch from the wacky stuff, and getting to spend time loved ones. But there were days when he didn’t want to write or draw another page, comparing it to Harry Potter writing lines that scarred his hand (Right there with you, Jarrett. I feel like we need a support group)

Ostertag was asked about revisiting her characters for a sequel, and how it felt to return to their story. She replied that it gave her the opportunity to let the characters grow, to do more with those that didn’t get enough time in the first book. Characters are seen in discrete moments, but with a sequel or series, those moments all happen at different stages of their lives. Also, I realized I never gave Aster a last name.

The next question went to Boothby, about Sparks, which is dedicated to the real Charlie and August. Do you really have two cats that fight crime in a dog suit? Boothby claims yes — Charlie is very much a dog, comes when called, plays and acts like a dog. August was always a rebel who kept to herself; she was a feral cat rescued from a house fire, very afraid, spent a lot of time under the bed. He dodged the bit about whether or not the brave cat and the scaredy cat actually have a robotic dog suit for crime fighting, but we all got the impression they do. Ostertag observed that she loves basing characterss on pets because they’ve got simpler personalities and when you say this character is based on my cat, my cat won’t get mad at me.

A general question was posed about the differences between licensed and original work, or writing characters you didn’t create. Galligan said the big challenge is that the base level of expectation and trust is different. Nobody can tell me I’ve got the wrong take on characters I invented. Boothby noted the advantages of writing Simpsons comics because everybody reads along in Homer’s voice and they know exactly what to expect from the character. The flip side is that the show is really funny, so you have to create to the same level.

Ostertag’s licensed work hasn’t released yet, but she appreciates getting the room to shape the world in her own stories that she doesn’t have when playing with somebody else’s toys. Krosoczka enjoys the freedom of the Jedi Academy series because they’re not canon; somebody decided in the made-up world of Star Wars, some things are real, and his stuff isn’t. I get to draw and write lines for Yoda which is amazing, but all the others are characters I get to invent. I made a droid that’s on Wookieepedia now!

Galligan got the last of the directed questions, asking about how her relationship with the BSC books changed since she read them herself as a young person. Galligan said the biggest change was she read them originally from the POV of the kid characters, but now that I’m older and grumpier and have paid a bill, she relates to all the chars more wholly, but still has fond memories from childhood. Raina noted that her run on BSC was her only adapted work, and found the process required throwing yourself into somebody else’s head (in this case, Ann M Martin, not a fictional character).

And with that, it was time for the Lightning Round.
Hardest thing to draw!
Krosoczka: Cars.
Steinke: Bikes
Ostertag: Crowds.
Boothby: Horses. Horses driving cars.

Favorite junk food!
Galligan: Shrimp chips.
Boothby: Oreo Double-Stuf, but you take two and make it a Quad-Stuf.
Ostertag: Wonder Bread that you toast and smother in too much butter and cinnamon and have ten of them for breakfast.
Steinke: I use to make this Bisquick dough and other stuff in a bowl in the micro, called it bowl pizza.
Krosoczka: I used to make bread balls, little balls of mushed up Wonder Bread.

Comic character you most want to walk the SDCC floor with!
Krosoczka: Lunch Lady! No, someone dressed as me!
Steinke: Spider-Man.
Ostertag: The flying carpet from Aladdin.
Boothby: Ant Man, so he can shrink all the stuff you buy so it’s easier to carry around. Also, Dr Strange? His cape is basically that carpet from Aladdin.
Galligan: The Flash, so you get Point A, Point B, done.

Most memorable fan interaction!
Galligan: The kind of kid that hands you a book and it’s clearly very lovingly read through.
Boothby: Kids that read in the line, but don’t want to talk to me because they want to keep reading, and I take the book and it’s annoying to them because I sign and draw so they can’t read it during that time. Then they plunk down to keep reading.
Ostertag: There’s a camp in the Bay Area that studies The Witch Boy as part of their curriculum.
Steinke: I met a girl that was going to see the new Jurassic Park movie but started reading my book and came to see me instead.
Krosoczka: In the Fall of 2002, I was just getting started and had a signing at bookstore with nobody there. This kid comes up and slowly reaches up towards me, towards my face, then reached past me to pull Captain Underpants books of the shelf by my head.

Recommend one comic for young readers!
Krosoczka: The Witch Boy!
Ostertag: That’s cheating!
Galligan: Awkward and Brave by Svetlana Chmakova.
Boothby: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol.
Steinke: You stole mine.
Ostertag: The adaptation of Speak by Emily Carroll. It’s not for kids, it’s older.
Raina: Yotsuba.

Q&A time²! From a kid: What job would you do if you were not an author?
Steinke: I’m a teacher. I’d still be drawing no matter what.
Ostertag: Maybe a chef.
Raina: I’d want to produce you on Food TV.
Boothby: Improv.
Krosoczka: Teaching.
Gale: Working in an office, I’m good with Excel.

At what stage of the creative process do you figure out the audience — will this be for kids, YA, does it develop as you do the story?
Ostertag: When I made The Witch Boy, I thought it would be YA (12+), but my editor determined it was actually a Middle Grade book (8+). They have criteria, and the fact that it’s family oriented and has no romance makes it MG. She suggested aging down the chars a little.
Steinke: It’s important to share the story, don’t keep it to yourself, your friends and family will give the feedback, they’ll tell you where the book goes.

From a kid: What’s your favorite character in one of your books?
Galligan: Claudia. I get to go wild with clothes and style.
Boothby: The narrator of Sparks is a talking litter box, a fancy butler you poop in.
Ostertag: Charlie is not like me, and she’s fun to draw because she’s always making big gestures.
Steinke: Randy is a cat, wears cowboy boots, has a funny personality, and dominates the room.
Krosoczka: My newest book is autobio, so my favorite is my grandmother who cursed like a truck driver who used to be a sailor and smoked two packs a day.

The last question, from a kid, was the old standard about where you get your ideas, but Boothby came up with both a unique answer I’d never heard before, and one that a kid would appreciate: Look at an animal and ask what it would never do, then find a way to make it do that. Well done, Ian Boothby.

¹ Also well done: the panel room for this session did a great job of scheduling topics that would not necessarily have audience overlap from one to the next, ensuring a good turnover of seats. Not many people hung around after an academic look at Mary Shelley’s work, and not many children’s graphic novel fans stuck around to see Shannon Wheeler talk about Too Much Coffee Man.

² It took some time to get some questions; as I noted, multiple kids in the room had their noses buried in books and didn’t look like they wanted to be interrupted. Awesome.

News Ew Can Ews

Phonetics! It’s basically enough to drive all reason from the language center of your brain! Let’s get some quick items out of the way.

  • The Beguiling is known for a few things: being one of the finest comics shops in the Western World (even if longtime manager Chris Butcher has moved on), being closely associated with TCAF (founding showrunner: Chris Butcher … coincidence!?), and having a kick-ass holiday party. Guess what? Holiday time!

    OH HEY It’s almost time for our annual Dinosaur Comics/Beguiling Holiday party!!!
    Special guests Nicholas Gurewitch (debuting his new book!) and Erica Henderson!
    More info/rsvp here:

    Whoa, hey, new book from Nicholas Gurewitch? That would be Notes On A Case Of Melancholia, as previously noted. Those of you in The TO on Monday, 11 December, drop in and have a damn good time.

  • Twofer from C Spike Trotman: First up, the last Iron Circus Kickstart of the year is live, and it’s for some good old-fashioned smut. Crossplay by Niki Smith has comfortably cruised past its goal and is on its way, with physical books available down to the US$15 level.

    Second up: Iron Circus will be delving into autobio comics in 2018, with the amazing true story of students opposing a military dictatorship via the power of … reading? Oh, and it’s by Ryan Estrada:

    I am so excited to be writing this book with my amazing badass wife Hyun Sook, and art by @kevin9143

    People that weren’t alive then don’t realize how dictatorial South Korea was for about 40 years. I was studying national security politics with a guy that used to teach at the Army War College in the late 80s, and we paid a lot of attention to the utterly undemocratic (yet oddly rules-bound) military government in Seoul¹. Heck, it wasn’t until 1998 that a peaceful change of government between parties took place. This is gonna be a good read.

Spam of the day:

She ain’t the hottest, But She’ll Meet You Tonight

Congratulations, I think that’s the first time I’ve gotten a spam that simultaneously negs and slut-shames. Asshole.

¹ There was a ritual to the college student protests — they’d get noisy in the streets, the water cannon and tear gas and beatings would start, they’d run back to the campus gates, and the cops would stop there. One day the cops didn’t stop and continued their beatings on the campus grounds, and that was one of the events that forced popular change.

I’m Starting To Think That #buttrocket Might Not Be A Good Thing

Click to begin the sage of #buttrocket.

Hear me out! After this, what can Jeph Jacques ever run for guest strips in the future? Can anything ever match up to the beauty that is #buttrocket? David Willis adds his take on the lace-trimmed Thong o’ Doom today, adding his take on #buttrocket to KB Spangler (who is killing it with textiles in her own strip today), Zach Weinersmith, and Christopher Baldwin. All hail the #buttrocket. Give yourself to #buttrocket. The #buttrocket is.

Hey, want to see some cool, fun things on a day that desperately needs them? Me too!

  • Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett put up a teaser at Drive a while back that he was going to go the shared-universe side-story route, and yesterday we got the first details:

    I am so excited for the “Tales of the Drive” series. As you remember, I’ve gone out to my favorite pros working today, and invited them to write short stories set in the DRIVE universe. These are people I trust to write amazing DRIVE short stories. And today I can reveal the first: Christopher Hastings of Dr. McNinja and Adventure Time!

    I just read Chris’ story last night, and it’s so fun. So fun. You are going to love it. [emphasis original]

    I’m on record as really liking the heck out of Drive, and given the vast swathes of history and geography (astrography?) that LARDK has laid out, there’s plenty of fertile ground for creators to play with — who were all these emperors whose writings we see? What about those galactic powers we’ve seen in the star charts? Why, exactly, did Neuvo Chile get banned from ring travel? Over the past half-decade I’ve asked LARDK these questions and more many times and he stubbornly refuses to let go of even a crumb of detail, other than the fact that we’re probably going to see nine books in all to chronicle The Pilot’s War.

    With that in mind, I had a few questions for him, and LARDK had answers:

    On how many stories we’re likely to see:

    I’d eventually like there to be two dozen stories … running 6-15 pages, each. They’re set anywhere/any time in the DRIVE universe, either using characters we know, or completely new folks.

    On the limits he sets as Determinator Of What Happens In This Continuity:

    I’ve asked folks to (try to) stay with canon — but after that, they’re free to write and draw what they like. I’m not editing these artists: They’re all pros, and they know their way around a story.

    [Editor’s note: Brave. Very brave.]

    On who we can expect to see contributing and when:

    So far, there are eight artists who’ve said “yes” — and I imagine we’ll see those over the next 12-18 months?

    On come on, LARDK, don’t tease us, who’s contributing already:

    Folks who’ve said yes include Zach Weinersmith, Jon Rosenberg, Dylan Meconis, Phil Foglio, Jake Parker, Meredith Gran, and Jeph Jacques … so far. There’s another half-dozen super-talented folks on the “interested, but currently swamped” list, so we’re waiting for their project schedule to lighten up.

    On what shouldn’t need to be said but sadly does because it often doesn’t work out this way:

    Oh, and they’re getting paid a page rate that (I think?) beats most comic book work … so I feel good about that.

    Keep your eyes peeled for Tales of the Drive, the schedule for which is presently being determined.

  • Know who’s made a habit of sharing hard numbers on her business, making it far more likely that those who come after her will avoid falling into traps?¹ “Hurricane Erika” Moen, or as I should probably say, “Hurricane Erika” Moen and Matt Nolan (who sadly lacks a weather-related knickname, but I’m working on it), since they’re partners in all aspects of Oh Joy, Sex Toy. They did the world a favor by releasing that big ol’ bolus of data on their first OJST Kickstart, and they’re back with more:

    Kickstarter Updates!
    1) Current cost breakdown …
    2) $2 backers get an extra wallpaper … [backers only]

    At that first link, Nolan lays out the numbers for gross funding on OJST volume 2, rejected pledges, the fees associated with running the campaign, and the costs experienced so far. Everybody that looks on Kicktarter as a magic money machine², follow these public postings that Nolan and Moen are very kindly sharing — you’re going to learn how much time and effort go into fulfilling their obligations, and maybe even get to decide if that much work is worth whatever they net (hint: it’s not going to be as much as you think it is). This is a gift worth more than all the business courses that your art school never offered.

  • The only thing wrong with the interview that Noelle Stevenson had with The AV Club’s Oliver Sava (a very smart writer on comics) is that the opportunity did not come up for Stevenson to declare I’M A SHARK AAAHH, which I like to imagine is printed on her business cards. No email or website, mind you, nothing but:

      Noelle Stevenson  


    That would be so rad.

Spam of the day:

It’s amazing in support of me to have a website, which is good in favor of my know-how.

If I ever feel like changing our site motto from Fleen: Try Our Thick, Creamy Shakes, then Fleen Is Good In Favor Of My Know-How would be a pretty good replacement.

¹ I’ve been over that sentence three times and I’m pretty sure it says what I want it to, but damn it’s kind of clumsy.

² Or worse, constructs elaborate arguments as to why a creator doesn’t deserve [a level of funding] or is making too much money and screwing the backers. Stop that.