The webcomics blog about webcomics

Fleen Book Corner: AOTBR!

At the back of the first Penny Arcade book (long since passed into the realm of legend) is this bit of dialogue:

Tycho: Our next book should have more Giant Robots. No! Bacon!
Gabe: Bacon Robots.
Tycho: Well, Giant Robots. But they really like Bacon.
Gabe: No.

Guess we know who won that disagreement. For lo, these many years, I’ve clutched my copy of the Year One book, wondering when, oh when, Gabe and Tycho would be able to once again publish their stuff. And at last my local comic shop got my copy in (they’re pretty much sold out), so Fleen can now bring you a review of Attack of the Bacon Robots!

First impressions: the vertical trim on AOTBR! is much more convenient for reading than the horizontal Year One. It’s got more than twice as many strips, is cheaper by about $20, and presumably Dark Horse are kind enough to actually give Gabe and Tycho money, instead of attempting to screw them sideways in the ass like their insanely Michael Jackson emulating first publisher did. The colors are vibrant and the printing quality is noticeably higher, with 7 year old strips coming in crisp and sharp instead of washed out and fuzzy. Tycho’s intro is a hoot, as is that of comics-page fellow geek traveller Bill Amend. But what struck me most was the afterword.

You don’t read afterwords? Read this one. It’s somewhat ambitiously titled The Webcomic Manifesto, and goddamned if it isn’t the finest piece of writing Tycho’s done since the famous Carrot Cake Soup. It’s wrong to try to excerpt it, because every part of the argument he puts forth in the manifesto is strong and compelling and part of a whole; we’re going to anyway, because it’s hard to find the book right now, and more people should read this:

Typically when people discuss the “ramifications” of Webcomics (capital W, proper noun) … the dialogue tends to focus on how digital distribution of comics alters the power dynamic between creators and publishers.

I guess so.

The most startling change we’ve seen hasn’t been betwen creators and publishers, it’s between creators and readers.

Most of the people considered “big movers” in Webcomics are considered so not because they have substantially contributed work to the medium — indeed, they might not even produce a regularly updated comic. No, they are thought of with reverence because in each case they laud some new barrier between people who read comics and people who write them. The barriers they’re so proud of take a number of forms, but Byzantine pay mechanisms and subscription-locked archives are two of the more celebrated anchors.

If you are using systems like these, I need to ask you why you don’t trust your readers.

What are you afraid they’re going to do with your comics? Read them?

When you’re ready to stop treating readers like thieves, come check out this Web they’ve got going. I hear it’s going to be big.

There’s a window of safety glass that separates the adherents of different business models in webcomics; roughly speaking, they’re divided into those who think that Understanding Comics was the better book, or Reinventing Comics was (Me? I’m the guy who kinda liked The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln). It gets breached every once in a while, slammed open so that angry exchanges can fly back and forth, then closed again and calm returns once more to the land. That crunching sound you just heard? That was the firebomb that Tycho just chucked through the window. Now go buy a copy of the reprinting and see if you agree with his argument or not. But for the love of all that is good and holy, base your opinion on the full argument, not the excerpt above. And no burning my consulate.

You know, I must applaud this review. Far too often Fleen does a three paragraph “quickie” with a comic that doesn’t do anything but in essence say “hey, look at this comic! It’s good! (or sucks, or something else)”

At times I even wonder why I bother perusing Fleen (other than the fact I feel I should be seeing what my associates in the Webcomic Commentary Field are talking about).

And then you come out with something like this. This is what we need to see more of. This is what draws readers in and keeps them. It’s why Websnark is so big (do you honestly think his “submitted without comment” threads are what interest people?).

I look forward to seeing more content like this in the future. Good luck, guys.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents

Actually, I like most the stuff they post here, even the quick hits. It’s a myth that Websnark has accidentally created that you somehow need an elaborate, wordy review to get an idea across. Sometimes, all you need to do is point at something and say “Hey, this is cool! Check it out!”

I concur. Short and sweet is better, for the most part.

There’s something a little lopsided about writing a 30,000 word essay on a comic strip with about two dozen.

Well, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, you should be able to at least crank out three or four thousand. And ‘hey look, this is self-evidently good’ is actually not very helpful because then everyone has to work out for themselves what the creator has done right to make it good, and that’s what you (don’t) pay you guys for.

Good writing is about using the correct words, not about using the correct number of words. Any argument to the contrary is at least as foolish as the one making the argument.

Doubly so for you, Bobbie H.

Well, Jeffie, using the correct words is useful, that is true. But sometimes you need to back up assertions and beliefs. Saying something is good means nothing if you don’t show it. And if “seeing is believing” then why post a review in the first place? Even if it’s only three paragraphs.

Besides, good writing also relies on articulating your beliefs and arguments. Conserving words, using a bare-bone approach to reviews, this doesn’t do that. It just turns reviews into another form of news reporting. Which is good if you’re a reporter. Not so good if you’re writing critical commentary.

I’ve been meaning to buy the book simply for the manifesto. Tycho is one of my favourite writers, and he’s been a huge influence on my writing style, and if there are two people that know how to make a webcomic successful, it’s them. The aforementioned Carrot Cake Soup post is a timeless masterpiece of humour.

Funny how they are sometimes completely ignored in conversations of ‘Living off your webcomic’. I guess it’s mostly because of their nearly complete silence regarding the webcomics scene and the fact that many people think that they got where they are just because they happened to be one of the first.

I think the reason PA is usually ignored in discussions of how to subsist off your work is because they never really understood how either. By their own admission, they made mistake after mistake, selling off the book rights and then the rights to their entire comic without even realizing what they were doing. And somehow, somewhere in there they became #1, business-wise.

Their manager Robert Khoo has a lot to do with their success, but I’ve always found it mysterious how they managed to stay alive long enough for him to get involved in the first place.

Well, if hyperbole and misrepresentation of another creator’s intent is considered brilliant writing in these parts, then I guess the manifesto is everything it’s claimed to be.

Actually I concur with Tangent- my favourite reviews on Fleen are the slightly longer ones because they do more of a job than just say “this is good” or “this is terrible” without enough qualification. I don’t mean to advocate Websnarking- that is just excessive. This post gets it just about right. I think that this post is a fine piece of writing indeed! Keep it up d00ds :).

On the topic of Penny Arcade… I think they are once again evidence that the REAL moneymaker in terms of webcomics is indeed one that rewards its readers rather than punishing them. As a student with no credit card or real funds to pay for a PayPal or BitPass account, I and a large proportion of the webcomics audience would simply be unable to read any webcomics if a certain business model were suddenly adopted overnight by the webcomics world. And people forget that poor students grow up to be reasonably well off professionals in the end, grateful and willing to buy ridiculous amounts of pretty merch…

hey, I like fleen, it gives reviews in tasty bite size morsels, while websnark is more like a full steak dinner- both have their place.

I’ve always found it mysterious how they managed to stay alive long enough for him to get involved in the first place.

They showed up day after day, in a field that at the time wasn’t oversaturated, and they were consistently funny.

Plus, they had some luck in there. But you can’t beat the combination of “talent” plus “work ethic,” for my money. It carried Gabe and Tycho when their business decisions weren’t so hot, and these days it will lead to their eventual takeover of all government functions.

(For the record, I have a history of occasionally posting essays that are thirty words long, boiling down to hey, this is funny, today.

The key is to say enough to make your point. If that takes only ten words, that only takes ten words.

It’s a myth that Websnark has accidentally created that you somehow need an elaborate, wordy review to get an idea across.

Except that they didn’t do such a thing, and all…

[...] Fleen: Any thoughts on Tycho’s blistering “Webcomics Manifesto” in Attack of the Bacon Robots? [...]

[...] They’re targetting the right demographic: webcomics readers are loyal to their favorites and, to quote Tycho’s manifesto, “will take care of you”. [...]

[...] Recall that this session took place at the largest collection of comic book fans on the continent, and perhaps not all of them have shed the dead-tree sensibilities; if you’re doing webcomics because your ultimate goal is to do a comic book/comic strip, some of this advice may not help much. But also recall that Khoo’s been working for Penny Arcade for four years, and Attack of the Bacon Robots! only came out six months ago. In the meantime, there’s been no shortage of income for Penny Arcade Industries, during a period when the print comics market is rapidly shrinking. Takeaway — If you think being on the web is slumming, these lessons probably aren’t for you. [...]

[...] Fleen: Any thoughts on Tycho’s blistering “Webcomics Manifesto” in Attack of the Bacon Robots? [...]

[...] Gary In case you were wondering, this is why Bill Amend deserves your thanks. I can’t help but think that had FoxTrot come along later, or broadband earlier, he would have been one of us (heck, he wrote the foreword to Attack of the Bacon Robots). In style and sensibility, his work really was the precursor to the geek aesthetic that dominates so much of webcomics, and it’s good to know that he won’t ever be farming out his work. [...]

[...] It’s too nice a day (as it rains upon the just and un-just alike) for political discussions, manifestos, and the like. One day we’ll have to have a summit of all interested parties whereupon such [...]

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