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Fleen Book Corner: SMUNM

The thing you have to understand about Howard Tayler is, he’s basically the same guy as me. Okay, he’s got a passle o’ kids and I’ve got a dog; he’s a Latter-Day Saint and I’m a nonthiestic humanist (that’s me in the crosshairs); he bears a startling resemblance to Tycho and I don’t. But we were born a few months apart, we’ve been married to our respective wives about the same length of time, we’ve both worked extensively in tech, we both drive New Beetles, and I suspect that we have a similar love of pie — and if that’s not enough to make us brothers under the skin, then I don’t know what is.

And it’s obvious that we both really like the concept of DVD extras, as his first collection of strips, Schlock Mercenary Under New Management, is chock-full of the print equivalent of commentary tracks, mini documentaries, and deleted scenes. Tayler’s pretty well known for these commentaries within the bounds of the daily strip — you’ll learn about the logic behind his various sci-fi constructs and doo-dads, and get an occasional lesson in practical geology if you aren’t careful (you may also discover that in the future, he’s taking literal pot-shots at your place of residence).

Following on the DVD analogy, the book is the equivalent of a reference-quality disc, with heavy glossy paper (seriously, this is the heaviest stock I’ve ever seen in a webcomics book … there is some serious heft here), deep colors, rich blacks, with an occasional transfer artifact somewhat distracting from the overall presentation (that is, somebody needs to clean the printing web a bit better as there were some ink smears around the margins, but thankfully not on the main images). If there were a soundtrack to the book, it would have those reassuring little sci-fi spaceship background noises interspersed with some BLAM and ommminous hummmmm in 5.1 surround.

Storywise, SMUNM goes from March 9 to August 23, 2003, covering four arcs of a year-plus long story (which we are promised will continue in the next book); you could just read it online, but the book has a distinct advantage in that it’s easier to navigate. The latest website redesign eliminated the drop-down box that allowed a browser to jump to particular story points; Tayler has mentioned his unhappiness with this particular feature loss, so hopefully we’ll see the capability back soon.

In the meantime, SMUNM is exactly what you want from lighthearted SF — no big heavy morals or using the far-flung future to address pressing issues of our day, just a bunch of weird people wandering the galaxy and blowing up other weird people. Can’t ask for more than that, and with pre-orders done, it goes back on sale today.

I went with the sketch edition, #246/300, and it came with a blank sheet of paper put between the sketch and back cover so it wouldn’t smudge. Total professionalism.

If all of the following Schlock books are this good Tayler’s plan on taking over the world are well on the way.

[...] It was a busy weekend, and I neglected to make all my usual trawling rounds. Thus it was that this went unnoticed by me until just now. [...]

Receiving this turned me into a big ball of happiness. I’ll freely admit that it appears to be targeted more at current Schlock fans than for hopefully-new-readers, but my friends who have heard me preach Schlock at them have seen the book, gotten interested, and started to read online… and now are quite interested in the next book.

Tayler has a fantastic imagination, and has an ability to express it via the art work that he presents. All of the characters that he has drawn both online and in the book are fantastic. With the added commentary in the book, some extra points, which have otherwise gone unnoticed, have been brought to my attention, and i appreciate the depth that the SM world has to it.
While the majority of the material is accessable online, the book is more than worth a consideration, given its price, and quality.

There’s lots of reasons why you might want the book when the comics are available for free online (easier to get friends hooked; Howard deserves our financial support; etc.), but I think the hands-down best reason is:
It’s a real pain trying to read the online version in the bathroom.

[...] The 4.5% Solution Tayler came back to address one more aspect of the discussion at hand — how to know audience size and demographics. Answer: do a survey; when he put up his, he got about 4000 responses (which represents the most passionate readers), asking about what kind of merchandise they wanted (a book!) and how much they’d be willing to spend ($10 – $15!). “That was information I could take to the bank,” Tayler said, and he did. The survey convinced him to sink $8000 (Breeden: “More commas!”) into printing Under New Management, which has netted a handsome return . Khoo concurred on the importance of surveys, recommending SurveyMonkey.com as the tool used by Penny Arcade. Takeaway — Standing in line at the Penny Arcade booth on Preview Night, I overheard a woman ask Khoo what the female readership of the strip was. He knew the number off the top of his head: 4.5%. It is critical that you know about your readership in detail. [...]

[...] As with Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, Tayler includes all his (at times, extensive) footnotes for his delightfully thought-out futuretech, and somehow continues to print on the heaviest, glossiest color stock this side of … hell, I don’t know. What’s printed on heavy, glossy color stock besides these books? The colors pop right off the page (and your grimy little fingerprints will show up forever, so wash before you read and don’t kill anybody with one of Tayler’s books, or Gary Sinise will have you hunted down by the end of the first commercial break). [...]

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