The webcomics blog about webcomics

Good Stuff For You Today

Sometimes the really good work/news just falls into your lap.

  • First up, Boulet dropped a new comic on us. As he has done before, it is very tall, telling a story in the vertical, with visual metaphors of falling downwards ever downwards. As he has done before, there are bits of animation scattered throughout, but never enough to be a distraction; it enhances by catching the eye, but is slight enough to not distract¹.

    To my recollection, however, Boulet has not done these two things in the same comic, and combining them has produced a meditation on science, philosophy, and how the replacing of myth with knowledge need not take the mystery from life. Indeed, knowing what we know and how much more there is yet to know is its own poetry, and Boulet takes us along on a journey through our solar system, every planetary discovery a verse, every realization of how much is out there and how beautiful, a refrain.

    At his best, Boulet’s work leaves the reader breathless, rushing to see the outlines and boundaries of the ideas he’s exploring, then digging back in to see the details. Brassens in Space (for that is its name) is possibly his best-ever webcomics work, which is a distinction that only matters until the next time he has a big idea and does something even better. Also, The Police are along for the ride and a gleeful acceptance that the name of the planet Uranus will always be hilarious appeals to the 12 year old in all of us.

    Go read it from top to bottom, bottom to top and every other way that you can; scan over it, let your eye catch on the details, see where it matches your own personal map of the universe. It’s lovely.

  • About as far as you can get from the infinities of the universe, Evan Dahm posted the latest illustration of his Moby-Dick illustrations, carrying us down to the existential struggle between one wounded man and one wounded whale, with a boatful of bystanders to a slow-motion duel. Specifically, and at long last, we see the titular white whale.

    Like Boulet’s universe, he’s too large to fit in a page. Unlike Boulet’s universe, he’s trapped in a space too small for him (there is no ocean large enough to avoid Ahab and the Peaquod, no infinity big enough to escape the confrontation that’s coming), and so we get a tantalizingly specific look at the great whale, wondering what monstrosity must exist if this is just a portion of his jaws. There are untold years of life and struggle in that maw, the tale of a creature obeying its nature and in increasing conflict with the world that is rapidly changing.

    Once, he would have continued on as apex predator, with nothing to threaten him but old age. Now, tiny upstarts that know nothing of the depths of the sea intrude into the merest skin of his world, and are become a credible threat. He is not helpless, not yet, and those teeth will be red in the hunt and in defense for some time to come. It’s an image of direst danger and at the same time profound sympathy, and not a single hatch or shadow is misplaced.

    Dahm produced a masterwork here, and more than a dozen others, and dozens yet to come in the story. Take a good long look and drink them in.

  • Got a little bit heady there, so let’s finish on a more concrete note. The good folks of :01 Books will be starting a new series of nonfiction graphic novels to teach science, and the announcement fell to the science comics blogger² Maki Naro at Popular Science:

    First Second Books is releasing an all new series of narrow-focus, single-topic nonfiction graphic novels aimed at middle-grade readers. Autologically titled Science Comics, each book in the series will cover a topic in the wide world of biology, chemistry, physics, and more. The idea was to publish books on subjects that could be easily worked into lesson plans, no doubt to the delight of students and educators everywhere.

    The first of the series, Dinosaurs and Coral Reefs, are due to be released in May 2016, followed by and Volcanos in the fall. Each season, a new volume will be published, allowing readers to amass an encyclopedic collection. It’ll be like having a Time Life Science Library in comic books. Which is awesome!

    Even better — the books will be by by :01 vets like MK Reed & Joe Flood (previously seen on Americus, The Cute Girl Network, and Orcs) and Maris Wicks (Primates, Human Body Theater). Oh, and how fresh is Naro’s information? Volcanos doesn’t even appear on the publisher’s own website yet.

    Got a kid in your life that’ll be between, let’s say 4th and 8th grade come Spring? Get ready to make ’em smarter.

Spam of the day:

From hair oil to cricket, wherever Amitabh Bachchan has his name hooked up in just one way or perhaps the other he assures achievement.

You make him sound like Trump. That’s not very nice.

¹ Put another way, there are no clumsy, ugly motion comics, no uncanny valley blinking eyes here.

² In the sense that he blogs in the form of science comics, not that he blogs about science comics. Except when he does.

Coming Soon To A Fleen Near You

For varying values of soon, that is.

  • On the nearer end of the spectrum, we’ll be following up on our recent :01 Week with a deeper dive on two of the books we reviewed. Specifically, the two that shared a post, Ben Hatke’s Little Robot, and the Chris Duffy-edited anthology, Fable Comics.

    Gina Gagliano at :01 Books has arranged for us to do a Q&A with Hatke, and for us to run some nice high-res art from The Boy Who Cried Wolf by the incomparable Jaime Hernandez. Each will run as part of a blog tour in support of the two books, and we’ll point out where you can read other reviews/interviews/discussions when the time comes. Mark your calendars for 13 September for Little Robot, and 30 September for The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

  • A little further out (okay, not until Spring; this is how publishing works), we’ll be obtaining and reviewing the crap out of the long-awaited, full color, original graphic novel from Christopher Baldwin, Little Dee and the Penguin. Here’s the description:

    When Little Dee meets a motley crew of animals deep in the forest, she knows she’s found the perfect set of new friends. Between the bossy vulture, the slightly dim dog, the nurturing bear, and the happy-go-lucky penguin, this mismatched group of big personalities doesn’t always get along—but they’re a family.

    And they’re on the run. A pair of hungry polar bears are after the penguin, and the rest of the team are determined to protect her. They’re not interested in adopting a tiny human. But Dee loves them—especially Ted the bear—and she won’t let them go. Instead, she hops on their getaway plane and joins them on an around-the-world adventure.

    Which sounds like a reboot — or maybe the movie adaptation — of the long-running (2004-2010, now approaching the end of reruns) webcomic. Vachel the vulture, Ted the bear, and Blake the dog were the family that adopted Dee, and there was no penguin at the time. Or was there? Anyway, condensing six years of strips into one story necessitates some changes¹, and I can’t wait to see how LDatP reads. It’s not out until 5 April 2016, so you’ve got time to read through the entire series and see what changes.

Spam of the day:

you’re actually a excellent webmaster. Also, The contents are masterwork.

Damn straight.

¹ But if you’ve got 128 pages to include the breadth of the story, we better see Baldwin’s very best supporting characters, the Rogues of Wool.

One Year On And No Sign Of Slowing

A year ago I wrote this:

Out today! Raina Telgemeier has dominated the New York Times bestseller charts for graphic novels with Smile and Drama, and since the Smile sequel Sisters hits today, the only questions to be asked are How long will she stay at #1? and Will she manage the trifecta of Drama coming back to the list? (Smile hasn’t left in more than two years), and Will she pull off the trick of holding the first three positions simultaneously?

My predictions: At least a month, Probably, and I’d bet ten bucks on it.

Here we are, a year later, Sisters has been on the list for 52 out of 52 weeks, and the actual outcomes to the predictions are: I lost count but I think it was close to 20 weeks over the year, starting in week 2, She’s got five books on the list right now, so yes, and Yep, she did, and then she took the top four spots simultaneously and nobody will take my bets anymore.

And for those keeping track at home, as of today, Raina Telgemeier has a cumulative 343 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List (two of which are Eisner winners), which is insane. Consider what it takes to manage that feat — these books are not only insanely popular, but they are sustaining demand over the long haul; she is creating new readers with each new book, not just selling to the same demographic cohort¹. I’m calling it now: Raina Telgemeier will sell 100 million books over the length of her career. She will be one of those authors whose total sales count is measured in reference to the Bible.

Happy Sistersversary, Raina. You’re amazing, and you just keep getting better.

Spam of the day:

Once you’re it a fact that the common gladness on the bestexperiences in a foreign country.

I think this is selling some kind of sex tourism?

¹ The last person I can think of that expanded the reading pool like this was JK Rowling.

Messing With PHP Because WordPress; How Are You?

[tap, tap] This thing on? Trying to figure out if what I think was a shift of PHP will keep WordPress running; Brad Guigar ran a guest piece from Phil Hofer at Webcomics Dot Com a couple days back; it’s behind a paywall so I’m not going to quote it, but it’s something you should look into. Pre-emptive apologies if I break anything here.

  • In the meantime, y’all saw the announcement from Hope Larson yesterday about her collaboration with Rebecca Mock, right? Cover and story for Compass South are at Comics Alliance, which looks to combine Larson’s always-sharp writing with Mock’s lush art¹, which is going to be an absolute delight in combination. Best news: it’s the first book of a series! Worst news: because of print lead times, it’ll be summer 2016 before we see it. You know what? It’s a fair trade.
  • It appears that I will be presenting at TopatoCon, alongside Frank Gibson and TopatoCo’s own Holly Rowland on the topic of cocktails (see yesterday for details). Guys, I am so excited about this. Come see us nerd out on booze-mixing! Learn my feelings on falernum! Ice! Stirring vs shaking! And if you’re very good I’ll share the recipe for the Pineapple Maki which is made in a pineapple and is delicious.

    The original session title, Let’s Drink About It with Harrison and Bowman, now seems inaccurate, so I’m going to suggest Frank, Gary, and Holly Save Boozemas as a substitute. Presumably it will take place same time/place (Saturday, 26 September, 5:00pm — 6:30pm, Room One), but stay tuned here for any possible updates.

Spam of the day:

Bartender was very friendly and made… I’ve come here on many occasions for dates as well as business lunches/dinners. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxed and the decor is beautiful and…

If you can’t tell me what the bartender made, then never darken my email inbox again.

¹ I love Larson’s work and think she’ll go down as one of the most important comics artists of the century, but her art style can tend to the sparse. I don’t want to say it’s minimalist, but she definitely gets across her ideas with a high-contrast, let-the-reader-fill-in-the-details-in-their-brain approach. Mock’s art is more detail oriented, perhaps less restrained?

WordPress Badass In Training And Also Communities

So I hopped into WordPress to make some quick notes and Something Was Wrong. Instead of the usual editor, it rendered as a bunch of bare, unformatted text, like something from 1998 or so. It wasn’t browser-related, as I got the same result on three different browsers on two different computers and an Android phone; something was definitely off on the back end. A quick trip to the host verified that the database was consistent, and my next attempt at logging in brought back the regular dashboard. Yay, me.

The lesson here is one of two things:

  • Taking ten minutes to dick around in different browsers and dig out host credentials is enough for transient weirdness to resolve itself
  • or

  • The mere act of thinking I’d better get Phil Hofer on this is enough to reach through space and cause cranky WordPress installations to behave.

Either one’s good.

  • And since we’re talking about back ends of webpages, Clay Yount is trying to make it easier for people to put up webcomics without needing to know all this backend stuff. If that thought appeals to you, be sure to check out a series of tutorials that Yount’s put together as a result of experimentation to make Squarespace into a platform for webcomickry. Check it:

    At the beginning of the year, I released a Squarespace template for webcomic artists. The response has been pretty good, and hopefully some of you have put it to good use. I’ve gotten some feedback, and the two biggest complaints are that the (recently increased) $18 per month developer account is too expensive, and the template is too hard to customize for someone without a lot of coding skills.

    Since I released the template, Squarespace has made some important updates to their platform that have allowed me to create a new easier solution that doesn’t require a custom template and just uses some copy and paste code. This means it’ll work with ANY Squarespace plan including the $8/month basic plan. I’ve put together some video tutorials to help you get the basics of a site up and running in about 30 minutes. I’ll be adding some more videos as I complete them, and am willing to take suggestions for tutorial topics. If you are a web developer and want 100% control, you can still use my original template as a launching off point, but this new solution is incredibly versatile and I think it is the best option for 99% of people.

    There follows a collection of templates, video demos, and code samples which will allow you to set up ads (Google and Project Wonderful), chapter divisions for your archive, blog posts, and wrap it all in customizable CSS. Take a look, make suggestions as to what you’d like to see next, and remember — Yount shared this with the community, so maybe toss him some thanks?

  • While we’re talking community, a community is seeking contributors to a new anthology — Elements — of speculative fiction comics work on the theme of Fire, with the goal of producing comics by creators from ethnicities and cultures that don’t get the same play in comics publishing as white dudes. The announcement from Black Girl Nerds is here on Twitter with more details at their website.

    Key points: submissions are open until 30 August, the anthology will be all-ages, and its open to all who identify as creators of color¹, with a goal of having lots of different viewpoints/experiences represented in the final product. As always, please read over the guidelines and submission instructions so you don’t screw something up and have nobody to blame but yourself.

  • One more on the theme of doing things for the good of a community: the warring personalities of Dante Shepherd/Lucas Landherr occasionally stop trying to murder each other and cooperate to achieve some mutually-beneficial aim; most of these lulls in psychological violence revolve around trying to make STEM education better. The problem is, these sorts of undertakings take time and money, and those that give out grants are capricious and … actually, there is no “and”. They’re just plain ol’ capricious.

    Anyhoo, it’s third time’s the charm for Landherr/Shepherd, and this year’s iteration of the NSF grant application is at a stage where it needs help:

    The STEM education component relies on the collaboration with K-12 educators who would be able to get involved (even from a distance) with the research conducted and help directly craft the STEM modules produced. As such, providing proof to the NSF that there are K-12 educators who would be on board with the grant would be a tremendous boost to our chances of receiving the grant.

    We are NOT allowed to submit letters of “support” as part of the proposal – but we can submit letters of “commitment” by which educators can express their desire to work with the research program. So we are asking that any K-12 instructors who would be interested in collaborating, especially those involved in biology or physics classes, to write a short letter of commitment as part of the proposal submission.

    The grant, if awarded, would allow us to conduct this research and produce 30 new STEM modules over the course of three years — so even if next year would not perfectly align with your needs/interests, expressing commitment for a future summer would also work well.

    As always, these grant proposals come together extremely quickly at the end, so we need to have a scanned or PDF or word processor copy of your letter by next Friday, August 21. If this is possible and you are interested, please let me know via email at sciencetheworld (at) gmail (dot) com, and I will do what I can to make this as easy for you as possible. [emphasis original]

    There it is; if you know somebody that does K-12 education on STEM topics, point ’em towards the guy with the lab coat and Red Sox hat.

Spam of the day:

I have a proposal for you. I will furnish you with the details when you reply. Thank you and God bless you.

Sorry dude, I’m married.

¹ Anybody whining But what about me, it’s not my fault I’m a white dude will just have to content themselves with 90% of the industry being made by and for people just like you. Take that weak shit and go bitch about how oppressed you are with Bill Willingham.

That Post-:01 Week Letdown

Well, no, not really, but that was a concentrated burst of good stuff I got to talk about last week, so maybe I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Then again, nostalgia is a disease, so let us look forward, not backward¹.

  • Speaking of nostalgia, I got to spend some time on Saturday night with an old friend in an old familiar place; the Peculier Pub is not only a key location in the history of Goats, but it’s the location where more than ten years ago Jon Rosenberg gently strongarmed me into starting this here blog².

    Sharing beer and scotch with the soulkeeper was a too-uncommon-these-days treat, and we even got to talk a little webcomics along the way. Namely, Jon is fired up for his forthcoming Tales of the Drive guest story for Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett, and his reason for doing so can be summed up in one word: Nosh. Everybody I’ve spoken too about TotD seems to be Noshphilic, so if LARDK ever gets to make, say, a Drive movie or series, we know who the first action figure will be.

  • Also at the drink-up: once and future associate editor of The Nib Matt Lubchansky and I got to talk about the impending funding-out of The Nib’s print collection, Eat More Comics. Specifically, we spoke about how Lubchansky had been drawing all the custom portraits for high-value backers that afternoon.

    More specifically, we spoke about our priorities in stretch goals (Lubchansky wants to see backers get bonus exclusive comics from Zach Weinersmith, R Stevens, Gemma Correll, and Matt Bors; I want to see the higher page rate for the creators). Even more specifically, Lubchansky is grateful for the efforts of Make That Thing on the production/fulfillment end, as it means that Eat More Comics will premiere at SPX³ and he won’t have to mail the damn things from his apartment. Everybody feel good for Matt Lubchansky!

  • From Heidi Mac, news that the Society of Illustrators has announced a new venue for the 2016 MoCCA Fest, seeing as how the very neat space they found this year is being chopped up for condos. Next year the Fest heads uptown to Metropolitan West, which is an event space that seems classy, airy, open, and will no doubt get chopped up into condos sometime in 2018.

    Panels will (as they were this year) be held at a nearby upscale hotel — this time, Ink48 (which being part of the storied Kimpton chain, is a place that knows how to treat people right). Metropolitan West is at 46th Street across the street from the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, and Ink48 about two blocks away at 11th & 48th. That corner of the island isn’t especially well served by subway, meaning that the streak of slight inaccessiblity for Manhattan shows remains intact.

Spam of the day:

Natl Gun Assoc, “You Must Have This [flashlight] to Survive a Crisis”

I’m a little surprised and suspicious that the National Gun Association wants me to have a flashlight more than, you know, a gun.

¹ Upward, not forward, etc, etc.

² For which I will be in equal measure grateful and resentful for the rest of our lives.

³ A mere 38 days after the campaign ends, possibly less than a month after the Kickstarter check clears.

Wrapping Up :01 Week

I was tempted to break with the pattern of :01 Books week here at Fleen, particularly since the prediction that I made eight days ago has come to pass, where Raina Telgemeier now holds fully half of the latest New York Times Best Seller List for paperback graphic novels. Suffice it to say that this domination of the graphic novel sales channel is unprecedented at the level of an entire company, much less a single creator. Whatever superlatives you feel best describe this situation, I assure you that I feel just as strongly. Everybody feel good for Raina!

But theme weeks are theme weeks, and so we’re going to spend the rest of today on Maris Wicks, who has a history in educomics — we saw her team up with Jim Ottaviani in 2013 to tell the stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, and she spends her non-comics time as a program educator at the New England Aquarium. This time around, she’s tackling the marvel of science that defines us — the human body, from stem to stern, in the informative Human Body Theater.

Now let’s get something out of the way — some people are not going to like this book. It acknowledges the existence of things that they are uncomfortable with, things like sex, puberty, genitals, HIV, menstruation, erections, pee, poop, farts, and snot. It includes everything from primers on cell theory, atomic theory, and the nature of visible light, as well a thorough discussion of the major systems of the body and their functions. Some people are not going to want their kids (the book is easily acceptable for children 10 and up) to learn about how things work on the inside, preferring them to treat such matters as fit only for a sense of shame. Those kids are the ones that need this book most of all.

Because beyond the simple, factual discussion of things that provoke that shame reaction, Human Body Theater is a terrific guide to gross anatomy, how everything from the histamine reaction to the autonomic nervous system works, and how to keep it working properly. There’s nice asides about the importance of hygiene and nutrition, and in the chapter on sensory function, acknowledgment that not everybody gets to have a body in perfect working order and that’s okay.

For example, color blindness means that you have more trouble picking out matching clothes, actual blindness means you use assistive devices or animals, and deafness is countered with sign language. It’s a particularly nice touch that Wicks includes both Braille and ASL alphabets and plants the idea Yes, this is more challenging, but people adapt.

Along the way, Wicks demystifies all the stuff that your average 10 year old is probably entranced and grossed out by in equal measure: blood, farts, burps, snot, pee, and poop (this is looking a lot like that earlier shame list) all get attention that sends the message This happens to everybody; just be cool and be polite. Some of those kids may not yet be aware of things like erections, but they’re treated as matter-of-factly without getting overly explicit. The young reader is going to come away with the impression that bodies are weird, complicated, wonderful, with lots of cool stuff going on when you stop to think about it.

The older reader is going to learn as well — you may have forgotten (or never been taught) about the musculoskeletal, cardiopulumonary, digestive, excretory, endocrine, reproductive, immune, and neurological functions of the human body, and this book is as good an overview as I’ve seen. I’m thinking it belongs in middle-school health classes, and very possibly in the anatomy and physiology section of the EMT classes I teach¹.

Human Body Theater releases on 6 October, which is enough time to remember how to pronounce things like mitochondria and metatarsals. One last time, we at Fleen thank Gina Gagliano and everybody at :01 for the review copies

Spam of the day:

Hi admin, i see you need some fresh content. Daily updates will rank your page in google higher, content is king nowadays.

Yes, because nearly 4800 words about six books in five days isn’t fresh content. Bozo.

¹ Heck, I know baby EMTs who can’t tell you about the three kinds of muscle, how they differ, and where they occur. It’s all here in a couple of full-color pages that makes everything clear and obvious; if HBT included a full discussion of terms like distal and proximal and the planes of the body, I’d make it mandatory reading for A&P.

A :01 Two-Fer

This bit about pushing all non-:01 Books content to the side becomes a bit hard when there’s something as significant as the announcement that SPX and Nickelodeon are partnering up for animation pitches¹. We’ll leave my thoughts for the footnotes.

In the meantime, we have two (two!) books to discuss today, in the form of Ben Hatke’s Little Robot, and the anthology Fable Comics. Unsurprisingly, they are both highly suitable for the younger reader (perhaps listener) in your life.

Little Robot is a bit of a departure for Hatke; it’s not the rolicking adventure story of Zita the Spacegirl, nor the almost entirely sweet Julia’s House For Lost Creatures. Little Robot occupies a middle position between the two — incorporating the lush illustrations and storybook nature of Julia’s, but getting into the more melancholy themes of the Zita books. This is particularly impressive because Little Robot features a pair of protagonists who don’t get names.

There’s a girl, and she lives a life without luxury (not deprivation, but pretty low on the socioeconomic scale); she doesn’t have friends her age around, but she has the wild woods (based on Hatke’s own Shenandoah Valley home) to explore and a junkyard of stuff to mess with and a bag of tools for repairs. She’s young, she’s solitary, she’s barefoot and poor, but she ain’t stupid.

There’s a robot, lost from where he was supposed to be; we don’t know entirely what his designation or purpose are, but when he goes missing his masters are pretty quick to send out some big hardware to find him, trampling over anything in the way.

The girl and the robot become friends, but a bit haltingly — neither has much experience with it — and it’s a friendship that’s punctuated by jealousy and possessiveness and jerkish behavior. In other words, a perfect representation of how a young child would act in uncertain circumstances; our characters are no angels, and no matter how much they want to be good friends, they aren’t entirely certain what that means.

Angry fight followed by rejection or not, when your friend gets snatched up by a giant robot and whisked away to who-knows-what, you grab your favorite wrench and head out to mess stuff up. It’s a neat journey about finding friends, making (literally) friends, and being overwhelmed by friends. There’s a bit of betrayal and darkness in the middle, and it ends up in a good place because girl and robot work for it to. Kudos to Hatke for not hiding the tougher aspects of friendship, and for giving us a (female, poor, rural, brown) POV character that’s demographically unlike the audience that many books get pitched to.

Fable Comics is the third Chris Duffy-edited collection of the world’s best cartoonists tacking some of the world’s best-loved stories; like Nursery Rhyme Comics and Fairy Tale Comics before it, Fable Comics splits its contents between stories likely familiar to its audience (lot of Aesop here) and stories that are likely new (there are Chinese and Angolan and Native American fables, and stories taken from the Panchatantra and the satires of Ivan Krylov and Ambrose Bierce).

Standouts include a very James Kochalka take on the story of the Fox and the Gapes, Sophie Goldstein’s take on a hungry leopard and clever deer, R Sikoryak telling the story of the lion and the mouse by way of Krazy Kat, and a series of short pieces by George O’Connor tied together by the presence of Hermes (who he hasn’t gotten around to yet in his excellent Olympians series).

Honestly, though, every piece has art that suits the story, an intact lesson, and the clever (and stupid, and generous, and wise, and venal, and hubristic, and greedy, and, and, and …) animals that have captured our imaginations for millenia. Perfect for reading a story or two at bedtime for a week or two.

Little Robot releases 1 September; Fable Comics three weeks later on 22 September — plenty of time to brush up on your animal and robot voices for when you read them to the kid(s) in your life. As always, we at Fleen thank Gina Gagliano and everybody at :01 for the review copies.

Spam of the day:

A good trained locksmith could easily put in a CCTV plus suggest you the most effective options available inside market

I put a Post-It note scrap over the webcam on my laptops; you think I’m putting CCTV cameras in my house? Not a chance.

¹ In which I find it odd that no mention of the pairing appears on the SPX website yet. There was a good back-and-forth on the pros and cons between the Twitter accounts of Meredith Gran and Christopher Butcher that you should go look at.

Please note the past tense of the conversation; both Gran and Butcher said what they felt was important, and I doubt neither is interested in reopening things, so please do not read two tweets, decide that somebody is wrong on the internet and get all foamy at the mouth.

But Gary, doesn’t this imply that you think that Butcher and Gran are smarter than we are and we should just shut up and let the grown-ups talk?

No Comment.

Still More :01 Week

And my goodness, there are things happening that didn’t originate with :01 Books (if you can imagine such a thing): Emily Carroll did the illustrations on a new book that released yesterday; the Jim Zub-penned Skullkickers (with the vast majority of art duties over the past five years and three dozen issues handled by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats) comes to an end as a comic book today, although it lives on in webcomic reruns (where it’s probably got about half a year to go).

But there are two pieces of :01 discussion I wanted to have today.

First, the book that I will be discussing in detail below is the first mentioned here at Fleen to be designed by Danielle Ceccolini, whose hiring I mentioned in conjunction with last year’s New York Comic Con. Some of the review copies I’ve received have Ceccolini designing covers for books that have predecessors in a series, or which are designed with one or more other people; solo standalone books are also in the stack. There’s a long lead time on publishing, and I’m certain that Ceccolini is thrilled to see the first tranche of her designs finally getting out into the world.

Second, that book is The Chase, the third volume of the Last Man series. This is the book where the pattern established in the previous two gets upended, and which sets a new pattern that wasn’t previously apparent.

The upended pattern is that it’s a Eurocomic-style fight-tournament manga; it’s got ritualized fighting elements, but it’s more of a mystery story. The oddly medieval/magical land of the first two books is left behind for a more decaying society teetering on the edge of chaos. It’s not quite a Mad Maxian postapocalypse, more like a failed state that is in a pre-post-apocalypse rut; we see hints that there are more civilized corners of the world where technology is made instead of scavenged.

Other parts of the decaying wasteland motif are turned upside down as well — there are the uncontrolled, semi-mutant “police” and “justice system” that are a thin veneer of pretense over barbarism, which we’ve seen a million times before. But in that decaying world where the cops are literal bandits, did you ever wonder what the firefighters are like?

They’re pretty bestial, but they are determined to help and are willing to enthusiastically run over anything in their way to be of service, even get into a brawl with the cops if that’s what it takes. They’re in the book for three pages, max, and if they’re just as quasi-semi-mutant-pre-post-apocalyptic as the rest of a every-man-for-himself society, they are at least selflessly so. It’s a fresh and hilarious take on the trope, and they are just one of the twists to be seen here in the borderlands.

The new pattern is right there on the spine of the book — at the very bottom of spine, below the :01 log is a thumbnail of the character that dominates the book. It wasn’t obvious before, but book one was really all about young Adrian Velba, book two about mysterious stranger Richard Aldana, and book three is about Adrian’s mother, Marianne.

She was a typical mother looking out for a young kid before; now she’s revealed to be knowledgeable about the wide world, an extraordinarily resourceful traveler, a crazy-skilled (to the point of nigh-suicidal) motorcyclist, and the most dangerous fighter we’ve seen yet. She consistently underplays her hand until things get seriously dangerous, then she hands this lawless pseudo-quasi-semi-mutant-pre-post-apoacalyptic town’s brutal enforcement regime its ass without breaking a sweat. Marianne Velba is not a slightly overprotective mom but rather a rampaging valkyrie who will lay waste to anything that threatens her son or obstructs her path of discovery.

But more importantly, this is her book, no question, making it clear that Last Man is going to have shifting protagonists; maybe book four will give us a new POV character, maybe we’ll rotate back through the three we’ve seen already. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time the series is done it turns out it was mostly Marianne’s story and should have been called Last Woman.

Last Man: The Chase is by Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville, and Balak, with translation from the French by Alexis Siegel. It releases on 6 October, which should give you enough time to find and absorb Last Man: The Stranger and Last Man: The Royal Cup, and try to figure out where the story is going. As always, Fleen thanks Gina Gagliano at :01 for providing the review copies.

Spam of the day:

Famous Theological Uncovers Church Conspiracy No.6283187

They’re numbering Church conspiracies now? That’s pretty organized.

:01 Week Continues

As we saw yesterday, other things are occurring in webcomics — Tavis Maiden is Kickstarting print volume 1 of Tenko King and more than halfway there; Wes Molebash has launched his latest strip about family, Molebashed¹ — but you’ll have to follow up on those by yourself. Because today is dedicated to continuing our dive into the cornucopia of graphic novel goodness that Gina Gagliano at :01 Books was kind enough on me. I speak, naturally, of review copies, and we look today at the book that has the greatest potential to change lives.

I know that we all talk about how a particular book (or record, or movie, or whatever) changed our lives, but Secret Coders (words by Gene Luen Yang and pictures by Mike Holmes) may make the cliche literally true. In order to explain why, I have to tell you about three times that my life was nudged into the direction that ultimately stuck.

Firstly, I am of an age such that I experienced the educational experiment known as The New Math; along with the approach to teaching arithmetic described by Professor Lehrer, I was taught set theory at the age of six: sets, intersections, unions, differences, subsets, supersets, and Venn diagrams². Nobody gave much thought to what a six year old would actually do with set theory, so it lay dormant in the back of my brain.

In early high school, my father and I soldered together our first computer, a Sinclair ZX-81, and in my spare time I picked up a copy of Larry Gonick’s sadly out of print 1982 edition of The Cartoon Guide to Computer Science. I learned about names like Babbage and Lovelace, Hollerith and Turing, Von Neumann and Zuse, and Mauchley and Boole and Hopper and especially Claude Shannon. The others were obsessed with making machines to compute, Shannon was obsessed with the communication and density of information³, and that seed nudged me in the direction of communications and information theory during my college career.

About the same time, I was watching my four year old niece play on the computer — she showed me how drawing the lines and using the symbols would make a little raccoon dance — and it dawned on me that she didn’t know how she was being to think logically. The symbols she was drawing were logic gates and the lines she was drawing were were signal pathways; she was getting her own version of the Venn diagrams that I’d had nearly two decades earlier, until she got bored with the exciting low-res RGB display and it would enter its own dormancy period in her brain. Some time later, I stared my present career teaching databases, and those Venn diagrams became even more important so that I could describe relational theory and the whole thing came full circle.

The lessons, taken together, are these: you can teach very sophisticated ideas to very young kids; words + pictures have a uniquely strong impact when it comes to teaching; making it into a game (instead of math class) makes it more likely to make the jump from dormant to obsession.

Which is why Secret Coders might read as a somewhat simplistic story of a school with mysterious secrets, outcast students determined to figure them out, and reasonably obvious puzzles woven into the text with a Can you figure it out? presentation style.

Except the first of those secrets? It’s how to do math in binary. And those puzzles? The solutions are computer programs, in Logo to be specific. The characters might be middle schoolers, but the book is aimed at kids eight and up, just about the exact age cohort that got Venn diagrams 40 years ago and dancing raccoons 30 years ago. The lessons are hidden in the games, but the outcome is children will think logically, solve problems by breaking them down, and incorporate concepts like sequencing and recursion.

Yang (a computer geek since the summer after fifth grade, according to the afterword) clearly had his own version of those three moments, because the three lessons that I learned over the course of 25 years are fairly jumping off the pages. And if Yang’s figured out how to set out the puzzles in a way that grade schoolers can follow, Holmes has created vibrant, engaging, easy-to-follow illustrations for those abstract ideas so that the kidlings won’t get lost.

The ability to not just use technology, but to be in control of it, will be of greater importance to the kids that read Secret Coders than it would have been to me at that age; I am part of the last generation where the path of being completely non-technological would not be an impediment, but today it’s a necessity. The world needs engineers and engineers need to learn how to approach problems with the tools available and bash their way to solutions. Learn a little Logo without realizing it? It’s a quick jump from there to other languages, and from there to a controller that moves a robot, or gathers up data, or keeps a rocket on path. In twenty, thirty years somebody that’s changing the world is going to remember Secret Coders (and its sequels, this is a series) and realize it was the moment that everything got nudged into a particular direction.

Secret Coders releases 29 September; that’s enough time to find a ROM of Rocky’s Boots for the budding programmer in your life.

Spam of the day:

You must be aware that you will find ways to Prevent Identity Theft when you are working wirelessly.

Like not working on the access point named OMG SUPER FREE WIFI HERE?

¹ We at Fleen do not condone the bashing of moles, and are surprised that Molebash — a pastor! — would engage in such a barbaric practice. For shame, sir. For shame.

² Venn diagrams were the best thing of all because it let you do math by drawing with crayons. That habit never really left me, as I fell back in later years to graphical approximations in lieu of formulae to the consternation of every math teacher I ever had in school, but to the utter delight of my Electromagnetic Fields professor, Dr Frank Acker, who regarded approximation as the engineer’s birthright.

³ Also juggling, unicycling, and the construction of robots to juggle and/or unicycle. Also rocket frisbees. He’s basically my hero and the person that the 21st century most depends on that you’ve never heard of. That book fell apart from overuse fifteen years ago and I can still see every scribbly drawing of Shannon on his unicycle explain the concepts of signal, noise, and information.