The webcomics blog about webcomics

A Talk With Gene Yang

It’s been a full three days since Gene Yang graciously allowed me some time in his schedule to talk to him; for the record, I almost begged off because I could see that I would be causing him to delay a much-needed meal, but he was insistent. As such, I kept things as brief as I could and remain grateful for his generosity; his reputation as one of the nicest people on the planet is well-deserved. Also, one of the smartest — he’s got a point of view of his work (particularly his recent work with DC) that he wants to convey, and he knows how to reinforce his point while remaining unfailingly polite. This came up fairly early on in our talk as I asked him for his thoughts …

On Superman vs New Super-Man
A disclaimer to start: I never read a Superman monthly until I heard that Yang would be taking over the flagship title¹, so I had little idea what had been going on with the character in The New 52 continuity.

I read Yang’s run faithfully, but I don’t think it was successful; it seemed to me that Yang wanted his story to go in an interesting direction (he’d been handed a Superman who was fairly depowered and on the verge of having his secret identity outed; Yang placed him in a community of mostly-forgotten gods from around the world, re-enacting their great mythic battles as MMA to sustain a portion of their worship), but was hamstrung by story dictates to tie into what was happening in other books.

Speaking purely for myself, the parts of Superman that seemed most Yangian to me were interesting and entertaining; the rest was confusing and haphazard. I asked Yang if he had felt constrained by editorial restrictions on Superman.

I love being part of Rebirth, he told me. Rebirth is the name of the current DC continuity, now that they’ve blown up The New 52; he had no desire to share any frustration he may have felt with the prior work, he only wants to focus on what’s next, what’s positive, where he thinks he can do good work². New Super-Man, he said, was very satisfying because my talks [with DC] started from building a character.

In case you hadn’t heard, this new character is a superhero built up by a faction of the Chinese government, taking as their subject a teenager who’s a bit of bully and only accidentally heroic (I’ve heard him compared to Spider-Man, in that a teen suddenly has his life changed by superpowers and his first instinct is to exploit it; my reading on the character is he’s more of a Flash Thompson).

The character distinctly isn’t American, or even Chinese-American (the book takes place in Shanghai), and comes from a completely different perspective. What do powered individuals mean to nominally-communist, authoritarian government of China? Yang let on that the antagonists of the series (they haven’t shown up yet in issue #1) will super-powered pro-democracy activists; it’s a far more complex story than just the three (somewhat simplistic) poles of Truth, Justice, and The American Way.

And it’s one that almost didn’t happen. Yang said no when he was first approached to do the book, and wasn’t sure if it would have been done without him. I asked about the possibility of cultural pitfalls if a non-Chinese writer had been assigned the gig (specifically, I wondered how many characters might become inadvertent Cousin Chin-Kees), and he was entirely positive. There are plenty of talented writers that could have done it well, he told me, but allowed that a non-Chinese writer might not have thought to explore the very different nature of Chinese society with the story. He was grateful that DC was giving him reign to explore all the contradictions in that society, the things that most fascinate and scare me. He’ll have some time to explore those ideas, as he’s signed for twelve issues, with a full story contained in the first six.

On other occurrences of the number six
Yang confirmed that there will be six books in the Secret Coders series from :01 Books and was really thrilled to be working with artist Mike Holmes (he can draw in any style, it’s amazing). He’s also working on a nonfiction graphic novel, Dragon Hoops, for :01 now; it’s about basketball team from the high school where he used to teach.

On the differences in scripting styles
Like Hope Larson, Yang is doing a lot of writing for other artists now, but he’s had experience with that in past (I’m recalling at least four or five :01 books where he was partnered with an artist) and like Larson he’s still working on writing for superheroics. His work on The Shadow Hero helped prepare him for the conventions and tropes of supers, but the writing for monthly floppies means that he still has to tighten up the story presentation, and it’s been a transition.

On the future
Yang’s done a lot of work a lot of places — DC, Dark Horse — and had a lot of fun doing it, but he gestured toward the stacks of books at the :01 booth and made a simple declaration that revealed both his career plan and the nature of comics he really loves to make in five words: First Second is my home.

¹ Disclaimer to the disclaimer: I have, of course, read All-Star Superman multiple times because I’m not a monster. I consider it to be the definitive representation of the character.

² Which reminds me more than a little of Superman himself.

A Talk With Hope Larson

Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first — if Hope Larson very generously offers to make time for you between signings so you can talk, you jump on that.

She’s one of the all-time great creators we’ve got right now, but ironically she’s becoming known widely not for her stellar work on original graphic novels (which fairly burst with heart and honesty), not even for her graphic adaptation of one of the best-beloved science fiction novels of all time, but because she’s working on a BOOM! series¹ and about to launch the next phase of Batgirl. There’s a lot to unpack there, and she spent a lot of time finding the crux in each question and answering it as thoroughly as she could.

On writing for other people to draw
Larson’s been a writer/artist for the vast majority of her career, but she’s just wrapped up the first four issues of Goldie Vance with Brittney Williams and is working directly with Rafael Albuquerque. It’s a shift, but she doesn’t feel restricted by it because she’s got trust in her artists. I’ve never had an art conflict on any book is how she put it, which may be the first time in comics history that’s been said.

She’s found the challenge is less figuring out how to direct the visuals in her head to the page via the hand of another, and more figuring out how to break up the story into 20 to 24 page chunks. Looking at past work like Chiggers or Mercury, it’s easy to see her storytelling rhythms tend toward the slow buildup, centered on emotional states and inner feelings seeking their way out.

Having to reach a mini-climax in less than two dozen pages, where every single one has to move plot forward to be a satisfying, standalone read, and deal with the fact that readers may be coming in without having seen the earlier issues makes for a completely different style of work. But if you’ve read Goldie Vance, you see that it’s worked out really well.

On that Space Age that isn’t horribly, horribly racist
If you haven’t read Goldie Vance, it’s in an resort area of Florida in the Mercury/Gemini era, and it features a fully integrated society. All ethnicities are interacting with each other (although there’s some tension), Goldie herself is interracial, and her father’s the one in charge of the hotel (although it’s got an absentee owner who’s white). It’s maybe the vision that people have of what the Civil Rights era was like when they convince themselves that they totally would have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr, and absolutely would have subjected to the firehoses, dogs, mobs, and arbitrary jailings. It’s not our world, and it’s not a romantic obliviousness that led to this version of Past America being portrayed.

No matter how you write that era, it’s going to be problematic, Larson told me. You either have to turn a blind eye, or you have to have a world where it wasn’t like it was here. It’s a fantasy. It was also a deliberate choice, since the focus of Goldie isn’t struggle, inequality, history, it’s a girl’s adventure like you’d get from a much hipper Nancy Drew.

I asked if the approach was to treat the comic like a TV show or movie that used completely race-neutral casting, and she agreed; If it ever became a TV show, I hope it would be cast that way.² So look at it as if our national feelings of self-congratulation at the time — we’re living in Camelot! — were actually justified. If it’s unreal, but unreal in a way that lets girls who haven’t seen themselves as the protagonists of comics before get to (cf: Ben Hatke’s Little Robot), then that’s worth a bit of unreality … and what are comics for if not the fantasy?

On getting the look just right
Larson gives Williams all the credit for the hazy, sun-dappled look of Goldie Vance’s environments and the vivacious, lively look of the very diverse characters. I can be sparse with my descriptions for Brittney, because she’s going to give me amazing environments. The best thing I can do is give her room.

With Four Points (the graphic novel series title for the just released Compass South and next year’s Knife’s Edge, both illustrated by Rebecca Mock) and Batgirl, she’s writing about real places at real points in time, she can be much more specific in her scripting and supply photo reference; knowing the people, clothing, and buildings will look the way they do in her head likely (and I’m speculating here, because I’m just now realizing that I didn’t ask this and I’m kicking myself) frees her to think more about the page and the scene it conveys. This bit here is basically just an excuse to transition into discussing her thoughts …

On scripting fight scenes
I asked Larson if it was viscerally satisfying to be able to write BATGIRL roundhouse-kicks THUG #2 in the face and he goes FLYING BACK THROUGH THE WINDOW. I love it! It’s the single thing I’m most excited about! She shared that while she thought working on Batgirl would be weird, it’s just been fun, with the chief advantage being you don’t have to build up a character because she’s already there.

When I noted the essential ephemerality of super heroes — that in a few years somebody might come along and cancel out everything she’s ever written because it ruined their childhood and now they can make Batgirl the way she was always supposed to be — she was nonplussed. If you go to the wikis, every story arc is there; it’s all there forever, even if it’s contradicted, and for some people, it will be the first Batgirl they ever read.³

On the biggest challenges of writing superheroes
I asked if DC’s famously heavy editorial hand (You must get this story point in here to reference this line-wide crossover event, no matter how much of a misfit it is in your own story) was constricting. She said that Batgirl has been a process of discovery, and she’s grateful for the guidance her editors have provided in helping her figure out Cape Logic. I was worried about getting the details right, you know, Barbara’s running down an alley, and then in the next panel she’s Batgirl, and where was she keeping the boots? And my editors said, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

Freed from the illogic of costume-stashing, she’s thrown herself into getting correct the things that can be done right or wrong. The second book in the arc is going to be MMA-themed, so I’ve learned a lot about the history of MMA, how it works, read a lot of articles and watched a lot fights. I don’t get MMA, but if Larson’s let that inform the fight scenes in Batgirl, I think we’re going to see a lot more plausibility there.

On the future
Goldie Vance is creator-owned with Williams, but she won’t be on it forever. Down the line, new people may be found to write or draw it, which would put her on the other side of the work-for-hire arrangement. She’s got pitches (that she can’t talk about, naturally) in process now, and multiple books due (both solo and with artists) between now and 2020; that guarantee of work is reassuring, and there’s enough room in her schedule to pick up or launch new work in the meantime.

If she could pick any existing characters to write, they would be Wonder Woman and the Gotham villain ladies — Poison Ivy, Catwoman — that go back and forth from sorta-baddie to sorta-hero. If she could work with any artist for the first time, she’s spoiled for choice. Every young artist coming up right now is amazing.

She considers Goldie and Batgirl to have raised her profile and name recognition in the industry considerably; I was surprised by that since I spend a significant amount of time waiting for her next release, but that’s the nature of comics — different audiences, different sizes.

She hopes to use that profile to work with people who wouldn’t otherwise get the art or writing gigs. While Goldie Vance was cast race-neutral, the comics industry as a whole hasn’t done a good job of diversifying the pool of creators who are hired and developed; Larson firmly believes that more viewpoints can only make for more and better stories and is doing her best to nudge the parts of the industry that she interacts with in that direction.

Which, when I spend even half a second to think on it, is entirely obvious. Her work has always been marked by empathy and the conscious effort to find the humanity in every character. In her work, Hope Larson reveals a love for this messy, contradictory world all the messy, contradictory people in it. She wants to tell the stories she can tell, and hear the stories that they can tell. The sooner we put that aspiration at the center of Comics-With-A-Capital-C, the better.

¹ Creator-owned, so allow me to cynically hope that she’s getting less screwed than those BOOM! contracts for licensed titles; please note that I am expressing an opinion here and not conveying anything Larson said.

² Similarly, Gina Davis has proposed a simple first step to try to drag gender equality into the film and TV industry: every time a crowd scene is written, it should specify that half of the people present are women. Without that instruction, women are underrepresented in the crowds, which means they’re underrepresented in the consciousness of everybody watching that scene. It’s true in any visual medium — check out background scenes in comics and ask yourself how many white dudes there are there as opposed to every other type of person.

³ That sense of preservation in the face of retcons struck me as similar to Alan Moore’s response when asked if a particular film adaptation ruined the comic it was based on: he pointed to the bookshelf and noted the comic was still there.

The Party Is Loud Enough, I May As Well Be At It

It is now, I suppose, early Saturday morning; I’ve just been to Space Time with Marian Call, David Malki !, Seth Boyer, Joseph Scrimshaw, and people who’ve driven rovers on another damn planet. It was great. But it appears that, courtesy of The Magicians, I’m not going to be getting to sleep anytime soon, so I may as well do a recap of (mostly) today (and a bit of yesterday)¹.

  • There was an announcement that Molly Ostertag of Strong Female Protagonist will be doing an original graphic novel with Scholastic in 2018. Ostertag’s work is great, so this is welcome news.
  • Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Emily Carroll (with Abraham Riesman moderating, from left) spoke about working in the short form, but the panel itself was kind of indicative of the topic — question asked, answer (frequently very funny — ask Hanawalt about how toucans eat, or Beaton about grackle fecal sacs, or Carroll about how she uses Twitter), but not much a through line that makes for an interesting read. I could tell you Hey, remember that thing Kate said? That was great but that’s not an entertaining thing for either of us. Some things, you just have to be there.
  • I spent a good deal of time trying to get into interview slots with Hope Larson and Gene Yang but the very patient and friendly ladies running publicity and press relations for DC were unable to accommodate me². And honestly, when you hear that your last shot at a possible cancellation is gone when Evan Narcisse (writing this weekend for io9) shows up for his appointment, you can’t be mad; that guy can write, and he’s only gotten better since I first met him at the SPLAT! symposium all those years ago. In fact you should go read whatever it is he’s written from his interview with Yang.

    It worked out, though, since Larson happened to see me in the press holding area and invited me to meet up with her after a signing. While she was answering a question that involved her current work in comparison to Yang’s, he happened to walk by and after they caught up, he apologized for not being able to take another interview at DC and invited me to meet up with him after a signing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the best people in the world are in comics. I’m bashing those interviews into shape and will run them as soon as I can.

  • Cosplay got off to a slow start on Thursday, but still produced such gems as a woman re-enacting all of Finding Dory by herself, an exuberant Kamala Khan, Sexy Darth Plague Doctor, and a pre-tragic Simon Petrikov. Friday’s deepest cut was probably Izabel and The Brand from Saga, but my favorite was probably the pair of ladies who asked themselves What if 1950s Jackie Kennedy had played every villain on Batman?. Cleverest was probably Finn Squared, with best verisimilitude going to Miss Tina Belcher (she did the groan) or the Marceline/Marshall Lee combo. Add in Matt the Radar Technician and Lurch, and you’ve got a full slate of quality costumage.

    Not shown: the Slutty BB-8, Lingerie Leia, and the many Baby-8s that I saw; the former were kind of gross, and the latter adorable, but I’m not asking parents if I can take a picture of their infant dressed as a droid because I am not a huge creeper.

  • And as I scan Heidi Mac’s twitterfeed, I see that Kate Beaton took the Eisner for Humor (Step Aside, Pops) and Matthew Inman the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award for his work in promoting and fundraising for a goddamned Tesla museum. I take these as signs that all is right in the universe, and even if the DJ hasn’t had enough yet two floors down, I’m heading for bed. More tomorrow.

Creators who autographed my copy of Romeo and/or Juliet since I last mentioned it:

Kate Beaton, who in a massive irony, was signing just the other side of a curtain from the living embodiment of Strong Female Characters, the Suicide Girls.

¹ At Space Time tonight, both Raina Telgemeier and Pat Race had things to say about my plentiful use of both parentheses and footnotes, so these are for them.

² Not that I am complaining! Briana, Alison, and especially Charlotte were wonderful and great at their jobs. I hope that they got enough time to eat a granola bar at some point in the day because they were running flat out.

Here’s A Goblin For You

There was a very important panel yesterday; it wasn’t in the largest room at SDCC, but it had a healthy turnout. It didn’t announce any enormous, exciting, forthcoming product, but it looked back at an interesting subject with heartfelt reflection. It was also, chances are, the only panel in SDCC history to acknowledge the force of nature that is Gina Gagliano and all that she does (cue applause, which warmed me inside).

I am speaking, naturally, of the the :01 Books tenth anniversary retrospective, moderated by Graeme McMillan, with (from left) Karen Green, Ben Hatke, Mark Siegel, Eva Volin, and Mary Elizabeth Yturralde on the panel. Quick bios: McMillan writes on comics and pop culture; Green is a librarian with Columbia University and founder of their graphic novel collection; Hatke is the creator of Zita the Spacegirl, Little Robot, and other comic stories; Siegel is the founding editor of :01; Volin is a children’s librarian with the Alameda Free Library; Yturralde is with Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, and coordinates book-centered panels both at SDCC and NYCC. It was, as you say, a murderer’s row of smartness.

The most enlightening part of the panel was Siegel’s recap of how :01 came to be — he was a designer at another publishing house, trying to sneak one graphic novel a year through, wondering how there could be an arrangement like in France — where he grew up — where comics were treated as books, and there are literary imprints dedicated to producing and growing them. He found himself taking meetings with various publishing executives, who were willing to take some of his ideas (These kids like this manga thing, let’s just do some of them! Or superheroes, let’s do that!), but none willing to look at a creator-centric approach until he met with the president of MacMillan (no relation); two weeks later, he was the head of an imprint provisionally titled Mark Siegel Books (more on the name later).

He had (remember, this was 2005) a number of points that buttressed his pitch: manga was everywhere, some comics had gotten some critical acclaim, Scholastic was starting their move into original graphic novels, and most importantly, Flight had just launched. That last proved to be crucial, as it provided a source of creator talent that is mined to this day. He laid out a plan that he expected to take a decade, to get comics into the literature end of things, to get them treated as worthy of study and their creators as respected voices. He saw that path as leading to literary awards and wondered how long it would take.

Then he met Gene Yang, publishing on the web, stapling minis of a partially-complete story called American Born Chinese and eighteen months later they were in tuxedos in Times Square as the first work of graphic literature nominated for the National Book Awards. The legitimacy conveyed by the NBA nomination (and also the Printz Award, which really brought the book to the attention of librarians) was also critical because it put the book on the radar of purchasers; when 60,000 school librarians order multiple copies of your book, and then have to re-order every couple of years to replace the worn copies, it gives you the breathing room to tell the accountants We don’t have to make money on every book; we can take our time to develop and support our authors.

Siegel and Hatke agreed on that point; the first Zita collection started as a webcomic, and eight years later Hatke’s eighth book for :01 is about to drop, and Siegel describes it as a work that is more confident, more skilled. That only comes from finding creators who aren’t at their peak, who aren’t coasting, who still have growth and development and finding a way to nurture them.

And that means taking risks; when Siegel accepted the pitch for Boxers & Saints, he got pushback from the executives: Americans have never heard of the Boxer Rebellion, it’s 500 pages long, two books, box set, color, we’re going to take a bath. Can he do it in one book, black and white, then give us another immigrant experience story? As we now know, Boxers & Saints was a bestseller, netted Yang his second National Book Award nomination, and I like to think the executives give Siegel a little more respect for his instincts. It’s part and parcel of his dual missions to grow (and train) the audience, but also to grow the authors. It’s a publishing company (contra every comics publisher, but especially BOOM!, see the other day’s posting) that doesn’t take media rights, that doesn’t own the words, that doesn’t own the pictures, that writes contracts that you’d see in book publishing houses but which are very unusual for comics companies.

And keep in mind the time in which Siegel was trying to build all of this: Green’s library had exactly three graphic novels¹ in 2005 when she petitioned for a budget to build up a collection; she argued that comics had hit critical acceptance, that Columbia’s film school was complementary with comics, and that Columbia and comics were both unique creations of the city of New York², that the two deserved each other. She was granted a full US$4000 and (very fortunately) :01 came along soon after.

Even so, she had it somewhat easier as an academic librarian than Volin has in the public library system; something she’s got in the collections (honestly, everything) will offend somebody, but with a remit to serve the entire community, it’s subject to fewer challenges than, say, a school library. But there :01’s been valuable as well — while not everything they do is appropriate for every age (or at least some think so; This One Summer keeps getting challenged by censorious asshats), there’s a lot that can be placed in front of teens without problems, that’s damn good reading, that will draw in the reluctant readers. That’s why Columbia’s collection is now 10,000 titles in 15 languages.

Similar things happen in the book trade; Yturralde noted; she can give a kid a copy of Zita and when they like that, move them onto Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, and when they like that, move them onto L’Engle’s original. Gatekeeping and editorial choice is now a matter of not buying six copies of everything because there’s only so much — it’s one or two copies across a broad range and having to look at reviews and analysis in order to decide what gets shelf space It’s why Volin’s library has filled six bays of comics in the children’s section alone and is running out of room (the only exception, she said, is Raina Telgemeier, where you order twelve copies and then budget to replace the ones that don’t get returned because they’re loved so much).

The panel ended with a pair of lovely stories — where the name came from, and Hatke’s best experience. The name was never going to be Mark Siegel Books — the imprint had to be bigger than one person — but he called a lot of creators that first year without having an actual name for the business. He was spitballing a bunch of names trying to convey the sense of it’s just after midnight, it’s a new day and wrote on a piece of paper


A copy editor he was sitting with folded the paper over to show:


and remarked it looked a little like a smiley face. The words popped into his head and he said First Second.

Hatke’s story involved the shipping of the oversize art originals for Julia’s Home For Wayward Creatures, his first picture book, which were too large for his scanner. He’d never done this before so he took them to UPS, they offered him the standard US$100 insurance and off they went. Then he realized that they were the only originals, that they represented months of work, and tried desperately to get the package back and stressing for a day and a half before they arrived safe and intact.

Fast forward to the day he’s to ship the pages for Nobody Likes A Goblin, and he realizes that the cost of shipping is about the same as the cost of a Bolt Bus ticket to New York. He gathered up pages and ten year old daughter, strode into the Flatiron Building and up to the :01 offices where they laid them all out side-by-side on a conference table and read the book out loud for the first time. It really was a lovely image. It’s the sort of image that :01 has worked for ten years now to make happen as often as possible.

More later today on my talk with Jim Zub, announcements from the con, and cosplay photos.

¹ Maus, Persepolis, Palestine.

² In the historical collection at Columbia, there’s a four-panel comic made by students to mock professors they hated. It’s from 1766.

Something For Those Not In San Diego

You might want to check out the #NotAtSDCC hashtag on Twitter and Tumblr (sorry, I don’t know how Tumblr works so I can’t find the search term; you’re on your own) on account of C Spike Trotman and Taneka Stotts (whose Elements anthology is still funding and well into bonus page rate territory on Kickstarter) decided to have a no-SDCC online sale from now until midnight Sunday (I’m guessing Central Daylight Time). Everybody who wants in on the fun is welcome to use the hashtag to make their announcements.

It Is Technically Still Today

There’s a party two floors below my hotel room, but not one that’s overly distracting; it’ll be a slightly late night unless I break out the industrial-grade earplugs, and it’ll of course be an early morning. If I can no longer sustain the vicious grind of San Diego Comic Con at full speed for most of a week, it’s probably all for the good … the appeal of a full night’s sleep, three decent meals, and not drinking heavily all night has become much more prominent as I’ve made my way through my forties.

The story of Wednesday at SDCC is always one of transformation, as the pallets and nascent outlines of booth designs become, gradually, little temples to commerce. The forklifts appear less frequently, the emergency messages from the mysterious overhead voices¹ faded away, the enormous dumpsters cleared out of the aisles and the next thing you know the neon signs are lit and your realize your camera can’t handle how much light they’re throwing out. A few messes with settings later, you end up with a clearer idea of who got the best out of the in-booth electrical upsell.

It felt like a class reunion with a large number attached to it; on the one hand, there’s people you haven’t seen for an extended time, but simultaneously you can’t help but notice how many are missing. The general retreat one webcomics from SDCC was one of two recurring conversations I had, and generally the less depressing one.

The other recurring conversation regarded the generally crappy terms offered by BOOM! Studios, with more than one creator (none of whom wished to be named) mentioning attempts to get moral rights waived, to allow unlimited editing of art or text without approval or consultation with the original creator, and unconscionable grabs for media rights² in exchange for the the simple act of printing.

I am becoming deeply conflicted by my continued purchase of a number of BOOM! titles, in that I can no longer plausibly believe that my purchases benefit the original creators; I’m hoping that some of the bigger names that BOOM! has managed to attract have had their lawyers eviscerate the boilerplate, and that BOOM! may eventually get the idea. I really don’t want to have to see the equivalent of the Siegel & Schuster or Kirby lawsuits to get BOOM! to stop being exploitative.

That was a bit of a downer, so let’s wrap up by looking forward a bit — tomorrow’s the :01 Books tenth anniversary panel, and with any luck/minimal organization, I’ll get an interview in tomorrow with the redoubtable Jim Zub. Also, for the duration of SDCC I have decided to not run the day’s best spam down here at the bottom. Instead, I’ll provide updates of:

Creators who autographed my copy of Romeo and/or Juliet today:

Ryan North³
Brandon Bird
Lar deSouza
Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett
David Malki !
Rich Stevens
Jim Zub

¹ There was an actual emergency message this morning; the initial alarm was annoying somewhat, but not especially alarming. When the voice announcement was made that All Was Well, We Are Looking Into It, there was a steady warbling in the background, with the sort of whoop whoop noises normally associated with Red Alert on the Enterprise (original model). I don’t think anybody was panicking before the announcement, but several of us thought it was a better idea after hearing the whoops.

² As in, You’re coming to us with a complete story and in exchange for a crappy page rate we get all the movie/TV rights to it, for free, forever. BOOM!, you do not pay enough by at least a two orders of magnitude to make that sort of deal even vaguely fair. If you include secondhand reports, it gets even worse.

³ Who, in case you missed it last week, will see his first Shakespearean chooseable-path book, To Be Or Not To Be, go to a second printing this fall courtesy of Romeo and/or Juliet publishers Riverhead Books.

Returns And Revisements

Hey, wanna see something(s) cool? Some cool ideas are back with fresh spins.

  • Firstly, the weekly announcement from Iron Circus Comics (C Spike Trotman, Benevolent Dictator For Life) about what’s coming up on their publishing schedule, and it’s both a return to form and a variation:

    TITLE OF THE WEEK: Tim’rous Beastie, the next Iron Circus Comics anthology project!

    That’s right, folks. Get t’brainstorming, because we start taking submissions December 1st. Check the official tumblr for more information!

    Conceived of and edited by ICC alum @littlefroggies?¹, Tim’rous Beastie is a collection for those of us who grew up on Redwall, Watership Down and other sagas of tiny critters on thrilling adventures in a big and dangerous world. But this time, Iron Circus is in charge. So expect the strange and amazing.

    Fascinated? Curious? Wanna submit something? The Tim’rous Beastie tumblr has all details! But if you still have questions after reading? Direct any inquiries directly to that tumblr’s Ask box, where we’ll be sure to see them; it’ll help us build the FAQ.

    The return to form is, naturally, the anthology; the variations are that it’s not Spike running the show, and that it’s breaking the pattern of Smut/Not Smut that has characterized ICC anthologies for the past four years or so seeing as how the SF-themed New World was the last anthology they did. Nevertheless, Spike’s got an eye for organizational talent as well as artistic, and Amanda Lafrenais has run multiple projects to completion, and there’s every reason to believe that this one will go smoothly. Keep your eye on the Tumblr page for details.

  • Secondly, today marks the long-anticipated return of The Nib to editorial cartooning on the web, where they will resume the charge of daily providing sharp opinions on the state of the world. What’s new around is the engine they’re using the accomplish this, which I’m going to have to type in instead of linking (although you can click here and scroll down):

    The new site was designed from scratch. We threw ourselves into thinking about how comics would be best read online. So we started working on an image-based site for phones first, then made it responsive to desktop instead of the other way around.

    So much so that we haven’t bothered with text yet, hence these screenshots [sunglasses smiley face emoji]

    There’s about three different design choices that I believe are literally unique and unprecedented, not to mention the never-been-done-before combo platter effect. There is some text on the site — titles, bylines, dates — but so far as I can tell, no full sentences anywhere.

    It’s surreal, slightly disorienting, and oddly compelling. I’ll leave you to read through the rest of the announcement — told in screencaps, photos, Post-It notes, cartoons, tweets, and texts — but the end result seems clear: editor/impressario Matt Bors and his cohorts are back, they’re heading to both political conventions in person for on-the-ground cartooning, and they’re taking no prisoners. Bookmark it now.

This Tumbler Keeps-Ice 72 Hours!

Ninety-nine and a half times out of a hundred that I get an email about a tumblr, it’s the kind generates the tears of those that lose it when you suggest that maybe you should include attribution for those cartoons you reblog. This one is an actual hollow container for liquid², but I’m not sure I trust the breathless ad copy about Recently exposed [sic] Space technology to keep your drink cold (it’s an open-top vacuum thermos, people).

Plus, they claim it has an extra-large capacity of 30oz (337ml), not realizing that some of us friggin’ know metric and that 337ml is about 11 fluid ounces, not 30. Factor of three mistake in something basic? I suspect it will keep-ice for closer to 24 hours.

¹ The Twitter account @littlefroggies comes back as suspended, but Amanda Lafrenais — for that is who goes by the nick Little Froggies — has a valid account at @AmandaLafrenais, which is what I’ve chosen to link here.

² Like the aforementioned tears.

Welcome Returns

Life is accelerating towards next week’s San Diego Comic Con and all the attendant nerdishness therein, if evidenced by nothing other than the nonstop parade of announcement emails sent to me as a member of the press¹. And yet, some things are happening far, far away from Sandy Eggo that I would commend to your attention.

  • Okay, it’s probably no surprise that this was me; as noted on this page more than once, KB “Otter” Spangler is a good friend of mine, and I’ve been a beta reader for her series of novels. I’ve been heartlessly pedantic on points of plot, particularly pertaining to the practice of paramedicine and other doctory bits. I like to think that I’ve helped make the final results better, not to mention saving her from a horde of Um actuallys from her readers. I think she’s got a terrific voice — voices, really, as different novels with different POV characters read uniquely — and lots of great ideas.

    But there’s one bit of her writing I didn’t beta-read, and haven’t read at all. She took one of her AGAHF characters and did an action sex comedy (think James Bond with far less internalized misogyny), which is the first of a projected eight novellas. As they concern a character named Josh Glassman, they are collectively known as Joshsmut. You can find the cover of the first entry, The Russians Came Knocking, over here, with 1500 (or so) word installments going up three times a week.

    After TRCK, Spangler will be moving onto new Joshventures as serial episodes, to be collected in book form when each is finished. They are brand new to me (and probably to you), and I suggest we enjoy their ridiculous sexiness (or possibly sexy ridiculousness) together; I’m told that my own travails with tree rats inspired the bit with the squirrels, but I’m not sure what that means.

  • Know what we haven’t seen for far too long? A collaboration between Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsch. Yeah, yeah, I know, they just finished running the first chapter’s worth of pages from the forthcoming graphic novel Is This What You Wanted, but while Hirsch wrote that, the art is by Tessa Stone and Sarah Stone; the last time we saw Ota illustrating Hirsch’s script was the stellar Lucky Penny.

    So it’s a particular delight to see that today they’ve shared the first four pages of Barbarous, their new graphic novel (with color by JN Wiedle), which appears to be hitting an urban magic vibe. Check out the cover from earlier in the week: talk of glamour (as in magic disguises), mystic energy traces, mention of monsters, and then look at those first four pages, which end nice and cliffhangery. Not to worry, Tuesday’s update will bring another four pages, then I imagine it’ll settle down to Tuesday/Thursday updates until we’re all good and hooked. Subway thefts and shadow monsters? I’m there.

  • Two words: The Nib. It’s been running a few comics a week, mostly via email to subscribers and then a notice goes up on Twitter and such (case in point: notices have gone upover the past few hours that new comics are available). They’re ready to relaunch for reals, and there’s gonna be more than just comics on the web. So a few more words: Tabloid size newsprint comics. Hecka yeah.

Spam of the day:

No-More-Crowns Get these amazing low-cost Dental-Implants

Dammit, I thought it said no more clowns and I was all thrilled because nobody likes clowns².

¹ The only one that I’ve acted on is an offer from the nice folks at DC to interview creators they’ll have, and I lit up at the sight of Hope Larson and Gene Luen Yang, who was a pretty good advocate for his take on Chinese Superman on NPR the other morning.

² Or Boxbot.

SDCC 2016 Programming, Part Two

Saturday, oh Saturday, the day where hopes go to die in San Diego. Sunday, the day where the light at the end of the tunnel is visible, except for those that have to wait to bring their cars around to the docks for load-out. Before we get to those, let’s make a quick visit to a pair of Fridays.

First, last Friday, C Spike Trotman¹ announced her latest forthcoming publication, this Sarah W Searle is bringing her Sparks from serialization at Filthy Figments {NSFW, depending on your W]. Second, this coming Friday, when Kel McDonald finds out if the second and final Sorcery 101 omnibus funds or not. I’m kind of astonished how many established creators are having trouble making funding on their Kickstarts, and McDonald’s sitting on a projected 97% final funding, so this is literally make or break time.

Okay, onward and conward, and as always, let us know what we overlooked.

Saturday Programming

Once Upon A Time: Teaching Fables, Fairy Tales, And Myths With Comics And Graphic Novels
10:00am — 11:00am, Shiley Special Events, San Diego Central Library

The aforementioned Ms McDonald will be talking about fantastical tales for a library-centric crowd, along with Chris Duffy, Alexis Fajardo, Ben Hatke, and Trina Robbins, with moderator Tracy Edmunds, MA Ed.

Spotlight On Kate Beaton
10:30am — 12:00pm, Room 5AB

This will be my first chance to tell Kate Beaton in person how much my niece loves The Princess And The Pony. Hint: a lot.

Comic Book Law School 303: New Revelations
10:30pm — 12:00pm, 30CDE

Part three, which bee-tee-dubs is qualified for continuing education credits for lawyers. This one’s on complex issues of copyright and trademark.

Spotlight On William Gibson
11:30pm — 12:30pm, Room 24ABC

Appropriate, since we seem to be living in one of his cyberpunk dystopias at the moment.

Spotlight On Jeff Smith
12:30pm — 1:30pm, Room 8

Jeff Smith is the opposite of a dystopia. Let’s all go and have some fun and ignore stupid, stupid [fill in horrible person type here]s.

The Kids Comics Revolution
1:00pm — 2:00pm, Room 29AB

Best panel ever? Emily Carroll, John Patrick Green, Noelle Stevenson, G. Willow Wilson, and Gene Luen Yang.

Spotlight On Noelle Stevenson
4:00pm — 5:00pm, Room 23ABC

Because she’s a shark, AAAAHHH.

Buckaroo Banzai: Getting The Band Back Together
5:30pm — 6:30pm, Room 8

Holy crap: Perfect Tommy, Pinky Caruthers, Scooter Lindley, and Rugsucker will be on stage together.

Sunday Programming

Historical Comics
1:00pm — 2:00pm, Room 28DE

Kate Beaton, Chester Brown, and Derf Backderf in conversation with Calvin Reid. Hopefully to contain Nemeses.

YA? Why Not? The Importance Of Teen And Young Adult Comics
1:00pm — 2:0pam, Room 24ABC

Going to be tough to decide where to be this hour — Kate down the hall, Hope Larson, Raina Telgemeier, Cecil Castellucci, and Brenden Fletcher over here at the same time.

Spotlight On Emily Carroll
2:00pm — 3:00pm, Room 4

It’ll be the spooktaculariest room all weekend for an hour.

Kickstarter Secrets Revealed
3:00pm — 4:00pm, Room 4

At last, they finally admitted that if you’re gonna do a how-to on Kickstarter, you got to get goddammned George Rohac there. Also the afivementioned Kel McDonald, Hope Nicholson, and Kickstarter’s comics outreach lead, Jamie Turner.

Markiplier Comics & More: Keenspot/Red Giant 2016
4:00pm — 5:00pm, Room 7AB

The annual Keenspot panel, pretty much closing out the programming for the year.

Spam of the day:

Make $7,682/month from home

a. That’s a supiciously specific number. b. Who’s to say that I don’t already?

¹ C Spike Trotman. Trotman, Spike, Trotman!

No? Fine.


If there’s a better way in webcomics to work on your craft and get noticed outside your usual audience than getting that one idea you’ve got perfectly polished and tight and accepted by an anthology full of super-skilled people, I don’t know what it is. Examples follow:

  • We were just talking about Beyond Press the other day and look what happened over the long weekend: they went and launched the Kickstart for an anthology that looks pretty damn impressive. Elements: Fire is going to present stories from the speculative fiction end of the spectrum (your basic sci fi, but also horror, cyberpunk, and the like) featuring characters — and, crucially, creators — from the underrepresented end of the talent pool¹:

    Elements looks to add to the current conversation happening in the book industry: yes #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but #WeNeedDiverseCreators too. We are no longer just the sidekicks or token characters, we’re creators with our own stories to tell. In Elements we’re the main characters, dismantling tropes with our own stories that see people like us saving the day. Be it quelling a volcano, learning to fight with our brand of love, or breaking cyberspace, we want to let these stories and characters take center stage.

    The contributor’s list features names that I recognize — Aatmaja Pandya, Der-shing Helmer, edited by Taneka Stotts with an assist from Shing Yin Khor — and a bunch more that I don’t, which is great (cf: above, about getting noticed). Taking a cue from anthology maestro C Spike Trotman, Elements: Fire will be offering bonuses to its creative team based on funding levels, which is becoming a welcome trend².

    Since launch on Friday (and over a long holiday weekend with people away from their computers), the campaign has cleared 58% funding on a US$30K goal and attracted enough early support to qualify for the Fleen Funding Formula, Mark II, which now predicts a total of US$50K +/- $10K (this is the first time numbers have ever turned out so beautifully round), which would mean bonuses of US$100-$300 per creator/team. The opportunity to discover killer talent with an experienced editor, and everybody gets paid? Time to make with the clicky and support.

  • Speaking of anthologies, the Spike-helmed New World anthology got some damn good notices over at The AV Club today courtesy of Caitlin Rosberg:

    Though each creator’s style is different, the level of skill and talent is consistently high and there is something for every reader’s taste….But all 24 of the comics are excellent in their own right.

    If there’s one thing that ties all of the pieces together beyond the genres they fit into, it’s that each forces a character or characters to make an incredibly weighty choice….Each of the pieces has a clear perspective and message, as much speculative fiction does, but every single one of the creators avoids heavy-handed manipulation and preachiness, two common pitfalls for less skilled sci-fi/fantasy creators. Rather than lecturing the reader, they start a conversation by shifting perspectives and inviting introspection, which is speculative fiction at its best.

    New World is available in both print and PDF from the Iron Circus store.

  • Anthologies need not even be big ol’ book; they can fit into floppy-style comic books as well. We mentioned previously that Faith Erin Hicks would be doing a Ms Marvel/Squirrel Girl story in an Avengers annual due in August; now it appears that other creators (Natasha Allegri! Zac Gorman! Scott Kurtz! Chirp Zblarglblarg!) will be adding their own takes as Ms Marvel gets to share all her in-universe fanfic.
  • Tomorrow is First Wednesday, meaning it’s time for the second of the previously-announced TopatoCo Summertime Funtime Drink ‘n’ Draws, and what is a drink ‘n’ draw but an anthology of people instead of stories? Making the trip to Easthampton will be special Drinker/Drawers Meredith Gran and Mike Holmes; fun starts at 7:00pm at Eastworks, runs until 10:00pm, and is unfettered by filthy cover charges. All in the Pioneer Valley area, go and have fun.

Spam of the day:

Limited Time: 60% Off Silicone Wedding Bands

So millennials don’t want to buy diamonds, and your counter is to try to market unsized squeezy bits of medical material that behave like slow-acting tourniquets? Okay.

¹ Anybody that’s sputtering about Why aren’t there anthologies for white creators? can leave now. Door’s to your left.

² Also to be noted for bonus payments: Erika Moen & Matt Nolan.