The webcomics blog about webcomics

Things That Caught My Eye Today

Evan Dahm started running illustrations from his forthcoming edition of Moby-Dick about 17 months back, and in that time he’s given us gorgeous art, styled like woodcut illos, heavy and dark and brooding, things of substance and weight. The white of the page is wrestled into submission, the slivers that exist here and there acting as contrast and accent rather than the space to contain the black. They’ve all been beautiful to look at (and you can see the full set at the Tumblr), but today’s art tops them all. No part of the book’s text that Dahm chose to accent with this drawing can be omitted and still give full context and power, so here it is:

Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.

“There she breaches! there she breaches!” was the cry, as in his immeasurable bravadoes the White Whale tossed himself salmon-like to Heaven. So suddenly seen in the blue plain of the sea, and relieved against the still bluer margin of the sky, the spray that he raised, for the moment, intolerably glittered and glared like a glacier; and stood there gradually fading and fading away from its first sparkling intensity, to the dim mistiness of an advancing shower in a vale.

“Aye, breach your last to the sun, Moby Dick!” cried Ahab, “thy hour and thy harpoon are at hand!—Down! down all of ye, but one man at the fore. The boats!—stand by!”

I want more than just an illustrated Moby-Dick from Dahm; somehow, somebody make is so that Patrick Stewart reads these textual excerpts as an audio accompaniment.

The other things I saw today were pretty good, too.

  • If you make your living by submitting invoices, then you should already know who Katie Lane is; she’s asking for information today, in the form of a brief, two question survey:

    If you have to invoice clients to get paid, I’d appreciate your feedback on two quick questions I have: https://katie240.typeform.com/to/xJyNM6

    The answers she gathers will be used to help construct a course she’ll be delivering come October, aimed at how to draft invoices that will make clients want to pay. I’m assuming this is more subtle than having the invoice stapled to a guy named Rocko The Knucklebreaker, but honestly I’m not sure what could be as effective as him. I guess we’ll have to give Lane her feedback, let her design the course to answer her audience’s most pressing concerns, and then attend to find out what’s to be done. I’ll keep Rocko on speed dial, just in case.

  • I mention now (in accordance with longstanding blog policy) that Kate Beaton is the best, and point those of you that may not have had the occasion yet to experience her bestness in person towards a forthcoming event wherein you may sample some of her bestosity. The National Book Festival, put on by the Library of Congress, is kind of a big deal. And in keeping with a mission to bring the most interesting people in literature together regardless of petty distinctions like national origin, the NBF people have prevailed upon Beaton to leave Nova Scotia and travel to Washington DC to talk about King Baby on 24 September.

    The National Book Festival is free and open to the public (with the exception of some high-popularity events, which require ticketing, but still free), taking place at the Washington Convention Center; Beaton will be part of the Children programming track, from noon to 12:30pm, with a signing from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. Between that and SPX happening just a week before (the exhibitor list isn’t up yet, but given her history of being there and her Ignatz nomination this year, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet she’ll be there), the Mid-Atlantic region has never had a better chance to drink in the bestitivity.

  • Okay, so I know that Zach Weinersmith uses a repertory company approach to his characters, with certain designs in recurring roles (or, more precisely, to play certain types of roles; he’s like Tezuka that way). But how did it take me until today to realize that the big, philosophical (one might even say navel gazing) discussions always go to the same two kids? Way to make me see patterns in the world, Weinersmith!

    I really should have been able to predict it, given that the same system was used in the SMBC Theater shorts, where it was well established that James Ashby is the worst person ever. Thought you could make us forget by keeping a low profile, didn’t you, Ashby? Well forget it! We at Fleen know you are history’s greatest villain¹, and we will never let go our vigilance, so watch it.


Spam of the day:

You are like one of those “denialist”s. Your comments about the internet are so contradictory to what is happening in the real world that I feel sorry for you. The world is changing. I hope it changes so that there is less stealing in our world.

The link to this went to a Tumblr dedicated 100% to high quality photos of lingerie-clad women’s butts, so I don’t think he (of course it’s a dude) is actually mad at me for something I did here at the blog.

I will note that it appears said butt photos are not by the dude in question, but taken with minimal attribution from around the internet. Oh, irony.

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¹ Need proof? Google search for james ashby and all you get is a cop convicted of murder. Okay, he doesn’t look anything like the James Ashby we’re talking about, but that’s just what he wants you to think.

Considerably Better Today, Thanks

I’m in a much better mood, and things have happened that allow me to write considerably more than I would have otherwise. Let’s do this.

Recent Past! Yesterday marked eighteen damn years of Jerkcity, which I freely admit is a bit too unstructured for me, but for which I will always be grateful because it was my introduction to Rands, who in real life has taught me more than I can recall about the industry I work in, the people that inhabit it, and how to interact with them. Also, bags and pens. He’s smart like that.

Past, Present and Future! Josh Fruhlinger wrote a book which I enjoyed a great deal, and he has very kindly opened the metaphorical kimono to share data regarding it. The Enthusiast was funded via Kickstarter, and Fruhlinger has done a detailed post on how the money got spent, which anybody considering a crowdfunded project should consider to be a valuable look at what to expect. Read carefully and absorb.

Today! One year ago, Ryan North did the most Ryan North thing possible when he got stuck in a hole and got out by treating it as a text adventure game with all of Twitter as the controlling player. It’s well known that there are no holidays in August, with some countries resorting to making up arbitrary “bank holidays” to make the month less suicidally depressing, so may I suggest that from now on, 18 August¹ be known as Northole Day? We can celebrate by walking our dogs with umbrellas and seeking out holes. Somebody tell David Malki ! to include it in the list of holiday’s for next year’s perpetual calendar.

Also Today! I got my copy of Chester 5000 XYV: Isabelle & George. I will never not love Jess Fink for her ability to mix together real emotion, real pretty pictures, and really hot, hot sexytimes in one story. I think I understand the whole Stucky thing now.

Next Month! It’s just four weeks until SPX rolls around (sadly, I won’t be able to make it, as it will fall in the middle of back-to-back weeks where work sends me to Minnesota), and the Ignatz Awards nominees have been announced. I first saw the slate over at Comics Worth Reading, so props to Johanna Draper Carlson for being on the story early.

What I found especially interesting is the jury members: Tony Breed, Summer Pierre, Keiler Roberts, C Spike Trotman, and JT Most²; There’s a lot of web-first art from these creators, and unsurprisingly the category for Outstanding Online Comic is super strong:

That’s an impressively wide range of styles, topics, and presentations, and really no bad choices there.

Other nominees that hail from the wide world o’ webcomics include Melanie Gillman (As The Crow Flies) for Outstanding Comic; Jason Shiga (Demon) and Keiler Robert (Powdered Milk), and various contributors to the Isaac Cates-edited Cartozia Tales for Outstanding Series; Lisa Hanawalt (Hot Dog Taste Test) for Outstanding Graphic Novel; Kate Beaton (Step Aside, Pops), and various contributors to the Sfé R Monster & Taneka Stotts-edited Beyond: The Queer Sci Fi and Fantasy Anthology for Outstanding Anthology Or Collection.

Uniquely, the Ignatzes (Ignatzen?) are voted on by the attendees of SPX, with the votes quickly tallied between end of exhibit hours and the start of the awards ceremony on Saturday, 17 September. Best of luck to all the nominees.


Spam of the day:

30??nimals Surprised By Their Owners Coming Home Sooner

Cute, but why is the same address in Romania sending me pictures of animals, pictures of Asian women, pictures of beautiful vistas, and pictures of “unbelievable fails”?

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¹ No shifting to a Monday or Friday for a long weekend, it has to fall on the 18th.

² I’m not familiar with Most and I’m finding it impossible to Google them, as all the responses refer to Justin Timberlake and headlines like Is this JT’s most awesome video ever?.

It’s sort of like how the one person I’d be interested is finding from high school, my old physical lab partner, is un-Googleable, because her name closely matches the nickname of an old aircraft carrier and all matches are for sailor reunions. Her sister is also un-Googleable, as her name matches too closely with DC superhero Robin. They’ve achieved the dream: no digital footprint thanks to a favorable signal-to-noise ratio.

The Interesting Quadrant Today

It’s always Thursdays in the summer doldrums when the news dries up; students aren’t back to college yet, con season is in a lull between major shows, even the occasional artist might take an afternoon to enjoy the weather. But still, things are on the horizon.

For example, the Boston Comics Con is a newish show that’s trying to keep a comics focus. Although it’s giving prominence to media guests (like William Shatner), the biggest draw of the show this year appears to be Frank Miller¹. It’s running from tomorrow afternoon until Sunday, with webcomicky types (and Massachusetts natives) Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb, as well as creator-owned types like Stan Sakai and Terry Moore as guests.

Webcomickers and webcomics-alikes are also starting to make an inroads into the Artist Alley, where you’ll find representatives of the Boston Comics Roundable, the guys behind First Law of Mad Science, Lunarbaboon, Sarah Andersen, Yuko Ota & Ananth Hirsh, and Tessa Stone. With TopatoCon 2: The TopatoConenning off the table this year, it may be the best chance for New Englanders to see webcomickers nearby.

Unless they want to head north, that is. The Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival will be happening on Sunday, in Dartmouth (which is across the harbo[u]r from Halifax, capital of Nova Scotia), and they’ve invited the likes of Ryan North, newly local Jeph Jacques, Kate Beaton, and a whole host of Canadian talent whose names I don’t recognize, but who are in all likelihood very, very good because let’s face it — Canada has a disproportionate number of amazing creators to its credit. If you see Ryan or Jeph or Kate tell ’em I said hi and can’t wait to pet their dogs.


Spam of the day:

40?Hot Cuties Ready To Warm Up The Party

Oh boy, Stock Photos Of Women Showing Cleavage: The Spam!

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¹ Whether or not you consider that to be a good thing is dependent on personal taste.

Raina. Just Raina.

She had, in the hearts of her numerous fans, entered the territory of the mononymic, like Madonna or Bono or Frank¹, there is no doubt who you are talking about when it comes to superstars². And today there are things to mention regarding Raina [Editor’s note: okay, fine, Raina Telgemeier] that you should know about, at least if you’re out in the Bay Area.

Firstly, Ghosts is rapidly approaching release date, and that means release parties. Green Apple Books in San Francisco (that would be Raina’s hometown) will be hosting such a party at 6:00pm (reading at 7:00pm) on Tuesday, 13 September (that would be the release date), and while they don’t explicitly say that Raina’s going to be at the party, she is tweeting out the event announcement.

In order to bring some order to what’s going to be a busy, busy night, Green Apple are pre-selling tickets which are good for a paperback copy of the book, and have shifted to a location with ample parking and space away from the main store. No doubt other bookstores will be holding their own events to meet reader demand; if you know of one, drop me a line and I’ll share it.

And in the meantime, whether you can get to the release party or not, there’s a display of original pages³ from Smile, Drama, and Sisters at the Berkeley (that would be just across the bay from Raina’s hometown) Public Library Central branch. They’ve even got five original pages from Ghosts, on view in the second floor through 26 August. Central’s hours and address are at their webpage, and like all libraries it’s free and open to the public. Since it’s a proven scientific fact that you can never have too much Raina, I’d advise everybody in the area to make the trip and look at some pretty damn great pages while we all count down to the 13th. Given the fact that Ghosts is going to have a print run of 500,000 copies (pretty sure that’s a graphic novel record), you should be able to get a copy without too much difficulty, but I’d put in a pre-order, just in case.


[Media Alert] Behold the Instruments of Righteousness in Super Dung

What?

..eon Tactics!

Oh. Gotcha. Not a good place for the subject line to get truncated.

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¹ Okay, there is a little ambiguity here as to which Frank one might be mentioning: Frank as in Zappa, or as in Becky and.

² Also: George.

³ Hat tip: Mark V of Electric Puppet Theatre. Read his comic!

Fresh From The Mailbag

Some of it’s newer, some a bit less new, with an oddly common occurrence of the letter F.

  • From Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, a reminder that the folks behind the French take on the venerable insane fight tournament manga series, Last Man, have been working on a prequel animated series. Then funding promises went away, and to finish their work they’re Kickstartering. So this would be a French version of an anime adaptation of an insane fight tournament manga, which sounds awesome on its face before I remind you that Last Man is really good. Campaign page in English, French, and even a little Japanese, so check ‘er out in the next … fourteen days.

    (Also from FSFCPL, word that Boulet has been filling his Instagram with Pokemon shots, starting here; these are the disturbing Pokemon, something that Katuhiro Otomo and Satoshi Kon might dream up after a long night drinking with Cthulhu, the least threatening of which is doing something unspeakable to your cat, the more typical of which needs to be met with giant robots, plural.)

  • From Andrew Farago at the Cartoon Art Museum, news of the last CAM public program: Cartooning Boot Camp at the American Bookbinders Museum, 35 Clementina Street in San Francisco. The free (!) program runs both Thursday the 18th (5:30pm – 8:00pm) and Saturday the 20th 11:00am – 3:00pm), offering a showing of the work done by aspiring cartoonists, ages 10 – 16, this summer. The first event is part of the Third Thursdays series for arts institutions in the Yerba Buena Alliance, and sponsors are providing refreshments at both.
  • Want to check out the work of an absolute master? Kate Feirtag at the Society of Illustrators wants you to know that they’re putting on major retrospective of Ralph Steadman, chronicler of the great and the low, the everyday and the bat-country insane over his storied 50 year career. The show runs 6 September to 22 October, with an opening reception on Friday, 9 September at 6:30pm (suggested donation: US$15, beer provided plus cash bar) with a variety of events during the six week run. It all happens at the SoI building, 128 East 63rd in Manhattan.
  • It’s time for the monthly TopatoCo Drink ‘n’ Draw, with deets at the Facebook page (okay, that one was a stretch). The special guest this month is Danielle Corsetto, who will meet you at Eastworks from 7:00pm – 10:00pm (it’s probably gonna rain, so bring your umbrella) for food, fun, fdrinking, and fdrawing.

Spam of the day:

Do not worry, all your efforts will be rewarded.

That’s reassuring, except for the part where the bulk of this message is in Russian and I’m pretty sure I now owe their mafia a favor.

This Is Going To Blow Your Minds, People

Please note the photo of the very handsome, very large Ryan North above, taken from the Instagram of his fellow comic book writer, Marguerite Bennett. Unless I miss my guess, this photo was taken during SDCC, while North was involved in the creation of something very cool that required

  1. A significant amount of legal, adult-type intoxicating beverages
  2. Tangentially, the efforts of Isaiah Mustafa, aka The Old Spice Guy

The latter item should surprise approximately nobody, given the propensity that both North and Mustafa have for casual shirtlessness. In any event, I can’t tell you yet exactly what North was involved in the creation of, but suffice it to say that it is awesome and hilarious, and when you get to learn about it for reals in possibly two to four weeks, you will wonder why you didn’t guess it on your own because it will make perfect sense. For now, just enjoy the raw, sensuous sophistication fairly dripping from The Toronto Man-Mountain there. Enjoy it, damn you!

  • Either Spike was late or I just missed it on Friday, but the latest announcement for what th’heck Iron Circus is publishing in the next year, year and a half is up:

    Iris & Angel isn’t exactly new; the first chapter’s already been written by myself, drawn by @littlefroggies, and posted on Slipshine, the subscription adult comics site. But Slipshine came with certain restrictions; monthly quotas, length limits, and the expectation of sex every fifteen pages, to name a few. And while that works for a lot of comics, it wasn’t working for I&A.

    So, Amanda and I are trying something new.

    Iris & Angel is restarting from scratch, and will be released chapter-by-chapter on ComiXology and in the Iron Circus Comics online store!

    This is a new approach for us, and we’re excited to see where it might lead. We’re test-driving a smaller, cheaper, more incremental approach to our comics; inexpensive “issues” of I&A with a nice, low bar for entry for the curious and the freedom to tell the story as we like.

    Serialized smut, y’all. And what smut!

    Iris Moore is a victim of her own success; her small soap-making business has taken off like a shot, but she’s found herself floundering with the financials. With April 15th approaching and her paperwork more hopelessly scrambled than ever, she finally accepts the inevitable: she needs professional help. But where to start?

    A fetish message-board on the internet, of course.

    Iris’ pervy roommate Tate talks her into answering the weirdest personal ad ever posted; a cross-dressing accountant offering tax prep.

    I think I lost count of the fetishes there. This is gonna be great.

  • Attention, anybody that’s ever had the self-awareness to ask Am I interacting with a creator in an acceptable way? The fact that you’re asking what correct (that is, most likely to be acceptable/least likely to cause distress) behavior is means that you’re almost certainly good. For everybody else, please see Something*Positive today, wherein Randy Milholland shares yet another story of people having no fucking clue what acceptable observation of boundaries looks like.

    I don’t get it — Milholland is maybe the sweetest person I know and yet he has a bottomless well of stories detailing the most batshit crazy interactions with fans and “fans”. I don’t know how he’s managed to not snap and kill us all, but then again I wonder that about most of the women that have any degree of visibility on social media. It is a legit wonder that the majority of serial killers aren’t righteously pissed-off women.

    Regardless, the lesson remains the same — if you can see even a tiny bit of yourself in Milholland’s comic today (directed at Milholland or literally any other human being ever), then it’s mathematically provable that you suck¹, and you need to stop sucking as quickly as possible. We are trying to have a civilization here people, and you can either be a goddamned grownup or you can please absent yourself from the rest of us.


Spam of the day:

71 Contaminants in your water…are you safe?

On the off chance that I’m not, I’ma guess that I won’t be made safe by your magic drinking straw.

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¹ I’ll be generous and say that perhaps it was the case that you used to suck and have gotten better. In that case, you kind of owe it to yourself to be honest about it, and pay it forward by letting other people know both when they suck, and that it’s possible to improve yourself to the point where you stop sucking.

One Last Thing About San Diego

I has never failed to both impress and terrify me what the webs of personal interconnection can bring about. I was talking with Marian Call and Pat Race after the Space Time show about how we’re in a unique era, where somebody that’s accomplished in one field (say, comics and cartooning) winds up being a mutual fan of somebody in a completely different field (say, landing robotic laboratories on a different friggin’ planet) and they end up finding a space where they can collaborate. It’s like if the Algonquin Round Table had perhaps slightly fewer snarky New Yorker contributors and added in a barnstorming aviatrix, a jazz pioneer, and an engineer or two.

Case in point: outside Kate Beaton’s spotlight panel¹, I made the acquaintance of a woman whose Twitter handle I recognized; our circles of friends (and friends-of-friends) overlap at several points. Her name is Cathy Leamy and she’s making comics in Boston that provide healthcare education². A bit later I was talking with a woman named Lisa Johnson (who sported an ad astra per aspera tattoo³ and had nice things to say about my Figure 1 notebook) and makes satellites in Scotland (where she is far more female, far more brown, far more female, and far more not-Scottish) and then Rich Stevens introduced me to Matt Fraction and then she and Matt hugged and he got her on the FaceTime call to his daughter because they know each other because of course they do. Does Boston Cathy know originally-from-Boston Jen the Satellite Lady? I haven’t had the chance to determine it yet but it wouldn’t surprise me.

The six degrees of separation thing may not ever have been true, but it’s truer than it’s ever been. All of these disciplines intersecting, cross-pollinating, informing each other in a web of smart, accomplished, skilled people who are using the things we love to teach us about other things — things we didn’t know about, and things that we didn’t know that we would love — I truly believe that this is what’s going to hold our culture together in the face of regressive forces that want us all back in distinct boxes with clear labels and hierarchical roles.

Screw labels. Screw roles. I want comics people and music people and writer people and dance people and maker people and doctor people and actor people and human rights people and lawmaker people and food making people and drinks making people and just generally smart, interesting people bouncing the hell off each other in ways we’ve never seen before. The more the merrier.

Except for moustache people. That spot’s taken and I will brook no challengers.

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¹ And if by chance anybody knows the Furiosa I met outside Kate’s panel, she looks like this and her initials are CM, I’ve been trying to email the photo I promised and her Gmail account says it’s over quota. Hey, we’re talking about connections today, somebody here probably knows her.

² Attention, Dante Shepherd: you may want to look her up to compare notes on STEM education via comics.

³ Also one of Newton’s cannonball thought experiment.

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.

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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.

Being A Chronicle Of The End Times

Sunday is always a weird day at San Diego Comic Con; the crowd is trying to decide on last minute purchases, the vendors can see the end coming but then have to do tear-down (and here’s a little trade secret for you — the larger booths can’t start until the carpet’s taken up, and there’s a lot of carpet) and throw everything on pallets. The good news is that by the time you’re done, there’s not much of a line at any of the restaurants. The best news is that the day earlier Eben Burgoon of Eben07 and B-Squad¹ gifted me a bottle of the honey blonde ale that was brewed to tie in with the publication of B-Squad volume 2 which was opened approximately 12 seconds after the show ended and sustained the crew of several booths through teardown. It was pretty tasty!

But before you get to teardown (and I swear, some year somebody’s going to get caught in the giant layers of clingfilm used to hold everything together on the pallet; I swear it almost happened to me twice) there’s still a mostly-full day of the show. I managed to see the YA panel, which was held in a large room but attracted a surprisingly — disappointingly, actually — small crowd, considering the talent on the riser (from left): Sierra Hahn moderating; Hope Larson; Raina Telgemeier; Cecil Castellucci, James Dashner, and Brenden Fletcher.

Bios: Hahn is senior editor at BOOM! (a somewhat recent transplant from Dark Horse, and not responsible for the crappy contracts they offer; creators that I speak to about BOOM! generally have good things to say about the editorial side); Larson and Telgemeier should need no introduction if you read this page; Castellucci wrote for DC’s now-dead Minx line for YA girls, and more recently a Star Wars tie-in about Leia and Shade, The Changing Girl for Vertigo; Dashner doesn’t write comics (yet), but is the author of the wildly popular Maze Runner series (now a motion picture franchise) as well as other YA book series; Fletcher is the cowriter of Gotham Academy and the revived Batgirl.

A quick word of praise for Hahn here as we begin; the panel could have easily turned into a slog where the moderator throws out a question and each panelist answers it; rinse; repeat. But midway through the first period of questioning, Castellucci asked a question of her fellow panelists and Hahn backed the heck off, letting the conversation take on its own life. After that, about three times she threw out new feeder questions and stood back to let them develop organically; it’s a very difficult thing to moderate with a light hand, I could see that Hahn had prepared a lot of questions and she very smartly adapted to the situation. It was the best moderating job I saw all week.

That initial question was about what it is in YA that unique attracts readers, which became a discussion of influences. Larson’s first experiences with comics were Tintin, Asterix, and other adventure stories, and Compass South is a love letter to the genre; Telgemeier has shifted away from autobio/realism with Ghosts, citing Miyazaki as her biggest influence. Castellucci noted the irony of telling the story of a YA character in Shade within the structure of mature-readers imprint, contrasting with her next project (a girl in 1932 riding the rails with hobos) and recalling the influence of reading My Cancer Year in high school. Grief is what she gets as something that’s uniquely expressible in comics, saying I write prose, but sometimes there are no words to say what I want, and then I turn to comics.

Dashner’s not written comics, but loves what pictures can add to storytelling, being particularly satisfied with some tie-ins to the movie version of Maze Runner. Fletcher said that he would be cribbing answers from others — Tintin, etc — but that Miyazaki (and in particular, Totoro) changed my life when I was falling down a hole of ’90s dudebro comics. Totoro hit my reset button and I thought that was who I am, that’s the storytelling I was to express when I grow up. He tied that ability to influence a younger reader into the idea that his run on Batgirl was mandated to be written for an audience of 21 – 28 year olds — sex, party times, woo — but at the first con after the first issue came out, a 10 year old girl dressed as Batgirl came up to get it signed and that was it: the creative team bucked their instructions and We aged it down. Gotham Academy was always in the space for my 10 year old niece, but we shifted Batgirl to be closer to that same space.

This was about the point that Castellucci shifted the conversation, asking what appealed to the others about YA. She found it compelling because the characters are raw and figuring out who they are, and that was what she always wanted to write. Larson noted it’s what comes most natural to her, and doesn’t understand why YA is looked down on; eople that look down on YA suck at writing it, she opined. Dashner jumped in to tell the story of a friend who was told by a Very Important Person In Publishing that her YA writing was really good, so she might now be good enough to write for adults.

Telgemeier held forth on the idea that YA as a category didn’t really exist when she was growing up, that you went from Baby Sitters Club straight to VC Andrews (or possibly Stephen King); her introduction to the idea of YA was discovering Lynda Barry at the age of 12. There followed a general discussion of what counts as YA and why, despite the fact that good YA has always had a significant older readership (and 60%+ of the market is women over the age of 30), the term all ages isn’t helpful. All ages is code for inoffensive, as Larson pointed out. But at the same time, comics publishers don’t always know what to do with it. Fletcher related how Gotham Academy was ignored in the direct market because it had two teen girls on the cover so they figured it was for kids. Librarians asked him where to shelve it — in the children’s section, or teen/YA?

Hahn fed that point by noting that libraries and bookstores will have to have a YA shelving concept so you don’t put Vertigo books next to those appropriate for kids. Fletcher lamented that Barnes & Noble has Gotham Academy next to Batman (alphabetically, wedged in by Gotham Central, which, yeesh, serious disconnect), but Lumberjanes is in YA, so where will the Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover go?

Castellucci wonders if people who want their comic books not just for kids, dammit! are willfully ignoring the YA section and how that might prevent people from picking up a book they might like. Larson wryly observed that those readers won’t pick up a book with a non-powered teen girl on the cover anyway, so there’s no harm in putting it in a YA section. Dashner wasn’t sure — he said that his books, and others like the Harry Potter series, Twilight series, Divergent series, and plenty others wouldn’t sell nearly as well without adult readers. It’s also the case that several of those series were issued with serious, adult-style covers to provide the ability for grownups to read them in stealth mode.

There’s always a point in a panel like this where the discussion turns to the value of comics in getting kids to read and it followed the usual path, but there was an observation from Catellucci I hadn’t heard before. She works as a literacy volunteer in LA public schools and started a reading club. One girl brought in Larson’s graphic adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time and spent all year on it. She loved that book, and later when Castellucci showed a page from Mercury her hand shot up and she asked Is that Hope Larson? It haddn’t occurred to her the idea of having a favorite author who does different kinds of stories. She proselytized that book, shared it with all her friends, and then wanted to make comics herself. Kids that love comics make and share comics, which is the crux of Catellucci’s point. There’s an enthusiasm that even the most eager readers of prose don’t have.

(This was followed by Fletcher telling how his 10 year old niece fell in love with Gotham Academy, which he basically wrote for her. She shares them, she begged to go to a comics creation camp that was aimed at older kids, and on a visit she gave him a copy her first comic. That destroyed me. She’s doing fanart of my characters and I burst into tears.)

The other thing that usually comes up in YA discussions is deciding what’s appropriate for inclusion, and again there were a pair of unique points I hadn’t heard before. Castellucci pointed out you could aim a comic for a particular age (say, 10), and there are kids that age reading far above that level, and kids reading far below; reading ability really spreads out in age cohorts, but they may all be reading the same comic, so finding a way to keep language, sex, or violence “age appropriate” is almost impossible.

Telgemeier pointed out that comics are a challenge in that showing something has more impact than writing about it, even for the same audience; she’s so far been unable to get any character having a period into her books (all of which star teenage girls), but thinks it might be possible soon. Fletcher pointed out the advantage to comics is you can treat danger in different ways; Batgirl might be beating people up, but the Gotham Academy kids are more likely to run until they’re in a kind of environmental danger (collapsing floor, possibility of a fall, etc). In Batgirl there’s an acknowledgment that things like drinking or sex exist, but since it’s aged down now, you can cut away without showing. You’re not ignoring it, it’s not imposed, it’s just what feels right.

A short while later, it was time for the Kickstarter panel, which at long last bows to reality and includes on the dias George friggin’ Rohac, along with Hope Nicholson of Bedside Press and Kel McDonald of Sorcery 101, along with Jamie Turner from Kickstarter (from left: Turner, McDonald, George, Nicholson). Interestingly, Turner introduced the panel by noting how many projects they’ve each run: 5 for himself, 9 for McDonald, 6 for Nicholson, and an estimated 50 for George.

The first third or so of the panel was taken up by a sort of Kickstarter 101 which in an ideal world shouldn’t have been necessary, but given the number of people in the audience who had indicated they planned on doing a Kickstart at some point, and who were frantically taking notes and photographing the projection screen, it was wanted by the majority of the viewers. Some numbers, then: comics represent about 4000 of Kickstarter’s 108,000 successful projects, with a funding rate of about 55% (versus 40% for the site as a whole). This means that George himself has run approximately 1.25% of all comics projects in Kickstarter history, yikes.

The most valuable part of the panel was the first thing Turner said: although he titled the panel Kickstarter Secrets Revealed in order to get it approved, there are no secrets. It’s all in the tutorial material that Kickstarter makes available: have an original project, communicate with your backers, have a good video, make sure you can explain what’s compelling, bring an audience with you. Prep before the project, complete with cushion for unexpected situations (McDonald calls it The Screwup Fund and budgets in US$2000; Rohac calls it The Unexpected Situations Fund and allots 12.5% on top of however much he thinks the project will require). Keep close track of expenses, expect postal rates to go up by the time you have to deliver rewards, and as Nicholson emphasized, If you don’t want to think about shipping [in the planning stage], don’t offer physical rewards.

Other rules of thumb:

  • From McDonald: expect to get 1/3 of your total take in the first three days; if that’s not going to get you to goal, re-evaluate what you’re doing and know that you still have time to correct course.
  • From Rohac: Don’t set the goal of the project to do your absolute Platonic ideal of a book; look at one that’s simpler and cheaper, and if you hit funding make the idea version a stretch goal.
  • From Nicholson: Don’t neglect to include both time and expense of shipping from the printer to you — people have been crippled in the past by unexpected multi-month, multiple-thousands-of-dollars delays and expenses.
  • From everybody: the glut of offers you get from companies that want to charge you to promote your Kickstarter will do absolutely nothing for you.

The audience didn’t appear to fully take in the lessons, though. They wanted to know about things like changing SEC rules that allow crowdfunding to be used for investment (Turner: moot point because KS is ideologically opposed to the idea; Rohac: if you think keeping track of shipping is a headache, imagine trying to keep track of who is owed what share of equity in your business), what the benefit of paid promotions/advertising is (Rohac: you will convert so few it’s not worth it; McDonald: you can promote to your audience, who are most likely to support you, for free; Nicholson: does sometimes do Facebook ad buys because Facebook is a donut-stealing mobster), exactly what format the video should be (all: whatever you want, just make one), how much prep to do before launch (all: as much as humanly possible, then some more), and the most effective promotions channels (all: Twitter, existing audience channels). You know, questions the answers to which are embedded in all the previous advice.

The questions weren’t about How do I determine if my audience is large enough to support a project? or What percentage of them will actually give me money?; instead they revealed the still too-common attitude that Kickstarter is a game that can be approached algorithmically, and if you have the cheat codes you will get All The Money. The answer remains what it always has been: hone your craft, grow your audience, make stuff, then crowdfund. You never could do it in reverse, and you won’t be able to in the future. The Magic Money Machine was always a myth.


Creators who gave me books or significantly discounted them at some point during the week because they all rock and are The Best:
Kate Beaton (King Baby), Raina Telgemeier (Ghosts), Jeff Smith (BONE Coda), Dave Kellett (Peanuts: A Tribute To Charles M Schulz).

Cosplay was a bit thinner on Sunday, but I did see a pretty impressive Rescue² but the most ambitious cosplay of the entire show was the woman who dressed as the entirety of Middle Earth.

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¹ Tagline: Like Suicide Squad, but funnier.

² In recent Marvel continuity, Pepper Potts has her own Iron Man-style armor, and you can tell from the distinct design of the chest reactor it’s not just a gender-swapped Tony Stark. I have no idea how I know this.

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.

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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.