The webcomics blog about webcomics

Mea Culpa

Well, what can I say about my little sabbatical? It seemed like an increase in work (uh, and rollerderby) coupled with a drop in the number of webcomics I’m reading. Every once in a while I hit a slump and this one was amplified by two autobio comics of which I’m fond both ending. You’ve read about Chris Baldwin’s, a recent favorite with the home-field advantage, and Matt Reidsma’s High Maintenance Machine, a long-standing favorite (and not only because it’s full of cats).

I can’t give them too much grief; each has other equally interesting projects on which he plans to work. I can empathize, though, with that feeling of waking up and thinking, Okay, how is this work helping me? Is it challenging me? What am I getting out of it? There’s something to be said for ending the run, the experiment, whatever, before it feels like it’s getting to be a chore. I was thinking about these ideas in the context of friends of mine who have a very cyclical webcomics reading pattern; they’ll follow daily for a while, get bored and/or get absorbed in other things, and then read a whole stack of archives when they have some spare time. I fell into this over the last few weeks, where I’d wake up in the morning, check my email, check CNN, and go to work. When time became precious, webcomics got squeezed out.

And then somebody dropped this into my inbox. It’s a donations webpage for a guy named Sean Tevis who’s running for State Representative in Kansas, who created a xkcd homage to raise money and win the election. Seems to be working so far; he’s raised a pile of cash and gotten some notable press.

The site’s been up for just about a month (yes, I’m late to this party too) and it seems like an interesting, different way to campaign, particularly because he hit his fundraising goal in about a day. Mostly it’s a good idea; novel approach, interesting webcomic, and brings attention to the medium and traffic to xkcd. Not bad things.

At the same time, I wonder, is it about the novelty, something about webcomics and politics? Something like 90% of Tevis’ donors are not his constituents, according to the NPR piece, and it’s kind of fascinating to think about the shape such things may have on future elections. It’s nothing new for non-constituent donors to back a candidate; people donate from out of state all the time. Of course, the piece is an homage done in a certain style; it’s not swiping or appropriating though I wonder if there was communication between Tevis and Munroe prior to publication, and what could possibly happen if, someday, let’s say, a candidate’s political views were in sharp opposition to the webcomics creator he or she was referencing though an homage such as this.

I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here; I’m not sure of anyone’s political leanings (well, aside from Tevis’s after looking at his homepage) nor is that really where I want to focus. Mostly I’m landing at being impressed by a guy who did something different and made a point while making money for the campaign. It’s interesting.

Imagine if all campaigns ran this way…

So There, Robspierre

This week I’m taking my lead from an old friend who pointed me at Kate Beaton’s website, thinking, correctly, that I’d get a kick out of it. He was right, of course; her “Another Dang Garfield Cartoon” had me in hysterics for a good five minutes. Plus her history comics are outrageously funny, be they about Napoleon getting two-times by Josephine and seeking solace in the cookie jar or July 4th’s primer on How to Be An American (well, it starts with getting on a horse…). She’s got this quirky style with her panel composition, her lettering feels very organic, and there’s this wry mix of irreverence (especially with the History Projects–go read ’em, right now) and insight.

Her site’s got a few different sections, all worth browsing. The Maritimes has this huge range of different art (weird, lovely, and…just really weird in this oddly captivating way; some of it reminds me very much of Natalie Dee’s work). I particularly enjoyed Conversations With A Younger Self (pretty much is what it says), and the People and Places section is just kinda charming. There’s a funny About section (always a plus in my book), and though it’s not always totally work safe (there’s some cussin’) it’s always worth your time.

Either Early Or Late, Depending

Or, how did I miss the fact that Christopher Baldwin was doing a diary comic?! I know, I know; I fail, because Gary even wrote about it a few weeks back. (Can I blame the 4th of July for that one? On the upside, now we can say that most if not all of the current Fleen bloggers have appeared in Baldwin’s work…?) Anyway, big, big demerit for me for missing this, ’cause Baldwin’s work–as you probably all know–is extraordinary. I love it like I love High Maintenance Machine; maybe more so because, y’know, the dude made it to derby.

Let me back up, since this story sort of starts at the end, weirdly, and kind of loops back forward. I have had moments in the past where I’ve met someone with some degree of name recognition, and I usually figure out who that person is…eventually. It once took me the better part of a year to figure out I’d printed holiday cards for a very cool local attorney and musician (…and, later, it got me excused from jury duty).

I was a little speedier on the draw–ha ha–this past weekend at the roller derby double header, where I actually got to meet Mr. Baldwin himself. Cool. Very cool. I was not articulate, but I was on skates and did not fall over. But I didn’t realize until a few days later until friends started emailing me that I’d made an appearance in his diary comic.

Diary comic? He does a diary comic?! Come on, you know me and my autobio soft touch. I should have been reading Gary’s posts more carefully. I apologize–next time, smack me or something when work this good comes along. Anyway, I love it. I’ve been sucked in, particularly to the diary work (though I have to confess there’s a little lure there in that I know the geography he’s writing about; it’s not just some abstract Massachusetts place). Overall, I’m kind of overwhelmed by everything that’s there, from the travel stuff, including the 1999 cross-country expedition (sort of a move, sort of a meander…) and the fiery Canadian Rockies–note the smoke– to some “bio portraits” and another move, and Greenfield, and oh, it’s just real good. Go read it already.

Kind Of Already On Holiday

I’ll keep it short, since we’re right on the cusp of a holiday weekend…

A friend recently recommended Christoph Niemann’s The Boys and The Subway, which while I don’t know if it qualifies as a webcomic exactly has left me smitten. I think everyone ought to read it, since the dang thing is so winsome, so, for you I link. Go read it. It’s utterly charming.

In news, though, from Matt Reisdma: As I near the 2-year mark of High Maintenance Machine, I can’t help but think of where I want to take my comics. And to be honest with myself, it isn’t into another year of diary comics. I never intended to draw a diary comic this long–it just happened. And while I did sometimes lose sight of my original purpose, the strip was always about drawing practice, about pushing my art and myself into new places.

So beginning August 5th I will be changing things up: I’m going to focus on longer stories–both true and fictional, about myself and others–rather than daily diary strips about my life. And because I feel that long-form comics work better in print, I will stop regularly posting pages online. Each month, a new issue of High Maintenance Machine will be released, either as a compilation of stories or a chapter in a longer work. We’ll see. I’m not sure what this will look like, or where it will go, but it’s a place I have to visit, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Exciting, and at the same time a little sad. I love his diary strips (as those of you who’ve been reading for a while likely already know) and I’ll miss them. At the same time, having seen some of Reidsma’s longer narratives in other collections, it’s an opportune time for a change given the depth and range his work’s exhibited in the last two years, the shift in some of his techniques, and a kind of refinement of his line work. So, mazel tov! to Matt, and here’s to the last month of the diary work…

For the rest of you, have a decent holiday weekend. (And for those of you local to Western MA, don’t forget about the derby…)

Jumble, Junk, Jump

In recent weeks it’s been tougher for me to post on Thursdays; partially it’s the job, but mostly it’s rollerderby. I’m learning how to ref, which mostly means I’m trying to learn how to skate. It’s a strange process but I’m enjoying it, even though there are parts which still remain sort of a mystery to me. (Skating backward? Okay, getting better at that. Jumping up & down on my skates? Not so much.)

Oddly, it’s similar to how I feel about L. Nichols’ Jumbly Junkery. When I was at MoCCA, I picked up the two most recent issues. What drew me in, of course, are the cool covers; one’s silkscreened (#4) and the other looks spray-painted (#3). But as I read, I was pulled into stories that have to do with complex ideas about gender and identity, and existing in a world where you don’t quite fit but at the same time don’t really want to. Usually they’re autobiography work (or have an autobio feel to them), aside from one story in #3 (an issue that includes some interesting color work; generally these collections are in black and white). I’m glad I read them in sequence; it seems like the newest issue is evocative of so many larger issues–growing apart from people, gender bias, and so on–that the issue before it doesn’t spell out quite as directly. They’re there, of course, but somehow the newer issue felt more cohesive.

I wish there was more work online. There’s a fabulous gallery on Nichols’ Flickr set, which is where you have to go to see any of the online comics. It’s worth the work; the set includes the coolest cover letter ever (that’s the first of three pages) as well as some evocative illustration work (plus we get to see more color work, which is usually cost-prohibitive in print). It’s an interesting issue; I’d never have looked at the website if I hadn’t seen the print comics, and now that I’ve seen both I’m almost wishing for more online work. I don’t know if webcomics is something Nichols wants to get into, but I think it’d be worth reading. I like these print versions very much, and now that I’ve read some of Nichols’ pieces online (can’t get over the cover letter!) I’d love to see more.

Anyway, it’s a long way of saying they’re worth a look. And if you’re anywhere near what seems to be the webcomics hub of Western MA in mid-July, consider coming by for some derby.


You so don’t want to know about the week I just had at work.

But midway through the week, the comics scholars discussion list I’m on got to talking about women in webcomics. Someone posted a long, long list of webcomics that were totally new to me, which shouldn’t surprise me anymore given what webcomics are and do. One of the most compelling things about webcomics is that anyone with the know-how and the tools can make his or her own with minimal fuss. It’s one of the things I love about zines and minicomics. Still, it’s interesting to me to sift through this long list of new things, and I thought I’d point folks towards three which particularly stood out on first blush.

There’s Hero, with its lush intro page. Described as “a story about a perfectly ordinary boy with no memory of the past and no urgency for the future who one day accepts a most extraordinary offer to travel to distant places and invisible cities,” Hwei Lin Lim updates the site with 3 pages every Monday. The design here is a little different from other webcomics I’ve seen, in that the narrative appears as a pop-up box when you rollover the image. It sort of struck me that I don’t remember seeing a webcomic narrated this way, and I think it presents an interesting challenge to how we think about webcomics and comics more broadly, and how words and pictures intersect.

Otter Soldiers just struck me as very entertaining and distinctive in its use of the written word: I really enjoy it when folks use their “about” or “introduction” page to do something a little different or unusual. For example, “This is a comic that was drawn by…Elina Hopeasaari so she’d learn something about how to draw comics before she starts drawing real actual proper comics. I would say it contains swearwords, killing people, and creatures with no clothes on, but parents don’t care about what kind of sites their kids visit, and the kids themselves certainly won’t click exit if I say there’s material unsuitable for them in here, they’ll just get more interested instead. So I’m not going to say anything.” And right here, from the get-go, I get this great sense of playfulness from this webcomic’s creator. It’s also written for a Finnish audience, not an American one, and though the FYI (see below) covers some of those questions a non-Finnish reader could have, not all of them are answered…and I kind of love that.

There’s a huge archive and a well-done character page, plus the FYI page (different, interestingly, from an FAQ–which is there, but as a subpage of the FYI) contains a great deal of information. I also really enjoyed reading in the FAQ about the technical guts of it, how Hopeasaari actually produces the work and with which tools.

Finally, there’s Faith Erin Hicks’ ICE, updated “every other Sunday night” with between 2 and 4 full pages going up each time. Good character page, clean design that’s easy to navigate, interesting color work and characters and pacing. I’m still working through the archives, but there’s something about this one which particularly stood out for me.

I’m interested, of course, to hear what people think about this question of format and narrative. In looking at something like Hero, where the narrative looks different from what we’re used to, perhaps, and something like Ice, which is a little more traditional and a little more familiar, maybe, contrasted with Otter Soldiers, where there’s a deliberate choice to have elements in the narrative which may need explaining for reader who aren’t Finnish. All three are interesting, well-done, and worth reading, and also seem somewhat different from one another.

Your thoughts?

& So Begins My MoCCA Roundup…

I also went to MoCCA this year (though not for day two and so missed the evacuation, fire trucks, and other such things), in part to table with the Trees and Hills folks and to hype our newest anthology, and in part to debut my new minicomic. (Weirdly, despite the 95+ degree heat, I also sold some monster hats.) But it’s also starting to be the only time of year when I see other comics folks; I haven’t been to SPX for quite a while and I have yet to brave anything comics-related on the West Coast. So it’s been tough for me to catch up with ongoing comics projects.

MoCCA is also usually fairly overwhelming for me; there’s a whole lot of stuff in a fairly little space, and I get distracted too easily. I also found myself this year ferrying home a small army of brightly painted wooden ghosts (okay, I work in a cubicle. These will help.), as well as some incredible mini posters by Rosemary Mosco, who’s got to be one of those folks everyone knows and loves and forgot to tell me about. (Of course, when I went to look at her site I thought, “Ah! Right! Birds for bulbs!“). Usually I end up with a fair amount of minis; this year I found that I had an awful lot of accessories.

And though I have a list of items I want to write about in coming weeks, ranging from L. Nichols’ Jumbly Junkery (in their print forms, the most recent issues of Jumbly Junkery have really extraordinary covers) to Colleen Frakes’ new Tragic Relief collection (Xeric powered!), I wanted to mention the Boston Comics Roundtable (which I know about mostly because of Matt Reidsma and Cathy Leamy, both of whom have comics available online and will be in the next issue) new anthology, Inbound. It’s this amazing-looking book, with catchy cover art and some compelling stories inside; many of the folks involved, like Dan Mazur, are webcomics artists in their own right, and it’s interesting to see them working in print. It’s a nice a little book, and a little different from what we usually see (or write about it) over here at Fleen, and I think it’s worth tracking down.

Ooh, ooh, pretties!

I feel like I’m channeling Kaylee from Firefly here, but you do not know how excited I was when Mike Luce emailed in to let us folks know that he’s about four months into a gorgeous updated-twice-weekly new series called “The City Dreams of Tamino the Cat”. It’s got many of the elements I enjoyed about his earlier series Fite! (which I found only as it was coming to a close), including extraordinary color work (just check out the rich blues here and here), lovely artwork, and maybe a cameo from Fite!?

Luce describes this new work as “about 1/3 Japanese Woodblock Print design, 1/3 50s animation and 1/3 cubism” and when you look at the work you can see some of these elements influencing the design. There’s neat panel design, and I’m totally enjoying it. Unlike in Fite! the primary language here is in English, and so the experience of reading it is different, but no less powerful. I’m excited to see how the series develops, and I’d encourage you to go have a look.

Unrelated, I’m off to MoCCA this Saturday to table with the Trees & Hills folks, where we’ll have new issues and anthologies aplenty. We’re somewhere on the first floor, in the A ballroom, near a doorway…think of it like a scavenger hunt? Yeah. More on that next week.

Something Really Different

Had it not been for the quick email she sent, I might never have seen Eliza Frye’s webcomic The Lady’s Murder (that link takes you to the first page. Start there.). She bills it as a mystery comic, where she does both the writing and the artwork, and she’s posting a new page every weekday. Seriously. It’s a short story with daily updates “unraveling the untimely death and infamous character of Miss Marie Madeleine.”

I’m a sucker for interesting color work, and this piece certainly has that. I think it’s watercolor work, but I’m not certain, and I like that it isn’t easy to tell. But look, really, at that color work: from the blood spatter on that butcher’s apron to the fetching purple in the background of some of the pages (and while we’re here, can I just mention I very much enjoy the unusual page composition?), and the rich reds in others, it’s some compelling artwork the likes of which I don’t seem to see often online. Look at the detail. Look at how it evokes some of what you’d see in the Sandman series.

What’s particularly excellent is that it’s a very, very new series (I think we’re only about 12 pages in?) and so it’ll be an interesting experience for me to read along as the series moves forward. I’m not sure for how long she’ll be posting (or for how long the one-per-weekday posting will keep happening, given how detail-rich the work is), but I have some early guesses as to the culprit…

Early Morning Deja Vu

I’m having a wicked sense of deja vu: I can’t recall if I’ve written about Jessica McLeod’s work yet or if it just seems so familiar to me that it’s as if I must have written about it at some point! Am I sleepy? Has work taken over my brain? Did that rollerderby knock to the head scramble my brain? I ran across Ghost Farm recently and was just totally taken in by the clean linework and the colors, the cute little monsters and fangs. I read through them fairly quickly, but they’re something to which I’ll return; Ghost Farm in particulary struck me as something well worth reading.

She’s actually got a stack of comics, though Mungo Bean (“the adventures of an adventure pig!) looks as if it is the most recent of the seven or eight that are there. Activities for Rainy Days has also been recently updated, and is the one which looks more classically like what we think of as webcomics, perhaps, with word balloons and dialogue and such. There’s also a few 24-hour comics available for reading. I imagine these are all likely exquisite in minicomic form, which is not to say they aren’t so online–it’s more to say that they’re kind of adorable and precious, and I can imagine them appearing in print in a way which could potentially totally amplify that. It sort of makes me think about Hope Larson’s lovely Salamander Dream, which I’ve mentioned before.

Her bio, at least on the Webcomics Nation site, is simple and straightforward: “I like drawing ghosts and robots and dinosaurs and cupcakes and little girls. I am part of an artists’ collective, Monster and Robot Industries. You can go there to buy my minis! We also have a LiveJournal community.”

They’re quick, cute reads, perfect for cheering up a dreary day. I’m totally smitten.