The webcomics blog about webcomics

Defining Moments

Sometimes, you come across a comic and you’re convinced that this is what the creator(s) regard(s) as their defining work (at least to date). There’s previous stuff from them, and later stuff, but this is where they plant a flag and pour their heart and soul into it even if that wasn’t their original intent.

It can be fairly obvious where that labor of love is (case in point: The Abominable Charles Christopher, running in fits and starts but Karl Kerschl will always come back to it) and sometimes there’s so much work, so good, so invested, that you aren’t sure if you’ve seen it yet (case in point: I’m not sure if Box Brown would regard any of his projects that way, although I suspect either the André or Andy Kaufman bios could come closest).

But I think the key indicator is not only somebody making a great work, but finding ways to return to it, no matter what gets in the way. Which is a long way of saying that for Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh, I think Barbarous fills that role for them. They’ve done plenty of great work, together and individually, and it’s hard to get more personal than an autobio diary strip¹, but I think that the depth of character and sheer artistic skill on display in their story of a magic school dropout and her unconventional familiar pal just may be their defining work.

And lucky for you, it’s at the perfect point to get caught up — five story arcs² comprising Season 1 (with some canon side-stories drawn by pals starting next week), with infinite re-readability (every time I go back, there’s more layers that reveal themselves), and best of all — a beginning, middle, and end such that if we have to wait until never for Season 2 (because they are busy folks, and there’s paying jobs to get to), it’ll still feel complete while making us want more.

Hirsh and Ota have decades of comic-making experience between them³, all leading to this deceptively deep story; they’ll have more in the future, some that may be better known or more widely read, but I really do think this is where they will look back after a long and lauded career and say Yeah, that one could only have been told by us.

Spam of the day:

Dear Valued Candidate,
You were recently nominated as a biographical candidate for the next edition of Who’ s Who In America. We are pleased to inform you that the first phase of your candidacy was approved! Your prompt response is needed to ensure your complete professional information is considered.

I haven’t seen this particular scam since I was in high school. Respect for pulling out the deep cut.

¹ One that, a dozen years on, makes you wonder if you want to keep sharing your life with strangers on the internet forever.

² Including one that was the NCS Division Award winner for Online Comic — Longform for 2018. The first two of which are collected into massive oversized print editions, and the third is in the fulfillment pipeline, and the fourth just completed its funding round. Me? I’m waiting for the inevitable Season 1 omnibus.

³ Also, they are cool people and have been to my house and pet my dog.

Some Books And Also Some Good News

Stuff leftover from yesterday, that honestly? Better to put it today. Otherwise, the mass of information would mean something worthwhile would be lost.

  • Once upon a time there was a very fun webcomic called Gastrophobia that had three books (currently sold out in physical form, available as ebooks) about an Amazon (Phobia) and her son (Gastro) running around the mythic age of Greece. It was a sitcom, complete with theme song, and it was great.

    And a bit into volume 4, it stopped. But now, in concert with the twelfth anniversary of launch, it’s back, with a story to tell below the update:

    If you’re not in touch with my social media, you’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing all this time.

    WELL, in 2017, three things happened to me:

    • I turned 40 and had a small mid-life crisis.
    • I finally admitted to myself that I’m transgender!
    • Lost most of my stuff in Hurricane Harvey (my home was under water).

    My name’s Daisy and my pronouns are she/her! Everyone’s been ridiculously supportive and I’m way happier now than I’ve ever been! ?

    Gastrophobia is getting a partial reboot.

    The first 3 volumes are still canon. The 43 story pages I drew from 2015-2016 are retconned. They still exist and can be found here.

    I’m different now and I’m taking the comic in a different direction.

    If you read Gastrophobia in the beforetimes, you know that Daisy McGuire¹ has always been a terrific cartoonist. There’s no better time to hop on the (quoting the character bio here) Barbarian MILF funtimes train than now, complete with a new RSS feed.

    As a side note, the number of folks I know who’ve undergone gender transition has increased a zillion percent over the past 15 years or so, and they’re all people I know through my association with comics. Maybe it’s just the passing of the times, or maybe there’s something about comics and storytelling, the creation of which demands your brain be open to possibilities and what-ifs, which allows one to imagine a different way of being that’s closer to what should be than what you’ve always been told. Good on you, comics, for letting people find themselves and be happy.

  • Ryan Estrada is kind of on a roll these days. He’s not even done with the critical and popular acclaim from Banned Book Club (a copy of which I am still waiting on from my local comic shop, on account of Diamond is the worst²) and he’s just dropped another book on us, one that takes an experience from his own youth and turns it into what would have been way cooler:

    After literal decades of trying to get it off the ground and months of shipping delays, my dream project is finally out in the world. Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon is now in bookstores everywhere!

    I’m overjoyed to give kids a multicultural hero who represents his country and does good in the world. Whose superpowers are empathy and active listening.

    And I’m proud he has an odd-couple partner who’s a selfish jerk so that doesn’t get annoying.

    I’m proud to create a world where kids can learn that world leaders aren’t always right, even if they are kinder and gentler than in ours.

    I made the US president in my story latinx as well. Because in fiction, you can do whatever you want and the cops can’t stop you.

    I’m proud that the kid who made a hand-written, leatherbound book about his student ambassador travels in 1997, and dreamed of making a book about what he WISHED the trip had been like finally got his wish.

    One of those nerds is me. Can you find me?
    [photo of actual kid student ambassadors in Sydney, Australia, 1997]

    If this book is a success, I am super excited to jump right into making the next Joseph Bazan mystery, Student Ambassador: The Silver City where they explore the mysterious caves under Zacatecas, Mexico.

    Student Ambassador: The Missing Dragon is written by Ryan Estrada, and illustrated by Axur Eneas. It’s the start of the Iron Circus kids line, and is available starting yesterday. I’ma say go get this one for the overly-enthusiastic and imaginative kid(s) in your life.

Spam of the day:

The CIA has been doing intensive research for the past fifty years researching on what we call so called life. That information has been collected and presented for you here [link] This has been the finding as of seventeen years ago as of today. Now governments and other large organizations have develop technology around these concepts for their own deceptive uses. Soon you will be contacted by other means for counter measures and the part that you play in all this.

I’ll tell you something — this is slightly more plausible than the guy with the broken English and Tagalog accent that called earlier claiming to be Social Security Agent Mike Hammer letting me know my number was being revoked for abuse and fraud. When I pressed one to talk to him, I was instead connected to Agent Katherine (same accent and command of English) who was entirely plussed when I told her my name was Harry Mourningwood.

¹ In accordance with the Fleen Manual of Style, persons who transition will only be referred to by their current name/pronouns once that change is announced, but old posting referring to prior identity will not be altered.

Where necessary, context will be given without using deadnames, as in I had some memorable pub crawls with Daisy McGuire — who at the time used a different name — and other NYC cartoonists in the 2005-2008 timeframe. It was fun.

McGuire’s actually done something similar, comparing original author bios with current author bios from volumes 1, 2, and 3.

² At my suggestion, they’ve opened a merchant account with Ingram, the book distro giant. They may be nearly as much of a monopoly as Diamond is for the comics direct market, but damned if Ingram isn’t an efficient, competent monopoly that believes it can make money by giving stores what they friggin’ ask for instead of jerking them around with perpetual backorders (a lie) and shorted shipments (on a weekly basis). Right now Rick (who owns the store and is a nice guy) is going through all of the previous book orders placed through Diamond, re-requesting them from Ingram, and trying to figure out how to cancel them at Diamond so they don’t show up months or years from now with an invoice that says We finally decided to ship these to you, pay up.

Book News!

Whee doggie, buncha news for you today (okay, some of it’s a couple days old but today’s when we got to it). Let’s dig in.

Y’know, I had three other books to talk about today, but running things down on the Internet Archive is a time-consuming business, so we’ll come back to them tomorrow. See you back here then.

Spam of the day:

Amazing Invention Takes Over Control of Any Barking Dog

I have a greyhound. They are notoriously rare barkers.

¹ That one is from the Wayback Machine because the original is offline which … it was full of NSFW stuff which would seem to make it a natural for appropriation by scammers, but it hasn’t been. Weird.

Busy Weekend

You know, what with two different sets of comics awards being given out, nominally from different coasts but practically speaking all from the confines of cyberspace.

  • On the delayed hand, you had NCSFest handing out the various NCS Division Awards, along with the Reuben¹. In the Online Comics categories, you had wins by Alec Longstreth (Long Form) and Jim Benton (Short Form); the latter wouldn’t have been my votegetter if I had a vote, but I can’t say it’s undeserving; I can say it was probably the most familiar work for the membership who, as previously noted, notoriously skew old.

    Which might explain why The Reuben itself went to the oldest nominee, one with a career stretching back four decades. A’course, the oldest nominee is the deeply subversive living legend Lynda Barry, whose work is most definitely not what I’d have expected the older members to vote for. It’s hard argue with the choice, and easy to argue that there might not have been a Raina Telgemeier if not for Lynda Barry’s deeply personal, memoirlike work (which started in print when Raina was about 2 years old) blazing the way. So no complaints here — Raina’s mantlepiece is getting a bit crowded anyway — and I suspect every one of the other nominees up for the top prize agreed that Barry was the right choice.

    As a side note, I see that Joe Wos — once a recurring name on this page during his years of directing Pittsburgh’s now-folded Toonseum — was given the division award for Variety Entertainment for his Mazetoons. Congrats, Joe.

  • And on schedule (although distanced), the Ignatzen were also presented on Saturday, and managed a simultaneous best-and-worst outcome in the same category. Do a quick refresh on the dilemma that the Ignatz Awards found themselves in this year and you’ll understand. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a creator whose work I deeply admire and, I daresay, a friend. The work for which she was nominated as Outstanding Artist, the short story collection Don’t Go Without Me, is magnificent and entirely worthy of the brick.

    But Valero-O’Connell was also on the jury. And while I stand second to no person in my love of and evangelical fervor for her work, and I recognize the accomplishment of being only the second person to win Outstanding Artist twice² and the only one to repeat in back-to-back years, I wish that it hadn’t happened. I do think that this situation has lessened the credibility of the Ignatz Awards, and I really, really hope that they write some ground rules to ensure that this appearance of a conflict of interest cannot happen again.

    Looking at other winners, Ebony Flowers has had nearly as good a year on the awards circuit as Valero-O’Connell; last year she took the Promising New Talent brick for the short story Hot Comb and this year for the expanded print collection incorporating it (also titled Hot Comb), she’s recognized for Outstanding Graphic Novel. Ariel Ries received bricks for Outstanding Online Comic (for Witchy) and Outstanding Comic (for Cry Wolf Girl); if you weren’t following her work before, you really should be.

    Outstanding Anthology went to Be Gay, Do Comics by the various contributors of The Nib. Look, you know that on a daily basis, it’s the most wide-ranging source of original editorial and nonfiction comics around, with a list of contributors that kicks every ass. Curating their best work on a theme is something that Matt Bors, Eleri Harris, and Matt Lubchansky were going to throw themselves into, and produce something terrific.

    Speaking of The Nib, Whit Taylor’s contributions there have always impressed the hell out of me (as well as everyplace else her work runs), and today she must take some solace in the fact that after two years of utter bullshit being inflicted on her in the form of a baseless lawsuit³, her Fizzle took the Ignatz for Oustanding Series and nobody can remember that other guy’s name. Seriously, I had to look him up, whereas members of The Eleven keep getting recognized for their work. It was a long, expensive, pointless road, but I have to imagine that the heft of that brick is gonna feel really good in Taylor’s hands.

Spam of the day:

As of today there is a limited supply of LUMIGUARD Solar Motion Sensor Floodlights Click the Button below to find out if they are still available.

I got something like this for literally twelve bucks at the local hardware store two years ago. It picks up the neighborhood outdoor cats when they wander by after dark. Why exactly do I need your more complicated and expensive version?

¹ Yes, yes, common parlance refers to all of these awards as Reubens, but the term proper applies only to the Cartoonist Of The Year, the one chosen by the entirety of the NCS membership rather than those of a particular area. It’s the COTY that gets the fancy Rube Goldbergian trophy, where the division winners get a (admittedly, handsome and heavy) plaque.

² The first being Jaime Hernandez in 2007 and 2012.

³ Which resolved after tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees and the plaintiff not getting his US$2.5 million, which is apparently the going rate for butthurt in the first degree.

Our Northern Neighbours [sic] Have Good Taste

So the Shuster Awards — pardon me, the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards — came out with their nominations ‘tother day, and as has been the case in past years, they are well-considered and not bogged down in a million categories or complex rules. The work has to be by Canadians, released in calendar year 2019, and presented to the nominating committee by 30 June 2020. We won’t be listing every nominee and every category, but instead will focus on folks from the webcomics and indie comics communities.

Over in Artist, you’ve got Faith Erin Hicks for Pumpkinheads (words by Rainbow Rowell) and Karl Kerschl for Isola; more on Kerschl shortly. Mariko Tamaki is recognized in the Writer category, for multiple works including Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (which must surely be approaching the end of its eligibility period, not that I am complaining). Chip Zdarsky is also under consideration for various Marvel titles.

In the Cartoonist category (for writer/artist one-stop creators) I see the superlative Emily Carroll nominated for When I Arrive At The Castle which I must confess I hadn’t heard about until now. There’s so many great comics coming out from so many great creators that it’s natural to miss out on some, but I’ll have to remedy this oversight at the first opportunity.

Webcomics/Digital Comics is, as typical for the Shusters, packed with quality work. The nominees this year are:

… which prompts two thoughts:

1. A Canadian isn’t disqualified for working with a non-Canadian (in this case, Statesians), so that’s nice.

2. I’m not sure about Kershl’s nomination in this category. I stand second to no one in my love for The Abominable Charles Christopher, and I know that it’s the work that Kerschl is most proud of, and most invested in.

But it’s also been frequently on hiatus while he pursued paying work — this is not a criticism! — and thus more than a little sporadic since mid-2014. Kerschl did make a nice comeback with weekly updates and progress on the story from January-March of 2019, but then the frequency dropped to three updates in April, two in May, one in June and nothing since.

While a justly-loved and honored piece in the canon (such as it is) of webcomics, I would always prefer to see awards go to either a regularly-updating-through-the-year contender, or one that if it didn’t run the full year, came to a conclusion (or a complete story, that would be good, too).

Other categories for the Shusters include Cover Artist, the Gene Day Award for Self-Published Comics/Graphic Novels, the Gene Day Award For Anthology Collections, the Dragon Award (Comics For Younger Readers), and the Harry Kremer Retailer Recognition Award.

Two special awards recognize larger bodies of work — the Canadian Comic Creator Hall Of Fame will induct Seth and Bernie Mireault, and the TM Maple Award (for achievements outside the creative/retail categories for the benefit of the Canadian comics community) will honour the ongoing efforts of members of the Canadian comics community — the many creators, retailers, publishers, fans and other members of the community — who have stepped up to help others during the still ongoing COVID-19 Crisis with fundraising efforts.

The Shusters will be presented in a virtual ceremony near the end of October, date and time TBA. But that would put them around the same time as the Ringos; as of this writing, they apparently still think they’ll be presented in person at Batimore Comic Con, which apparently still thinks will happen at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Seriously, the calendar for the BCC shows COVID testing clinics, and every other event between now and BaltoCon listed as either virtual, canceled, or postponed (followed by a few more cancellations into November). You are not putting 15,000 people together in an enclosed space in a downtown metro area in six weeks, people. Just make the frigging call and go virtual, already.

Spam of the day:

Each citizen ONE TIME is entitled to financial assistance in the amount of 14,000 to 310,000 rubles

For the record, at today’s exchange rates, that’s between US$186 and US$4200, and you’re going to have to up your game. I’ve got Nigerian princes offering me millions.

Gamecomics? Comicgames!

Tie-ins, at the very least. Let’s see what’s up.

  • There have been numerous adaptations of Girl Genius (by Professor and Professoressa Foglio) into other media over the years — novelizations, radio dramas, card games — and they’ve expanded to a new frontier now with vidyagames. Girl Genius: Adventures In Castle Heterodyne takes its inspiration from the Castle Heterodyne mega-arc (running roughly from here to here, or about six years of comics), which gives a whole lotta room to play.

    The game itself is made by Rain Games of Norway, who appear to have a track record making games of this sort, but not crowdfunding — this is their first Kickstarter campaign. Goal is set at a reasonable US$200K, but they’ve got stretch goals reaching improbably as high as one million dollars which … I don’t think I’ve ever seen stretch goals go as high as five times base funding and actually be met.

    There’s a huge ask, so the FFF mk2 may not work so well — the trend held really steady for the first couple of days then dropped hard, giving a prediction of about US$135K-200K, which puts goal at the upper end of the range. The McDonald Ratio is predicting about US$150K total, which is worrisomely low.

    Again, this isn’t the sort of project that the predictions were trained on, so we’ll have to see, but with 6 days down and 24 to go, the project sits at 31% of goal at present, and video games are both notoriously expensive, and have a tendency to run over both time and budget. We’ll have to see.

  • By contrast, paper-based games are quicker and cheaper to develop, and oftentimes the creator of a comic is deep into a particular game, which helps. Enter: Jim Zub, who’s already got a dedicated Skullkickers“>Skullkickers tabletop game in development, but who also decided to mark the 10th anniversary of the comic by releasing the first new Skullkickers story in five years inside a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure book.

    Skullkickers: Caster Bastards And The Great Grotesque¹ will feature a 30 page story and 60 page adventure campaign, featuring new spells, game mechanics, magic items, and monsters, adaptable to whatever game you’re currently playing.

    As I may have mentioned previously, I haven’t played D&D since it was called Advanced D&D waaaay back in my college days — before 2nd edition was a thing — and I’m heartily tempted to get this because a) Skullkickers is hilarious, and b) the love that’s pouring out of the game portion of this book is apparent even through the distance of the internet.

    Zub’s been writing official D&D comics for a couple a’ years now, and went so far as to shave his head to better get into character for a live game last year. He’s mentioned multiple times that his course in life was irretrievably set from discovering D&D at the age of 8, so when he tells me that he’s picked out some top-notch game designers to make the playable part of this as good as it can be? It’s gonna be good.

    And, as an added incentive, the crowdfunding/fulfillment parts are being run by George, who mentioned casually he is approaching his 100th crowdfunding project managed, so I think he just might have a handle on how to keep everybody on track. Just a hunch. It’s a little early to apply the FFF mk2 math, but somewhere around a day in, they’re at 64% of the CA$22.3K (or US$16,843) goal with 23 days to go, so I think this one’s gonna fund. In case you were wondering, only one of the top tier reward (where, among other things, you appear as a wizard character in Caster Bastards) remains as of this writing.

Spam of the day:

Hello! I saw you the other day and I really liked you. I live in a neighboring yard, alone) let’s meet at my place?

This town’s ordinances don’t even allow dogs to live in yards, they have to have access to the house. Besides, I know my neighbors and none of them speak Russian like you do.

¹ I’m sure the similarity of that title to Hamster Huey And The Gooey Kablooie is mere coincidence.

Appropriately Distanced Celebrations Of Comics

Just under ten years ago, David “Damn You” Willis launched his rebooted Walkyverse¹ comic, Dumbing Of Age. In the 9 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, and 5 days since then, the story has progressed from college move-in day through about … eight weeks of story. Up to midterms or so, a rate of about 5 days of story time per real-world year.

Since Sunday, the story has wordlessly jumped forward three whole months, saving us about 15 years of daily reading. Given that Thursday is the actual tenth anniversary, I expect we’ll get one more timeskip update tomorrow, and we’ll finally reach second semester on Thursday. Which means that in four strips, Willis has shifted the rate of story time:real time up to ten years per sememster, meaning we’ll see graduation sometime in 2090 instead of 2170 at the old rate.

Given that comic strips have a long history of being passed down to third and even fourth generation creative teams, I have no doubt that Dumbing Of Age will still be running when graduation comes in, whenever that may be. In any event, congratulations to Willis on ten years of DOA and 23 years of continuous webcomicking. That’s a damn big round number.

In other news:

  • We’re down to the wire on the Ignatz voting, with votes due before 9 September, which means you have until 11:59pm EDT to get yours in. The bricks will be awarded on Saturday the 12th, which is actually a very leisurely turnaround time for the Ignatzen, with the tallies normally taking between close of the exhibit hall and 9:30pm the same day.

    For reference, given the poor situation that the Ignatzes have found themselves in, I voted Michael DeForge for Outstanding Artist rather than personal fave Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. In the Outstanding Onnline Comic category, I had a dilemma because the work is all very good. But what do you do when end up with a short editorial comic like I Exist (by Breena Nuñez) up against a words+pictures poem like Like The Tide (by Isabella Rotman), an Insta account of single-panel gags (by Gabby Schulz), and a long-stretches-silent, page-a-week updater like Superpose (by Seosamh & Anka). I tossed my vote to Witchy (by Ariel Ries) because I dig the story. Good luck to all of the nominees.

  • Know what else is happening this weekend, virtually? NCSFest. I lost track of it in the lockdown, but I got an email today that it’s going on this weekend, including the Reuben Awards, which will be broken up into six separate programs (the programming page doesn’t have hard start times, but the day’s programming starts at 10:00am EDT).

    I wasn’t involved in the process this year, so I couldn’t tell you anything about the webcomic awards beyond what’s been publicly shared. The Online Comics — Long Form nominees are Steven Conley for The Middle Age, Maaria Laurinen for Phantomland, and Alec Longstreth for Isle Of Elsi. The most interesting thing there is that Phantomland is on Tapas, which is about three revolutions in comicking beyond what a large part of the NCS membership is aware of.

    The nominees for Online Comics — Short Form are Jim Benton, Christopher Grady, and Emma Hunsinger. The short forms don’t have specific titles to go with the creators, but I’ll wager that Hunsinger is on the list because of How To Draw A Horse as much as anything else. That’s magnificent work, but so is Grady’s Lunarbaboon. Benton’s a one-man IP factory, but I think he’s outclassed by the other two.

    But the Reubens news that has me most curious isn’t in the Online categories, it’s the Big Award Of The Night, the Cartoonist Of The Year, the one that’s gone to folks like Schulz, Johnston, Watterson, Larson, Trudeau, Amend, Thompson, Guisewite, and other legends of cartooning. The nominees are:

    That’s three solid practitioners of the comic strip and one living legend in Lynda Barry. Also, four nominees where normally there are only three². Also, three women. And … wait, I’m being told that there’s a fifth nominee:

    Okay, the NCS almost never nominates somebody whose work is outside the newsprint mode — comic strips, editorial comics, magazine work, all periodicals is my point — and the last one to win Cartoonist Of The Year from outside that world was Matt Groening back in 2002³. I don’t think they’ve ever recognized a graphic novelist, and certainly not anybody whose medium is middle grade autobio aimed at girls.

    That sound you hear is the industry coming to grips with the fact that the literal Old Boys Club is fading from existence and getting replaced by those damn Millennials. Gonna have to figure out when that broadcast is and pay some damn attention to it.

Edit to add: The NCSFest schedule page now has start times for sessions, instead of just durations.

Spam of the day:

Currency printed is NOT wealth, real wealth is what we produce (in terms and goods and services) and exchanged for currency (a measure of your productivity).

Oh crap, this is a pitch for some new blockchain fantasy, which is even more of a fiction that actual money. Go peddle your shit to somebody that’s bad at math.

¹ So named because a series of related comics — Roomies!, It’s Walky!, Joyce And Walky!, and Shortpacked! — had one David “Walky” Walkerton as a central character, to whom all of the others could trace relationships. The Walkyverse itself debuted 13 years to the day before DOA.

² I mean, since Pastis broke his Susan Lucci streak last year, may as well open it up. [shrugmoji]

³ Okay, Glen Keane, animator, won a couple of years ago, but being the son of Bil Keane of The Family Circus means he’s part of that world. The only others I can think of are Sergio Aragonés and Will Eisner, the latter of whom won in 1998 — well past his creative peak, and clearly as a lifetime achievement.

Happy Fake Labor Day

What’s that? You didn’t know how this isn’t the real day to celebrate working folks, the one that’s celebrated around the world? Fortunately, The Nib has you covered, with a timely rerun from two years ago by Sam Wallman.

So in honor of the holiday (not that we can really tell the difference, as today is functionally March 192nd), this is going to be short post, letting you know about the winner of the Fleen Free Graphic Novel Giveaway. We took at look at the responses¹ and from them randomly picked Erik, who wrote:

I’ve been meaning to subscribe to The Nib for quite a while, and this is exactly the push over the line I’ve been needing. Regardless of whether I win a book, I’m subscribing now, for the foreseeable future given the level of content. And if by some chance my name gets pulled, I’d love the George Takei memoir – he’s been a superb role model for how to turn celebrity into positive social energy.

Everybody feel good for Erik! Once They Called Us Enemy gets delivered, there will be a selfie that we’ll run here.

Oh, and as a quick reminder, today is the premiere of Elinor Wonders Why; you can look up broadcast times for your local PBS station at and clicking on the link for TV Schedules, which should take you to your local PBS station; for those of you in the NYC metro area, Channel 13 has it at 10:30am and 1:30pm.

That’s it, everybody; enjoy the day, read about the history of the labor movement or other attempts at progress and justice, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow.

Spam of the day:

Hey, great site. Are you guys still open? I’m reaching out businesses who need more customers right away. Here’s how we can increase the visitors to your business immediately

Reply to spam of the day:

If I were any more open, I’d be the Goatse guy!

I swear I actually replied to the email with this. I am both proud and not proud of this.

¹ Since we posted the contest, we at Fleen have become aware of an irregular email issue where some senders (but not all, and even those that are affected aren’t affected all the time) are getting errors that the domain doesn’t exist. I spent some time with tech support today and it’s a nameserver issue, the resolution to which will take another day or two to spread. If you got bounced on your entry, I’m very sorry and better luck next time we give something away.

This Post Is Procedurally Generated

Just kidding! If you were to feed the corpus of Fleen’s output (even just the stuff that appears under my name) into an AI and ask it to come up with a post, it would be nothing but lengthy sentences — excessively complex, even — with an abundance of parenthetical thoughts, and plentiful footnotes¹; they’d also have probably too many semicolons, as I do tend to go on at length. Approximately 5% of the content would read just a bit more formally, and be sprinkled with references to the Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées scene.

On the whole, it might not read significantly more nonsensical than some of my weirder stuff, though. But comics need to follow language rules that are different from prose — the introduction of pictures, word balloons, panels, and other visual elements can significantly change the plain meanings of words.

That hasn’t stopped some folks from seeing what they could with an AI and comics, though. Ryan North used a GPT-3 AI model to generate descriptions of Star Trek episodes and tweets out the best ones. Then he asked it to create the back half of a Dinosaur Comics strip, after coming up with the first half himself. The result was recognizably Northian, but not so much as an alternate strip that really nailed T-Rex and Utahraptor, but was too verbose to be used.

So it’s probably no surprise that an AI has been used to construct something comic-adjacent, as pointed to me by the Twitterfeed of Dylan Meconis:

I’ve been sending this list to friends and enemies alike all day long and it has universally reduced them to rubble. My October is now spoken for.

The list is question is for Botober, the AI bot-generated set of drawing prompts for the month of October, courtesy of Janelle Shane and GPT-3; it wasn’t trained specifically on drawing prompts, and thus a fair amount of curation was necessary to come up with 31 suggestions that wouldn’t melt brains. Earlier runs produced items like 5. An object that is not a doughnut but is also not a flower and 11. Ice cream flavor tuxedo and 23. Not an imitation of a pile of logs. Shane talked about how to get an AI to generate a list of prompts, and a couple of goes later came up with 31 items that range from Yeah, okay to What on the weirdness scale.

In case you don’t want to click through on the list above, I’ve transcribed the 31 official prompts for Botober for your drawing pleasure below the cut; spelling and punctuation match Shane’s original (with comments following a long dash). I expect to see your interpretations of and widely distributed on their respective days.

Oh, and don’t forget — free graphic novel for you, maybe.

Spam of the day:

I really need a man for infrequent intimate dates without obligations. On my territory. I live nearby.

I chose the spam that sounds the most botlike, although that could just be because it was originally in Russian and machine translated.

¹ Probably mentioning how Brad Guigar is a sexy, sexy man.


When You Have To Quote Richard, Things Have Gone Sideways

Sometimes, things can happen for entirely innocent reasons and still make you say, in the immortal words of Richard Strong, This is not good.

A little history, which is at this point so historical I barely remembered it. A buncha years ago, before this blog got off the ground, the Ignatz Awards came in for some controversy because one of the panel of judges nominated himself for awards and wound up on the ballot. It was Frank Cho, and if my memory serves, he was kind of a dick about it when it was pointed out that such behavior doesn’t pass the smell test. Paraphrasing, his argument was Well, I think my work was the best of the year, so why shouldn’t I be a part of putting myself on the ballot? which just … yeesh. To his credit, he’s reportedly seen his conduct then as a mistake.

The bigger mistake? Not writing rules into the Ignatz process to prevent that from ever happening again. As readers of this page know, I am very much in favor of Rosemary Vallero-O’Connell’s work, and given the enormous number of awards she’s taken over the past year, it seems I’m not alone. Furthermore, I think she’s just a neat person, and I don’t believe that she’s got a malicious or selfish bone in her body. The fact that she’s nominated in the Ignatzen this year for Outstanding Artist is entirely merited.

Except this year, she’s on the nominating jury. I’m going to say that there’s, mathematically speaking, a zero percent chance that she nominated herself, but I can’t believe that there’s no rule about recusal/ineligibility¹/whatever you want to call it. It just doesn’t look good, and it’s caught up somebody that doesn’t deserve to be mired in controversy. For everybody’s sake, Ignatz coordinators, make sure this doesn’t happen again, please.

Ultimately, who gets the bricks is in the hands of the voters now, and as mentioned recently, that could include you. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but please — don’t vote for Valero-O’Connell, because I’m pretty sure this is a circumstance where winning would be worse than losing. We’ve had enough comics awards fuckery this year, we don’t need any more.

Thoughts on this year’s nominees to come, particularly after I receive my ballot (they should have been distributed starting yesterday, but I won’t get nervous for another couple of days).

Oh, and reminder — the free graphic novel giveaway is still going on. Tell your friends.

Spam of the day:

gary.tyrrell Welcome to CarInsurance

Not content with emailing me, these folks actually called to try to scam me. I told them My car insurance company has rates lower than anybody else by at least 15%, and they’ve sent me three rebates on this year’s bills because COVID means people are driving less and therefore their expenses are less than anticipated. They hung up on me, either because of that or because I told them my name was Harry Mourningwood.

¹ Want to know the gold standard for this? Dog shows. You can have problems with the idea of breeding dogs for physical conformation instead of health or temperament, but there’s something they do very right — judges are almost always themselves competitive breeders, but when they’re picked to judge at a big show?

They stop competing for a year or more in advance so that there’s zero chance that one of their dogs might conceivably win or lose against a dog they’d have to judge later, just so there is no circumstance where bias could be credible.