The webcomics blog about webcomics

We All Win

The Ignatz Awards are maybe the most democratic of all the major comics awards — if you attend SPX, you get a ballot. At least, if you attend on Saturday, because they tally the votes through the day and the bricks are given out Saturday night, but you get the idea. They also, traditionally, have a very good jury, who provide a very good slate of nominees. This year’s nominees have just been announced, and it’s a cornucopia of quality.

As readers of this page know, I am a major fan and promoter of the work of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, and her work on Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me could have come from a 20 year veteran of comics, rather than somebody working on their first book who’s still in the first half of their 20s. It’s no surprise that Valero-O’Connell was nominated for Outstanding Artist, Oustanding Graphic Novel, and Oustanding Story, the later two categories being co-nominations with writer Mariko Tamaki. I’m thrilled everytime I am reminded that so many people loved this book as much as I did.

The other multiple nominee that caught my eye, and of which I am a tremendous fan, is The Nib; Matt Bors’s marvelously eclectic endeavour has a history with SPX, debuting their hardcover collection there a few years back. The Nib was nominated as Oustanding Series (for the print magazine), and two issues (Family, and Death) were separately nominated for Oustanding Anthology. Well done Bors, and the entire group of editors and contributors.

But those are not the only deserving nominees; let’s take a look at who we at Fleen will be rooting for.

  • Outstanding Artist: In addition to Valero-O’Connell, you’ve got Lucy Knisely for Kid Gloves, which I also loved. I’m not familiar with Koren Shadmi on Highwayman, Sloane Leong’s Prism Stalker, or Ezra Clayton Daniels on Upgrade Soul.
  • Outstanding Collection: Love Letters To Jane’s World by Paige Braddock, Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak, Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet, Leaving Richard’s Valley by Michael DeForge, and This Woman’s Work by Julie Delporte. I have no clear preference, but all these creators are skilled and worthy of the win.
  • Outstanding Anthology: In addition to the two issues of The Nib, you have Electrum (edited by Der-shing Helmer), Wayward Sisters (edited by Alison O’Toole), and We’re Still Here: An All-Trans Comics Anthology (edited by Tara Avery and Jeanne Thornton). My preference is for The Nib, only because they do so many different kinds of comics in each issue. I suspect they’ll split the vote, though.
  • Outstanding Graphic Novel: In addition to Laura Dean, you’ve got Upgrade Soul by Ezra Clayton Daniels, Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal, Highwayman by Koren Shadmi, and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. I believe I made my preference clear, but Kobabe’s been doing some damn good comics, including Gender Queer.
  • Outstanding Minicomic: Trans Girls Hit The Town by Emma Jayne, Gonzalo by Jed McGowan, Silver Wire by Kriota Willberg, Cherry by Inés Estrada, and YLLW YLLW YLLW by Mar Julia. Not familiar with any of the books or creators. If I get the chance to vote, I might throw it to a dude because so maybe at least one dude wins. ‘Cause damn, women having been outshining the dudes at the Ignatzen for a couple years now.
  • Outstanding Comic: Lorna by Benji Nate, Infinite Wheat Paste #7 by Pidge, The Saga Of Metalbeard by Joshua Paddon and Matthew Hoddy, Egg Cream by Liz Suburbia, and Check, Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu. I do love me some comics about gay collegiate hockey bros, but I’m surprised to see the nomination in print but not for …
  • Outstanding Online Comic: Isle Of Elsi by Alec Longstreth, That’s Not My Name! by Hannako Lambert, What Doctors Know About CPR by Nathan Gray, About Face by Nate Powell, and Full Court Crush by Hannah Blumenreich.

    I find it interesting that despite the rules specifying an online comic can be an individual comic, continuing storyline comic or strips, and the only real restriction being that it appears on the web before print, that there’s a real tendency towards shorter works. Three of the nominees (Name, CPR, and Face) are arguably essays in comic form (any one of them could have appeared at The Nib), and Full Court is a 16 page short story. Only Longstreth’s Elsi is a traditional (whatever that means) plot-based, ongoing webcomic.

    The extremely wide-open criteria means that this category, more than any other, varies widely from year to year, based on the jury’s personal views of what a good online comic looks like. I am precisely 50% in favor of having a narrower definition so there can be some consistency, and 50% in favor of the variety that is rewarded by the present system.

    Because of my avocational interests, I am pulling for What Doctors Know About CPR (which really, really could have appeared in The Nib’s Death issue).

  • Promising New Talent: Haleigh Buck, Ebony Flowers, Emma Jayne, Mar Julia, and Kelsey Wroten. I’ll have to dig into their work, but I’m really liking the looks of what Jayne and Julia are doing.
  • Outstanding Story: In addition to Laura Dean, you’ve got Sacred Heart Vol 2 Part 1: Livin’ In The Future by Liz Suburbia, Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah Winifred Searle, Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal, and The Dead Eye And The Deep Blue Sea by Vannak Anan Prum. Although I’m a tremendous fan of Searle’s work, Laura Dean remains my favorite book of the year until The Midwinter Witch arrives to make its case.

    Speaking of which, I’m very surprised to not see Molly Ostertag and/or The Hidden Witch in any category, nor Tillie Walden and/or On A Sunbeam anywhere in the nominations. Ah well, if I want the nominations to be perfect, all I have to do is become a comics writer and/or artist, and have a distinguished enough career that people in the industry think enough of me that I’m asked to be part of the jury. Simple.

The Ignatz bricks will be distributed starting at 9:30pm on Saturday, 14 September, at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland.

And hey, if the competition for the Ignatzen is a little to wholesome, there will be some virtual blood in a head-to-head original character deathmatch tournament sponsored by Abbadon over at Kill Six Billion Demons’s Discord. Registration’s open until they get 64 entrants.

Spam of the day:

Kontrollnummer- FX 75/463. (Kontrollnummer- FX 75/463.)
Garbage bags and much more.

I am less concerned by the German language pitch for what appears to be general shipping supplies than I am for the inclusion on the list of Solvent. All kinds. I get the feeling that you are selling to the serial killer market.

Late. Sorry ‘Bout That

It has been a day, people. On the plus side, my copy of The American Dream? by Shing Yin Khor finally arrived, so I got that to look forward to. Let’s just point you at some stuff and call it so I can get to reading. Review soon.

  • New Bobbins! Considering these strips take place … I’ma say 18, 19 years ago, maybe longer, they capture the current zeitgeist with amazing accuracy.
  • He Is A Good Boy may have finished, but you can get all the Crange you need in your life in the new single-volume collection on Kickstarter. I love that cover design; while I have been chafing for Back to return from its summer hiatus, if this is what KC Green has been spending his time on, it will have been worth it.

    Anyhoo, huge book (444 pages! 8 x 11 trim size! full color!), maybe a t-shirt, stretch goals, etc. Get on that.

  • And about two minutes ago (as I write this), You Died finished its two week crowdfunding at US$46,505; when the FFF mk2 would have projected US$31K – US$41K or thereabouts. That’s a handy exceed of the expected range, and in half the time of the usual campaign. I’ll have to take that into account should there ever be a mk3.

Spam of the day:

[Translated from Hebrew] Could interest you in cooperation regarding the product owner

I dunno man, why don’t you ask Screamy Orange Grandpa? Apparently he thinks he’s King of the Jews and the Second Coming of God (which, one must take pains to point out, isn’t recognized by Jews) while simultaneously being a huge antisemitic piece of shit. Sounds like he’s credulous enough to work with you and deeply loathe you at the same time.

Bubbling Up

It’s getting to that point in time that you look to the fall comics shows and festivals: SPX in just about a month, then NYCC (not that they do much with comics these days) about three weeks later, and then Thought Bubble about a month after that. The first two have awards associated with them (the Ignatzen at SPX, and the reconstituted Harveys — which look particularly good as noted — at NYCC), but Thought Bubble has something the others don’t — an anthology that’s always worth talking about.

I mean, hell, in 2016 they did a tenth anniversary volume that may be the only printed work in history whose two lead author credits are Kate Beaton and Warren Ellis¹. Sure, there were a few dozen other names on the collection, but the contrast of those two is just unreal.

TB 2019 will feature Becky Cloonan, Luke Pearson (of Hilda fame), Gerry Duggan, Abigail Jill Harding, Lee Garbett, Benji Goldsmith² Kim-joy (okay, I’ve only seen like one season of The Great British Bake Off, but I understand she was a runner-up in a post-Mel & Sue season), Pernille Ørum, Jock, Daniel Warren Johnson, Helen Mingjue Chen on the cover. The thing about the TB Anthology is it’s always good, so even creators whose work you aren’t familiar with, you’ll probably enjoy. I’m not familiar with Chen, but that cover is gorgeous, and Ørum’s work appears to be both beautifully composed and super cute.

The Thought Bubble Festival will take place in Yorkshire, the week of 4 November, with the comic show on the 9th and 10th. The Anthology will release on 9 October, and can be ordered from your friendly local comic shop ahead of time.

Spam of the day:

American Airlines wants to improve when you fly Get a voucher for helping with your valuable feedback Go Here to Fly
[14 blank lines]
This is an adv. American Airlines is not affiliated with this ad.

Why do I not trust this “voucher”?

¹ Now I want a proper collaboration between Beaton and Internet Jesus. Something even more of a pure comic book than Nextwave. I desperately want to see Beaton’s rendering of a character getting kicked and then exploding.

² I’m not sure, but it might be this composer/performer?

A Fine Start To The Week

Happy Monday, err’body. Let’s see what’s new for us today.

  • I do love me a good Kickstart, yessiree. Today, it’s Christopher Baldwin, who’s held off Kickstartering the story arcs of the revived Spacetrawler — one may recall that the original story ran into three books, 100-ish pages each — because he decided to do one big ol’ comprehensive volume, at a full 8.5 x 11 trim size, and full color. Oh, and all books are signed, so that’s cool.

    Actually, it’s more than that. Those three slim volumes from the first Spacetrawler run? Smaller in all three dimensions than the new one, so Baldwin’s also doing the omnibus single volume reprint at the full 8.5 x 11. And a previously web-only bonus story from Spacetrawler: TOS will be included in the big book, or you can get it as a standalone mini (about 30 pages) if you’re only getting the book for Spacetrawler: TNG. It’s all here, Spacetrawler BIG Book 2, where (as of this writing) just under US$5500 of the extremely modest US$6000 goal has been raised.

    What I like best about this is the high-end rewards for inclusion of somebody that looks like you on the back of the book, or somebody named like you included in/your childhood home destroyed in the next series. Because that means more Spacetrawler, y’all. I guess the third series¹ will be Spacetrawler: DS9? They’re all good, and I can’t wait to see how Mr Zorilla fits into the next; he’s such a selfish dick, I can’t wait to find out what being in space has done to him.

  • If, at this point, you don’t know about the recent on-goings at The Nib, well that I suspect you aren’t paying attention. We at Fleen have made a thing of it, as has pretty much everybody you know and follow that’s a cartoonist. Heck the New York Times even mentioned their defunding woes, although apparently didn’t bother to mention that Matt Bors has taken the site independent. It’s amazing what’s happened at the Times since they got rid of their public editor. But I digress.

    Although the outpouring of support for The Nib since First Look ditched ’em has been significant, to get back to the level of publishing they were at is going to take capital, so Bors is having a fundraiser. You can still subscribe, but if you wanted to purchase merch, or just make one-off donations, you can do that, too. It’s all here, and I urge you to support the best in nonfiction/political/longform reportage cartooning that exists. They’re like the Pro Publica² of funny pictures.

  • It’s been mentioned more than once on this page that I generally don’t promote many new comics. I like to see that there’s something good and consistent before I tell you that you should take time to check something out. There are exceptions for creators with track records, and sometimes I will make early recommendations based on the taste and judgment of people I know and trust. And when a quick read of 10 or 20 strips³ confirms that taste and judgment? Then, my friends, it’s time to share some comics.

    Park Planet is done in black and white and grey washes, almost reminiscent of Roz Chast’s work. It’s a workplace comedy, set in a sci-fi natural park for the preservation of Earth’s nearly extinct flora and fauna; there’s a bunch of extraterrestrials and androids that don’t really understand Earth and it’s critters too well, along with a long human employee named Lorraine who’s trying to find her footing in her very new, very weird job.

    Sammy Newman is absolutely killing it so far, and I heartily recommend you check out Lorraine, and Paisley, and Wurlitzer and all the rest of the staff at Hartwood Park as they awkwardly bumble through their approximations of the human experience together.

Spam of the day:

Beautiful hair is possible at every age. But it begins by taking loving care of your hair from the inside-out — and making sure you’re feeding your body the most vital and powerful nutrients that your scalp needs to grow stronger, longer, shinier, healthier hair.

Man, I don’t know how to explain my lush, thick, silky-smooth halo of hair, but it sure isn’t from vital and powerful nutrients.

¹ Which I suspect will not be until after Baldwin’s collaboration with Shaenon Garrity, Willowweep Manor, sees print next year. Garrity and Baldwin have been going over their roughs, and you can see some here and I can’t wait until fall 2020, this book will be so rad.

² Who you should also support, if it’s in your means to do so.

³ Which, it turns out, has been updating on Wednesdays since April. To be fair, it only got its own, non-Tumblr website a few days ago, and I don’t do Tumblr.

Evan¹ Better Than We’d Suspected

We at Fleen have more than once remarked that Island Book by Evan Dahm has a numeral 1 on the spine, tantalizing us with the prospects of further adventures with Sola. At MoCCA this year Dahm was careful with his choice of words, never confirming to me that there would be more to the story, but never outright denying it either. He may as well have adopted Beatrice’s protest: but believe me not; and yet I lie not; I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing.

But wonder no more, for Dahm has made it clear today: there will be a sequel to Island Book, and a third volume as well:

This interview is also maybe the first overt Announcement that there will be TWO SEQUELS TO ISLAND BOOK

The interview mentioned is at The Comics Journal, with the always-erudite Sloan Leong. There’s very few people that think about the act and meaning of creation, and the context of story within the entire artistic tradition as Dahm, and he’s given a lot of room to talk about his intentions in the interview. There’s a lot of creators that make deeply philosophical comics, and of course there’s a McCloudian philosophy of comics, but I think that Dahm is the the closest thing we have to an actual philosopher working out a system of the world via comics.

More about the Island Book sequels is at Dahm’s Tumblr:

Two sequels to Island Book are in production with First Second Books. These sequels build a cohesive trilogy out of Island Book, and expand the fable storytelling of the first book into an enormous, harrowing adventure story with a focus on authoritarianism, looming apocalypse, and queer identity.

Of all of those themes, I would have only said apocalypse was a likely story arc based on reading only the first volume; I would have described the cultures of the islands we’ve seen so far in terms of small-minded prejudice (in once case, something akin to toxic masculinity), but a critique of authoritarianism? Queer identity? I can’t wait to see how those fit into what we’ve seen so far, if only because the big-publisher process of editing² is going to make Dahm refine his message to the point where it’s super effective. The kids that read Island Book don’t know how many big ideas he’s going to hit them with in 2021 and 2022.

Me? I just want to know who that guy on the left is. We saw one of Sola’s fellow islanders was be-stached in passing, but didn’t get any of his deal in volume one. Is this the same character? He looks important, or maybe thinks the sword and epaulets make him important. I want to know his deal, just because he looks so different from what we’ve seen so far. But that’s kind of Dahm’s whole approach — That character right there, we’ve never seen their like, what’s their deal? — and it always pays off.

Spam of the day:

Our International company consists of about 65 Internet projects related to crypto currencies and ICO. Now we recruit staff from around the world. Best regards, Evan Ferguson, HR Dept.

The thought of a crypto farm having an HR department absolutely tickles me.

¹ I see what I did there.

² Longtime readers may recall that Mark Siegel at :01 Books (who I believe has been working with Dahm) has described his editing process before. It’s pretty much the opposite of how Dahm freeforms his self-published work. I’m not going to say it’s something he’s in need of, but I will say that it likely makes his work far more likely to succeed in a kids demographic than he could have accomplished on his own.

Kickstarters Come And Go

As Jon and Amy Rosenberg’s Kickstarter From A Multiverse successfully concludes at the high end of the expected range (the FFF mk2 had the midpoint of the range right about at the goal), and C Spike Trotman launches her … I want to say 22nd? … campaign for her latest anthology.

You Died is an anthology of what happens to us after death, and for my money the big news is not the participation of Raina Telegemeier (contributing to a story called A Funeral In Foam) or Caitlin Doughty (and could there be a better choice for the foreword than America’s favorite mortician and scholar of death?), but the price point.

In typical Spike fashion, it’s a simple campaign: the two tiers allow you to get a PDF only, or a PDF and print copy (an early bird tier offered free domestic shipping and cheap international shipping, but is otherwise just the print tier); the one stretch goal (a cover enhancement) kicks in at US$5K over goal (which is the same level that the Iron Circus creator page bonus starts at). Two weeks for the campaign and if I know Spike, the art’s in and the production’s ready to begin the day the payment clears. All of this is bog-standard operating procedure.

But that one tier (okay, and the early bird) that gets you a physical book? It’s ten bucks less than Spike’s ever done before:

A thing I’m compelled to point out: As YOU DIED ((link:…) demonstrates, black-&-white Iron Circus anthologies will now be $20 a pop. This is a 33% price reduction.

The reasons for this: Printing larger runs, distro sales on the back-end, and the Hesitation Point.

No, I don’t mean the vista in the Brown County State Park in Indiana (although it IS lovely). I mean the price point at which potential buyers unfamiliar with ICC’s output will no longer outright reject a book before consideration.

$30 was fine when we were a small press that primarily self-distributed, or sold online and at cons. But now, The books have EXTENSIVE lives after the Kickstarter and con season.

Like… I essentially sold 4 figures (unit count, not dollar amount) in one day, last week.

When you’re moving volume, you print in bigger runs. And when you print bigger runs, the per-unit cost craters. Which is why a mid-range publisher can print, say, 10k units and charge $10 each, but a boutique pub maybe puts out runs of 1500-2000, and the same book would be $20.

All the feedback I get from the distro I work with (and sometimes from the folks I have at the ICC booth at shows) is $30 was too much for a book someone was wishy-washy on getting. I wanna convert the wishy-washy folks into customers. That’s what price cuts do.

And goofy as it sounds, the psychological angle is advantageous, as well. Take the price down ten bucks, and suddenly it’s only one bill out of someone’s wallet instead of two.

Weird? Yeah. But Totally A Thing Regardless? Absolutely.

All those scales and side-effects from distribution will make one other thing noticeably different about You Died vs all previous Iron Circus anthologies: delivery isn’t scheduled until September 2020. When you work at distribution scale, you have to give plenty of notice about your offerings. If Spike turned this book around in six to nine months like previous offerings, a fair number of clients might not be able to take it because they’ve already planned their budgets and spending around books that were announced a year ago.

And if they could place an order that quickly but something (cough, cough, trade war, cough) were to delay the books a week or two past the promised date? Promotions budgets, space on bookshelves, even warehouse stock space would be disrupted. And those buyers that got burned would think twice about ever taking another Iron Circus title.

Spike’s in a whole different world now, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see how well she’s done so far. The number of people that can take a company from one-person garage startup to part of a global supply chain with dozens of inputs and thousands of outputs and not screw the pooch is vanishingly small. Those are completely different skillsets, and the managerial mindset necessary for the post-transition business (especially the importance of delegation) is about 173° out of phase with the fast hustle that’s needed pre-transition.

It’s part of why so many start-ups (not to mention mega-huge Kickstarts that keep growing in complexity) crash and burn — the kind of person that can run the one-person endeavour is usually not only really bad at management, they usually are even worse at recognizing the things that they can’t do (or at least, need to do differently). So sincere kudos to Spike for beating the odds in yet another way; it’ll give her detractors one more thing to cry into their Cheerios over.

Spam of the day:

GET YOUR DONALD J TRUMP COMMEMORATIVE COIN TODAY! Best wishes, Your patriotic friends at Ape Survival

So that’s an Australian prepper supply site getting badly misreading my interests in commemorating anything about Donald Trump other than the monumental crap I’m going to take on his grave someday.

Never Seen This Happen On Release Day Before

So the plan was to pick up a copy of Shing Yin Khor’s The American Dream? A Journey On Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, And The Perfect Breakfast Burrito and read it. Khor’s work, as has been discussed on this page, is powerfully personal; their watercolors are capable of the most delicate filigree and the angriest rage, often simultaneously, and perfectly suit their stories. Plus, this one has at least four of their obsessions in it — dinosaur statues, muffler men, road trips, and a small adventure dog named Bug; it’s been my most-anticipated book of summer.

But it wasn’t in stock at the local bookstore. It wasn’t in stock at any store I could find in the state of New Jersey via Indiebound¹, not in stock at Powell’s, or The Strand, or even Barnes & Noble. At the time I checked, Amazon (who I will not buy anything from as long as an alternative exists) had eleven copies in stock. Eleven. As in, ten plus one, nationwide, on day of release. And none of those we-don’t-have-it-in-stock places would take an order because they couldn’t tell when the backorders would fill.

I mean, I suppose I could have gotten a copy of the e-book, but I believe I’ve made my feelings known on licensed media.

Somewhere between the publisher (Lerner) and the distributor (there’s basically one left, Ingram²), there’s just no copies that have made it to the retail end point — and based on a conversation I had with the publisher’s sales division, it’s probably the distribution end that is slow this time. See, I placed an order with Lerner’s online store (which is really skewed towards schools and libraries from the look of it³) and then called to find out what the ship time would be (answer: probably about ten days, arrgh) and the very pleasant gentleman I spoke to told me we’ve got about 4000 copies in the warehouse, and it’s not like they held onto every copy for themselves.

So as of this writing, if you want to get a copy of TAD?AJOR66DDSMMATPBB, your choice for copies-on-hand are Lerner, maybe Target (if you’re interested in the library binding), or people on Ebay and Amazon’s Marketplace that claim to have single copies (possibly advance review copies) at inflated prices. Oh, and if you’re not opposed to Amazon? Too late. In the time since I started typing, they’re down to nine (9) copies in stock, and by the time you read this they’ll be out. Okay, okay, they’ve probably got the library binding edition. It’s still Amazon.

On the one hand, this is great — people want to read Khor’s work, and when the backlog in the pipeline finally eases, that demand will hopefully be promptly met. On the other hand, my bookselling experience (high school, plus summer breaks through college and grad school) tells me that when a book isn’t available when people want it — and these days, especially for online order — they tend to forget about it. With any luck, readers who are just now learning about Khor’s work will have the patience to make it through this rather distressing hiccup and be amply rewarded when the book comes out.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of teaser pages, and here’s an interview with Khor at The Beat, and you can buy a bunch of Khor’s minicomics here. With any luck, when their next graphic novel releases next year (date TBD), it’ll fare better on the logistics end.

PS: Five copies at Amazon, which is now listing it as #1 New Release in Teen & Young Adult Cultural Heritage Biographies.

Spam of the day:

Make money with your woodworking skills!

There was really no choice which spam to feature today, when I was talking about the Sawdust Bear. My woodworking skills are, by comparison, somewhere between nonexistent and pathetic.

¹ Except — maybe — a Hudson’s newsstand in Newark International Airport, terminal C.

² The comic shop industry could probably have warned the book publishing industry about what having only one distributor means.

³ And which required I open an account to make a purchase which I hate, but not as much as I hate buying from Amazon.

Ask Them Anything

[Editor’s note: Disclaimer time again. The purpose of these recaps is to get at the gist of what was being said and by whom; to the extent that direct quotes occur, they will be italicized. And just because you don’t see somebody’s name doesn’t mean they weren’t in the middle of the conversation; it just means that I need to learn shorthand, or go back to typing these things.]

So you want to get comics into the classroom (which was a recurring theme of the sessions being held at the San Diego Public Library, which is a magnificent facility bee-tee-dubs), so what better way than to be able to have a nearly entirely question-driven session with creators (Jimmy Gownley and James Parks, with Ben Costa in the audience because the table was full), academics (Talia Hurwich and Meryl Jaffe, authors of Worth A Thousand Words), teachers (Derek Heid and Tracy Edmunds), and publishers (Mark Siegel and Gina Gagliano, who was honored by Publishers Weekly today)?

It was rhetorical, but the answer is There is no better way.

The questions from the audience ranged from the purely physical (How do you keep graphic novels from getting shredded in circulation?, a librarian wanted to know) to the application of theory (Teachers wanted to discuss leveling, the process of determining reading level for materials, and why graphic novels are consistently rated too low), with the ever-popular How do you get buy-in from parents/colleagues/administrators? along the way. Let’s take that last one first.

Jaffe admitted that she used to be one of those parents/teachers who thought that graphic novels weren’t useful in the classroom; she credited the kids in her class who did an intervention with me. She noted that because there is so little text on a page, the vocabulary tends to be advanced, with an extremely high incidence of metaphor. Gownley supported this point, noting that the most garbage Marvel superhero comics are written to the same level as the New York Times. Parks added that comics stretch the reading skills further, in that they — uniquely — allow readers to interpret what happens on a page more broadly than other forms of reading.

We noted a couple recaps back that the Common Core standards require students to examine a work classic literature in at least two different media; Heid stressed that to read text only is not teaching to standard, and Edmunds pointed out that graphic novels are specifically listed in those standards as a media type to be used in¹ fifth grade.

Siegel was happy to note that parents are the last pockets of resistance, when they think that their kids are getting short-changed or being given half measures. Librarians (and this is a recurring theme with Siegel over the years) have been ahead of the curve, obtaining and pushing graphic novels².

When there is still resistance in the community, he recommends putting up a display of books with all the shiny awards stickers on the front — the National Book Awards don’t have a category for graphic literature, after all. But, he allowed, it gets a little tiring to keep having the same conversation about format. Gownley had the ultimate solution: These people will get old and die someday.

Heid remarked that teachers are pretty much onboard, since they saw how large the medium (not genre!) is, but is ticked that at education conferences, there’s no panel on Novels In The Classroom. Nobody even thinks to question their inclusion, but somehow the absolute equivalecy of novel:=literature persists to the detriment of other media.

Let’s jump back to the circulation question; the answer was at least partly to adjust expectations. Gagliano pointed out that the typical graphic novel binding will hold up to about 60 circulations, which is as good or better than prose. The librarian admitted that they’re seeing about 75 circulations, so there you go.

Gagliano also mentioned specialty bindings for libraries from outfits like Perma-Bound and Bound To Stay Bound to increase durability (Gownley chimed in that they aren’t as pleasing to read, but they hold up). Siegel noted there’s an increasing number of simultaneous releases of hardcover and softcover, specifically with libraries in mind.

The discussion around leveling fascinated me, because it was clearly of great interest to nearly everybody in the room, but also completely new to me. The discussion began when a teacher said she had no problems with her elementary principal, librarians, fellow teachers, or parents. Her issue was that the district wants comprehension tests after every book, and she needs both documentation that kids aren’t reading below grade level and a mechanism to evaluate how well the students are reading (NB: The teachers and teacher-adjacent in the room would refer to what I saw as two things almost interchangeably).

Edmunds jumped on the leveling issue: the grade level assigned by the most common leveling rules/services does not accurately reflect the complexity of the reading. The levels, and most tests available to teachers, are algorithmically generated and only take into account the text. Gagliano mentioned that publishers are constantly in communication with the test-generation folks to more accurately reflect the material and the leveling.

Gownley almost hopes that a solution isn’t found — when the books are outside the official curriculum, there’s no test, no proofs of proficiency, a slight hint of being forbidden, then reading becomes more fun.

But returning to why there isn’t a leveling tool that incorporates words+pictures, Edmunds explained that it’s difficult to to. Leveling is the province of computers, not humans; Jaffe added that it’s done by people who aren’t in classrooms. Siegel expressed some sympathy for the lack of accurate leveling, in that the entire idea of visual literacy is hazy right now. As noted a few days ago, we’re all just waiting for McCloud to give us the vocabulary to have the conversation that we need to have in order to come to a consensus on this complex and constantly changing landscape.

The last question of the session³ was about how to incorporate graphic novels along with nongraphic novels, rather than instead of. Heid jumped in to say it depends on what you’re teaching, but using both allows all kinds of discussion. For example, To Kill A Mockingbird presents the climactic verdict scene with a focus on Jem, but the graphic novel adaptation shifts it to Tom Robinson, with each Guilty shifting his expression from shock, to horror, to the sure knowledge it was always going to be this way. After your kids have read both, ask them, Why did Harper Lee focus on Jem and the graphic novel focus on Tom?

Jaffe says the contrast between text-only and graphic novels allows you to explore questions with students that you couldn’t otherwise. Contrasting the different formats allows investigation into concepts like How do you communicate? Gagliano focused on the fact that a lot of literature teachers may not have a background/training in art, but they can learn with their students; you can think about why a page was designed the way it way, why the choice was made to use color or B&W, what job each panel has to do. Asking the questions and seeing what answers they come up with will spur a teacher’s own education.

And that education continues: Hurwich is working on her PhD (graphic novels and other media in the classroom and their effect on student literacy) and Heid his Masters (on education standards and how graphic novels fit); Gagliano and Siegel keep seeking out the best books they can, and Parks and Costa keep figuring out how to make their series more entertaining and relevant for kids. None of them will ever stop trying to do more for their students or their readers.

Spam of the day:

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You’ve got some damn nerve pushing this on me the same week as a tremendous security disclosure around embedded systems like those featured here? Remember, kids: The S in IoT stands for Security!

¹ Or possibly starting in fifth grade, rather than solely fifth grade. My notes got a little rushed, and any teachers familiar with the Common Core are welcome to clarify for us.

² Asked in a follow-up when the librarians started pushing graphic novels, Gownley perkily answered Thursday! to general laughter. Gagliano remarked that the annual YALSA Great Graphic Novels For Teens list started in 2005, which she described as the tipping point. American Born Chinese would be nominated for the National Book Award the next year, and once SMILE took the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction, the momentum was pretty much irreversible. Edmunds half-lamented that it’s almost not possible to keep up with all the good graphic novels being published today.

³ Well, second to last; the last was Where will we see you after this session?, which prompted the best response from Gownley: The Crowne Plaza sushi bar.

What The Kid(s) In Your Life Are Going To Be Reading

Sometimes, panels don’t lend themselves to traditional write-ups (or, at least not write-ups as I do them; everybody’s got their own style, after all), and the preview of all-ages comics from Scholastic/Graphix is a prime example. It wasn’t so much a discussion as an opportunity to talk about what Graphix has coming up in the near future, with creators talking about their current/forthcoming projects. Thus, the disclaimer I normally start with on these panel recaps is missing, since there’s not so much the opportunity to confuse quotes with paraphrases. Okay, there’s one quote coming up, you’ll know it when you see it.

Instead, I’m going to talk about some of the work that was previewed, with little things that caught my eye. For example, Jim Benton is half graphic novelist, half IP licensing machine, and Catwad straddles that line. Benton actually first came up with Catwad years ago, but similarities to a slightly more recent cat with grumpy tendencies¹.

Tui Sutherland talked about the process of adapting her book series, Wings Of Fire (thirteen books and counting!) to graphic novels (third one coming soon). Particularly, she’d like to note that while it’s all very easy to describe an arena full of dragon-type beings as far as the eye can see, it’s quite another to expect Mike Holmes to draw that over and over (Sutherland: Sorry, Mike!). And since I don’t see her credited on the series page (or even on the covers, for goodness sake), I’ll note that the colorist is Maarta Laiho, who has her own challenges — rainforests, chameleonic dragons who change color, leading to completely different colors from panel to panel — and deserves a bit of recognition here.

Jon J Muth’s adaptation of The Seventh Voyage by Stanislaw Lem was included in the giveaway bag at the Scholastic party on Thursday night, so I can tell you that it’s smart, charming, funny, and very, very different from any other graphic novel you’ve read or are going to read this year. Lem’s ability to lambaste Poland’s political institutions and society without running afoul of governmental authorities is legendary, and you’ll see a prime example of his skill as Ijon Tichy struggles to resolve a life-or-death situation despite the interference of a bureaucracy of himself² doing its damndest to prevent anything from actually happening. And the space suit³ is hilarious.

Raina Telgemeier let her audience know that Guts is different than her previous work (her exact words were Wake up, ’cause we’re going to talk about anxiety!), but in a way that let them know that’s okay. That she had a hard time dealing with the stressors in her life at their age, and sometimes still has those feelings, but she got help. And if they feel overwhelmed and anxious, they can get help, too. She’s really our best ambassador to the middle grades, the one that remembers what that time was like and can converse with those who live their in terms of their own experiences. As I told her when I got to read an advance copy back in April, I wanted very much to travel back in time and hug Young Raina and tell her it would be okay.

The only question I noted was when a girl, about ten years old, came to the mic to ask Miss Raina, what happened to Amara’s snake? Readers of Sisters may recall that Raina’s younger sister had a snake who got loose and lost, only to be found six months later under the seats in the minivan (or at least, a snake similar enough to the one that was lost as to make no difference). In the meantime, their mom had gotten Amara another snake and when that one got loose, Raina said I left the house. It was time for college, but the snake was definitely part of the decision. Like I said, she know how to speak Middle Grader.

Release dates:

Spam of the day:

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Yep, this is wholly appropriate for a post discussing all-ages comics. Yeesh.

¹ Who, it could be argued, primarily went viral because of a mash-up with a Kate Beaton punchline. Speaking of Beaton, she’s got a new diary comic up, featuring doggo Agnes with a supporting appearance by daughter Mary Lou. It’s a treat.

² Or, more precisely, himselves, as they are all time-displaced instances of Ijon Tichy thrown together and forced to try and cooperate.

³ Baggy, shapeless, five sizes too large at the very least, stubby-legged, and featuring an umbilical attached in the middle of a buttoned-up buttflap.


[Editor’s note: Once again, there are relatively few direct quotes in these recaps, and those that exist are italicized. As a caveat to the reminder, the latter portion of this post comes from a conversation with Jim Ottaviani, but the paraphrase/quote rule remains in effect.]

That title up there makes me think about Frank Zappa’s Project/Object concept¹, which isn’t really tied into the work being discussed at the moment, but what else are you going to call a panel on making comics with factual bases about actual things? And a fine discussion it was, with Chula Vista librarian Judy Prince-Neeb wrangling Randall Munroe, Don Brown, Rachel Ignotofsky, Jim Ottaviani, and Dylan Meconis holding forth on how they get to the real.

But Gary, I hear you cry, Dylan Meconis works in fiction! True, Grasshopper, she does. But anybody that’s spent any time with her knows that she sweats the details to get a sense of place with the greatest verisimilitude known to humanity. She may have mucked up history into a Mirror Universe version of itself in Queen Of The Sea, but by God she got the goats right! We’ll come back to the goats in a minute.

The idea that factual doesn’t have to equal the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth down to fourteen decimal places was a recurring theme. When asked by Prince-Neeb why they get excited by their work, Brown talked about the thrill of talking about Big Ideas and Moments (say, walking on the gosh-darned moon for the first time) and digging not into the BIaM itself, but the hundreds of thousands of much smaller bits and bobs that built up to it.

What Armstrong did in the roughly half-hour from start of the first lunar EVA until that one small step is exhaustively catalogued; what decisions were made between a design engineer and a lingerie seamstress to figure out how to make Armstrong’s suit? There’s room for interpretation there, a bit of impressionism that make the real moreseo².

For Ignotofsky, reality comes from the places where the hard data fears to tread. She’ll dig through a Census for fun, but when there’s little information committed to the historical record about the accomplishments of women, the indigenous, people of color, the LGTBQ+ community, focusing on those subjects for the benefit of kids means that future generations won’t have to rely as much on anecdotes when looking for people like them. The opportunity to see yourself as part of the world is what excites Ottaviani, that and the realization at a tender age that books are things that are made by people leading to the thought I could — should — make a book.

We’re living in History now is how Meconis puts it (you could hear the capital-H in her voice); the minutiae of our daily lives is future history and significant. How we lived our lives then shaped history. That minutiae lends a sense of reality to even the most fantastical world, making it all the more fascinating to the reader.

Munroe was, as may not surprise you, an outlier: I don’t know why I’m interested in anything, he said. Something catches his fancy, he works back to the science, engineering, and math, takes things to the logical extreme (he often ends up at some variation of Of course, now we’re at about 30% of the speed of light and have killed everybody on the East Coast), with the hope that it may accidentally cause a reader to learn something. Or, as Meconis put it, We’re big on tricking people!

So they all have some reason to share their work, but why pictures? Munroe’s decision is based on efficiency: you can see a big block of text and decide not to read it, but a picture on the page? You’ve already seen it; at least some part of it seeps through³. Ottaviani added that it’s pretty much impossible to stop reading in the middle of a comics page like you can in the middle of a paragraph; additionally, half of Science works from pictures already.

Sometimes, the motivation is elsewhere. Meconis notes that Writing + Drawing is like Juggling + Chainsaws; you can get attention if you’re good at either, but if you combine them, it’s a great way to get attention on the internet as a teenager! [Editor’s note: yikes.]

The bulk of the discussion was on research techniques. Munroe is relentless, digging down into the details of various commissions and committees that exist in the world, because that’s where the weird stuff (like how much water is legally required to pass over Niagara Falls, and how much of an act of war it is to alter it) lives. Ignotofsky haunts libraries and looks for the odd grace notes (like the famed painter in the early 1800s Paris how lived as an out lesbian, and was made to pay for a license to wear trousers; Munroe perked up and desperately wants to know if the office that issued that license issued others).

Meconis is fond of finding the one person that cares about a narrow subject more than anybody else, which is why she spent time on a Geocities site about heritage goat breeds maintained by dissident goat-breeders in remote Scotland. They have opinions on that newcomer Nubian goat, and arguments to back up those opinions. It might not make it to the Annals of the Royal Society, but it’s no less accurate. Plus, fiction! You can pick and choose where you want to be accurate.

Ottaviani is big on the personal interview, but has the advantage of mostly writing about people who are (or were recently) alive, and have/had friends/acquaintances who still are. He particularly noted that you can get a super accurate feel for a person without ever talking to them directly, citing the classic work of New Journalism by Gay Talese, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold (bonus: a pre-famous Harlan Ellison appears and almost gets his ass kicked). Add in a little visual reference (Ignotofsky: Get the photos! Get the clothing right! If you’re going to draw the dog, make you it’s the correct breed!) and you’re golden.


After the panel, I was lucky enough to sit down with Jim Ottaviani for a one-on-one discussion about his work, his artistic partnerships, and what’s next. His latest science bio, Hawking (art by the inimitable Leland Myrick, who also drew Feynman) released about two weeks before SDCC, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The first point of discussion was bout the depiction of Jane, Hawking’s longtime wife, academic partner (when you can’t tie your own shoes, you certainly aren’t typing your own manuscripts), and primary caregiver. They divorced after Hawking became HAWKING, but remained on what I’d call unusually good terms for exes. Throughout the book, Jane is subtly, but progressively, depicted as … frustrated? annoyed? it’s tough to give a single word to the emotional heft in Myrick’s illustrations.

I read it as one part We’ve been married for more than two decades, why can’t you manage this one simple courtesy that’s annoyed me since before we were married and I’ve told you about it forever and MY GOD I hate you sometimes (everybody married more than a week has seen that look on their spouse’s face), one part You’re getting a bit full of yourself, Dr Hawking, and a few dozen parts absolute weariness at being a 24/7 caregiver, requiring ever-more challenging efforts, without so much as an afternoon off in who knows how long.

I think it’s an intimately truthful detail, to allow the great man to not be perfect, and ultimately sympathetic towards Jane, recognizing the tremendous sacrifices she made over decades. Ottaviani said the purpose was to show all of those emotional elements, with an addition of a growing distance between the couple — they had fundamentally incompatible belief systems4, exacerbated by his growing fame.

I read the entire later relationship between them as a classic case of being able to love somebody without liking them very much. He allowed that some of the friends of Jane Hawking were concerned about how she would be portrayed — it would be easy to cast her as a villain, abandoning her husband who is bravely clinging to life (not true, and Ottaviani and Myrick aren’t that lazy) — and concluded that he hoped his own friends would be as protective.

Ottaviani’s subjects, as our conversation hit on several times, could be complicated people. Richard Feynman is in a bit of a reappraisal, with people looking past the genius (especially for teaching) and seeing some really retrograde treatment of women for a big chunk of his life. He was also, to put it mildly, his own biggest cheerleader. His stories always make him look good, or smart, or funny, or popular, the center of attention. Hawking, by contrast, never tried to stick out (and I think even less so the more his ALS progressed), but found himself famous. Balancing that reticence with the obvious glee he exhibited while guesting on Star Trek or The Simpsons must have required a considerable effort (not to mention the fact that anybody with a measure of fame will attract cranks5).

My most burning question was who Ottaviani wants to cover next. He’s already hit the big name scientists and engineers that people might actually recognize (in addition to Feynman and Hawking, he’s covered Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruteé Galdikas, Turing, Bohr, Oppenheimer and Szilard, and goodly bits of Einstein all throughout), so who next? I made a pitch for Claude Shannon6 (because you can never have enough Shannon), and he’s got some potential candidates in mind; it’s more than deciding that a scientist or engineer needs the Ottaviani treatment, it’s finding work that lends itself to visual representation and finding the right artist for the project.

In the meantime, he’s doing a series of two-pagers for the Royal Society Of Chemistry celebrating the Year Of The Periodic Table. Myrick’s got his own projects coming up, so it would be a while before they got to work again. I remarked how Myrick’s style provided a natural transition from depicting people to depicting scientific concepts and diagrams, and that led to a side discussion of art styles ranging from Mike Mignola to the Franco-Belgian ligne claire school. He’s not just writing for comics, he has a deep and abiding love of the form and the artists who make them. Asked who he’d like to work with, he replied Everybody I’ve already worked with, which is a pretty extensive list.

We finished out by making each other extremely envious of the other’s original comic art collection. Ottaviani has several Richard Thompson originals, including one of God bouncing dice off Einstein’s head. I have several Larry Gonick original pages featuring Shannon. In the end, it was a really pleasant conversation between a couple of engineers, talkin’ about comics and fountain pens, the sort that leaves you wrapped up until you have to walk briskly to your next appointment. If you ever have the chance to do the same, I recommend it.

Spam of the day:

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¹ Key takeaway, and I quote:

In the case of the Project/Object, you may find a little poodle over here, a little blow job over there, etc., etc. I am not obsessed by poodles or blow jobs, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, videos (and this book) for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection.’

² Cf: Kazu Kibuishi’s abstract landscapes, which look more real to us the less detail he adds.

³ Meconis noted the downside: parents can more easily find something to be offended by in a picture than by reading things line by line. This point would be echoed in a couple of the teacher/librarian panels over the course of the Con.

4 Jane being rather more a Christian than Stephen, and he being frankly rude as shit in his dismissal of her beliefs.

5 I’ve actually met one of Hawking’s cranks and the dude struck me as somebody I should slowly back away from, making no sudden moves. I can’t imagine what dealing with him must be like in a severely limited body.

6 Let the record show that he recognized Figure 1 on the cover of my notebook.