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Fleen Book Corner: Let’s Talk About It

It’s inescapable. There’s no part of life — modern or at any point in history — that humans have spent more time and worry and brain cycles to the point of obsession on than sex. And yet we as a society — modern and I’ll wager at nearly every point in history — do a crappy job of preparing people for it. They get all fizzy with hormones as teens and starting messing around without really knowing what they’re doing and maybe they muddle through to a good understanding and maybe they don’t.

Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan think that we should do better. Fortunately, after nearly eight years of cartooning about sex in all its forms — a cartoon that turned into an exploration of what it means to be human so gradually I didn’t even notice — they’ve got a ton of knowledge to draw upon (and even better, a metric ton of resources to pull from) and have produced the book that they wanted at that age¹.

Let’s Talk About It is that book, and it’s not only useful for the teen in your life, it’s a damn good primer for anybody that is looking to better navigate the world of sex, which isn’t as much about sex as you might think. If you want to sum up the message of Let’s Talk About It (a PDF ARC of which was provided to me by publisher Random House Graphic) with a quick glance at the index: the topic that gets the second most references is sex, whereas the most cited is relationships. Or, as Nolan and Moen observe in an afterword:

Really, sex education is relationship education, because while we’re not all going to have sex, we are all going to have relationships with the people around us. When you learn about the wide world of sex, relationships, and intimacy, you learn more about yourself and others, which helps you to be a better person and to do better by others.

So the It that is going to be Talk[ed] About is nominally sex, but really not. Sex is a huge part of being human, and just as you can’t be a full human without determining what sex means to you, you’re also not going to be good at sex unless you’ve learned to be a good human.

The bulk of the book is a series of short vignettes, featuring two or three main characters, almost none of whom get names² or backgrounds, and all of whom share their feelings, experiences, wants, and information with their friends, siblings, (would-be) partners, and others.

They give each other respect, attention, and consideration, through conversations that are short and sweet or long and difficult (the most challenging being the recognition that you could be in an abusive relationship in either role; this is the first book about sex and relationship for teens that I’ve ever seen that addresses the idea that we have to examine ourselves for shitty behavior, and it appropriately does so by looking at a teen cis male who is at a crux — he could fall into some really toxic behaviors or choose to better himself. The book is worth the purchase price for this section alone, and should be presented to every person before they get to dating age).

Most of these interactions finish on an ellipsis, a cliffhanger, a chance for the reader to decide themselves where it goes as they consider the full lifecycle of relationships — How do I start? What do we do? What next? What if I don’t like ____ about myself? What if I get rejected? — is presented, and in all of them, a key nugget of wisdom jumped out at me. Some that have stuck with me:

  • Consent is not lukewarm, the absence of a no, surrendering to badgering, impaired or unconscious, jumping to conclusions.
  • The most important relationship you’ll have is with yourself. Relationships will come and go. But you? You’re with yourself for life.
  • Chat it out before you pound it out.
  • The vocabulary of gender is still growing, so if you don’t see something here that fits you, don’t sweat it. Your identity is still real and valid.
  • There’s no one correct way you’re supposed to feel about it.
  • Sex is a SUPER personal thing, so there’s no official “right time” or “falling behind anybody else”.
  • Good sex and bad sex are subjective and depend on A LOT of things.
  • If you want to judge the success of the sex you’re having, do it by how much fun you’re both having. Good sex is consensual, communicative, fun, and enjoyable.
  • Thoughts and actions are different things.
  • Punishing yourself doesn’t solve anything.

And, my favorite line in the book:

  • I want to so baaaad.³

I found it striking how many of those quotes could apply to multiple, many, or most of the topics discussed. So much of this book — the parts about sex and the parts about things that are adjacent to sex and the parts that maybe aren’t about sex at all — boils down to one perfect little thought, a universal sentiment (much like the universally-applicable New Yorker cartoon caption) that applies to nearly every situation:

There really isn’t such a thing as “normal”. Just try to be the best YOU that you can be.

It’s a spectacular job, one that treats its subject and its target audience with the utmost respect. I’d only change one thing (and again, this was an advance copy, subject to further pre-publication edits and may not be valid complaint): there’s one reference to latex gloves (in a panel without much room for words) and one to latex or nitrile gloves (where there was more space to play with).

<EMT voice>Latex is an allergen, kids. Use nitrile gloves.</EMT voice>

Apart from that maybe-not-even-there concern, I will unreservedly recommend Let’s Talk About It (available wherever you can find books from next Tuesday, 9 March 2021) for anybody wanting to know more about sex and being a good human.

Which is to say, anybody you think is not going to freak at truthful, but occasionally textbook-explicit, information about mashing junk together. And maybe one or two who will, but need the info anyway.

Spam of the day:

The best smart water fountain for your kitty & doggy

Smart water for my dog, who eats condoms off the ground and tissues out of the trash can and would drink out of the toilet if the lid wasn’t down? Yeah, don’t think it’s smart water that she needs.

¹ Teen!Erika and Teen!Matt make an appearance at the start to set up the conceit.

² I’m not counting the plants named Queen Beth or Sir Gumbleleaf. In one case, there’s a non-trademark-violating Siri-alike, who is rather more conversational and situation-aware than the real deal. In another, a person in distress is helped by a friend-to-be and they introduce themselves. In a couple of conversations, a third party is referred to by name, but doesn’t appear in the conversation. Considering there’s nearly 20 dialogues in the book and not a lot of specific people, there’s a lot of room for readers to project themselves into the conversations and become involved in the topic at hand.

³ This one had nothing to do with sex. It was the response to the observation You want to tell me where to find more [information about sex, relationships, all of it], right? The one time in a book about sex where somebody admits to wanting to apply pressure to convince somebody else to do something they maybe don’t want to do, and it’s to share more information.

I love you, Erika and Matt.

It Is March Again, The March That Never Ended

It is today, roughly, 350 days since New Jersey went into lockdown. Today is, roughly, the 366th day of March, 2020, the Fimbulmarch, which will run for another two years and then end in Ragnarökövid. As far as unending tedium and hiding in the house venturing out in the killer environment only in times of great need to obtain sustenance goes, it could be worse. I mean, there’s lots to binge on streaming at least.

And, this being the nominal first week of the neverending month, there’s some [web]comics events you might want to keep an eye on.

  • Know who’s awesome? Gale Galligan, who had one of the biggest how do I follow that opening act? high-wire travails ever, taking over the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations from Raina Telgemeier and all¹. She’s working on her own original graphic novel now, as well as another project that finished around March 240th that was a little bit more important, all of which are wonderful. She’s also been to Bunny Island and survived.

    Know who else is awesome? Ngozi Ukazu, who had a very big couple of years before and during the Inifinte March, what with the release of the :01 Books collected editions of Check, Please!, which are just delightful². She’s been working on her next project, as well as dropping some primo cartoons into The New Yorker and the Tweet Machine.

    Know what’s particularly awesome? Galligan and Ukazu are both serious about promoting the interests and skills of younger cartoonist, those who will someday be their peers. Galligan’s been mentoring since the Before Times, and the pair of them joined forces to promote transparency into page rates. And they’re teaming up again to offer two free workshops on comic making:

    Howdy! @robochai and I are offering two workshops covering fundamentals for comic making. Workshops are free, but space is limited. Apply by 3/5!…

    That link will take you to the Google Form to sign up; the two workshops are on Perspective (Saturday, 20 March at noon EST) and Coloring (Satruday, 27 March at noon EST), with connection info presumably sent to registrants.

  • For those looking for happenings between now and Sunday, let this be your reminder that the first week of March is Read AGraphic Novel Week/Will Eisner Week; the ongoing pandemic means there’s less in-person going on than prior years, but that hasn’t stopped the Cartoon Art Museum from organizing a graphic novel read-athon as fundraiser (helping to offset the loss of income from the whole no visitors in lockdown thing). You can sign up via the CAM 99 Pledges page, to support those reading, or to add your eyeballs to the -athon’s effort.

Okay, that’s what’s going on now. We’ll try to keep an eye on what’s happening — and what’s not — in The March That Never Ends. Case in point: it was announced today that WonderCon will be online-only (26/27 March) and San Diego Comic-Con is delaying again until July 2022, with a supplemental 3-day in-person event in November (all details pending as of now).

It’s actually an open question how much society might be back to accessible by summer, but kudos to the showrunners for injecting a little certainty instead of delaying decisions. It’s not a fun decision, but it’s probably the only right one at this time.

Spam of the day:

Elon Musk says he’s a supporter of bitcoin and thinks it will get ‘broad acceptance’ in finance & Bitcoin Rally Takes Crypto Market Value to New Record

Since Tesla announced it had bought a position in Bitcoin on 8 February, their stock has declined by 16.8%, and Bitcoin is down 2.4% (or, more impressively, down 23.1% since their high eight days ago). Your entire contention that I should give you money to put into their two financial vehicles is … misguided.

¹ In turn, handing the series over to Gabriela Epstein, and now to Chan Chau.

² Reminder: the fourth self-published book is coming, sometime before the end of Evermarch.

This Little Girl Is Five Today

She was such a skittish, skinny little thing when we got her around two and a half years old, having spent her entire life not more than six months in any one place with any particular people. It took her a while to relax around us and let her goofball personality show from behind the veil of stubborn stoicism. Right now, she’s napping in a sunny patch and waiting for the work day to be done so she can collect her due allocation of skritches and get her walkies in. So that’s all right.

Oh, right, webcomics.

  • Subscribers to The Nib, the folks that get the magazine 3-4 times a year, you’re going to want to check your email and maybe your spam folder. They’ve sent you a message that you get to give away one copy of The Nib’s Pandemic issue (in print form, no less!) to somebody that you think would appreciate it. The instructions are in the email that went out to you this morning; me, most of the people I know are already subscribers or contributors to The Nib, so I’m not sure who to give it to.

    Let’s do a contest, then. Send me an email with the subject FREE MAGAZINE to me (that would be gary) at the name of this-here website (fleen), which is a dot-com, and I’ll choose one of you at random to get the issue, a US$15 value and probably the best done by the lauded group of contributors. Let’s make the deadline … 11:59pm MST on Sunday, 28 February, the last moment before my evil twin sees his birthday skipped over because he’s a Leap Year Baby.

    You have to make yourself a promise, though — if you enter the giveaway, you have to ask yourself if you should be a subscriber, or at least buy some stuff from The Nib’s retail operation to help support their mission — to find the best cartoonists in the world and pay them properly for their best work.

  • I wrote a while back about Shing Yin Khor and Jeeyon Shim were Kickstarting an interactive game, with prompts to be delivered by email (and physical ephemera sent to high-tier backers), under the title of A Field Guide To Memory. I hadn’t mentioned that the Kickstarter overfunded, that other creators were brought in (and paid!) to enrich the story, and that gameplay had started.

    With today’s email, we’re about two-thirds of the way through a deeply personal, deeply weird, and somewhat unsettling tale, wherein you adopt the persona of a scientific researcher whose mentor — cryptid field evolutionary scientist Elizabeth Lee — has been declared dead after going missing five years ago on a research trip. I have, for the past two and a half weeks, found myself bound up in my personal history with a woman that I never met, who never existed, who may or may not have definitively proved the existence of Dipodomys antilocapra, the Pronghorned Desert Rat.

    I have dug up memories of my own life and that of my in-game equivalent (who is looking for the evolutionary descendants of pterosaurs — they’re out there still, dammit, just like the coelacanth!) and at times been unable to separate them. The game has you write letters and journal entries, keep field notes related to Dr Lee’s work, research animal track patterns and bird calls, dredge up anger and betrayal, and possibly mentor members of the Little Citizen Scientists Club. I will not tell you how to play the game, as it’s highly individualized and therefore there is no right way to play, but I will say this: if given the opportunity, if you are in future days passed a PDF of gameplay prompts (or even physical artifacts like D. antilocapra antler casts) and you come across an email address?

    It works. Send the email. The only thing that isn’t real, as near as I can tell, is the address shown for the Institute for Theoretical Evolutions in Bethesda, Maryland. The Pronghorned Desert Rat, the other cryptids, the bureaucrats keeping you from Dr Lee’s notes and artifacts, the letters from her students and colleagues and lovers? All real, every bit of it, even the parts that are fiction. Especially the parts that are fiction.

    If you’d like to learn more — and perhaps end up with more questions than answers — search the hashtag #FieldGuideToMemory. If nothing else, you’ll see some breathtaking photos of the very lovely artifacts that players are creating as we delve into mystery and self-revelation at a rate of one prompt per day for 20 days.

Okay, have a great rest of the day, and tell the doggo(s) in your life that they are very good dogs because they’re all very good dogs.

Spam of the day:

I tried to find you on google maps, but I couldn’t,


Fleen Book Corner: Last Pick: Rise Up

The thing about trilogies is, you know they’re going to fall into one of two patterns. They may be loosely connected, but largely independent stories, and if you jump in on book two or three, you might miss some nuance, but there’s also obviously other things happening to the characters between the volumes on the shelf. Or it’s one continuous story, broken down into more digestible chunks, and where one leaves off the next one begins.

In the case of the latter, as in Last Pick: Rise Up by Jason Walz (:01 Books), you have to read all of it or you have an incomplete single story instead of missing out on one or more related stories. So if you haven’t read Last Pick and Last Pick: Born To Run, go do that before reading any further here, and be aware that here be spoilers. In fact, to discuss this one we’re going to be going pretty heavy on the spoilers; if you don’t want those, skip down to the last couple of paragraphs for context on appropriate ages for readers, as this one is a bit trickier than it appears on the surface.

The other thing about trilogies of the second sort is you know how the story is going to play out. The main characters have their big challenge to overcome/world to rescue, and they’re going to accomplish that goal. Thanks to Tolkien’s model, we know that the protagonist(s) might not get to enjoy the saved world because of their personal trauma, but others will get to go back to normal life and even the hero gets their well-earned reward. That’s just how these stories work.

We know that Sam (maybe 17 years old, employed as a conscript mutant-culler by the locust-like aliens that swept everybody from Earth to be similarly utilized) and Wyatt (her twin brother, autistic, left behind on Earth like all the other elderly, broken, and useless members of humanity) are going to find their parents (conscript mutant-cullers for the past four years, along with most of the adult population of Earth, however many of them are left alive), chase the aliens off their planet, and get back to a semblance of normal life. That’s just how these stories work.

Sam might have figured out why the aliens are scooping up whole planets worth of people to do their dirty work¹, found her parents, prompted a series of prison breaks freeing oh so many captive humans and figured out how to stop the aliens once and for all². Wyatt may have been laying the groundwork for an uprising in the past six weeks, with the Last Picks from around the world building their own jerry-rigged versions of alien craft to fight back, and lured the entire alien armada to Earth for a decisive battle.

The thing about these stories? We see the hobbits go home to the Shire. We don’t know the names of all the farmers in the Westfold or Ithilien or in the lands around Erebor that were slaughtered trying to hold back the might of Mordor’s armies. Sam and Wyatt inspire untold numbers of people to follow them. Those jury-rigged ships? They aren’t built to spec. And the humans who’ve had barely enough time to paint a flag or slogan on the outside haven’t had time to develop real piloting or combat skills. Those prison escapees are still on hostile alien worlds, with no weapons, no food, and their captors sending overwhelming force.

They’re almost all going to die.

For maybe the first time in this kind of youths must fight to save their entire planet story that’s so very common, we find out just how few people there are left to try to rebuild when it’s all over and how much it’s going to hurt to be one of those that survive³. Sam and Wyatt don’t want to send those people to their deaths, they’re very nearly broken by the knowledge that that’s what they did, but things are moving too quickly and honestly, there isn’t a better alternative.

This was a bloody, painful end to a war that never needed to start, and in its finish it reminds me of nothing so much as Deep Space Nine‘s Dominion War. An entire shelf of YA dystopian uprising stories play out like General Martok, reveling in the fight and the victory; Walz reminds us that drinking in the ashes of a devastated civilization, with billions dead on each side, is never a cause for celebration.

It wasn’t obvious when the Last Pick trilogy started that this was going to be a subversion; even to the end of the second installment, it looked like another rousing story of … and then those crazy kids pulled it off and saved everybody!, but Walz built towards it slowly, inevitably, almost imperceptibly until you’re well past the point it should have been obvious from the beginning.

It’s a hell of a lesson to those that read it, but means that you should probably look to give this one to readers at least on the older half of the recommended 12-18 year old reader range. Or, to put it another way, if you had a 12 year old read the first book, and then the subsequent two as they came out in annual installments, they’re probably old enough to deal with ending. If you’ve got a reader that can handle the heaviness of the message, there’s not a lot better out there to offer them.

Last Pick: Rise Up was written and illustrated by Jazon Walz, with interior colors by Jon Proctor and Joe Flood; cover colors by Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb. It’s been out since last October, but Diamond just now got a copy to my local comic shop. Thanks, Diamond!

Spam of the day:

Hi Gary, Thanks for renewing your Compulsory Third Party Insurance policy with us on 21-01-2021. We want to check in on how the process worked for you. Are there any improvements we can make on our end?

I dunno, maybe send this to the Gary Tyrrell that’s your actual customer in Australia and not me?

¹ We already knew the aliens are many planets in a federation, all susceptible to mutation, and their treaties prevent any member of any planet from killing another, even a mutant. They kidnap entire populations of whole planets to kill their own mutated citizens because their laws won’t let them do it themselves.

² She’s learned that the mutation illness is preventable and the political leadership isn’t bothering to prevent it. Once that knowledge gets out, it’s going to shatter the alien civilization.

³ Exception to the rule, because there’s always an exception: most installments in the many Gundam series spend a good amount of time on the burdens of war and trauma of those that survive.

We All Knew It Was Coming

It’s still a load of crap. I speak, naturally, of the fact that Disney has killed off the Fox-affiliated Blue Sky animation studio, which had previously had all of its approaching-release movies delayed, of which one remained and will now be shelved rather than seen:

Blue Sky’s final movie, a fantasy story about a young shapeshifter called Nimona, will be left unfinished and will not be released.

Originally announced as an animated film in 2015, pushed back from a 2020 release date to 2021 six months before the pandemic, narrowly escaping the axe that fell in the Fox purchase, but getting pushed back to 2022, Nimona is now scrapped because we live in a monoculture and Disney will not have anything exist that does not bow to its view of the world.

They could have let Blue Sky finish its last production. They could have allowed a very different kind of young heroine. They could have just dumped it to streaming and made money — which, considering they’d already bought the entire damn studio and the production, would essentially have been free money — which you would think is the actual purpose of a corporation. But, I suppose, they don’t have the ancillary rights to merch and staright-to-video sequels and a Nimona character in the parks, so fuck sharing and getting 94% of the benefit.

Disney has their Way, their Method , their Version of how things are meant to be, and everything they build must conform to them or be ground down and erased. It is all or nothing for them.

I mourn for those who would have found a vision of themselves in an animated version, for all the nascent culture that is snuffed out so that the very rich can become very, very rich as we pay them for the privilege of becoming so.

But Nimona is still on my bookshelf, and hopefully Noelle Stevenson had a good agent and lawyer that included a rights reversion, and we may yet see Nimona on the big screen.

And like I mentioned a while back around the Disney screwing Alan Dean Foster story, if you sign a contract of any sort, it seems you need to include a Disney buys out whoever I am contracting with clause that reverts control of your brainchild to you. They want all or nothing? Let them have nothing.

And, because we can’t have nice things, Meredith Gran has had her Twitter account jacked by by a complete dickhole, who keeps changing the account name to avoid reporting. He (of course it’s a dude) is, as of this writing, going by the name @dazeywtf, which you should report as a hacked account and also ping @twittersafety on the matter, please and thank you.

Spam of the day
No spam, but I will say that I was writing that last paragraph when my computer blue-screened with no warning, and I gotta hand it to WordPress for preserving all but about a half-sentence of what I wrote despite me not having explicitly saved anything yet. Well done, WordPress.

This Ought To Keep You Busy For The Next Coupla’ Weeks

We are deep in the winter doldrums. Wait, can you get doldrums in winter? Not talking about the mood, there’s an actual historical term that I think is season-specific? Lemme check …

Huh, what do you know? It’s geographic, not temporal, and derived from nautical lore. I bet if I’d paid better attention to some past conversation with Lucy Bellwood, I would have known that. Anyhoo, let’s pull you out of the doldrums with some upcoming [web]comics stuff and events.

  • Hey, do you like saving money? Sure, we all do! And do you like porn? Like I need to ask. Now you can save money while grabbing yourself some promo erotica from the fine smut merchants at Iron Circus:

    Holy heck, Valentine’s Day is on its way! Let’s celebrate!
    All erotica, in all formats (hardcover, softcover, and ebook), is now 25% off in the Iron Circus shop! C’mon and grab yourself something nice! [emphasis original]

    That’s until February 14, naturally. Have some fun by yourself, with your favorite other person, or maybe the group of folks that you find enticing and exciting. It’s all good.

  • The uncertainties of COVID will still be here when you’ve had, uh, sufficient time with all that smut, and we’re still a long ways from having in-person comics events. Not to worry, though, as the Cartoon Art Museum will be bringing you a free streaming event on 18 February (that would be Thursday of next week):

    The Cartoon Art Museum and Netflix present animation legend Glen Keane (Oscar-winning director of Dear Basketball) in conversation with director Robert Kondo (The Dam Keeper, Tonko House) as they discuss Keane’s storied animation career and his latest feature film, the Netflix/Pearl Studio production Over The Moon. This discussion will be followed by a brief Q&A session with our live audience.

    You can catch the convo starting at 4:00pm PST, free thanks to Netflix’s sponsorship, but you will have to register in advance — see the Zoom event page to do that.

  • And a week later, (that would be Thursday, 25 February), CXC and The Billy are bringing you another free streaming event, this one at 6:00pm EST. MS Harkness (Desperate Pleasures, Tinderella) will be talking about creating autobio comics:

    This presentation will focus on how MS Harkness adapts and structures real life moments and memories, including difficult histories, into her work. This presentation may contain discussion of sensitive topics that are not appropriate for all ages.

    This event is presented in conjunction with the exhibit Ladies First: A Century Of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art, currently on display at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

    This is a free live webinar that will also be simulcast on CXC’s YouTube ) and Twitch channels. You can register via the CXC Zoom site.

Spam of the day:

I’m inviting you to take up my free sales letter template. As a thank you for taking up my invitation I will give you a completely free no strings attached fill in the blanks professional sales letter template. Just go to [nope].com now.

I think I got your fill in the blanks sales letter template already, Jay. You sent it to me with the blanks filled in.

Fleen Book Corner: Katie The Catsitter

Feels good to get back to book reviews; the number that I was able to bash together over the past 11 months or so of quarantine is far fewer than I would have liked — both due to a disrupted flow of review copies¹, and everything being the way it’s been — but I hope that this is the start of a renewed string of book reviews. And if it is, we’ve got a good title to start us out.

Colleen AF Venable (author of National Book Award nominee Kiss Number 8, among many other works) and Stephanie Yue (colorist on Smile, among many other works) have worked together previously, on the superlative Guinea PIg: Pet Shop Private Eye series (six books in all, get them all for the new reader(s) in your life and prepare yourself for a breathless recounting of the adventures of Hamisher and Sasspants), but they have joined forces for a full-length graphic novel for the first time on Katie The Catsitter, one of the newest from Random House Graphic. It’s a welcome return to the Venable-Yue partnership. We’ll try to keep things general, but spoilers ahead, yeah?

Katie lives in a walk-up in New York, and although the story doesn’t come out and say it, she and her mom are poor folks in a richer neighborhood; her friends don’t have moms that have to work all night; they live in buildings with doormen, don’t get their food from the bodega, and get to go to camp. Camp! An oasis of green that city girl Katie has never experienced. One particular friend’s mom offers to pay Katie’s way to camp, but Katie’s determined to earn the money herself, no matter how unsuited she may be to grocery-carrying (mashing eggs), plant-sitting (they all died), and other miscellaneous kid-type chores.

Until she gets asked up to the top floor of her building by the mysterious Ms Lang, who needs a cat-sitter. Cat’s aren’t allowed in the building, but that hasn’t kept her from keeping cats.

217 of them. In an apartment, but sadly, Ms Lang informs us, New York City apartments just don’t fit 218 cats well. Suspiciously well-trained in everything from using the bathroom like people to computer hacking the Pentagon to making Katie a new fingerprint-sensor key, because it’s easy to teach a cat to fetch, or hit a few keys, or create a 3-D model, render and print a mold, then cast and cure a silicone fingerprint. “Easy”. And if the cats create havoc, they repair everything (including sourcing replacements for any shredded furniture) before Ms Lang is home at midnight, and Katie’s making 30 bucks an hour.

Weirdly, on the nights that Katie cat-sits, the Mousestress — New York’s most mysterious costumed villain — is revealing mistreatment of animals or rescuing those in need in ever flashier ways. She isn’t really committing crimes of the usual villain sort — the breaking and entering is in service of bringing unpleasant facts to light, not to steal stuff or hold the city hostage — but The Eastern Screech (Yes. It is I. New York’s highest Yelp-rated superhero.) is determined to take the Mousestress down because … well, because he’s a bit of a jerk. I’d say he’s stiff-necked, but he does that rotate-the-head-all-the-way-round thing that owls do, so he’s not, but you get me.

Meanwhile, Katie’s best friend since forever is writing from camp less and less, having found new friends and boys and who knows what else. Katie’s got nobody to talk about all this to, except for 217 cats, each with a particular skill² far beyond what you’d expect cats to have. Along the way, Katie learns that villains aren’t always evil, friends aren’t necessarily forever, and if you’re gonna fight the law for all the right reasons, you need a crew of deeply skilled experts that have your back, no matter what.

The story’s charming, the art is inviting and full of character, and it’s clear that Yue and Venable have a blast working with each other. Look for Katie The Catsitter to top best-of lists and awards categories for middle grade readers for the next couple of years, as we’re promised Katie The Catsitter — Best Friends For Never in 2022, and hopefully there will be more after that.

Katie The Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue is available at bookstores everywhere; a copy was purchased prior to review. It’s a perfect read for any kid that has the patience to make it through 200 pages on their own, although older readers will get more of the gags and maybe be more receptive to the message that heroes and villains aren’t always who Yelp tells us they are.

Spam of the day:


Oddly, we are two and a half weeks past your deadline and we’re still running. Strange.

¹ Including, among other things, Random House Graphic seemingly having to drop plans to get physical review copies out into the world, and :01 stopping all physical copies. Both are being generous with electronic review copies, but I am old and grumpy enough to massively prefer the act of reading on paper. You can’t get a PDF autographed, people!

² In addition to those specifically called out in the text, there’s a personnel file of pretty near to 200 different cats, each with a name and a skill. Admiral Dewey: tea expert; Chomsky: cognitive science; DJ Bootie Butler: mad beats; Hashbrown: composting expert; Knope: community action; Marley: murder podcast expert; Nick Furry: comic book expert; Puss N Cahoots: lawyer; Shamrock: green initiatives; Smushy: mixed martial arts; Willow Harkill: photonics engineer.

Not content to come up with 200 areas of expertise, Venable has dreamed up some amazing cat names: Baby Teefling; Captain von Smooch; Cat Benatar; Cathulhu; Catman Crothers; Em-Dash; Meatloaf; Meowth von Landingham the Fourth; Mr Aaron Purr Sir; Sassafras Assassin; Shrimpy Longstockings; Spooky Pumpkin Patch, and dozens more. Yue has given each of them a unique design and a personality, no two cats in the crowd scenes look the same, and the ones that are most relevant to the plot all have distinct coats, silhouettes, and ways of moving (or not, in the case of Oslo, the movie expert).


There were originally going to be more words in today’s post, but I’ve had to clear snow twice so far — 40 cm and counting of snowfall will do that — and will likely have to do so twice more again before it’s done. So you get some pointers and the assurance that I had many clever words on deck in my brain that just won’t come out now.

As you may have gathered from the title, our common thread today is new work from Matt Lubchansky — cartoonist, associate editor at The Nib, and international bon vivant — who was most recently mentioned on this page in association with their new original graphic novel¹ ’bout two weeks back. As well as being a prolific cartoonist in their own right, Lubchansky is also works with other comickers (web and otherwise) on group efforts and anthologies. Let’s see what’s on deck:

Spam of the day:

TruGreen lawn services We know you take pride in your lawn.

My lawn is a morass of divots thrown up by greyhound zoomies, and is currently buried under knee-deep snow. You’re high if you think pride comes within a half kilometer of this benighted patch of grass.

¹ Pre-orders still open!

² Who would like you to know that the events in their signature work, O Human Star, start in-story on 2 Feb 2021. Starting tomorrow, Delliquanti will be re-running OHS on their social media pages, one page per day, with commentary. Dive in if you haven’t previously.

So Much Good Stuff Today

We have to start with Molly Ostertag’s news. Readers will recall that her Witch Boy series is a modern marvel that everybody should read and pass on to other to read. And today we found out that Netflix is making it not just into a movie, but a musical:

Netflix To Release Animated Musical From Oscar-Nominated Director Minkyu Lee

The Witch Boy will also feature original music by the Grammy-nominated sister trio Haim. Maria Melnik writes the script with Roy Lee, Miri Yoon and Ryan Harris producing. Vertigo Entertainment produces the feature and Netflix releases.

Ostertag’s … honestly, happy doesn’t seem like a big enough word for what Ostertag is with respect to the production. Elated? Ecstatic? Joyous? What caught my eye the most, though, is the combo of the teaser image in the Deadline story and this bit from her tweet thread:

Seeing the way [Lee] connects to THE WITCH BOY and is transforming it for film, with thoughtfulness and care and artistry, has legitimately been the honor of my creative career. When I saw his first drawings of Aster I cried. I think you all will love this movie [purple heart emoji] [emphasis mine]

This will not be The Witch Boy exactly as shown in the book, a straight implementation designed only to appeal to existing fans¹. It’s an adaptation to another medium, one that has its own strengths and weaknesses apart from comics — comics are not just storyboards, people! — and will look and play out differently than the original.

That image seems to feature an older, more citified Aster than we’ve seen before, and the story may aim for a different age range than the original books. This is all good, and if you have any doubts, read what Ostertag said again. If you love the original (and glob knows I do), the originals are still there on your shelf and won’t change even if this turned out to be a fiasco — which, to be absolutely clear, I don’t think it will be.

It’s something new, with a different set of creative hands and different points of view on it, and it is absolutely going to piss the right people off. Can’t ask for anything more than that. Oh, and note to self — figure out when you need to subscribe to Netflix. Given the lead time on animation, it’ll likely be a while.

Other good stuff today:

  • Did everybody see Nancy today? That last panel is a legit brilliant idea.
  • I’ve made more of a thing about it over on social media than here, but I’ve really been digging the art on A Girl And Her Fed since creator KB Spangler² did the third act time jump and handed the drawing off to Brazilian artist Ale Presser. I mentioned at the time that Presser had both recently given birth and defended her doctoral thesis, and I may have mentioned at one point that she was soliciting survey input for that same thesis.

    Not long ago³, she contacted me with the actual output of her thesis, including the video of her defense [in Brazilian Portuguese] and the full text [PDF, also Brazilian Portuguese], but with something that you, dear reader, may find useful. The dissertation is full of data and analysis, but its conclusions are a guide to making comics for small-screen devices, and it’s both chock-full of good advice and also available in English [PDF]. Also, Messers Guigar, Kellett, Kurtz, and Straub: is this the first appearance of How To Make Webcomics in a bibliography? Maybe!

Spam of the day:

Exposed NASA-Funded Report Sends Shockwaves Through The US Population

They release those like twice a month, only they’re about anthropogenic climate change so people like you that start emails Dear Patriot ignore and downplay them.

¹ Lookin’ at you, first couple of Harry Potter films.

² Disclaimer: I am personal friends with Spangler, of the post-bail-and-help-you-hide-bodies variety, I did the foreword for her first AGAHF collection, and have served as an early reader for ten or so of her novels. She’s rad.

³ Pandemics and new small humans means things take a while.

Welp, Can’t Die Before Sometime In 2023 … Better Make That 2024

Something you may not know about me is that I don’t do anything that’s not on my schedule. It’s not necessarily written down anywhere, but there’s a definite to do list that runs my life, and if I put something on that list it will happen. For decades now, I’ve put certain pieces of media on my mental list with the intention of experiencing it.

This has the side effect of making me, essentially deathless until I reach that landmark. Death (the capital-D death that Gaiman told us is actually a Goth cutie and Pratchett told us SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS) will show up for me and I’ll be able to say¹ Sorry, not on my list of stuff to do today, and I have things I’ve committed to do still. Get back to me later².

In the past, I’ve used future events like the end of BONE, the end of Strangers In Paradise, and the completion of Digger when they were a suitably distant number of years away — can’t get a hideous disease, can’t walk in front of a bus, gotta see how it turns out. Today, I have a new one.

Readers of this page may have noted that I love the work and the person of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, who is skilled out of all proportion with her youth and just a wonderful human being in real life. For years she’s hinted at where her creative drive was pushing her, not telling me too much (understanding that there are always detours in the creative career’s route) but definitely letting me know that her current projects were leading towards something. Something like this:

Aaaand it’s been announced!! The 12th House is the book that I got into comics to make and I couldn’t be more excited to finally get to talk about it publicly! It’s my first solo book of this length & every page I’ve pencilled so far is the best I’ve ever drawn. Coming in 2023!

I firmly believe that all the stellar work that Valero-O’Connell has produced since we met not quite five years ago has been for its own sake, but also to sharpen her skills for The 12th House. She’s always had an unusually clear perception of what her career would look like, and knowing when to tackle That Story That’s Been Waiting To Be Told is something that too many creators don’t have a good handle on; we all know new storytellers determined to launch their career with a 500 page epic before they’ve developed the chops to handle something like that.

But after seeing Valero-O’Connell’s artistic development and consistency on book-length stories, and the storytelling skills she’s developed on mid-length work, I have every confidence that this book will be landmark of the form. It doesn’t hurt that she’s got :01 Books’s Calista Brill on editing; she’s one of the best in the business, and this is entirely of a piece of :01’s entire philosophy: develop relationships with creators, not with specific IP or series. This won’t be the last of their partnership, I’ll warrant.

So thanks very much, Rosemary, my friend — you’ve single-handedly ensured that I will make it past the midpoint of my 50s, and as long as you keep announcing new books, I will be for all intents and purposes be immortal.

Spam of the day:

We have a surprise for UPS Customer.. ..

Strangely, I’m not most offended by the nakedly fraudulence that’s fairly dripping from this subject line. I’m most offended by that crime against ellipses.

¹ Maybe think? Or some form of telepathy?

² Which is actually a role that she was halfway to fulfilling from damn near our first meeting.