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Fleen Book Corner: Mammal Takeover!

What can you say at this point about an Abby Howard book on extinct critters, evolution, ecological niches, and Science Magic? Much like the earlier entries in the Earth Before Us series, Dinosaur Empire! and Ocean Renegades!, Mammal Takeover! dives into an era of geological history, looks at what the world was like and what animals filled which roles, courtesy of Ronnie and Ms Lernin.

It’s basically a 120 page expansion of the ten pages that Larry Gonick devoted to the Age of Mammals in his classic Cartoon History Of The Universe, vol 1 (starting at the Big Bang, ending with the emergence of humans), only with the benefit of 40 more years of accumulated knowledge. Gonick didn’t know we were in the Sixth Great Extinction, or the threats of anthropogenic climate change; Howard has the responsibility to confront those issues and make them compelling (but not terrifying) for her audience of 5th +/- 2 graders, which she manages with aplomb.

Plus, folks that know more about extinct critters and how to artistically convey them¹ think she’s doing a good job, so who am I to contradict them? My only complaint is that we didn’t see all of the truly bizarre creatures during the so-called Age Of Horns (horned mice! horned jackrabbits! deer with weird-ass horns sprouting vertically from their snouts!), and aquatic mammals got a brief presentation (there’s a bit on where whales and other cetaceans came from, but nothing on the pinnipeds (I am all about the sea lions).

So that’s pretty much it for the Earth Before Us series — one book on the timeframe of dinosaurs, one on multicellular life before dinosaurs, and one on everything since the K-T extinction event. Whatever she works on next will be excellent, but for now, get the set of three EBU books for the dino-loving kids (of whatever age) in your life. The ones that don’t now about pre-dino life or post-dino life will probably end up with a obsession. Here’s hoping that Ronnie and Ms Lernin can find other topics to explore, but we’ll also have these trash receptacle-centered Science Magic journeys to enjoy time and again.

[Editor’s note: Thank you.]

Spam of the day:

South Beach Skin

You mean sun- and cocaine-damaged? Sign me up!

¹ Dr Mark Witton is not only an expert the large pterosaurs known as azhdarchids, he is also one of the world’s premiere paleoartists. He is why we think of large pterosaurs as flying giraffes that could spear you with their beaks. I love his work.

Friggin’ Foxes

So my brain’s a little slow on account of my normally very somnolent greyhound waking us at 4:00 this morning, barking her head off. For the record? Greyhounds got big lungs and when they bark — which is generally and thankfully rare — they’re loud, like the Last Chorus of angels is on its way to Armageddon loud. She was refusing to move, on high alert, staring out the window very intently at a friggin’ fox that must have been scratching around the front porch and woken her.

This one was pretty nonchalant, sauntering down the steps and out our yard, sniffing intently at the curb and wondering why anybody would bark and such clearly innocent scrounging behavior. Then somebody out for a very early drive came down the block and the little ruffian turned tail and hauled off at great speed, looking far less nonchalant and more put-upon, as foxes are sometimes known to be. Anyway, I’m a bit tired today, so don’t expect a lot of insightful commentary.

  • Which is pretty lucky as I’m all out of insightful commentary about a godsdamned national disgrace:

    Yesterday I saw four different GoFundMe’s pop up in my feed for creatives with medical bills they can’t handle. Each one a heartbreaking situation.

    Surprising no one – they were all in the U.S.

    That being the start of a thread from Jim Zub, wherein he very kindly does not ask why Americans hate themselves and their neighbors so much that we allow ourselves to be bankrupted by bad health, or perhaps just allow ourselves to die if we aren’t rich enough to be bankrupted. I don’t get it, I’ll never get it.

    One of the four¹ is probably David Gallaher — whose work I’ve been following since the launch of Zuda all those years ago — and whose life has been upended because of his poor choice to be born with a seizure disorder:

    Friends, I am trying to raise money for my seizure recovery and medical bills. It’s been a long difficult year, so any support is welcome. …

    If you click through to the GoFundMe page, you’ll find:

    [L]ast year, at 43 years old, a sudden resurgence of chronic seizures beginning in 2018 caused out-of-pocket and out-of-network medical expenses to grow to over $63,000. I have tried to appeal the expenses and have tried to work with the hospital to lower bills to $25,000. Even then, this is money that I just don’t have — money it will take years to pay off.

    Let’s be clear — Gallaher paid for insurance, at a cost of more than US$1100 per month, for more than a decade. Call it in the vicinity of US$150K for the privilege of subsequently being billed US$63K. Without insurance, who knows how deep in the hole he’d be. As established, I hate the necessity of asking you yet again to contribute in this time of need, and I hate the reality that the possibility of healthcare in this country depends on how big your social network is. The only thing I hate more is the certainty that Gallaher can be spared much turmoil if we deal with this deeply imperfect system now, and resolve to act in a way to change it in the near future.

  • But you know what? Zub’s a great guy, and I don’t want his only mention on the page today to be such a bummer. What else you got goin’ on, Zub?

    The gang at Marvel asked me if I’d be interested in bringing several Robert E. Howard characters together with a bit of Marvel magic (by way of Moon Knight) in a sweeping sword & sorcery story. Of course I said yes, but as soon as I did I felt an intense pressure to create something that felt appropriately pulpy, mysterious, and intense in the way the best Robert E. Howard stories do.

    That’s Zub telling us that he gets a new 4-issue miniseries to play out all his fantasy storytelling chops on Conan: Serpent War, the first issue of which dropped today, and the remainder of which will be released by the end of January, to be followed by his run on the regular Conan series starting in February.

    And if that’s not enough Zubby goodness (Zubness?) for you, consider:

    I’ve been writing the official D&D comic series since the launch of 5th edition, but I’ve been playing D&D since first edition when I was 8-years old. Each year IDW releases a new mini-series that builds on a theme or setting being promoted in a recent D&D product.

    The Baldur’s Gate heroes (including Minsc and Boo, cult favorite characters from the famous Baldur’s Gate video games) have adventured through four previous comic mini-series — and now they’re heading into their most ambitious adventure yet: INFERNAL TIDES, built on elements from the recent Descent Into Avernus adventure source book (which I also did story consulting on for Wizards of the Coast).

    That’s Zub telling us that his inner eight year old is vibrating with excitement that transcends time and space. Infernal Tides drops next Wednesday, and as a reminder his other current official D&D tie-in wraps up the Wednesday after that. Even in a world of magnificent, malicious stupidity, I’m glad we’ve got Zub doing stories that will bring joy to the next generations of kids with stars in their eyes and dice in their hands.

Spam of the day:

Play piano in a flash learn to play keyboards now

You have obviously mistaken me for somebody that can keep pitch and rhythm straight in his head.

¹ I didn’t even see the other three that Zub mentioned. And I’ve seen so damn many of these at regular intervals, only the names that I recognize sink in anymore. This has to stop.

Fleen Book Corner: Open Borders

It’s not every day that an internet goofball who’s done or partnered up to create a half-dozen webcomics, a video comedy series, a scientific conference pastiche, a pair of choosable-path adventures, adaptations of great literature and religious doctrine, an AR-enhanced popular science overview and that thing with the monocles is going to spend more than two weeks at the top of the Amazon charts on immigration policy.

But we live in Davedamned interesting times, and Zach Weinersmith isn’t just any internet goofball. Nor is Bryan Caplan, who’s responsible for the words portion of the book in question, any professor of economics. He’s part of the economics faculty at George Mason University (which, along with the law program, is regarded as hostile to the notion of government, regulation, or acknowledgement that not everybody is equally advantaged to succeed in life), and associated with the Koch-influenced/funded Mercatus Center and Cato Institute¹.

They’re an unlikely pair (who happen to be fans of each other), and they’ve produced a book that does exactly what it sets out to — make a case for a policy position, argue for it, anticipate counter-arguments, and present reasons why the counter-arguments don’t hold water. With comics².

If you don’t feel like digging through another 2000 words, take that as the tl;dr.

This is going to be an unusual review for Fleen; I’m not warning about spoilers because it’s not that kind of book. I’m also going to virtually disregard the pictures part of this comic, because in this case the message is almost entirely divorced from the medium. The comics serve to make the economic argument to a different audience, and I can absolutely see Weinersmith’s influence in how Caplan’s points are paced and rendered accessible. In that sense the pictures are indispensable. But the artistic choices are not going to either make or break the economic argument, so this is going to be almost entirely about Caplan and not about Weinersmith.

Open Borders: The Science And Ethics Of Immigration is the first of the public policy offerings from :01 Books (and anticipating their coming civic society/engagement and history lines, marking a more academic direction for them, or at least moreso than the kid-aimed Science Comics and Maker Comics), a copy of which was kindly sent to me by Weinersmith.

It’s a compelling read, one that is going to grab the attention of anybody from any part of the political spectrum (as long as they don’t have an implacable bug up their butt about comics being beneath them; they exist, in all parts of said spectrum), and challenge assumptions held by nearly everybody regardless of how they feel about immigration. It reminds me a great deal of Larry Gonick’s work, in that it synthesizes a great deal of information (the notes and references are voluminous), presents it in an easily-considered format, and throws laugh-chuckles in as a bonus.

It’s left me about 85% convinced that Caplan is completely right, 10% convinced that he’s underselling some points and/or trying to have some things both ways, and 5% thinking he’s dodged a fundamental question or two. Let’s take them in order.

Caplan’s strongest argument is that, but for a poor choice of parents, many more people would both succeed in our society, and contribute enormously to the common good. It reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould’s famous declaration I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

As much as inequality within our society is a killer of human potential, Caplan rightly observes it applies to an even greater degree to the world at large — that a relatively small number of wealthy countries, by preventing a much larger number of people from poor countries from joining them in their societies, both perpetuates poverty and deprivation in the impoverished parts of the world, and deprives us all of the Shannons, Partons, and Curies that might have benefited all of humanity.

Along the way, he argues against the usual objections — it will cost too much, it will harm the standard of living in the rich countries, immigrants are a burden, they’re dangerous, only monoculture societies can thrive, it’s against my worldview or religion, only the most restrictive burdens can possibly moderate damaging side effects. It’s a conversational presentation, it’s convincing, it appeals on personal freedom grounds to those that prize that above all, and on ethical/humanitarian grounds to those of a parallel inclination.

The first area of concern that I have, the 10% worth, is with what Caplan calls Keyhole Solutions — tailoring immigration restrictions to be the narrowest possible interpretation instead of the broadest. For example, what if we counter the argument that immigrants will cost us too much (even though they won’t) by charging them large amounts of money to be redistributed to those already here, or preventing them from accessing benefits that they should qualify for as taxpayers. Caplan’s previously established that these fixes aren’t necessary, but he’s willing to go partway as a sop to the fearful or prejudiced, which strikes me as a bit unwilling to stand by his true convictions and beliefs.

Isn’t it better to let some people in and let them get somewhat economically exploited as opposed to not allowing them in at all? And if the alternative is zero immigration, there’s a certain logic there. But I think that allowing accommodations to those who are insisting that policies address what Caplan regards as untruths is an odd compromise to make.

And I think he’s not accounting for the degree that those who would be crafting these keyholes would invariably make them larger and more restrictive until we’ve taken what was supposed to be narrowly-tailored restrictions and made them maximally exploitative. Where on the spectrum from Nobody gets in to Everybody gets in with Some of you get in and we screw you for a while in the process in the middle do we find that the screwing is acceptable, and where it’s not?

We’ll let you in but we’ll haze you and it’s better than not letting you in at all isn’t a compelling argument if you’re talking about, say, an Ivy League secret society choosing which fourth-generation legacies to let in, and it’s positively repugnant when talking about people Caplan’s argued are systemically disadvantaged and exploited by not being able to come here freely. I also think that such a system would work to undermine the historically thorough assimilation process that he rightly observes elsewhere.

Right now, to my eye (and I’ll immediately state that I haven’t studied this in anything resembling the depth that Dr Caplan has; it’s purely based on my personal observation growing up in a part of the country that had multiple, successive and overlapping waves of immigration from different parts of the world), immigrants to the US regard the viciously ridiculous process of getting permanent residence and/or naturalizing as bureaucratic, expensive, complicated, stupid, and sometimes Kafkaesque, but not actively malicious. The Keyhole Solutions have the potential to upend that belief.

Not to mention that for somebody who lets his general distrust and disbelief in government involvement in life — taxation, spending, and regulation — occasionally come out to play in Open Borders, Caplan seems curiously willing to let that happen to immigrants under these Keyhole Solutions for the benefit of those already here. I’m just not sure how somebody whose body of work has such deep skepticism about the ability of government to act competently can muster the belief that government can find a way to responsibly haze newcomers and make them feel thankful for the trouble. There may well be a needle that can be threaded, a keyhole narrowly cut, but it still smacks of capitulation to those that Caplan’s arguing against.

The more serious concerns I have are with some assumptions Caplan makes that are fundamental to his thesis — and not directly related to immigration and so not addressed. Open immigration will be a net win for everybody, he argues. It will increase the wealth generation of the world by 50% to 150%. Trillions of dollars of economic growth otherwise missed out on! The usual arguments against these positions come down to There’s no room!, which is plain nonsense, but Caplan takes the time to counter them anyway. Full marks there.

But he comes from an economic school that assumes productivity can keep growing, and more stuff can be made more cheaply, forever. And on a planet with diminishing resources (particularly water) and accelerating climate change, that’s not true. There’s no acknowledgment of what negative outcomes may result from unrestricted growth, nor of the fact that increasing productivity has for decades now come from squeezing the labor force and not sharing the additional wealth generated. Every increase in productivity has been accompanied by a stagnation or reduction of real wages in the American workforce, a shifting of money to higher economic bands, and reductions in skilled labor.

Caplan’s argument that everybody net wins is based on the idea that somebody from a terribly poor country will come to the global north and still be poor, but in a richer place and therefore better off in absolute terms. Those in the rich countries that have already been displaced by productivity gains will, he assumes, move up into more skilled and privileged positions.

But the past four decades have shown us that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to without extensive spending/taxation/regulatory changes, something that Caplan doesn’t favor. The corporate state absolutely will not share its wealth broadly without redistributive policies, with or without open (or open-ish) immigration. Without addressing the hollowing of the American workforce and the gigification of the economy, the rosy predictions that modern capitalism can continue to produce and grow³ out of whatever difficulties we have now or in the future are not something I want to base predictions on.

Caplan’s convinced me that there’s no rational argument for immigration policies that favor immigration rather than restrict it, open to the point that we probably let in almost anybody. I like the thought of being able to say, Hey, you murdered a bunch of people/have a history of bribery and tax avoidance/despoiled land that didn’t belong to you/stole from your fellow citizens from a position of trust, you don’t get to come here, but saying Only professional-class Norwegians can come, you’re too brown/poor to be allowed in needs to go by the wayside. I may even be convinced that it’s possible to craft keyholes that won’t immediately be gamed for the purpose of inflicting pain on the vulnerable for the benefit of the powerful.

I think there may also be arguments about the development of new technologies or solutions to the problems of infinite consumption, and I think that getting people to where they can fully act on their abilities is a good in and of itself, even if we don’t make the global economy enormously larger. Caplan doesn’t address them, and I’d like to see him do so. He’s given a distinct impression that unrestricted immigration is an intrinsic, ethical good and I believe that he believes that.

I just wish that he didn’t feel the need to tie it to a set of economic assumptions that are not sustainable as they are — much less if you kick them into higher gear — without intervention to offset their negative effects.

None of which is to say that it’s not worth reading this book. Caplan and Weinersmith set out to have a conversation, start a discussion, and shift the Overton window away from Immigrants will eat your children and towards Oh for Dave’s sake, don’t be an innumerate, racist jerk towards your fellow humans. They’ve succeeded at that, and they’re going to have me digging into the notes and resources for some time to come. Besides, any book that features a dozen babies angrily berating Nobel laureate Milton Friedman is always worth at least one read.

Open Borders is available where you get books.

Spam of the day:

My friend Alex Allman has posted a video revealing 3 simple tips that actually trigger an ADDICTION-like response in women so that her body and mind will literally become OBSESSED with YOU.

Treat her like a human being with agency and not some videogame boss battle that has a cheat code?

¹ I think I’m sufficiently on record that I think the kind of libertarianism espoused by the Koch Brothers and those they favor is premised on the core philosophy of Fuck You, I Got Mine, dressed up by people who aren’t sufficiently without shame to just admit that part out loud.

² Because comics are never the work of just one person, I’ll note that Mary Cagle is credited on the title page as colorist, and she’s done her usual bang-up job (assisted by Lindsey Little, Edriel Fimbres, and Polyna Kim). Rachel Stark and Calista Brill provided editing, and given the technical, persuasive, and potentially controversial nature of the book, I’d say they probably contributed more than the usual degree.

³ Given how much of the productivity gains requires shipping manufacturing to low-regulatory countries with cheap labor, what happens if Caplan’s global raising up happens? WalMart sells stuff for five bucks and makes three-fifty in profit because they can offload the manufacture to desperately poor countries.

Caplan’s stated goal is to erase that differential between wealthy and desperately poor, so where will the stuff be made? How do we avoid the race to the bottom that we already find with respect to everything from polluting industries to promises of job creation that leads states and municipalities to fall over themselves to offer more freebies and bigger tax exemptions?

Given that one of Caplan’s very first arguments is that the global poor are disadvantaged by not being allowed to sell their labor here (and he repeatedly acknowledges that most who come here under his model will be low-skilled), it looks like something his plans count on rather than avoid. Working for an arm’s-length contract supplier under miserable conditions in an Amazon fulfillment hellhole may be better than the conditions they left, but it’s still objectively bad and not something we should want for anybody.

Hey There, Have Some Links

There’s some cool stuff you should know about and I’m going to tell you about them, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

  • Kickstarting today (since late morning EST, if I’ve got my timing right), The Nib (who’re sitting on just a slew of awards and recognition, particularly since their unceremonious dumping by First Look), is producing their second anthology, Be Gay, Do Comics. It’ll feature a plethora of top-tier creators (see the picture up top), with previously-run favorites plus new comics from Matt Lubchansky, Breena Nuñez, the Space Gnome, and more.

    Like the previous Eat More Comics (from goodness! four years ago), it’ll be hardcover, over 250 pages, and undoubtedly super-pretty inside. US$30 and up to get the physical book, about halfway to their goal, delivery in April … the usual stuff going on. Oh, and because it’s something I’ll be looking for, right at the beginning of the project description is the solidarity statement with the Kickstarter Union. Good for Bors & Co.

  • Hey, remember we told you about Christopher Baldwin’s Glens Falls (not visible from baldwinpage) like two weeks ago? Of course you do. What we at Fleen didn’t mention then (because we didn’t know it until yesterday) is that in addition to making GF available at TopatoCo, Baldwin is also running the book as a page-a-day webcomic.

    It’ll take a little hunting since it’s not visible in the sidebar at his page (although you really should be reading Spacetrawler there if you aren’t), but it’s there. Go to and you’ll get the latest page, Monday to Friday. It’s only up to story page 7, so it’s a great time to jump in and get to learn a bit about one place at a particular time.

Okay, done for today. Sore throat, must mainline cough drops. Apply for #ComicsCamp!

Spam of the day:

Someone eaten a swordfish? I’m looking for manual how to cook it.

Let me Google that for you.

Fleen Book Corner: The Midwinter Witch

Sometimes, I think that JRR Tolkien’s most enduring contribution was the idea of the trilogy¹. Maybe it’s just because it’s become a default structure, but there’s something innately satisfying about not just a story having a beginning, middle, and end, but having whole stories act as beginning, middle, and end of a larger tale. A good trilogy reveals patterns and meaning that a single book keeps hidden, or maybe fallow, waiting for the context of other books to let them blossom.

Thus, when reading The Midwinter Witch by Molly Ostertag (a copy of which I finally obtained this week, Diamond doing its absolute best to not supply my comic shop, where I pre-ordered it in June), I find myself regarding the story on its own, and as of a piece with its two predecessors, The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. Thoughts on the newest story and the larger narrative below, with the requisite warning that here be spoilers. If you don’t want to accidentally learn story specifics, the short version is that Ostertag brought the series to a satisfying and earned conclusion and the third book is easily the equal of the first two.

There’s a progression in the Witch Boy series, something we come to learn about Aster and his friends and family, even when the story doesn’t focus on him exclusively. The first book was about Aster’s coming to grips with his desire to be a witch, even though everybody knows witches are exclusively girls and boys are exclusively shapeshifters. He broke more than one family taboo, bringing nonmagical (but oh so awesome) Charlie into his family’s world, a sounding board free of the mores and culture he grew up in that told him what he could and couldn’t be. It’s fundamentally a book about learning to be yourself.

The second book introduced Ariel, with awakening magical powers and nobody to teach her, finding herself walking a dark path of imagined slights and too-real vengeance. Change is happening in Aster’s family, his cousin Sedge is breaking patterns in his own way, Charlie is becoming an accepted extension of the family, and together they’re able to pull Ariel back from her own worst impulses. It’s fundamentally a book about learning to accept love.

And now that Charlie and Ariel have become adjuncts to the Vanissens, the story shifts to the extended family and their midwinter festival. Cousins and cousins-of-cousins that haven’t had time to get used to the idea of role-defying witch boys have their say, Aster’s mom asks him to keep a low profile (mostly out of a desire to protect him, but I think a little out of concern about What Others Might Think), and the term we’ve used to describe Aster — Witch Boy — is spat at him as insult by a particularly jerky cousin. It’s curious that the extended clan doesn’t have a problem with Charlie’s presence but Aster being different? Whispers and more.

But Aster isn’t who he was two books back. Ariel, Charlie, and Sedge are fellow boundary-stretchers alongside him, and his sister Juniper — recognized last year as the best witch in her age cohort — has his back. So does his dad, for that matter, and Grandmother settled the question of Aster’s place in the family some time back and no distant cousin is ready to cross her. Mom’s almost got Aster talked out of being witchy in public but Sedge — who was so mean two books back — is the one that asks What about the other kids like you, though? You know there’s got to be other witch boys in our family. Maybe they’re better at hiding it than you. Or shifter girls, as Charlie points out, the two of them making the point that seeing somebody like himself when he was little would have meant the world to Aster².

And if Aster’s grown so has Ariel, learning about her powers, very slowly letting down the walls she’s had up for so long. But there’s a nagging sense of doubt, one that becomes tangible. Ariel’s the scion of a magical family that doesn’t play by the rules of the Vanissens and the other families. Not just the gender rules, the rules about don’t use magic to hurt people. Her long-lost aunt visits Ariel in a dream to whisper Your mother was my ally, we stood against all of them, but she got sick and weak and pushed me away. You could be my ally.

She needs allies, because it turns out Ariel’s birth family uses their powers to steal magic from others. Her aunt doesn’t say so, but mom’s distancing was probably a matter of self-preservation. You’ll end up hurting people she whispers, and They’ll turn on you, and Only I understand you. She’s telling Ariel simultaneously she needs to leave those that love her for their own good, but also that they secretly hate her and why shouldn’t they, since she’s a monster after all. She’s an abuser, seeking to isolate her victim, and the lies are sweet poison that almost work.

But Ariel’s not who she was one book back; she is able to fight her doubts and trust those that have shown they’ll risk anything to help her instead of those that promise magical domination. Soft-hearted, her aunt sneers, Disappointing. But I’ll take your magic all the same. Ariel chooses Aster, protecting him and liberating herself. This book is fundamentally about standing up to those that would tear you down³, learning that you can do no harm but also take no shit.

It takes time to find your place in the world. Aster’s gone from Mom and Dad don’t really get it, but … I don’t know, they haven’t kicked me out or anything to honestly confronting his mother about her actions (and Dad’s totally in his corner). The witches he competed against at the festival are hanging around in the spring, all witching it up with him. Some people grow, some stay stunted, but the forest of their lives gets taller and broader with each passing season. And that little pre-witch boy or pre-shifter girl is watching it all happen.

The Witch Boy trilogy is for everybody — every different kid, no matter how they’re different, every kid that will stand with them against the close minded (and not because they expect adulation), everybody that was one of those kids in the past — and I suggest you go get all three books for your own shelves immediately, and then decide which kids (of any age) need their own copies at the next appropriate holiday or birthday. You won’t just give them a great story, you’ll make them better people.

Spam of the day:

P.S. I am 28 yo and i am coming from Kiev, ukraine.


¹ If that grizzled old philologist hadn’t existed, the publishing industry would have had to invent him, maybe with a kid that’s less of an obsessive completist/posthumous editor.

² This conversation, it should be noted, takes place at a slumber party at Charlie’s place, as Ariel is doing Aster’s nails in purple polish. It’s subtle, but the color is present every time we see his fingernails for the rest of the book. Charlie’s dads have zero problem with boys and girls crashing out in front of the TV with pizza bagels and nail polish because they are awesome dudes with their heads screwed on right.

Although one of them remarks that Charlie sure seems to want everything to go perfectly, almost like she’s trying to impress someone. She blushes, but she doesn’t say which of her three guests she might be crushing on. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Charlie rules.

³ Is it a coincidence that this book came out almost exactly at the same time that a self-proclaimed white guy ally in animation — Ostertag’s day job — got all pissy on the Grams for not being patted on the back constantly? Beware those that heartily declare I could be your ally, just do what I say.

Nuts: Eaten, Butts: Better Believe They’re Kicked

I speak, naturally, of the ending of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with issue #50 in stores today; writer Ryan North, artists Erica Henderson and Derek Charm, colorist Rico Renzi, letterer Travis Lanham, editor Wil Moss, and a series of guest contributors put together the funnest, most heartfelt exploration of what it means to be a hero that the comics rack has seen since … I dunno, All Star Superman #10? And that was down to one perfect page, really, whereas North, et al, have made a habit of producing a better book each and every damn month, all from a character that was pretty much a joke when they started.

This is usually the point that I say my favorite project from favorite creators is the next one, because I always want to see them grow and stretch; in this case, I gotta say I’m going to be a bit wistful for the run of USG, and if it turns out to be a career high for any of the creative team, well that’s something to be pretty damn proud of. From the Kra-van to the pickable-path issue from a love that spanned decades to an elegiac moment of poetry, from a slapstick silent story to lessons on the history and practice of computing and engineering, the book was a wonder. Thanks to all who made Doreen Green the greatest superhero of any shared universe.

  • And since we’re talking about people whose stories got better with every installment (I have remarked in similar fashion about Giant Days and Octopus Pie, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are other masterworks getting some love today. The AV Club, as I have noted, has some of the smartest writing on comics, particularly in section editor Oliver Sava. As part of their ongoing Best _____ Of The Decade retrospectives, they took this New Comic Book Day to announce their 25 best comics from 2010 to the present, and oh my are webcomics and those who make them well-represented.

    Right at the top of the list (and I don’t believe that it’s meant to be ranked) is Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu. It’s joined by the aforementioned Giant Days and Octopie, but also by Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam, Blue Delliquanti’s O Human Star, The Nib by Matt Bors and his merry coconspirators, Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, Smut Peddler¹, and Margot’s Room by Emily Carroll.

    It’s worth remembering that the past decade has been an unbelievably rich time for comics, one where every month brings new work that would have been all time bests just 20 years ago. I could probably think of another 25 off the top of my head, but for now let’s just consider of the 25 listed (and you know the AV Club staffers sweated and fought to get the list that short), nine of them — nearly 40 percent! — were webcomics in their first presentation, or made by people primarily doing webcomics. Our weird, scrappy little corner of the medium has grown by leaps and bounds.

  • Speaking of webcomics and their place vis-a-vis traditional comics, is there anybody that’s made so complete a career progression as the indefatigable Jim Zub? He’s the consummate journeyman, hopping to titles that need somebody to reimagine them, or bring a listing vessel home safe to port. Give him a concept and step back, and you’ll get something great, bang on time, and written to the strengths of whichever artists he’s paired with. He’s on a Black Panther team book, and he’s just picked up another that makes 10 year old Zub bounce up and down with joy into alternate planes of vibrational frequency:

    As announced earlier today on Marvel’s Pull List preview video – in February 2020 I take over as writer on Marvel’s monthly CONAN THE BARBARIAN series with Rogê Antônio on pencils and EM Gist illustrating painted covers.

    I’ve read a bunch of I’m on _______ now! announcements from Zub and I promise you, none of them — not Avengers, not Baldur’s Gate — has held as much pure, uncut joy for Lil’ Zub with fantastic stories in his brain and stars and his eyes as freakin’ Conan. You can pick up his run starting with issue #13, out in February.

  • Finally, Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin sends along some news updates in the world of BD, some of which got lost due to proximity to Quai des Bulles, some of which has happened since:
    Yatuu’s Erika is now in English (the first pages, so far); previous coverage here. It was redesigned for smartphones, interestingly enough (well, Brice did it)

    Also, Rainette resumed from hiatus; previous coverage here.

    As a side note, if anybody is interested in becoming Fleen Senior [your geographical location here] Correspondent and letting us know what’s happening in comics in your corner of the world, drop us a line. FSFCPL got the gig by providing on-the-ground context for what was happening at Angoulême, giving our readers info that nobody else this side of the Atlantic had. We’d be happy to expand to other parts of the Wide World Of Webcomics.

Spam of the day:

Do you know the #1 deadliest health supplement?

Given that thanks to Orrin Hatch, the entire damn supplements industry is essentially unregulated and doesn’t have to prove that what’s in the bottle is what is says on the label, or even that it’s not actual poison, I’d say it’s a tie between every damn last one of them that exempts itself from FDA oversight.

¹ Specifically, the original 2012 anthology, which kicked off a new era for smut comics, for anthologies, and for Iron Circus. Not mentioned but worth remembering — this is where Spike invented her screw stretch goals, more money raised goes directly to the creators bonus structure, which has been widely copied.

Fuck Yes

The news broke yesterday and a friend asked me, had I heard? My reply:


In fact just about two weeks back I had the opportunity to tell Chris Onstad that The Great Outdoor Fight is one of my dessert island books so perhaps one dude or even none in a million wants that collection as much as me

This is not to brag

Two things should be mentioned here: I was speaking of the announcement (over AV Club way) of Oni Press‘s forthcoming comprehensive reprint of Achewood. And while I think I got the intent across in my paraphrase, I really should have said Oh necessarily instead of A’course. In my defense, I was on a train at the time.

Achewood has defeated attempts to reprint it in the past. There are the floppy collections of strips that Chris Onstad put out, nine volumes (IIRC) covering up to 10 May 2007¹, long since out of print. Dark Horse wisely started with the greatest run of comic strips in history, The Great Outdoor Fight, before looping back to the beginning of the strip with two additional volumes (covering up to the end of October 2002) before just stopping.

To be fair, Achewood is an acquired taste, and shifting to the start after seeing Onstad at the height of his power would be like starting the comprehensive Peanuts reprints around 1965 for one really great plot arc, then jumping back to 1950. It’s still Peanuts, and Schulz was always Schulz, but it’s also clearly nascent.

But now there’s an additional decade of pent-up demand, and a near-universal recognition of Onstad’s place in American Letters. And it’s going to be edited by Christopher Butcher, late of Viz, and founder of TCAF. There is literally nobody I would rather have in the editorial seat for this project.

The first volume of Achewood: The Complete Canon will release just before SDCC (14 July, to be exact), and will cover strips from October 2001 to June 2004 (no end date announced, but the last strip of the month is Ray going Goth so let’s hope it’s all of June).

That’s more than 600+, which Oni Press has confirmed to me will be in chronological order². No word yet on trim size, or how many volumes the series will take. Assuming they’re all that size, we should get The Fight (and the rest of 2006 — The Badass Games! The Transfer Station! Airwolf! Magic underpants! Mexican Magical Realism! Mister Band! — there’s possibly not a better calendar year of any webcomic, ever) in the second volume, and I’d anticipate five or six books in all.

It’s time to clear some space on the bookshelf.

Reached for comment on the awesomeness of his editing gig, Chevalier Butcher replied:

I’m definitely not afraid of the cops right now

Which would make him Mr Cornelius Bear, which is frankly perfect.

Updates on Achewood: The Complete Canon are available by sign-up at Oni’s site. You can be damn sure we’ll share whatever we at Fleen learn.

Spam of the day:


As I had occasion to say just yesterday (albeit in reference to something else), Scooby Doo doesn’t count unless Frank Welker is voicing Fred. That fact is non-negotiable.

¹ Volume X would therefore start on a Fuck You Friday, as it turns out.

² The 2nd and 3rd Dark Horse volumes had the earliest strips, the ones before the introduction of Ray, Pat, and Roast Beef, at the back of the book.

Two Posts Today, You Lucky People

SO PRETTY. He's based the color designes on existing bird feather patterns!

Sure, sure, getting a European convention report from Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin is enough for even the most rabid news-seeker, but there were some things that I’ve come across that are at least a little timely, and FSFCPL has much more to say on the topic of Quai des Bulles, so I’m giving you bonus content today. For free!

  • Those who follow the work of Christopher Baldwin know that within his nomadic travels, he has for a considerable time been working on an original graphic novel about the town of Glens Falls, New York. Today, he let us know that it’s available in his TopatoCo store. Glens Falls is fictional series of tours around town given by actual people, each highlighting significant and interesting aspects of the town in upstate New York. We at Fleen have not yet read it, but given Baldwin’s long and high-quality career making unique and wonderful stories, I’ma say this one merits an on-faith purchase.
  • About a month ago, I mentioned a Kickstart to produce a line of anatomically-accurate, to-scale models of more ceratopsian dinosaurs than you’ve ever heard of. Oh, don’t give me that look. Unless you’re Abby Howard, you had no idea that Monoclonius, Nasutoceratops, Einiosaurus, Spiclypeus, or Wendiceratops were even a thing.

    You may also recall that I said that a large part of the line of figures was based on meeting some truly impressive funding targets, with my beloved Triceratops (adult) being the next-to-last figure to be unlocked at the unholy level of US$450,000 and I needed a lot of you — a lot a lot of you — to pledge or I’d never get my trike. The campaign ended at US$272,647, or more than US$180,000 short of the necessary level, damn you all.

    But project creator David Silva has done something I’ve never seen before, and I think it’s worth mentioning because a clever creator might want to emulate his tactic. Given that nearly half of the stretch goals were not reached, Silva is using BackerKit to continue the funding drive. As usual, BackerKit is being used to allow people to purchase additional stuff, using their original pledge as a credit to be expended, with the ability to pay up for more/new things. But he’s also allowing you to pre-order models that aren’t unlocked, which will not charge your card unless the required funding level is reached by a cutoff as late as February¹.

    It’s a second-chance stretch goal mechanism, one that is tailor-made to take advantage of everybody that says the day after the campaign closes I never knew! I would have pledged! As of this writing, three more figures have been unlocked via Backerkit (a fourth is only a few thousand away), and he’s increased his take to US$357,013. That additional 85 grand is in the two days since the BackerKit surveys went out. Put another way, if everything were to freeze right where it is, Silva’s increased his funding by a whopping 31 percent in 48 hours.

    Now for those with an interest in nonavian dinosaurs, there are plenty of lower-priced items available now that are certain to be produced (a 24 month calendar, gorgeous prints, even some of the smaller figures), and every one of you that finds something you like gets me closer to my enormous Triceratops. Here’s the link; go be a hero for the dino-loving kid (of whatever age) in your life.

Spam of the day:

Herb Under Tongue Destroys Fungus.

Herb has a weird name and an even weirder hobby.

¹ Due to the high number of models envisioned, they were always going to be released in waves, with delivery between September 2020 and September 2021. As the locked critters are the largest/most complicated/most expensive models, he can continue to fundraise on them while starting production on the earlier waves, spreading out his own effort against the surety of future funds.

Yeah, some people will disappear by the time cards are charged, but I’ve got a much better chance of getting my trike now, if another US$93,000 can be raised by January.

The New Tradition

So Chris Onstad has been doing a series of drawing of a pair of cats on a motorcycle since last Tuesday. I just happened to refresh my Twitter tab at the right time and see the first one go up for sale. It’s going to look great next to my previous Onstad original, an oil pastel portrait of Ramses Luther Smuckles. When I kick it, my heirs and assigns are going to get some awesome art.

  • The news coming out of Chile hasn’t gotten the same attention as that from Hong Kong, but it’s just as important; if you need a primer, The Nib has you covered. One side story that I came across today is that these latest protests against unfettered capitalism¹ are not a brand new phenomenon, but one of a recurring series. And at each of them from 2010 to 2017, there was a hero, who got his own biographical webcomic by Portland-based cartoonist Liz Yerby, which has lately made its way to the protestors in Chile.

    Good Dog. And thank you to every comics artist that is using the medium to do this kind of nonfiction reporting, no matter how narrow the subject.

  • On a lighter note, Ngozi Ukazu is spending a bit of time before the last Check, Please! collection releases in April reminding us about the depth of worldbuilding she put into her gay college hockey bros story. For years, Ukazu tweeted in-character observations, in something approaching real story time — events that happened at the start of the academic year would go up in September, and so forth.

    She’d lock the account to avoid spoilers as she dove into each year’s story arc, leaving them inaccessible to fans for large chunks of time. A good hunk of the first Check, Please! collection from :01 Books was made up of tweets and other ephemera from the two years of story time covered.

    And now she’s out with a collection of tweets and other ephemera:

    Now, for the first time, I’m collecting Bitty’s best TWEETS. (!!!) And I’m doing this in a book I call THE CHIRPBOOK.

    And on top of collecting Bitty’s Tweets, The Chirpbook will contain new selfies, never-before-seen pictures from Jack Zimmermann’s camera roll, brand new comics, and secret tweets from Bitty’s senior year. (So, SPOILERS!) All of these features and more will be in The Chirpbook, the perfect catalog to round out your Check, Please! Collection.

    It’s a simple campaign: book (hardcover and soft), stickers, miniprints. It’s full of spoilers and so it won’t release until April, concurrent with the aforementioned second :01 collection and the end of the comic itself. The crowdfund is creeping up on the 50% mark of the US$26,000 goal, and while I don’t think this will hit the crazy heights of Ukazu’s previous book collections (after all, it’s not the main story and there aren’t any crazy-high dollar pledge tiers), her legion of fans will most definitely be all over this.

    Oh, and I’ll be making note of this WRT Kickstarts for the next while at least: The Chirpbook carries the logo of the Kickstarter Union. I hope to see this become the rule rather than noteworthy.

Spam of the day:

Hello, I’m 6 years old, I’m shooting and editing a video myself, please rate my new video, thanks !!!

Got to say, the English language proficiency of the alleged six year old is much better than that of the presumed adults that send most of the spam I get. Also, you’re lying.

¹ There’s basically no regulatory constraints on what corporations can do, and the government is almost wholly beholden to business. The Heritage Foundation regards it as the freest economy in South America and number seven in the world. This is on the basis of business freedom and property rights (ie: no regulatory regime), noting that there is room for improvement in labor freedom (ie: labor has too much). This is all the legacy of the murderous (but economically free!) Pinochet regime, put into place by a CIA-backed coup in 1973.

I Believe This Is Unprecedented

I was going to talk about this yesterday, but the post was getting full, I didn’t want it to get overly compressed, and also there were trick or treaters to attend to. Also, putting it off to today allows us to tie into a significant date, so today it is.

Backstory: Exactly one year ago tomorrow, David Malki ! closed the Kickstart for the first Wondermark print collection in about forever (or, since about 2012 if we want to be pedestrian about it). Malki ! being Malki !, he promised that the book would get progressively larger the more funding it got, and also that color would be added to many of the strips. He knew up front he would have to design a book to contain at least Wondermark #556 through #740 and eventually grew by 16 pages, or some 30 comics.

Then life happened.

Look, anybody that backs a Kickstarter that says Your stuff will be delivered in April of 2019 and takes that as more than a vague suggestion is setting themselves up for disappointment. Malki ! took various freelance gigs that paid for things like his toddler son not dying in the snow of hunger¹, which took time away from designing the book. Design work that he couldn’t really have gotten too much of a head start on until he knew how long the damn thing was gonna be.

Anyway. April 2019 comes, and the book is still in the dummy stage. A’course, April means you’re into Con season, so it was about ready to go to print in August, with a hope of completion or shipping in September or October. One may note that it is now November, but I propose that any Wondermark backers out there not be too upset because Malki ! did something astonishing two days ago:

I have officially submitted the book to the printer!

Wait, that’s not astonishing at all. Hang on a tick:

My original plan was to have this book done this spring, then follow it up with another campaign right about now, for the next book in the series. Just roll right into the next one!

But as I mentioned in the previous update, and as you know, it was tough to get this book put together in a timely fashion.

I came to two conclusions:

  • At this rate, I won’t have time to make another book anytime soon.
  • I really want this book to be worth the wait!

So I just put the content that was going to go in THAT book, into THIS book as well. This included doubling the number of color comics in the book.

And now the book you’re going to get will be 304 pages long. [emphasis mine]

Let’s just emphasize the point for anybody that’s at the back — if you backed the Friends You Can Ride On Kickstarter, you are now getting two hardcover books for the price of one. Still no sea lions² or sick elephants, but did you catch the part where you’re getting more than twice the book you contracted for? The basic pledge level for a book was US$22, which is unbelievably cheap for a 128 (later 144) page hardcover, and is mind-blowingly cheap for a 304 page hardcover. I’m not sure how Malki ! is avoiding taking a loss on these.

So if you are one of the 455 people that lucked out, you are morally obligated to buy some extra stuff from Malki ! this upcoming holiday season, and to also never complain about delayed Kickstart fulfillment until you hit the 12 months late mark. As it is, the book will likely be in our hands by the solstice (Malki ! has opted to have books shipped direct from China instead of waiting for them to be freighted across the Pacific). So between now and when you get the new, expanded Friends You Can Ride On, check out the Wondermark store at TopatoCo or maybe the alternate Wondermark Dry-Goodsery, where shortly we should see the annual calendar’s new edition for 2020 announced.

And should you see David Malki ! in person in the near future, do take a moment to tell him he is the up-standingest of dudes.

Spam of the day:

I’ve Heard of This DIY Hack but I Wasn’t Sure It Actually Works

Huh. They’ve gone from spam enticements based on Free Money Tips, Sex Tricks, and Health Secrets to DIY Hacks. I suppose that’s a thing.

¹ Granted, they live in LA, so the snow is probably a bit hyperbolic. Mea culpa.

² My mind is frequently blown by the facts that a) the sea lion strip is more than five years old, and 2) how apropos it remains on a daily basis. Go away, sea lions! At least until we see you in the next Wondermark collection!