The webcomics blog about webcomics

Had To Share

Nothing earth-shattering today, just a few random thoughts before I win the big lottery jackpot tonight and celebrate by getting better friends, a better hobby, and maybe a helicopter. Tuesdays, right?

  • Dante-Lucas Landshepherdherr is many things — a wizard with chalk, a labcoat fashion plate, an award-winning educator, a YouTube personality enabler, and occasionally a webcomicker. Yeah, yeah, his webcomic wrapped up earlier this year, but he’s got a book coming out, which is what I wanted to mention.

    Landshepherdherr made an update — a public one, let me hasten to add — to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, noting that everything’s off the printer, and sharing the front and back covers. It’s the latter that I wanted to share with you:

    Every good book has a quote on the back, so here is an actual quote from an end-of-semester student evaluation the author received from an anonymous student:

    At the beginning of the semester, he acted like he was supreme ruler of the universe. Over time, he got better.

    [transcribed from image]

    This is possibly from back when the Landherr and Shepherd identities were not quite so commonly associated by the general public, but regardless: kudos, amusingly-bitchy ChemE student! You made it through 20+ years of life encountering nobody horrible if you found Dr Landherr to be grandiose or self-important; I hope that streak continues. Also, please be aware that the man had deadly aim with an eraser and now that you are no longer his student, you are fair game. When the EMTs find you covered in an irregular layer of calcium carbonate, I’m certain that he will have an ironclad alibi¹.

  • Not as recent — in fact, it’s a little old at this point — is the episode of ComicLab that Kazu Kibuishi guested on. Kibuishi is, of course, the creator of the Amulet series, Daisy Kutter, and Copper, as well as being the driving force behind the Flight anthology series. He’s one of the most erudite, thoughtful people in comics, and the entire podcast is great listening from start to finish.

    But the part that’s stuck with more for a couple of weeks now was a description of his process (which you’ll find starting about the 31:28 mark); it explains a lot about how Kibuishi regards the concept of story, as well as why he seems to take a relatively long time to put a book together. Short form is, he has a very malleable approach to ordering of plot elements. Kibuishi works up sequences and scenes that he wants to tell, completely independently from each other, then arranges them in the books. It’s a nonlinear approach to storytelling that I don’t think anybody else uses².

    He’s had the advantage of telling a story that’s largely episodic, with different groups of characters in different places, so switching back and forth makes sense, but it also allows an unusual degree of flexibility; he mentioned later in the discussion that a reader questions prompted — relatively lately — the need to answer a question about the story that became the opening scene of Supernova. And honestly, I can see it in retrospect — that scene could have occurred at any point from about the middle of Book 5 to the end of Book 8 (and possibly into the not-yet-released Book 9), but he shifted things around and decided that the start of Book 8 was where it had the biggest impact.

    The thing is, if he hadn’t talked about it, you wouldn’t have known it. The great skill isn’t in an unusual approach, it’s in designing these sequences with entrances and exits that allow them to be slotted wherever they have the biggest impact; the story as a whole reads smoothly from start to finish. It’s not a means of storytelling, it’s a tool that he finds helpful to produce those stories with a maximum degree of flexibility³. It’s also probably the most subtle, master-level tool in the toolbox, so maybe don’t try to shift your approach without a hell of a lot of practice? Just a thought.

Spam of the day:

How About a Checking Account?

Got one, thanks.

¹ I’m not saying that Landherr is Batman or anything, but who has an alter-ego except righters of wrongs who are also The Night?

² Although in the production of The Sculptor, Scott McCloud did talk about working on the book in chunks of 40-50 pages, that being his unit of production. It’s not really a story that would allow for swapping around those chunks, however.

³ See our discussion of graphic novel editing from last year to appreciate the process most publishers will want to see a full story in rough form and work out plot details before moving onto pencils. Kibuishi could make a shift the week before returning final pages without disrupting the book!

Tuesday Miscellany

Howard Tayler¹ has launched a Kickstarter for two — two! — books and has inadvertently run a sociological experiment. The campaign is for the 14th and 15th story arcs/print collections of Schlock Mercenary, Broken Wind and Delegates And Delegation respectively. Schlock Mercenary is famously One Big Story, and so a question occurred to me:

Given that the campaign is for two separate books, and that Tayler’s readers would logically want to read both of them before book 16 releases sometime next year, would anybody opt for just one book?

As of this writing (some eight hours after launch and 64% of funding goal achieved), the answer appears to be a resounding now. Out of 398 backers, exactly zero have backed either the tier for your choice of one book (PDF form) or your choice of one book (print form). There’s three people backing at the US$1 tier, which gets you nothing² but nobody wants just one. That’s some reader buy-in right there.

Tayler’s also done something very smart with this campaign. There have been lots of Kickstarts where early birds get the same reward at a lesser price as a reward for backing at the start of the campaign; Tayler — or more likely, his wife Sandra, who wrangles fulfillment — has inverted the idea by offering tiers of rewards spread out over a period of months. PDFs get sent in December, unsketched books in February, and sketched books in three batches of 400 each, in March, April, and May.

Tayler’s dealt with the possibility of damaging his drawing hand by sketching too many books in too short a time by a) limiting how many books may require sketches, and b) spreading them out; fifteen sketches a day over three months is a hell of a lot more reasonable than trying to do a thousand in a single burst of shipping over two weekends or so. Smartly done, Mrs & Mr Evil Twin! Smartly done.

In other news:

  • Stand Still, Stay Silent is still on hiatus, but has a teaser image up for the start of the second adventure, and the first three pages will post on Monday.
  • Johnny Wander is back with the start of Barbarous Chapter 4!
  • Christopher Hastings and Branson Reese have been getting asked everything about Draculagate. It’s a hoot.
  • The ongoing and continuous fetishization of Harley Quinn doesn’t really make sense to me³. Okay, maybe the only original character of the past three decades that’s really stuck around in comics and bled into the broader culture, but still don’t entirely get it. However, I do trust the fairly unerring instincts of Cartoon Art Museum curator Andrew Farago, and he’s seen fit to write up a book on the art and history of Dr Quinzel, and CAM’s having a reception/talk about the same.

    It’s next Tuesday, the 23rd, from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. CAM members get in free, US$10 for nonmembers, but a 50% discount if you come in costume. The Cartoon Art Museum, in case you’d forgotten, is at 781 Beach Street, part of Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.

Spam of the day:

Prepare for a Hurricane Browse Portable Generator Choices

Got one after Irene, thanks. But that photo you’re running is of a power output panel of a generator that’s “portable” in the sense that it’s permanently mounted to its own trailer bed along with a 2000 liter diesel fuel tank. I ain’t trying to run an office building over here.

¹ Evil twin, etc.

² But gets you in on the eventual Backerkit add-ons … which includes all previous books in the series.

³ Which is not to say that I didn’t laugh out loud back in ’92 in her debut episode when The Joker, lamenting that finally killing a guy he’d been tormenting meant he’d need to find a new hobby, prompted Harley to chirp Macramé’s nice.

Shifts, Seismic And Otherwise

This page is on the record as holding the opinion that Gina Gagliano is one of the most important people in comics. Her being tapped to head up Random House’s move into graphic novels — less than six months ago! — was a no-brainer, and prompted me to write the following:

Every publishing house in the English-speaking world is mentally re-evaluating how well they’ve treated their key people; when Gina gets to hiring, you’re going to see the absolute best in the business go to work for her.

Likewise, I imagine every graphic novel imprint is frantically looking at their most lucrative creators, wondering if they can sneak in a contract extension a year early; when Gina gets to signing talent, you’re going to see some seismic shifts.

Hold that in the back of your mind for the moment; that’s Thing One. Thing Two involved some speculation on my part at SDCC this year:

Consider: a major publishing conglomerate does not start a new imprint on a whim, or without planning, approval, and confidence at the executive level. More to the point: Random House sought [Gagliano] out to head up this new direction.

Gagliano’s looking to accomplish huge things — at :01 Books she was part of a publishing schedule of 20 books per year, that ran up to more than double that over a period of less than two years; look for Random House Graphic to want to jump into this space with both feet and leverage her past proven abilities, with a publishing schedule at least that ambitious.

And since we’re talking about a massive corporation, they’ll want to see revenue as soon as practical given the lead times in production and printing[²] if there’s stuff in the production cycle now, 2020 would just barely be possible for first releases (and honestly, I’d think 2021 far more reasonable, given that she’s starting from scratch and getting ready to put together a marketing plan for books that won’t exist for at least 18 months, lacking a staffed-up office).

[As an aside, the footnote referred to speculation that a trade war with China could disrupt printing and release schedules, which is still to be determined.]

If you’ve been paying attention to Gagliano’s twitterfeed, you’ve noticed that she’s attacked Thing Two head on, with announcements about multi-book acquisitions for release starting in 2020. And she’s also hit Thing One, as one of those acquisitions is a five-book deal — including a trilogy of autobio graphic novels and two childrens books — with Lucy Knisley.

Who is just finishing up a trilogy of autobio graphic novels at :01 Books. Where Gagliano used to work.

I’d have put money on Knisley being one of the :01 lifers. Ben Hatke, Gene Yang, Faith Erin Hicks … there’s a bunch of folks over at :01 that have been with the imprint since the early days and who I figured would never leave¹, but with Knisley taking her next five books elsewhere, I’d say very nearly every bet is off. Between the books that were already at some part of Penguin Random House² (just not gathered under one guiding vision) and those that Gagliano is bringing in, it’s a new game going forward.

Which is not to say that blood feuds are going to break out and people are dead to each other. I mean, Colleen AF Venable only designed the first 100+ books from :01 before heading up the most creative art department in publishing over at Workman, and now is part of the founding trio of folks at Macmillan’s nonfiction kids publisher, and she’s got a book coming out in March from … :01. It’s a collegial industry is what I’m saying, and having this many skilled shepherds is only making the output better.

Congratulations to Gagliano, to Knisley, and to everybody else in graphic novel publishing. Y’all are good people.

¹ In fact, Yang used those exact words to me once.

² Including, ironically, the Five Worlds series which is co-created by Mark Siegel, the head of :01.

Ongoing Kickstarts Of Note

I missed the launches of a couple of campaigns while I was at the conference last week, but I’ve since caught up and made some pledges, and figured you might want to as well. But before I do that, an addendum to the note about Raina Telgemeier’s new book announcements from t’other day, because I didn’t specifically call out this detail:

Her April release, Share Your Smile, a how-to guide to telling your own stories, will have an initial print run of 500,000, which will equal the first printing of Ghosts. Her September release, the new autobio Raina story, Guts?

One. Million. Copies.

They’ll sell ’em, too. I’m gonna make a bet, the Toby Ziegler bet, that Graphix already knows when they’ll need to go back to press, and I’ll give you a 50/50 chance it’s before January 2020.

Which is beautiful, if only because the Comicsgater toesuckers whining about the girl-cooties on their manly-man comics can’t conceive of how irrelevant they are. That the comics they want to be the way they always were¹ are a rounding error in the face of the most significant creator of words+pictures, and that the industry has already left them behind. It’s delicious.

  • Kickstart! You are probably familiar with the works of one Christopher “Doctor” Hastings, and with the works of one Branson “Not Brandon, dammit” Reese. They’re comedy guys, they’re comics guys, they sport some awesome facial hair², and they’re collaborating on an original graphic novel that you can get in on now:

    DRACULAGATE is an all new 130-page graphic novel about a bumbling team of U.S. diplomats opening up international relations with Transylvania, sovereign nation of monsters and undead. It’s like HBO’s VEEP, but with skeletons and ghosts and stuff.

    Which, quite frankly, is exactly the story I wanted from these two fine gentlemen and didn’t even realize it. The Kickstarter video’s a hoot, too. Inexplicably, the funder is a week in and they’re not quite at 40%; in a just world, this would be somewhere around 112% already.

    This book features a diplomatic crisis kicked off by Dracula’s nephew³ killing a beloved Canadian former child star, which I can guaran-damn-tee you is not a combination of words that has ever been conceived of before Reese and Hastings got their brains together. Back this project now because if this one doesn’t fund and I don’t get to read the next 125 pages, the peasants will suffer.

  • Kickstart! David Malki !, who has been messing with us re: sick elephants since the end of July (and who has put together the seeds of a nuke-from-orbit delivery of who knows how damn many more in the newest strip4), has taken some time away from the world’s longest, most convoluted dad joke to put together the first Wondermark collection in years.

    No sick elephants (or sea lions) in this one, but the origin of eating Cheetos with chopsticks will be in it. It will also be among the most handsome books on your shelf, and the stretch goals are all pretty much identical: more comics, bigger book. With a little more than three weeks to go, Wondermark: Friends You Can Ride On is just under 80% funded, and the presumed success of the campaign on 2 November will leave Malki ! plenty of time to bash together the 2019 calendar refills, which he claims will not be 12 months of sick elephants, but who knows.

  • Kickstart! Zach Weinersmith’s in one of his abridging moods — having previously tackled The Bible and All Of Science, he’s now reduced all of Shakespeares sonnets about being very horny down to individual rhyming couplets. Apparently, a lot of them are about Shakespeare getting mad that a dude he was horny for was gettin’ with a lady that Shakespeare was also horny for? That can’t be right, because the Republican Party told me bein’ horny was invented by degenerate hippies at Woodstock and nobody was ever horny except within the bounds of white people matrimony for having babies before then.

    Only one way to find out — get the pocket version of the sonnets, and ace your next high school English test on Shakespearean verse! ANd if that’s not enough to convince you, Weinersmith has also constructed an SMBC collection of strips on the theme of love (mirroring the strip collections on religion and science, which were released in conjunction with the prior abridged volumes), which you can get either with or without the pocket sonnets. I’m not going to say that they’ll make great Valentine’s Day gifts5, but they are due to be shipped in February.

Spam of the day:

Take Your Vacation to the Next Level with Private Yacht Charters

You apparently think that I am of a very different socioeconomic tendency than I actually am. We all tell ourselves that the naturally belong on a perfect yacht, on perfect seas, with super hot people of our preferred gender(s) who are perfectly into us, but let’s face it — most of us would be hard pressed to live up to the expectation of yacht rock, much less yacht life. You can’t just make yourself into an Instagram-friendly Russian oligarch’s kid.

¹ Hint: they never were.

² Rad ‘stache, Branson.

³ Jeremy. His name is Jeremy Dracula.

4 Apparently, seven.

5 They will totally make the best Valentine’s Day gifts, and practically guarantee that whoever you are horny for (and are not a big ol’ creeper towards) will likewise be inspired to reciprocal horniness, oh yeah.

Gonna Be A Busy Week Or So

Traveling home today, then weekend EMT duty, then off to a conference next week (and bee-tee-dubs, probably won’t have much change to post next week, so apologies in advance) but there’s still some things I wanted to share.

  • Firstly, that Minna Sundberg’s superlative Stand Still, Stay Silent wrapped up what’s now termed Adventure 1 yesterday. There will be more, but once upon a time this might have been the end of the explorations of the Silent World. It’s been just under five years, just over 1000 pages (FULL COLOR PAGES, y’all) and one NCS Division Award for Long-Form Webcomic, and you know what? It’s still a damn good, damn beautiful read. Sundberg’s taking a couple weeks breathing space before diving back in with Lalli, Emil, Sigrun, Mikkel, Reynir, and Kitty¹ for more exploration of a world gone feral:

    No update next week, but check in Monday the 8th! That’s the official launch date of the physical book 2, the kitty plush and keychain charm set, and I’m working on the first ever SSSS-themed t-shirt design! So there’s something new even for people who already got the book and other stuff. After that I will post something every week like I usually do during chapter breaks: the cover for the next adventure, cover of first chapter/prologue, maybe even the first page early. I’ll give specific dates for those on the 8th, so see you then.

    Another important date: the French translation of SSSS book 1 is coming out (in bookstores and online) on the 16th of October! So if you’re a French speaker definitely keep an eye out for that, it’s being published by Akileos publishing.

    Hey, Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, let us know how good the translation is.

  • Secondly, and also yesterday, Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett wrapped up a hell of successful Kickstarter campaign for Drive Book 2. He cleared US$116,000 on a US$25,000 goal², and unlocked something like 19 stretch goals, including every Tales Of The Drive “shared universe” story since Book One (and also including one running now: The Ballad Of Fintresslanope, Hero Clerk Of The Fillipod People, drawn by Carissa Powell and written in rhyming couplets by Dylan Meconis), enhancements to the hardcover, and e-books of every single book LArDK’s ever put out³, whaaaaat.

    That last bit? I’m not sure he can dangle that particular carrot again, at least not to those of us that backed this campaign. I mean, next book around we’ll already have e-books of every book he’s ever put out, so I guess he’ll have to get a whole bunch of new fans so that the eventual Books 3 through ∞ get the same awesome treatments as Book 1 and 2. Get on that, LArDK, I don’t want the remaining volumes to look chintzy next to 1 and 2!

Spam of the day:

Oops! It’s No-Pantie Day! [bikini emoji]

Please do not send me your surreptitious upskirt photo collection spam at a time when women are having their past men-inflicted traumas revisited upon them. Which is to say, ever. And if on the off chance this isn’t a collection surreptitious upskirt photos, but rather carefully-staged upskirt photos meant to look like they were surreptitiously taken, then read the damn room, jerk. This is not the time.

¹ RIP, Tuuri. >sniff<

² As mentioned at launch, no FFF mk2 prediction for this one; the early launch to Patreon supporters messes with both the FFF and the McDonald Ratio.

³ Including the self-pubbed print collection of his pre-Sheldon college strips. Pretty sure none of us have ever see those.

Fleen Book Corner: Amulet Book 8

This is going to be a bit brief, not because the latest from Kazu Kibuishi doesn’t deserve a few thousand words, but because the time you spend reading my review would be better spent reading that latest book, Supernova. It’ll be surprisingly light on spoilers. Every kid in America (and some considerable number of us older folks) that waited for years for the eighth installment of the Amulet series wants to know how it wraps up, and now they have a wait¹ … so we’ll all be reading and re-reading and finding new bits that eluded us.

And what struck me about Supernova was two-fold:

  1. Amulet really is a trilogy of trilogies. The first three books laid out the situation, the middle three raised the stakes, and the most recent two have been positioning us for the endgame. Within the arc of 7-8-9, you’ve got the buildup and cliffhanger of all cliffhangers in 7, and a shifting of players to get us where we need to be for the big finish in 8. Now he’s got to bring it all together.
  2. Amulet continues to grow like ripples in a pond, but we keep finding ourselves echoing back to the beginning; it’s all been the same story: family, courage, doing what’s right to help those that need it. Being strong to resist those that would turn you in bad ways. The evil you fight today has its roots in pain and fear, and the causes need to be addressed as much as the results because the challenges are always going to be there.

That last is particularly resonant. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Earth (and goodness, it’s a long time since Emily, Navin, and Mom saw Earth) or Alledia, or if you’ve left the fantasy world for the space station and now the Stonekeepers come from many worlds, fighting shadows across galaxies: Authority from fear contains the seeds of its own destruction. People that have enough food and who don’t fear for their children won’t go to war. Whispers that promise power have their own motivations and rarely good ones. We can pull ourselves back from darkness. Mountain bikes are hella cool².

And each time you fight the darkness, each time you push back against evil, each time you fail to stop it once and for all?

You learn something. You get stronger. And you never give up.

Navin and Emily have been presented with these lessons since their adventures began, but they each come to a more innate understanding of the depth and breadth of their fight, and an acceptance of their responsibilities. They’re still kids, but over the course of the series they’ve grown up before our eyes.

What started as a fairly standard family legacy leads to quest with immediately definable goals story has grown to encompass the sprawl of history, time travel, space, magic, temptation, redemption, and a struggle against a threat to many worlds. We’ll get a conclusion to this particular story, but the larger is not going to finish in one more book. The fight goes on because the fight always goes on.

One day, not too long from now, Kibuishi will decide he’s done enough research. He’ll start drawing Book 9, and sometime after that Cassandra Pelham will provide her editor’s wisdom and Jason Caffoe will start to render colors and environments. Covers will be designed, production schedules agreed, printing presses engaged. Ships and emails and posters and trucks and bookstores and teachers (so many teachers) and librarians (so, so many librarians) will each do their part.

All of us part of the adventure, reading the stories of people that fight the shadows so that we can learn to be the kind of people that fight the shadows that would threaten our own world. To ensure that children have enough food so that adults need not go to war. To clean the air and water. To serve more than ourselves. And, in our spare time, to ride a hella cool mountain bike.

Come on along, Kibuishi says, in a voice that sounds like Mr Rogers and Hayao Miyazaki, just as soon as it’s ready. In the meantime, we’ve got eight books that could stand a re-read or twenty.

Spam of the day:

Memorial Day Solar Savings

You’re … you’re pretty far away from Memorial Day. Did you maybe mean another day? I’m reliably informed today is National Scarf Day, National Crush A Can Day, National Chocolate Milk Day, and National Corned Beef Hash Day.

¹ The day after release Kibuishi tweeted that he’s doing research for Book 9, then production, then printing and distro — it’ll be a while. The only thing we know — some of that research involved ambulances. Take from that what you will.

² Kibuishi is an enthusiastic mountain biker, and the extended sequence his hobby inspired is just plain awesome. Does it advance the bigger messages of the series? Nope. But sometimes, you just have to put your character on a barely-controlled bike careening down the biggest mountainside in the known universe, constantly half a heartbeat away from eating it like nobody has ever eaten it before.

Fleen Book Corner: Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules

I neglected to note that yesterday was Amuletmas, the day that Kazu Kibuishi’s many readers have been waiting for anxiously for going on two years. Yesterday was the release of the eighth Amulet book, Supernova, picking up at the biggest cliffhanger of the series, setting up the big finish in (the still in the planning stages) book 9. Fantasy becomes sci-fi! Space! The darkest hour with a protagonist fallen to the dark influences of the Big Bad! I’ll be picking up a copy as soon as humanly possible, and reporting back.


Not released this week, or even all that recently, the focus of today’s post is Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules, third in that series, by Tony Cliff. As always, we at Fleen would like to thank :01 Books for providing a review copy.

TPOH is a slightly odd read; what I mean by that is it doesn’t follow what we expect from a third book in a series. So many books are conceived of and sold explicitly as trilogies — thanks, Tolkien — that we expect the books to perhaps work more as parts of that larger arc of story and less as standalone efforts. Sometimes the books really do stand on their own while also functioning as parts of the whole (Ben Hatke’s Zita The Spacegirl and Faith Erin Hicks&rsquo’s The Nameless City are good examples), sometimes they form multitrilogies (such as Amulet, and, I suspect, Cleopatra In Space by Mike Maihack).

But Miss Dirk and her faithful companion Mr Selim have an entirely different feel. The books definitely form a sequence, but there’s no feeling of beginning, middle, end. If Cliff had released the second book first, then the first as a flashback, then the third, they would not lose anything for the jumbling. Perhaps appropriate to the time they take place in — Europe and the Mediterranean slightly post-Napolean, with England and France vying for influence and enough unexplored places that adventurers need not follow set paths — there’s a sense of loose connection.

The best analogy I can think of is Dickens wrote a bunch of stories that did not connect to each other, but which take place in the same world. There’s no doubt in my mind that young Ebenezer Scrooge lived in one of the Two Cities, but cared not a whit what was happening in the other. The connections are of sensibility, not plot. One story tells what happens to other people, in a different place, at a different time, but in the same world. Their individual stories are the point, not how they cross over.

Which is why I see TPOH less as a sequel, and more as a continuation of a story that’s not really dependent on what came before. Oh, sure, the second book (The King’s Shilling) introduced the best kind of antagonist — the bullheaded jerk who gets shown up and rather than take the L, doubles down every possible chance, abandoning all reason, assuming his nemesis is as obsessed with him as he is with them — but if he’d shown up for the first time in TPOH with a half-page aside about how he’d been a thorn in Miss Dirk’s side ever since that earlier conflict a few years ago, nothing would be lost. The first book (The Turkish Lieutenant) is wide-ranging heist and condequences, the second is a prodigal returns home story mixed with a jerk who just won’t let a minor insult go, the third is part archeology (and dealing with insufferable patrons) and part revenge story. What they have in common is the setting, the timeframe, and the two protagonists.

Then again, Miss Dirk would probably say protagonist and sidekick.

Mr Selim — less sidekick, more voice of reason when Miss Dirk is taken by flights of fancy, desire to kick and ass that desperately needs it, or is just being reckless because she can — really comes into his own in this book. He’s gone from inciting McGuffin in book one (he’s the titular Turkish Lieutenant) that kicks off the plot to almost-but-not-quite-acknowledged equal (especially after book 2, when even Delilah’s disapproving family determined that nobody can make the tea quite like he can). There’s a meeting of the minds here, and they come to a new stage in their relationship.

That word is fraught, and what they have barely recognizable by its modern connotations. They’re traveling companions, they’re becoming friends¹, the respect is deepened, and it’s possibly become an always-will-be chaste life partnership in that neither will ever really be happy without the other, but it’s not a romance. You’d have to use a language other than English, which has multiple words for different kinds of love, to truly describe them. Not quite brotherly-sisterly², more than traveling companions, definitely not getting
(as Ray Smuckles would have it) mad rutty. It’s platonic, in both the sense that there’s no erotic feelings, but also in the sense that this is an ideal for respectful partnerships. They complete each other.

And so the adventure itself almost doesn’t matter. Oh, there’s derring-do and comeuppance and you’ll boo and hiss the villainous turns, fear not. This book doesn’t feel like a wrap-up any more than it feels like a beginning or middle. It’s all happening now, there have been adventures before, there will be adventures hence, and we’ll read some of them and others we won’t as Delilah Dirk and Erdemoglu Selim spend their days at adventure, forever.

Spam of the day:

Formuláře Google

Huh. A countdown timer letting me know that my very special opportunity (in Russian) will expire in 22:15:30. Weirdly, every time I open the email, it starts over again. Odd, that.

¹ Miss Dirk has always been a bit haughty towards Mr Selim.

² But if it were, it would definitely somewhat staid older brother being run over by a wild younger sister.

Fleen Book Corner: Don’t Tug On That; You Never Know What It Might Be Attached To

Which is to say, Dr Buckaroo Banzai and Dr Sidney Zweibel are in the house and our topic is The Brain, the latest in the Science Comics series from :01 Books (who kindly sent me a review copy), written by Tory Woollcott and illustrated by Alex Graudins. What, you thought I was going to go with a zombie reference to braaaains or something? You wound me.

Let’s get one sad bit of business out of the way. Because of printing lead times, it was true when the book went to press that, as her bio says, that Woollcott [lived] with her husband, Kean Soo, and her minor internet celebrity dog, Reginald Barkley. Sadly, Barkley died before he could see himself immortalized in at least two cameo appearances in the book, and though Woollcott and Soo are now happy with Oliver Crumbwell, he is missed by all. RIP, Barkley.

Okay, onwards. Requisite reminder that there may be spoilers ahead.

Woollcott and Graudins weave a story of two sisters: Nour, who’s selling cookies for her Girl Scouts/Girl Guides analogue, Woodland Adventure, and who is absolutely ruthless in her pursuit of the Junior Vice President Of Marketing And Sales merit badge. She will see her enemies driven before her in her quest for all the badges! She even lets out a wild, 7-to-9 year old MWAHAHAHAHA recounting her destruction of the upstarts in Troop 12. ALL HAIL AND FEAR NOUR.

And then there’s her much more grounded older sister, Fahama; she’s got better things to do than help her kid sister sell cookies (even if Dad made them, even if they’re delicious), but Nour mentioned that the JVPOSAM merit badge comes with a video game system, and that’s up Fahama’s alley, so she’s in. Then, on page four, she rings the doorbell of a creepy old mansion, a trapdoor opens, and she finds herself the “guest” of a deranged brain-in-a-jar mad scientist who very much wants to remove hers. Her brain, that is.

Dr Cerebrum looks way too handy with the hacksaw, so Fahama borrows a trick from Scheherazade and starts delays her fate. Tell me about brain science! What are the evolutionary structures? What’s with all the wrinkles, and what functions take place in what part of the brain? How do neurons communicate? What about memory, and sensory processing, and executive function, and types of intelligence?

It’s a lot to take in, but Woollcott and Graudins dole it out in easily-digestible, bite-size chunks so that a reasonably motivated kid will retain the details. It helps that Graudins has created characters for the cellular actors in the brain’s activity, which visually relate their function and tie back the narration. Hey, it’s almost like they use several kinds of learning prompts and stimulate different kinds of intelligence in teaching you about learning styles and kinds of intelligence! Pretty sneaky, Sis!

Speaking of Sis, Nour’s a ninja. She tells her parents that she suspects her sister is in deadly danger (from a rival WA troop, naturally) and sets out to rescue her; they humor her game, never knowing what a force of nature they’ve unleashed on an unsuspecting world. She might have the wrong idea about why Fahama needs rescuing, and what dangers exist in the world¹, but when she finds the creepy mansion with the creepy braintaorium in the creepy basement, she’s more than ready to unleash some sister-saving whoopass. Don’t cross Nour, man.

The only thing I’d want from The Brain is the same thing I’d want from most of the Science Comics — pronunciation guides in the text. It’s a bit unreasonable to expect a kid (or even an adult without prior experience in a field) to know how to pronounce diencephalon or inhibatory neurotransmitters. There’s a lot of vocabulary in this one, and an editorial shift would make it easier to keep track of.

Science Comics: The Brain, by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins, hits stores everywhere on 16 October. You can give it to anybody you want to make smarter, or possibly give advice on how to destroy all who cross them. (Hail Nour).

Spam of the day:

Gwyneth Paltrow

Nope. This is something about Goop or some idiotic, nonscientific drivel that coincidentally makes her a lot of money. Get bent.

¹ Nour fears no rival troop, but don’t make her deal with clowns.


Fleen Book Corner: Electric Margaloo

That is to say, The Creepy Case Files Of Margo Maloo book two: The Monster Mall by Drew Weing. There’s something great about Margo Maloo (the webcomic) and Margo Maloo (the character). The webcomic is great because it’s breezy, fun, and the sort of low-grade creepy that kids can enjoy without getting nightmares. It’s the Ahhhh, that’s so cool end of the scale instead of the Can’t sleep ever again end of the scale. The character is great because Margo defends the kids of Echo City from monsters not by force, but by words. She’s not a Monster Slayer, she’s a Monster Mediator.

And she knows a lot more than she’s letting on to Charles, the POV character, new to Echo City, unused to its ways, prone to taking the subway the wrong way for three stops, and desperately trying to turn himself into a blogging force of nature re: the supernatural. He’s essentially the three nerds from The X-Files as a pre-teen, and he’s easy to identify with¹.

He and Margo (according to Charles, they’re partners; according to Margo, he’s her assistant²) are wondering why there’s so many more interactions between kids and monsters these days; she’s desperate to keep the whole thing from blowing up into open warfare between the humans and monsters, and he just wants to learn and share as much as he can. Margo’s willing to go along with his idea of a kids-only blog to talk about monsters in ways that will keep the peace, but there’s cards she’s playing close to her chest.

In particular: how does a kid barely older than Charles have the run of the city? Where did she learn all her lore? How long has she been mediating, given every kid in Echo knows rumors of her, and half the monsters are terrified of crossing her? What happened to the older generations of monsters that caused at least some of their children to turn away from their habits? Why does she live in a spooky old house with doting (and possibly exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms) uncle (or, more likely, grand-uncle), but no parents? Who wrote all of her casefile entries back before she was born, and why are things changing?

And, crucially: Who is trying to provoke things between the various residents of Echo City?

The other thing that’s great about the Margo Maloo stories is how Echo City feels like a living place. The endpapers in the print collections are a subway map³, story arcs take place in different parts of town, with Margo telling Charles where to meet her, and generally a couple of panels of him in transit. It’s lived in, it’s a place of change, each neighborhood feels consistent to itself. It’s a tough think to pull off, and Weing does it with easy.

The Creepy Case Files Of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall is available in bookstores everywhere, and is a darn run read for everybody able to read on their own and sustain their attention over 100 pages or so. We at Fleen thank :01 Books for the review copy.


While we’re here, I want to thank :01 Books for something else; the inside back cover for a number of their Summer/Fall 2018 releases (mostly books for older teens and up) have a nice feature that I’ve not seen elsewhere. There’s a decision tree printed that helps readers find other books that they’d like, depending on topic and treatment.

Want adventure (historical)? Try Delilah Dirk. Want adventure (apocalyptic)? Spill Zone or Last Pick are what you need. Mostly the recommendations are in the current releases, but you’ve also got some classics (American Born Chinese, the book that made the imprint) and some future titles (Kiss Number 8, coming next year).

It’s a great tool for discovery and promotion, and more publishers should use it. For that matter, it would be great to see a similar bookfinder for (age-appropriate) titles in the younger target audiences (okay, probably not the big picture books for beginning readers, but everything above that).

Spam of the day:

Rachael is my name though

Yes, and? (I feel like Del Close having to prompt like this.)

¹ Uhhh, not that I’d now anything about being an awkward, overeager kid without many friends. Nope, not me.

² Verging on flunky.

³ With more than a few stations seemingly named for cartoonists: Wrightson, Beaton, Fink, Rowland … and King could very well be a reference to Stephen.

I Can’t Decide If This Is A Trifecta Or An Even-Cooler Quadfecta

See, there’s three webcomicky types with new books releasing today, but it’s actually four books releasing, which makes things double-awesome for one of them. Regardless, you’ve got a ready-made reason to hit the bookstore and bring home some delightful ink-on-paper gifts to yourself (or another).

  • First up: Ryan North, Toronto Man-Mountain, Nexus Of All Webcomics Realities (Northern¹ Division). His book on jumpstarting an entire technological civilization, How To Invent Everything, hits the major sales channels today. Of course, if you were one of the very smart people that backed the HTIE Kickstarter and got the campaign-exclusive extras, then don’t go to the bookstore … watch your mailbox for a package from an indy bookstore, which will feature an autographed copy of the book, and possibly one that is limited edition², or even a literal one of a kind.

    And then we can all read and learn and enjoy and laugh and love and mourn that, if we are ever lost in time, we will not be the ones to “invent” Shoop by Salt-n-Pepa.

  • If there’s one person that’s riding the wave of entirely deserved, but also completely unpredictable success, it’s Ngozi Ukazu. A child of Nigerian immigrants from Texas doing a webcomic about gay hockey bros? That sentence looks like it was assembled out of a magnetic poetry set³, but to the surprise of everybody, it’s exactly what we were all craving in our media diets. Her Kickstarted volumes have gone to thousands of rabid backers, but now is the day that her major publisher (that would be :01 Books, a part of the Macmillan empire) edition hits the street.

    And you know what? Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Kickstart is all good, but it doesn’t get you into every bookstore (and a hefty proportion of the libraries, too) in the country. :01 publisher Mark Siegel was unwilling to give me hard numbers on how many copies of Ukazu’s Check, Please! Book 1 would be in the first printing, but allowed that it was a pretty substantial number (at other times he’s said that a low initial printing of a :01 title is on the order of 10,000 copies).

    In any event, she’s about to get her work in front of even more eyeballs than it’s commanded to date, and that means even more people are going to fall in love with the sweet tale of gay hockey bros. And you know what the best part is? Every part of that sentence is, somewhere, making a ComicsGater’s head asplode, so that’s a win (for Ukazu) dash win (for her readers) dash win (for society as a whole).

  • Rosemary Mosco may be the most generalist smart person in comics. Oh, sure, Ryan North learned out to create an entire civilization, but does he have two books releasing today? There’s her YA guide to the planets we know and love, and there’s also a guide for adventurous (and probably a bit weird) kids who want to know more about the adventurous (and probably a bit weird) world around them.

    Atlas Obscura Explorers Guide For The World’s Most Adventurous Kid is about everything from crystal caves to abandoned water parks, the sort of bucket list for cool times that I would have killed for at 12, and am kinda planning to use now that I’m 50. Add in the release earlier this year of Birding Is My Favorite Video Game and you have to wonder if there’s anything that Mosco can’t a) write about and b) make super fun. Magic Eight-Ball says: Not damn likely.

Oh, and I just remembered: Lucy Bellwood did the illustrations for HTIE, so it’s four books, four webcomickers. This day will go down in history.

Spam of the day:

‘L.A. LAW’ Original Cast to Celebrate First-Ever Live Reunion


¹ No pun intended, but North lives in the North, so what are you gonna do?

² He forgot to draw the star on the first 100 or so.

³ Possibly the Dinosaur Comics magnetic poetry set, but then there’d be at least one instance of LESBIANS! or at least FRIIIIIG.