The webcomics blog about webcomics

It’s … It’s So Beautiful

Hooray! My Four Seasons Total Landscaping shirt from the drunken recesses of Shing Yin Khor’s celebratory id has arrived, and that means I am giving a chunk o’ money to Fair Fight, which Stacey Abrams founded to combat voter suppression in the state of Georgia. I promised to match donations up to US$1000 and … okay, I get it. It’s been a long four years and you’re tapped out. It wasn’t much that I got informed of, but I like nice round numbers, so I rounded my contribution up to five hundo.

And now, let’s talk webcomics.

  • Molly Ostertag remains one of the finest writer/artists we have in comics, and I am very much looking forward to her next book. While I was sad that the Witch Boy series has concluded, it told the story that Ostertag wanted to tell, and I know well that she’s got many more stories in her. Thus, my excitement yesterday when I saw a cosplay photo of a character from the cover of Ostertag’s next book. The excitement that drives people to invest in a story, knowing it’ll speak to them, based on the creator’s track record? That’s intoxicating and joyful.

    And it reminded me that I didn’t mention Ostertag’s next book when it was announced over the summer on account of [gestures] everything. So look for The Girl From The Sea on 1 June 2021, hopefully when we’ll all be able to walk into bookstores freely again.

  • It was not quite two weeks ago that I noted that one of Jim Zub’s typically strong creator-owned stories was hopping from Amazon’s clutches comiXology to print, but he didn’t let me know at that time that he was about to launch a second chapter to that selfsame story. Which he did. Today:

    STONE STAR Season 2 Begins!
    Last year, Max Dunbar and I launched a new creator-owned series as part of ComiXology Originals and now we’re back for Season 2 of the series.

    Espen Grundetjern has brought his stunning colors once again and Marshall Dillon’s lettering continues to dazzle. Our creative team is having a ton of fun building out this world and setting the pieces into place for even more cool stuff to come.

    You can pick up Stone Star‘s entire first story arc at comiXology for two bucks, or grab the first issue of the second arc for three. Have at it.

  • Scott C jigsaw puzzles, Scott C jigsaw puzzles, Scott C jigsaw puzzles. On sale starting 1:00pm EST (GMT-5) Friday at the Scott C shop.

Spam of the day:

This brew is a powerful painkiller, without opiates, or addictive effects. Once used for everything, from painful toothaches to leg amputations…

The fact that you are trying to tell people to forage for whatever plant it is you’re basing this on is only slightly less astonishing that the fact that you’re expecting people to find a reason to imagine they’ll be amputating their own legs.

Let’s End The Week On Some Good News

Hey, remember when I said I was gonna give away an awesome graphic novel, way back at the end of summer? And remember around Labo[u]r Day, when alert reader Erik won? It took a while to get him his book (there was a move involved, and a new baby, plus the general fuckery with the Postal Service), but Erik emailed me last night to say that he got the book and took the smiling photo that was the cost of entry. Erik says:

Thanks again, both for the book and for the impetus to get off my tush and subscribe to The Nib.

My work here is done. Everybody feel good for Erik!

Spam of the day:

A recent charge attempt requires your attention

Oh my, that sounds serious,, I am certain to click on the completely harmless buttons you have included in your email, or even the links to the American Express website which mysteriously appear to redirect to Thanks for looking out for me!

PS: I don’t have an American Express card so maybe try a little harder then next time you attempt a crime, jackass.

Corporations Are Not Your Friend; Corporations Are Never Your Friend

For those wondering if I’m still employed, I did not tell a VP-level executive that everybody working for them is fucking around and needs to be replaced by somebody willing to do their godsdamned jobs.

I did say it a director-level executive, who was impressed by the receipts I brought, most especially the logged trouble ticket (it’s got an 8-digit ID number, but we’ll call it “A”) that directed responders to a second ticket (we’ll call this one “B”), that was in turn redirected to a third ticket (yep, “C”), that finally instructed people that further updates and actions should be logged back to ticket A. I may have used the words Möbius clown shoes to describe the situation.

I am far too jaded to assume anything will be fixed anytime soon, but I at least have an acknowledgment that customer-impacting things were fucked for months in precisely the way I’ve been saying they were fucked and if you think that isn’t going right on top of any future responses I have to write to HR, then you don’t know how willing I am to keep a paper trail that proves my point for decades if necessary. I have saved correspondence from a cable company that no longer exists, admitting that they fucked up because they didn’t manage to cash my checks for more than a year (finding out they wouldn’t be honored by the bank) after I’d called them numerous times to ask them to please take my money. That was sixteen years ago and I reread it from time to time to bask in the warm glow it gives me.

Now let’s talk about a corporation for which I have considerably more disdain than my employers¹ — Disney. I’ve never been a Disney fan (Pixar selling out to them was a sad day for me), but their latest bullshit has shocked even me. I trust you’ve seen this:

Disney’s argument is that they have purchased the rights but not the obligations of the contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says. If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.

If you didn’t read the whole thing, that’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America president Mary Robinette Kowal on the situation that legendary SFF writer Alan Dean Foster has found himself in. Through their purchases of Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, Disney owns the rights to several of Foster’s books, and for years now has neither paid him royalties nor provided royalty statements because FUCK YOU, WE’RE THE MOUSE, THAT’S WHY.

This is, simply put, a whole lotta bullshit. Disney won’t even talk to Foster and his representatives unless they sign an NDA first, which is unbelievably bullshit. So this is your notice that if you have anything to do with any entity owned or operated by Disney, they are stating by their actions that they don’t think you should be paid and cannot be trusted to honor contracts they sign.

And, while I am not a lawyer, if you are working with any entity not owned or operated by Disney, they might buy them out in the future and try this utterly risible bullshit on you, too, so maybe your next contract should have an explicit Disney clause in there. Something along the lines of if your contract is ever acquired by Disney, they have 30 days to either immediately affirm — in writing, naturally — their obligations under the existing contract to you, or release your IP back to you with a kill fee equal to the previous five years of royalties or US$100,000, whichever is greater.

Oh, and on the off chance that you have licensed anything from Disney, there are lawyers on the sosh-meeds offering pro bono services for you to sell your license to a friend who can then use the Disney stuff without paying for it because hey — they started this bullshit, somebody ought to feed some of it back to them.

In the meantime, my determination to never pay Disney tax² is redoubled, and I will be avoiding their properties even more determinedly in the future. Not sure I buy anything that flows back to Disney except the occasional Marvel comic, so ought to be pretty easy.

Spam of the day:

Make the best espresso of your life

I don’t drink coffee. Is this some kind of weird sex thing?

¹ Who at least don’t try to convince me to love them. The pay is good, the check are on time and don’t bounce, and that is that absolute extent of the slack I give to them. My immediate manager I would follow into a wall of flame because she’s gone to bat for me on numerous occasions, but the entire org chart above her? Strangers that I work for, not some kind of feel-good “family”.

² I swear, half of my decision to not have kids involved never wanting to give the Disney corporation money.

Love, In All Its Myriad Forms

Love is in the air. I know they say it’s a Spring thing, but I’m declaring it to be in the air today.

  • It’s hard to believe that it was ten year ago that Rosemary Mosco got the news. It’s not hard to believe that she was a stupendous badass in the face of cancer¹, and every time one of these milestone comics has been posted, the net joy in the world has gone up. Congrats to Rosemary, congrats to Randall, and tell your friends you love them just because.
  • Erika Moen has, as this page has mentioned in the past, been one of the bravest, most generous folks in the world, sharing for all to see what it’s like in her life and especially in her brain; every time she talks about mental health, other people get the chance to recognize what in the lives could be better. She has absolutely, definitely saved people from misery and death.

    And today she’s done just as big a service for everybody — neurotypical and aneurotypical alike — by discussing frankly, empathetically, and above all truthfully something that we’ll pretty much all experience. Today’s Oh Joy, Sex Toy (the remit for discussion of which is surprisingly broad) is about heartbreak. Gettin’ dumped. Splitsville. Singletown, population: You.

    More importantly, she talks about how so much of that pain comes from people not knowing what love really means, having the wrong expectations, and having to figure it all out on their own; it’s been that way since time immemorial, but it seems like just expecting everybody to go through the unpleasant aspects before they grow into their final selves and realistic love is maybe suboptimal? But Moen’s got some choice advice (plus a promised trip to The Bouncy House Of Sexuality, the absolute finest metaphor to hit OJST since the Anal Safety Snails) and we can all be grateful for her insight and willingness to share.

  • And sometimes love means hot, hot gettin’ it on. For those in the mood for said on-gettin’, Iron Circus Comics is running a Kickstart for the latest Smut Peddler anthology, this based on history times and subtitled Sordid Past. Unsurprisingly, it funded in an hour, and presently sits just south of 300% of the US$20,000 goal. Short campaign this time, just 17 more days to back the project, so that will likely shift the FFF mk2 numbers downwards from their present prediction of US$110K – US$165K². Plus, Yuko Ota’s cover is spectacular. Get on this one while the gettin’s good.

Spam of the day:

Mailbox is running out of data storage. All incoming messages will be blocked until you upgrade.

Oh no, my Fleen mailbox is running out of storage and everything will be blocked — including your bullshit spam — unless I click on an actual executable you’ve sent me. Let’s absolutely do that right now, no possible downside there.

¹ FUCK cancer.

² Which, if met, will make for some nice creator bonuses.

Wednesday Is Zubday

I mean, Jim Zub is one of the more omnipresent writers of comics in the biz these days, with some Wednesdays seeing as many as four Zub titles dropping simultaneously. Even better, the guy who’s made a career out of being able to write in any genre, for any publisher, on time, slotting into whatever line-wide crossover or editorial mandate is going on, and setting up the big name who’s eventually going to be brought onboard to replace him with a solid story foundation and plot hooks is working his way up to major titles. You know, things like Avengers.

But his heart will always be in his own stories. Okay, his own stories and Conan, because Zub knows what is best in life, but for the purposes of our discussion right now, his own stories. One of those own stories dropped via comiXology about 18 months back, and it was pretty damn good.

Thing about comiXology is that you don’t really own comics, you rent them for as long as Amazon figures you should be able to, and to keep reading them in that timeframe you have to keep giving Amazon money. I prefer physical media that can’t be memory-holed unless Bezos comes over to my house¹.

And whaddaya know, that pretty damn good story will be getting a physical release after all:

Stone Star volume 1, the Space Fantasy book I did with @JimZub, Espen Grundetjern, & @MarshallDillon for @comiXology, is getting published for print by @DarkHorseComics in 2021!

That from Max Dunbar, who had lineart chores on Stone Star to Zub’s words, Espen Grundetjern’s colors, and Marshall Dillion’s letters. It’s a story I wholeheartedly recommended before, and do so again now that you can actually pay for a permanent copy.

And because Zub’s never got just one bit of news to share, allow me to point out that he’s got some pure prose available for you, too:

I’m thrilled to announce that From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is now available from your favorite bookshop or online outlet. I’m one of 40 authors who contributed a short story showcasing how characters beyond the main cast see and feel about events that take place in that wonderful Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Every author involved in this special project has waved initial payment and royalties so that all proceeds can go to First Book — a leading nonprofit providing new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need. To further celebrate the launch, Penguin Random House is donating $100,000 to First Book, and Disney/Lucasfilm will donate 100,000 children’s books — valued at $1,000,000 — to support First Book and their mission of providing equal access to quality education.

That from an email that Zub sent me yesterday, but if you want deets you can check out the tweet as well. Zub’s story is about Yoda’s reaction to a certain farmboy showing up in his swamp. Ever wonder if Yoda’s people have inverted syntax in their internal dialogue? Or if a 3rd-person narration can be written in Yodaspeak while still getting the point across clearly? Or if reading Yoda’s words will cause Frank Oz’s dulcet tones to resonate in your brainmeats? One way to find out, nerf herder.

Spam of the day:

Herb Hegmann, a 47-year-old father of 4, was close to giving up? He had struggled with tooth and gum decay for more than 7 years? He’d tried everything, but nothing worked?

It’s called flossing, Herb. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it works.

¹ And if he does come over to my house to memory-hole my comics, I have a greyhound that can sprint up to 70km/hour and who will aggressively get in his face to demand attention and petting.

Octopus Pie Redux

It was more than three years ago that Octopus Pie ended, a little more than ten years after it started.

For the past three and a half years, Octopie has been rerunning all 1026 strips, close enough to one a day as makes no matter, with Meredith Gran’s commentary about where she was emotionally and professionally as each strip was done. It’s fascinating to see not only how they reflected her own outlook on life, but also her critiques of her own past work, and what she reveals about the craft of putting the strip together.

And now it’s done for a second time; the archives are there, both the original and the commentary track versions, in case you want to read them again, but you’ll be going solo this time.

Here’s part of what I wrote when Gran finished the strip:

Because what Meredith Gran accomplished over ten years and 1026 pages of pure magic was a master class in comics, their ability to tell any damn kind of story you want to, and especially to provide a playground for your characters. Eve Ning isn’t who she was back in strip one; neither is Hanna, or Marek, or Will. Jane and Marigold, Julie and Park, Larry and Puget Sean and America frickin’ Jones, all of them — they didn’t exist in a timeless, changeless story setting. By fits and starts, on camera and off, they lived and breathed, cried and loved and hated and indifferented.

And that is why future comics creators will have to look back on Octopus Pie as a work to be studied, understood, its lessons incorporated. Meredith Gran showed what it’s like to do a better strip every single damn day, to imbue characters with personality and growth (especially off camera), and to show what an ever-changing whirlwind life is as people come and go, grow and wane in their presence.

There have been other projects along the way, of course — for pretty much all of the time since the reruns began, she’s been working on her videogame and also raising her son; for a period of time, she did quick comics to document her gardening (on occasion, the two intersected). Valerie Halla’s colors made significant contributions the the mood of damn near every strip in the last quarter of the comic’s run¹.

Goodbye, Everest Ning. I wonder how much you’ve changed in the three years that we haven’t seen your life chronicled, or how it may change in the remaining forever that we’ll be apart. But we’ll always have that ten years (plus three) that you let us in. And whatever Meredith Gran makes next, and next after that, I’m sure we’ll love just as much.

Spam of the day:

[Gov’t Plans] Why Preppers are Now Enemy #1 Food stockpiles banned! At a time like this!?!

None of what you just said is real. I get that you gotta hustle, and gotta have a scam, but you are indulging paranoid fantasies in fragile people, many of whom are armed and will act on those fantasies in an outward fashion on those that you tell them are the enemy. Kindly fuck off until there is no further off to fuck, then fuck off some more.

¹ Following on Sloan Leong’s establishment of a color palette some dozens of strips prior. Not to mention the color and animation lent by Lacey Micallef a little more than halfway through the run and Gran’s own early contribution to color: Sparkle Butt².

² Having, as I do, copies of the self-published first three collections of Octopus Pie — slim 70-90 page, Creative Commons-sporting floppy books — I get to look at hand-colored-and-glittered Sparkle Butt whenever I like. You can get the remaining non-Image books here, and the Image editions can be ordered wherever you buy books or comics.

I Declare This To Be A Hog-Free Zone

I have to be honest, I didn’t expect the Jeffrey Toobin story to prompt a Hold my beer moment from Rudy Fucking Giuliani within 48 hours. I really dread what the Friday after-hours newsdump may bring. Fortunately, there are good things happening even amidst the ruins of Culture.

  • I’ll admit, this one caught me by surprise until I saw the review at The AV Club yesterday: Allie Brosh of Hyperbole And A Half has a new book out! Since the site hadn’t had updates since about 2013, I hadn’t been keeping up. I mean, I’d go back every once in a while to make sure it was still there (I refer EMT students to the Improved Pain Scale every class I teach), but I’d figured that Brosh had moved on to other things.

    Nope! Last month there was a typically Broshian book announcement, wherein you got to choose how much irritation and/or weirdness you wanted in your experience of learning about Solutions And Other Problems, the first chapter of which Brosh has thoughtfully shared with you. I don’t have a copy in hand, but looks like she’s missed no steps in her nuanced view of life, and I’m looking forward to it greatly; I’ll wager you are, too. Order here

  • Speaking of books, you know what’s better than a book from somebody whose work you enjoy? How about three books from the most relentlessly joyful somebody whose work you absolutely enjoy-verging-on-adore? I speak, naturally, of Lucy Bellwood:

    Susan Van Metre at Walker Books US has acquired, at auction, in a three-book deal, world rights to author Kate Milford and cartoonist Lucy Bellwood’s, Seacritters, pitched as Pirates Of The Caribbean meets Redwall, about a young badger who joins the crew of a notorious pirate ship as they set out on a new semi-legal career path as privateers.

    Lucy Bellwood gets to draw ships from the Age Of Sail and crew them with adorable animals. Folks, I am over the moon, nothing can flout me out of my good humo[u]r.

    Publication for the first book is set for 2023.

    Godsdammit. Okay, it’s okay, that’s only a little more than two to more than three years away, I can wait. For something that will undoubtedly be suffused with Bellwoodian goodness, I will wade through the Maelstrom barefoot. Insert any Wrath Of Khan-sounding speech of determination and defiance here that you like, it’s all appropriate.

    I trust that the very second the books go up for preorder you will be aiding me in sending them to instant profitability, because Lucy Bellwood spends so much of her life trying to provide joy and respite on a daily friggin’ basis to everybody, the very least we can do is make sure she gets paid.

Spam of the day:

Want to CLONE an affiliate site that is making commissions RIGHT NOW? Well you need this “website cloning” app – which creates an instant “mirror image” of one of the top money-making sites out there:

Prettty sure you just offered to commit a crime, for money. This isn’t the only spam I’ve received offering a way to make money from (quoting here) other peoples websites, so fuck all of you scammers that want to convince yourselves that I’m as much of a thief as you are.

Hey, How Are You Today?

Me? Okay, I guess. I mean, I found out that work has apparently decided that we’re all using Microsoft Teams now, which is an abomination against all that is good and holy, and which decided to mark me as “Available for your DMs and chat, send ’em over any time you like!!!” despite the fact that I’m always teaching and not available, and which won’t let me log out or quit.

Seriously. I log out or quit, and it friggin’ re-launches and re-logs in, which brings my computer down to a crawl. Let’s try to find something that does not suck from every pore of its being; I’m thinking … webcomics.

It’s more than a little shame that work decided that today was the day to inflict pain, as today is one of the great holidays of Webcomickia, being as it marks — jointly and severally — the births of both John Allison and Ryan North. I thought I might put some birthday-apprope photos up top, but wouldn’t you know it? The internet is replete with photos of Ryan North — some even fully clothed! — but relatively few of John Allison. Doing a search produced the preview shown above, where I think we can quote Sesame Street and hum One of these things is not like the others, as one of the photos is John Allison, debonair chronicler of weird goings-on, and the other three are a different, lesser John Allison, onetime head of the Cato Institute.

There are no photos of lesser Ryans North; all other Ryans North have hidden themselves away from the extreme handsomeness and also Chompsky. Happys Birthday to Messers Allison and North; both of you produce better comics every time one comes out, and that is a rare skill.

In other news:

  • David Morgan-Mar (PhD, LEGO®©™etc) has been throwing himself into Irregular Webcomic and his myriad other creative endeavours since his (mostly controlled, but still a big shift after a lengthy period of association) dejobbing¹, and has taken the next step — he had a store where you could get his (honestly, excellent) photographs, but sometimes you just gotta go where everybody else is:

    As part of my ongoing attempt to start a photography business so that I can avoid going back to working for The Man, I have opened an Etsy shop, selling greeting cards featuring prints of my wildlife and landscape photography. I ship worldwide. If you’d like to support me, and get some cool greeting cards, please check it out, and maybe mention to your friends and family.

    Speaking of cool greeting cards, my friend with whom I toyed with an art scammer, Hollis Kitchin? Awesome greeting cards and prints at her art shop, including some gorgeous new floral designs. If you need cards, please consider these two fine folks from opposite corners of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Speaking of Comics Camp, which is where I know Hollis from, another Camper has a new book announcement. Readers may recall that my primary complaint about Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina was the :01 Books should have given her about three dozen more pages to let the story and characters breathe a little more. I don’t want to say they definitely listened to me, but I will note that her next book has had its official cover reveal and pre-order announcement over at The Beat, and if you follow the link to the Macmillan page, it appears this time they gave her four dozen more pages to play with.

    Jukebox features more Indian young women as protagonists, more time travel, more family history searching … everything in Chanani’s wheelhouse, and anchored by her adorably inviting style. Get ready for discussions of music history (Sister Rosetta Tharpe!) and poetic waxing on the merits of vinyl², both of which are making my old college DJ habits start to rouse and demand to be fed. Jukebox releases from :01 on 22 June, 2021.

Spam of the day:

It looks like an ordinary survival tool you’d see at Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop – but it’s not.It’s been updated with a tiny military technology that makes a 300-pound meth-fueled man lose control of all bodily functions in seconds.

So what, you finally found the Brown Note?

¹ The fact that that story is nearly two years old shows you what a country with a functioning safety net — notably, a national healthcare system — means for somebody taking a flyer at a creative career. It means the luxury of time, the luxury to try, the luxury to fail and not worry that it will cost you your life just because you’re no longer making corporate research PhD Aussie Fun Bucks.

² I’m not apologizing for that.

Time Is The Fire In Which We Burn

As Trek movies go, it was only mediocre, but Malcolm McDowell is always worth watching, particularly as he reminds us that time changes all things.

  • Case in point: Ryan North¹ reminds us, via the ever-accommodating vehicle of T-Rex, that things have changed quite a damn lot and we can but remember the Before Times. I don’t know if you habitually read the alt-text at Dinosaur Comics, but if you read today’s, it’s contains a promise that you can redeem for physical contact with Ryan North² and I can scarcely think of another promise of future times that is more likely to get me through until then. I will take you up on that hello and goodbye, you giant man of comfort.
  • Second case in point: publishing is a weird biz, where delays are common even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic on. It was once planned that nowish there would be a YA graphic novel from Christopher Baldwin and Shaenon Garrity³ called Willowweep Manor. At least, that was what we were told in May of last year, which I took to mean that the book was largely done, given the enormous lead times for printing and publicity planning.

    But sometimes even done projects get rearranged; I’m gonna say that it’s not COVID that pushed the book until Summer of 2021 (it would have had to have been done with the overseas printing before everything went on lockdown to meet a Fall 2020 release), but the why doesn’t really matter. It’s out there, and in the time that things have changed it’s picked up not only a new release date, but also a cover and a new title:

    The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K Garrity, illustrated by Christopher Baldwin
    One dark and stormy night, Haley sees a stranger drowning in the river. Since her greatest passion is Gothic romance novels, she knows her moment has come. But when Haley leaps into the water to rescue the stranger, she awakens in Willowweep. It certainly looks like the setting of one of her favorite books: A stately manor. A sinister housekeeper. Three brooding brothers. There’s even a ghost.

    Except Willowweep is not what it seems. Its romantic exterior hides the workings of a pocket universe—the only protection our world has against a great force of penultimate evil, and its defenses are crumbling. Could cruel fate make Haley the heroine that Willowweep needs?

    If you didn’t click on the link to the cover, do so; I love the energy that Baldwin’s brought to the cover, with (presumably) Haley about to lay some smack down with that umbrella, and Chinstrap Dude (presumably much older) looking kind of overwhelmed and useless with what appears to be butter knife. The overall tone reminds me of a massive Hieronymus Bosch painting I saw in Ghent once, one of his fantastical Hellscapes4, which due to the presence of lovingly-rendered rabbits I have always referred to as Screw Not With The Bunnies Of The Apocalypse. This cover is what happens when you screw with the Bunnies Of The Apocalypse.

In a more just world, I’d have something to say about George (the third Nexus Of All Webomics Realities, Wherever He Happens To Be Division), but as time has taught us, it’s far from a just world. We’ll make do.

Spam of the day:

Over the last ten years, he’ s developed a program where ANYONE can start relieving their own back pain in the next 30 minutes. Just 15 minutes into the program and you’ re feeling eons better. Out of pain. Or at minimum greatly reduced. My chiropractor highly endorses Ian Hart and his methods.

See, I know you’re lying. If there’s one thing that will get a chiropractor kicked out of chiropracting, it’s admitting that there are treatments for anything that don’t involve chiropractice.

¹ Toronto Man-Mountain, Nexus Of All Webcomics Realities, Frostbite Division.

² Don’t be creepy about it.

³ Tiki Queen, Nexus Of All Webcomics Realities, Greater Bay Area Division.

4 It wasn’t The Garden Of Earthly Delights since that’s at The Prado and I’ve never been; it was probably one of the studies for Garden, but who can say? No photos allowed, I didn’t keep a diary of the day, and dude drew a lot of hell-bunnies.

Fleen Book Corner: Child Star

Here’s the thing about Child Star; I have no idea how much of a spoiler warning I should put on this thing. On the one hand, it’s a work of fiction and there’s plot points that you might not see coming that could be discussed here. On the other hand, I suspect that spoiler susceptibility is largely a function of age.

Those of us in the 40-50 range and up might well on casual reading think that this is another of Box Brown’s nonfiction works¹, because it recalls so many things that actually happened, the memory of them can blur to the point that you’d convince yourself it’s real. Younger readers that didn’t live through the back 20 years of the Cold War would just think he’s come up with one hell of a twisty story.

All of which is to say, I found myself awash in a sea of note-perfect recreations of TV Guide listings and ads, of Nancy Reagan-inspired Very Special Episodes, of a story that paralleled the life of numerous real-life child stars (one in particular) so cleanly that recalling what happened 40 or more years caused me to stop multiple times to say, Wait, that’s not what happened, was it?

For those younger than me who don’t remember back to, let’s say the Montreal Olympics, this is what it was like, all of it, particularly the Reagan years. Hollywood was churning out TV, movies, and TV movies exactly as bad and uninspired as Brown’s fictional examples. The thorough exploitation of the entertainment/industrial complex by the Republican political machine was just as pervasive as shown here. The universality of a cute, sassy kid on a sitcom, one that reached all corners of society, actually was possible in a world of three broadcast networks plus a handful of rerun channels plus maybe PBS. It really did happen that a full third of the country would watch the same thing on a Tuesday night.

And for those that only know Gary Coleman from the soundtrack of Avenue Q, this book is practically a biography, with overtones of every other kid that hit big and wound up getting chewed up and spit out — which would be pretty much all of them in the past 50 years except Kurt Russell, Jodie Foster, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Peter Ostrum.

It’s an uncomfortable read, which leads to a lot of questions as to who is responsible for the machine that entices and destroys young lives; is it the agencies, the production companies, the moguls of Hollywood that are responsible for every Mary-Kate and Ashley or Britney whose childhood is twisted into something unrecognizable and what that inevitably does to them? Is is the public that demands the new, the fresh, and increasingly the scandalous to sate their appetites for the next heavily-scripted unreality family once Hiltons, Kardashians, and Gosselins no longer amuse?

Yes, and yes. Central character Owen Eugene’s parents may have failed to protect him and actively exploited him — all while declaring how much they sacrificed and thus deserved — but it was a hundred million ordinary folks that demanded they do so, and would do it to their own kids in a heartbeat³ if they could.

Because on TV and in movies, everything is perfect, the people are better, the money never stops, and the closest to human empathy you get is the mild obsessive that collects all the tchotchkes and ephemera related to their favorite. Child Star is a cautionary tale more than anything, distilled down to a form that makes it truer than any memoir; it’s more melancholy of what This Is Spinal Tap would have been if it wasn’t played for laughs. You weren’t blameless, Owen, but you deserved better.

Child Star by Box Brown is published by :01 Books, and is available wherever books are sold. The pandemic has disrupted the whole review copies pipeline, so this one was my purchase and it was worth every penny. Put it in front of any kid aspiring to stardom, and especially their parents.

Spam of the day:

Nice day! You applied and you were accepted as a remote employee. CLICK HERE, FILL IN THE FORM, I’LL GIVE YOU A JOB. They took you.

Thanks for the offer, but remote or not, I really don’t feel like working Moscow hours.

Extra Special Time-Sensitive Bonus Spam of the day:

New York Comic Con Starts Tomorrow!

Yeah, if you’re going to declare that I don’t deserve press credentials for your show, I’m going to have to ask that you take me off your friggin’ press list. It was always the biggest pile of useless of all the shows I was credentialed for, and now it’s extra pointless.

¹ His previous books being biographies of André the Giant and Andy Kaufman², an almost-oral history of Tetris, and a straight history of drug policy around cannabis.

² With an extra half-biography of Jerry Lawler thrown in for good measure.

³ We’re not even considering the pressure on each high school kid that’s decent at a sport to shoot for the pros, or the number of hangers-on, posse-mates, and less-than-immediate relatives that immediately show up for a share of the payout.