The webcomics blog about webcomics

Moving Too Fast To Keep Up

In the time since I decided on the topic for today’s post, the latest (and last for the year) Iron Circus Kickstart has launched, run out its early bird rewards, and cleared 45% funded.

It’s been 45 minutes since launch. I’ll have to update the numbers when I’m ready to put this post to bed.

I’ve really only got one thing to add, which I’ll get to in a moment. The campaign for the second Letters For Lucardo volume by Otava Heikkilä, the first having been a hit. It’s got vampires and hot, hot dude/dude action. The portrait of Lucardo on the cover bears more than a little resemblance to Prince. The prefunding will run for a total of 19 days, wrapping up on the 28th.

And there’s the one thing I wanted to mention — you need to be careful having Kickstarts at the end of the year, because if you get the money from the campaign but don’t spend it on project expenses before 31 December, that’s a tax hit. Given that the 28th is a Friday and it generally takes Kickstarter some time to come up with the dough, I expect that Iron Circus Supreme Leader For Life C Spike Trotman will actually get the money right at the start of 2019 and have the entire damn year to spend it before taxes raise their ugly head. Nice planning, Spike!

And even if hot, hot dude/dude vampire stories aren’t your thing, I can pretty much promise something in the Iron Circus catalog is. Spike sent me an email (and said it’s okay to share) about the storewide sale that’s going on now … there are six new books in the shop (and plenty more coming in the New Year), but if you want to save 20% on your purchase, place your order by the end of the month and use the discount code WarOnChristmas.

Update: 62 minutes, 52%.


Spam of the day:

Dear VAM POSTUPIL PLATEZH 3045 RUB

Yeahno. Not even trying to make sense of that.

Some Surprises

Things are happening quickly. History barrels on.

  • Following up on the Tumblrpocalypse (Tumblrgeddon?) from t’other day, I’m seeing a lot of posts indicating utterly nonsensical this is adult content !!!!11one!! judgments from Tumblr’s algorithms. For a representative sample of how bad those naked people- and smut-identifying tools are, let’s look at just one set of flagged images, from Yuko Ota:

    a cool compilation of posts that were flagged by tumblr for containing pornography

    Included are a photo of the cover of her Offhand art book, a photo of the cover of Our Cats Are More Famous Than us, two update teasers from Barbarous, a picture of a gargoyle and mutant bird Maw, and the Maw plushie.

    What the hell, Tumblr? And this is just one creator, with a relatively short thread of WTH. I’ve seen literally hundreds of entirely inoffensive images that are about to be purged to heck and back because the entire class of content that Tumblr built its growth on is now officially icky¹. As people are grabbing up their Tumblr contents to preserve them, they are also looking for new places to keep all that stuff for display.

    Various Mastodon and Ello proponents are out there, but C Spike Trotman is pointing folks towards Pillowfort³, which as of this writing is experiencing stability issues to the massive land-rush. Under The Ink is keeping a running list of NSFW webcomics and creators, so that everybody can find stuff when it all settles again.

  • Another intriguing possibility? PornHub:

    Tumblrs: Pornhub welcomes you with open arms. Join our amazing community of millions Curators: Customize your personal feed, create playlists, generate gifs and more Creators: Upload videos, photos, gifs & share text posts to a massive audience. Earn revenue on your content.

    Turns out they’ve always allowed non-video content, and they are probably the site least likely to ever decide that hosting naked people and smut is beneath them, so there’s that. Gonna get tripped by a lot of nanny filters, though.

  • And for those of you not dealing with the Tumblr thing today, here’s another surprise: Larry Gonick — indie cartoonist since small times; I first read his Cartoon Guide To Computer Science 35 years ago in high school, which is where I first learned about Claude Shannon, whose wisdom I have built my life around — is having a sale.

    Including originals.

    Time to get me a unicycling engineer that teaches me about Boolean logic.


Spam of the day:

Take part in a simple survey and get a guaranteed prize

I see no reason that your email — translated from the original Russian — should make me hesitant to click on your surely-innocent link.

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¹ I’m told² that in addition to the tsunami of inappropriately-flagged images, a bunch of people are loading their formerly SFW Tumblr with as much hardcore porn as they can, figuring that if they’re gonna be flagged/shut down, they may as well earn it. Well done, I say.

² I don’t have a Tumblr account and so cannot verify.

³ She’d know, she’s the publisher of lots of quality smut. A peddler, you might almost say.

Gettin’ To Be That Time Again

The time when hopefully-smart people tell us what the best things of the year were; a couple of well-curated lists have hit in the last day or so, and I thought I should point out some of the recognition that webcomics (and the webcomics-adjacent) have earned.

  • There are very few writers on comics (of all types) working in English that are as good as Oliver Sava at The AV Club; even better, Sava has an eye for talent and has sought out others that have interesting, smart perspectives on comics and gives them plenty of space to write. He’s joined on the 2018 list of best comics by Caitlin Rosenberg, who nearly always has something to point out that I’d missed in whatever we both read.

    Giant Days (by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar) continued its run of excellence, so no surprise to see a little love for the Tackleverse. Print (or reprint) runs of On A Sunbeam (by Tillie Walden) and Rice Boy (by Evan Dahm) also get nods — they’re both still available in their entirety online, but this is the year that :01 Books and Iron Circus, respectively, pushed the stories wide. Finally, they note that the single best strip — heck, the single best panel — of 2018 can be summed up in three words: Sluggo is lit, from the revamped Nancy by pseudonymous webcomicker Olivia Jaimes, who’s made the comics page safe for weirdness again.

  • NPR, meanwhile, has produced a deeply curated list of the best books of 2018, and as usual they include a healthy selection of words+pictures; close to 10% of this year’s recommendations could be called comics. Like On A Sunbeam and Rice Boy, you can find much of the comics that went into Check Please!: Book One (by Ngozi Ukazu) and Your Black Friend (by Ben Passmore) online; the print editions of both are surely spreading their reach, though.

    I’m on record as being deeply conflicted about Jen Wang’s The Prince And The Dressmaker, but I’m not going to say that the NPR reviewer’s delight is misplaced or wrong — we all get from books what we get¹. Other books from onetime or sometime webcomickers include Vera Brosgol’s delightful and cringey Be Prepared, Lisa Hanawalt’s Coyote Doggirl, and Luisa — Now And Then, adapted by the invaluable Mariko Tamaki.

    Finally, in the realm of pure literature, you get some love for the only book that will let you jumpstart an entire civilization if stranded in the past, How To Invent Everything, by Ryan North (illustrations by Lucy Bellwood). Fun fact! According to North, one of the key technologies for your civilization is non-sucky numbers², which seems a random thing for me to mention here for no reason at all, but I sure did that.

  • Hey, you know what you can do with non-sucky numbers? Measure stuff and calculate ratios! And you know what the greatest ratio in the world is? North, building on the work of Karla Pacheco, gifted us with such a ratio just today:

    Big Cow was photographed next to Small Cows. So how does Knickers compare to REGULAR cows?? Well @THEKarlaPacheco is slightly taller than a standard Holstein, and since I am slightly taller than Big Cow, the ratio between Big Cow and a regular cow is about… THIS

    Pacheco, I should note, has made a habit of being photographed with taller people — because pretty much everybody is — including, sometimes, much taller people like the Northesque Jeph Jacques. And North, I should note, has made a habit of being photographed with shorter people — because pretty much everybody is — including, sometimes, much shorter people like the Pachecoesque Shin Ying Khor. It is now my goal to measure as many comics folk as possible against one of these Big Cow/Small Cow metersticks, for science. Moo.


Spam of the day:

Target customers directly with email marketing tactics

a) No. b) Your email domain is duderenata.com, which sounds … wrong. Like cinemarama or perhaps Estradarama, but with duders?

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¹ However, I stand by my contention that Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy covered much of the same topical ground with more subtlety and honesty. It was released in 2017, so it’s not on the list. The sequel is, if anything, even better, but both books suffered from releasing at the end of October, too late for inclusion in lists that must have already been under construction.

² The others being verbal language, written language, the scientific method, and a calorie surplus.

On The Value Of Artificial Scarcity

Leave it to Dave and Brad — sorry, I meant Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett and Brad Guigar¹ — to come up with a great new method to drive interest and support in their work. I don’t want to use the word scheme because it’s full of negative connotations, and this is actually completely above-board. But it’s got a hook, and it’s brilliant, and it’s got a means to extract more than the intended recipient is necessarily aware of, which is why the s-word is so tempting. Nothing else that’s brief and punchy that conveys those concepts, and so we’ll just have to do without.

Here’s the deal: join their Patreon at the US$5 level by [American] Thanksgiving, and get something awesome. In Guigar’s case, the full e-library of Evil Inc, ten volumes worth. It’s a great deal that costs Guigar probably nothing — the books are already produced, the back library probably sells negligibly compared to the latest volume, that’s five bucks he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and with a download code, it’s even on the recipient to provide the bandwidth.

Kellett’s come up with a more intriguing offering — a 55 page compendium of the non-story pages to Drive, all material that you could read for free, but scattered through the nine year archive (which is distressingly linear and offers no ability to find particular strips quickly) (get on that, LArDK). They’ve taken a similar idea, but put two different spins on the execution.

Guigar will give you the chance to pull down the books any time between now and Thanksgiving, then it’s back to purchasing them like a chump. Kellett is offering the material in a form that will be available on the day of only, then it’s taken down; I think this will do a lot to deter the jerks out there that would load a relatively small offering to pirate sites and undercut the people that want it, but are maybe a little cheap.

Consider, too: you have to be signed up in the next eight days. A person that wants the book (and oh my, I want it — but more on that in a moment) but doesn’t want to really lay out that much over time might join Patreon at the US$5 level (or increase their pledge) knowing that they’re going to get charged, but cancel or revert their increase right after they get the goods. But in the meantime, they’re getting all the other stuff one gets at that level of Patreonage and then they even have another week-plus after Thanksgiving before the next end-of-month charge to decide — I like this.

That’s why this is a smarter play than having a one-day sale on the book set or offering the book for one day only; up to two weeks to get somebody used to the idea of being a Patreon, and you don’t have to decide to stop until after you’ve read a goodly chunk of ten books, or read the ultra limited edition bonus material² and then get sucked back into reading the whole damn story again. It’s the sort of thing that makes you really well-disposed to the creator and figure Well, I’ll stay at the five buck level for another month. He deserves it.

Hook. Line. Sinker.

Except it’s entirely benign. The value you get is far more than the fiver you spent, and any continued support past that is voluntary. Once, I was talking with Howard Tayler³ about a particular piece of work that he managed to get paid for three different ways and witnessed the fabled I got paid three-ee-ee ti-imes dance. I think that Guigar and Kellett need to work up their own choreography, because this one is in a league of its own. What they’re doing is getting the less-committed fans the opportunity to try out being more-committed fans, and charging them five bucks for the privilege of doing so.

In fact, I’m ready to get that book from Kellett myself except — I’m not going to.

Understand, I’m a tremendous fan of Drive, and all that he is (and via Tales Of The Drive, his guest contributors are) doing with the story and the universe it occupies. But (and I think I mentioned this once before, but if not, here goes) I have to draw an ethical line.

I buy a lot of comics and graphic novels — including via Kickstarter. I accept review copies when offered the opportunity to request them. My reviews are based solely on my reading of the work, and not on whether or not I paid for whatever I’m reviewing (and I count myself lucky to have mostly reviewed work that I honestly enjoyed from top to bottom, because I really dislike writing negative reviews … whatever Anton Ego may say, I don’t find them fun to write). So I have no problem either giving money to creators4, or accepting something I wouldn’t have otherwise bought.

But I draw the line at Patreon, because that’s where you start getting into the territory that I get access to material that not everybody gets access to. I think it’s also possible to influence a creator by having a financial stake in the support a career beyond that of purchasing a specific finished thing. It’s possibly a meaningless, pedantic line to draw, but I’ve drawn it. I’m not a Patreon of anybody whose work I may discuss here. So if you do cash in on the 10-volume set, or the Secret Book Of Forbidden La Familia Knowledge, enjoy them for me.


Spam of the day:

Lil Elf Paper Cutter

I read that subject line and all I can think of is David Sedaris describing Santa Santa in his brilliant Santaland Diaries: Oh, little elf, little elf, come sing Away In A Manger for us. He had a name Santa, and it’s Crumpet.

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¹ He’s dreamy.

² Never underestimate the nerd’s tendency to go for the exclusive premium packaging.

³ Evil twin, etc. Hi, Howard!

4 Often via the facilitation of the fine folks at TopatoCo, who celebrated an anniversary yesterday. Happy Birthday, you old building and loan marvelous collection of weirdos. ANd congrats on being the one 14 year old that isn’t terminally snotty about everything!

Things To Check Out

Well I mean I would bet basically one dude or maybe none in a million from the vast Fleen audience is unaware that Noelle Stevenson’s take on She-Ra debuts at Netflix today, so I’m not sure why you’re reading this instead of binging. From here, I can tell you two spoiler-free things:

  1. It’s cool that the closest thing to costume cut-outs are on characters that appear to be dudes; no boob windows here!
  2. It appears that episode 8 (Princess Prom) is going to be cameoriffic. Keep your eyes peeled for awesome people in animated form.

That keening sound you hear in the distance, ever so faint? That’s either the whiny manbabies who are upset that these characters are no longer designed for the male gaze¹, or my new dog when she perceives and insufficient amount of attention is being paid to her².

The much louder cheering sound is a mix of adult animation fans seeing something well-made and entertaining, and younger kids seeing something aimed at them that broadens their perception of who can be a protagonist — shapes, sizes, skin tones, and apparent genders are are broad enough that kids who didn’t get to see themselves as the hero now have a chance to. Bravo.

In other news:

  • We mentioned comiXology’s move into creator-owned stories back around SDCC, and how they’d tapped a series of webcomics creators to help launch the new comiXology Originals endeavour. One that looks particularly promising is The Stone King by Kel McDonald and Tyler Crook. I had a chance to read issue #1 before its debut tomorrow³. The story’s a little Moebius, the art is a little early Finder crossed with War Child-era Grendel. If you’ve got a comiXology account, I strongly recommend checking this out.
  • Ever since Goats celebrated 20 years of comics last year, we’ve been in the territory where more and more webcomics (and/or webcomickers) of a similar vintage would be meeting the mark. The Walkyverse hit 20 about five months after the Goatsiverse, and Penny Arcade will roll over the two decade odometer on Sunday, with a retrospective up at the site.

    PvP actually cleared the Big Two-Oh back in May without much fanfare; the actual day didn’t have even an oblique reference in the strip, unless you count that obvious 20-sided die in panel two. And now, it’s clear there was a reason for the earlier quietude.

    Scott Kurtz is doing a comprehensive reprint of the entire damn thing. Oh, sure, you can get a single hardcover with 200-odd pages of the best PvP strips (plus Kurtz’s Wedlock and Elementary, the former of which hasn’t been seen in forever and which I still maintain is his most promising work) for US$50. Or you can admit you’re a completist and get the strips not in the 20th anniversary volume. That’s nine damn hardcovers, every single strip, 2500+ pages, for US$200 which is kind of a bargain.

    I mean, it’s not spare change, but US$50 is an eminently reasonable price for a 200-ish page color hardcover, and by rights nine of them should come to US$450. Oh, plus whatever it costs you when you go to the doctor for painkillers after you throw your back out lifting the box they came in, because it comes to more than 22 frggin’ kilos.

    The PvP Definitive Edition 20th Anniversary Collection Kickstart runs for another 24 days, and by the FFF mk2 can expect to raise US$92K-138K (the midpoint of that range is about 153% of the US$75K goal). One potentially important factor: due to the relatively high price points on all rewards (US$10 for 1 PDF, US$45 for all 9 PDFs, physical rewards from US$50 to US$2000), this is going to be a relatively low backer campaign (as of this writing, the amount pledged per backer averages a staggering US$141!), and campaigns with fewer than about 200 backers on the first day (Kurtz had 90) are notoriously hard to fit to the prediction model.

    The McDonald ratio (hey, there’s Kel again) is probably a better predictor and it says US$108K. We’ll all find out together in a bit less than a month, and I for one am intensely curious to find out how many superfans out there are willing to engage in this degree of purchase.


Spam of this day:

At launch, the service includes comic titles such as, ‘Give My Regards To Black Jack’, ‘Vanguard Princess’, ‘Danity Kane’, ‘God Drug’, ‘Soul Ascendance’, original animation videos such as ‘Demian’, ‘Break Ups’, ‘Short Age’, the official soundtrack to the video game ‘Vanguard Princess’, and the award-winning feature-length animated film ‘Padak’ among others.

I wouldn’t even have mentioned this one except for two magic words: Dannity Kane. Because now I get to point you again to the one of the best editorial cartoons of the year: Reality Star’s Son Allegedly Had Affair With Reality Star by Kendra Wells. It never fails to make me giggle.

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¹ That’s pretty much their entire argument — if they can’t see copious titties in the kids cartoon, it’s devoid of worth and a dire insult.

² So same thing, really.

³ And dropping new issues on New Comic Day? Smart. Getting the readers to accept these are just another form of comics is going to drive readership, I’m sure.

Returns

  • I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it, what with it being one of my absolute favorites for the past half-decade, but Stand Still, Stay Silent has returned from inter-chapter (and in this case, inter-adventure) hiatus. The gang are exactly where we saw them last — locked in quarantine aboard a freighter, returning from the Silent World with their lives and some intelligence, but not as much loot as was hoped.

    The dead are still dead, the trolls are still trolls, and it’ll be interesting to see how Minna Sundberg motivates any of them to want to head away from the confines of home again. They’re all still haunted by the loss of Tuuri, but perhaps Lalli most of all. Emil’s been forced to grow the hell up some, and might see the value in staying somewhere that isn’t trying to kill him or drive him insane at all times. Maybe he’ll take up Finnish so he and Lalli can finally converse.

    Mikkel is tough to read; I get the feeling that he’d go back with others out of a sense of obligation, but not otherwise. Sigrun has been a hell-raiser, but losing somebody under her command like that gave her a real pause. And Reynir just wanted to see the world outside of his sheep meadow; he had no idea that it would be the Silent World. He’s ready to take up the crook again and never leave the paddock … except for those mage stirring’s he’s feeling. Kitty just wants scritches, and I wonder who’ll she’ll choose to go with.

    It’s as good as it ever was, and while I can’t see the road ahead, I’m sure that Sundberg knows what she’s doing. Updates Moon’s day, Tyr’s day, Thor’s day, and Freja’s Day, with gorgeous full-color pages.

  • Kerstin La Cross’s Bashers, an autobio telling of a particularly challenging (in more than just the physical sense) hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, started in June, ran for a chunk of summer, then hit hiatus (appropriately, La Cross was out hiking for a bit, then had to catch up on her work). It’s been back for a bit less than a month (keeping in mind that it updates Saturdays and Sundays, so you haven’t missed that much) and the tension is ramping up on Day Two of the adventure.

    We know from the prologue that things come to a head on Day Three, and at that point she and her husband will be far enough out on the trail that displeasure with one’s partner can’t be avoided by going to another room. You’ll have to get to the pickup point together, if only because food and shelter have to be shared. I can’t imagine getting into a spousal argument (the worst kind) and then not being able to clear off and cool down until days later. I said it when Bashers started, this is a brave thing that La Cross is doing, sharing this history. Give it a read.

  • So there’s this guy, Rob Rogers. He was the editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years (picking up a Pulitzer nomination along the way), and then one day he wasn’t. Like editorial cartoonists are supposed to do, he took aim at politics, and these days that means the screamy idiot who is inexplicably occupying the White House. Turns out the publisher and editor of the Post-Gazette are major trumpaloompas, and fired Rogers for doing his job too well. He’s since been replaced by somebody willing to meet the publisher’s sensibilities¹.

    Rogers, however, kept ownership of his cartoons when he left, which is why he’s able to print a new collection, which was announced today by publisher IDW. Enemy Of The People: A Cartoonists’ Journey. While the press release I received lacks certain details other media indicate it’s due out 11 December at a US$25 price point. Order it now to get under Reality Show Mussolini’s skin.


Spam of the day:

Give Yourself a Makeover with a New Hairdo | Hair Extensions

I may not be handsome in the Jon Hamm mode, but one thing I got? Lustrous hair. Drunk women in bars want to get their hands all over it.

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¹ Not sure where you’d find somebody of sufficient deference this side of Ben Garrison or Michael Ramirez, but he managed to. No links because those guys suck. Really, Garrison’s a white supremacy propagandist, and Ramirez is just this side of Kelly when it comes to hackiness.

I’m Not Obsessed With Elephants, You’re Obsessed With Elephants!

We approach the ending of the epic that will cement David Malki !’s reputation as a panopticonic pachydermic panjandrum, The Elephant Of Surprise, with reckless disregard for sanity and panel count. The latest installment (the next to last, if there be any reason left in the world) is 27 panels of mayhem and at least five new variations on the sick elephant key phrase. It’s like a woodcut sestina.

One thing that I note is that both the current update (TEOS, part 9) and the previous (TEOS, part 8), contain links to much older comics — Wondermark numbers 13, 245, 425, and 838, from 2003-2012. All of them relate to elephants somehow. The latest just so happens to contain within in words that can be fit into Malki !’s current obsession with variations on the phrase check out my sick elephant.

Which presents two possibilities: that Malki ! foresaw all of this, going back to the infancy days of webcomics and has been laying the groundwork for the past fifteen years, or that it’s all a giant hoax and the referenced comics never existed in the first place, dropped into the history of Wondermark at this late date, his entire archive redone for the sake of maintaining the illusion that these earlier comics just so happened to be adaptable to his present whims¹. He’s just enough of a madman for either to be true, and certainly determined enough to pull either of them off.

The wrap up of The Elephant Of Surprise (part 10) is due this week, and will likely cause all of Wondermark to collapse into a singularity of cross-reference so dense, so complete, that not even light can escape.


Spam of the day:

Need New Furniture? | View Black Friday Furniture Offers!

Do people really go looking for doorbuster sales on furniture? Doesn’t seem the sort of thing you could drag out of the Wal*Mart through the madding crowd.

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¹ Having in my possession all of the Wondermark books, I can confirm the first three strips appear in print and are likely genuine, or that Malki ! is cooking up more interesting things in his workshop that he’s previously let on, things that are capable of altering the contents of my books years after the fact.

Conveniently, the putative strip #838 appears in no print collection and the volume, Friends You Can Ride On, will by sheer coincidence not contain strip #838. Not content with the assumption that nobody would wait until the April 2019 release date to see if strip #838’s existence could be confirmed or not, Malki ! has put off the moment of reckoning for years, perhaps a half-decade or more. Only the most determined (or deluded) could keep their eyes on this prize for that long and my friends, I am that man.

I mean, have you seen the upper tiers of his Kickstarter? Somebody is getting a book with all the pages individually glued together. Somebody else is getting a book with random Sharpie censor bars applied to dialogue. There were options to receive books that had been set on fire, or … that’s it. That’s it! That’s where the proof that all of this was faked will be found, in the copy set on fire, the copy blacked out, the copy glued together, he’s taunting us with the truth almost in sight. Only Nicholas Cage can help us now!

Fleen Book Corner: The Hidden Witch

Do I need to say it? There’s spoilers ahead.

The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag released last Tuesday, and I’ve been reading it (in whole, front to back, back to front, certain sections again and again) nearly nonstop since then. I must confess that I feared I wouldn’t love it as much as I builtit up in my mind. After all, I loved the first book in the series, The Witch Boy (just yesterday, I was earnestly recommending it to the youth librarian in my town’s public library), and it was possible that it wouldn’t live up to my expectation.

I should have trusted Molly.

Which, in a way, is the lesson of The Hidden Witch. Trust is a tough thing to give, a tough thing to receive, and if we are brave enough to trust, and lot of grief can be avoided. If we can trust those who are different than us, can trust ourselves to see the good in them, we can maybe heal the hurts of the world.

Quick primer for those that skipped The Witch Boy: go read The Witch Boy. Do it now. If you absolutely can’t do it now for a damn good reason — like you’re on a ship at sea, or that one Russian dude that stabbed somebody in your Antarctic research station for being a jerk about spoilers is giving you the hairy eyeball, here’s the deal:

Aster’s just on the edge of his teen years; his family is magic, and the rules are clear: boys are shapeshifters, girls are witches. You can bend or stretch any rule you want except that one, and for damn good reasons — within living memory a boy that was determined to learn witchery was corrupted by dark magic and became a dangerous beast. Aster doesn’t want to become a beast, but he feels he’s a witch. Nobody really understands him but Charlie, the girl from town who’s nonmagical and doesn’t get the rules. Oh, and that beast? It’s picking off Aster’s cousins as they learn shapeshifting.

It’s also Aster’s grandmother’s brother, Mikasi; he had a talent for witchcraft, she has some skill shifting, and he got lost. It’s only because Aster escapes Mikasi’s notice that he’s able to help capture the beast — no boy would be a witch, no shifter could resist Mikasi’s power, and so he doesn’t think to guard against a witch boy. At the end, Mikasi is captured (but not redeemed), the family still loves Aster (well, they haven’t kicked him out or anything), and they’re trying to figure out what to do. It helps that Grandmother puts her foot down — Aster’s a witch.

Fast forward to the current book and Aster’s still finding his way in his family; not all of them are accepting of his choices in life. Mikasi is still captive and bestial, and while Grandmother knows how to take the darkness from him, she needs Aster’s help. That means that more than anything else, Aster must be open to understanding what drove Mikasi to become corrupted. Aster doesn’t want to understand, he’s much more comfortable retreating — and it’s not unreasonable for anybody to say he Hey tried to kill me and corrupt my cousins (even if they’re dicks to me sometimes) and I’m not cool with having to forgive.

But he does. And little by little, Mikasi starts to emerge, a half-century or more older than he remembers being.

Meanwhile, Aster’s cousin Sedge is having misgivings about his role in life; unlike Aster, he went along with the way things are done, but now that he’s seen darkness he’s not sure he wants to shift again. Maybe he never wanted to shift in the first place. But now that Aster’s shown mold-breaking is possible, Sedge is admitting it out loud, and to himself. He doesn’t want to be a witch, though — he wants to be a nonmagical kid, go to middle school, study math and science. It might be an even bigger break with How Things Are Done than Aster’s was.

And then there’s the unknown witch, one who’s messing with dark things not understood, one at risk of falling into the same corruption that took Mikasi. She’s a new kid in Charlie’s class, one that just wants friends but has so convinced herself she doesn’t have any (or deserve any) that she pushes everyone away. And there’s this helpful shadow that she can use to torment those who are mean to her (or pre-emptively before they get the chance to be), and her temper is shorter by the day. Charlie wants to be friends, but untrained witch Ariel doesn’t really know what that means. Her conception of friendship is full of exclusivity — almost possession — and runs riot with a jealous need to protect what she regards as hers.

Charlie isn’t magic except that she’s got empathy, and will risk danger among all these magic-slingers for the sake of a friend, even one that doesn’t think she’s a friend. Aster and Mikasi have the magic to clean up the darkness that tries to claim Ariel, but it’s Charlie that makes it possible. This is the central message of the story — magic is not greater than the bonds we make between ourselves.

Nowhere does Ostertag get at the heart of the contradictions that define us all (but especially teens and tweens) as in two simple panels. Charlie, Aster, and Sedge have made it past Ariel’s creatures and arrive to confront her — not in anger, but out of concern. Ariel is just starting to realize that she can’t control what she has unleashed and when she sees Charlie she’s relieved and grateful, followed quickly by closed off and resentful. She doesn’t like herself, she can’t believe anybody would like her, and so Charlie can’t be here to help her and screw her anyway.

Two panels. A heartbeat’s worth of time in the gutters between them. Two pictures. A lifetime of hurt and mistrust conveyed with utter crystalline clarity by the simple motion of Ariel turning away. And then the exchange that gets to who these characters are in eight words:

Charlie: Ariel —
Ariel: I won’t want you here.
Charlie: Too bad.

Oh, there’s more. Charlie not letting Ariel wall herself off, telling her that she deserves friendship, she’s worthy of it, to not be afraid of accepting it, to not let her darker impulses rule her emotions. There’s other small moments that pack as much in (Aster revealing to Sedge that he’s been helping Mikasi heal, Mikasi admitting the monster still resides in him), and there’s more sacrifice and growth on the part of nearly everybody. But those two panels, those eight words are the high point of the book. They pack all the emotions and lessons learned into their truest form — I’m here for you, and if you try to push me away, I’m still here for you. You’re hurt. You’re family.

There’s a reason that Charlie is the larger (and foregrounded) character on the cover; Aster’s story may be the throughline, Ariel’s may be the central focus, but Charlie’s the hero this time. She doesn’t need to study or dabble in esoteric knowledge — she’s got the simplest of the powers of anybody here. She knows how to offer friendship and to accept it in return. She knows how to call you on your crap when you deserve it, but let you know that she still loves you unconditionally. She knows how to bring out the best in people. She’s willing to help you with your damage. And she’ll literally dunk on you if try to mess with her friends; that basketball ain’t just for show.

The messages of The Witch Boy are still there, still being expanded on, but The Hidden Witch adds a very important truth to the mix — being different doesn’t mean you have to be alone, and those who aren’t perceived as different have the ability to welcome the lonely, the distressed, the outcast. If The Witch Boy taught every kid struggling with feelings they didn’t know how to process about who they are and who they can be, The Hidden Witch reminds every reader that being welcoming and open to who people are is our job. I know in my heart that in the past year, kids that see themselves in Aster are better off for his example; I know that in the year to come, kids that see themselves in Charlie are going to help those Asters and Ariels and Sedges find the space to be themselves.

And that’s magic.

The Hidden Witch, words and pictures by Molly Ostertag, is available at bookstores everywhere. It’s appropriate for every age that has the patience to consume a 200 page story.


Spam of the day:

Your Dishwasher repair costs are covered (complete details inside…)

In fact, my dishwasher had a problem — the gasket that seals the door had gotten folded over, making it impossible to close it fully. I fixed it with the foldy-over sealing cardboard from the top of a FedEx envelope.

I Couldn’t Decide What Image To Use, So I Used All Three

I’m mostly sitting here, trying to get work done in time to run out to the bookstore and pick up a copy of The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag, which is only the sequel to my favorite book of 2017. As soon as it’s obtained, you may expect a review here.

But that’s not all that’s going on this Halloweeneve, there’s other news from other webcomickers, and as is so very common these days, the most interesting work is being done by women. Let’s see what’s going on.

  • I mentioned The Hidden Witch, right? Just wanted to be sure.

  • Abby Howard, who produced my favorite book to date about dinosaurs, and my favorite book to date about pre-dinosaurs, answered both a question that I had and also my dearest wish. One may recall that in the review of Ocean Renegades I remarked:

    I’m going to guess that Ms Lernin and Ronnie make one more appearance in the Earth Before Us series, as there’s still the Cenozoic Era to explore. Ronnie loves the cute critters, I can’t wait to see what she loves in the Age Of Horns, or how she feels about the now-extinct glyptodont (giant armadillos) and megatherium (ground-dwelling enormo-sloths³).

    (The footnote referred to the fact that we can thank giant ground-dwelling sloths for avocados. Really!)

    And now we have our answer:

    This month I’ve been working on the inks for Earth Before Us 3, which will be out next summer~

    With an illustration of extinct mammals, giant rhino-like critters that in some cases dwarfed our modern elephants. Hooray! This is what I wanted, but boo! Judging by the release of the first two Earth Before Us books, it’ll be August before I get to read it.

  • Because if I missed mentioning The Hidden Witch, I’ll just kick myself, y’know?

  • I forget, do you need two unusual, related events to declare a trend, or three? Because I’m declaring a trend on webcomickers taking over legacy comic strips. We all know that the pseudonymous Olivia Jaimes has, over the past six months, shown us how good Nancy can be, and revealed a fundamental truth that all suspected but none could articuate: Sluggo is lit.

    Now Joey Alison Sayers has shared the news that she’s taking over a comic strip that’s arguably even older than Nancy¹:

    I’ve been sitting on some big news for a little while. I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you!
    Alley Oop Will Return (Spoiler Alert)

    And I’m incredibly lucky to be working with the brilliant @lemonworld

    Okay, so maaaaaybe I oversold the women run comics now, deal with it crybabies angle just a bit, as Sayers is partnering with Jonathan Lemon of Rabbits Against Magic on art. I absolutely don’t want to get into the false dichotomy of whether art or writing is more important in comics/comic strips, because they’re incomplete without the other. But my point stands — women pretty much are running comics, and that’s a damn good thing.

    That aside, uh, aside, Sayers tells us we should see the new Alley Oop come January. It’ll be a tall order, seeing as how the strip’s been in reruns since the start of September, and has 80+ years of history behind it².

    The great thing about Jaimes’s run on Nancy has been an acknowledgment of life in the 21st century while returning to the reality-bending heyday of Bushmillerian weirdness. I can only imagine what Sayers and Lemon will be able to do, but I suspect that in the new year we’ll find a breath of new life, excellent beefy-armed cavepeople, and awesome dinosaurs.

  • Seriously, though — go get The Hidden Witch.

Spams of the day:

Need a Loan? | Bad Credit? | Loan Options

and

Ready for Takeoff? | Private Jet Charters

In the past 24 hours, I received both of the spams above, which both sport the same bullshit “click here or write to us at this address [in Cyprus] to be removed from these mailings” bit at the bottom. Spammers, you are not targeting me very well. Do you think I’m a deadbeat in need of a usurious loan, possibly involving a pay day, or do you think that I have the money to throw around on private jets?

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¹ Arguably because while Alley Oop started in 1932 and Nancy in 1938, that’s the date that the title (and focus) shifted to Nancy from her Aunt Fritzi. Ernie Bushmiller had been running Fritzi Ritz since 1925, and the strip had been created in 1922 by Larry Whittington.

² Even more, considering the many side trips via time machine in the strip’s continuity.

Less Than A Week To Go

I believe that I’ve made no secret of the fact that the book that I enjoyed the most in 2017 — not just the graphic novel I liked best, the best book period¹ — was The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. I also believe I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was my distinct pleasure to tell Ms Ostertag that in person. Ever since I learned that a sequel was in the works, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to The Hidden Witch.

It releases on Tuesday, the very eve of Halloween. I am already bouncing off the walls in anticipation. In fact, I may have reacted to the news that Ostertag is having a launch party in LA on Saturday by trying to figure out if a quick cross-country round trip was practical².

But for you lucky SoCal types, The Hidden Witch will debut to the public at Secret Headquarters, 3817 W Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles from 3:00pm to 5:00pm. Afternoon, perfect for your younger Ostertag fans! She’ll be signing! There will be candy! Wear a costume!

And above all, tell Molly that I’m very proud of her, will be lining up at the local bookstore to purchase on the 30th, and that I’m pretty sure that The Hidden Witch will be my favorite book of 2018.


Spam of the day:

Trust us, it’ll only take days to drop your belly bulge

Mofos, if I drop any part of me I’ll disappear. I’m a twig.

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¹ Bear in mind that in the same year I read an excellent biography of Claude Shannon, the man that invented the field of electrical engineering upon which I concentrated my undergrad and graduate studies, the man whose seminal Figure 1 is my Pietà. Sorry, not sorry.

² It is not.