The webcomics blog about webcomics

All The Feels

Today, I bring you news that the Becky Beaton cancer fundraiser has cleared CDN$126,000, which is friggin’ amazing; I’m certain that the entire Beaton family thanks you. For some added context about what a bastard this particular cancer is, Kate shared the story of a friend of Becky’s with the same diagnosis at the same time and about the same age. Becky’s still with us, and if 2474 donors (and counting) have anything to say about it, she will be for some time.

I also bring news that Shing Yin Khor’s Small Stories collection (which I tweeted about here, and I stand by every word), containing the superlative Desert Walk and nine other stories of feelings, arrived today. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time on this one. It’s a good time to feel what it’s like to be somebody else. More on this one tomorrow.

The world is kind of terrible, so let’s do our best to not make it worse.

Spam of the day:


Then there’s these assholes, trying to get my attention by trafficking mail-order brides. Did you not see my heartfelt plea about not making things worse? Sheesh.


Sometimes, you just gotta go with what you know, and I know that when you say the word butts, a few names spring to mind.

  • Probably the first association is that of the perpetual back-and-forth between Jeph Jacques and David “Damn You” Willis. Seriously, just do a search for willis jacques butts and you’re buried in links to butts, butt tacos, and the dreaded butts disease. Jacques doesn’t actually figure into today’s story¹, but Willis does.

    Willis is, as we all recall, a webcomicker since small times, having started the first of his Walkyverse strips waaay back in September of 1997. Roomies! ran for two-plus years and spawned two books before mutating into It’s Walky!, at which point Willis stopped with the books until he started Shortpacked! in 2005. The entire run of It’s Walky — 99 to 2004 — remained available only in electron form until now²:

    IT’S WALKY! is a webcomic that ran from Christmas of 1999 through the end of 2004. In 2005, the first storyline was retold and redrawn as a full-comic-book-page-style graphic novel! …well, the first half was. The second half was completed in 2014. This book collects both this complete 83-page redrawn epic and the 78 original newspaper-style strips in CAPTIVATING black-and-white!

    Completists! You have the Roomies! books, the Shortpacked! books, the first five (or maybe six, as he’s finishing fulfillment now) Dumbing of Age books, but you do not have any It’s Walky! books. This is your chance to resolve that.

    Willis has done seven successful Kickstarts before, and he does so by setting a realistic goal, offering limited rewards, and generally keeping things simple; no variations this time. You get IW1 and/or a three-book bundle and/or some character magnets; a single stretch goal adds one magnet to the pile. That’s it. Simple, controlled, fulfillable by a sleep-deprived father of twin toddler sons.

  • Of course, there is another name we should think of re: butts. I speak, naturally, of the very sexy Richard Stevens III, for whom butts are a thing of beauty and reverence. That glow in the dark t-shirt was so compelling, I bought one for my dog, who has a deep and abiding interest in hashtag-butts.

    And today, Stevens lets that love express itself in the most magnificent fashion, as we are all treated to the mental image of one million butts per second³. My god, it’s full of stars.

Spam of the day:

designs and builds specialty lines of lead oxide production equipment,

Isn’t that the stuff they used to add to gas that filled the atmosphere and made us all stupid? Why would I want equipment to handle the idiot-making chemical?

¹ At least, not yet. Both he and Willis have been known to drop everything at the mere mention of butts, and create some new butt-themed drawing in about ten minutes flat.

² Or more precisely, until sometime around July, assuming the funding remains on track.

³ You will never look at a data transfer spec measured in mBps again without thinking of this. With the minor quibble that the strips title — GIGABUTT THROUGHPUT — would properly refer to one billion butts per second. Frankly, that thought is simply too beautiful for our puny human minds.

Fleen Book Corner: The Witch Boy

I finally got the chance over the weekend to pick up a copy of The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag; given that it released nearly two weeks ago, this was long overdue. Short version: you want to read this book which is beautifully illustrated, clever and subtle in its message, and a cracking good read; more importantly, you probably know somebody in the target age range (call it 8-12) that desperately needs to read this book. Longer version is below, with the requisite warning that spoilers abound.

Aster has the same problems as any other just-teen boy — cousins that make fun of him, a family that doesn’t understand him, expectations that he beats himself up for not fulfilling, or even feeling that he can fulfill. Then again, he’s got some problems that other just-teen boys don’t — three generations of his family, 20 or more people, all live together in a big house that’s somewhere between isolated and quasireligious compound.

There are rules in the family, too, some of which would be downright sinister in a slightly different story (don’t talk to strangers, don’t leave the property, there are evil things away from this place of safety that want to destroy you), and a great big one that dominates the story:

The family (and others like it, scattered around the world) has magic. Girls are witches. Boy are shapeshifters. Acting outside those roles is forbidden and dangerous.

Come to think of it, the blind faith in gender roles is still sinister, even though it comes from a place that’s more benign that a lot of real-world implementations¹. Aster understands, and he wants to fit in — he begs unseen fates to let him fit into his assigned role — but the truth inside him is undeniable. Shapeshifting doesn’t work for him, and he’s drawn to witchery.

Nobody understands, not his parents, his sister, his cousins, aunts and uncles … although Grandmother surprisingly doesn’t berate him, despite knowing more than any the danger in fighting the system. If you’re going to be playing with witchery, she says while correcting his pronunciation, at least get it right.

The only person he can confide it should think him even crazier than his family does — wandering out past the wards and guardian spells into suburbia, he meets Charlie: nonmagical, dreads on her head, denied participation on sports teams because they don’t let girls on them. She catches him doing magic, he confesses his misgivings, she tells him he should be who he knows himself to be. He’s a witch, and hers is the only encouragement he gets.

Good thing too, because one of those dangerous things wanting to destroy the family starts stealing away Aster’s cousins as they try to improve their shapeshifting. It whispers in their ears that it will make them powerful, let them defeat all those that have wronged them; Aster should be easy prey for temptation, but the tempter can only offer what Aster’s not interested in: mastery of shifting. Ultimately, it’s Aster’s delving into forbidden areas (scrying, healing, binding) that saves his cousins and unmasks the danger preying on his family. It takes some time (and a rather surprising remonstration from Grandmother) to set his family on the path of acceptance.

But — and I think this is the most important part of Ostertag’s message — there’s tension still there when Aster admits to Charlie, Mom and Dad don’t really get it, but … I don’t know, they haven’t kicked me out or anything. It’s a shock to their worldview and they don’t understand, but they love him. The rules are changing more quickly than anybody knows what to do with, but Grandmother’s word is I think we have much to learn from each other. And Aster decides that there are some rules you have to figure out for yourself.

Aster doesn’t get happily ever after because his life isn’t a fairy tale. It all worked out is messier, but ultimately more achievable. There’s a lot of readers of The Witch Boy (young and old) that need to be reminded that achievable changes and the path of acceptance and figuring out rules for yourself are things that can happen. Not usually as quickly as for Aster, but they can. And if their families aren’t as accepting as Aster’s, then deciding who gets to be their family is one of those rules you figure out for yourself.

Aster is people, Ostertag is telling us. Grandmother, who’s more than solely a witch and never admitted it before, is people. The rest of the family, coming around on their lifetimes of habit, are people. Charlie is people. Even the adversary is people, or was before he fell and rejected everybody that wasn’t him². The Witch Boy tells us unambiguously that anybody that tells you that you aren’t people, they need to come around.

In the meantime, you can come sit here with us. We know you’re people.

Spam of the day:

Black Friday racking up debt?

This doesn’t work until after Black Friday. You’re ten days early, scammers.

¹ Rather than being based on ancient dictates and the subjugation of women, the customs of gender roles is reinforced by a recent, living memory disaster of what happened when Grandmother’s twin brother tried to be a witch. Think fallen Jedi in thrall to the Dark Side.

² Or perhaps, was rejected by everybody around him, leading to the fall. There’s plenty of blame to go around there, even among the good folk of the family.

Audio, Video, Smart People

Want to see smart people talking about stuff? Time to follow some links, folks.

  • First up, Brad Guigar¹ took the time to talk to Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett as part of his Webcomics Confidential webcast series [Webcomics Dot Com subscription required]; for longtime readers of this page, it was a hearkening back to the glory days of what he learned at the recently-held PatreCon 2017. The conference was invite-only, and while there are some talks from last year’s iteration publicly available (and the same will probably happen eventually for PC17), there’s not really an effective way to learn everything that happened without talking to somebody that attended.

    Guigar and Kellett’s discussion is a dense hour of key points about how to use Patreon to its best effect, and if you’re on Patreon there’s undoubtedly good info for you here. It’s well worth tossing Guigar five bucks for a 30 day trial to have a listen and take notes. I will give you one nugget though — there’s a killer discussion of whether it’s better to set up your Patreon to run per month or per update.

  • Hey, remember when Kelly and Zach Weinersmith talked at Strand Bookstore and C-SPAN recorded it? That was great. It wasn’t known at the time when C-SPAN would be running the talk, but now it is:

    This Sunday at 7pm ET scientist Kelly Weinersmith and cartoonist Zach Weinersmith report on future technologies

    That would be Sunday, 12 November. C-SPAN is on your cable lineup in that block of channels you don’t usually visit. or will likely be here sometime after the broadcast premiere. You’ll learn about how supermarket snickerdoodles will enable the hilarious robot apocalypse, space elevators, why quantum computing will never get a popular explainer, and Crypt-Keeper wasps all of which will be worth your time.

Spam of the day:
We are offering this to you because you are a registered member of the comic community.
Okay, I mock down here, but I want to be serious for a minute.

This disclaimer was at the bottom of an email imploring me to support a Kickstarter that recently concluded (it was sent approximately halfway through the successful campaign).

I’m not mentioning its name and I’m never going to mention it, because this? This was done wrong. You got my email from a list I’m on because I hold press credentials for SDCC; it’s meant for sending news and announcements.

While it’s acceptable to indicate that you’re running a Kickstarter, a press release is not the same as the give-us-money appeal that you send to your audience. People wanting to let me know about your thing, don’t do this.

¹ A sexy, sexy man.

Let’s Give FSFCPL A Break

He cranked out nearly 6500 words of reporting from Saint-Malo over the past week, and we thank him, and apologize for any repetitive strain injuries that the typing may have exacerbated. In the meantime, let’s see what’s happening on this side of the pond.

  • A whole mess o’ books released from distinguished creators over the past week. Since last Tuesday, you’ve got Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy, Jason Shiga’s fourth (and concluding) volume of Demon, and Andy Hirsch’s Dogs: From Predator To Protector (part of the :01 Books Science Comics line). The entire Demon series is great, Dogs is good! very good! such a good book!, and I haven’t had a chance to pick up The Witch Boy yet, but I completely trust Ostertag.
  • On top of those, today Scott C has announced the release of his latest, Splendid Life: The Art Of Scott C. Every love with every inch of your heart his Great Showdowns and the printed collections of same? How about his whimsical and lovely childrens books, both as illustrator and writer/artist?

    There’s pretty much nobody that creates a sense of joy in his work; even among mortal enemies, everybody’s in a good mood. He’s pretty much a one-man happiness generator, and I have no reason to believe that Splendid Life will not provoke spontaneous smiles on every page.

  • Speaking of books, Sophie Goldstein is out on the trail in support of her stellar House Of Women (which has been previously released in chunks via PDF), with her latest travels taking her to The Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont (her alma mater) on Thursday (that would be the 9th, the day after tomorrow) and Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend at the Pratt Institute. This is pretty much wrapping up her tour, so if you get the chance to see her, grab it.
  • Speaking of Comic Arts Brooklyn, there’s sure to be lots of other great people there, but their exhibitor list is (while very artful) designed to make it nearly impossible to pick out names without significant effort. Maybe somebody that does comics could coach the showrunners on lettering and readability?

Spam of the day:

CITY Residents Qualify for 2017 Solar Rebates

Jesus tapdancing Christ, I get twelve calls a week from various companies falling over themselves to selflessly offer me 800 – 237% savings on my electric bill, and now you’re emailing, too? Get bent.

From The Saint-Malo Comics Festival, Part The Third

We wrap up the coverage of the Quai des Bulles comics festival in Saint-Malo, courtesy of Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, with an intriguing look at a boundary-breaking comic. This looks really, really good and I can’t wait for somebody in the Western Hemisphere (are you listening, :01 Books?) to grab the reprint rights.

Except for a few offsite events (for which you had to rely on the plan to get to, no signage), Quai des Bulles is quite concentrated around the Palais du Grand Large, a proper convention center with theater, auditorium, enclosed floor space for exhibitions and the like, a bar for refreshments, etc. Meanwhile, on the other side of the road (thankfully closed to traffic for the duration), a large tent housed the exhibitors: all major French-Belgian publishers (plus Urban i.e. DC) and most minor ones were there with their wares and table space for creators to sign at. Under the tent as well were booksellers specialized in original and historical editions of comics, art schools, publishers of youth books (not just comics), as well as Asmodee, because why not play a board game in between two signings?

And in order to find one’s way between all that, they featured interesting signage, here on the road between the tent and the convention center, or here once inside the convention center to further determine where to, etc. The convention in general was well run, though I did not get to interact with convention staff (other than the people checking tickets upon entry, etc.) given they required professional journalist proof to give accreditation, so I did not manage to get accredited. That did not hamper me in covering the convention from start to finish, however.

Highlights of the day:

  • A meetup with Pascal Jousselin set up (again) by N Masztaler. It was even more conversational than the previous day’s with Marie Spénale, not to mention in an Irish pub¹ (which did not lend itself to the deployment of the Fleen French Mobile Newsdesk, i.e. an iPad and wireless keyboard), so it was not transcribed; but of note from his background was the fact he was part of a comic project with fellow creator Brüno where they would each draw a page and send it to the other for him to continue, and they set up a mailing list for the public to follow the project, before it was eventually published on paper.

    Currently, he works on Imbattable (unbeatable), which he introduces as the first real comics superhero. How so? Well, best let Editions Dupuis show you, and observe how you hardly need to understand what is being said in these pages (and he notes that it is hardly a good investment for his publisher, given it won’t ever be able to cash in on that sweet, sweet movie or animation adaptation money²). I did get the book (volume two and three are in preparation), and a review is in order.

    I first heard of Imbattable on Twitter (via Boulet, most likely), and I then got to see a few more pages since they were part of the exhibition around the work of Scott McCloud that I covered as part of Lyon BD: how best to show how comics reading works than by showing examples of how it can be broken? Still, I was skeptical: I was afraid such tricks would turn into an easy way out of situations (think Tex Avery), so an entire comic book around that? But I was wrong: not only it is brilliant, but in fact it has to obey twice the constraints as usual, as the reading has to make sense whether you follow Imbattable’s sequence, or the regular sequence; each page is a marvel of construction.

    And they spared no expense: at some point an action seemed not to make sense … until I exclaimed: “Oh come on, he could not possible have dared to do that, no way, no how!”

    I lifted the page to check.

    Turns out, he did dare.

    I won’t spoil it; I will just note that the printer must have hated Jousselin and his publisher for it (that, or they comfortably billed for the additional printing pass).

    Furthermore, while it started out as a gag a day week whenever³ without necessarily a book as the goal, after a few pages it became obvious there was something there and (in a process that webcomics often follow as well) Jousselin started expanding both the setting and in some cases the page count of each story. And while keeping the original concept as well as some aspects that harken back to the early days of comics when everything seemed possible, he did manage to insert some meaningful stories, such as the unusual way the one who will become his sidekick is first introduced, or the hardly black and white situations Imbattable ends up finding himself in (though Jousselin mentions Imbattable is a bit on the naive side).

    And all the while, Imbattable manages to remain accessible to the youngest readers. Jousselin told the first book did not publish as soon as the pages were ready, as the sales team got stuck on how to market it, and initially thought going towards a connoisseur market, which I found silly: while it is true that classic creators such as Pétillon, Gotlib, Fred, Greg, Hergé (in Quick Et Flupke), or Windsor McCay if I remember correctly have used approaching techniques, so have children magazines in the less distant past, which shows children easily get it. To me this work joins the lowbrow and the highbrow (remember its presence in the McCloud exhibition), the new and the experienced readers, the young and the old. Buy it.

  • Watching the Atelier Mastodonte perform its show; in fact they did one each day around noon where they would first invoke the names of Franquin, Bagieu, Achdé, etc. so as to get help with their tendinitis, impending tax reform (not a U.S.A.-exclusive concern), etc., then give each other drawing challenges, challenge the public with quizzes (in relation to comics of course) such as “for each of these words, it is the name of a comics creator, or an onomatopoeia … or possibly both!”, or give silly conferences such as Hergé’s last message, where Lewis Trondheim would claim to have found the secret message for the future of comics that Hergé hid deeply in his Tintin books but left clues for. It felt like standup, especially as they were simply on a podium with an audience made of the people eating at the tables of the bar built in the convention center.

    Atelier Mastodonte is also a comic in Spirou from the same people where the members each draw an update before another draws the next, either building off the previous one or starting something else; it purports to tell the story of the creators themselves working together in a studio. Of course, in true autobioish fashion they actually work in their own respective cities rather than a studio in Marcinelle (Dupuis’ headquarters), but Jousselin, who is part of the atelier, noted during the meetup that he ends up spending more time on the internal blog/discussion board where scripts are coordinated than he does discussing with his actual studiomates in Rennes … even if it is not available on the web, Atelier Mastodonte is in a way an online creation.

  • In the last few hours of the show, murdering my wallet with sweet, sweet comics loot.

Spam of the day:

Tinder [incomprehensible Cyrillic script]

Oh, right, I totally forgot that I signed up for a hookup app in a language I neither read nor speak.

¹ Special mention to the lady who, upon discovering the setup (a side room of the pub with only bar tables, no “real” table), told the person she was with: Ah he’s not doing a signing, let’s go elsewhere.” within earshot of everyone.

² Though after someone asked how it could work anyway, we brainstormed and your correspondent mentioned how in Mel Brook’s Spaceballs the titular Spaceballs try and look into future events by watching the VHS tape of their own movie, and others mentioned how in Looney Tunes or Tex Avery shorts the characters would sometimes peer into the future of the film roll, or escape it, or even possibly cut it out entirely to escape a gruesome fate.

³ Before they get published in books, Imbattable stories are published one by one in the Spirou weekly periodical, and Jousselin has an agreement with his publisher that they come whenever they are ready, without any set schedule: he wants the idea to be right each time without repeating himself.


Oh, man! Manafort and Gates indicted, Papadopoulos pled guilty and has been cooperating for months, and I got my copies of Soonish and the abridged versions of both the Bible and all of science! It’s a day full of presents!

There will be a proper review of Soonish coming, err, soonish; I was lucky enough to read a copy of the manuscript late in the editing process, but that was a year ago and I want to see what the final version is like.

In the meantime, please note that David Malki ! is doing his thing again, which in this case is defined as making something cool and unique with the tools at his disposal. Longtime readers of this page may recall that the tools at Malki !’s disposal incorporate extensive wood- and metal-working capabilities, up to and including lasers.

Taking a page from a popular piece of his convention merch (cork coasters in geeky designs), Malki ! apparently asked himself What if I made geeky designs in laminated wood, larger, suitable for display on horizontal surfaces or wall hanging? The logical answer being, ART:

Framed artwork made with lasers! Each piece is hand-assembled in our Los Angeles workshop. The square ones are 12×12″ and the rectangular ones are 11×17″ These lighthearted designs will brighten any room AND listen to your troubles without complaint. And because they’re made of resin laminate (assembled from cut-out shapes of different colors and textures), they’ll stay bright and colorful for at least 200 years, or so the manufacturer says. Why would they lie? [emphasis original]

Wall Buddies, as they are named, represent key underlying character traits that we all posses: Memory (represented by a floppy disk¹), Hunger (a pizza), Proficiency (a Nintendo controller), Strategy (a chessboard²), Synthesis (a cassette tape), Patience (a Tetris game, with the long piece about to drop in perfectly), Improvisation (a d20), and Productivity (the happy poop emoji).

Each goes for US$40 in the Kickstarter (with multiples available), as well as the opportunity to hang out in a laser-equipped shop and make your own. The campaign runs just about another month, and the exceedingly modest goal of US$2650 is already 35.5% funded. These sorts of projects tend to be short runs for Malki !, so if you don’t get in now, there probably won’t be a lot left over for purchase via other channels³.

Okay! That’s it! Now to engage in a bit of political schadenfreude, read some funny and enlightening books, and (oh, yeah), do my actual job. Stupid job.

Spam of the day:

Anabelle wants to invite you to a great site

Anabelle is pretty excited to tell me about Ashley, who apparently is super hot and wants to have hot sex with me because it would be hot. But more interesting is that domain that Anabelle is mailing from: Apparently, Santa is a pimp.

¹ Floppy disks are an obsolete computer storage format, kids. Know your history!

² Not an actual chessboard, the image of a chessboard, with a game in progress.

³ Similarly, the annual Wondermark calendar inserts, which will probably go up for order/Kickstart about the time this campaign closes.

Of Note On This Friday Afternoon

One recap, three things coming up, then the weekend.

Recap! The Ignatz Awards took place last month at SPX, and they were taped. I didn’t realize that they video had been released for nearly a week, so thanks to Jess Fink’s tweet, which pointed to Rob Clough’s tweet, which pointed to the video. One great thing about the Ignatzen, apart from the high caliber of nominees and winners? Brevity. Over and done in a little more than an hour so the attendees can get down to the dance party and chocolate fountain.

This weekend! (Unfortunate Half) Nidhi Chanani has been on tour in support of Pashmina; this weekend she was scheduled for Third Place Books in Seattle (tomorrow) and Half Price Books in Dallas (Sunday). I say was because she’s been down with a nasty bug for the last couple of days, and is unfortunately unable to travel. What’s most important is that she get better, and secondarily that she be able to make later commitments (like the YALSA conference in Kentucky at the end of next week). Feel better, Nidhi! Everybody drop her a line of good wishes, and go read Pashmina because it’s really, really good.

This weekend! (Fortunate Half) Abby Howard does great comics — funny comics, creepy comics, smart comics, and true comics — but in my mind is becoming ever more associated with comics about dinosaurs. She’s probably the best-educated-about-dinosaurs cartoonist we have right now, not to mention the most cartoon-skilled general paleontologist¹. She’ll be running a workshop of dinosaur illustration at the Boston Public Library tomorrow at 3:00pm.

Now, there’s a lot of libraries in Boston with a lot of events (especially considering Boston Book Festival is on), but for this event, you want the Central Library at 700 Boylston (that’s Copley Square), in the Johnson Building, the Rey Room (that’s the Children’s section). Go draw some dinosaurs.

Next week! The fourth (Fourth? That can’t be right, but it is. Fourth!) volume of Erika Moen & Matthew Nolan’s Oh Joy, Sex Toy releases on 14 November, and to celebrate there’s gonna be a release party². Day after Halloween, y’all, at Books With Pictures, 1100 SE Division Street in Portland. Nolan and Moen will talk about OJ,ST and there will be snacks, drinks, and signing starting at 7:00pm and running to 9:00pm. If you go, give newly minted American citizen Nolan a high five for me.

Spam of the day:

FaceRig releases fun Halloween avatars and multiuser tech

I have no idea what any of this means, and the attached press release doesn’t really tell me. Weird.

¹ To clarify: Mark Witton does amazing art and is an actual working paleontologist, with a scientific and artistisc focus centering on pterosaurs. Great artist, but not a cartoonist. No stories.

² Quit snickering, this is serious.

Squirtle Should Not Be At Auschwitz

I swear that title actually means something in context.

Kelly and Zach Weinersmith were at Strand Boooks in Manhattan last night, kicking off their monthlong book tour in support of Soonish. For those of you that don’t want to read, the talk was recorded for C-SPAN and will appear as part of their books series in a couple weeks, and Zach did a solo interview with ABC today that that went over many of the same points. Everybody else, onwards.

Here’s the thing about Soonish that you should know — it was a joint effort that played to both authors strengths (Kelly: scientific interviewing and bibliographies; Zach: wide and deep self-taught curiosity about nerd stuff and also dick jokes), that would have absolutely destroyed a lesser marriage.

Each of the topics that they examined took a solid month of research and writing and interviewing and doublechecking — and keep in mind that they did the full workup on more than the ten technologies that made it into the final book¹. Much of it took place while Kelly was particularly busy². There were Nobel laureates to talk to, agents and editors to keep happy, and a looming deadline.

For those that are interested in the mechanics of making the book and their working process, they’ll be recording a podcast on that topics in New York City tonight, but the short version is (per Zach) For any task, somebody has to be in charge. It doesn’t matter who, and it switched back and forth for each chapter, but somebody has to be the one that make the decision to alter direction, kill the project, take responsibility. That, and recognizing it’s not personal, is how they got through the process.

But when you get to write a book about all the ways that things that look great (spaceflight for US$500/kg instead of US$20,000!) will actually kill us in foreseen (whoever gets it first can just hang out in orbit with a bunch of tungsten rods that they drop onto Earth with the force of nuclear bombs!) or unforeseen ways (and in order to do it, you have to have perfect understanding of the weather patterns of the globe, predict them with 100% accuracy into the future, and build a 100,000 km long chain of carbon atoms with exactly zero of them out of place or it all fails spectacularly!), that process has its perks.

That’s before they get to how humanity will voluntarily let itself be slaughtered by robots in exchange for cheap cookies, or just the reassurance that the robot is trying hard to help while the smoke and toxic gases are getting closer. As a species, we are often not very smart, which means maybe we shouldn’t be allowing people to create their own viruses for fun and profit?

And what do you do when people will inevitably engage in acts like hate crimes in augmented reality, while doing nothing in actual real reality? Then Pokémon Go came along and planted Pokestops at the Holocaust Museum and the sites of concentration camps, and we saw how maybe we haven’t anticipated all the outcomes just yet. I’m not saying that we’re good at planning for unexpected contingencies, but we’re at least starting to get used to the idea that we haven’t thought of all the side effects in our whiz-bang future tech utopias. Like Kelly said, Nintendo did the right thing because … well, you know.


  • The very nice woman that owns the Strand introduced Kelly and Zach, but pretty obviously was not familiar with the work of the Whiner-Schmidts.
  • There were multiple questions about SMBC comics and how Kelly looks grumpy in them, which I should really dispel. Kelly is one of the bubbliest, most excited to share knowledge, funniest people you’ll ever meet. Okay, so she doesn’t get the whole single-use unlubricated monocle thing³, but she is no more the scowling cartoon than Zach is the feral, unclothed crazy person he draws himself as (although, on second thought …).
  • Since Zach got a couple of solo questions about his work, I asked one to Kelly: Favorite parasite and why? After taking a moment to reassure the audience that studying parasites is her actual job and she’s not just a weirdo, she proudly recounted the story of the parasitoid — it must kill its host to complete the reproductive cycle — that her team discovered. Eudurus set, the Crypt-Keeper Wasp, is a remarkably nasty piece of work and Kelly positively shines when describing it.
  • Asked about what they’re working on next, Kelly mentioned getting back to her day job research, and Zach mentioned that he’s teamed up with economist Brian Caplan to illustrate a graphic novel that argues the economic benefits of immigration.

Soonish is available in bookstores everywhere. The book tour continues apace.

Spam of the day:

SqrtnAmy16 wants to know if you’re free this week

No lie, I am running around like an alligator on fire this week. Thanks, though!

¹ They started with 50, but at book length, that didn’t allow any more depth than a mildly amusing Wikipedia article. They chopped down to 25, then 11, eliminating topics that rely too much on magic, or unrealistic economics, or are so far advanced that minor incremental changes will get us there.

The eleventh was quantum computing, which they abandoned late in the game for not being able to do a sufficiently good job explaining it. The longest surviving chapter in Soonish is ~10,000 words, and QC had more than 30,000 that didn’t do justice and would have only grown further in time and word count. Ten’s a good round number anyway.

² Asked in the Q&A how they dealt with news breaking that disrupted what they’d already written — which happened with both Cheap Spaceflight (thanks, Elon Musk!) and Augmented Reality (thanks, Pokémon Go!) — Kelly responded, I’d say drinking, but I was pregnant while we were writing it.

³ You’re buying them in 25 packs! Why? How? I didn’t mention it to her afterwards, but I did in fact make use of such a monocle to look dapper as fuck at my niece’s wedding.

Starting To Understand TopatoCo A Little Better

Particularly, the bit that says:

Customs policies vary wildly and unpredictably from country to country. You should contact your local customs office for further information; please do not complain to us as we have little to no control over your government’s policies (for now). Customs clearance procedures can sometimes create delivery delays beyond what we originally estimate.

At least, I think that’s the relevant passage. One may recall that waaaay back in May, thanks to the generosity of Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett, I was able to give away a copy of the gorgeous first hardcover collection of DRIVE. The winner, a person named Mario, happens to hail from Portugal, which meant that the arrival of the package would happen potentially never. Today, it was delivered.

To my doorstep.

That’s it up at the top of the page¹. I think the stickers on the box mean that it sat at Portuguese customs until they got tired of looking at it/decided not to deliver it, and it was sent back across the ocean to me. Thanks for not stealing it, Portuguese customs/mail officials, that was very nice of you! Suggestions as to what I should do with it are now being cheerfully accepted, but I think that I am not going to try shipping it across the planet again. Mario, and I’m sorry that you didn’t get the book, sorry that it cost US$22.50, 162 days, and probably 15 hours total flight time to end up back where it started. I tried hard.

  • I try hard, by coincidence, is how Ryan North signed my copy of Happy Dog the Happy Dog, along with a little hand-drawn doodle of T-Rex. It’s adorable. It’s also a segue, as I note that today is the birthday of Ryan North, and also of John Allison. Webcomics is lucky to have two such excellent gentlemen in it, and we at Fleen wish to offer the very best returns of the day to Messers Allison and North, with the expectations of many more to come.
  • Speaking of happy dogs, the fine folks at :01 Books have sent me a copy of the latest addition to their Science Comics series, Dogs: From Predator To Protector by Andy Hirsch.

    It’s a great read, and it’s a heck of a way to teach tweens (and up) not only about pooches, but a goodly amount of evolution and genetics — we’re talking meiosis, DNA base pairs, Punnett squares, alleles, and dominance, people. Darwin’s in there, but he actually is less of a focus than Gregor Mendel and Dmitry Belyaev.

    Add into that a good discussion of dog senses, dog behavior, and dog BALL! BALL! BALL! communication modes, and you’ve got a pretty excellent primer into what’s probably the second-greatest thing accomplished by humanity as a whole³. Dogs is available at bookstores everywhere on Tuesday, 31 October.

Spam of the day:

GRAND_FUCK_AUTO It doesn’t get more fun than this – Play Now

I don’t even want to know.

¹ At last, I think it is — I haven’t opened the box to see if maybe it’s half a blender instead².

² I checked, not a blender. In fact, it is a copy of the DRIVE hardcover, in perfect condition.

³ I still give the #1 slot to the eradication of smallpox.