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From The Saint-Malo Comics Festival, Part The Second Subpart The Second

Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin has finished transcribing the discussion panel mentioned yesterday, and it’s an extensive, illuminating look at the present and future of making/publishing French-Belgian comics. Dig in and enjoy.

The meetup began by an introduction of Spénale: her blog, and her first book, Heidi In Spring, which is already in the selection for an award, to which Spénale reacts that this is big for a first book.

Why start a blog?
When she was a teenager it was all the rage, and she opened one in her last year of junior high (ca. 2004-05), and it became the means through which she got contacts; and by now it is necessary to have at least an Internet presence. Today she mostly uses Instagram, and Facebook like (most) everybody else; Twitter only for completeness. She still keeps the blog for longer pieces. She does have a YouTube channel, though it is still an experiment.

Is it easy to make a YouTube video?
It is difficult because she has to learn everything as she goes along (framing the shot, editing, sound recording with a phone, etc.). She feels the need to comment her drawing process, so it takes time to create.

Does the fact she publishes these drawings change the way she draws and what she decides to draw?
A bit, but not fundamentally: she also draws full-time as an illustrator so it has a limited influence.

Is it worthwhile given the time spent on it?
Facebook killed the blogs in a way, so she had to get on social networks. It takes time, but since she would draw those anyway, just posting them takes little time; now on to whether it is worthwhile …

So what is it useful for?
It gives a visibility, which is always useful, but it does not bring anything to her work proper; however professionally it serves to grow her contact list an an illustrator, and in particular allows potential clients to discover new sides of her rather than have them always ask the kind of drawings she already provides professionally. You have to be careful not get carried away chasing “likes”. Not everything is published on social networks, and that includes personal drawings she keeps for herself.

Did her online activities help her getting into professional networks?
It is important to have a place to show one’s work, but are social networks the best for that? Blogs remain important for that purpose. However social networks matter to stay in contact. They matter as well as to get peer recognition.

Is the blog only a display window?
In the beginning she would tell random stuff, with a lot of experimentation; now that she’s read by clients and colleagues, she has polished what she publishes, indeed it is mostly a display window. But it remains important as a potential outlet to express herself.

She does not limit her instructional comments to her videos: she showed the making-of of Heidi In Spring on her blog, and it also sometimes shows how client illustrations are made step by step. Are those important for her?
It something she both loves to make and loves to see from others; a finished illustration is boring by itself, she wants to show more.

Is the instructional work she does useful for her own illustration work?
Not directly, but as a youth illustrator she often draws instructional pieces, even if she does not write them, so that helps there. She is not interested in comics reporting per se.

Does she work digitally? (Yes) But she does publish traditional media pieces (watercolors, etc.), is it a way to maintain her skills?
Digital is a work requirement, and a computer also helps to create very clean artwork for best legibility, but hand drawing is possible in more places… and is more photogenic. And she occasionally has whims, such as watercolors.

What hardware does she use, and how?
A 16″ Wacom Studio Pro; Manga Studio for most drawing work, including the initial sketches, and Photoshop for colors. It is not very transportable, but the screen is top of the line: beforehand she used a model with quite thick glass protection, the current model has a much thinner “gap” as well as smooth surface where the pen slides, which make her feel like she really is drawing. Photoshop is a bit slow but it works OK.

So she had to give up on Inktober this year; does the Internet facilitate experimentations with its immediate feedback?
Indeed, it allows to gauge crowd reaction. Heidi In Spring started on Instagram, then she started going What if I told small scenes?; people were asking for more of those and she deduced there was something there, which she materialized in a book some time later.

What is the makeup of her following, age-wise?
Many teenagers follow her on Instagram, especially when Cyprien links to her. Hard to tell beyond that.

Has she had any rights issues with her work?
Twitter and Instagram would seem to be reserving more and more rights for content posted there, and it is unclear what they could do; it might be better not to post there … but it would seem difficult for them to actually take advantage of it. And of course third parties are not allowed to repost her content without her prior permission, some do but that is illegal.

How did the book itself come about?
The intent was there from the beginning, but the pages themselves were rearranged and redrawn anyway. She showed the project to Yannick Lejeune (who also managed Festiblog/WeDoBD [Author’s note: the demise of which your correspondent laments every day]), who had already seen some of her work: could we see each other for a project? The tone changed a bit: it became sort of an [initiation], so it was not necessarily obvious to tell what it would become solely from the project or the blog. The blog was mostly useful to get that first meeting.

Is it a risk for her activity as youth illustrator do be doing explicit work?
She does not feel that way, in fact it might even be in continuity with her own work. But of course she warns on social networks when potentially adult content is posted.

And what was the goal?
Roughly, to take a character who is a sort of childhood icon, and show she has to become an adult at some point.

What did the blog bring on the writing side?
The blog was pretty much her starting point to do comics work: she is confident in her illustration skills, but she would never have dared to propose doing a full story without her blog experience under the belt.

Is she censoring herself on the Internet?
Not really, no.

How much research did she have to do on the teenage stage? Did she have to get back to her own teenage years?
Of course, but she also read a lot of psychology (such as Françoise Dolto), which helped for the general framework of the book: when she was experimenting on Instagram Heidi lived short stories but otherwise lived in a status quo, now how to have a scenario that leads to a proper end? All her reading allowed her to create an evolution by better understanding how a teenager works. She also came back to the original novel and researched on all adaptations of Heidi. There is a bit of her, but she intended it to be universal. And she gets to begin it from a known situation: that from the novel.

And what were her goals with regard to Heidi’s sexuality?
The goal is foremost the emancipation of Heidi, sexuality is a mean among others towards this end, which is necessary of course: Heidi has desires. But it is only part of the goal.

There is something of a “likes” culture among teenagers today; are they more egocentric now?
She does not know, but she met an 11-year old boy who wanted to draw and was feeling the pressure as if grown-up expectations were put on him, this has always existed but tends to be magnified by social networks. But Internet also means even teenagers in remote areas have access to an immense wealth of resources. And on the other hand, being this much in contact means there tends to be a concentration towards a few drawing styles (one being for instance the influence of Steven Universe).

So everybody is watching each other, are some chasing “likes” as an activity?
Yes, not necessarily among French-speaking creators, but yes: some creators make a living solely from content on social networks and Patreon. Aside: she does not want to open one, as she gets the feeling only her family would tip … these creators tend to play to their audience, and tend to format their content: “feel-good” cartoons, staying on the formula that worked before, etc.

Is there a risk for Tipeee/Patreon to bring about dictatorship of the public, detrimentally to the artist’s vision?
She considers that the creators who take that into account are not creating auteur works in the first place.

What about chasing for likes?
There is some risk of a bubble, but it will probably blow over.

What if Heidi had had Facebook?
Not sure what that would have changed, however if Heidi had had Tinder, that would be another story …

Is she interested in Turbomedia, etc?
She likes animation and tries to train herself, but she does not want to use digital gadgets solely for the purpose of using digital gadgets: she feels the need to respect sequential art. She finds Summer to be interesting, even if the music and animations are probably superfluous in her opinion, the concept is very interesting. But she can’t help but note it ended up being published on paper in the end …

How does she see the possibility of publishing French-Belgian comic books on tablets? To which this correspondent added: Beyond the obvious size issues. [Author’s note: A4 is simply unreadable on anything smaller than a 12.9″ iPad Pro]
Even if the traditional 48 pages A4 format is not suited, there is worthwhile content to read, such as reporter comics; if it does not sell, it means readers are not convinced.

If Delcourt had rejected the project, how would she have published Heidi In Spring?
She wanted to work with a publisher, especially for her first book, so she would have tried harder to find a publisher, and eventually switched to another project if she couldn’t have managed to find one: self-publishing is an enormous amount of work … maybe eventually she will consider it. Doing so requires pleasing a public in order to have a sufficiently large community for that, though, which represents a loss of liberty somewhat.

On that matter, she signed very early in the project: it was barely developed at that point, and she was left to develop it with a lot of freedom from the publisher, even if he did bring an indispensable help as an outside observer: he can tell her The page does not make sense to me, which is hard to see on one’s own work.

How is she managing her social presence? In order to be more visible, etc.
Some tricks work better than others: front pose rather than a side shot, a girl [drawing or painting] rather than a boy, pretty rather than ugly, watercolors, staging the sheet of paper improves things too .. but that is not the goal. She has a community based on [involvement]: Here is something just for you. She answers comments from time to time, but maybe she shouldn’t: it is a huge time sink.

What is the French-Belgian comic book of the future?
There is a trend in the French-Belgian world today towards knowledge/non-fiction/reporter books, but maybe it’s only a temporary trend. Maybe one day French-Belgian digital comics will be viable, but that day has not come. Maybe things won’t change and the French-Belgian comic book of the future will simply have a pretty cover.

Now you know why we waited a day to run this panel report! Thanks as always to FSFCPL for doing yeoman’s work in keeping all of us on this side of the Atlantic up to date in bandes dessineés. I was particularly surprised — although perhaps should not have been — to learn about the influence that Steven Universe has on non-anglophone artists. Now I have to wonder how difficult it is to translate all of those songs that are so critical to their respective stories.

Spam of the day:

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From The Saint-Malo Comics Festival, Part The Second Subpart The First

What’s better than transatlantic comics coverage? Nothing! Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin continues his reportage from Saint-Malo, with the first part of Day Two coverage, with more to come.

Saint-Malo is not a big city; if you’ve never heard of it before, one of its claim to fame is that it was the home harbor for famed corsairs such as Robert Surcouf. And it is because the Falklands were often visited by sailors from there that in France we call them: les îles malouines (which is why the Argentinians call them the Malvinas).

But Quai des Bulles is big. They claim to be the second biggest French-Belgian comics festival, and I have no trouble believing them: just look at that program, list of expected creators, and exhibitors floor plan. And let me tell you, after a while the sheer number of people meant the ambiance under the tent was quite warm, even though it was cold outside.

There were not many webcartoonists present; for instance, this year Lapin had no booth. But this was more than compensated for by excellent programming which will be covered in the highlights.

  • Catching a glimpse of Maester, who came to sign for one hour even though he is still recovering from a stroke that left his left side paralyzed. Kudos, master.
  • A fairy tale (East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, if my references are correct) performance with professional conductor and musician, with scenes drawn live by Obion.
  • A “conference” by “Prof” Bernstein and James on the art of the joke … which was itself silly, or at least ostensibly so: it is true that context and timing matter a lot for joke delivery for instance. It took place in the same auditorium (the amphitéatre Maupertuis in the Palais du Grand Large) as the Montaigne event from the previous day, and I must thank the designers of that auditorium for including a power outlet and a folding tablet for each seat, greatly facilitating this hack pseudojournalism activity. [Editor’s note: I didn’t make him say that, but it makes me very, very happy.]
  • A meetup with Marie Spénale set up by N. Masztaler on the matter of new publishing means [Editor’s note: transcription coming soon; the translation on this one is tricky]; in attendance was only a small cohort of about a dozen people where everyone could ask questions, and many did (your correspondent included). It ended up going over the planned hour for it by half an hour, though no one (least of all your correspondent) seemed to mind.
  • A memorial exhibition for Michel Plessix, local creator who created the poster image for this year’s festival before his untimely death in August of this year. While he had a varied career (as recounted by that exhibition), he was best know for his comics adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows (that is his representation of Toad that can be seen in the poster). The exhibition included, as customary, a number of tribute pieces (written or drawn) from many fellow comics creators and professionals.
  • Finally, a drawn concert with Volo (musical instruments) and Grégory Panaccione (drawing instruments).

We’ll continue with Day Two coverage tomorrow, as FSFCPL brings us the details on panel on new methods of publishing. Small audience discussions yield the best questions, but boy are they a pain to transcribe, much less translate. As always, we at Fleen are grateful for FSFCPL’s extensive efforts.

Spam of the day:

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I am haunted by the missing start of that sentence. Who designs and builds these lines of lead oxide production equipment? I must know!

From The Saint-Malo Comics Festival, Part The First

Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin has been out committing acts of journalism¹, this time from the Saint-Malo Comics Festival. He shares with us his report from Day One below.

Friday, day one of Quai des Bulles, the Saint-Malo comics festival, was not a professional day: everyone could come, though of course that included a lot of children (it was a school holiday) since not everyone can afford to take a day off work. While the day started slowly (not much was scheduled in the morning), it had very interesting programming:

  • One hour with Marion Montaigne, an interview by Arnaud Wassmer, on the topic of her latest project In The Space Suit of Thomas Pesquet, which is entirely transcribed below.
  • An interesting panel on the latest developments of knowledge/world discovery comics. In fact one of the panelists, Anne-Lise Combeaud, the author of Philocomix, told she came from the blogs BD world, and that influenced how she created the comic (trying to experiment within the constraints of the page in particular), and we were able to discuss that experience in the signing that followed at the publisher’s booth (Rue de Sèvres).

One Hour With Marion Montaigne
After introducing Montaigne, Thomas Pesquet, and the project, it took the form of an interview:

Who came up with the idea?
Around September 2015 Montaigne was busy on the Prof Moustache animated project as well as with its latest collection, and wanted to escape this character a bit; and at the same time she wanted to deal more with space matters and for this purpose started meeting with people working for CNES (France space agency), such as the teams who have instruments on the Mars Curiosity rover … or the people in charge of answering UFO sighting mails.

And in particular, astronaut coaches. And it turns out the training to become an astronaut is quite hard. Then Pesquet came up in the conversation, and it turned out he had commented once on one of her notes to confirm that it reflected his experience. Let’s invite him! After a first missed connection, he was able to come to her studio, about one year before he was to take off, which means he was already intensely preparing for it.

The book itself: how can the whole experience be rendered on paper?
Montaigne got to travel and watch the training in Cologne (where the ESA, European Space Agency, training center is located), she had to go to Russia as well, etc. And then have it be proofread. Her aim is to give back to the public what she was told or able to witness: the astronauts through their experience.

Was it a pedagogical intent from Pesquet as well?
He has, by contract, to explain what he does. And while it is not obvious to shoot (staging for film is hardly compatible with the training realities, e.g. when in a centrifuge), and even documentaries have a tendency not to show some unglamorous realities, such as showing classroom time or Russian revision time, comics have no such limitations: they can more easily show more down to Earth aspects that are an important part of daily life.

Is it a childhood obsession?
It is clear this is a job for which you have to have incredible motivation. And And this preparation takes up their whole life, even for those who end up being rejected in the end, which represents most candidates. Not to mention space life represents but about 1% of the total time on the job.

Are the test designers as sadistic as seen in the book?
Both Montaigne and Pesquet came up with this representation; but it has to be said the tests themselves are weird: the version shown in the book is in fact when it is still easy! And the psychological tests are designed not have any discernible logic so as to be unsettling.

One collective test, not shown in the book, involved candidates from multiple nations trying to solve a math problem: a boat in low tide has to rely on a ferry to load cargo, but at the same time the tide rises so conditions change, then there is the matter of the trains that take up the cargo … the result is that after 20 minutes they had not made any progress, and the aim was not to see who could take the lead, because that is not necessarily the kind of player they want in the teams.

So, they are not looking for astronauts with a devil-may-care attitude and an oversized ego …
Don’t get her wrong, Pesquet is on the level. But it is true the prototype of the 60s astronaut (usually the best Air Force test pilots) who left for one or two days by themselves is no longer what they are looking for. Here they have to live in reduced space with five other people for six months: they can’t very well go out for a walk. So they are looking for people who are confident in themselves but easy going with others, and with conflict resolution skills. For instance, they practice with serious video games which have simultaneous competitive and cooperative aspects.

How to represent tests?
One of the issues is showing the time scale of the tests: they take place over months, even years, there are cutoff stages, and they do not necessarily know which tests they will be training for next.

How about the way they learn Russian?
They go in space in a Russian rocket, so they have no choice but to learn the language in the course of a year. They do so in an old mining town about one hour away from Cologne, and they, about 35-40 years old, end up in the same classroom as the local students.

Is the vision of NASA as space’s Hogwarts really Pesquet’s vision?
Everyone has a vision of NASA as that mythical institution, which to be honest they maintain themselves with museums for instance. While there, she was able to see space suit testing rooms, as well as the gigantic pools where astronauts train on different modules for space work.

Which makes sense, because everything has to be relearned in space.
Including the most insignificant, such as the fact they have to wear diapers, and since their bodies will be put to the test in space, they have to be put to the test on the ground and sometimes it is their bodies that fail them.

While NASA feels like Top Gun, for the Space City in Russia the imagery is rather that of Gagarin.
Indeed, in there Gagarin is Serious Business. Russians are in general very superstitious and so have a number of rituals, from the watching of an old, boring documentary The White Dawn, up to urinating one last time at the side of the road just where Gagarin is said to have done so just before leaving for space.

Pesquet first participated in missions where he was a backup.
Indeed, the others from his class where chosen as main participants before him, up until 2014 where he was selected as main for a future mission that ended up taking off in 2016.

And so he joined the club of those who cannot wait but take off again.
Well, maybe not right the day after he landed, but indeed there is something of an elite sportsman in them, in that they see these as challenges to do again or even do once better.

Let’s talk about the centrifuge.
It is used to prepare for takeoff and landing, which are the two most dangerous phases, and so the most anguishing ones, they have to manage the buttons while being subjected to enormous accelerations (up to ten times normal gravity), or sometimes just a joystick when they can’t lift their arm any more; sometimes they use a stick.

He told the story of an astronaut he personally knew: following a bad separation her capsule had a slightly incorrect reentry angle, resulting in them taking 10G of acceleration and a landing rough enough that their capsule burned a field in deep Kazakhstan … so they have to be prepared for the worst.

So the artist has to show the reality behind the communication.
More generally render their personal experience: spinning seat, centrifuge, etc. That they take as a sports challenge.

And there is the matter of learning how to move in in microgravity.
Movies tend to show a misleading image of that: you can go quite fast in microgravity! So they have to deliberately pace themselves. Nevertheless they go through a learning phase when they hit walls, etc.

And how is it to represent that for the artist?
It’s interesting, you have a number of interesting situations, such as the collective meal where they are all eating at the table, and some are around, and some are shown below and above it.

And what about the contents of mission itself?
Many photos, but it is only a slight portion of their work: they work a lot, but during the weekend they play and don’t have a lot to do. So he ends up sending his photos with the captions over the weekend and they are published all through the week by the public communication teams while he is in fact working. It’s about the only interesting thing they can do …

The mission itself ends up not taking a lot of space in the book.
First of course Montaigne couldn’t take up very much of his time while he was there (and of course no way to go there for a documentation trip), and besides the work is quite routine and ends up compressing well.

Did his photos help for documentation?
Indeed, and in fact he is not the only one who takes them; he has to work sometimes.

So explain how the artist tried here to render one of his vehicular exits.
The aim was to try and render the experience of a vehicular exit with in particular the immense scale of the station. Not directly represented is the fact it turns out spending time (about seven hours) in the space suits is far from ideal: the decreased pressure means they end up releasing gas, they sweat a lot, etc. And of course his fellow astronauts omitted to tell him about it beforehand …

And here we see them back on Earth
When they are back on Earth they are really white, he was not that badly out of shape but they do take some punishment in the landing phase, which they compare to a car crash (flips, etc.); once on land they compare their state to a hangover to the tenth power … and meanwhile all the cameras are on them.

Did he recognize himself and his experience in the book, in the end?
He does have a sense of humor, or he would not have accepted in the first place … he meant for these kind of issues (important or not) to be represented.

No self-insertion?
No, that was not the matter, as there is already a lot to tell, and it was not obvious how to do so anyway: which way to put herself? So rather than directly retelling how she herself was informed, might as well build a narrative.

Did the author have to remove sensitive information, e.g. top secret stuff?
No, she did not have to remove anything of the sort, she assumes she was not told of such things in the first place. Some intimate aspects where not told, but that’s it.

Spam of the day:

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¹ He journalised.

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:

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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.

A Long-Expected Party

No hobbits, though. At least, I don’t think so.

On Saturday, 28 October (that would be this coming Saturday, the day after the day after tomorrow), after two years vagabonding in the wilderness, the Cartoon Art Museum will open the doors of its new home:

The Cartoon Art Museum will be open for business on Saturday morning, October 28, from 11am to 5pm!

That new home will be 781 Beach Street, on the famed Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. And what better way to reopen a San Francisco institution than by holding a retrospective of another San Francisco institution?

The new @cartoonart Museum re-opens this weekend with a retrospective of my work! San Francisco, we are so lucky to have this institution!

Raina Telgemeier retrospective, muthascratchers! And not just Raina, but also a tribute to Mike Freakin’ Mignola’s Hellboy, and an art showcase of another Bay Area stalwart, Nidhi Chanani¹. Raina’s already had a walkthrough and looks really happy with how things turned out.

Not that that’s any surprise, to be frank. Curator Andrew Farago has been guiding CAM’s programs for the past decade or so, and even in the two years that it lacked any space to call its own, he was producing compelling events in conjunction with plenty of other cultural institutions in San Francisco. I would find it difficult to believe that he would choose now to put forth anything other than the very best that CAM can muster.

And CAM’s very best is very, very good, y’all. Anybody in the Bay Area that doesn’t check this out, you’re dead to me. And anybody that loves cartoons, do me a solid and consider dropping CAM a few bucks, yeah? They’ve earned it.

Spam of the day:


Yes, incomprehensible block of Cyrillic letters, I completely believe that you are an important notice about my Visa card. Totally.

¹ Who will be in Seattle in support of her new book, Pashmina. Pretty sure she’ll hop over to CAM as soon as she’s home to see her stuff all blowed up on the walls, though. No idea if Mignola will be around.

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.

Let’s Get Squeaky

It’s time again for MICE — the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, held at University Hall of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA — and that means there’s gonna be indie/webcomickers in attendance. Let’s see what’s up.

First of all, there some really cool programming to see. On Saturday, you’ve got:

  • Braden Lamb teaching a workshop on comic making, from 11:00am to noon (Lesley Room)
  • Cathy Leamy talking about comics and medicine, also from 11:00am to noon (amphitheater)
  • Dirk Tiede talking character and pacing, from 12:30pm to 1:30 pm (Lesley Room)
  • The Iron Cartoonist competition will feature contestants like Abby Howard and judges like Mark Siegel, also from 12:30pm to 1:30pm (amphitheater)
  • Kazu Kibuishi running a workshop on comic creation, from 2:30pm to 3:30pm (Lunder Arts Center)
  • Evan Dahm moderates a discussion on worldbuilding, from 5:00pm to 6:00pm (amphitheater)

And then on Sunday, you’ve got:

  • Melanie Gillman, Blue Dellaquanti, and others discussing, from 11:30amm to noon:30pm (amphitheater)
  • Jason Shiga talking about interactive comics, from noon to 1:00pm (Eliot Room)
  • Whit Taylor will be among those discussing the intersection of the personal and political in comics, from 1:00pm to 2:00pm (amphitheater)
  • Sophie Yanow will be talking about autobio comics, from 1:30pm to 2:30pm (Eliot Room)

Bonus: every session will have ASL interpretation available!

In addition to the folks already mentioned, creators present¹ will include Alexander Danner, Alison Wilgus, Kori Michele, Luke Howard (B), Luke Howard (J), Maki Naro, Matt Lubchansky, Penina Gal, Rosemary Vallero-O’Connell, and Zack Giallongo. And, since it’s in her neighborhood and all, I imagine my good friend Brigid Alverson will be wandering the floor and committing acts of journalism. Tell her I said hi!

Best of all, MICE falls squarely into the expo/festival model of show, and all events are free and open to the public; doors are open 10:00am to 6:00pm on Saturday, and 11:00am to 5:00pm on Sunday. Cambridge is well-served by public transit, with the Porter Square MTA stop maybe 100 meters up Massachusetts Avenue.

They’ve also got one of the most well thought-out anti-harassment codes I’ve ever seen, with staff members trained in Bystander Intervention. I hope that it’s not needed, but it’s great to see a staff that knows not just what they’re supposed to do, but how to do so in a manner that doesn’t make the initial offense worse. Bravo.

Spam of the day:

I am Asma al-Assad, the wife of Bashar Hafez al-Assad of Syria

Yeah, no.

¹ And, speaking purely from a selfish POV, many thanks to the MICE organizers for placing the exhibitors in a simple alphabetical list, with pictures, names, affiliations, and clickable links to their websites on a simple HTML page. No pop-ups, no pages you have to click through to in order to verify who you’re talking about, just plain info in plain sight. Thank you.

Great News From All Around

But before we get to the newsy type deals, allow me to offer props to Randall Munroe for today’s xkcd, wherein he anticipated my critique in the alt-text. Of course Munroe knew about the Great Boston Molasses Flood, as famously catalogued by Milk and Cheese. Of course. It’s comforting, in a way, to have it proved that you are not cleverer (or at least more well-versed in obscure historical trivia) than Randall Munroe.

  • Soonish debuted yesterday, and although I don’t have my copy yet (it will be coming soonish in fulfillment of Zach Weinermsith’s Kickstarter Gold project), I’m eagerly counting down the days. Not just until I get to read the book in physical form, but also to see Kelly and Zach Weinersmith on their book tour next Monday evening; it’s been years since I’ve seen Zach, so this’ll be fun.

    Also fun: hearing Weinersmith & Weinersmith get five minutes of precious airtime on the nation’s premiere daily economic issues program, Marketplace. It brought into relief how much of technology is really dependent on finding an economic niche it can exploit, which did not occur to me when I had the chance to read through a late pre-final copy of the book last year.

    Give it a listen, get your copy of Soonish, and don’t forget to use the entire situation spice up your sex life: The Marketplace Interview — listen to the mellifluous voice of Kai Ryssdal through your radio, touch him on the penis.

  • As of this writing, we’re about 2.5 hours out from the end of the Kickstarter for the omnibus edition of Girls With Slingshots, which has been running for the past month. Apart from giving us a new case study to re-evaluate the validity of the Fleen Funding Formula, Mark II and the McDonald Ratio, it’s significant for a couple of other reasons:

    This is why anybody in indie/webcomics with their head screwed on straight is listening to Spike; it’s why Kickstarter basically adopted her as an evangelist¹. And we’re up more than US$3000 in the time it took me to do the math in the footnotes.

  • One of these days, I want to be so accomplished that when I change jobs, it makes the industry press; then again, when it comes to webcomics hack pseudojournalism, I pretty much am the industry press, so I guess I’ll let you know.

    But today, that distinction belongs to three colleagues at Workman Publishing who are hopping ship to Macmillan to start a new imprint in the children’s book group; they include publisher Daniel Nayeri, editorial director Nathalie Le Du, and art director Collen AF Venable — onetime designer at :01 Books (the majority of their entire catalog still designed by Venable, despite her being gone for three years), one time Fluff In Brooklyn webcomicker, and force of nature in book design.

    Being an art director recognized by the publishing industry for the revolutionary things you’re doing for kid books is great. Getting in on the ground floor of a new imprint, able to put your philosophies into practice as guiding principles? Even better.

    The as-yet unnamed new imprint is, I’m confident, going to do amazing things. And, in one of those cases of things coming full circle, Venable will now be returning to Macmillan, which is the parent company of :01, and doubtless see her old co-conspirators around the halls. Congrats to her and her esteemed colleagues, and I can’t wait to see what they do.

Oh, and with 86 minutes to go? GWS is above US$256,000. Yowza.

Spam of the day:

Bouquets for less bucks

No offense, guys, but the visual design of the graphics in this spam is very mid-80s, and reminds me of a newspaper ad I saw back in college for a luv-ya bookay. It was painful.

¹ And let’s consider that of the seven Kickstarter Thought Leaders, there are as of today 35 projects to their names (one of which was unsuccessful), raising a total of approximately² US$3.7 million.

Spike’s responsible for more than US$1 million of that, and 14 of 35 projects. She’s the second-most successful of the creators, beaten only by a three-project design shop (representing two of the seven) that raises US$300K to US$700K on beautiful, pricey art objects.

² Approximately because the GWS campaign is still open, and two of the other Thought Leaders are reported in foreign currencies.

Quick Notes Before I Travel

Today’s a travel day, the next two days are a tight-turnaround client gig, so posting may be brief or absent. Do try to muddle on.

I missed most of a story as it was blowing up, but I’m pretty well caught up today; here are some base facts to get started from:

First, Zainab Akhtar is one of the best writers in comics, period. She runs a site that’s like this on in that it’s an individual effort, and unlike it in that she gets well-deserved Eisner nominations. Also, I’ve never had to step back from public commentary because the combination of being a woman, brown, and Muslim made comics writing an invitation to abuse. Also, I do not have a Patreon that you should definitely support. She is smart, incisive, and sees things from perspectives that would never occur to me. She’s on my list of people I need to meet to thank in person for her work.

Second, the Lakes International Comics Art Festival is about to happen in the Lakes District of the UK. We at Fleen mentioned it in reference to a partnership with TCAF, but that was the extent of my real awareness of the show, until late last week.

Akhtar made an observation on Twitter about the guest lineup at Lakes — it’s overwhelmingly white (about 85%, by my count). Not news, she noted that fact years ago. The Lakes Twitter account responded by blocking, then unblocking Akhtar, and somewhere in there somebody with access to the account unleashed a pretty vile attack on her which appears to have been deleted, but screenshots are forever¹.

What the person(s) in charge of the Lakes Twitter account don’t seem to understand is that when you represent an organization, criticisms are not personal; responding as an organization requires finesse and care and actually listening to criticisms and answering them calmly. Responding with attacks doesn’t win you points, and will almost certainly damage your brand. And if you continue to treat an institutional critique like a personal attack (it wasn’t) and act like you’re still fourteen years old, you create a reputational damage that can kill your event.

This morning, John Allison announced that he is withdrawing from participating in LICAF (as of this writing, he is still listed on the guest page); I don’t imagine they’ll be able to get him back in the future. It’s a principled stand, and one that will likely cost Allison economically (and possibly the esteem of terrible people, but I don’t think he cares about that part too much; this is just one reason why he’s a great person). I’m expecting to see more guests pull out between now and Friday, which is going to keep the story going and may kill the Festival as long as it remains under its current leadership.

Please note that a fair number of the confirmed guests are international, and regardless of how they feel about management’s behavior they may be contractually obliged to attend. Likewise, I don’t have any criticism for people who choose to attend LICAF this year (having made plans and arranged their lives and purchased passes), but I will be very interested to see how many of both groups are willing to return next year.

And the pushback isn’t limited to guests; at least one exhibitor has emailed the show to say that she’s withdrawing, and this is just as impportant. Lydia Wysocki paid for the privilege of tabling, and may or may not get her fee back. She’s offering to help the LICAF showrunners improve their ways, and I sincerely they (or, more likely, whoever comes in to try to salvage things next year) takes her up on it². We are way past the time when somebody says Hey, here is something that’s happened that you aren’t noticing and reacting dismissively can be accepted. Time for LICAF to grow up.

Spam of the day:

Book Your River Cruise Vacation

Well, they aren’t sending me a pitch that’s specifically calling me a senior citizen, so that’s something.

¹ I was particularly puzzled by the claims that Akhtar has some kind of grudge against the show from 2014. Her 2014 writeup was largely positive, but she noted the overwhelmingly pale nature of the show and concluded it wasn’t for her. If that’s what the LICAF tweeter regards as a grudge, they are in desperate need of a fainting couch.

² In the meantime, follow her links and get familiar with her work.