The webcomics blog about webcomics

The Long And Short Of It

So Saturday had some stuff going on, huh? The Steven Universe movie announcement (cough, cough, scoop here) caught everybody by surprise; I think there’s been more leaks from the Mueller investigation than there were around the movie news. The day started with the Eisner news from the the night before and ended with the news from the Prism Awards¹. The folks at Prism are presumably enjoyed a well-deserved sleep-in today as their website isn’t yet updated with the winners, but Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum tweeted a list of winners, which included Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy for Mainstream Comics and Graphic Novels, and Blue Delliquanti’s O Human Star³ for Webcomic.

In between, you had things like Scott McCloud talking about the twenty-fifth anniversary of Understanding Comics, which means there’s a significant number of significant talents in comics (say, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, who I got to catch up with, and who remains a delight) who not only don’t remember a world without Understanding Comics, they’ve never lived in a world where it didn’t exist. As you might expect, that discussion involved a lot of pictures and words and will take a while to write up². It’ll be worth it, I promise. I’m also working on a recap of the presentation given by Mark Siegel of :01 Books on how comics and graphic novels came to be what he terms The New Mainstream. Good stuff.

Oh, yes, and Shing Yin Khor now has the best challenge in comics and/or power tools history in front of her: how to disassemble an Eisner award trophy³. It was pretty easy to take apart the brick that represented the Ignatz Award for the Elements anthology and distribute the pieces to the many contributors; scroll through Khor’s Twitter and I believe you’ll find pictures of her with the sledgehammer used. But the Eisner will take some planning and possibly a Dremel. I think the coolest approach would be to take slices from the globe, leaving a Death Star II effect, but I’m certain we’ll get to see the end result soon enough.

Speaking of Khor, on the occasion of a Comics Camp mini-reunion last night, I fulfilled one of my impromptu goals for the week and captured a photo of that included both the Sawdust Bear and the Toronto Man-Mountain. The original photo is up top, but using extremely high-tech, computer, zoom in on sector 7 and enhancement, we at Fleen have extrapolated what the remainder of the scene may have looked like, which you may find here.

Cosplay included some deep cuts; the most mainstream was San from Princess Mononoke, and I also caught Assassin Bug (look him up, kids; all the *pool characters owe a narrative debt to AB), and this one pleasant fellow with a moustache (yes!) who talked to us a bit about the importance of sunscreen and left his card when he moved on. Nice guy.

Panels to keep an eye on today include:
1, 2, 3, . . . 20?! How To Create (And Survive) A Successful Graphic Novel Series with Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Raina Telgemeier, Molly Ostertag, and Dr Rose Brock of Sam Houston State University. Room 11 at 1:00.

Comics Of The Internet: The Memes, The Myths, The Legends with Matt Kolowski and Kiersten Wing from comiXology, Hope Nicholson, Megan Kearney, Nick Franco, and David Malki !. I suspect this will heavily reference the one comiXology title that got announced t’other day about webcomics gone viral. Room 29AB at 2:00pm — 3:00pm.

¹ Which shares its name with way too many awards — in photonics, PR strategy and campaigns, Greater Boston-area building trades, medical-surgical nursing, Colorado social impact, and paranormal romance writing are just on the first page of the Google search.

² Much like McCloud describes his next book, as having to research a very long book so I can write a short book, I suspect that I will have to come up with a lot of words to condense down to a readable length. Might not happen until the flight home, but then again I’ll probably spend it catching up on sleep and my knitting.

³ Which, bee-tee-dubs, McCloud confirmed a suspicion of mine: the globe of the trophy is based on page 3 of Understanding Comics.

Scoop: It Makes Perfect Sense

A few minutes ago at the Steven Universe panel, they announced what many have wanted, but nobody knew was coming: there’s going to be a feature-length movie. In era of leaks, this has been kept quiet, without so much as a whisper of a hint of a rumor. And the newest addition to the Crewniverse is none other than Becky Dreistadt. It’s early days on production, and naturally she’s limited in what she can share, but she sat down with Fleen to let us in on her experience so far.

Dreistadt is the lead character designer; it may seem odd to need somebody in that role when Steven Universe has been on the air for five seasons, but there will be new costumes, new treatments of major characters, and presumably new characters we haven’t seen yet. Dreistadt was insistent that she couldn’t say if we’d see major new heros or villains, but it stands to reason. Me, I’m holding out for finally seeing White Diamond.

In her role, she works closely with SU creator Rebecca Sugar; Sugar does concept art, Dresistadt adapts to rough sketches, and they go back and forth to refine the designs. She’s also working with another designer named Amber Cragg who’s working on the non-major characters, but she adds Amber’s great!.

Dreistadt’s been on the production for about month, but it’s a long process and at this early date neither release date nor title have been announced.

My chief question was about how Dreistadt came to work with Sugar; they’ve known each other for about a decade, having met at SPX, but haven’t collaborated previously. Dreistadt said that she was looking around for a new job after leaving Star Vs The Forces Of Evil at Disney¹; Sugar contacted her shortly after and things happened from there.

My other point of curiosity was about how Dreistadt adapted her very swoopy, watercolory, heavy-on-cute aesthetic to the very geometric look of Steven Universe. After working on Star for three years, she’s more than capable of working on model. The biggest adjustment, she said, was that much of animation features characters with three fingers plus a thumb, but Steven characters have four fingers plus a thumb. That, and Star‘s characters feature a more pronounced “big head” style than Steven, but she’s making it work.

Asked if she could share the full plot details and development sketches with Fleen, Dreistadt very politely did not call me an idiot. Asked if there was anything she did want to share, she said that Everybody on the crew is really nice, Rebecca has been super sweet, and it’s going to be great and everyone will love it. She’s seen the full animatic, so she’d know.

Follow news of on the hashtag #stevenuniversemovie

¹ She’s not the only one. Various social media channels are full of people mentioning that they’ve left Star, which means either vast swathes of the production team are getting swapped out, or the show is wrapping up. No announcements either way, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Conditions Did Not Favor It No

I didn’t get to see a lot yesterday; plans to attend various panels fell through, an intention to do an interview was sidetracked by Con Crud (although I hope to make it happen this morning), and became a day of people in and around a certain section of floor followed by an early dinner and early bed. But hey, any day I can crank out 4000 words¹ on people working in young adult graphic fiction and eat one of the top three burritos of my life is a pretty good day.

The Eisners happened last night, and there’s a compilation of the livetweets up at The Beat. Going back to the nominees that we discussed a few weeks back, the outcomes were:

Best Digital Comic was won by Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost, by Harvey Kurtzman, Josh O’Neill, Shannon Wheeler, and Gideon Kendall (comiXology Originals/Kitchen, Lind & Associates; no link I could find which isn’t great for a digital comic), Best Webcomic went to The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill, which was also recognized as the Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12). Tillie Walden’s Spinning took Best Reality-Based Work, and Elements: Fire (edited by Taneka Stotts) is the Best Anthology. Better find out if Shing Yin Khor is firing up the power tools.

Giant Days, Spinning (second nomination) and What Is Left didn’t take their respective categories, but when the winners are the likes of Sana Takeda for Monstress (on a tear, I think it took four awards and swept all its nominations), Emil Ferris, and the Hellboy team, you can be proud of who the comics industry considers your peers.

Notable cosplay today followed the theme of committing to the bit: Walter Sobchak had opinions on prior restraint (but laughed he wouldn’t share them at volume as there were kids about), Bob had a suitably hesitant delivery when I asked about today’s special and a Cheeseburger Backpack, but the day’s Commitment Cup went to one Daenerys Targaryen went out and prepared for her moment on the con floor months ago. Brava.

Panels to watch for today include
The Comics Revolution with Mark Siegel of :01 Books. Room 29AB at 1:00.

Spotlight On Scott McCloud: 25 Years Of Understanding Comics The title really says it all. Also Room 29AB at 4:00.

There’s also the big Steven Universe panel, but you needed to start lining up for it about 36 hours ago, sorry.

¹ There were originally 3500 words of transciption; I’d intended to edit them down.


There should be a picture here, but it was all blurry so, oh well.

[Editor’s note: As in the past, these panel recaps are based on notes typed during the session; all discussion is the nearest possible paraphrase, except for direct quotes which will be italicized.]

Here’s the thing about panels — lineups change. Things get in the way, or you realize that you agreed to do about three more sessions than a reasonable person could wrangle this week, and maybe you need to step back from two of them. With a good moderator, though, you’d never guess and the panel on Superstars In Children’s Graphic Novels picked up a substitute moderator who is top notch. Or maybe they just didn’t want the world to know that Raina Telgemeier would be slinging the questions, so that kids would come to see the other folks on the panel? Either way, it was a great piece of expectation-management, and a great way to ensure a smooth experience for all¹.

And a good thing, too, because kids? Kids are utterly fearless about what they love. There were two in line who their dad said were normally shy around adults, but they peppered me with questions, wanting to know what I was, why I was coming the panel for, who my favorites were, and do I know ______ ? I’m pretty sure they hit everybody on the dais for autographs and photos afterwards. Those folks (all of whom are published by Scholastic) were, in addition to Raina:

Gale Galligan (who is continuing the Baby Sitters Club graphic novels), Ian Boothby (Eisner winner and contributor to Bongo comics), Molly Ostertag (creator of my favorite book of 2017), Aron Steinke (Eisner winner and 2nd grade teacher), and Jarrett Krosoczka (author and/or illustrator of 25+ books including the Jedi Academy and Lunch Lady series). It was some star power, is what I’m saying.

Raina opened with a two-part question to the entire panel, then tended to follow up ideas with particular creators, and finished her part with a Lightning Round before moving onto Q&A. That two parter was to ask the panelists about books from their own childhoods that had an emotional impact, or made them laugh. There was a general agreement on newspaper comic strips among the panelists (IB: Peanuts, GG: Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side; JK: I’d read the comics page and pretend to understand why some were funny. Yeah, lasagna’s awesome and I hate Mondays too.; MO: I didn’t understand all of The Far Side, but I loved the absurd way that Larson would draw a cow with a face and glasses) regarding laughter, but the emotional impact books ranged all over: Ostertag loved the His Dark Materials series and remembered listening to audiobooks and sobbing w/emotion, happy to be sad. Boothby also found emotion in Peanuts, where all the kids seems to be having a rough time, it was funny but also the kid was bummed out, talked about all his problems, quoted a bible verse, and spoiled Citizen Kane. Linus would bust out a bible verse, but he worshiped the Great Pumpkin.

Krosoczka cited The Mouse And The Motorcycle in particular, and all of Beverly Cleary’s books in general (he revisited them with his daughter last year, and was relieved they still hold up). I had a hamster, always thought he could learn to ride a motorcycle, but he never did. Galligan was a huge fan of the Animorphs series, which started out about teens that can turn into animals and ends up being a story about the horrors of war and I would just sob. Steinke loved Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series, particularly the illustrations — so creepy, they’re challenged and banned in some places. Ostertag chimed in that she loved reading those stories, but was afraid to touch the illustrations afraid they’d come off in her hand.

The second general question was why each of the authors writes for children, and what makes the audience distinctive. Boothby challenged the validity of the question, emphatic that he doesn’t write for kids. I write a story and if I put a swear word in I take it out. He asked if stories like Ratatouille, is for kids, or just all-ages safe and kids jump into the parts that they don’t quite understand yet. As kids, part of your job is to learn and you want things you don’t get; I try to write for all ages, kids are so open, will try something new. Galligan added that Diana Wynne Jones said “I like writing for kids because they’re used to figuring thing out everyday.” For adults, I have to explain it four times for them to get it.

Krosoczka countered that his writing for kids is more driven by the art than the writing — he likes to draw pictures, and books for kids have a lot of pictures. When I was 17 my high school art teacher brought in two picture books, which were beautifully illustrated, and he takes that as the start of his inspiration. Kids are so more ready to accept the reality of this crazy world you create” like having a wacky lunch lady that fights crime with stuff in the elementary cafeteria; the adults, he said, wanted to know how the Lunch Lady’s superhero gadgets worked logically, as if fighting with utensil-based nunchucks could have a logical basis. Steinke cited his love of teaching and reading literature for that age cohort, as well as the idea that stories for that age are short and he can’t see himself working to novel length.

Raina followed up to ask if Steinke’s character Mr Wolf, a 2nd grade teacher, is the character he identifies with, or it’s more the students. Answer: Mr Wolf is 95% me. Obviously, I’m not a wolf, and I don’t wear a tie. I actually got voted at one school “Most likely to dress like a student”. In previous work, Steinke had done an autobio comic strip, but as his work becomes longer in form, the short things that he did as autobio don’t apply as much. But he allows that a lot of things that happen in his books happened to him as a child.

The next question was to Krosoczka whose latest book (Hey, Kiddo), which is pure memoir; it’s a raw story, about growing up with alcoholic grandparents because your mom’s an opioid addict. It means writing for older readers, a switch from the wacky stuff, and getting to spend time loved ones. But there were days when he didn’t want to write or draw another page, comparing it to Harry Potter writing lines that scarred his hand (Right there with you, Jarrett. I feel like we need a support group)

Ostertag was asked about revisiting her characters for a sequel, and how it felt to return to their story. She replied that it gave her the opportunity to let the characters grow, to do more with those that didn’t get enough time in the first book. Characters are seen in discrete moments, but with a sequel or series, those moments all happen at different stages of their lives. Also, I realized I never gave Aster a last name.

The next question went to Boothby, about Sparks, which is dedicated to the real Charlie and August. Do you really have two cats that fight crime in a dog suit? Boothby claims yes — Charlie is very much a dog, comes when called, plays and acts like a dog. August was always a rebel who kept to herself; she was a feral cat rescued from a house fire, very afraid, spent a lot of time under the bed. He dodged the bit about whether or not the brave cat and the scaredy cat actually have a robotic dog suit for crime fighting, but we all got the impression they do. Ostertag observed that she loves basing characterss on pets because they’ve got simpler personalities and when you say this character is based on my cat, my cat won’t get mad at me.

A general question was posed about the differences between licensed and original work, or writing characters you didn’t create. Galligan said the big challenge is that the base level of expectation and trust is different. Nobody can tell me I’ve got the wrong take on characters I invented. Boothby noted the advantages of writing Simpsons comics because everybody reads along in Homer’s voice and they know exactly what to expect from the character. The flip side is that the show is really funny, so you have to create to the same level.

Ostertag’s licensed work hasn’t released yet, but she appreciates getting the room to shape the world in her own stories that she doesn’t have when playing with somebody else’s toys. Krosoczka enjoys the freedom of the Jedi Academy series because they’re not canon; somebody decided in the made-up world of Star Wars, some things are real, and his stuff isn’t. I get to draw and write lines for Yoda which is amazing, but all the others are characters I get to invent. I made a droid that’s on Wookieepedia now!

Galligan got the last of the directed questions, asking about how her relationship with the BSC books changed since she read them herself as a young person. Galligan said the biggest change was she read them originally from the POV of the kid characters, but now that I’m older and grumpier and have paid a bill, she relates to all the chars more wholly, but still has fond memories from childhood. Raina noted that her run on BSC was her only adapted work, and found the process required throwing yourself into somebody else’s head (in this case, Ann M Martin, not a fictional character).

And with that, it was time for the Lightning Round.
Hardest thing to draw!
Krosoczka: Cars.
Steinke: Bikes
Ostertag: Crowds.
Boothby: Horses. Horses driving cars.

Favorite junk food!
Galligan: Shrimp chips.
Boothby: Oreo Double-Stuf, but you take two and make it a Quad-Stuf.
Ostertag: Wonder Bread that you toast and smother in too much butter and cinnamon and have ten of them for breakfast.
Steinke: I use to make this Bisquick dough and other stuff in a bowl in the micro, called it bowl pizza.
Krosoczka: I used to make bread balls, little balls of mushed up Wonder Bread.

Comic character you most want to walk the SDCC floor with!
Krosoczka: Lunch Lady! No, someone dressed as me!
Steinke: Spider-Man.
Ostertag: The flying carpet from Aladdin.
Boothby: Ant Man, so he can shrink all the stuff you buy so it’s easier to carry around. Also, Dr Strange? His cape is basically that carpet from Aladdin.
Galligan: The Flash, so you get Point A, Point B, done.

Most memorable fan interaction!
Galligan: The kind of kid that hands you a book and it’s clearly very lovingly read through.
Boothby: Kids that read in the line, but don’t want to talk to me because they want to keep reading, and I take the book and it’s annoying to them because I sign and draw so they can’t read it during that time. Then they plunk down to keep reading.
Ostertag: There’s a camp in the Bay Area that studies The Witch Boy as part of their curriculum.
Steinke: I met a girl that was going to see the new Jurassic Park movie but started reading my book and came to see me instead.
Krosoczka: In the Fall of 2002, I was just getting started and had a signing at bookstore with nobody there. This kid comes up and slowly reaches up towards me, towards my face, then reached past me to pull Captain Underpants books of the shelf by my head.

Recommend one comic for young readers!
Krosoczka: The Witch Boy!
Ostertag: That’s cheating!
Galligan: Awkward and Brave by Svetlana Chmakova.
Boothby: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol.
Steinke: You stole mine.
Ostertag: The adaptation of Speak by Emily Carroll. It’s not for kids, it’s older.
Raina: Yotsuba.

Q&A time²! From a kid: What job would you do if you were not an author?
Steinke: I’m a teacher. I’d still be drawing no matter what.
Ostertag: Maybe a chef.
Raina: I’d want to produce you on Food TV.
Boothby: Improv.
Krosoczka: Teaching.
Gale: Working in an office, I’m good with Excel.

At what stage of the creative process do you figure out the audience — will this be for kids, YA, does it develop as you do the story?
Ostertag: When I made The Witch Boy, I thought it would be YA (12+), but my editor determined it was actually a Middle Grade book (8+). They have criteria, and the fact that it’s family oriented and has no romance makes it MG. She suggested aging down the chars a little.
Steinke: It’s important to share the story, don’t keep it to yourself, your friends and family will give the feedback, they’ll tell you where the book goes.

From a kid: What’s your favorite character in one of your books?
Galligan: Claudia. I get to go wild with clothes and style.
Boothby: The narrator of Sparks is a talking litter box, a fancy butler you poop in.
Ostertag: Charlie is not like me, and she’s fun to draw because she’s always making big gestures.
Steinke: Randy is a cat, wears cowboy boots, has a funny personality, and dominates the room.
Krosoczka: My newest book is autobio, so my favorite is my grandmother who cursed like a truck driver who used to be a sailor and smoked two packs a day.

The last question, from a kid, was the old standard about where you get your ideas, but Boothby came up with both a unique answer I’d never heard before, and one that a kid would appreciate: Look at an animal and ask what it would never do, then find a way to make it do that. Well done, Ian Boothby.

¹ Also well done: the panel room for this session did a great job of scheduling topics that would not necessarily have audience overlap from one to the next, ensuring a good turnover of seats. Not many people hung around after an academic look at Mary Shelley’s work, and not many children’s graphic novel fans stuck around to see Shannon Wheeler talk about Too Much Coffee Man.

² It took some time to get some questions; as I noted, multiple kids in the room had their noses buried in books and didn’t look like they wanted to be interrupted. Awesome.

Nostalgia, Transformation, Finding Yourself

[Editor’s note: As in the past, these panel recaps are based on notes typed during the session; all discussion is the nearest possible paraphrase, except for direct quotes which will be italicized.]

What do you get when you combine a comics festival co-founder, a former competitive figure skater, a composer/computer scientist, and a manager of teen library services? A wide-ranging discussion on the nature of YA books, on account of those four people are, respectively, Jen Wang, Tillie Walden, Scott Westerfeld, and moderator Candice Mack.

With a small panel, Mack was able to address most questions to each of the panelists, and had them start out with a quick description of their latest or next graphic novels; Walden and Wang spoke of Spinning and The Prince And The Dressmaker, while Westerfeld mentioned his upcoming sequel to last year’s The Spill Zone, titled The Broken Vow (both illustrated by Alex Puvilland). For three such different books, certain common themes were described by the creators. We’ll come back to that idea in a bit.

Given the very different stories, Mack asked about the focus that each chose for their stories, and the process of coming to that series of decisions. Walden very nearly denied that such a process exists, indicating that for her the important thing is an intuition about the story she wants to tell; specifically, the sustained effort of making a graphic novel is such that she needs to find something to hold her interest for the whole time it will take me to make the goddamn book.

With reference to the critically and popularly acclaimed Spinning, Walden declared that one day she woke up and thought Shit I need to make a comic for class. I was an ice skater, I can make a comic about that! The story she could tell fit that particular need rather than being one she was burning to tell, despite the topic being that which had dominated her life more than anything else for a dozen years.

Westerfeld found his inspiration in place: the Spill Zone books take place in a post-low grade apocalyptic Poughkeepsie, and he’d learned about the history of the town while attending Vassar. Despite being very wealthy for a period of town and not falling into the traditional Rust Belt, Poughkeepsie is a post-industrial town that’s fallen from its glories. In this case, it was the center of the very lucrative trade in ice for New York City, until the invention of refrigeration dealt a blow in the early 20th century, from which the city has not yet recovered. The nostalgia that’s bred into the city and its residents appealed to him, as did his stint as an urban explorer, making his way through once grand/now abandoned buildings, filled with mysterious traces of the people that lived there. It’s basically the plot of The Spill Zone, minus the otherworldly horrors that killed everybody.

Wang said she had a couple of different ideas floating, specifically an idea for a story about sewing, or possibly someone whose superpower was sewing. The transformation quality to making clothes captured her imagination (despite claiming to have no skills in the arts), which provided a handy metaphor for the transformation that her main characters go through.

We’ll continue with Wang’s answer in a moment, but remember that bit about all three stories having common themes? Transformation was a key one, whether it’s the transformation of gender, the transformation of self via single-minded dedication (coupled with the transformation to somebody who doesn’t do that anymore¹), or the sudden transformation of a city and its unlucky inhabitants. I’d remark later that I couldn’t think of three more different books that I’d read in the past year, but they all had that piece in common, along with nostalgia and finding identity. At the very least, Westerfeld would later argue, the finding identity part is the ur-theme of YA.

Back to Wang’s answer, she also cited a desire to do something in the Disney mold, meaning the transformation would be more personal than superheroic, and provide the basis for (hopefully) a fun, light story. The Disney angle led to the setting (post Industrial Revolution, pre-modern), a time of change (horse carriages and department stores, mass produced sewing machines, and as Westerfeld observed, an aristocracy that’s moving from old fashioned to irrelevant).

That led to a discussion on their main characters, and the degree to which they were designed to be directly familiar to YA readers. Westerfeld had a story with a protagonist that could have been any age, but bringing her down to late teens/early 20s and making her suddenly responsible for a younger sibling let him explore another dimension of leaving youth. As he noted, adulthood gets thrust on younger people depending on economics and place; Poughkeepsie’s already a place of melancholy/nostalgia thrust on residents at a young age, and the disaster added another layer of nostalgia not for the rich past, but for the time just a bit ago before the city was swallowed by monsters and extradimensional horrors.

Walden, by contrast, never set out to do YA, but wound up there by virtue of her experience. When I was 17, my characters were 17 year old girls; publishers, however, do care about who stories are pitched to, and she realized how much she enjoyed working in the category of teens and children, coming of age, but ending up there was accidental. Wang also fell into YA by accident, where TPATD‘s characters were initially adults. Aging them down to teens allowed a story of big feelings, discovering things for the first time. Her only concern was Is it weird that the prince is expected to get married really young?” and the others agreed that it served to show how quickly life changes at that age.

Westerfeld pointed out that’s one of the key aspects of teendom is everything is SO BIG: a bad day when you’re a teenager is the end of the world, a good day is the best thing ever. Walden emphasized the speed, a time of life when big things happen one right after another; Westerfeld added some historical context to point out that you used to co from childhood straight to adulthood, heading into the factory or mines at 10, 12, maybe 15. The transitional stage between childhood and adulthood is a recent invention: The word teenager is only from 1948. We’re still working it out as a culture.

Less philosophical concerns rounded out the session. Mack wondered about work habits, and all three discussed the importance of routine. Westerfeld has the act of writing down to muscle memory, in that he writes every morning in the same space, in the same chair, at the same time, after the same breakfast. Walden’s had a lot of airport lounges and hotel desks in her writing experience over the past year, but at home in LA she’s found a co-working space to be a help: it’s got A/C in a warm climate, and you can leave your stuff when you go to lunch, as opposed to working in the local coffee shop.

Wang offered the routine was more present in her drawing time than her writing time, which prompted Westerfeld (who doesn’t draw) to ask if the drawing imposes consistency on their work — a predictable amount of output (Wang: by the time I draw, I know where the story is supposed to go and can steer it), the opportunity to fix writing in the drawing (Wang and Walden: Oh, yeah). Walden described drawing as the reward — she says she can’t write dialogue, but drawing speech bubbles makes her hear the words that characters will use. Westerfeld found all of this to be NUTS, but described a somewhat similar back-and-forth with Puvilland (a non-native English speaker, he approaches the story with different timing or beats that Westerfeld scripts, leading to new ways of looking at the story and what it needs to accomplish).

Mack asked each what the strangest thing they’d ever done for research was; Wang learned to play World Of Warcraft when adapting Cory Doctorow’s In Real Life to a graphic novel. Walden learned to drive stick because she had a character that did and had no idea how to draw their hands. Westerfeld didn’t have an answer himself, but mentioned that Holly Black once had herself thrown in a car trunk and driven around to determine what it was like; I’ve never done anything like that, so I guess I’m not that into research, he concluded.

A brief Q&A asked about desire to get into animation (all three: not really), and if there was a particular YA work that had an impact on their work. Westerfeld said that YA category didn’t really exist when he was grown up, but he gravitated to the sci-fi section; his most influential books were Dune and Charlotte’s Web. Walden loved Roald Dahl until he became problematic: My mom was “Tillie, he’s anti-semitic and we’re Jewish” and I’m WHAT. And Wang found her prime YA years more occupied with manga and anime, but at and earlier stage devoured Brian Jacques’s Redwall series.

None of them could say that YA had an influence on their work, but meaning the ur-themes of transformation and finding yourself were less inculcated in them, and more self-developed alongside the YA tradition. I’m going to bet in another 20 years, some future YA authors will have answers to the same question that much directly credit Wang, Walden, and Westerfeld.

¹ Which led to a hilarious exchange between Westerfeld and Walden:

SW: What makes Spinning really sad is walking away from something you committed so much to.
SW: You can see it from the beginning, and it makes everything that’s brutal about getting up at 4:00am not worth it. I, Tonya has a happier ending!

Ramping Up

If Thursday had one thing that everybody seemed to agree on, it was that the day was pretty steady. No huge swells, no long dead periods, nothing crazy. Pretty calm so far, hope it stays like this a security guy in the vicinity of Hall H told me. Nice and easy today a facilities worker by the food trucks said. The view from the booth even had the omnipresent line for Snoopy exclusives in a reasonbly-wrangled state¹ (as opposed to Preview Night, when multiple attendees tried to scam an alternate line when the real one got capped, and security came as close to yanking badges as I’ve ever seen).

I mean, that’s weird, right? I’ve never heard of such a thing; the closest equivalent I can think of was the fire marshals stopping people from entering the first New York Comic Con due to overcrowding. But it wasn’t the weirdest thing of the day.

The weirdest thing of the day was a guy in a head-to-toe Spider-Man suit with a single zipper that ran up the back and ended between his shoulder blades. I watched him walk into the men’s room, approach a urinal, and then just stop, trying to figure out his next move. I hope every superhero — especially the ones with armor and pouches and everything — has thought ahead to what happens when they need to take a leak when they designed their costume. As I left Spidey wondering how he was going to take care of bidness, I passed a guy who appeared to be changing into costume, pulling stuff out of a large shopping bag. He appeared to be going to He-Man, as he already had a furry, diaperesque pair of underpants on. You don’t get photos of those dudes because come on, it was the bathroom.

Cosplay started in earnest; early in the day I met an authentically great Squirrel Girl and got her photo; I asked if she’d been to see Ryan North yet and her face lit up — He’s here? I walked her over to the TopatoCo booth and watched the magic happen. Surprisingly, I only saw one King T’Challa, but he exuded great dignity. Less surprisingly, I also only saw one person try to channel Inner Goldbluminity to play The Grandmaster, with a suitably why do I put up with this crap looking companion as Topaz. The best cosplay was probably that of Pepper, a chihuahua who did an amazing job cosplaying as a greyhound².

The day ended improbably, at the top of the Marriott Gaslamp, looking down on Petco Park, at a party sponsored by Webtoon; I ran into Jamie Noguchi and we chatted a bit about Danielle Corsetto³ (we wished she was there), the potential return of Yellow Peril (gotta balance the paying jobs, some of which are ridiculous), our dislike of companies running “contests” for talent searches (as we accepted offers from the plates of sliders and other foods being passed), and how there’s a great comic to be made about the gig economy (which is pretty damn close to both freelancing — the subject of Yellow Peril — and webcomics). We also played who’s actually in comics and who’s invited because they’re very, very pretty and make the party sexier and determined the giveaway was the shoes. Strappy, shiny, elevated shoes that cost as much as 100 Copic markers? Not in comics.

Panels to attend today include:
The Power Of Nonfiction Graphic Novels with Thi Bui, Alex Irvine, Clifford Johnson, Peter Tomasi, Travis Langley, and Abby Howard (who I met yesterday and she’s delightful). Room 32AB at 10:00.

Graphic Novels: From Eisner To Explosion!, which overlaps, but which features Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith, Emil Ferris, and Paul Levitz. Room 24ABC at 10:30.

Autobiography In Graphic Novels with Raina Telgemeier, Jarrett J Krosoczka, and Tillie Walden; coincidentally, I saw all three of these folks on panels yesterday, and they’re great. Lots of writeups to do, may take a while to get them posted. Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library at 3:00.

LGBTQ Graphic Novels with Aminder Dhaliwal, Molly Ostertag, and Ivy Noelle Weir. Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library at 4:00.

Handling Challenges: Bans And Challenges To Comics with Gina Gagliano, Judd Winick, Charles Kochman, Candice Mack, and David Saylor. Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library at 5:00.

I’ve got about 3500 words of rush transcripts from yesterday’s panels to edit down, so look for those sometime today, as time permits.

¹ There is an exception to every rule; I heard one toy-related merch booth a few dozen aisles to the south managed its exclusives so poorly, creating uncontrollable crowd hazards, and was shut down for the day by the showrunners. That’s gotta put a dent in your budget.

² Okay, okay, she was a real greyhound, but a small one. And she was a good girl.

³ Whose new comic, Boo! It’s Sex, is on Webtoon, so it all ties together.

Shaking Up The Comix Biz

I got to speak with some ladies about big changes coming in comics.

  • comiXology had a press conference yesterday, trotting out the creators of the first tranche of the creator-owned line they’ve put together; Kel McDonald was kind enough to chat with me about some of it. She’s working up a story illustrated by Tyler Crook called The Stone King, and she’s in good company: folks like C Spike Trotman, MK Reed, Hope Nicholson, Rob DenBlyker, KC Green, David Malki !, Branson Reese, Katie Shanahan, Kris Straub, Kris Wilson, and Kris Zach Weinersmith are also on tap (Nicholson editing all those folks whose names come after hers on the list in a collection called Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire, which is a biographical treatment of comics that went viral).

    McDonald wasn’t able to answer a lot of my questions, either because details aren’t public, or because the decisions haven’t been taken yet, but the fact that comiXology (which is to say, Amazon) is moving hard into this has the potential to shift things in the market. To be seen over the next bit:

    What conditions will make them expand this first foray into a general program of creator-owned publishing? And where do the rights reside? From here, it looks like a form of publishing that could equally peel people off of, say, Line Webtoon (digital quasi-publisher, but can’t possibly pay what Amazon could) and, say, BOOM! (which pulls heavily from indie and web folks, and is widely perceived to screw them sideways on getting paid, which is not an approach that Amazon could take¹).

    And, crucially, what about print? comiXology is all about digital, but right now I’ll tell you that no matter how great all of their proposed books look, I won’t buy digital comics that I don’t get to own. Somebody’s slinging a PDF on Gumroad? I’m all over that. But comiXology is part of Amazon, and Amazon has depublished books and removed them from devices for their own contractural reasons. I will not buy a license to read a comic from anybody (but especially not an Amazon-owned company).

    Anyway, Old Man Grumpus over here will be watching all of this very closely. I don’t know that it’s as big a change-maker as, say, Kickstarter has been, but it’s early days.

    Kel McDonald can be found most times during the show, at Small Press table M-12.
    C Spike Trotman can be found wandering the floor, on panels or at the zoo, not stuck behind a table like a chump.
    MK Reed can be found at various panels and signings.
    Rob DenBlyker can be found most times during the show at Cyanide & Happiness, booth 1234.
    David Malki ! can be found most times during the show at TopatoCo, booth 1229.

  • There are no certainties in life, and certainly not in comics, but there is one thing that is close enough to be mathematically indistinguishable from certainty: Gina Gagliano is going to succeed. She is universally beloved and respected in graphic novel publishing, and there is a not a person that can say an unkind thing about her. Consider: a major publishing conglomerate does not start a new imprint on a whim, or without planning, approval, and confidence at the executive level. More to the point: Random House sought her out to head up this new direction.

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

    And since we’re talking about a massive corporation, they’ll want to see revenue as soon as practical given the lead times in production and printing² if there’s stuff in the production cycle now, 2020 would just barely be possible for first releases (and honestly, I’d think 2021 far more reasonable, given that she’s starting from scratch and getting ready to put together a marketing plan for books that won’t exist for at least 18 months, lacking a staffed-up office). That’s amazing.

    As I told her, the comics world has huge expectations, but also great confidence. If she accomplishes 60% of what I think she can, it’ll be a runaway success; if she gets to everything I think she can, it’ll be a seismic shift to the industry not seen since … well, since she handled marketing and publicity as her last gig.

    Gina Gagliano can be found on a panel at the San Diego Central Library at 5:00pm Friday, and the rest of the time she’ll be talking to the people that will help her revolutionize graphic novels. If you can help her do that, no doubt she will find you.

¹ Yes, Amazon is a giant bestriding commerce, but I think that fact counterintuitively acts as a brake on them. This is purely speculation on my part, but given the stories I’ve been told about BOOM! not honoring contract provisions, I think their size is the only thing that lets them get away with it. They’re larger than the individuals who’ve complained, but too small for their bad behavior to carry over to where there’s real money.

If comiXology (that is to say, Amazon) didn’t honor contract provisions or got grabby with rights in the ways that I’ve been told BOOM! has, it would have repercussions far beyond digital comics. It’s the sort of thing that would cause large corporations to ask Could this happen to me when I host my stuff on Amazon Web Services? Better play it safe and shift to Azure, and that has the potential to affect about five-six orders of magnitude more money than some electronic funnybooks.

² Which may be even greater if Screamy Orange Grandpa ramps up the trade war with China.

A Trade And A Scoop

It just occurred to me that the two people I’m talking about here occupy far ends of the human size spectrum. I have to try to get a photo of them together.

  • When you walk down the aisle in Artists Alley and see where Shing Yin Khor is supposed to be set up and see only blank space? Don’t panic. Because if you walk by again two-three hours later, you’ll see an immersive table set up, looking like an apothecary of weird and wonderful things, and no sign of the proprietor because she’s gone someplace better for the remaining six hours until show opening.

    A transplant from a slightly confused alternate future, Khor does art from small artifacts to big installations, and you should go see her stuff. The easiest way to find her is to make it known you know where a roadside Paul Bunyan statue may be found and she’ll find you, but I hear that this year’s XOXO Fest will be a good bet.

    As previously mentioned, Khor has a trade-only set of goods at her booth this year, and I was pleased to be the first person to make a trade with the Space Gnome. You can only make the trade for one (or more, I suppose) of:

    1. A cool rock
    2. A story about your favorite roadside statue
    3. A handmade ceramic vessel
    4. A compliment, in iambic pentameter or limerick.

    And no lie, I actually dreamt a limmerick about Khor last week. It declared both Khor’s stature to be slighty but also the Space Gnome to be Paul Bunyan-mighty.

    I received several stickers, a mystery item (which turned out to be a badge reading I Got This), and a beautiful enamel pin; I noticed later that at some time while we were talking, she managed to inscribe a personalization on the back of the card it came on. It’s marked as 1 of 200, so get to scrounging rocks, vessels, roadside statue stories, and verses; there’s about 194 of them left. Khor is also providing fortunes, beautiful watercolor miniprints, and I received one reading:

    desire, anger, retribution

    The fight you know is on the horizon is long and arduous, but you are prepared for it.
    Your instincts are sharp, and your skills will be called upon to create a better future for you and yours.

    Shing Yin Khor can be found at the Center For Otherworld Studies most times during the show, Small Press table O-04.

  • Ryan North is a smart, funny man, one that towers over all he surveys both figuratively and literally. We spent some time chatting about his forthcoming book, How To Invent Everything (an Amazon-avoiding Kickstart for which is running now, with exclusive cool stuff), and he let me in on an exclusive story — appropriate for a book about changing history — of what could have been.

    In the book, he tells you how musical notation works, and provides the sheet music for some of the great works of the Western canon (Pachelbel’s, specifically, along with some Mozart and Bach), which if you’re in the past you can write down before they do and be the greatest composer ever!

    But one masterwork eluded him. Because while Mozart, Bach, and Pachelbel are in the public domain, the fourth Greatest Song In History is not, and he was unable to get to the rights to include the music in the book. The rights administrator was confused — it’s not a mechanical reproduction as in a cover version recording, that’s got an easy, established process. North offered to do the arrangement himself, and the administrator kept asking, Is this for a textbook?, not really getting that it’s a general science book about time travel and humo[u]r.

    In the end, they were not able to come to an agreement, and so if you are ever trapped in the past, you will sadly not be able to retroactively teach the world to Shoop before Salt-n-Pepa do. Our futurepast culture will somehow have to survive. North did get an appropriate alternate fourth Greatest Song In History for inclusion, but I promised I wouldn’t spoil it. You’ll just have to get the book yourself and see.

    Ryan North can be found at TopatoCo most times during the show, booth 1229.

A Busier Preview Night Than One Would Have Expected

And, in a way, slower that usual. The shift to much of the exclusive merchandise being available by pre-assigned lottery seemed to reduce the madness of the crowds somewhat. The other big shift of the year was the vaunted closing of the Harbor Drive, which fronts the San Diego Convention Center; it wasn’t in evidence at the times I was coming and going, however. The fact that the convention center is raised above Harbor Drive and has limited access points (one set of stairs in the middle, walking on at either end) seems to offer a limited benefit for reducing drag. Word is today that badge check will happen outside, away from the actual convention center doors, so maybe that will be an improvement.

Build out was the usual dance of frantic and calming, with admonishments over the loudspeakers this year that Exhibitors are not allowed to photograph or take video of booths before the show opens, with the crime of posting visuals of the show floor prior to opening subjecting one to possible expulsion. There’s one photo of setup, but honestly? It looks the same from year to year.

It’s in the interest of changing things up that instead of doing a large round-up post, I’ll do a brief summary, and multiple posts of interesting things interspersed. There will be one or two short bits of ephemera here, along with a preview of the day’s panels and the best cosplay photos once that gets underway.

The best ephemera was I met the editor of the new Nancy, and I told her it’s my mission to ask every cartoonist I meet if they are are, individually or jointly, Olivia Jaimes; I also asked her if she, personally, was now or every had been Olivia Jaimes. She informed me that my best guess as to Olivia Jaimes’s identity was wrong, that Jaimes is a single person and not a team, that she’s a woman, and that she’s not telling me who it is.

Fair enough, and I let her know that Nancy is now brilliant, and never more so than in those first couple weeks of Jaimes’s tenure, when the Sunday strips of her predecessor Brad Gilchrist were still running, and the contrast in style — not to mention level of funny! — was shockingly obvious. Last week, I laughed out loud at a newspaper strip for the first time in at least a decade because Olivia Jaimes is so very, very good at her job.

Also, Winter McCloud if heading to grad school, so if you were wondering if you’re getting older, the answer is yes.

Panels to watch for today include:
YA Comics FTW! with Jen Wang, Scott Westerfeld, Molly Ostertag, and Tillie Walden. Room 4 at 3:30.

Superstars In Children’s Graphic Novels with Molly Ostertag Nina Matumoto, Jarrett Krosoczka, Aron Steinke, Ian Boothby, and Jeff Smith. Room 26AB at 5:30.

It Is Way Too Early And I Am Way Too Tired

But I’m awake, and there’s wifi, and the day stretches out before us. Let’s do this. Posts throughout the show as I manage them.