The webcomics blog about webcomics

Nearly Upon Us

Hey folks, a quick note before we get started. Something’s come up in my life that is going to be taking a lot of mental cycles for a while. I’m going to likely be a bit less verbose than normal until it gets worked out. Nothing bad, just … big. Thanks for your understanding.


Spam of the day:

Dive into the ocean and your swimshorts suddenly change color! These swimshorts ara AMAZING!

The ocean? You mean where fish poop? No thank you.

If You’re Reading This, The WordPress Update Worked

If not, then I have more work to do. Technology today, webcomics tomorow.

Fleen Book Corner: Catching Up

Readers of this page will recall that on more than one occasion I have noted how Diamond (until recently, the only distributor that the comics industry allowed itself to have) absolutely refused to get me books that had been on order. Sometimes, the better part of a year would go by, much to the consternation of myself and the staff of my local comics shop (who I hold blameless in this fiasco).

Thus, somewhat recently, books that have been in release for a really long damn time have come into my possession and I’d like to talk about some of them. Since they’ve been long out in the world and other people have talked about them, these will be somewhat briefer reviews than normally found here. Oh, and spoilers may abound.

  • Evan Dahm’s The Harrowing Of Hell first came onto my radar in the summer of 2018, and I made a habit of asking Dahm about it at MoCCA each year. It was delayed by COVID for some months from the appropriate Lenten season last year¹, finally releasing about eleven months ago.

    Given that it’s a 2000 year old story — accounting for those days between the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Resurrection — maybe waiting not quite a year isn’t such a big deal. On the other hand, it’s such a gorgeous book, I reserve the right to be annoyed. Dahm’s taken what is often a triumphant story — various apocrypha tell of Jesus tearing things up in Hell, rebuking the fallen angels, and redeeming the souls of the righteous — and turned it into a cautionary tale.

    The mocking of demons echoes the cries of Jesus’s own followers: Blessed, Hosana, this is the Son of God. Their message is one of twisted praise, predicting how his message will be corrupted in the years to come: he will be remembered not as a teacher and storyteller, but as a conquering king, bringing punishment and retribution rather than redemption. The greatest damnation that the fallen can offer Jesus is to grant his name power and glory rather than humility.

    The book is done in stark black-and-white (with the occasional splash of red in the robes of Sanhedrin or the uniforms of Roman soldiers) in the scenes of Jesus’s ministry, and given a lurid blood-red fill during the descent; there’s not a bit of white on the Hell pages, except to depict Jesus’s figure. It’s a first-rank mood-setter, as well as drawing the eye to exactly where Dahm wants it.

    Regardless of one’s own belief system, it is not possible to move in Western society without acknowledging the influence of the Christian faith; here’s a story that even many Christians don’t know, and those that do will find a very different interpretation, one that casts a very different light on that historical and pervasive influence.

  • Dahm also released Island Book 2: The Infinite Land this year, a sequel to a quiet, contemplative story that’s reminiscent of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. In that review, I noted that in the many sequels Dorothy would return to Oz and get her companions back together to meet the next challenge, and in Island Book 2 Sola does the same. Like Dorothy, Sola is hailed as a liberator in a way that isn’t really warranted (witch-killer in Dorothy’s case; monster slayer in Sola’s), and given power and authority (Dorothy as a Princess of Oz, Sola as a leader of her people in a new nation, one that is rapidly moving forward in technology²).

    But Dorothy didn’t find one of her peers hellbent on turning Oz into an empire, determined to sweep all unknowns away in case they became threats later. She didn’t have one of her companions fall into the dream of empire. Dorothy remained an innocent, Sola is nothing but doubts and wondering if she’s unleashed a great plague upon the world in the form of her own people.

    We’ve left Oz behind and found ourselves in a place more like the Empire of Sahta, and it’s going to take Sola a hell of a lot of work to stop what is starting to look like colonization, pogroms, and genocide. Island Book 3 is going to have a tightope to walk, and I know that Dahm’s up to the challenge.

  • There might not be anybody better suited to adapting an elliptical, almost Möbius-shaped story like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five into graphical form than Ryan North. He gets nonlinear storytelling and the sometimes counterintuitive way that something that happens here/now can be intimately linked with something that happens there/then. Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, and having pictures (by Albert Monteys) to navigate the branching paths is a tremendous aid.

    One of the first page spreads shows Billy Pilgrim at the various key stages of his life, and the way he looks at each age on this timeline go a long way to demystifying when Billy lands as he jumps back and forth within his life. We know where the story is heading, because Vonnegut, North, and Monteys tell us almost from the beginning (after, as it turns out, a brief few pages where North notes that much of what occurs in the book actually happened to Vonnegut), but the journey is still full of surprises and despite that.

    Slaughterhouse Five is rightly regarded as one of the most brilliant, most important novels ever written; this new version of Slaughterhouse Five for a different medium can stand next to the original with head held high.


Spam of the day:

With all due respect. If you are based in United States or Canada, I write to inform you that we need you to serve as our Spokesperson/Financial Coordinator for our company

I find your story somewhat unconvincing. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh well, one less opportunity for me.

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¹ You got a horror book, you want that out in October. Book about what happened when Jesus threw down the gates to Hell? You want that out at Easter.

² The better analogy might be the leap from agrarianism to an industrial revolution between Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend Of Korra.

SDCC 2021 Programming@Home

Well here we are, about three weeks into July, and San Diego Comic Con is again not happening in person. Given what was known back in the spring when CCI organizers needed to make a call, it was the right decision. Given what is happening now with more contagious variants of COVID spreading like wildfire among the unvaccinated¹, it’s a damn good thing they made the decision that they made. So it’s online for SDCC again, with a full list of participating exhibitors (whatever that means; it wasn’t too clearly defined last year) releasing on Thursday, to coincide with the first full day of programming.

Speaking of, let’s look at what’s coming to a video stream near you. Like last year, these panels appear to have been entirely pre-recorded and will premiere at the date/time given (all times PDT). Also, I’ll note that thing appear bit sparser than last year², in that a slate of in-person programming was well in development by the time lockdowns started; looks like they just started with less this year.

Thursday

Teaching And Learning With Comics
3:00pm — 4:00pm

Not just another panel on the educational potential of comics, but a panel on the educational potential of comics featuring Kelly Sue Deconnick and Matt Fraction, which ought to be real good. Joining them in the discussion will be Peter Carlson (Green Dot Public Schools), Susan Kirtley (Portland State University), and Antero Garcia (Stanford University).

Friday
ComiXology Presents The 33rd Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
7:00pm–9:00pm

Last year, as I recall, it was just about an hour start to finish on the prerecorded announcement of winners. Certainly nobody’s agitating for a return to four-plus hour marathons, but two hours seems like it could allow things to breathe a little better. Phil Lamarr returns for hosting duties, along with Sergio Aragonés presenting this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

Saturday

Launching Your First Kickstarter
11:00am — noon

Seems like something called almost exactly this is on deck every year, and weirdly it never features the same folks twice. This one gets props for including Kickstarter’s director of comics outreach, Oriana Leckert, and some prominent cartoonists who’ve used Kickstarter of late: Tina Horn, Eric Powell, Afua Richardson, and the irreplaceable Jeff Smith, along with the director of brand, editorial (not 100% sure what that means) for Skybound Entertainment, Arune Singh.

Keenspot Turns 21! Ninjas & Robots–Junior High Horrors–The D Ward Spotlight
1:00pm — 2:00pm

This is how you know it’s a weird year. Keenspot always gets programmed late in the day on Sunday, almost at the very end of SDCC, but this year they’re in the middle of Saturday. Weird. Anyway, it’s still Keenspot, probably not going to look very different from the previous 20 iterations.

First You March—Then You Run-Celebrating Congressman John Lewis’ Legacy
4:00pm — 5:00pm

It’s been a year since we lost John Lewis, and six years since he cosplayed as his younger self and led a march of young folks at the San Diego Convention Center; you can’t get a costume more authentic than the same damn coat you wore when you were nearly beaten to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday for the audacity of wanting to vote.

Of course, Congressman Lewis’s March trilogy is a masterpiece and though he has left us, he and his collaborators were well into the creation of the sequel: Run, which starts the story of Lewis’s quest for elected office. Author (and onetime Lewis legislative aide) Andrew Aydin and co-illustrator L Fury will be joined by Lewis’s nephew, LA County firefighter Anthony Dixon, moderated by professor Qiana Whitted.

Given everything that’s going on in the country today, this is probably the most important panel of the weekend. Tune in, and then call every elected official that depends on your vote and demand that they spend as much time and effort as necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Sunday

Comics Made Me Who I Am Today: Kids Graphic Novelists and Their Influences
11:00am — noon

Ooooh, there’s some good folks on this one: Nidhi Chanani (whose newest graphic novel, Jukebox, will be getting a review here soon), Jerry Craft, Betsy Peterschmidt, Dana Simpson, and Judd Winick (Hilo) in discussion with Cartoon Art museum curator Andrew Farago. Bet there’s a lot of happiness in this one.

The Adventure Zone And Bubble: Podcasts To Comics
noon — 1:00pm

Yeah, yeah, McElroys, got it. Bubble was a wickedly smart podcast, and the bits of the graphic novel adaptation I’ve seen — with art by the stellar Tony Cliff — hint at a really good adaptation. Not a straight copy but telling the story in the way best suited to a different medium. Cliff will be there along with Bubble creator Jordan Morris and adapter Sarah Morgan; from the TAZ side you’ve got Travis and Griffin McElroy and illustrator Carey Pietsch (it’s been a delight watching her grow on the series), and they’re all wrangled by Alison Wilgus, who edited both projects and thus maybe knows more about adapting podcasts to graphic novels than anybody else.

Comic-Con@Home is listed as running 23-25 July, and that’s when they have pretty full days of programming, but there’s actually panels as early as Wednesday the 21st. See the programming page for more info.


Spam of the day:

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I don’t have a Netflix account and there’s no way in hell I’m clicking your thing.

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¹ Making up something like 99% of the current infections, and closer to 99.6% of serious illness/hospitalizations. I was almost used to taking patients to the ED and not seeing signs about which rooms were subject to special isolation precautions, and now they’re popping up again — and I’m in a state with a pretty high rate of total population vaccinated, an even higher rate of 12-and-up vaccinated, and pushing 90% of seniors vaccinated. We’re not taking in the very elderly for COVID any more; it’s people in their 30s and 40s who are otherwise healthy. Get your godsdamned shots, people.

² Want to know how I know it’s a different process? The long-runnning and much beloved Best & Worst Manga panel is missing! Maybe somebody decided it just doesn’t work without a live audience of howler monkeys with opinions (it totally works without them).

In The Best Squirrel Girl Fashion, He Made An Enemy Into A Friend

I refer, of course, to this, this, this, and this. My only regret in life is that the reading referenced in the last link wasn’t recorded because I desperately want to see that in action.

But Ryan Estrada is nothing if not a magnificently generous human being, and he asked himself, perhaps I don’t need to have this conflict with Jerry. And thus:

Hey @fleenguy I taught Jerry how to make comics and we told one another that we both think the other is capable of winning an Eisner. We believe in each other now. It was a very touching moment. Jerry’s cool.

Doreen Green couldn’t have done it better, and we at Fleen welcome Jerry’s transformation from villain (or at least antihero) to friend (with the acknowledgment that future writers might retcon this). Glad I no longer need to have a nemesis. Go forth, Jerry, and make comics. Make so many, and so good, that you do win an Eisner some day, and hopefully you’ll remember Ryan Estrada’s name when you give your speech.

In other news, Diamond finally got some weeks-overdue books to my shop¹, so look for some reviews in the coming week. In fact, I’m going to get a head start on reading, so we’ll pick this up again on Monday. Have a good weekend, everybody!


Spam of the day:

Himalayan “Poop Protocol” Stretch that’s erasing years of back pain.

What in the actual fuck is wrong with you people?

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¹ While not managing to get this week’s releases to me. I need to get Bubble so I can break out the LASER DONG pin!

Whoo, Tired Today

Late night with a dude in crisis in EMT-land. Couple quick items before I try to make up for being six hours short on sleep.

  • Tillie Walden is a particular favorite here at Fleen. We’ve talked about her modern books (Spinning, On A Sunbeam, Are You Listening?) at some length, and have made oblique references to her earlier work, published by Avery Hill as the result of a cold-call email and a decision on Walden’s part that it probably wasn’t a scam. She some Ignatzen for them, but they’ve been difficult to track down since the print runs were small and overseas¹.

    So let’s all be glad that Avery Hill have compiled those earlier, hard-to-find works into a single omnibus edition called Alone In Space. The bookplate editions are sold out, but the hardcover is still available and will cost you less than individually tracking down The End Of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside, as well as adding various short pieces from print and the web. Tillie Walden is a staggeringly skilled cartoonist and this should be on your shelf.

  • Lots of other stuff should be on your shelf, and now it a terrific time to make that happen. Via the twitterfeed of George:

    Graphic Novels went from 9.3% of adult fiction to 20%. Making it the 2nd largest category. Like dang.

    He goes on to note that it’s all lumped together, regardless of genre and a lot of it is manga, but it’s still comics, it’s still fiction, and it’s only going to grow. We live in good times for comics.

Spam of the day:

silent-plug.com

Nope. Deleting that one unread. Don’t wanna know.

Pervs.

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¹ I’d never seen a copy of any of the three until I met Walden at Comics Camp 2019 and she had two of them at her Mini-Con table.

Hooray For Welcome Returns

Oh, it hurt to cut down something so pretty, so well constructed to its purpose as that recap image. Then again, it was nearly in a 1 x 10 aspect ratio (width x height), so there’s no way I could have put it at the top of the post.

I speak, obvs, of the teaser for Barbarous Season Two, scheduled to start in two weeks. On the one hand, yay, after the better part of a year since the end of Season One, two weeks is blessedly soon. On the other, fourteen days is practically an eternity from now, I may die of the anticipation, etc.

For those that perhaps need a recap to go with the recap, Barbarous is the current longform webcomic from Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh; it follows a magic university dropout and an impossible familiar in the best exploration of being unsure of yourself at a certain age in New York since Octopus Pie. It’s run approximately one chapter per year since 2016 (with side stories in between) the first five of which made up a reasonably complete story, and now it’s coming back.

And because there’s a lot of meat on the story, there’s a recap, although it’s not a straight linear precis of the story. The scenes jump back and forth along the storyline, which means it’s really there to prod the memory of those who’ve been reading, not provide a cheat sheet to jump in fresh. The really clever bit is that the arrangement of scenes in the recap gives a new reading on Percy (said dropout) and Leeds (said familiar) and their motivations. Bits of personal development that were separated by a year or more have new resonance when put side by side. Even moreso that the return of a beloved story, I wanted to bring this story technique up, because I can think of a lot of plot-driven [web]comics that could get a lot of benefit from it.

Oh, and since we’re here and all, Hirsh and Ota are teaming up on words — with art by JR Doyle — on a new original graphic novel out from Abrams in November. A couple weeks ago they talked about their inspirations for Pixels Of You¹ in a promo video and it’s a neat look at where story ideas can come from, and how characters reveal themselves to creators. Give ‘er a watch or two while you’re waiting for Barbarous to start back up.


Spam of the day:
No spam, but I do want to point it that there’s less than a day to get a hardcopy of The Abominable Charles Christopher Book 3 via Kickstarter add-on. It is gonna be so pretty.

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¹ Now I have The Cure going through my brain. This is not a bad thing.

As Expected, The Sawdust Bear Is Awesome

You know, when I get a bit down, I can always count on Shing Yin Khor to do something awesome and give me hope in humanity — or possibly gnomity — again. Along with seeing people share their playthroughs of A Mending on social media¹ and wondering how many stories have been birthed as a result, I’ve been thinking back on their intent to make this experience as broadly available as possible.

Experience because everybody I’ve shared it with regards it as more than a game. It’s an invitation to creativity, a tutorial in storybuilding, and an act of self-examination all wrapped in the guise of a game. But it’s the broadly part that I wanted to talk about. Readers may recall that when A Mending was Kickstarting, we at Fleen wrote about Khor’s determination to make it both an open-source framework for the story prompts that others might devise, and especially in acknowledging that they might not see all the barriers that could prevent individuals from being able to participate:

I’m creating two $1500 grants for people who would like to adapt A Mending for wider accessibility. One grant is focused on visual accessibility, the other on range-of-motion accessibility. These grants come with a free commercial license, so they can take 100% of profits from work they choose to make commercially available (I will only need attribution). The non-exclusive commercial license includes my art, writing and game design work. What does this mean? Maybe it’s someone selling raised versions of the cloth map in high contrast colors. Maybe it’s porting the game to Roll 20. Maybe a website that produces randomized voiceovers for all the cards. I don’t really know but I’d like to find out too! [emphasis original]

Not only that, but Khor decided that they would license the game framework to whoever came up with those accessibility modifications, so that the modded versions would be sold for profit. It’s been a busy time getting the A Mending kits out to backers², so it’s only now that they have been able to take a look at those grants. From a backers-only update³ to the campaign:

I initially wanted to offer two accessibility grants of [US]$1500 each to two people or groups working on improving accessibility on my game, A Mending. However, instead of creating an formal application process (which in this particular instance, feels like it might be more gate-keepy than useful), I have decided to simply put aside [US]$3000 to properly compensate people working on accessibility issues if they choose to work on a more accessible version of A Mending, which can include smaller targeted projects. I will write more about this soon, but if you’ve been thinking about ways A Mending could be more accessible, and would like to work on that, let me know — I’d like to pay you.

Proposals(these do not need to be formal) can be emailed directly to me(shingkhor who has an account at the Google-hosted mail, a dot-com); please include your budget/pay-rate and an outline of what you might want to make or do.

If you are an independent designer and would like to self-fund a more accessible version of A Mending, and only need a commercial license to make money on your version, email me. The license will allow you to produce a commercial version of the game with your accessibility changes, whether digital or physical. If you would like to produce a non-commercial version of the game, you can already do so under its current license. [emphasis mine]

I suspect that more people will make more things this way than in the original two grants model. And more people making more things will benefit exponentially more people who otherwise would have missed out.

Khor tells me they will be making a more public announcement once A Mending is widely available, although that may be some weeks away. If you have ideas, contact them at the email given above.


Spam of the day:

After years of providing professional blog writing and other copy material, I have recently launched my own site. My mission is to write engaging blog posts to help start ups and small businesses build credibility, providing quality and value, at an affordable level.

Dude, I don’t get paid for this, you think I’m going to pay you to write a generic post that has nothing to do with webcomics?

Okay, even more nothing than one of mine?

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¹ Yes, I included myself twice. Deal.

² As to be expected, with more than 2500 due physical rewards.

³ I emailed Khor for permission to quote and share, and they graciously agreed.

Four Perfect Panels

Sometimes, you don’t realize what you’ve been missing because there’s something similar enough making its way into your eye-holes. Case in point: we haven’t had any Nedroid Picture Diary updates in a bit less than two years because Anthony Clark was knocking it out of the park with BACK, until it finished up at the end of April.

Today, he let us know what Them Boys have been up to in a Status Update.

Clark’s work is always so clean, with exactly the amount of detail necessary for maximum impact. If you had never seen Reginald, Beartato, and Harrison before, you would know exactly who each of them is — and at least 87% of their respective deals — from these four panels. Dare we hope that we will get more of Them Boys in the near future? We already know that Clark’s BACK partner, KC Green, is working on Pinocchio again, as he approached the end of Collodi’s very weird story.

And hopefully, we’ll see them working together again in the near future, because Clark + Green = Magic. Go pick out any of their individual or combined projects and start from the beginning and don’t stop clicking until you hit the end.


Spam of the day:

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Stop right there. Never let anybody near your c-spine, people. It’s kind of important.

Really Should Have Spent Some Of The Long Weekend Pruning Spam

There was a lot of it built up in the filters. Two brief items for you today:

  • Readers of this page know that we at Fleen are big fans of Oh Joy, Sex Toy by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan; it’s by varying degrees educational, hot, informative, hot, funny, hot, an invaluable resource for people learning to be better partners and better human, and also super hot. My favorite part of OJST is all of it, but my favorite favorite part is the small gags that Moen and Nolan toss in almost at random.

    Case in point: throughout the going-on-a-decade history of OJST, Cartoon Erika and/or Cartoon Matt will show up to the side of a scene featuring Masturbateers to transition from the narrative part of a strip to the informative part. Nobody ever questions it (or the fact that CM and CE may not be regular human size, or in the weirdest possible locales) until today. That bit from today’s strip¹ quoted up above? How long has she been there?! left me giggling out loud. Well done, Matt and Erika. Well done.

  • Readers of this page also know that Ryan Estrada is possibly the most multi-hyphenated creator in all of webcomics, and one of the things that we at Fleen admire most about him is his inescapable drive to make the world better. When he sees something wrong or stupid going on, he is not one to let that shit slide:

    Terrible new laws are banning too many teachers from teaching about race, sexuality, or queerness. Teachers have long had to teach the past to say things they cannot say about the future. Sadly, that has not changed.

    In the 80s, Hyun Sook and friends were banned from reading Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? because the Chun regime confused kids book author Bill Martin Jr. with socialist author Bill Martin.

    The Texas Board of Education did the exact same thing in 2010.

    History repeats.

    If any teachers want to say something to their class that they are not allowed to say, feel free to invite us to do a free virtual author visit and we’ll say it and then you can be like “MY WORD! Those uncouth authors! I had no idea they would say that!” We’ll cover for you.

    Estrada’s been willing to take on terrible people doing terrible things (including telling the story of one person targeted by terrible people at Oh Joy, Sex Toy) even in the face of a legal system that sides with terrible people, so he’s serious now:

    This was a joke until halfway through the tweet when I decided I would legit do it for any teachers who asked. These laws keeping teachers from teaching make me livid.

    Teachers looking to get around gag laws can contact Estrada via the email link at his website.


Spam of the day:

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If I didn’t think you were full of shit, I certainly know of some MRA and white supremacy sites that could use some trashing.

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¹ Which is on dirty talk, but like 90% of OJST is really about communicating with your partner. Erika and Matt are so good about wanting your communication skills to level up, I almost can’t stand it. They seriously deserve one of those MacArthur Fellowships for what they’re doing.