The webcomics blog about webcomics

This Is Super Short And I Don’t Feel Guilty About It At All

I could tell you about all the stuff I’ve got going on, but truth is it’s just a busy day and right now I’ve got other stuff to do if I’m going to be able to have an online hangout with friends tonight, and that personal contact is important. If you aren’t keeping up with the folks in your life get on that; stay at home orders are hard enough if you don’t take the time for yourself.

And while you’re making plans to catch up with your peeps, maybe check out the grant application that Patreon has set up for artists affected by COVID. If you’re lucky enough to not need relief funds, you could throw a couple bucks towards them — or towards your local health care providers¹ — if you’re so inclined. I’ve been pretty critical of Patreon of late, and there’s precious little information about how they’re evaluating applications or how much they’re giving out, but it’s something.

Now go take care of each other, and take some time for yourself. And excellent way to do that would be to spend eleven minutes watching an amazing tokusatsu/jidaigeki fan-film with one guy in a suit playing all the roles.

Spam of the day:

New chronic memory loss treatment leaves doctors speechless!

Gonna go out on a limb and say that doctors have more important things to worry about today. Maybe you meant Richard Epstein? He seems credulous.

¹ Or not so local. My agency is here, and Chris Eliopoulos would like you to know that his son is doing the same volunteer work as me, only he’s at the epicenter of New Jersey’s cases and I’m in the 2nd tier.

Heh. “Coronavirus”.

As promised, Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin has a remembrance of Alberto Uderzo, co-creator and artist of Astérix.


I am still reeling. Astérix, like Tintin and the Smurfs, were the ubiquitous comics of my childhood, I literally grew up with them; but by the time I was born René Goscinny and Hergé were gone already, I could never mourn them, and once Peyo left us too, I had grown out of the Smurfs. But you never grow out of Astérix.

Uderzo was born in France but named Alberto, since his parents immigrated from Italy, and in that his origins parallel Goscinny’s (born in Paris of a Jewish family from Poland). Indeed, Uderzo is commonly associated with Astérix, with reason, but even more characteristic of his career is his association with Goscinny: their meeting was clearly decisive for both their careers, and from then on they never stopped collaborating. Beginning with a first iteration of Umpah-Pah, which they solicited in the US, without success, but the techniques of the time had them put the English lettering directly on the original plates, where it still remains, including in reprints of that pilot: they can only be read in English. Then various other series with uneven success, among which Luc Junior or Jehan Pistolet. Then a retooled Umpah-Pah, probably his second best-known work (5 books).

And then the pair, with a few other friends, founded Pilote, with Obélix quickly settling on the cover masthead. Imagine if Stan Lee has left Marvel in 1959 along with Jack Kirby to found Dark Horse, and succeeded in making it bigger than the Big Two? This is what Goscinny and his friends did, and much the same way that Hergé was Tintin magazine’s star artist, and Franquin was Spirou magazine’s, Uderzo was Pilote‘s.

And as such, while Astérix was born in the first issue of Pilote, in there Uderzo also worked on Tanguy et Laverdure, this time on a scenario from Jean-Michel Charlier and in a more realistic style for which he is less known, and that’s too bad, because his work is just as remarkable there than it is in Astérix. But the success of Pilote, and then of Astérix within Pilote, led the pair to drop Umpah-Pah (which they were creating for Tintin magazine), and led Uderzo to relinquish drawing duties on Tanguy et Laverdure to Jijé. From then on, Uderzo would work on Astérix and only Astérix, with the success for which he is now known worldwide.

I have never seen his work prior to his collaboration with Goscinny, but even after they started working together his style was still evolving: at the beginning of Jehan Pistolet for instance he drew scenes and characters with dense strokes, but later on in Jehan Pistolet he evolved to a very cartoonish style, reminiscent of Disney. While far from Hergé’s ligne claire, the style he settled on can’t really be tied to the Marcinelle school either: while he reported being influenced by US artists, in many ways he cleared his own path.

A style which appears deceivingly simple. It is exceedingly readable and thus instrumental to Astérix’ all-ages appeal: even if you barely understand what is going on you can easily follow along, which better allows you to read them again later, where Goscinny’s writing picks up the slack and reveals additional layers of meaning. And yet when looking more closely you can see how he adds emphasis lines, varies lines width, suggests volumes, etc. without it being salient.

But it wasn’t just the style. When Asterix chez les Pictes, the first book drawn by Didier Conrad, was about to come out Le Monde ran a feature telling how Uderzo initially looked only for a writer for resuming the series without him, as he thought he already had the drawing talent in house: Frédéric Mébarki, who was already punctually filling in for the aging master, seamlessly so. But when it came time to create a full book, no one was satisfied with his “graphical narration”, Mébarki most of all: he had to drop the project, and another search had to be made, this time for an artist.

He was also the last of his generation, of those comics creators of the French-Belgian tradition who broke out in the 50s. Goscinny, Charlier, Delporte, Jijé, Franquin, Peyo, Greg, Morris, Roba, Giraud, are all gone, and so with Uderzo died the last witness to a lot of the history of comics.

It is clear the success of Astérix owes a lot to the work of Albert Uderzo. In the last Tintin book that Hergé completed, Tintin and the Picaros, the last pages occur during a carnival, and while most of the costumes are of public domain characters (harlequin, giant heads, etc.), you can find a Mickey, a Donald … and an Asterix costume. A passing of the guard, in a way.

What to read of Uderzo?

  • Umpah-pah the Redskin (remember it was the 50s, and is best thought as alternate history anyway): the first part of the Umpah-pah series; most of what will be in Astérix is there already.
  • Tanguy et Laverdure: any of the books he drew in this series, just so you can see what he is capable of in a more realistic style as well.
  • Asterix and Cleopatra: clearly inspired by/spoofing the Mankiewicz movie (the original cover boasted of the 67 liters of beer, among other resources, necessary for the book’s creation), the sense of scale is impressive.
  • Asterix the Legionary: How many kinds of Roman legionaries do you think he can draw? More than you think.
  • Asterix in Britain: A crazy rugby game? Of course he can do that.
  • Asterix and the Roman Agent: The strained friendships in this one are incredibly represented.
    (note that Uderzo was at his best when Goscinny wrote for him. In particular, everyone would rather forget the last book he created alone)

Finally, Augie De Blieck Jr of Pipeline Comics has a nice roundup of tributes, but my favorite has to be Eudes’:

Halt Gauls! On order of Coronavirus, prefect of Gaul, you are to provide me your travel certificate.
A certificate … These Romans are crazy.

Mashing news events is a dicey proposition, doubly so when trying to pay tribute to a departed person, but here it works perfectly. Especially as the lockdown in France restricts attendance of funeral services to … 20 people. And obviously forbids any other tribute event or ceremony from taking place, as there doubtlessly would have been for such a celebrity death. My thoughts go to Uderzo’s family who have to mourn him in these constrained times.

Spam of the day:
Spammers don’t get to share the day with Uderzo.

Fleen Book Corner: Almost American Girl

I’ve been thinking about memoir for a bit, which I’m bringing up because today’s review is of an illustrated memoir, Almost American Girl by Robin Ha. Let’s talk generally for a bit before we get to the specifics of this book.

The thing about memoirs is that they could be about anybody, but we don’t want to read (or hear … more on that in a moment) about just anybody; there are lots of anybodies that just aren’t going to be interesting, even though their personal story isn’t all that different from other anybodies that are fascinating. So what’s the distinction?

I’m thinking here about 20 years back, when my local public radio station (WNYC in New York) shifted around Saturday programming and eliminated two programs I really liked in favor of one I hated almost immediately. Satellite Sisters was pitched as five sisters who lived in different parts of the world having a conversation; it existed primarily because one of the sisters was an executive at Nike and friends with the President of WNYC, and secondarily so that they could talk to each other for an hour and not have to pay international long distance.

It wasn’t good. They sounded stilted, scripted, engineered to unnatural smoothness, and never made a compelling argument as to why, exactly, I should care about any of them. A couple of them barely said anything, even when they were supposed to be in the hosting seat. It was real-time memoir that was a failure. Although the program persisted on some public radio stations, it was removed quickly from WNYC because everybody listening hated it. I understand it’s since become a podcast because of course it has.

Now let’s move from the question Why would anybody want to listen to five sisters around the world talk about what’s happened to them this week? to Why would anybody want to listen to three brothers from West Virginia talk about … well, anything and everything, really? Because any random podcast that involves the McElroy family succeeds where Satellite Sisters failed because of what they don’t do.

My Brother, My Brother, And Me is defined by a willingness on the part of Justin, Travis, and Griffin to let themselves look like a goofball, an idiot, or even a jerk instead of trying to convince the world you’re somehow important because you’ve got their eyeballs or earholes. They talk over each other, they crack up at stupid shit, they definitely do not sound over-engineered or scripted. The Satellite Sisters were trying to declare relevance because they had a program, the Good, Good Boys became relevant because people wanted to listen to their program. The Sisters were wannabe influencers before we knew that was a thing, and the McElroys (and their dad, their wives, and their sisters in law) are people that we want to hang out with because they crack us up with the most ridiculous nonsense and they exude authenticity.

On the scale of Satellite Sisters to MBMBAM, Robin Ha is definitely a one-person McElfamily.

Okay, that’s a dangerous statement (and this is where the possible spoilers begin); what I mean by that is, even in a medium that requires multiple passes to create, with editing at each stage to refine the words and pictures, Almost American Girl is interested in telling an authentic, non-focus-grouped, un-optimally-engineered story, one that only she could tell, and inviting us along for the ride.

And the most important part of her upended life isn’t Young Robin, it’s Mom.

Robin’s mother — who isn’t even referred to by a given name until the acknowledgments, because you don’t talk about your mom by name — is many things, and Ha is willing to show them all. She’s strong willed and also insecure; meticulous and also impatient; generous and also dictatorial; willing to sacrifice everything for her daughter and also a stereotypical demanding mother. Oh, yes, and she has absolute terrible judgment in picking romantic partners, and a stubbornness that makes for a low chance of success in dealing with a 14 year old daughter who is convinced that she (the mom) has just ruined her (the daughter’s) life.

Thing is, 14 year old Robin isn’t far wrong about that. She and her single (and unmarried — still a viciously taboo situation in Korea) have a pretty good life in Korea; Robin’s got friends she loves, a routine, and she and her mom are taking on the world. But mom’s met a recently-divorced Korean man, who’s split from his wife in LA, each taking one of their teen daughters, and currently living close to his brother’s family (including their mother) in Alabama. Robin’s mom decides they’ll take a vacation to Alabama to visit, but doesn’t explain why they’re visiting this particular family.

Then she says they’re staying. She’s getting married, Robin (who doesn’t speak English) will leave behind her friends, her school, her culture (including pop culture) and start over with a stepfather and step sister and step cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandmother she’s never met. All in all, the months that Robin spends miserable and crying at her suddenly reversed life, inability to communicate, new experience of racism, and a new quasi-sister that clearly loathes her is a pretty reasonable reaction.

But, as the back cover blurb tells us, things get better thanks to a comic-making class that Robin’s mother finds. And because we live in a world of irony, as Robin’s life improves, her mom’s starts spiraling in. Her new husband isn’t a good businessman (whereas mom was pretty damn successful back in Korea). He heads to LA to try to launch a deli business, and the in-laws pressure mom to join him. Although she and Robin are just starting to acclimate to Alabama, he’s insisting they relocate, and the cultural norms re: families and who’s in charge butt heads with a very independent woman. And for the second time in a year, Robin finds herself moving to someplace new.

Thing is, this one turns out pretty okay. They land in northern Virginia, where the families of embassy staff live; Robin gets into an ESL class for the first time since arriving in America. There are other Koreans here! And comics! She enters high school and makes friends and finds a place of balance. We knew it was going to be okay because the back cover said so, but Ha’s got the skills to make a story that could happen to anybody into one that isn’t about just anybody, particularly because of one last twist that makes it into the book.

Having finally found a path to assimilation in her new country and culture (this is where most memoirs would end), Ha tacks on a trip back to Korea seven years later, as a college student. Her high school friends are with her, they meet up with the friends she left behind, and it’s the World Cup on top of everything else.


Coming back to Korea after so long away, she’s looking at the culture with a fresh set of eyes. The casual sexism and expectations of women to serve male friends and relatives, the omnipresent plastic surgery, the toxicity of certain norms all hit in ways that her middle school friends and high school friends who have been back and forth aren’t noticing. She’s even re-evaluating the bullshit experiences she and her mother suffered in her childhood, and realizing that when her mother blithely declared that America was a better place for her to grow up than Korea, there may have been reasons for that. That introspection at the end, finding a balance between her mother’s flaws and her mother’s wisdom, and wrapping it all up in a personal Hero’s Journey return to home but finding it changed? That’s a damn good story.

More importantly, finding a way to honestly portray how your mom ruined your life, but maybe didn’t, but kinda definitely did maybe, while getting your very proud, very stubborn mother to (eventually) engage and participate and agree Yeah, that’s what happened? That’s a damned good storyteller, and that’s what makes memoir work.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha released at the end of January. It’s available wherever books are sold, and will make an excellent addition to your coronavirus isolation reading list. Enjoy while reflecting on how Korea is putting the rest of the world — the US in particular — to shame with its handling of the pandemic.

Spam of the day:

Here’s a handy video that explains how to boost your immune system so you can protect yourself from the coronavirus

Okay, you sent this on 6 March, before the panademic really started to hammer us, but still: Fuck all the way off, then fuck off some more, you ghoul.

My Righteous Fury Is Getting The Better Of Me

I don’t regret this request in the slightest and if you read this, you’re obligated to help make the wishes of future dead me come true.

To be clear, I don’t have the novel coronavirus (at least, not to my knowledge) and haven’t had any symptomatic patients (although it’s a virtual certainty I’ve had asymptomatic patients that had no idea they had the NoCo). And since the orange self-trepanator seems to actually be getting stupider and worse at managing any aspect of the pandemic and therefore trying to kill me, I feel justified in pre-planning my moist, sticky revenge.

Other people, naturally, are nicer and better than me; one of my go-to examples of a fundamentally good person would be Colleen AF Venable, who I note today is full of good cheer and congratulations for the finalists in the 2020 Exellence In Graphic Literature Awards, including her Kiss Number 8 co-creator Ellen T Crenshaw. Let’s check out who in webcomic-adjacency is getting recognized:

The books that don’t have a relationship to webcomics look pretty awesome, too. Winners will be announced in early April, and in theory be presented at the Denver Pop Culture Con on Saturday, 4 July. We’ll have to see about that last part.

Spam of the day:

Big money – [link in PDF file] # Sk3.Mg.1n0T

You must think that I just fell off of a turnip truck if you expect me to fall for that.

Speaking of which, why is it particularly turnip trucks that mark you as especially stupid if you fall off of them? Why not beet trucks (I hate beets, so falling off to get away seems like a good thing to me) or a green bean truck?

My friend Randy from college worked one summer at a green bean cannery, where dump trucks full of green beans would pull up to a particular spot and Randy would maneuver a giant, vacuum-powered suction apparatus over the top and hoover up all the green beans for sorting (got to get rid of the jimson weed that gets mixed up with the beans), cleaning, steaming, and canning.

Eight to ten hours a day through the harvest season, position the bean-sucker, hit the button, send ’em to the line. Except for the excitement when a critter that decided to nap in a truck full of green beans was accidentally introduced into the process — Sanitation crew to tower three, we got a skunk in the sucker — it was a boring, if lucrative job. He summed it up when we returned to classes as Green beans suck, and I suck green beans. He works for an aerospace company as an engineer, which I think makes him an actual rocket scientist.

Anyway, turnip trucks. Didn’t fall off one o’ them, or any other kind of truck.

Really Only One Story Today

And we’ll get to that in a moment. In the meantime, I trust you’ve seen that MICE has postponed its exhibitor registration, to be re-evaluated in June, that BOOM! Studios has made Hope Larson’s first Goldie Vance graphic novel free to read, and Diamond (a blight on comics in general) has announced it’s not going to be doing anything for a while. Having a monopoly on distribution in the comics direct market is an awesome idea, you guys.

That one story today, thought? We lost a giant in the world of comics. Albert Uderzo, illustrator and co-creator (with René Goscinny¹) of Astérix, died at the age of 92. It was unrelated to the current global crisis, not that there’s a good time or way to die, but reports are that he died in his sleep of a heart attack after feeling tired for a couple weeks. In the grand scheme of things, I’d be happy to have that one. Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeapin is working on a suitable remembrance, which we will have in the next day or two.

But while Uderzo’s death was unexpected, the ongoing effects of the novel coronavirus are not, and FSFCPL has some words from our European desk about how the [web]comics scene over there is reacting.


In these times of lockdown it seems that publishers left and right are dropping digital comics to read for free, but in that they are merely following in the footsteps of webcartoonists, who have already moved on from that to the next thing: creating works where you can contribute. Yes, you.

  • Many creators have posted the inked layer for comics plates or illustrations, for everyone to color; not particularly unexpected, but this is a classic exercise and is worth a mention. We can report that Riad Sattouf, Pénélope Bagieu, Marie Boiseau, Norbert, Thorn (twice), Fabien Lambert, Marion Barraud, Timothy Hannem (where you can also look for the hidden 20 cats), Alice Des where you can also look for some objects — instructions only in French, sorry), Marion Poinsot, Julie Gore et Eric Wantiez, Aurélien Fernandez, and Sandrine Deloffre are doing so (careful, some of these links may expire shortly).
  • Let us stay with Deloffre a bit longer: those are taken from her book called Les Cartes de Désavoeux, which I will roughly translate as Ill-Wishing Cards. Kind of a mirror universe Hallmark or American Greetings, though omitting any IP, thankfully. And she has posted the instructions on how you can do your own, which I will translate as best as I can manage:
    1. Trace a round shape with a round object (e.g. glass, soccer ball, the cap of a Pringles can, swimming pool, …)
    2. Define a goal: to whom? Why? How much do you care about this person? Do you have means of defense in the event of an aggression?
    3. Settle on a pattern an apply it on the outer surface of the previously traced round shape (e.g. flowers, stars, golden statues representing Vercingétorix, penis wearing a sombrero …)
    4. Settle on a message combining subtlety and realism and inscribe it upon the center of the circle while applying yourself. Don’t hesitate to overdo it.
    5. Gift the ill-wishing card to someone who deserves it. (e.g. nobody, because nobody deserves this card, because everyone walks in isolation in this long putrid and foul-smelling sewer we call life, we walk alone and we will die alone, eaten up by our cats, except if we’re allergic).
  • On the initiative of Bagieu, an idea by Oscar Barda, critical contributions by Deloffre, and a template by Hannem, the Coronamaison (translated hastag #coronahome was suggested by Moemai, should you need one) was born. The prompt: you draw the house floor along with its decoration/companions/pets/food/windows where you would want to be locked down, ideally.

    It kind of exploded, with #coronamaison having now thousands of hits on Instagram, though I think they are best seen on Twitter, where they remain (mostly) uncropped; alternately, Hammen is retweeting pretty much all of them. Of particular notice to your correspondent are Obion’s), Boulet’s, Luppi’s, Moemai’s, Maitre et Talons’, Jakuboy’s, Margaux Saltel’s, and of course Bagieu’s, Deloffre’s, Hannem’s, and Barda’s.

  • Meanwhile, Maliki offers a dialogue-free version of her latest strip, for you to represent what your timeline is looking like in these days of lockdown (and yes, Animal Crossing vs Doom has already been done).
  • Every day, Lewis Trondheim proposes a challenge where he posts the first three panels of a strip he just created, to see if you can guess the punchline in the fourth panel; the challenge being that your response must be in the form of a drawn panel, even badly. Be sure to follow him closely, as some have managed to find the solution in 10 mere minutes.
  • Meanwhile, Boulet proposes a game he co-created with his goddaughter Maya, where the game is mostly a pretext to draw hybrids; many creations can be seen in response to his tweet. Note that they need not be as elaborate as his barbarian Slowbro.
  • And Erwann Surcouf, on his side, proposes the randomized comic story generator he created for Spirou magazine a while back; no English version of the instructions appears to be available, unfortunately.
  • We complete by a digression though French law Twitter, where Solinette proposes we liven up the form where we French must attest for ourselves the business we have for going outside our home (e.g. buy basic necessity goods or bring out the pet), and that many of us (your correspondent included) have to fully copy by hand, for lack of a printer at home. Every day: they’re dated. Yes, it’s France, of course we have to have bureaucracy even between one and oneself.
  • Still in French law Twitter, Maitre et Talons encourages children to draw in support of healthcare professionals to thank them like she or Deloffre do. She also wants you to send her photos so she can draw herself in them.

And remember: wash your hands, sneeze and cough in your elbow pit, practice social distancing, and for the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s sake, stay at home. You have more than enough to keep yourself busy now.


Fleen, as always, thanks M Lebeapin for his reportage.

Spam of the day:

It looks like you’ve misspelled the word “remeniscences” on your website. I thought you would like to know :)

Nobody tell her.

¹ Who died more than 40 years ago. For that matter, Uderzo retired nearly a decade ago, turning over writing and art to Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, respectively.

Looks Like I Picked The Wrong Day To Stop Avoiding Social Media

In that the world is still in the parallel grips of coronavirus and stupidity, the greatest concentration of the latter coming from the Oval Office and also certain Senate offices. Last week setting Twitter (and every other form of social media) to the side was a sanity saver, but I’m back and suffering to bring you the webcomics deets, so I hope you appreciate it, you magnificent bastards.

  • Item! Longtime Fleen fave A Girl And Her Fed wrapped up Act 2 of the decade-plus story on Friday, and today marks the start of Act 3, featuring a time jump (12 years) and a new artist. Ale Presser takes over from creator KB Spangler, who will stay on writing duties. Presser’s also recently defended her dissertation (on webcomics!) and given birth, so this is an exciting time for all involved. Still to be determined is if our current pandemic times end up in the backstory of Spangler’s near-future exploration of civil rights, information, and power.
  • Item! SPX opened the table lottery today, under the theory that we’ll be able to move around again by September. This reminds me — the Hotel Rodeo for SDCC (typically late April) is going to be an act of supreme optimism. If you feel like rolling the SPX dice, lottery closes on 3 April.
  • Item! Gene Yang took his virtual book tour for Dragon Hoops to the radio. Okay, he would have done that anyway, but check out the interview with NPR’s Petra Mayer (a friend of comics if ever there was one).
  • Item! The list of new entertainment to consume via computer while staying the hell home continues to grow. Today, please enjoy Emily Carroll’s short comic, Beneath The Dead Oak Tree, free for download thanks to ShortBox (and certainly with Ms Carroll’s blessing) at Gumroad. If that’s not enough, Strong Bad has some earworms for you about staying safe and distant and uninfected.
  • Item! Mandatory shutdowns have hit the heart of Webcomickia, with Topato Potato’s personal armor of poison judged insufficient by the government of Massachusetts to keep the package wranglers safe. Your orders will be sent once it’s safe to do so, and any new orders you want to send in will keep both TopatoCo and the many individual creators they enable solvent in these trying times. Naturally, if you want to change or cancel anything, they will do their best to accommodate. In the meantime, please consider the digital offerings that Topato, Sheriff Pony, Jeffrey, Talahassee, Paperklip, Lucid John, Weedmaster P, and the rest of the crowd would be happy to see sold to you.
  • Item! Finally, Abby Howard is a creator that we at Fleen really, really like. And she’s launching a Kickstarter to make a plush version of her real-life kitty, Spoons. Spoons (The Cat) The Plush will capture that wide-eyed — possibly high as balls — feline’s countenance, including the possibility of getting a 100% certified haunted version of the plush.

    There’s also catsonas for you, humansonas for your cat (she will draw your cat like the cats from Cats; no word how she feels about the #buttholecut), and Polaroid photos of the real Spoons. Campaign runs through 22 April and with any luck production will fall in behind the worst of the pandemic shutdowns, slowdowns, and cooldowns. It’s a perfectly-timed opportunity for you to support a creator now, as so many other opportunities are impacted by the novel coronavirus. Do it for Spoons.

Spam of the day:

Scientists: Tinnitus Has Nothing To Do With Your Ears

Oh, really? So that’s why pressure changes when my ears are clogged have always caused ringing, with clear complaints on my part going back to the age of seven? And that’s why flying pretty much guarantees at least 24 hours of ringing that reaches distraction levels? Nothing to do with my ears at all. Right.

Fleen Book Corner: Long Dogs

Hey, y’all. Spent a bunch of time on EMS stuff today (nothing exciting; the sort of logistics¹ that would happen any time, just a lot more than normal), so this one is going to be short. Also it looks like next week will be busy, so it might not be daily book reviews like I’d planned. I’m sure we’ll all manage.

  • Today’s isolation assistant is Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett, who is making his latest Sheldon strip collection — that is, comics pulled from the regular Sheldon archives, not the Anatomy Of … strips that were intended as themed collections — available for free download. Head to his Gumroad store for Literature: Unsuccessfully Competing Againt TV Since 1953 and use the code letsbepals to get it for zero dollars. A’course if you like it, you might want to check out some of LArDK’s other digital or physical stuffs.
  • Today’s book, Long Dogs, is a minicomic or possibly a zine from Bree Lundberg. It’s about her two adopted greyhounds, Chai and Kona. Chai and Kona are awesome. I am confident in this assessment, because they are greyhounds and greyhounds are all awesome. Lundberg renders them with chunks lines and cartoonish grace, with a style that is simultaneously simple and eye-catching — unsurprising, given her experience in the greeting card industry.

    You can get a copy from Lundberg’s store (zines, stickers, pins), or check out her digital comics and zines and prints. When I got mine, I received an email that it was in the mail and on its way approximately 45 minutes after I hit the order button, and got it in my mailbox less than 48 hours later. I can’t promise you that kind of turnaround, but it felt greyhound-speedy to me.

    And if you find Long Dogs has sparked an interest in greyhound adoption, do some research and find an adoption group near you. When all of the current plague settles down, you’ll be ready to get a friend to help you enjoy a normal life again.

Spam of the day:

Stop Cancer With this Exercise

Hi there, “Shirley Messing”, who is promising to prevent or reverse cancer with a five-minute exercise, can you do something for me? Can you go get Alex Jones with his COVID-curing toothpaste, and Jim Bakker with his COVID-curing silver solution, and can the three of you fuck off into the ocean? And when the ocean spits you back on shore, bedraggled and half-drowned, fuck off back into the ocean again and repeat until there is no place to which you can fuck off further.

¹ Like supply procurement. Godsdammit, stop buying masks! We need them, unless things go very wrong for you, you don’t. Also, give your local volunteer services money if you can.

I’ve spent a long time not disclosing too much about my specific location because I am paranoid about personally identifying information on the internet, but fuck it. You can help me and my two dozen colleagues out with direct donations or by setting us as the recipient of 0.5% of your Amazon habit. Just click here.

Fleen Book Corner: The Fire Never Goes Out

The news continues apace, so let’s get that out of the way.

  • TCAF pulled the plug today, so there will be no show in 2020. Anticipating questions about postponement, the organizers noted the extreme uncertainty about when travel and crowd guidances will be lifted, and the fact that it would take about five months to make everything start up again from a pause. As noted in their statement, the cancellation was the only ethical path left open to them.
  • But on the plus side, nerdpop siblings Aubrey Turner and Laser Malena-Webber (aka The Doubleclicks) are offering up some sunshine and distraction — they’ve got a new album they’re Kickstarting, and it’s a musical. Desribed as Little Shop Of Horrors meets R2-D2, Teaching A Robot To Love sounds like both the most Doubleclicks thing ever, and a sore needed balm. Cabin fever (and I once shared a cabin with both of them at Comics Camp) is best fought with a cello, a ukulele, and a keyboard that goes meow meow meow.
  • Noelle Stevenson has been very damn busy for her entire career. Nimona’s movie adaptation may or may not be a casualty of the Disney/Fox acquisition and/or COVID-19 disrupting production on everything, but the book is still over there on your bookshelf¹ and she’s still a National Book Award nominee because of it. Not just a National Book Award nominee, but the third in history for graphic work, and the youngest nominee in the history of the awards.

    And a stack of Eisners and Harveys. And the ongoing success of Lumberjanes, which she co-created. And acclaim she’s gotten for the reboot of She-Ra. That’s a damn lot ask of somebody, going from groundbreaking success to groundbreakinger success without a pause. It would lead in anybody to a fear of failure, or even standing still. In those terms, it’s kind of easy to see why so many child stars turn out so badly, and why the best child star outcome of all time is probably Peter Ostrum².

    The danger of tying yourself to your successes is a recurring theme in The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir In Pictures, Stevenson’s new memoir (consisting of existing cartoons and illustrations and year-end summaries from social media, some expanded), a diary of sorts covering the years 2011 to 2019; being born on 31 December, the end of the calendar year is a natural time of reflection for Stevenson. She grows from a teenager unsure of her sexuality to a Hollywood showrunner married to the love of her life, but many — oh, so many — of the drawings she does of herself over that time feature a literal hole in the middle of her body or burning flames threatening to consume her or diamondlike crystal erupting from her heart to protect her.

    The end of the book clearly states that Stevenson avoided proper care for herself and her mental health for a long time, and that proper psychiatric care and medication have made a tremendous improvement — her flame is now gentle and warming — but the message I found is that in addition to mental health, Stevenson’s journey also must be read as an indictment of how we (I’m talking society here) treat young women.

    It starts early in the book with a discussion of female bodies, and the ones you see in public and the ones you don’t; it’s art school and figure drawing and being exposed to naked bodies of all sizes and shapes — none like the fashion models placed before us — and all of them being beautiful³ that’s the first hint. Those few pages, that corner turned in Stevenson’s mind reminded me so very much of the painful and necessary Unhealthy by Abby Howard and Sarah Winifred Searle.

    I thought about how Howard and Searle each went undiagnosed with mental illness because doctors didn’t consider them as having anything more important than unacceptable bodies. Stevenson, during art school, tells her mother she thinks she might be bipolar but is dismissed. There’s nothing wrong with you except you _____ is the message young women (and before that, girls) get from nearly everywhere. Except you

      don’t have the right clothes
          don’t have the right makeup
              aren’t sexy enough
                  like the wrong right things
                      are too sexy
                          are dumb
                              are too smart

    The impossibility of conforming to an unachievable ideal leads to actual problems being dismissed. Later, running a show and trying to do everything herself and take care of everybody and make it all perfect and if she makes a mistake it’ll be her fault and they’ll be right she’s a fraud agh I just need to try harder Stevenson is on the verge of falling into the third trap laid for young women (and girls, and women no longer young): that of the difficult woman, who
      can’t take the pressure
          can’t take a joke
              should be nicer
                  should be tougher
                      is too angry
                          is too weak
                              isn’t cut out for being in charge

    It’s a societal mindset that doesn’t let girls, young women, no longer young women (who also are now useless because they aren’t hot anymore) fail, learn, pick up, and go on again. Stevenson finally sees it for what it is4:

    here’s what they don’t tell you about climbing mountains
    almost everyone who dies dies on the way down.

    the summit, as much as you want it, is only the halfway point.

    and night will be here soon, and there will be no way to go but down, and you will be so tired.

    It’s something we need to teach everybody, but especially girls, young women, women who are no longer young. Stevenson came to the realization at a breaking point:

    you have broken but you will not stay broken.

    It turns out there can be freedom in the falling, and strength in the breaking.

    And finally … I sought out help.

    It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not be able to do everything yourself. Partnerships and collectives are stronger than any individual. It’s what we need to tell girls, and young women, and women who are no longer young and boys to keep them from absorbing the toxic aspects that have been accepted as gender roles forever.

    You needn’t be diamond-hard to protect yourself. You can be A SHARK AAHHH, but remember how Nimona ends (uhh, spoiler): You don’t have to be alone; asking for help is better. As a young woman, Stevenson knew that, but it took time to sink in. By sharing her experience, maybe others won’t have journeys that are as bumpy.

    The Fire Never Goes Out released on 3 March, and is available in bookstores everywhere. Read it, and put it in front of everybody you know.

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¹ At least it should be; it’s great. True story, I spend a lot of time proselytizing comics and graphic novels to people I know. One night on EMS duty a couple of years ago the new guy on the crew sat down in the lounge with the rest of us and pulled out a book to read and it was Nimona. He’s not a comic guy, he didn’t jump from there to other comics, but something about it caught his eye at the library and he was hooked. Stevenson’s work has that effect on people who aren’t comic people.

² Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, which remains his sole acting credit. He declined an offer of a three-movie contract so that he would have the freedom to choose roles, and decided he didn’t like acting as much as he liked horses. He became and remains to this day a veterinarian.

³ I find it utterly unsurprising that the Princesses Of Power on the new She-Ra are varied in body shape, and that screaming man-children have decided that She-Ra and the other princesses no longer being conventionally sexy on a show for children is the worst insult they could have received in their lives. I really hate screaming man-children.

4 Note that these quotes come partly from illustration captions, and partly from the accompanying text; the captions do not feature capitals at the starts of sentences or complete punctuation. I’ve tried to preserve the original presentation as much as possible.

What The Mail Brought

Project: Read A Bunch Of Books continues apace, interrupted slightly by last night’s EMS duty shift. Hey, a quick favor: if you need to call for help, please be extremely specific about why you’re calling, but also anything else that may be relevant. You got a broken arm! That’s great, tell us that! But if you’ve also got a fever and dry cough which you’re coping with tell us that, too! Okay! End of PSA!

  • After a hiatus, Sophie Yannow has resumed The Contradictions, with updates twice a week two-page updates, five days a week. It’s been quite a period of recognition for Yanow since launched about 18 months back, which will theoretically culminate in her debuting the print edition from D&Q at SDCC, where she will be a Special Guest if the show goes off as planned. Here’s hoping it does, she’s earned it.
  • There’s nobody in comics that I’ve known longer than Jon Rosenberg¹ except for Yuko Ota, on account of one day the two of us realized that we had met while she was still in high school at a northern New Jersey Sluggy Freelance meetup. Look, the early Aughts were a weird time, a time when one might visit the Fairly Large Electronic Entertainment Network to read Goats, Waiting For Bob, When I Grow Up, Bobbins, User Friendly, Superosity, and PvP. I believe the technical term for this is strange bedfellows.

    I met Jon at an early MoCCA Festival, back in the sweltering humidity of the Puck Building (it’s an REI now), with the amazing Puck Fair bar across the street. I was working the CBLDF table, Jon was selling Goats collections and originals. I made some purchases, we got to talking about beer, I got invited to the legendary Pub Night and stayed until Jon decamped from Manhattan for a place with room for his growing family. Conversations in those days about Pocky, moustaches, or where in Jersey Hell is located found their way into the strip because every idea can be massaged into a good idea if you treat it with enough vodka and Red Bull².

    But you know what? Even with the crazed careening from high stakes to higher stakes to universal ending stakes (and the whole thing was basically Woody Allen’s fault), Goats was a limitation on Rosenberg’s imagination. Enter: Scenes From A Multiverse, where any idea that occurred could be a strip, and the dictates of narrative be damned. Not that he didn’t find himself with throughlines — Sciencemastering, scary owl lawyers and murderous business deer, breaking news, modern politics, dungeon divers, and bunnies. Oh thank Christ, bunnies.

    And he’s never been better.

    Scenes From A Multiverse: Greetings From Bunnies Planet is the third SFAM collection, covering all of 2012 except for about five days in January that were in the second collection. I got my copy because I backed the Kickstarter, but you’ll be able to get your copy from Rosenberg’s store once fulfillment is done. When you do it will be pretty, heavy (I love a heavy paper stock), full of rich color. What you won’t get that I did is a massive-ass signed bookplate, because Kickstarter.

    The strips themselves show Rosenberg hitting his stride — having finished with the vote-for-returning-characters mechanism that SFAM started with — and becoming first (and only) recipient of the National Cartoonist Society’s division award for On-Line Comic Strip³. It continued through a year that had disasters that made sense and elections that weren’t won by the dumbest man imaginable. He’d continue to get sharper and more incisive, but if you’re looking for the time when Jon Rosenberg really cut loose, this is the beginning of that period.

    Greeting From The Bunnies Planet is alternately sweet, fluffy, terrifying, vicious, and a blunt instrument upside the head of people that deserve it. Despite the cover, it is not for children unless you have raised them to be moodily cynical, enraged at the world, and willing to upend some tables that need upending. You know, cool kids.

¹ In no particular order: co-birthdayist, owner of my soul, and guy who got me started on this blogging project; probably other personal connections, now that I think about it. Consider yourself properly disclaimed.

² At least, the way Stephanie at the Peculier made them: a pint glass of vodka, enough Red Bull to give it color.

³ The following year, the award was split into longform and shortform categories. That night remains the most satisfying event at which I’ve worn a tuxedo, but keep in mind that a) my wedding was a blur that I can scarcely recall, and b) the rental tux at my wedding fit poorly whereas at the NCS dinner I was decked out like a champ and later got to gamble while dressed like James Bond.

Fleen Book Corner: Dragon Hoops

We’re going to be kicking off a series of book reviews today, since so many of us are cooped up, we may as well talk about new graphic novels and collections. I’m also going to sprinkle in other, most likely COVID-related news before we get down the review. Today, that’s going to be the news that Zach Weinersmith is making a series of his books free to download to help you through whatever isolation you may be in. He’s a good dude, Zach is.

Today’s review is Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, an advanced review copy of which was provided by the excellent folks at :01 Books in January, and which I have been thinking about very deeply ever since. Go back and read about my initial impression on first read, and the most powerful recurring visual motif Yang uses; it’ll save us some time here.

When I talked with Yang briefly at SDCC last summer, I remarked that Dragon Hoops was going to be his version of a Raina Telgemeier story — unlike all of his previous graphic novels, this one is memoir¹. It also means that the usual warning about spoilers ahead is perhaps less earned this time; after all, DH is about the high school Yang taught at making a run for the California boys basketball championship in the 2014-15 academic year. Anybody can determine with a moment’s search how the book is going to turn out. We also know what’s in Yang’s personal future at this time of his life: appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (January 2016) and MacArthur Fellow (September 2016). Heck, he and I were talking about this season of the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons when I interviewed him in July of 2016. So how do you build suspense when everything is already known?

And this is where Yang’s genius² for making comics comes in. It’s not just a memoir of his coming to terms with sports (his lack of interest for the first four decades or so of life, his discovery of how much they can catch you up), or a narrative of following the team on their quest (which is meticulously end noted — he wants you to know exactly when a conversation or event was abridged or time-shifted to serve the story, and when it was exactly as shown), it’s also a meta-narrative about making the book.

Let’s back up a moment.

The 2014-15 school years was a crossroads for Yang; he’d been dividing his time between teaching and comics and family his entire adult life. All of his successes, multiple critically-acclaimed graphic novels, all done during nights and weekends. Coming off of Boxers & Saints (a work that consumed six years), he was looking for the next story and found it in front of him at work. He would subsequently resign his teaching position to concentrate on comics (and, coincidentally, the ambassadorship that he didn’t yet know was coming his way), eventually making his way back to part-time teaching because he’s the sort of guy that believes you needn’t have just one calling.

And since the idea of the story of the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons was so much on his mind, it’s part of Dragon Hoops; Yang continuously portrays himself wondering how to tell the story of what’s happening around him while he’s experiencing it. He wonders what to bring into the book, what to leave out, and has an amazing conversation with one of the O’Dowd players (Jeevin Sandhu, #24) about his character design. Yang had drawn Sandhu with a zigzag hairline to make sure he read as Punjabi, not African-American, but gets that it looks silly. As they discuss options, the hairline changes from panel to panel, settling into a new design that’s used for the rest of the book.

That conversation gets played out in larger form throughout the book, as Yang incorporates the ups and downs of the season, the backgrounds of individual players and coaches, the history of basketball, and the changes in himself over the course of the year.

And maybe there’s no change as big as the dilemma over how to continue to balance teaching, family, and comics becoming complicated when his agent calls with an offer from DC: they want him to write Superman³. Even before that offer, Yang feels the balance slipping as the book becomes more complicated. But one of the greatest moments of uncertainty about the book shows Yang wearing a Zot! t-shirt, adopting the dress of a teen who decides to be a hero because that’s what you do if you have the ability, and who comes to learn the world is more subtle and complicated than simple good/evil bust ’em ups. Yang’s coming to acknowledge the complications inherent in his life choices, the team is acknowledging their storied past and nationwide ranking don’t ensure an easy path, and everything is feeding back on itself.

And it never gets lost in the weeds. This is the densest, richest, and yet simultaneously most logically-structured story I can recall. Every complication feeds back to the central stories of the Dragon’s season and Yang’s own version of a championship run (because what could make you more the champion of comics than writing Superman?). And I realize this is an abrupt shift and doesn’t really fit in this paragraph but I don’t have any better place for it — Yang also has a killer running gag about an assistant coach with a newborn. Every time he is shown, the kid is in a Baby Bjorn, and every time this particularly foul-mouthed coach is cursing, he’s conscientiously covering the kid’s ears with his hands. It never gets old.

Yang’s super-clean visual style is a perfect vehicle for the twists and turns of the story, and I must take time to mention that his usual colorist, Lark Pien, has done career-best work here. The sepia tones that slip into the scenes depicting the invention and development of basketball, the use of period-matching palettes with a slight faded effect for the personal histories of Yang and the coaches, every one of them acts as a visual cue that seamlessly places flashbacks and decades-ago in a continuous timeline leading up to the bright lights and excitement of now on the court.

Dragon Hoops is going to go down as a worthy companion to Yang’s best work (and you know, he’s only been nominated for the National Book Award twice). It releases today from :01 Books, and would be widely available at a bookstore near you if we weren’t all hanging at home. More than one independent bookstore is taking phone orders and either meeting you at the door for pickup and handoff or mailing to you, so look up one of them and pick up a copy today. It’s really good.

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¹ Although certainly he’s drawn from his own experiences growing up Chinese-American in everything from American Born Chinese to the recently-concluded Superman Smashes The Klan.

² Lower-case genius, not the uppercase version frequently used to refer to the MacArthur grant. I will never forget the time I asked him what it’s like to be an official Genius and he laughed I still have to do the dishes. Perhaps not coincidentally, he is shown more than once in this book at moments of change doing the dishes.

³ Superman being a recurring motif in the book. Yang’s got a lifelong love for the character, he comes to see the reluctant-to-share star players as superheroes on the court deciding to be Clark Kentish away from the boards, and of course Superman is well known as a champion of the disadvantaged (most of the players are African-American, many being raised by single mothers) and immigrants (Jeevin’s got to explain, as a Sikh, why not everybody loves Gandhi; exchange student Quianjun “Alex” Zhao is chasing a dream of playing pro ball in China, trying to earn playing time on one of the best teams in America).

By the way, the conversations shown between Yang and the editors at DC in the lead-up to his tenure on Superman pretty much confirmed my suspicions that they fundamentally don’t get who Superman is, and leave me more convinced than ever that they were messing with his stories, leading to whip-saw reverses in direction that made the book pretty messy.

They got out of his way for New Super-Man, with a Chinese teen learning to be worthy of being the Superman of China, which was a much more cohesive story. And with Superman Smashes The Klan, it’s obvious that Yang understands heroes in general — and Superman in particular — as much as anybody of the past eighty years.