The webcomics blog about webcomics

I Do Not Think

… that is this, the year of the common era two thousand and eight friggin’ teen, that it is too much to ask that I get four consecutive days of function from the damn network at my client. I really don’t think I’m being unreasonable here.

Post tomorrow, and to all in the path of Florence — stay safe, do not drive into water, and watch out for falling stuff.

Fleen Book Corner: The Divided Earth

There’s this one moment in the third book of the Nameless City series, The Divided Earth by name¹, where Faith Erin Hicks hits a peak; there’s 800 pages of story (more or less) across the three books, and while they all read true and the characters are all believable, this is where she get something so right that it stopped me in my tracks.

The meddling kids (it’s always kids that have to bring the empires back from the brink of war) have succeeded, the city is safe (uh, spoiler alert, but come on … book three of a trilogy? You knew it was happening) and co-protagonist Rat (who could be a completely generic Street Kid Taught To Trust Again in a lesser writer’s hands) realizes that they’ve won, and a friend she thought was gone forever is there and she throws herself into his arms and starts sobbing.

She doesn’t know why, she can’t say why, but the emotion, the relief that it’s all over, the greater relief that she’s alive and victorious and doesn’t have to have the tough exterior for just a moment and it all comes rushing out … it’s a beautiful, true moment of triumph and confusion and Being A Teen all mixed up together, and it’s the most right thing I’ve ever read in a YA story about the youth that save everybody from the war.

The rest of it is excellent, don’t misunderstand me. The sneering villain is far less confident than you’d expect², the hidden betrayers have their own motivations, the plucky comic reliefs can be depended on to both screw up exactly as their nature requires and find a bigger purpose to their actions. These are stock-in-trade elements of YA fiction, but they’re never cliche, and never done in a perfunctory manner. And anything that seems familiar (especially to those that have watched Avatar or The Legend Of Korra) is executed with the highest skill.

The Nameless City feels real and lived-in, almost a character itself. The color palette matches perfectly with the polyglot aesthetics, which are clearly derived from the different looks and feels of the three different contending nations. There’s dirt and dust, there’s new and shiny, there’s conqueror and conquered all brought together with an eye on verisimilitude.

But all of those just sort of fall into the background when Rat hugs her friend and cries because she’s relieved and happy and confused and gets to just be a moody kid for a moment. There’s big changes behind and bigger ones yet to come, but now? Yeah, she earned those tears and Hicks earned our eyeballs.

Fleen thanks :01 Books for the review copy of The Divided Earth, which will be available at bookstores everywhere on 25 September. Take the two weeks between now and then to read (or re-read) The Nameless City and The Stone Heart.

Spam of the day:

Your very own Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Bitches, I’m an EMT. I can get the good stuff any time I want: pure, uncut O2, at 15 liters per minute, at 2200 psi from a rocket bottle if I handle things carelessly. Take your lame-ass battery-powered concentrator and peddle it to somebody that doesn’t know the difference.

¹ A reference to both the continuous warring of the three major nations that ebb and flow through the land and fight over the Nameless City, and the terrible weapon that was once used to sunder the stone of the earth itself, to provide trade access.

² But utterly, utterly convinced not only of the righteousness of his cause, but it’s fundamental selfless and altruistic nature. He really is doing it for the benefit of the people.

Fleen Book Corner: Ocean Renegades!

Abby Howard gets more cartoon effect — pathos, wry recognition, gut-busting laughter — out of fewer, simpler lines than anybody else. Her style is minimal to begin with, but the slightest change to the curve of a mouth line or the angle at which an arm is cocked results in a primal, visceral sense of recognition.

That is pure smugness your brain tells you of the character on the page, or That dad joke physically hurts me why would you do that to me Abby Howard, why, why or That creature that I thought was hideously frightening is actually cute. Every time she pulls one of those tricks, it makes the panel in question stick in your brain, like a song that won’t go away.

And if that panel in question is teaching you about evolution and mutation, or the importance of the amniotic egg to the conquest of the land by non-insect life, or the places of diapsids, synapsids, and anapsids, you’re gonna remember it.

Thus, when Ronnie and Miss Lernin (a dead ringer for Howard herself) find themselves on a new trip back to the dawn of multicellular life in the Cambrian Explosion, and work their way forward through the eras of the Paleozoic to see what critters looked like before dinosaurs? There’s probably no better narrator for our journey than Abby Howard. Not only does her art lend itself to the variety of creatures and plants encountered, her paleontologist training serves well to ensure that the journey is as scientifically accurate as modern understanding allows¹.

This is particularly true in her insistence on providing pronunciation cues for most of the species that Ronnie and Miss Lernin encounter, and it a habit that all long-weird-name-including graphic novels should adopt immediately². Like last year’s Dinosaur Empire!, Ocean Renegades! is a fun, informative (for any age; no matter who you are, dinosaur-era creatures, pre-dinosaur-era creatures, and post-dinosaur-era creatures have been subject to scientific discovery and re-evaluation since you last looked at them) introduction to a deep, immensely interesting topic.

I’m going to guess that Ms Lernin and Ronnie make one more appearance in the Earth Before Us series, as there’s still the Cenozoic Era to explore. Ronnie loves the cute critters, I can’t wait to see what she loves in the Age Of Horns, or how she feels about the now-extinct glyptodont (giant armadillos) and megatherium (ground-dwelling enormo-sloths³).

In the meantime, I will revisit Ocean Renegades! on a regular basis, and provide copies to kids (of every age) that have an interest in giant extinct animals (also trilobites, which were not large but very, very cool and supremely successful in their eco-niche for about 250 million years) that didn’t have to do what mom & dad said because they were HUGE and therefore AWESOME.

Spam of the day:

Free Fox — Most instant Matrix! fly at the start, you will not regret!

You had me with the free fox, but lost me at the end. Don’t presume to tell me what I will or will not regret, spammer scum!

¹ I caught one error, where a time period was misidentified in terms of how many millions of years ago it was. 4xx should have been 3xx. Confusing for a moment, but any kids reading will likely figure it out for themselves and learn the valuable lesson that even grownups can make mistakes.

² I love you, :01 Books, but you need to include some phonetics in your Science Comics series.

³ And the reason we have avocados. Think about it — that pit? That’s the seed. Ain’t nothing that snacks on an avocado that’s going to carry the seed to new territory unless it’s big enough to a) swallow the avocado whole, and b) poop out the pit a couple days and several kilometers later. Only megatherium is that large, the correct kind of herbivorous, and in the right place/right time to spread avocados up and down what’s now Central America as they migrated into North America a million years ago. Thanks, extinct giant ground sloths!

I Am, All Things Considered, Remarkably Calm

Just five exercises behind in a nine exercise class at the end of Day One.

The class runs two days.

Gag, Running, Etc

If there’s one thing that we at Fleen enjoy, it’s a running gag. There’s Ryan North and the running gag that gets revisited every 1000 strips. There’s the Final Fate Of RPG World, which was a running gag before this blog launched in 2005. There was the majesty that was #buttrocket, and our habit here at Fleen of both excessive footnoting and an unrepentant man-crush on Brad Guigar¹.

But I can’t recall anybody taking something so pedestrian, so quotidian as a garden-variety Wondermark bit of random weirdness and spinning it into endless variations on a theme. Gentle readers, I invite you to consider the many variations of Check out my sick elephant!

Sick as in diseased, an emphasis on checking out, sick as in sick humor, sick as in gravely ill², sick as an excuse to work on the multiple meanings of trunk, sick as in falling apart, and a three-fer involving a previously sick elephant that becomes a thicc elephant, and finally provides a dad-joke inversion that I will not dignify with a transcription.

Responding to my fascination/horror at this strip, Wondermark creator David Malki ! promised/threatened more. Should you see him this weekend at XOXO Fest in Portland³, please convey to him my heartiest congratulations/condemnation.

Spam of the day:

We found your next girlfriend today, she is sexy, naughty, pretty and she made a very sexy video message that you need to watch.

So wait, she’s thin but not too thin, has a big rack, hips but not baby-having hips, and is sexy but not in a slutty way?

¹ He’s dreamy.

² Gravely, I see what you did there.

³ Other webcomics types in attendance or at least walking around: the aforementioned North, Lucy Bellwood, Shing Yin Khor, Erika Moen, Blue Delliquanti, Taneka Stotts, Graham Annable, Lisa Hanawalt, Matt Furie, and MariNaomi.

Numerous other webcomicky (or at least webcomics-adjacent) folk will be across town at Rose City Comic Con, including Matt Bors, Molly Muldoon, Barry Deutsch, Jennie Breeden, Indigo Kelleigh, Kel McDonald, Kerstin La Cross, Kory Bing, Rebecca Hicks, Lucas Elliott, various members of Helioscope and artists associated with Nucleus, for some reason the US Navy, and Katie Lane.

Gaaaahhhhh …

I hate the class I’m teaching today; it’s structured in such a way that you must get to a certain point on Day One — it is literally impossible to make up any material you may be behind on Day Two — and it always goes late¹.

There have already been two separate, unrelated, time-eating environment failures. I’m going to be setting a new record, I fear.

Post tomorrow.

¹ My record (good kind) is finishing 14 minutes after scheduled end of day.

My record (bad kind) is finishing 3 hours and 48 minutes after scheduled end of day.

Celebrating Canadianess In Comics

One may recall the nominees for the 2018 Joe Shuster Awards (discussed here), along with the general appreciation of we at Fleen for an awards program that is blessed brief — the entire slate consists of Writer / Scénariste, Cover Artist / Dessinateur Couvertures, Artist / Dessinateur, Cartoonist / Auteur, Webcomics Creator / Créateur de Bandes Dessinées Web, the Gene Day Award (Self-Publishers) / Prix Gene Day (Auto-éditeurs) (in both Single Creator/Creative Team and Anthology formats), the Harry Kremer Award (Retailers) / Prix Harry Kremer (Détaillants), the Dragon Award (Comics for Kids) / Le Prix Dragon (Bandes Dessinées pour Enfants), and the The TM Maple Award / Prix TM Maple (for achievements outside the creative/retail communities).

Eleven categories, done. It’s more than the three categories of the Doug Wright Awards, but a hell of a lot less than the thirty-damn-one categories (plus Hall Of Fame) of the Eisners.

Back in May, we noted the inclusion of Jim Zub, Stuart Immonen, Rámon Pérez, and Jillian Tamaki — all current or past webcomickers — in non-webecomics categories; Zub won for Writer / Scénariste, Immonen for Artist / Dessinateur (which precluded Pérez), and Tamaki lost to Jeff Lemire, which is no shame.

That’s a pretty good representation in the non-web categories, and moreso when you consider Cover Artist / Dessinateur Couvertures went to Djibril Morissette-Phan, Zub’s collaborator on Glitterbomb. Webcomics Creator / Créateur de Bandes Dessinées Web went to Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon for Ménage à 3.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m just mentioning this now, when the Shusters were due to be awarded at the Montreal Comic Con about two months ago, and the answer is the awards were delayed to give the juries more time. Heck, the Dragon Award nominees weren’t even announced until a couple of days after the planned presentation date.

It’s unfortunate that the logistics got away from the committee, but given a choice between a rushed (and potentially crappy) awards and one that was deliberated upon, they chose the latter; I can’t blame them for that. Thus, the announcement went up today, and the winners have been notified. I guess they’ll get the physical components in the mail?

Fleen congratulates all of the winners, and notes again that the Canadian comics awards have pretty much universally avoided weak or lame nominees, so just being nominated really is an honor.

Spam of the day:

It Couldn’t Be Easier To Learn Piano

As my mother, the lifelong pianist and organist might tell you, I am uniquely un-teachable at the piano.

Fleen Book Corner: Larry Niven Flashbacks

Why Larry Niven, you ask? Because in junior high and high school, it was a time for plentiful reprints of old ’60s SF stories, and I read pretty much everything that Niven wrote in that time period. One short story, about a protagonist named Richard Mann¹, has stuck with me. It involved ancient living artifacts of a long-ago stellar empire, trees genetically engineered to act as solid-fuel rockets to power spacecraft to explore the solar system. Also, how bad things happen when you use them to make bonfires.

So I had Niven on the brain as I sat down to read three of the recent Science Comics which were kindly sent to me by the fine folks at :01 Books: Trees, Rockets, and Solar System. Let’s take ’em in order.


Trees, by Andy Hirsch (who contributed the volume on Dogs last year) was the book that I learned the most from; biology was never my strong suit, and I learned a great deal about the gross (and cell-sized, for that matter) anatomical structures of trees, expanding my vocabulary by quite a bit; given the age range the books are intended for, pronunciation guides in the text might have been useful (my wife, the trained biologist, corrected me on several occasions).

Hirsch starts with the general nature of the tree’s lifecycle, then carries the POV character (Acorn, who doesn’t want to plant himself, because trees are boring) through an exploration of the mechanics of tree growth, adaptation, reproduction, dispersal, forest-level impacts (on individual trees, entire species, and whole ecosystems), and ends up on the truly freaktabulous network of fungi that connects basically every tree in a vicinity to every other tree, allowing for energy and resource exchange, information transfer, and a whole lot more. By the time they’re all done, a tree looks no different, but a stand (or a copse, or perhaps a forest) starts to look an awful lot like a collective intelligence² and I am resolved to be nicer to trees in the future.


I didn’t learn as much from Rockets by Anne and Jerzy Drozd, but was impressed at the level of scientific detail included; this book is likely to be the one most challenging to the target audience, if only because it’s got math³. It also jumps around history a bunch, following different threads of the development of rockets (not unlike the seminal Connections series by James Burke, who knows a thing or two about rockets); it’s a nice addition at the back of the book that the history of rockets is laid out in chronological order, with references to pages in the story.

The story of rockets is conveyed by animals that have intersected rockets throughout history — a mechanical pigeon that flew in 400 BCE; a chicken, sheep, and duck that took the first artificial flight; Russian cosmodogs Belka and Strelka, and a pair of bears (a grizzly, who was involved in ejection seat development, and a polar bear … to talk about the Cold War). They all do a great job teaching the basics of physics (Newton’s laws, etc) and the fundamental paradox of rockets: to fly, you need fuel, but fuel adds weight, so you need more fuel to lift the fuel, so you need even more fuel to lift the first additional fuel…. And while I started this section by pointing out that I didn’t learn as much, I at least learned that Tsiolkovsky, the great theorist of rocketry, was largely self-taught because he was deaf and left school to take up residence at the Moscow State Library.


I was also pretty well-versed in the history of our Solar System, but Rosemary Mosco and Jon Chad did a nice job of bringing what could have been a rote recitation of facts-n-figures to life, electing to set up a framing story of a young girl home sick, her friend trying to stave off boredom, and pets recast as heroic explorers. There’s a snake with glasses, and a spacesuit pocket protector with pens in the pocket! There’s literally no way not to love that.

Also well done — expressing the scope and scale of things in space in ways that young readers can understand. The asteroid belt is largely empty space, contradicting every movie ever to show an asteroid belt. The immense size of our largest planets are well-explained, as well as some surprisingly small sizes. Did you know that Saturn’s rings are only about the height of a three story house? Or that Uranus smells like rotten eggs and cat pee? Or what the dance of a binary star system looks like? Or that Tycho Brahe got in a math fight and had his nose chopped off? That’s not a space fact, but it’s awesome nonetheless.

Mosco & Chad’s emphasis is not only on what we know, but how much we’ve discovered recently, and how much we don’t yet know … kids are going to absolutely be convinced that the world above (not to mention the one right outside the door) is one they can explore and discover themselves.

All three books are well situated for your tween-to-early-teen reader (with Rockets maybe on the upper end of the range and Solar System maybe on the lower end), and all come highly recommended. Solar System releases on 18 September, and the other two are available now.

Spam of the day:

Bettie Carbonara: Let us pick up the check =)
Sadly, not an offer to buy me dinner. Why are spammers obsessed with the costs of kitchen garbage disposal repair?

¹ Rich Man, who was very poor and trying to make his fortune.

² I also have the SC volume devoted to The Brain but haven’t read it yet; I might have gotten in a review four-fecta if I had.

³ All the way up to and including Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation; there’s also a math error that looks to be the result of a copy/paste mistake at the lettering stage. 1 kg at 1m/sec does not equal 0.5 newton, and hopefully it doesn’t confuse kid readers too much.

Time To Catch Up On The Reading Backlog

It’s a long weekend, and I’m going to try to put a dent in the stack o’ review copies. I’ve got one Science Comic down (Solar System by Rosemary Mosco and Jon Chad) and have three to dig through (Trees by Andy Hirsch, Rockets by Anne Drozd and Jerzy Drozd, and The Brain by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins).

Oh yeah, and also the third and fourth Cucumber Quest collections by Gigi DG, the third Delilah Dirk adventure by Tony Cliff, and the concluding Nameless City book (The Divided Earth) by Faith Erin Hicks¹.

I was going to say that :01 Books has been very good to me — and make no mistake, they’re very generous with the review copies — but really, they’re very good to us. They’re providing significant career development for more indie- and webcomics folks than anybody this side of C Spike Trotman.

Who, speaking of, wrapped up her latest Smut Peddler Kickstart (that would be the fourth) at more thatn US$106K in only 15 days; it’s not the top-funded Iron Circus effort, but it was the shortest, and with 17 pay bump increments reached, it wound up paying its contributors US$85/page bonuses on top of the base rate of US$75/page. The bonus was bigger than the base, people.

And with that off her plate, it’s been a flurry of announcements, with one, two, three new books announced. Note to self: email Spike, ask if they’ve got a review copy list yet.

I’ll see you on Tuesday — enjoy the weekend and I’d consider it a personal favor if you read some awesome comics.

Spam of the day:

Cure for Diabites(secret method reavealed)

Control your weight, control your sugar, exercise? I’m mean, I’m just spitballing here.

¹ Who is a machine. I literally can’t tell how she can crank out a book a year.

Some Good News In A Bad Situation

So one of the terrible things going on in comics is a little less terrible today. If you’re not up on the Cody Pickrodt situation, it involves a dozen or so well-respected indie comickers being sued for defamation in what I would characterize as a totally bullshit move¹. Since word got out, the respondents have been scrambling to meet court deadlines to make their arguments (or lose by default), and the thing about court cases? They can be ruinously expensive even if you completely and utterly win.

To get started with a process that will consume your life, potentially for years, it requires you to have five figures of American Cash Money on hand. If you know any indie comickers with that kind of cash, congratulate them for me.

From the beginning, there was a great deal of activity on the sosh meeds, asking, suggesting, and in some cases demanding that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund do something to assist; they’re in comics, they need legal defense, QED. But the CBLDF’s charter — and full disclosure here, in my past I’ve spent a lot of time working their booth at shows, and was once offered a staff position — deals purely with issues of censorship. Strategic lawsuits meant to harass and silence critics aren’t government (or large corporate) action, and therefore outside the limit of their charter.

And here’s something I can tell you from my time in volunteer EMS — changing a non-profit’s charter is a non-trivial task. Like, carefully worded legal documents and court filings and reviews of your non-profit’s tax status degrees of non-trivial. I mention this because some of the people wanting the CBLDF to Do Something weren’t interested in these details. That’s fine; it’s been a rough couple of weeks for everybody on the receiving end of the lawsuit and everybody who wants the best outcome for them² and patience can be stretched in times of stress.

There were indications that things were happening — principals in the case making remarks that they were consulting with the CBLDF, the CBLDF saying that they couldn’t make public announcements yet. Which, when you’re on the receiving end of a defamation suit, turns out to be the best thing you can do: keep quiet, huddle with your lawyer, don’t try to fight by getting things riled up.

Turns out, they can talk about it now:

Small Press Expo announced today that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.

SPX is seeding the immediately needed monies with a $10,000 donation. Additionally, SPX will forego its annual $10,000 donation it had planned to give to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for 2018, instead redirecting those resources — with the full encouragement of the CBLDF Board of Directors — to serve the legal defense of our community members in their moment of need. SPX has already made this initial $20,000 available to the defendants, to ensure their access to appropriate legal counsel as quickly as possible.

In the next few weeks, SPX will establish the ongoing legal aid fundraising vehicle for the public to help cover the costs of the defendants in this case. The CBLDF will continue to provide legal and fundraising consulting to the defendants in this case, as they have since becoming aware of the lawsuit.

The group of 11 defendants has put together a statement for this announcement:

“As artists, writers, art educators, comics critics, and small independent publishers, many of whom rely on freelance work to pay our bills, a lawsuit like this is going to put an enormous financial strain on all of us. Simply put, we can’t afford to fight this without help. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our community, and are especially grateful for the generosity of SPX to provide us with financial assistance. We also appreciate efforts by the CBLDF and other institutions and individuals who have provided additional fundraising support and legal advice.”

Make no mistake, the fact that this went out today, just before everybody knocks off for the long weekend, is a message. It reads We’ve got 20 large right now and if you make us, there will be donation boxes around SPX in two weeks. We can answer your suit and we can fight for as long as you want to keep this shit up. The (frankly ridiculous) US$2.5 million that Pickrodt was demanding was a bluff — a terrifying one to be on the receiving end of, to be clear — designed to force the defendants to settle (and, probably, abase themselves in public).

His lawyer has to be considering the costs of continuing forward, given that it’s now going to be a fight instead of a hostage situation. It could have been a quick set of scary letters and a ruinous (but less than 2-point-five mil) payment leading to an easy contingency fee, but now it’s going to be procedures and hearings and depositions and a trial and no guarantee of a win at all, much less one that offsets time and expense. The chances that the suit gets withdrawn just went way the fuck up.

And either way — Pickrodt goes away or he chooses to press on — there’s going to be a fund, and a fundraising structure, that exists when this is all done. This is exactly how the CBLDF was formed, out of the impromptu fund that was created to defend Friendly Frank’s, which made permanent to deal with similar situations in the future. The specificity of the CBLDF’s charter may have prevented them from directly acting in this case, but I’ll bet you a dollar that some of their consultation is on how a more permanent structure can be built.

It’s a baptism of fire for the CBLDF’s new Board President, Christina Merkler, who was literally announced today earlier today. It’s also damn welcome news at a time when things could have turned out very badly for eleven people. And if (when?) that comic book civil defense fund gets established, don’t forget to give.

Spam of the day:

Tim Horton wrote:Hey Jonathan,

Not Jonathan, but I love your Timbits.

I’m the advertising partnerships manager at JvPartnersNow. We would like to advertise some of our Family & Lifestyle related clients on your blog.


¹ This is an expression of my opinion. Come at me, SLAPPy.

² Which is basically everybody except Pickrodt and some brigading sockpuppets.