The webcomics blog about webcomics

Happy News And A Slight Exaggeration Of Our Cultural State

Hey, you know what today is, besides Saint Groundhog’s Day? Yes, yes, it’s Friday, but it’s also a very special Friday for a couple of reasons:

  • Ryan Qwantz North, the Toronto Man-Mountain himself, marks fifteen years¹ of moving words around T-Rex, Dromiceiomimus, Utahraptor, a Tiny Woman, and various others (sinister raccoons, sinisterer cephalopods, God, The Devil, Professor Science, Mr Tusks, etc) and thus constructing the world’s most formalist webcomic², Dinosaur Comics. North noted the occasion by, as is his wont, talking about Batman. This also marks the one time you can find a long-running webcomic and say Wow, the art on Day One was just as good as today!
  • Two of the key players in the past decade-plus of great comics (and great comics creators) getting a wide audience and critical notice were, themselves, recognized and rewarded for their excellent work. :01 Books announced that Calista Brill and Gina Gagliano have been promoted to (respectively) Editorial Director and Associate Director, Marketing & Publicity.

    For much of the dozen years of :01’s existence, Brill has been the person that made sure the book made sense³ and Gagliano’s been the person that made sure you and I knew about them. It’s well-earned on both their parts, and I’m sure neither of them knew where that little four-person shop would be a decade later.

  • Less of a happy vibe, but perhaps more of a timely one — Jim Zub writes just about every kind of comic you can imagine, but none has anticipated where the culture would be just before it got there as Glitterbomb.

    When it launched I was seeing the story as a parable of how fame and the pursuit of it corrupts the soul; now that two (of a planned three) arcs are done, it’s clear the book is even more about The Machine that seeks to feed that need for fame: those that crave being famous, and those that want to see others be famous (so they can love them until it’s time to hate them instead). It’s a Machine that particularly abuses and chews up women, and it’s a message that’s become particularly resonant since just about the time the first arc launched in Summer 2016.

    The collected trade of Glitterbomb‘s second arc (subtitled The Fame Game) goes on sale in four weeks, and I think you ought to strongly consider picking it up. The first book was about one person on her way out of the Machine’s notice; the second is about grabbing up somebody new to replace her, which makes the cold-bloodedness of the entire enterprise all the more apparent. No idea where Zub (and stellar artist Djibril Morissette-Phan) will go with the third and final arc, but if past scheduling holds, we’ll find out around August/September.

Spam of the day:

People ask me “Please, Sinister, I need your professional help” and I always accept the request, `cause I know, that only I can solve all their problems!

This comes from somebody calling themselves Frank Sinister (probably no relation to Simon Bar Sinister, staple of my childhood afternoon cartoon-watching), who claims to be a professional writer. Trust me when I say that the rest of his spam posting read even worse than the snippet I’ve included here.

¹ Okay, technically it was yesterday, but North doesn’t update on Thursdays. I think we all feel the same way about Thursdays.

² Seriously, North sets himself more rules than a Chuck Jones Road Runner cartoon.

³ And yes, I’ve had some nits to pick with :01 editorial flubs — some minor, some more important — but overall, the quality of :01’s offerings have been top-notch, and some misses are inevitable (especially considering the fact that these books were likely in production while Brill was out on maternity leave and/or in the midst of ramping up from ~20 books per year to ~40 whilst simultaneously onboarding new editors).

Get Hourly

Hey, y’all, it’s Hourly Comics Day, which means you should check out all the great work being done quickly by awesome people. What follows is not a comprehensive list (that would be impossible), but merely ones I’ve liked so far in no particular order; in many cases, they are threaded from the start, but in others you’ll have to browse through their feed.

Jeffrey Rowland

Magnolia Porter

Danielle Corsetto

Angela Melick

Lukas Dante Landherrshepherd

Tony Breed

Vera Brosgol

Kat Efird

Carey Pietsch

Jessi Zabarsky

Shing Yin Khor

KC Green

Abby Howard

Zac Gorman

Got others you think people should check out? Drop a link to the start of the thread down in the comments.

Spam of the day:

Lock in 2017’s Highest Annuity Rates

  1. You sent this in January of 2018. Guess you’re still writing 2017 on your checks scams.
  2. Your prominent use of Republican Party imagery is (red-white-blue-and-stars elephant; old white people) is not likely to make me trust you.

Fleen Book Corner: Is This Guy For Real?

The fine folks at :01 Books sent me a copy of Is This Guy For Real? by Box Brown, and now I’m gonna talk about it. This is normally where I’d say that the review will contain spoilers, but I think that Brown’s work is uniquely immune that that concern; kinda of hard to have spoilers in what’s fundamentally a work of non-fiction.

At least, as much of a work of non-fiction as you can get where Andy Kaufman is concerned; that guy made it his life’s work to blur the line between fiction and reality with his every breath. The fact that people are still arguing over whether or not he faked his death more than thirty years ago shows the degree to which he messed with all of our heads.

ITGFR? will be immediately familiar to anybody that’s read Brown’s last couple of books; like Mr The Giant or Tetris, Kaufman is one of those cultural referents that everybody seems to know, but few know where they came from. The books feel less like formal biographies (if a video game can be said to have a biography) and more like oral histories, particularly this latest; there are many talking head inserts in ITGFR? from people who knew and worked with Kaufman, and their reminiscences make the notorious opaque Kaufman come alive.

This is especially true when you consider that the book is almost two parallel biographies — Kaufman’s public nemesis/real life friend, wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler gets nearly as much attention as Kaufman does. It’s an effective treatment; instead of just covering Lawler in the context of his famed (and prolonged) wrestling feud with Kaufman (culminating in a famous, staged around-smacking on Late Night With David Letterman&sp1;), it follows his own pursuit of fame (which, like Kaufman, he was determined to achieve on his own terms).

Brown’s trademark chunky style serves the story well; it’s not particularly realistic to look at, which heightens the unreality of Kaufman’s life. As near as I can tell, every milestone of Kaufman’s career, and all of his major stunts² are included, making this perhaps the most complete look at what Andy Kaufman was like.

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman releases on Tuesday, 6 February, at bookstores everywhere. Box Brown will tour in support of the book starting the following day and visiting eight cities in eight states over ten days.

Spam of the day:

Dear Partner..

Really? A 419 scam actually claiming to be from Nigeria? That’s old school right there.

¹ I’ve long thought that Brown’s love of wrestling meant he was destined to write a graphic novel series that would serve as a definitive history of professional wrestling, but in going back to watch Kaufman’s Letterman appearances, I think that Dave might be a better topic. That clip of Kaufman is a perfect example of why; it was in the first year of Dave’s late night run, it feels small and improvised and weird (with an audible audience that seems to have accidentally wandered in from a public-access cable show), offbeat in the way that Brown’s best subjects are.

I’d love to see Brown take a whack at Letterman’s journey, but maybe that’s just because I remember how brilliant he was from the get-go. I remember watching his daytime show on its too-brief run, I remember the weird things he did in late night when I was in college (a rerun might be dubbed into Spanish, or the broadcast might rotate through 360° over the course of the hour), I remember watching Larry “Bud” Melman at the Port Authority and Crispin Glover’s meltdown (and the following show’s cold open) the nights they happened. The larger-than-life weirdos that could be included would make for a cracking read.

² One possible exception; I seem to remember an interview with Kaufman where he revealed that he regularly left filming of Taxi and went to his second job, bussing tables at a Hollywood cafeteria. Not sure if my recall is accurate, though.

Tickets Of More Than One Kind

The Cartoon Art Museum is getting back into the swing of hosting its events on its own turf, what with that long period of borrowing space now receding into the past. There’s some doozies coming up weekend after next, too; those of you in the greater Bay Area should seriously consider checking them out.

  • Nate Powell has had a distinguished career in the comic arts, and then he became part of the history-making¹ team behind the March trilogy. He’ll be dropping by CAM on Friday, 9 February, to talk about both in honor of the exhibition March: A Graphic History Of The Civil Rights Movement, which will launch the day after tomorrow and run through June. The reception is ticketed, and tickets can be obtained in advance for the low, low price of US$10 (free for CAM members) via Guestlist. The reception runs from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.
  • Later that weekend, in conjunction with her exhibit (a part of CAM’s re-opening slate), Nidhi Chanani will be dropping by on Sunday, 11 February from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. Part wrap-up celebration (hers was the first exhibit in CAM’s new Emerging Artist Showcase series), part booksigning (bring your copy of Pashmina), the reception is open to all who’ve paid admission to the museum.

David Malki ! is one of those guys who just sees ways to learn (or teach) stuff around every corner. For example, he went into his local comic store and discovered that unbeknownst to him, Dark Horse Comics was pushing old copies of at least one of the hardcover books he did with them last decade. This led to a discussion that touched on how people move around in the business of comics², the nature of rights reversions³, and a discussion of a common question:

What’s the best way to buy a book, in terms of benefit to the creator?

To which he has an unsurprisingly nuanced answer, laying out the possibilities (direct sales, fulfillment company, local store, giant internet discount retailer, secondhand; he doesn’t mention libraries, but I will) and how they will likely play out differently for different creators. It may have fewer flaming boats and/or friggin’ goats than many of the things Malki ! writes about, but it’s worth your while nonetheless.

Spam of the day:

Ticket 857799303

If the entirety of the message being in Russian weren’t enough to deter me from clicking on anything, the subject line surely would. The very large corporation I work for will not scratch its corporate (if metaphorical) ass without somebody logging a ticket specifically requesting the scratching take place, complete with a business case justifying the scratching, and a documentation trail that lays out the entire decision making process vis-a-vis asses and the scratching thereunto.

After one particular incident — I logged a ticket for a customer-impacting, revenue-affecting, show-stopping technical fault, complete with specific instructions as to exactly what needed to be done; half an hour later I received a reply that nothing could be done until a proper Subject Matter Expert was consulted and my request given technical clearance; four hours after that, I received an email that addressed me as the relevant SME and would I approve the technical fix that I had requested? — I swore undying enmity on all tickets of this kind. So no, whatever scam you’re running, my work day is a steaming morass of tickets, and I’m not going to be lured in by your claim to be one.

¹ What with being the only comics artist (so far) to win a National Book Award, I’d say that history-making is an apt description.

² Nobody at Dark Horse told him because everybody he knew there has moved on since they worked together.

³ It’s a good thing, because it lets you publish things that would otherwise be entirely out of print. And, almost as an afterthought, Malki ! mentions that he has books in distribution through the Consortium Catalog (where one may find — among other indie publishers — 2dcloud, Alternative Comics, Conundrum Press, Koyama Press, and Iron Circus Comics; the latter is now offering the omnibus of Girls With Slinghots and a new edition of Rice Boy, giving them potentially wide distro for the first time). Want to get the best in indie comics in your local store? Point ’em here.

Yep, Dangerous

One may recall that not quite four weeks back, we talked about Meredith Gran and the old-school point-and-click game she’s working on, and how I mused that this could be dangerous for me when the promised Kickstarter dropped.

Danger time:

A point & click adventure game about the fun, alienation, stupidity and agony of being a teen.

At the heart of Perfect Tides is a linear story that unfolds over the course of one year. We see the emotional genesis of a teenage girl, filled with humor, intrigue and visceral moments, against the backdrop of four seasons in the American northeast.

As the story progresses, there is opportunity for non-linear exploration, collection and utilization of items, and puzzle solving. The player can uncover new secrets in different seasons, in both day and night settings.

Gods dammit, Mer, I am not made of time! Maybe I can avoid the staying up until 3:00am with work the next day habit I fall into with these things; how much to pledge for the prequel comic? US$15 for PDF, physical copy with the game, soundtrack, and wallpapers for US$50? I like physical, but if I let that game in my house it’s all over. Any rewards further down that might include just a physical comic?

Pledge $250 or more
In-Game Exister

Hopefully EVERYone will be *drawn* into the game, but this is literally what you’ll get. A non-playable character will appear in the game based on your likeness.

Pledge $500 or more
Line Sayer

All the benefits of the $250, but your character will have a small speaking role! Subject to approval, the character will embody your own interests and/or objectives.

Gods dammit, Mer, I am on a budget! And I am weak. So very, very weak.

Please look through the rest of what you can expect from Perfect Tides, check out Gran’s collaborator Soren Hughes, and help fund this thing. As of this writing (about six hours in), funding is sitting around 16% of the US$30K goal, with funding running until the last day of February. Good luck, Mer — I know you’re going to crush it.

Spam of the day:

IVC Blood Filter May Shift In Your Veins, Causing Damage

The text of this one is worded such that it isn’t sure if I realize that a filter was surgically implanted in my body, as if that’s something I wouldn’t remember.

I Never Do This

It’s a bad idea, responding to comments on stuff that I wrote, especially responding to a review. But I’m doing it this one time.

Yesterday, a commenter¹ left his response to my review of The Prince And The Dressmaker. You can go back and read both review and comment, if you like.

As I said, I have no doubt that the naming of TPATD‘s King Leo, echoing the real-life King Leopold II, was an unintended failure of editing and that neither Jen Wang nor :01 Books would have ever intended this reading; as I said, they have a choice to make for future printings.

Truth be told, I expected pushback on this review, arguments that I was reading things too narrowly or inventing a problem where none existed. I’d have been fine with those. I’m writing because of two arguments that were made in the comment; one refers to the creator’s thoughts, the other deals with history. The first gets a response to clarify, the second gets a rebuttal.

Creator first:

Jen [Wang] could have set [the book] in Ruritania and avoided all the history stuff, but that’s a bit of a cop-out. Was Belgium chosen for its history? I don’t think so, but what did Jen think?

I’m not going to respond to the story-related comments, as it’s opinion territory and I’m pretty sure I made mine clear. With respect to the notion of what Ms Wang thinks, that’s not my job this time around. Had I decided to write a reported news piece on the book, I would have absolutely sought out her response. But I don’t think it’s the place of a review to do reporting of that nature. I welcome the rest of the comics/YA press to ask those questions if they feel that my review is worth following up on.

Now, history:

Alas, that’s history for you. If you go back 50 years into history, everyone is pretty evil. Go back another 50 years and you are looking at the people that the people 50 years ago thought were evil. Churchill was advocating using poison gas against African tribes (more survived than with rifle attacks). Belgium in the first world war, and Belgium was ‘Gallant Little Belgium’ standing up against ‘The Hun’. Conrad gives an idea what was considered ‘fair game’ in Africa.

I’m not saying that Leopold was a good guy, but he was a greatly respected member of the European aristocracy at the time, and his sons may have looked on his African project as little more than a sensible investment, if they looked on it at all.

I’m calling bullshit on every bit of this.

The fact that Belgium was seen as heroic in standing up to an army with equal (or superior) armaments is neither here nor there (and one guess as to why the Congolese who tried to fight their murder and enslavement weren’t seen as gallant). Leopold II’s reputation as a monster was well established in his own lifetime; the time the specific phrase crimes against humanity was used, it was to describe his treatment of the Belgian Free State in 1890. Five years into his vile project, still in the ramping-up phase, and we were inventing new concepts in international law to describe what he was doing.

The argument that was just seen as fair game for Africa back then is just this side of saying we don’t get to judge their actions. Guess what? I’m judging their actions. Not judging this particular crime — carried out at the orders of one man with a private army, in just 23 years — is no different from saying Germans just really didn’t like Jews in the ’30s and ’40s. Yes, I’m saying that particular historical handwave is no different than making excuses for the Holocaust.

When the Belgian government, responding to international outcry, forced Leopold II to give up the colony, he required a personal payment of 60 million gold francs. Math time: one franc was 290.322mg of gold, or 0.009334 troy ounces; in 1908 one ounce was US$20.67, so a franc was worth about 19.3 cents. That means US$11.6 million in 1908, or roughly US$283 million (in 2017 dollars) was his personal cut (plus another US$215 million in 2017 dollars for his pet building projects back home).

I don’t give a fuck if his son and daughters regarded his genocide in sterile, economic terms; he worked 10 million people to death and had uncountable others mutilated for his enrichment. Not for the wealth of the state — he’d wanted Belgium to get into the colonial game, the parliament refused, so he did it all himself — not for the good of his nation (as if either of those would have excused this evil), but for his private purse.

Want to argue (and I very nearly do) that nobody would have made the damaging association between Leo and Leopold II? Fine; I’ll mourn the state of history teaching, but fine. Want to say that the suspension of disbelief isn’t stretched too far and that the story stays on the good side of The Disney Line? Awesome; have at it.

But try to say that Leopold wasn’t egregiously bad and anyway it doesn’t matter if he was? I’ll thank you to take that weak tea elsewhere.

tl;dr: Leopold II was a monster by any standard, modern or historical. And the story, by allowing him to intrude, is broken as a result.

¹ I’ve removed his name from the comment; I am dealing with the substance of what he wrote, not with him, and I don’t want to unleash a mob. If the commenter wants to add another comment, claiming the words, I’ll let it through.

The Long Game

It was always there, all along; it just looked like a series of shorter stories but it really has been one long arc, stretching (as of today) across 6437 strips in 6437 days. And another 800-1000 or so to come.

I speak, naturally, of webcomics own unstoppable machine (and my evil twin), Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary. Following the ups and downs of his quasi-merry band of (mostly well-intentioned) space sociopaths mercenaries¹ through story arc after story arc (currently, Book 18), one could have been forgiven to interpreting it like any of the sprawling SF strips of the past like Flash Gordon — the story is eternal, we’ll loop back around to those characters later, it’s an infinitely prolonged serial.

Except it’s not:

These daily installments are significant, because the current outline for the Schlock Mercenary mega-arc has the story of Tagon’s Toughs wrapping up triumphantly just two and one-half books from today. We’re about halfway through Book 18, and “The End” lands at the end of Book 20. We’re writing our way toward that point right now.

Two and a half books, and coincidentally in 2020, or 20 years from the start (thus the fudge factor in the future strip count above). And an ambitious plan to go with it:

This brings me back around to our 2018 goals. If we release three print editions this year, then the current online volume, Book 18, will end in the same calendar year as the publication of books 13, 14, and 15. Should the schedule work out well, we shall endeavor to do it again in 2019, with Book 19 ending online in the same calendar year as the print publication of books 16, 17, and 18.

You see where this is leading, right? Our ultimate goal is for the print editions of books 19 and 20, the final volumes in the twenty year (seriously, it feels weird saying that) telling of the story of Tagon’s Toughs, to be available at about the same time Book 20 wraps up on the web. Our 2018 goals are tied very closely to our goals for 2019 and 2020, and the next three years can be considered on some level as a single project which fulfills the past eighteen years of work we’ve done.

As I said, ambitious, but I have faith in Tayler’s ability to execute. More precisely, I have faith in Taylers, plural, ability to execute, as Howard’s wife Sandra² is the Dwayne The Rock Johnson of publishing and logistics. I’m pretty sure that efforts at monetizing Schlock Mercenary beyond the odd t-shirt or print-on-demand digest³ would have fallen down without her hand on the organizational tiller … and I’m pretty sure that Howard would agree.

So look for eight books — a full 40% of the 20 year run of Schlock Mercenary — to drop from The Tayler Corporation in the next two and a half, three years. Maybe start budgeting now? And if you’re of the mind that what you really want is a ~7500 page omnibus behemoth edition, start dropping hints into the nearest Tayler ear now. That sort of thing takes time, and the next couple a’ years are gonna be busy.

Spam of the day:

Girls battle for your heart: choose Yuliya or Tatyana

Hey, sketchy Russian/Ukrainian mail-order bride site? You imply I should choose between two women (gross), but you only show one (bad at math). That last part is especially insulting, considering how many world-class mathematicians Russia has produced (like, a lot).

¹ Pəˈteɪtoʊ, pəˈtɐtoʊ.

² Does this make her my evil twin-in-law, my evil sister-in-law, or my wife’s evil twin? I’m not sure how the transitive property applies here.

³ Not to mention the ability to support a family with four kids (one college tuition down and others looming), a couple vehicles, and a mortgage. There are zero small humans that depend on me for their next meal and I would have been terrified to take the leap that Tayler & Tayler did (as recounted in an SDCC session a dozen years back … damn, I used to do a lot of typing).

I Will Admit To Some Distraction Today

Webcomics tomorrow; today belongs still to someone bigger.

The news yesterday could not, in truth, have been unexpected — the death of an 88 year old can never be said to be unexpected — but that took none of its sting. Ursula K Le Guin exited this world yesterday (very much, I expect, on her own terms, as that was how she had behaved for all her preceding days), and we are the poorer for it.

I knew that loss would come some day and I knew it would cause me sorrow because there are those people whom we all agree bear the spark of greatness and wisdom. I knew that some others surely must have felt as I did.

I underestimated by a considerable degree to which Ursula K Le Guin influenced very nearly every single person I know, those who are publicly creative and those who are less so. She existed as part of the background of our lives, so universally present we didn’t remark on it until we marked its absence. It is not possible to compare any one person’s death to another, but in the keenness of loss, she seemed to take her place next to Prince and Bowie. But there was more this time.

As before, person after person spoke of the joy they took in creative mastery, about the comfort they took from a body of work. But beyond they they spoke of how she fundamentally inspired their own work, shaped their ways of thinking, opened their eyes to different ways of looking at the world. It shouldn’t surprise me, this depth of love and loss. It doesn’t; who could fail to love Ursula K Le Guin, after all? And at the same time it does; who could possibly have drawn meaning from her as profoundly as me? Damn near everybody that had ever heard of her, as it turns out.

And there is the comfort I take, that everybody that took meaning and inspiration from Ursula K Le Guin did so in many ways that were similar, and each of us in a direction or two that was singular. The conversation we are now having about what she meant to us is revealing things I might never have found on my own. Without any further words, she directs this conversation and guides us to be better than we were.

And for somebody that stood her ground with cussed determination and brooked no fools gladly, the familiar rest in peace seems insufficient. So revel in stubbornness, Ursula K Le Guin, and forgive us if we don’t get it all as right as we should as quickly as we should. We’ll get there eventually, and we’ll find you were shouting encouragement to us all along.

Spam of the day:

Click for dating online

What percentage of dating profiles do you figure include some variation on Must love Ursula K Le Guin? I’m betting more than there were at the start of the week.

Fleen Book Corner: The Prince And The Dressmaker

This review has been the hardest to write that I’ve ever done, and probably won’t be displaced any time soon; I’ve long had a policy of writing about work that I could wholeheartedly recommend, rather than trying to discourage people from reading what I thought fell short of the mark. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a book that could come back to positive territory with the change of literally one word.

So I’m going to be very careful to explain my thoughts on this book, and I’m possibly going to fail. It’s entirely plausible that my major criticism would reflect the reading experience of approximately nobody else in the world. I mean no disrespect to Jen Wang (whose work I’ve enjoyed for years and whose Koko Be Good has been a favorite for pretty much the entirety of this decade) or any of the folks at :01 Books (who sent me the review copy I’ve been reading and re-reading for a couple of months now).

Comments are open down thataway, and spoilers are everywhere from this point on.

Okay, let’s get the basics out of the way — The Prince And The Dressmaker is the story of Frances (the dressmaker) and Sebastian (the prince) in fin de siècle Paris; he likes wearing beautiful dresses, she wants to be a fashion designer, they end up working together underneath the noses of Parisian Society and his stuffy parents, who just want to arrange a nice, traditional, royal betrothal.

On the surface, it’s a sweet story with a message about accepting different identities and finding one’s path in life, in full Disney mode (more on that momentarily). A little bit deeper, it’s got flaws — some slight, some more severe. We’ll start at the benign end of the scale.

We know what the Disney version of things looks like, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sebastian is found out as a cross-dresser, flees court for a monastery in shame, and returns to fabulous acclaim in a fashion show that features not just the begowned prince, but his father the conquering military hero king and a platoon’s worth of soldiers, all in fabulous women’s wear.

There’s the Disney mode of fairy tale logic, and then there’s stretching things to the breaking point; the sudden shift of half of Paris society towards accepting the disgraced prince, the willingness of his giant-of-a-man father to appear on a catwalk in an off-the-shoulder haute couture creation thirty minutes after the emotional confession I’m a prince who likes dresses breaks the suspension of disbelief.

There’s a portion of TPATD’s intended audience that needs this message that they can be accepted, but by making it so total, so sudden, so implausible, I fear it’ll be received as but that only happens in fairy tales and make believe. The Disney version has its place, but the entire message was much better conveyed in Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy (review here).

For a young reader in Sebastian’s position, nothing that TPATD promises is likely to happen; TWB promises a less happily ever after ending, but one that is conveyed as achievable by mere mortals. It’s the difference between Sebastian got to live happily ever after because he’s a prince so they have to accept him and Aster and his family are working towards acceptance in a way that I could do, too.

Maybe it’s necessary to see the external success (Sebastian is happy and accepted) before being able to imagine the personal (I could be happy and accepted), but it still reads false to me. Or maybe I’m just surprised that Scholastic describes TWB as for ages 8-12 and :01 describes TPATD as for ages 12-18; the former’s message reads to me as more sophisticated than the latter.

The real flaws, however, the stop-me-cold-I-did-not-just-read-that flaws, are probably more down to editing that anything else, and they’re encapsulated in one word: Belgium.

Sebastian is the Prince of Belgium, visiting Paris for the season with his parents. In a couple of places, he and his father each try to pull rank with Parisians of the Third Republic (As your Prince, I forbid you to leave! Return to your servant quarters, now! and I’m the King. This show will go on exactly as they please.), which … yeah, not buying it. Okay, I’ll give that some slack and take it as evidence of royalty used to getting their way forgetting they aren’t in their sovereign lands at the moment.

But I can’t give slack to Sebastian’s father, King Leo.

King Leo, of Belgium, somewhere at the end of the 19th Century. King Leo, who bears a more than slight visual resemblance to Leopold II, who was King of the Belgians at the same time in history. Leopold II, who was perhaps the greatest enslaver and mass murderer of modern history.

This is why you make up little Grand Duchies for your fairy tales.

Leopold II was the brutal son of a bitch who held the entirety of the Congo and all of its people as his personal property. Between the ivory and the rubber he set production quotas that resulted in roughly half the inhabitants of Congo — ten million people — dying at the hands of his mercenary security forces, with uncounted more mutilated to set an example for others. When the Belgian parliament confronted the horrors — and this was the time when the mission of enlightening and Christianizing the brown peoples of the world was seen as right and proper and worth the occasional unfortunate brutality — and forced him to turn the colony over to the nation for management, he had the Congolese archives burned to hide his crimes.

It’s not intentional, but it is inescapable — for anybody that knows the history of Europe and/or colonialism, the name Leo will not evoke a somewhat pushy but ultimately sympathetic figure who only wants the best for his people and his son. It’s not possible for me to separate the unfortunate parallels of Leopold II and Leo; the benign landbound King Triton of the Gilded Age will always appear to me as the evil incarnate butcher that literally inspired the concept of crimes against humanity.

Which leaves me in a peculiar position. There’s so much that’s well done in TPATD; Wang’s character designs are terrific, her fashion designs are both era-appropriate and suitably fairy tale-fantastic¹, the look and feel of Paris is both gritty and glittering. A lot of people love it, and it’s easy to see why. For the right reader, with the right expectations, and the right people to answer the questions about a very bad time in history (questions that may never come), it could become a cherished favorite.

But for the love of God, in future printings change Belgium to literally anything else.

The Prince And The Dressmaker will be released on 13 February from :01 Books.

No spam today.

¹ With one exception at the very beginning, but it’s for story reasons.

Punting Today

I’m writing something that needs … well, it needs to be written exactly right, and I don’t think I’m there yet.