The webcomics blog about webcomics

Rad Ladies

There’s days when I have a lot to say, and there’s days when stories speak for themselves; today we’re in the latter category.

  • First up, Erika Moen — cartoonist, force of nature, hell of awesome — dropped some news on us yesterday [the story is SFW, but the side panel ads are probably not] … she’s headed to Sweden:

    Oh my gosh, I’m making my first trip out to Sweden!!! If you’re in the neighborhood, please come say hi to me at the Stockholm International Comics Festival this May 20 – 21!!!!

    Or the Stockholms Internationella Seriefestival; if you speak Swedish, hit up the link. If not, here’s the translation, which links to bits about the festival’s Small Press Expo (described as the “official sibling” of the annual event in Maryland), and details on the international guests.

    If I’m reading everything correctly, the SIS will take place at Stockholm’s Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, in Sweden’s only specialist library for comics, Serieteket (here, for those of you that like maps). Free admission, and I think the times are 11:00am to 5:00pm (CET, or GMT+2), on Saturday and Sunday (20 & 21 May).

  • On my way back from Comics Camp (start here, if you’ve forgotten, and work forward) I had a layover in Minneapolis, and thus was able to visit with Rosemary Vallero-O’Connell, about whom I’ve written lots over the past year or so. She mentioned that in addition to all the work she’s been doing since graduating last May, she’d been in talks with VICE News to do an interview about work/life balance and the financial end of a creative career. Turns out that it happened, and now you can see it.

    It’s a huge topic (things dealing with money — peripherally or directly — took up many hours at Camp), and not one where all the subtleties can be done in a few minutes. Heck if they didn’t do a damn good job laying out the boundaries of the issues, though.

    I found the most compelling part to be Vallero-O’Connell’s frank recognition that there’s a very fine line to tread, with both too many and too few jobs offering risks. Don’t have enough gigs, you don’t make money and you can’t pay your bills. Accept too many¹ and you risk spreading yourself too thin² or injury — meaning you can’t sustain the money and can’t pay your bills³.

    There’s no grand solution offered — not that there could be — but just acknowledging the challenges is tremendously valuable. Vallero-O’Connell is starting to get a handle on what the career looks like (not just for now, but as a sustainable effort over many years), and seeing her present the quandries and puzzle them out is going to help others find their balance quicker than they would otherwise. Give it a look.

Spam of the day:

KOHL’s: Antiquated Dept. Store…

Are … are you trying to get me to click on your fake KOHL’s gift card by negging them?

¹ A constant temptation for freelancers, particularly those new to the game.

² Leading to substandard work or burnout.

³ Unspoken in the four minute run time: even if you accept the exact right amount of work, you can’t guarantee you actually get paid what you’re due on a prompt basis, meaning you can’t pay your bills. I’m sensing a theme to the freelancer’s life.

Please Send Me The Photo When You Do

Oh, Ryan North, you lovable (and enormous) scamp, you know that somebody is now going to take this suggestion from T-Rex completely to heart, and very possibly to upper arm. I love it.

Know what else I love? The uncanny ability of Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin to somehow just know when I’m going to be tight on time (today because of an impending flight and a rental car with a dead battery) and to drop some sweet bande desinée information, for your edification¹.

A while back, he introduced us to Maliki, which is both a magical-realist² (as all the best ones are) autobio webcomic and the quasipseudonymous creator of same, in the context of monetizing with the Eurofunding site Tipeee. Today, he sends an interview with Maliki about how the funding is going some three months in; note that the interview was conducted in French via email, and translated by Lebeaupin.

Take it away, FSFCPL!

Fleen: Hello Maliki, and congratulations on your successful Tipeee campaign. It was one thing for it to start high, but now in the third month it doesn’t appear to be really dropping off so far. Were you expecting this?

Maliki: We were expecting (or at least hoping) a positive response from our readers, but we weren’t expecting so big a success. We were also picturing a significant dropoff the following months, which has not occurred so far. So we’re cruising in uncharted waters!

Fleen: In fact, many of your tipers were not even registered on Tipeee before you opened your page; you provided an avatar pack on your page so that they wouldn’t remain with the default Tipeee avatar, for instance. Were there other consequences to so many people having your page as their first Tipeee experience? For instance, did you have to expend time at the beginning answering questions from tippers on how Tipeee works?

Maliki: Yes, since the concept is not widespread yet, we had to explain the differences, compared to classical crowdfunding in particular.

Fleen: Have you noticed pledges being cancelled just before the end of the month or other such anomalies? Such a ghost pledging phenomenon is a problem on some Patreons, for instance.

Maliki: We have only had a limited number of cancellations or payment failures. So far people appear to be willing to play by the rules, but I hope this question won’t give anyone ideas!

Fleen: Promise, it’ll remain between us :). On that subject, you provided a remarkable transparency effort by publishing the timetable of what a tipper can expect as rewards over the month when he supports and over the following one, after his tip has cleared.

Maliki: Thanks. That was really the goal. We want everything to be perfectly clear and for no one to be disappointed or get unpleasantly surprised.

Fleen: I noticed that at the start of each month the total starts lower and limited rewards are reset. How does it work? Does it mean you have to each month start over the recruitment of tippers past a certain pledge or reward level?

Maliki: On Tipeee people can choose between making a monthly contribution or a one-off one. At the end of each month, the counter is automatically reset, and only the people who have set up a monthly contribution remain. Over the course of the month, new one-off contributions are added, as well as newly set up monthly commitments.

As for limited rewards, monthly contributors keep their spot, while the spots previously taken by one-off contributions are freed … but they generally don’t stay that way for long. In a matter of minutes after the counters are reset, they’ve been taken over.

Fleen: I also noticed the stretch goals structure changing each month (bonus points, from a software developer, for making each level of July be the double of the previous one: 500€, 1000€, 2000€, etc.); it is standard to Tipeee or something you came up with yourself?

Maliki: We defined these goals ourselves, based on levels that felt coherent AND realistic (except for the last one which is a kind of ludicrous level since we know we won’t reach it). And yes, I imagine it’s my logical mind who liked to speak in term of doubles, even if we slightly changed it since then.

Fleen: The Tipeee rewards imply an additional workload for you and Becky. After almost three months, have you found your stride?

Maliki: Not yet! The most complicated is physical rewards (the artwork). For the Tipeee we had to set up a lot of things very quickly, like the radio, the chat, the questions and answers, the lottery broadcast, the mailings, the monthly ex-libris. All that added to the weekly strips and peripheral projects represent a significant workload, not to mention we had to set up a small legal entity to be able to receive the Tipeee income. In short, we still need to optimize all that, but it’s already better than when we started.

Fleen: “Independent Maliki” is a long-term project, and it’s still early a bit early to discuss outcomes. But did the Tipeee page already allow you to reduce your reliance on freelance work? I am referring for instance to the illustrations you sometimes provide for youth magazines (Okapi, Science et Vie Junior, etc.).

Maliki: Let’s say that even if I wanted to take on more freelance work, I couldn’t :) But anyway, that’s not what interests me most, I much prefer to work on my own universes thanks to Tipeee.

Fleen: What kind of feedback or reactions did you get from your fellow comics authors (and other comics professionals)?

Maliki: In the end I didn’t get a lot of reactions. Hearty support from some authors, publishers or booksellers, MANY questions … I think most of them are waiting to see how this is going to play out in the long run. At any rate, I know we are being watched in silence ;)

Fleen: And I have to ask: any plans for English-language collections?

Maliki: Unfortunately no … Previously published Maliki books likely never will. My publisher has been talking about it for years and it never happened. Anyway, I think it’s too late now and it wouldn’t be relevant to launch Maliki by starting with volume 1, without first recreating the phenomenon that occurred in France with comic blogs at the time. So, not possible.

With our first self-published collection, we could consider it. But there again, our English community on the blog is tiny, and we’d need quite a tsunami of new English-speaking visitors for it to be worth considering an English language collection. [Editor’s note: see concluding thoughts below.]

Fleen: Lastly, a question closer to home, since one half of my family is from Nantes and I love Brittany. While your influences lie closer to Japan than to, say, the Pont-Aven School, have you considered taking advantage of being a “local artist”, for instance by trying to have your self-published books be regionally distributed if you can’t get France-wide distribution for them?

Maliki: The local artist is unfortunately not the status taken most seriously. Look at comic shows, regional authors are always consigned away in a corner … If my comic at least dealt with Britanny a lot, but it could take place mostly anywhere. Anyway, I am not necessarily looking to get distributed everywhere, but only by motivated booksellers. Other than that, it will occur through direct sales, by mail order.

Fleen: You’re obviously busy, so we will be leaving you to tend to your fans. Any last words?

Maliki: Thanks for covering us in English, you are the only ones who pay as much attention to our new independence venture so … THANKS!

Okay, minions, it’s clear what needs to happen — if you’ve been over to Maliki and like what you see, drop an email (or better yet, some remote coin) towards the site, and maybe we’ll get an English collection some day. Thanks to Pierre Lebeaupin for following up, and for his single-minded devotion to the idea that the French webcomics scene deserves coverage in English. I learn something cool every time he emails.

Spam of the day:

legal update on vaginal mesh implants

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nopers. Not touching this one.

¹ Also, for a very light editing pass for English spellings and formatting.

² But not Mexican magical-realist.

A Talk With Hope Larson

Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first — if Hope Larson very generously offers to make time for you between signings so you can talk, you jump on that.

She’s one of the all-time great creators we’ve got right now, but ironically she’s becoming known widely not for her stellar work on original graphic novels (which fairly burst with heart and honesty), not even for her graphic adaptation of one of the best-beloved science fiction novels of all time, but because she’s working on a BOOM! series¹ and about to launch the next phase of Batgirl. There’s a lot to unpack there, and she spent a lot of time finding the crux in each question and answering it as thoroughly as she could.

On writing for other people to draw
Larson’s been a writer/artist for the vast majority of her career, but she’s just wrapped up the first four issues of Goldie Vance with Brittney Williams and is working directly with Rafael Albuquerque. It’s a shift, but she doesn’t feel restricted by it because she’s got trust in her artists. I’ve never had an art conflict on any book is how she put it, which may be the first time in comics history that’s been said.

She’s found the challenge is less figuring out how to direct the visuals in her head to the page via the hand of another, and more figuring out how to break up the story into 20 to 24 page chunks. Looking at past work like Chiggers or Mercury, it’s easy to see her storytelling rhythms tend toward the slow buildup, centered on emotional states and inner feelings seeking their way out.

Having to reach a mini-climax in less than two dozen pages, where every single one has to move plot forward to be a satisfying, standalone read, and deal with the fact that readers may be coming in without having seen the earlier issues makes for a completely different style of work. But if you’ve read Goldie Vance, you see that it’s worked out really well.

On that Space Age that isn’t horribly, horribly racist
If you haven’t read Goldie Vance, it’s in an resort area of Florida in the Mercury/Gemini era, and it features a fully integrated society. All ethnicities are interacting with each other (although there’s some tension), Goldie herself is interracial, and her father’s the one in charge of the hotel (although it’s got an absentee owner who’s white). It’s maybe the vision that people have of what the Civil Rights era was like when they convince themselves that they totally would have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr, and absolutely would have subjected to the firehoses, dogs, mobs, and arbitrary jailings. It’s not our world, and it’s not a romantic obliviousness that led to this version of Past America being portrayed.

No matter how you write that era, it’s going to be problematic, Larson told me. You either have to turn a blind eye, or you have to have a world where it wasn’t like it was here. It’s a fantasy. It was also a deliberate choice, since the focus of Goldie isn’t struggle, inequality, history, it’s a girl’s adventure like you’d get from a much hipper Nancy Drew.

I asked if the approach was to treat the comic like a TV show or movie that used completely race-neutral casting, and she agreed; If it ever became a TV show, I hope it would be cast that way.² So look at it as if our national feelings of self-congratulation at the time — we’re living in Camelot! — were actually justified. If it’s unreal, but unreal in a way that lets girls who haven’t seen themselves as the protagonists of comics before get to (cf: Ben Hatke’s Little Robot), then that’s worth a bit of unreality … and what are comics for if not the fantasy?

On getting the look just right
Larson gives Williams all the credit for the hazy, sun-dappled look of Goldie Vance’s environments and the vivacious, lively look of the very diverse characters. I can be sparse with my descriptions for Brittney, because she’s going to give me amazing environments. The best thing I can do is give her room.

With Four Points (the graphic novel series title for the just released Compass South and next year’s Knife’s Edge, both illustrated by Rebecca Mock) and Batgirl, she’s writing about real places at real points in time, she can be much more specific in her scripting and supply photo reference; knowing the people, clothing, and buildings will look the way they do in her head likely (and I’m speculating here, because I’m just now realizing that I didn’t ask this and I’m kicking myself) frees her to think more about the page and the scene it conveys. This bit here is basically just an excuse to transition into discussing her thoughts …

On scripting fight scenes
I asked Larson if it was viscerally satisfying to be able to write BATGIRL roundhouse-kicks THUG #2 in the face and he goes FLYING BACK THROUGH THE WINDOW. I love it! It’s the single thing I’m most excited about! She shared that while she thought working on Batgirl would be weird, it’s just been fun, with the chief advantage being you don’t have to build up a character because she’s already there.

When I noted the essential ephemerality of super heroes — that in a few years somebody might come along and cancel out everything she’s ever written because it ruined their childhood and now they can make Batgirl the way she was always supposed to be — she was nonplussed. If you go to the wikis, every story arc is there; it’s all there forever, even if it’s contradicted, and for some people, it will be the first Batgirl they ever read.³

On the biggest challenges of writing superheroes
I asked if DC’s famously heavy editorial hand (You must get this story point in here to reference this line-wide crossover event, no matter how much of a misfit it is in your own story) was constricting. She said that Batgirl has been a process of discovery, and she’s grateful for the guidance her editors have provided in helping her figure out Cape Logic. I was worried about getting the details right, you know, Barbara’s running down an alley, and then in the next panel she’s Batgirl, and where was she keeping the boots? And my editors said, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

Freed from the illogic of costume-stashing, she’s thrown herself into getting correct the things that can be done right or wrong. The second book in the arc is going to be MMA-themed, so I’ve learned a lot about the history of MMA, how it works, read a lot of articles and watched a lot fights. I don’t get MMA, but if Larson’s let that inform the fight scenes in Batgirl, I think we’re going to see a lot more plausibility there.

On the future
Goldie Vance is creator-owned with Williams, but she won’t be on it forever. Down the line, new people may be found to write or draw it, which would put her on the other side of the work-for-hire arrangement. She’s got pitches (that she can’t talk about, naturally) in process now, and multiple books due (both solo and with artists) between now and 2020; that guarantee of work is reassuring, and there’s enough room in her schedule to pick up or launch new work in the meantime.

If she could pick any existing characters to write, they would be Wonder Woman and the Gotham villain ladies — Poison Ivy, Catwoman — that go back and forth from sorta-baddie to sorta-hero. If she could work with any artist for the first time, she’s spoiled for choice. Every young artist coming up right now is amazing.

She considers Goldie and Batgirl to have raised her profile and name recognition in the industry considerably; I was surprised by that since I spend a significant amount of time waiting for her next release, but that’s the nature of comics — different audiences, different sizes.

She hopes to use that profile to work with people who wouldn’t otherwise get the art or writing gigs. While Goldie Vance was cast race-neutral, the comics industry as a whole hasn’t done a good job of diversifying the pool of creators who are hired and developed; Larson firmly believes that more viewpoints can only make for more and better stories and is doing her best to nudge the parts of the industry that she interacts with in that direction.

Which, when I spend even half a second to think on it, is entirely obvious. Her work has always been marked by empathy and the conscious effort to find the humanity in every character. In her work, Hope Larson reveals a love for this messy, contradictory world all the messy, contradictory people in it. She wants to tell the stories she can tell, and hear the stories that they can tell. The sooner we put that aspiration at the center of Comics-With-A-Capital-C, the better.

¹ Creator-owned, so allow me to cynically hope that she’s getting less screwed than those BOOM! contracts for licensed titles; please note that I am expressing an opinion here and not conveying anything Larson said.

² Similarly, Gina Davis has proposed a simple first step to try to drag gender equality into the film and TV industry: every time a crowd scene is written, it should specify that half of the people present are women. Without that instruction, women are underrepresented in the crowds, which means they’re underrepresented in the consciousness of everybody watching that scene. It’s true in any visual medium — check out background scenes in comics and ask yourself how many white dudes there are there as opposed to every other type of person.

³ That sense of preservation in the face of retcons struck me as similar to Alan Moore’s response when asked if a particular film adaptation ruined the comic it was based on: he pointed to the bookshelf and noted the comic was still there.

A Talk With Jim Zub

Of all the people that I’ve met in [web]comics, the one that I get the most things to think about from would be Jim Zub. We met at the Image booth on Thursday and he ushered me into a small room set up for interviews — I vaguely felt like I was going to be advised of my rights and asked about my whereabouts the prior night — and go to talking. There’s never a bad time to get some Zub wisdom dropped on you, but a couple of days after one of his essays on creator-owned economics — this on the Long Tail effect — is probably the best because he’s brimming with ideas. Go read that first and then come back here; he mentions the two big next things he’s got coming up.

The first of those will be the return of his creator-owned Wayward, for a fourth arc, one that’s going to shake things up as he’s split his cast between two locales (two countries, with radically different cultures) and will be pursuing two parallel plots as a result. The back-of-issue essays on Japanese folklore/mythology/culture will now be supplemented with similar on Irish folklore/mythology/culture, and the issues will alternate — even numbers in Ireland, odd in Japan. While this means Arc 4 will feature three issues of Ireland and only two of Japan (which was a big part of the hook driving interest in the series), it’ll reverse for Arc 5 which is totally a thing. It’s good to know that you’ve got at least ten more issues to play with, instead of wondering if each arc has to wrap things up due to sales realities (a situation that affected both Skullkickers in its early days and Samurai Jack throughout its run).

The bigger news might be that September will also see the launch of his next creator-owned book, Glitterbomb, about Hollywood fame culture and failure (or maybe almost-success, which might be worse that failure¹), with a strong Chtonic horror element. He’s partnering up with Djibril Morissette-Phan on art, and can’t say enough good about him.

He’s an astonishingly accomplished artist for being only 21 years old, and has been cranking out pages of the most elaborate character, horror, and environmental designs at a rate of one a day, plus covers. Morissette-Phan is going to explode as a result of this series — I’ve rarely seen compositions so smart and assured², and full of beautiful little details. I’m still haunted by what could have been a time-saving splash page of a pair of characters leaning over a balcony railing, beers in hand, looking over a cityscape at night … a tableau where Morissette-Phan rendered every drape and wrinkle of clothing lovingly, and took the two rear center beltloops on one character’s jeans and crossed them as a fashionable flourish. It was gorgeous and impressive as hell.

It’s also done. Due to some schedule needs at Image, Morisette-Phan has finished drawing the entire first four-issue arc (the first issue is double sized) and there can be no delays. It’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and has an overarching structure that will permit as many 4- or 5-issue arcs as they care to do (and sales will support). Horror is a new world for Zub, and he’s feeling the need to stretch not only in new story directions, but in new ways of pacing.

The first issue being double sized makes telling plot a bit easier (also that you get five issues of story in four issues), but this is a man fully invested in the 20 to 24 pages that must stand alone compressed storytelling form that is floppy comics; the trade collection needs to be cohesive, but the floppies must stand alone. I asked about the possibility of a graphic novel and he expressed how he’s unsure of how to tell a story not structured in 20 to 24 page chunks³ but may be open to the challenge.

Naturally, he continues his work-for-hire run on Thunderbolts (12 issues announced and plotting past, just in case) and Dungeons and Dragons (they love his work and pretty much let him do what he wants). He’s a guy that came up reading Marvel and DC, and will always have a chunk of his time blocked out for the characters and companies that 10 year old Zub loved so much (current dream jobs: Doctor Strange, or getting to do a Harley Quinn series four-five years ago when she was being neglected and hadn’t blown up into the Wolverine of DC; he told them she would be a breakout hit, just based on the sheer omnipresence of Harley cosplay at every con, but did they listen?).

And then he was off to his next meeting, his next pitch, his next bit of data gathering for his next essay. He’s like one of those sharks that must be in motion at all times, one that leaves really great comics in his wake.

¹ I told him it sounded like a description of the overall narrative of The Venture Brothers, which is about the masculine form of failure that is not living up to expectation or ability (at least, when looked at as a whole; in the closer perspective it’s about wacky super-science and speedsuits).

² Stylistically, he’s nothing like her, but the same combo of skill and confidence at a young age reminds me of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, about whom I may have said one or two things in the past.

³ I thought about pointing out that I first became aware of him when he sent me a copy of webcomic/graphic novel, The Makeshift Miracle. Then again, that guy was Jim Zubkavich and I was talking to Jim Zub. I’ll also note that I brought up the differences between longform story and 20 to 24 page story chunks in my interviews with Hope Larson and Gene Yang, each of whom had their own take on it. Still working on those pieces.

Little Robot Blogtour: Q&A With Ben Hatke

As mentioned previously, Fleen is happy to contribute today to the ongoing celebration of Ben Hatke’s Little Robot, a wholly delightful book you may recall from our review.

Gina Gagliano at :01 Books was kind enough to arrange for Mr Hatke to answer some questions, which we present below; as the questions touch on specifics of things that happen in the books, be away that here be spoilers.

Fleen: The first thing that struck me about this book is how vocally quiet it is — there’s very little speaking out loud and barely any dialogue. What was the motivation to approach the story this way, and what were the challenges in telling a story this way?

Ben Hatke:Yes! that was one of the goals I had in mind: telling a story with very spare or pared-down text. I wanted this book to inhabit a space between a completely silent comic and one with a lot of dialogue — a space where you can read the entire story and get it, more or less, without the words but for which the dialogue and text adds an additional layer of depth.

I tend to write for everyone rather than focusing too heavily on a target audience but that being said, this book was made with very beginning readers in mind.

Fleen: The second that that struck me (it took longer to realize than the quietness) is that there are no names in the story. What led you to that decision? And how do you identify the characters yourself? (I named each of the gizmos after their signature sounds.)

Hatke: I started working with the Little Robot through newspaper-style comic strips, and I never named the little guy. Nothing I thought of fit, and in the end it was never needed. So it ended up making sense to do the same thing for the girl in the longer story. Plus I think it makes it a wee bit easier for a reader to identify with her. It’s a very immediate and experiential type of story (I think) so I hope the idea of unnamed protagonists works!

Fleen: Speaking of the little girl, she’s unlike almost any other children’s book main character I’ve seen: she’s female, brown, rural, and if not in outright poverty, certainly lacking economic privilege. Where did she come from in your creative process, and why did she insist on being the POV character for this book?

Hatke:I drew her dozens of times and in many different ways and watched her gradually take shape and become herself. Early versions were lighter skinned with dark hair and, frankly, looked a little too much like Zita. But also as she took shape visually her personality grew into this tinkering, shy, mechanically-minded introvert. There’s a lot there that I personally identify with.

And as for the setting … visually this story takes place more or less in my backyard. For this book I literally went out for walks with a sketchbook and pulled most of the locations directly from life.

Fleen: There’s a great message about friendship in Little Robot, but it’s the most mature and evolved one I’ve seen in a children’s book. How do you see children reacting to the message that friendship is wonderful, but also messy and filled with stumbles, missteps, betrayals?

Hatke: I wonder how they will react? I don’t know! I hope they nod knowingly and say yes, that is what it is like. Children are wise.

Fleen: There’s a big contrast between the environments in the story; the little girl is able to move between them, but which is the one that feeds her curiosity the most? The natural world, the high-tech robot facility, or the junkyard (which is what happens when technology gets set aside and nature goes to work on it)?

Hatke: I think the junkyard is probably her natural habitat. For her it’s like having a fully-stocked workshop where everyone else probably mostly leaves her in peace to tinker.

Fleen thanks Ben Hate, Gina Gagliano, and everybody at :01 Books for helping put this conversation together. If you haven’t gotten a copy of Little Robot for the kid(s) in your life (or yourself, that’s allowed), please do so. It’s a delight. The Little Robot blogtour concludes tomorrow at Cuddlebuggery.

Spam of the day:
We’re giving spam the day off, seeing as how Hatke’s book has put us in too good a mood to deal with spammers.

Last Men

So hands up if you like insane fight-tournament manga — everything from Dragonball to Yakitate!! Japan¹, where the plucky [young/orphan or semiorphan] hero survives against all odds and the individual fights consist of endless posing and mystic mumbo-jumbo, for hundreds and hundreds of pages (or entire seasons of the tie-in TV series).

Yeah, Last Man ain’t like that.

It’s taken from the model of the insane fight-tournament manga, but the creators are French; the visual designs are halfway between manga and ligne claire, and our POV character isn’t the plucky kid, it’s the ne’er do well from out of town that shows up and grabs the plucky kid for the tournament because the rules say he needs a partner and there’s nobody else around.

That’s Richard; he doesn’t know squat about the town he’s landed in, the nature of the tournament, or the local fighting style; he just heard there’s a tournament and he wants in for his own reasons. He appears to be a man out of time, referencing modern (technological) items that fly over the heads of the pseudo-middle ages locals. And the first time he sees an opponent start to marshal his mystic energies with endless posing, Richard calmly decks him to the shock and consternation of all present. It’s just Not Done!

Furthermore, the story moves fast; in Book One (The Stranger), Richard shows up, partners with young Adrian, puts the moves on Adrian’s mom, and makes it all the way to the quarterfinals. Book Two (The Royal Cup, out tomorrow) continues where the first left off and ends on a cliffhanger indicating that the tournament was not the important part of the story — and that Adrian’s mom is more worldly than she ever let on. Books Three and later will presumably alter the insane fight-tournament manga model further, as that little town and the all-important tournament recede in the rear-view mirrors of a pair of motorcycles² heading out to a world that Richard knows better but which is as mysterious to Adrian … and us. It’s a great read.

Thanks to Gina Gagliano at :01 Books, we were able to send some questions to the creators of Last Man — Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville, and Balak — and are happy to bring their answers to you now.

Fleen: What was the motivation to do a manga-style tournament story in a European-style visual approach?

Last Men:
We wanted to make a big, epic adventure with action, humor and drama. The three of us love the manga format and storytelling, and it’s the most appropriate one to do that kind of story. You can take the time to focus on the characters, say close to them, while creating a big universe. And about the European art syle, well, being European certainly has something to do with it, but … our art is naturally at the crossroad of many influences, Japanese, French, American, etc., since we love artists and comics from different origins. Actually, we often sum up Last Man up as the exact kind of comic book that made us want to pick up a pencil and start to draw when we were kids.

Fleen: Richard is a fish out of water — the locals don’t know about bikes or cigarettes, he doesn’t know about their system of magic or the rules of the tournament. Is he from a far place, a far time, or a far reality?

Last Men: We wouldn’t spoil too much here, but yes, he’s not from the neighborhood. You won’t have to wait very long to find out more about Richard’s past. [Editor’s note: the previews of Book Three, due out in the fall, indicate we’ll learn quite a bit; like I said, this is moving at lightspeed compared to equivalent manga.]

Fleen: [Local tournament impressario] Lord Cudna hints at the tournament having a larger purpose — does it have a place in the magical system of the realm, or does he just take things too seriously?

Last Men: Kind of both. The tournament is really important in King’s Valley, and in later books we will learn more about where the schools and the tournament come from. It’s all fun and games for now, but things are gonna get a little bit ugly….

Fleen: [Adrian’s mom] Marianne recognizes Richard as foreign, but she isn’t shocked by his ways like the other townspeople; is she (or perhaps the missing Mr Velba) from somewhere similar to Richard, or is she just very adaptable?

Last Men: Haha, yes! Marianne is a woman full of surprises! Let’s say that she knows way more things than Richard, or even her own son think she knows.

Fleen: Following up: the little kingdom appears to be static, with little changing from year to year, and even the people staying the same: Gregorio is a jerk, Elorna is a caretaker, Master Jansen’s full of himself, Vlad is sickly, the same champions vie in the tournament every year, which itself is based more on ritual than anything else. But the Velbas change before our eyes — how much of this is because of who they are (where she’s from, how she’s raised Adrian), and how much because Richard is a catalyst for them?

Last Men: Richard is certainly the game changer here. All of his actions are gonna leave marks on Marianne and Adrian, but on every other person in King’s Valley and beyond as well. Elorna, Gregoria, Jansen and everybody who’s gonna cross Richard’s path … they won’t be the same, for better or for worse.

Our thanks to Gina Gagliano at :01, to Balak, Sanlaville, and Vives, and to everybody that helped bring Last Man to these shores. You can read more about the series (and Book Two, go get it) at the other entries of Last Man Blog Tour, which continues tomorrow at Graphic Policy.

¹ Or even sports manga; if you haven’t read Cross Game you really should, but a single baseball half-inning can take dozens of pages. Then again, other games slip by between panels.

² In a pseudo-middle ages setting, whaaaa?

He Promises, No Dogs Will Be Made To Fight Dragons

Okay, disclaimers out of the way: the comics-making duo known popularly as Becky [Dreistadt] & Frank [Gibson] are practically family; despite the fact that they went to art school with a niece who is totally my dogg since small times, I believe that I would have found my way to their work in any event. Dreistadt’s paintings are whimsical and achingly beautiful at the same time, and Gibson’s command of language is playful and erudite in equal measure.

Their latest project, a comic book adaptation of a 151-painting series in tribute to Pokemon, releases in a few weeks, and Gibson was kind enough to take some time out to talk to me about it. As an added bonus, Gibson sent along a four page preview of the first issue, which you can see below.

Fleen: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
Gibson: Thanks for having me!

Fleen: So tell me how the Capture Creatures comic book came about. Natural outgrowth of the art project? Shannon Watters¹ come to you with a request for a pitch and an offer of 6 issues minimum?
Gibson: We were thinking about a Capture Creatures comic before we even did our 151 project. It was originally the name of a comic series that we felt like we would never have the time to do. The 151 series was our way of making a creature project “manageable” aka 2 years of constant painting, a Kickstarter etc, etc. We’d been working with Boom on a bunch of projects, doing short stories for Adventure Time. Then they asked if we had ideas for a Capture Creatures book. Which of course we did. They pitched us ways to make the project manageable, since we’re a little busy these days, and it’s worked!


For The Next Little While We’re Going To Be All Watterson, All The Time

Yeah, didn’t think you’d have a problem with that.

  • Thing the First: In conjunction with the news about the STRIPPED poster, the Washington Post actually spoke to Bill Watterson about his decision to do the poster.
  • Thing the Second: Filmmakers Freddave Kellett-Schroeder have spoken with admiration about how the first Machine of Death collection hit #1 on Amazon for one day, and are trying to pull off the same trick with STRIPPED on iTunes. And heck if it doesn’t look like they might do so:

    Guys! You guys! Now @strippedfilm is #7: … JUSTIN BEIBER IS #15! This is the sweetest plum!

  • Thing the Third: The Dave Kellett half of Freddave Kellett-Schroeder was kind enough to answer some questions from me in addition to the first, brief response he gave yesterday. The interview is presented here for your edification:

Fleen: Okay, so Watterson does the first piece of art for public consumption in 19 years apart from Petey Otterloop for the Cul de Sac benefit book. When did he offer to draw this for you?
Kellett: I think we first approached him about it in December. Possibly … November? I’d have to check. It was cheeky of us to even ask, but as he’s been time and time again, he was kind and gracious and said he’d be flattered to do it. He’s a good man, and I’m eternally grateful to him for his kindness.

Fleen: Seriously, do you have an original [Watterson] now?
Kellett: I do not. It was a running joke, while it was in LA for super-high-rez-photography, that Fred would jokingly say “Can we keep it? Can we keep it?” But we never considered it. It’s such a gift that he’d even draw it, we couldn’t ask for anything further. So it sits happily now in the OSU archives.

Fleen: How long have you been sitting on this news?
Kellett: Since Nov/Dec, when we asked.

Fleen: Can I fly to LA and see the original if I promise not to steal it?
Kellett: [no reply; possibly wondering if I am capable of comprehending that he doesn’t have the art in his possession]

Fleen: Who the man? Okay, it’s you and Fred, so Who the men?
Kellett: [no reply; I imagine at this point he’s looking at his watch, wondering if he should maybe be talking to somebody more important]

Fleen: I promise I won’t even breathe near it if you let me see the original.
Kellett: [no reply; it is painfully obvious that Kellett is strongly considering asking me to lose his number after all this idiocy]

Fleen thanks Kellett for his time, and we completely believe that what’s in the OSU collection is the original and not a clever duplicate, leaving the actual original in a secret, climate-controlled room at Casa de Kellett. We at Fleen are also totally not planning a way to find into that secret room which clearly does not exist and stare at the original which is not there in a state of rapture until they take us away with tears streaming down our faces. Honest.

Aarne-Thompson Class #130: Karl Kerschl on Fairy Tale Comics

Karl Kerschl is pretty much universally praised for his comics art — from superhero work for the major publishers to videogame tie-ins, to the critically-acclaimed, Eisner-winning The Abominable Charles Christopher — and is constantly in demand for various projects. The latest of those will see release next week in the form of Fairy Tale Comics from :01 Books, edited by Chris Duffy and with a couple-dozen of the greatest talents in comics contributing. Kerschl was kind enough to take time away from his newborn daughter to talk about how he almost passed on Fairy Tale Comics, a shift from his usual artistic style, and the stories that grab us.

Fleen: When Chris Duffy invited you to be a part of Fairy Tale Comics, what made you decide to contribute?
Kerschl: I wasn’t going to, initially. I really liked the concept but I was extremely busy and I think I actually turned him down. Chris eventually badgered me into it by extending the deadline. I like Chris a lot and it’s really hard for me to say no to things, even when I probably should.

Fleen: What was it about fairy tales that intrigued you? Something made it different than, say, a miniseries tied to a videogame.
Kerschl: Fairy tales have always resonated with me; the structure of them and the lyrical quality. It’s much closer to my heart than working on traditional superhero/action stuff. And I also really liked that they’re open to so much interpretation. You can read the same fairy tale told by a dozen different people and they all differ in some way — some quite drastically — as they’re retold over the years. That’s one of the fun side-effects of an oral tradition, I guess. So it was an interesting challenge to try to adapt one with my own spin and contemporary sensibilities.


Talk Time With Tavis Two

Welcome back to Part Two of our talk with Tavis Maiden; yesterday we talked about his upcoming project, Tenko King, and how Kickstarter fit into his launch plans. Today we’ll be discussing how most people came to know him and his work, Strip Search, the nature of being around creative people, and how facial hair is critical to marital stability.

Fleen: Mind talking about Strip Search?
Maiden: Not at all.

Fleen: Looking back on it, what did you get from the show. In the sense of “If I hadn’t gone on the show I never would have ______ .”
Maiden: Swung for the fences. Strip Search taught me to swing for the fences.