The webcomics blog about webcomics

Talk Time With Tavis

One of the more gratifying aspects of Strip Search has been watching a pretty significant explosion of creativity from the Artists; while they surely would have continued on their individual trajectories of comic-making, that period of time when they were cooped up together in a luxury mansion and able to resonate off each other has produced a lot of interesting work, not all of it seen yet. So when Tavis Maiden offered to talk to me about his plans for his next comics project, I was happy to do so.

The back-and-forth that we had was so extensive, I’ve had to split it into two parts. Today, Maiden talks about how being a father has influenced the forthcoming Tenko King, what he wants to achieve with it, and his thoughts on Kickstarter.

Fleen: So tell me about what you want to do with Tenko King that’s different from what you’ve done in the past. You’re the master of the BEAST AURA, so why do you want to launch a new project?
Maiden: I wanted to write a letter to my kids. What it’s like to grow up and what it means to be a parent watching from the outside. Tenko King is the culmination of my childhood, and my perceptions of life as an adult for me. It’s a way to understand that life is a Journey, not a destination.


Making That Thing

The incidence of conventions delayed things a bit, but we at Fleen were finally able to carve out a niche in the very busy schedule of Holly Rowland (VP of Kicking Your Ass at TopatoCo) to Gchat about their new venture, Kickstarter fulfillment service Make That Thing. Some of the assumptions I made about MTT were borne out in our conversation, some weren’t, and in any event it’s going to be a damn interesting service to watch grow, evolve, and brutally destroy all competitors. Along the way we talked about real estate, the similarities of comics conventions and cater-waitering, and yurts.

Fleen: Let’s start with some background facts: how did you and Jeffrey [Rowland, founder of TopatoCo] come up with the idea for Make That Thing?
Rowland: About a year ago we started noticing that more and more of our friends/clients/colleagues were using Kickstarter and completely blowing their goals out of the water — then being faced with the task of fulfilling all of the backer rewards. Some people were having a really hard time with it — it’s why people hire TopatoCo to do their regular merchandise production and fulfillment after all.

Some people even asked us to help them with fulfillment, so I turned to Jeffrey and said, “Look, this is kind of our wheelhouse. We’ve already got the skills and contacts to get things produced and to ship them out. Why are we not offering to step in and take care of this stuff?”

Then we shelved it because running the business, having a family, planning a wedding and buying a building is EXHAUSTING.


To Get You Excited For Coming Things

In the short term, you’ve got this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, kicking off tomorrow at the Toronto Research Library. In the somewhat longer term, you’ve got Marceline and the Scream Queens, set for monthly release starting in July. The common thread? The supremely talented Meredith Gran, who took time out from drawing Octopus Pie and packing for the trip to TCAF to talk to us about Adventure Time, her own comics, and the importance of having a dog in the house.

Fleen: Ready to start?
Gran: Yup!

Fleen: Awesome. Let’s begin with Adventure Time; you’re about the 87th person in webcomics that’s found herself associated with AT in some way (and that’s not counting the people that work on the actual show). What do you think the appeal of working on somebody else’s creation is for all of these creators that have their own characters and stories?
Gran: Adventure Time is just so appealing to kids and adults. It’s very much an artist-driven series, and that really shows. I think the process itself is why so many artists want to be a part of it.

Fleen: So it’s like getting to do the biggest, bestest guest strip for a peer, instead of playing with a corporate character that’s been around since before you were born?
Gran: Yes, that’s a fair comparison.

Fleen: So how different is it doing a four-issue miniseries from your usual work patterns? Aside from the fact that you have an editor/checker making sure that you stay sufficiently on-model?
Gran: I believe it’s actually 6 issues [with 15 pages each] right now … unless I heard wrong.

Fleen: So 90 pages that make up one story — you’ve done Octopus Pie story arcs that have gone for a few months worth of updates, but no single story that long. How much of a shift is it to work with that much more story? Is it a matter of stretching or a matter of trying to fit all the ideas in?
Gran: Given the nature of the issues, it’s not too long of a story. The panel layouts will be less dense than my usual pages, and there’ll be lots of recapping. I’m also kind of splitting it into smaller episodes with a few ongoing plot threads, so it won’t be too epic, lengthwise.

Fleen: Do you think that your existing audience and your soon-to-be Adventure Time audience are going to overlap significantly or will these be two different sets of people? What will feel weirder —
if you get a student from your [upcoming] class at SVA saying, “I love Octopus Pie”, or “I love your Adventure Time comics”?
Gran: There’s inevitably going to be a lot of overlap. Most of the people who found out about the series off the bat knew about Octopus Pie. But Adventure Time will no doubt be more popular, and there’ll be more kids reading it. I’ll probably feel a little weird if someone under 13 reads both.

Fleen: Mind if we talk some more about that class you’re going to be teaching?
Gran: Sure.

Fleen: What’s the scope of the class — comics as independent creator in general, webcomics in particular? Focus on the artistic side only, or also talk about the business/strategy decisions that you have to navigate ?
Gran: It is a webcomic-specific class, and I intend to go very light on the business/strategy. My goal is to get people starting good webcomics and updating them, and ask questions about strategy when they actually need to.

Fleen: How long do you have to work with the students — how many hours per class, how many classes in the term?
Gran: I’m pretty sure it’s a 3-hour, once a week course, for 1 semester.
Fleen: Been practicing your “professor voice”?
Gran: Haha. I’m not fooling anybody.

Fleen: I imagine one nice thing about the class will be it puts you around other artists on a regular basis. Has it been a transition for you since Pizza Island closed up shop to work more on your own?
Gran: Oh, yes. I work in my room a whole lot these days. It’s fine mostly, but the company of artists will be nice.

Fleen: It’s all just rappers¹ and dogs for days on end, huh?
Gran: Yes, we all play tug o’ war.

Fleen: You got the rights back to your first three books recently. With There Are No Stars In Brooklyn [published via Random House, incorporating the first three books] pretty close to sold out, what’s next for you on that end of things? Get the original three books back into print, or the stories since the end of Listen At Home²?
Gran: That’s something I’m currently working out. In all likelihood No Stars will find a new publisher. I’m definitely anxious to get it back into print.

Fleen: One of the things I really like about Octopus Pie is the sense that while characters are doing things, the other members of the cast aren’t static. It’s all well and good for Eve to spend a couple days getting thrown out windows by espresso cultists, but at the same time, Will and Aimee are having a quiet moment to themselves. Which characters are we going to get a peek in on next? Who’s demanding screen time in your head?
Gran: They’re all demanding screen time! And it’s a challenge deciding what to do next, because I want to keep the stories varied. I think Puget Sean and Marigold will be getting a story pretty soon.

Fleen: I’ve always wondered if Puget Sean had any stories in him. How about Manuel? Will we ever get a story entirely from his POV?
Gran: Probably not from his POV, since he doesn’t really have any brains. But there will be a story where Manuel’s role is pretty significant.

Fleen: Any other things that you’re waiting to get to? If there was a magic wand that you could wave over yourself and get the time each week to do one more project, what would you want to work on?
Gran: I’d definitely do some more animation. It takes so long, but I love making it, and start to miss it after a while.

Fleen: That’s everything in my notes. Anything that you wanted to bring up or promote?
Gran: Nah. You’ve covered the two things I do all day!
Fleen: Comics and playing with Heidi?
Gran: Yes, thank god for that dog.

Fleen thanks Ms Gran for taking the time to talk with us, and for revealing her secret to success: make comics all day long and play with your dog.

¹ Gran’s housemate is noted nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot.

² Comics from August, 2010 to the present day are not yet collected in print.

I’m Like A 13 Year Old Girl: The Brad Guigar Interview

I have a question for you: Who’s the webcomicker with the tricks that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?


Ya damn right. Brad Guigar is well known in the world of webcomics, and having recently made the jump from working for The Man, we at Fleen sat down with Guigar (via Google Chat) to talk about how he made the shift, what he’s doing now, and what we can expect to see from him in the future. First thing he did was to find the smiley functionality:

Fleen: Of course the first thing you go for is a smiley. You’re laughing out loud right now, aren’t you?
Guigar: HA! I am now! I’m like a 13 year old girl. I can’t text without a smiley.

Fleen: Okay, first question: you’ve been in newspapers for essentially your adult life, so you’ve been through newsroom reductions in the past, and knew that your shift out was coming sooner or later. When did you first start making concrete plans for the jump to full-time cartooner?
Guigar: About the time my older son was born. He’ll be ten in June. I had a serious setback at the Daily News, career-wise, in 1999. It kinda snapped me out of the “I’m going to be a career newspaper artist” mode I had been in. I was so furious¹ about what had happened, I dusted off my old comic-strip submission to the syndicates I had shelved years earlier. Four months later, I posted Greystone Inn4 on the Web for the first time.

Fleen: So when did Angry Young Brad figure the jump would be? If you started laying groundwork 10 years ago, it wasn’t with the intent to jump ship right away.
Guigar: Ten years ago, that wasn’t even really a possibility. But it was easy to see that it wasn’t that far off, either.
I’m an optimist. I figured it would be one of those inevitable conclusion things and I’d just quit work and become a cartoonist.

Then, my wife5 and I decided to start our family. That changed things. I could have made the argument to leave the newspaper years ago, but that would have meant two things: Less security for my boys and no health insurance. So I decided to figure out a way to do both.

Fleen: I don’t remember if you made it public knowledge that you were basically one person away from a layoff last year? Is that when the active planning started? A The next time this comes around, I’m going to be ready sort of thing?
Guigar: Oh yeah. It got real then. The conversation between my wife and I stopped being daydreamy and started becoming more actual preparation for the inevitable.

Fleen: So you started making family-related plans, but you also would have been making cartooning plans: With more time, I can do x, y, z to grow my business. Anything from that side you can share?
Guigar: I’ve known for a while that I wouldn’t be able to grow my business further until I was able to spend more time on it. For the foreseeable future, that’s going to mean a stepped-up presence with things like the new monthly download I launched this [past] week. Down the road, definitely more merchandising than I’ve been able to do in the past. By summer, a stepped-up book-release schedule, and maybe a couple of new things.

Fleen: Let’s talk about the monthly download thing. A couple of years ago, a number of webcomickers were flirting with premium content (like through [the now-defunct] AssetBar) so that you could see development sketches, or watch strips being drawn a day or two early. These days, that’s all gone away, and even more will ‘cast their drawing of the strips.

This is different — you pay a small amount, you get a full month’s worth of strips up to a month before everybody else. We’re about four days into the experiment, how is it working?
Guigar: Well, first off, I don’t see the online offering of my daily strip as the core product. The core product is the strip itself. The Web site is the engine that makes everything possible. Everything else are profit centers — books, downloads, merchandise, etc. So as long as I keep the engine going, as long as my revenue streams don’t interfere with one another, I can put together a business.

Fleen: So you see it as less “premium content” and more (as Howard Tayler might say) “get paid twice or three times for the same drawing”?
Guigar: Absolutely. This is not premium content. This is content.

This is not premium content. This is content.

Fleen: So how is the experiment working? You had a number in your head as to how many people would go for it, and how quickly.
Guigar: Not only have I hit the “magic number” in my head, but orders have continued to come in after the initial-day offering. That’s what sealed it. I unveiled this on April 6, six days into the month, and the response was still strong. Next month, when I’m able to offer it at the end of April, going into May, I’m hoping to see an even stronger response. Not only from the people who perceive a better value, but from people who didn’t quite know what to make of this thing when I first announced it.

This is something that no one has ever launched in webcomics (that I know of). I’m offering the entire month of Evil, Inc in advance. People that don’t want to pay aren’t penalized in any way … their reading experience is unchanged. But people who DO buy it, get to read my strips the way they read best — in a continuous narrative.

Oh… and I don’t want to say another word before I take time to praise the unsung hero in all of this … Ed Ryzowski, who colors Evil, Inc, did double-time on several weeks of strips to make this happen. The man is a phenomenal talent, and I’m extremely lucky to have him working with me.

Fleen: Let me spitball here for a second, because you said “continuous narrative”, which is how you’ve always pitched your printed collections. I can imagine Brad Guigar looking at the continuous narrative of the monthly downloads, and the continuous narrative of the annual collections. I can imagine him looking at the income from the monthlies as free money that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. And I can imagine him setting that money aside and not touching it until it’s time to pay the printer for that next annual collection.

Did you just invent a self-Kickstart mechanism?

Guigar: That’s an awful good spitball you got there. Depending on the strength of the response, that could be completely possible. But I want to make this point: I don’t want the digital download to fund the books. I want the digital download to be its own thing, and I want the books to be their own thing. And Kickstarter has become something that has evolved way beyond funding a project. It has become a community experience. I don’t know that it could be replaced very easily just yet.

Fleen: Interesting take. So what are you spending your additional time on? You left the 9-to-5, got on a plane to Seattle the next day, and have just wrapped your first Monday-Friday working solely for yourself. What are you spending all those additional hours on, aside from having actual evening times with the wife and sons?
Guigar: Oh, man, I can’t even explain how awesome it has been to sit down to have dinner with my family every night. This week has been a tremendous joy. Wednesday night, I came home at 6, had dinner, watched TV with the boys and fell asleep on the couch. It was bliss. Thursday, I snapped out of it, and made sure I got work done after dinner.

As far as getting extra stuff done, I haven’t experienced that yet, but that’s mostly because I’ve been trying to catch up with the stuff that I fell behind on doing Emerald City Comic Con.

Fleen: So what can we expect to see from Team Guigar this year that those additional 1500–1600 hours will let you develop?
Guigar: I have tons of ideas that I’ve been trying to get to for the past few years. I have a concept for a graphic novel aimed at children, I have ideas that I want to implement at Webcomics Dot Com, and I have a few thoughts on how I’m presenting my work overall on the Web.

Fleen: I was watching your status shift from typing to entered text and back again — how much did you end up deciding to redact there?
Guigar: HA!6 Caught me! I just don’t want to tip my hand too much at this stage of the game. Some of the stuff I have in mind simply might not work. Some of it might evolve. And some stuff might die on the vine.

Fleen: And, fundamentally, you’re not much of a LOOK AT ME I RULE kind of guy.
Guigar: I guess that depends on who you ask. But it’s not exactly something that I’m very comfortable with.

Fleen: You and Scott Kurtz caught some heat back in December when you made an open offer to consult with comics syndicates on The Future, then amended the offer to offer your ideas to the highest bidder. When can we expect to see that?
Guigar: That kinda fits right into this conversation, doesn’t it? I mean webcomics have been around for better than ten, twelve years now. And, aside from the influence of new tech (social media, digital tablets, etc.), webcomics haven’t really changed in their approach to a significant degree during that time. This whole conversation is about an innovation that I’m introducing that’s — to the best of my knowledge — unseen in webcomics at large. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s also a completely new way to envision a webcomic.

Take a look at how Scott has re-purposed his Web site. If you look closely, you’ll see some very important changes in how he’s positioning himself to his readers. He’s not just a webcartoonist. He’s pushing towards something greater than that. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking that we were offering the syndicates. And, yes, it’s been pointed out to us countless times that we didn’t submit our offer in triplicate on notarized, cotton-fiber paper. We get that. Needless to say, we weren’t able to get anything started. And I’m kinda disappointed about that, because I would have loved to have been able to delve into that particular puzzle.

Fleen: Okay, one more question, which brings back an old controversy. A couple years ago during a recording of Webcomics Weekly, you were interrupted by your son, who’d been in a fight with a friend over whose dad could draw Martian Manhunter better. Now that you have time, will you be settling that My dad can beat up draw Martian Manhunter better your than your dad argument once and for all?
Guigar: Oh yeah! Y’know, we never did have that showdown, did we? He’s an abstract painter in real life. I think it would be a pretty cool competition. Luckily, he works in oils. And oil-based paint and J’onn J’onz share a rather unique Achilles heel.

Fleen: You’ve got to resolve this, Brad, or risk disappointing your son for life. I can already hear Cat’s In The Cradle in the background.
Guigar: God, I hate that song.
Fleen: Now I know what to get your for your birthday7 .

Fleen would like to thank Brad Guigar for taking the time to talk with us. As a final note, please enjoy this entirely out-of-context quote that didn’t make the final edit:

Fleen: You’re stroking your beard right now, aren’t you?
Guigar: Full-on mustache-twirling

¹ They say this cat Brad is one bad mother …²

² Shut your mouth!³

³ I’m talkin’ ’bout Brad.

4 Not to be confused with the Greystone Inn.

5 He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.

6 For the full effect, readers are encouraged to click here and skip to about the 7:40 mark.

7 I didn’t get it for him for his birthday.

On The Kicking Of Skulls And Other Pleasantries

Firstly, some things I missed when sick (boo, hiss) last Friday: the irrepressible KC Green not only kept TopatoCo from burning down while his indenture-holders Jeff and Holly¹ were off in the Bahamas, he also hit Gunshow #500 in a suitably Snakespearean fashion.
Also, for those planning out what to do in the coming week, Angela Melick² will be giving a talk on writing comics at the Vancouver Public Library on Monday, 6 February, starting at 7:00pm. Watch out for the crazed, killer squirrels.

Also, in today’s Holy crap, did you see the OoTS Kickstarter? update, Rich Burlew has now exceed the previous highest-funded comics project on Kickstarter by nearly 150%, and is rapidly closing in on a quarter of a million friggin’ dollars after less than ten days. I’m putting the over/under at US$325,000, and the supporter tally at an even 5000 pledges. Of course, if the pledges get a second wind, we’ll see numbers that may take years to be equalled.

Now, to business³. Last week saw the debut of Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers on Keenspot, the news of which was previously discussed. Mr Zub has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the web-release version of SK, why the parallel channels for comics distribution, and what to expect in the future. But for those with impatient tendencies, here’s the money quote:

In our first week at Keenspot we had more unique IP visits (i.e.: new readers) than all three printings of Skullkickers #1 combined.

For full context, read on.

Fleen: Other creators have taken comics-on-paper and transitioned to the web as a means to spread their back issues to new audiences while maintaining a print line. Others have gone further and shifted entirely creator-owned comics to online for first publication. Given that your experiment with Skullkickers online is a week old, any idea which direction you’ll end up taking?

JZ: It’s too early to say which strategy would work best for Skullkickers. We’re definitely releasing our new story arc through Image as issues starting in April. Once we see how well that does, and if the online serialization of older issues helps sales, then we’ll be better informed to make that kind of decision.

Fleen: From a logistical standpoint, what made you decide to go with Keenspot instead of using the Skullkickers domain you already had?

JZ: The Skullkickers website has become a catch-all place for people to find out information, get comic previews, see reviews, and find out about things like the upcoming Munchkin card game expansion. If Skullkickers continues to grow then I’d like to be the hub for every aspect of it, not just comic pages.

If the Keenspot site picks up enough steam then it’s possible I’d redirect the .com address to it at some point and integrate the other material as part of the webcomic site. We’ll see how it goes. All of this is an experiment. I feel like it’s one that will help us grow, but it’s not a certainty.

Fleen: Skullkickers has a third story arc that’s getting ready to debut, and you’ve mentioned that the full story you want to tell would take six or seven arcs, if the sales could sustain it that long. Does the possibility of running the comic online without having to make the costs of printing / publishing / distribution make it more likely we’ll see that full story?

JZ: Yeah, it’s absolutely possible. I see the comic online as a way to engage new readers, bringing them onboard the story we’re building, showing them the great stuff we’ve already done and, day by day, make them a fan of the series. At that point it’s easy for them to get all caught up with our trade paperbacks, issues or digital comics if they’d like.

If the series keeps sustaining its creative costs, on any and all platforms, I’d be thrilled to tell the master story I have all planned out, dragging our monster mashing idiots all over the place wrecking every trope and setting imaginable as we skewer the grand-daddy of all fantasy stories, the “heroes of destiny” cliché.

I want people to enjoy Skullkickers and I’m not picky about how they’re doing that. In print or online – it’s all comics and it’s all viable. The divide between physical and digital media is breaking down in video, print and audio. They’re not really “webcomics” any more, they’re just comics.

Fleen: Okay, let’s talk about creative costs a little more. Creating/printing/publishing/distributing floppies of Skullkickers: considering all the people that need to be paid requires x number of readers buying the comic to just break even. You aren’t even making any money, you’re just paying everybody else associated with the book.

Creating/not printing/production work/hosting Skullkickers on the web: same deal, but this time you need y number of readers for the ad rates to hit that break even point. What’s the ratio of x/y? Any idea how many readers of the comics you have that aren’t actually buying it (e.g.: the entire population of Russia), who can now be contributing to your financial well-being?

JZ: As the web archive deepens, our pageviews will tend to go up because each new reader is getting caught up, contributing a whack of pageviews all in one day as they do so. Ad campaign payout rates also fluctuate a lot from month to month. Those two factors change the math of it quite a bit.

If we’re talking readers who are only reading the latest page every day and that’s it (1 pageview per reader per weekday) that number balloons quite a bit, as you might imagine. In that not-really-realistic scenario we’d need about 20+ times as many readers as we have right now in print to cover our monthly issues just in ad view payout money.

That sounds like a massive increase, and it is, but in our first week at Keenspot we had more unique IP visits (i.e.: new readers) than all three printings of Skullkickers #1 combined, so we’re off to a strong start out the gate.

My fingers are crossed that a combination of web pageview ad payouts, print comic sales, digital comic sales, trade sales and convention sales will work together to keep the series running strong so I can tell the entire story I have planned.

Fleen: If Skullkickers did shift to an only-print-the-trades model, would we still get those post-arc guest issues?

JZ: I intend to keep those going, yes. Our Tavern Tales collaborations are far too fun for us to skip out on. I’d be thrilled to get comic superstars like Scott Kurtz, Ryan North or Rich Burlew onboard for a Skullkickers Tavern Tale.

Fleen: We both know that you’re not going to answer, but I have to ask: when do we learn Baldy and Shorty’s real names?

JZ: They have names? Who told you that? :)

Fleen thanks Jim Zubkavich for his time, and also for comics that feature enormous slavering monsters getting kicked in the head because that’s awesome.

¹ Don’t call her “Tallahassee”. Just … don’t.

² Right-hand rule represent.

³ If you mentally pictured Mark Wing-Davies and David Dixon toasting To business!, I like the way you think.

Extra Update: Jess Fink Speaks!

First, go read this. Then come back and enjoy the candor of Jess Fink regarding art, jerks, and her fists.

Fleen: Art is all about appropriation and reworking, but this is at least the — third? fourth? — fairly obvious direct copy of your work by different parties. What is it about your work that makes you such a high-profile target for these situations?

Fink: There is a great deal of difference in being inspired by a work and completely copying it. I’ve been inspired by a ton of artists and it’s reflected in my work I’m sure, but that is the outcome of living within the art community and growing up with it. After cookie loves milk got printed there was a swarm of food based shirts, peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard and if they were inspired by my design it wouldn’t bother me.

I think the reason It’s been stolen so many times is that the art is fairly simple. I’m just playing around with the idea of cookies being good with milk, it’s something everyone understands. I’ve made other designs for Threadless that are much more illustrations rather than funny concepts and those never get ripped off (not that I’m daring anymore) because it’s a much more complex thing to copy. The thing with simple designs is that you can just take the idea and make art that is slightly different, that way they think no one will notice who they stole it from. Obviously I also can’t hold a copyright on the idea of cookies being good with milk, but I can take action against people who blatantly copy and even trace my designs.

Fleen: In a weird way, is it flattering that so many people want to copy your designs?

Fink: No! Haha. A lot of people ask this and it’s really not! Every time I get an email about some Cafe press store selling cookie loves milk rip-offs or a big name department store selling a trace or some shop in Hong Kong printing exact copies it just completely ruins my day. You don’t get paid an awful lot to make shirt designs so feeling like you are getting exploited is never fun. If it were just something similar someone made that they weren’t selling it would be a completely different story, but I know these places are making money off of something that is mine.

Fleen: This is a Threadless shirt design, and they hold the copyright to be defended. In a perfect world, what would they do now?

Fink: Well it might not be a perfect world but it might be a polite one at least! In the past when dealing with these situations Threadless has granted me the authority to take legal action myself.

Fleen: What would make it less likely for you to be targeted in this way?

Fink: I’m not really sure. Less jerks in the world? Science needs to find a way to see if a person is a jerk or not right when they are born! “It’s a girl! Oh…I’m sorry, it’s also a jerk.”

Honestly I think more people need to be aware of art theft and how often it happens and how wrong it is. There are people who just appropriate things without even thinking that it’s stealing. Someone once sent me a shirt with a panel from my comic, Chester 5000 on it. It was cut up in with a bunch of panels from other black and white comics. I would assume that the person who made the shirt just thought they were making a shirt covered in cut-outs from cartoons, not realizing that you can only use art from the public domain. I don’t think most people are actually taught what intellectual property means.

Fleen: What do you think drives people to engage in such blatant copying?

Fink: I think it’s just ignorance and in the case of Todd Goldman simply wanting to make a buck by any means possible. He churns out copy after copy of other people’s work, it’s the quantity over quality technique. He thinks, “If I make enough crap someone will buy at least one.” And at this point it’s really pretty disgusting since he knows he is blatantly ripping off hard working artists and he’s been involved in so many legal battles for it, it’s hard to imagine being such a nasty person.

Fleen: Todd Goldman has tossed lawsuit threats over copying accusations in the past. Do you feel that speaking truthfully about this — “situation” — puts you at any risk?

Fink: It’s always a little scary dealing with situations like these but I feel that I have enough evidence against Goldman that I can talk freely. His rip-offs of my work are far from coincidental since he actually offered me a job back in 2008, telling me he loved my Lil’ Soap and Cookie Loves Milk designs and then instead of giving me work apparently decided it was more profitable to just rip me off.

Fleen: How long before somebody starts passing off Chester or Time Traveling Jess as their work? How badly will you beat them?

Fink: SO HARD. I will beat them with all of my fists at once! And then Top Shelf will beat them too! Both books (Chester 5000 and We Can Fix It) are due out next year and honestly I’m excited but kind of scared to death!

Fleen thanks Ms Fink for her time and openness, and reiterates that Mr Goldman has been invited to respond via his representatives, but has not done so yet. Spread the word and do what you can, my minions.

Coming Soon To A Store Near You

Also? This hedgehog totally made a sign that says "POOP".

I trust that everyone here has heard the old saying about the fox and hedgehog — how the fox knows many things (i.e.: every sneaky trick in the book, and some that aren’t), but the hedgehog knows one big thing (i.e.: how to curl up into a spiny ball with no weak points), and that’s why no fox has ever eaten a hedgehog.

By this measure, Chris Yates is probably two hedgehogs, because he knows two Big Things: expressive face-making (of the sort that you mother always warned you against, because it would get stuck) and his way around a scroll-saw. The former is key to his photo webcomic, Reprographics, and the latter to his shop full of various toys and the puzzles known as Bafflers.

The latter have brought him to the attention of Ceaco, one of the largest designers and publishers of jigsaw puzzles in the world. As Yates shared with us yesterday, he and Ceaco are now partners:

After six months of talks and prototyping, today I signed a three-year licensing contract.

What does this mean? It means I’ll be able to get production Bafflers out to a much much broader market, for a very reasonable price, while maintaining the same aesthetic and quality you expect from my work. And quite possibly, I might make a buck or two.

Yates was kind enough to answer some of our questions on this exciting new development.

Fleen: So, how did you end up with the publishers of puzzles to Thomas Kincade, Painter of Light™?

Yates: Well, Gary, I was just minding my business one day back in June, y’know, making puzzles, comics, toys, y’know the usual. And then all of a sudden this dude Jason from a big puzzle and game manufacturer emails me and just found my work, and is super-excited. We talk on the phone later that day and agree to see if we can’t make some kind of production Bafflers available to the masses.

Over the six-month viability and development process, (VP of Development) Jason and Ceaco at large have treated me with respect and seem truly excited to break some ground, making something the mainstream puzzle market hasn’t seen before.

But to answer your question directly, Jason said he was just surfing the web for interesting illustrators for work, but I only had one, expensive, highly clicked Project Wonderful ad for my puzzles up that very day at Questionable Content. So yes.

Fleen: Are you doing original Baffler designs, or have they licensed some of your existing designs?

Yates: Ceaco and I will be working together to adapt previous designs I’ve made in painted wood for the initial series. It’s been and going to be a tricky process, but I’m confident we’re going to get some great results.

The production Bafflers will still be inlaid tray puzzles, printed on chipboard, with graphics directly taken from an extensive spray-paint mottling “library” I am providing. Ceaco is creating custom dies to cut each of the Baffler designs, so they will be just as lovely and tough as my original.

Fleen: Since most of us probably aren’t puzzle afficianados, give us some scope — how many puzzle designs do these people publish each year, how many copies, in how wide a market?

Yates: Ceaco is a gentle giant, one of the largest North American jigsaw puzzle companies, selling and distributing world-wide, via many imprints and licenses. They sell jigsaw puzzles everywhere you can find them. From specialty game shops like It’s Your Move to Barnes & Noble and Target, it’ll be out there!

I am not exactly sure how many other folks’ work Ceaco pick up a year, nor their exact distribution figures, but I do know they are selective and successful, so hopefully that is a good sign!

Fleen: Any idea how many copies they’re going to print of your designs? How many designs, and over what time frame?

Yates: We’re starting with 3 “abstract geometric” designs for the first production run, but there will likely be more designs added in if everything goes well. There will be plenty of them, is all I can say. Put them on your Xmas (next years) wishlist, they should be available officially in stores October 2010, but if all goes to plan, we may have some ready a little earlier than that.

Fleen: Are they putting your designs into a definite price band, or will it vary with the size/complexity?

Yates: The first three will all be around 8″x8″, so they will definitely be affordable and probably around the same price mark. Some bigger or smaller ones may be in the works, we shall see….

Fleen: What’s the name of this line of puzzles? Are they all “Bafflers”, or do they have individual titles, and does the Chris Yates name/website/mention of wooden originals make it onto the packaging?

Yates: “The Baffler by Chris Yates: X” will be the title of the product! This is my thing, Gary-O! Copyright and signature on the back, man! (“X” being the name of the specific design of course).

Fleen thanks Chris Yates for his time, and encourages everybody who knows a puzzle fan to keep their eyes open for the new mass-market offerings. And if those fans like the chipboard jigsaw puzzles, be sure to point them to the originals.

What We Learned 2: Electric Boogaloo


Editor’s note: When last we left our intrepid heroes, Howard Tayler was recounting the things he learned at the Success in Comics seminar the weekend before. Tayler had just spoken about opportunity cost and his experiment in alternate revenue streams for 2009: XDM, an RPG manual and the first non-Schlock material to be published by Tayler. We now rejoin our adventurers as Tayler wonders if he will be asked how the book is doing, when suddenly …

Fleen: How’s the book [XDM] doing?

Tayler: Quite well, especially when you consider the track record of independently released RPG materials. We’re at the very top of the small-publisher curve. The authors are extremely pleased, and have been well paid. It is not earning me money as quickly as Schlock books do, though, so I need to bust my tuckus and get Resident Mad Scientist ready for print. The kids need new shoes.

I’m still thrilled to be part of the XDM franchise, and if I sound even the tiniest bit disappointed it’s only because I’m accustomed to selling 2000 books in a month of pre-orders as opposed to six months of steady sales.

Fleen: From the descriptions I read online before the seminar, and from some of the summaries at The Daily Cartoonist, I saw “self syndication” as a recurring theme. Does traditional syndication have a future? Must it be much smaller than it was before, on the scale of the individual or small company instead of massive media corporations?

Tayler: My opinion on this grows out of the latest concept that blew my mind. Seth Godin said It’s easier to find content for your audience than audience for your content. Webtoonists struggle to find audiences, but once they’ve got ’em, look what they do! Penny Arcade launched a convention to rival Dragon*Con! Historically, we have looked at syndicates as gatekeepers to a large audience. The fact of the matter is that they are not.

Who “owns” the audience for a syndicated comic strip like Cathy or Beetle Bailey? It’s not the syndicate, and it’s certainly not the cartoonist. It’s the newspaper editor. These are the guys who have been doing the easy work of finding content for their audience. The problem they have now is that their audience is aging, and up-and-coming audiences are not subscribing to papers.

Those up-and-coming audiences … we all want a piece of them. If newspapers, syndicates, or cartoonists have a future in the coming world it is as owners of audience.


What We Learned From Each Other

Doesn't look the sort to be wearing big stompy boots, does he?

Editor’s note: So a week ago, Howard Tayler — webtooner, husband, father, onetime software industry small-m mogul, and generally godly fellow — made his way to that modern-day debauchorama known as Las Vegas. What could make an upstanding gentleman brave such a den of iniquity? The opportunity to learn ways to better his craft and business at a weekend seminar that brought together people from the worlds of syndication, gag cartooning, strip cartooning editorial cartooning, and webcomics.

Sanity intact, no quickie annulments on file with Clark County registrars, hopefully zero warrants, and an unknown number of trips to New Rock later (word to the wise: don’t count on your bad deeds “staying in Vegas”), Tayler was kind enough to sit down in our virtual studios for a chat about the experience. That is to say, we’ve been bouncing emails back and forth, and today Fleen is happy to present the first portion of that interview.

Fleen: Okay, let’s start with the easy one: what was the topic of your presentation? You mentioned it was along the lines of what you learned, but you must have had some structure in mind before you went live.

Tayler: I knew what I did not want to present. Most of those at the event had seen my Free Content Business Model presentation on YouTube, and repeating that would have been bad form, especially since some of the data was two years old in 2007, and is demonstrably erroneous.

I didn’t have a firm presentation in mind when I got on the plane. I’m comfortable shooting from the hip, I knew I was going last, so I figured I’d let thoughts coalesce during the event.

What I ended up presenting was Concepts That Have Blown My Mind. It was a tour of some important things I’ve learned, things that have altered the landscape of my mind. They included mundane things like the principle of Opportunity Cost, and complex, disputable concepts like Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan and Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovations. Each was presented anecdotally in the context of where I was in life at that time, and how learning these things shaped my decisions.


Interesting Times

Did you catch this? David Morgan-Mar ((PhD, LEGO®©™etc), educator of scientific notions and webcomicker of note, got stopped and mildly searched on his holidays in London on suspicions of terrorism for photographing one of the most-photographed landmarks in England. What’s that? You wanted proof? Here y’go, Sparky. Of course, it’s possible that officer in question wasn’t really so officious as to detain Morgan-Mar on such idiotic grounds — it’s possible that he was a time-traveller, and well aware of the hideous pun that was about to be foisted on the world, and rightly decided it was weapons-grade. For shame, fear-based society, and for shame, Dr Morgan-Mar.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at another kind of interesting times: I recently had the opportunity to talk with Holly Post, VP of Special Projects at TopatoCo (“the world’s largest webcomics merchandise company, and probably at least in the top 20 of the hemisphere’s best internet e-stores in general”) about the company’s recent growth, plans for the future, and whether or not they can stay weird and still deal with more serious businesses.

Fleen: Let’s start with the basics: how large is TopatoCo at the moment?

Post: Counting Jeffrey [Rowland, webcartoonist and TopatoCo supreme leader] and myself, we have four full-time employees, three part-time, and another hire on the way [at TopatoCo headquarters in Easthampton, Massachusetts]. Also, [David] Malki ! is our Director of Marketing [in Los Angeles]. By Christmas season (which starts in October for us), we’ll probably have to add somebody just to handle the print-on-demand tasks.

Fleen: Given the pretty basic nature of the work — I’m guessing folding a lot of t-shirts — what’s the appeal of TopatoCo. Why shouldn’t I just go work at McDonald’s instead?

Post: For starters, we pay better than McDonald’s. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, folding shirts and listening to podcasts. You’ll start out on general tasks and as we’ve seen what people are good at, and as the need for delegation comes up as we grow in new directions, we add new responsibilities. We’re in the planning stages of offering benefits and insurance — we’ve been shifting from a sole proprietorship to becoming a corporation, now we have to start looking at grownup things.