The webcomics blog about webcomics

Dammit, This Was Supposed To Post Yesterday Automatically

You’d think three-plus years into this “blogging” thing I’d be able to control my own posts better. Ah, well.

Observant readers of may have noticed a strip running yesterday with little fanfare — Steven Cloud has wrapped up his thrice-weekly association with United Feature Syndicate’s website, and Boy on a Stick and Slither will no longer be updated there. Naturally, BOASAS (as the cool kids call it) will continue as it always has at its own site, but I wanted to talk to Cloud a little about this shift, aobut what it means for webcomics vis-a-vis the syndication model, and (of course) his terrifyingly impressive beard.

Fleen: Let’s recap briefly on the terms of your deal with United Features Syndicate: your comics ran three days a week at for about two years, and this was a syndication development deal, right? That is, with the stars aligning correctly, this could have led to a print syndication contract?

Cloud: Yes. Early in the process it seemed promising, but ultimately they weren’t willing to offer me a print contract.

Fleen: Why are you leaving

Cloud: It’s been 2 years and, with no real shot at syndication, I lost faith in the process. I began to feel constrained by the small size and missed the freedom of being independent. To be fair, [UFS acquisitions editor] Ted Rall was very supportive and accommodating. I could have stayed and switched to a larger size. There were no editorial constraints placed on BOASAS. I think what happened was that I put limitations on myself.

Being a syndicated cartoonist has always been a dream of mine, but deep down I knew that BOASAS wasn’t newspaper material. As a feature, it’s a bit too niche and “unfunny” to be a big hit with editors. Newspaper circulations are spiraling downward and the powers that be are becoming ever more conservative. This pleases their boomer-era readers, but alienates the younger internet generation. I don’t know anyone under 25 who subscribes to a newspaper. I’m sure there are a few, but not enough to sustain the industry. Newspapers are eliminating comics, not adding them. This is the reality of syndicated comics today.

Fleen: You’re the second member of Dumbrella that UFS signed; with Rich Stevens giving up his print syndication deal last year, and now you giving up the web deal, is there something fundamentally incompatible between the syndication model and the independence that webcomics creators have?

Cloud: Absolutely not. Both are valid business models and they’re not mutually exclusive. Cartoonists should consider every opportunity. Being independent feels right for BOASAS, but maybe one day I have idea for another comic that’s a good fit for the newspaper environment. The one thing I don’t want to do is force BOASAS into a safe area for the purposes of appealing to feature editors.

Fleen: What’s next for BOASAS? You have a signing with Ted Rall and Stephanie McMillan next week [editor’s note: 7pm on the 13th at Bluestockings Bookstore; McMillan and Rall also have one the previous day at Revolution Books, but what are your plans after that? Any more death-defiance in the cards?

Cloud: Yes. I’m looking forward to event with Ted and Stephanie. To be on the same bill with two of my favorite cartoonists is an honor. As for BOASAS, I’m switching to a larger rectangular size. It’s different from my original large square, but still allows me space to experiment and gives my “jokes” time to develop. I feel invigorated working with this new size. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’m not much of a planner. I want it to be fun again. I want to stop worrying about turning my comic into a business. I want to stick it to the man a lot more.

Fleen: How’s the beard doing? Keeping it in shape in case of emergency?

Cloud: The beard rages on!

Fleen thanks Steven Cloud for his time; you can meet him and his beard at the Dumbrella booth during New York Comic Con this weekend.

Maybe Not So Much

Only print pays. — Ted Rall, SPLAT! Symposium, 15 March 2008

You may have noticed some sidebar text at Diesel Sweeties last night:

As of mid-August, DS is ending its run in newspapers and going back to being web-only! Why? Because I’m an optimist, I opted out.

You may recall the coverage this page gave to Rich Stevens and his syndication deal a year and a half ago. Now he’s decided that the newspaper isn’t the place for him, which is odd. We’ve been told that for a cartoonist, syndication is the end goal, but in the past two years, we’ve seen two traditional, all-ages strips leave semi-syndication and now Stevens is leaving the full-bore deal. We at Fleen decided to talk to him about it.

Fleen: What’s the last day DS runs in papers?

Stevens: August 10, unless something changes.

Fleen: When do you turn in that last submission?

Stevens: Loan me Dr. Doom’s time machine and I’ll tell you! This may retcon my previous answer.


Webcomics + VC = The Future

Editor’s note: Joey Manley was kind enough to sit down with me during the opening hours of the just-concluded New York Comic Con to tell me what the ComicSpace/Webcomics Nation merger looks like six months in. John Boeck, one of the ComicSpace investors (more on his background below) was kind enough to join in. What follows is an edited presentation from my hand-written notes, with exact quotations indicated in italics.

Fleen: John, Joey’s previously referenced Alan Gershenfeld and Michael Angst, also from E-Line (and their bios are very interesting) in interviews and the like. Tell us a bit about your background and E-Line Ventures.

Boeck: A little background first — previous to forming E-Line, we were working various places in the world, building up self-sustaintaing ventures with social good as a goal. In India, we helped set up call centers — now there’s lots of call centers in India, but we set them up so a village could have a source of income and be self-sustaining [instead of corporate].

Fleen: Sounds like Grameen Bank.


Who Wants A Halfpixel?

Editor’s note: As reported yesterday, three members of Blank Label Comics have struck out into the wilds of Webcomicstan to try to make their fortunes away from the group. Their goal: a new association, Halfpixel, which beckons to them like an oasis in the desert. Will these three plucky upstarts succeed? We asked Brad Guigar, Kris Straub, and Dave Kellett just what the deal was, and how it fit in with Scott Kurtz‘s continuing plans for global domination.

Fleen: Why don’t we start with a bit of background—exactly what change will you guys be taking with respect to Halfpixel Studios?

Guigar: Dave Kellett, Kris Straub, and I will be leaving to form a new Halfpixel group with Scott Kurtz. The new Halfpixel will be much like the current Halfpixel—a place for collaborative efforts among the member artists—but with an added emphasis on comic-convention appearances and our joint projects like the Webcomics Weekly Podcast and the How to Make Webcomics book.

Kellett: With Halfpixel, we’ll all be a bit more independent with our strips and surrounding business. But whenever there’s a group project to be had or a new initiative where two or more of us could collaborate, we’ll be doing it under the Halfpixel banner.

Fleen: … and with respect to Blank Label? Are you guys getting breaking up with BLC, or are you agreeing to see other people?

Guigar: Dave, Kris and I—after an awful lot of discussion and debate—decided that we couldn’t split our energies between the two groups and do well by either. We’re leaving BLC. But we’re leaving as friends.

Straub: Yeah. The webcomic community seems to have collectively settled down from the drama that would have followed an announcement like this. It wasn’t fair to the guys at Blank Label (or the new endeavors at Halfpixel) for us to have our attentions divided. There’s only been well wishes and high expectations from everyone in both groups.

Kellett: One of the core things that’s always made Blank Label work is the idea that “everyone contributes�?. Everyone pitches in, and everyone reaps the benefits. But if we’re putting all of our free energies into Halfpixel, we can’t contribute to BLC … and we really felt it wasn’t fair to ride on other people’s effort.


Being A Discussion On Life’s Changing Priorities

Editor’s note: As we discussed last week, we have an interview with Dresden Codak creator Aaron Diaz; he discusses his decision to quit his job and become a full-time webcomicker, merchandise, and what it’s like leaping into the unknown. And we would be remiss not to note that in celebration of his impending lifestyle change, Diaz is running six days of guest strips starting today, and a brand-new episode of Dresden Codak on Sunday.

Fleen: What kind of job are you leaving?

Diaz: I do animations for training software for an airplane manufacturer. It’s possibly the most average and unremarkable job I’ve ever had.

Fleen: You promised comics every week — does that mean a full-bore Dresden Codak every week, or perhaps something less ambitious?

Diaz: I’m shooting for a full comic every week. The biggest cause for delay with previous updates is that I’m only really ever able to work on the comic on weekends. Freeing up my week should help move things along.


On Syndication: Little Dee Goes Her Own Way Again

Editor’s note: As noted previously, Little Dee will shortly be leaving, has restored its full archives, and will be simulcasting at Modern Tales. Fleen spoke with Little Dee creator Chris Baldwin about these turns of events.

Fleen: United Media has decided that they weren’t interested in Little Dee. In your time with them, did you get the idea that they knew what they wanted to do with the strip?

Baldwin: I can only conclude that they were not totally sure. Towards the end, the editorial feedback I was receiving was almost entirely positive, but they also felt it needed more development. If they did know what they wanted, it wasn’t trickling down.

Fleen: How is the strip different than it was 14 months ago? What’s better because of your UM deal, and where do you think you were held back from your full potential?

Baldwin: I think it was a great 14 months, and I didn’t feel held back. It can be difficult to take criticism, and so I went in planning to go with the flow and take the strip wherever they wanted it. But their feedback consisted almost entirely of basic text editing. Word choice and tightening the text. Always good things to learn. I don’t think it underwent any notable changes or changes I really object to. I might pursue some longer story lines, but have no current plans for any.


Interview With The Vampire Terror Suspect

Editor’s note: Matt Boyd was kind enough to talk to Fleen about his recent experiences; what follows is a lightly-edited transcript of a Gmail Chat session.

Matt Boyd: Heya.

Fleen: Hey. Cough twice if it’s not safe to talk.

Boyd: It’s all good.

Fleen: Okay, on a scale of one to ten, are you more a) pissed; b) surprised; c) depressed by this turn of events?

Boyd: Gonna have to go with b) surprised.

Fleen: Let’s back up a bit and give the readers some fill-in. You woke up with four detectives knockin’ on your door. What agency or department did they represent?

Boyd: According to the business card I have here, they were with the St. Mary’s County Bureau of Criminal Investigations.


Fleen Guest Column: David Hamilton In, “A Talk With Jeff Knooren”

Editor’s note: David Hamilton wrote to me last week; he’d done an interview with Jeff Knooren of A Murder of Crows and Out In The Morning, and wanted to know if we wanted to run it. See that, people? That’s initiative, and we like it. Without further ado, David Hamilton and Jeff Knooren.

Jeff Knooren is multi-talented. In addition to drawing and writing “A Murder of Crows� and “Out in the Morning,� Knooren is programming a simulation game (think the money-hungry greed of monopoly, but instead of dice rolls you have to make cutthroat management decisions.) He also designs and sells cat furniture.

He’s not afraid to share his opinion, and he makes it clear that he is not going to be intimidated by the “webcomics community.� I had the chance to ask him some questions about how and why he creates webcomics, and the artistic and commercial direction of webcomics in general.

David Hamilton: How does one get started drawing comics on the web?

Jeff Knooren: Everyone starts out with inspiration. They’ll see what someone else has done, and so the journey begins. It’s no secret that anyone can draw a comic. I mean, a comic is not much more than a few sketched lines, and some text bubbles. Just like anyone can direct a movie, or be an actor. But how many are actually good at it? What separates the good comics, from bad ones, is the refinement and mastery of storytelling.

It’s much more than just text boxes and sketches. There are lots of limitations placed on the author. You might think it isn’t limiting, because you can draw anything you want, and make each panel any size. But each panel must probably fit within a page. Also, the text bubbles cover up much of each panel. When I started, those things hadn’t occurred to me. You have to balance these things while conveying essential elements of a story.

It’s difficult to pick “the reason” the web is spawning hundreds of new comics a week. Probably the perception it’s easy, and the limitations of print comics don’t apply. Printed comics are more of a business, and therefore have Editors and deadlines to follow. The most important thing in print comics is doing the work on time, every time. These things really don’t matter on the web, and there is no-one to stop you from poisoning society, with whatever spills out of your head. But, creating a comic for the web has it’s own technical challenges. People who aren’t that computer savvy, usually draw their comics by hand, and scan them in.

Myself, I can’t draw much more than stick figures without a mouse.

Hamilton: What advantages and disadvantages are there to web publishing as opposed to print?


The Story Of A Girl And Her Kickass Boots

Editor’s note: Easter Eggy goodness over at Girl Genius today, and since it tosses a little love to The Devil’s Panties, I figured we at Fleen should do the same. Panties wrangler Jennie Breeden was kind enough to do an interview with us in the wake of the New York Comic Con last month, and it’s well past time that it ran.

For those of you who may not recall, at San Diego last year Breeden announced that she’d given notice at her day job and was making [web]comics full time. Six months in, how’s she doing?

Fleen: In the time since you quit the rent job, you’ve kept in the Daily Grind with The Devil’s Panties, self-published an ongoing comic book, and produced a fresh line of merchandise. What’s it like being The Hardest Working Woman In Webcomics?

Jennie Breeden: I severely doubt that. I do my fair share of slacking, I just cut a lot of corners. After a month and a half of the comic shop that I worked at still scheduling me, they finally let me leave. It’s surreal to walk into work every day going, What can I do today to get myself fired? Now I feel like I’m on Spring Break and any minute someone’s going to tell me I have to go back to work. It’s a little terrifying knowing that you’re responsible for figuring out how to get that paycheck to come in; I’ve gone nuts with merchandising and it’s a gamble. I’m making money with playing cards but losing it on puzzles; I just have to be careful not to spend my mortgage payments on merchandise that won’t sell.

Fleen: Part of your very hard work has been a punishing convention schedule — how many days are you going to be on the road this year? How are the conventions working for you? Have you seen a shift from “covering the table and travel costs” to “making a profit”?


I’ve got a case of the Tuesdays

The week I’ve had? You don’t want to know.

There’s an interview coming sometime this week, but it’s not today.

Or maybe there will be two next week.