The webcomics blog about webcomics

In Case Of Stairs, Here’s Some Fire

[Editor’s note: As in the past, these panel recaps are based on notes typed during the session; all discussion is the nearest possible paraphrase, except for direct quotes which will be italicized.]

I’m going to do something I don’t believe I’ve ever done. I’m going to ask you to go elsewhere (two elsewheres, actually) to figure out what Scott McCloud said in his spotlight presentation on the occasion of 25 years of Understanding Comics. The first thing to do is to track down a copy of the Comic-Con 2018 Souvenir Book, because on pages 140-145, you’ll find the text of the presentation that McCloud did for the opening 10 minutes or so of his session. The essay didn’t offer enough room for pictures, though (I counted 18, if all the cover photos of foreign editions of UC are separate items), so he added a bunch more for his reading of the same material — about 200 in all. Guy knows how to keep things rolling along.

The second thing you need to do (or maybe the first, since the first may be really difficult) is to click on the image up top. Jason Alderman had been unaware of the McCloud session until about 10 minutes before I was going to walk up there; he decided on the fly he needed to go when I mentioned that McCloud would likely talk about his next book, which will be on visual communications (a topic near and dear to Alderman’s heart, and mine). He had his pens, but no suitable sketchbook for his famed sketchnoting. I offered the use of my notebook, which resulted in both the sketchnote above (which you should immediately embiggen) and the fact that I now have an Alderman original sketchnote (muwaa ha ha ha).

Let’s be clear — Alderman and I sat in the same session, in adjoining seats. We both set out to capture the same content in real time. He produced an image, I took down 1205 words, many correctly spelled. What we learned from this is that the old ratio is wrong — a picture is work approximately 1.2 thousand words (and probably 1000 words longer that by the time I finish). Go study that picture; examine it closely, and then you can come back here for some context.

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Very well then: in the fall of 1991, during a rare tornado watch in Providence, Rhode Island, McCloud left the basement where he and his wife, Ivy, were huddling for safety when he heard the phone ring. The call was good — Kevin Eastman (of Ninja Turtles fame and lately fortune) was calling to say that his new publishing company, Tundra, was going to publish Understanding Comics.

To date, the book has outlived the publisher by approximately 24.8 years, and has become one of the most required pieces of reading on college campuses, with multiple disciplines using it to teach their stuff. It’s been translated into more than 20 languages. It has killed at least two publishers¹, and has a history intertwined with McCloud’s older daughter², as they were conceived, gestated, and birthed in parallel.

The book is a testament to McCloud’s obsession with how things work (more about that in a few moments), in that he couldn’t just make comics, he had to take them apart to see all that made them unique (particularly, during the Q&A, the fact that comics is the only artistic medium where past, present, and future exist together within human perception; music, movies, TV, plays, all the visual and performing arts depict now, a series of nows, but comics have those panels across time).

A professor who played doubles tennis with Will Eisner arranged an introduction, a job in production at DC happened to be near Books Kinokuniya in Manhattan a half decade before manga really made an impact in its first translations, and 15 years before it exploded into whole bookstore sections. Zot ran at the late Eclipse³ and started getting really good about the time he wanted to be spending time on UC4, meaning some of the most humanistic stories of that otherwise grimdark decade were done under duress.

Oh, yeah, and the first graphical web browser came out a few months after UC, which doesn’t mention computers once.

A slow start picked up momentum as the reorders came in, and kept coming; convention appearances became teaching gigs and seminars, symposia and workshops for corporations and academia. And still, it feels like unfinished business: for every project completed, ten more are rolling around in McCloud’s head, but so many readers (both those that read it back then, and those that have never known a world without it) are taking UC’s ideas out for a spin and creating their own takes on his theories.

Qs were chosen by Winter, with As from all three as appropriate; the first dealt with McCloud’s next book, which was the topic of the closing presentation, so we’ll hold discussion until then. Except to say that McCloud noted, The form of the book is a comic, but it doesn’t have “comics” in the name so it’s a big step for me.

A seemingly prosaic question got the best laugh of the hour: when was UC first used in a university setting? McCloud recalls that it was at Michigan State, but isn’t entirely sure of the timing. He once found himself humblebragging about the situation to Neil Gaiman: I remember talking to him, all these colleges are using my book, it’s a big deal and he said “I know, it’s like when all the women that line up at a reading to get their breasts signed” and I’m, “Yeah”. I’ve always found McCloud to be very modest about his accomplishments and the importance of his place in history, and I firmly believe that comes from the core of who he is; this little bit of perspective-setting surely didn’t hurt, though.

Asked about what he thought about the presentations of comics on mobile devices, and the tension between whole-page approaches and panel-to-panel scrolling, Ivy gave him a strict limit with a stern Five minutes. You know that last panel in UC with Sky in Ivy’s arms? She’s talking about how you just finished reading a couple hundred pages of his theories, but she has to listen to it all the time? Yeah, the presentation of comics on mobile interfaces falls into that category, leading McCloud to start with Thank you for the question, Pandora’s Box.

It’s a dilemma, in the literal sense — on the one hand people hate scrolling, but a lot of that comes from technical limitations that have been addressed. Panel-to-panel is more intuitive, making things like a little movie, but see above and how comics aren’t movies, movies are always now and you lose an essential part of comics in this way. But I don’t want to be the guy that insists on purity. Maybe it’s not technically comics by my definition, but are people reading it, are they enjoying it? Somebody invented a form that mutates my model, but it’s enduring.

Nevertheless, the form that accentuates the all-times nature of comics is essential; McCloud noted that Korean webcomics are all scrollers now (and they’ve brought the interface here, cf: Webtoons), and if that’s what they’re reading on phones, if you don’t take advantage, that’s a storytelling challenge (or possibly failure). He clearly had another 3-4 hours of rant in him, but stopped to get in one last question about his inspiration for The Sculptor:

[gesturing to Ivy] She’s my inspiration.

It’s a long-gelling story, one that a 25 year old McCloud started and a much older McCloud finished from a different place of technical, storytelling, and theoretical development. He likes that fact that the book got both a lot of love and a lot of hate, that nobody is indifferent. I achieved at least one of my goals which was to create narrative momentum — a lot of people told me they read a 500 page graphic novel in one sitting and that’s nuts.

And that left enough time for his second presentation, a preview of his next book on visual communications, on his absolute loathing of a plaque next to an elevator in a La Quinta motel in Tennessee and what he learned. It was called In Case Of Fire. This is the plaque, and he shared some of the interpretations of what this meant to people:

  • In case of a Goliath attack, hide in a companion cube and get upvoted to safety
  • Use chopsticks to remove cooked children from hot oven
  • In case of 2 fires, ride the elevator heading to the larger fire

He mentioned the difficulty he had getting information from public websites that are supposed to talk about areas affected by Southern California wildfires, all down to poor formatting, and contrasted with the experiences of Sky (who is functionally blind) and how accessibility is either granted or denied by the choices made. There are no neutral visual decisions, he half-shouted: scale, rotation, hue, saturation, wording, contrast, font, placement, all of them matter. His realization is that it doesn’t matter if you’re blind, or have neurological or language issues, we all have cognitive limits and all of us are served or not by visual design.

He brought up Google results for what the words are meant to convey: In case of fire use stairs, and filtering out the gags, went to work. How does this read for somebody that scans images left to right? An awful lot of people are wandering towards the fire or have simply turned their backs to it, but even those that don’t could be just as easily read as In case of stairs, here’s some fire or Have a pleasant stroll in the vicinity of fire or Skip merrily down some stairs away from fire. Even word choice affects interpretation: use is a bad word in this context.

Anyway, he said, that’ll be like 20 pages of the book.

Lots of things are going to be like 20 pages of the book; we’ve talked about the literal years of research he’s done, about how 90% of what he’s digging into will probably never be shared, but which will give him to context to decide how to prune down and present the key ideas of the 10% that does make it in. He’s evangelical about the topic, noting that Culture has recognized the importance of each and every word, but denies the importance of each and every picture, not to mention how satisfying great visual communications design is — think about the wordless, nested, entirely clear (yet complex) instructions on an airplane emergency evacuation card.

Look for In Case Of Fire: The Elements Of Visual Communication (a title which he hopes invokes Strunk & White, but which will be nowhere near as slim5) in the next couple. Come to think of it, he never did say couple what.

Asked in the closing seconds if he got angry at fonts like Papyrus6 or Comic Sans7, McCloud replied, Comic Sans doesn’t make me angry, fonts don’t make me angry. I look, I say “Wrong”, I change the font. He contrasted the very haphazard nature of Roman characters to the very deliberate and nature of written Korean, concluding Fonts don’t make angry, but they very rarely satisfy me. And he made a recommendation, so you’ll have something to read while waiting for the next couple: I’m Comic Sans, Dammit, (which appears to actually be titled I’m Comic Sans, Asshole, but there were kids present), which ran in McSweeney’s. Kids, maybe hold off on reading it until you’re older.

And with that, the presentation ended with applause, and then he took another hour in the hallway, talking to everybody that had something they wanted to share with him. As a bonus, there was a guy dressed as Sean Connery in Zardoz adjusting his loincloth about 3 meters away, but I don’t think Scott ever noticed; whether it’s researching a book or answering an earnest fan’s question, he is a master of the monofocus.

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¹ In a page full of small images captioned This is not a _____, the logo for Tundra is labeled This is not a publisher. By the time most purchasers of the first edition of 6000 copies read UC, that statement was true. When Denis Kitchen published the second edition through Kitchen Sink Press and had McCloud substitute the KSP logo for Tundra’s, the same thing quickly became true.

DC had their crack at it, with their “bullet” logo substituted in when they were the publisher; one might wonder if the curse shifted from the publisher as a whole to merely their cinematic universe offerings. It’s with HarperCollins now, and they wisely decided to let the DC logo stand.

² Sky, who wasn’t present with Ivy and younger daughter Winter, but had many stories about her shared. She didn’t exist when McCloud drew Ivy holding her on the last page of UC, but preceded the book into this world by approximately two weeks, meaning that last panel isn’t a lie.

³ McCloud’s really got a thing for defunct publishers

4 The “Earth stories”, still looked back upon by readers as the highlight of the series.

5 He’s mentioned a length of about 250 pages, but he also used that number the first time he told me he was working on The Sculptor, which came in at 496. Given all the research he’s doing, I will not be one bit surprised to see him go significantly long.

6 About which, let’s be real, there’s nothing wrong except rampant overuse.

7 About which everything is wrong.

Three Things To Uplift Your Spirits

It’s tough times, friends, but there’s always little bits of humor, hope, and a third thing that starts with h that I can’t think of at the moment. Let’s dive in.

  • Via my onetime sporting bet nemesis, news that the Multiplex 10 short-inspired and Multiplex 10 web series will continue … with your help:

    Since January, we’ve produced NINE videos in all (plus a couple of promotional things like the pitch video), with a tenth on its way in the next week or two.

    If we meet the $20,000 base goal, we can afford to produce at least TWENTY minutes of new animated content—(at least) FIVE new episodes of Multiplex 10: The Web Series and (at least) FIVE new movie reviews—to be released every one or two weeks, starting … well, as soon as possible. Minus approximately $1,800 for payment processing and Kickstarter fees, the base goal translates to a little over $900 per minute for design, animation, voice acting, sound, and music.

    That is super cheap for animation; in fact, it may be below the theoretical lower limit for animation costs. Details at the Kicker, do consider helping.

  • Via Comic Tea Party, the book club/discussion group/movable colloquium, a survey about comics and your habits in reading them. I’m very eager to see the results, so take a couple of minutes and let them know how you’re interacting with indie-slash-web comics, which you can do at the Google Form.
  • Via she’s been on hiatus for too long, welcome back to regular webcomicking, Danielle Corsetto dropped some news when I attended her Q&A in Philadelphia, part of her Big Ass Book Tour. She’s partnered up with Monica Gallagher to do a new webcomic that has as its focus providing solid sex info to young people that would otherwise not get much (or, sad to say, any truthful) sex education. The focus of the strip will be some recent high school grads learning how their bodies work.

    And, because it’s Corsetto, the learning will come courtesy of the dead sorority girl haunting a bottle of tequila in their house.

    BOO! It’s Sex launches today on Webtoons, with the first five episodes. Gallagher’s art is crisp, Mae Keller (who joins on the fifth episode) adds colors that do exactly what they’re meant to do (make the art pop without drawing too much attention to themselves), and Corsetto is just getting down to the facts as the fifth episode wraps. Time to learn about the clit, kids! At least, we will starting Tuesday, as the strip settles into its Tuesday/Thursday schedule.

    The only thing lacking? Corsetto admitted that she hadn’t thought about including her paranormal investigator characters in BOO! It’s Sex, but maybe we’ll get a cameo down the line. Come for the possibility of Ghost Kitty, stay for factual information about sex, reproduction, pleasure, health, and consent.


Spam of the day:

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Unless haptic feedback has gotten a hell of a lot better in the past week or so, clicking is a poor approximation to touching an ass.

Smart Ladies You Should Listen To. Also, Canadians

It’s been a long day, let’s get right to it.

  • Colleen AF Venable is more than one of the most influential people in comics publishing; she’s one of the most influential people in publishing, period. She’s in charge of the artistic direction of an entire imprint at Macmillan (and will even be able to share the name of that imprint in the next day or two), and between her trajectory upwards and Gina Gagliano’s new gig, we are going to look back at :01 Books as an incubator of publishing’s future movers and/or shakers.

    But I digress. I mention Venable today because she’s going to be delivering a webinar for all interested in the construction of graphic novels, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, specifically the France region. As of this writing, five slots remain for registration, with the session taking place on Saturday, 30 June at 5:00pm CET / 11:00am EDT. The registration will run you €35 if you’re a member of SCBWI, €50 if not. If you suspect that Venable will be saying very smart things¹, there’s also a 15 minute video feedback session available for another €30, although you’ll have to settle for being on the waitlist.

  • Christina Tran is no stranger to comics — she’s been nominated for the Cartoonist Studio Prize the last two years in the webcomics division, winning last year. She’s a polymath, though, with a long list of stuff she’s done at the front page of her site, which you should definitely check out if you’re ever feeling too good about your own accomplishments.

    Many of those things she’s done have been freelance, or offered up on a pay-as-you-wish basis, which makes her well acquainted with how people actually decide to pay (or not). To help people who may be confused about how to navigate the question about what they should pay (or if they should²), she’s released a flowchart to help you decide that is both well reasoned and beautiful to look at.

    How Much Should I Pay For This Sliding Scale Comic? has been through a number of revisions since it first hit a couple weeks ago, but seems to be in a final-ish form, so I’m pointing you to it now. It’s here, offered up under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license, making it free to adapt and share, provided you give proper credit and don’t charge for it. Print it out, laminate it, hang it somewhere in your sightline. It’s cool, just remember to tell yourself that it’s Tran’s work.

  • The 2018 Joe Shuster Award Nominations / Les nominés pour le prix Joe Shuster 2018 have been released, recognizing the best in comics from and by the storied nation of Canada. The Shusters have always had a good curation in their nominations, and this year is no exception.

  • In addition to the nominees for Webcomics Creator / Créateur de Bandes Dessinées Web — that would be Boum for Boumeries, Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon for Ménage à 3, Winston Rowntree for Subnormality, Ty Templeton for Bun Toons, Kelly Tindall for Strangebeard, Rob Walton for Ragmop, and Various for True Patriot Presents #2-6, you’ve got webcomics types recognized for Writer / Scénariste (Jim Zub), Artist / Dessinateur (Stuart Immonen, Ramón Pérez), and Cartoonist / Auteur (Jillian Tamaki).

    The Shuster Awards will be presented at Montreal Comic Con, which runs 6-8 July at the Palais des congrès, Montreal, QC. Fleen wishes the best of luck to all the nominees, there’s not a bad choice in the bunch.


Spam of the day:

Is your girlfriend getting suspicious texts?

If she is, don’t tell my wife.

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¹ She will.

² Spoiler: almost certainly yes.

Three Media

When the rules keep you from being able to act like a normal human being, it's time to ask where we went wrong.

You know I probably could have broken up all the news into several posts, but I couldn’t bear to not talk about any of the stuff that’s on deck today. My apologies in advance is this is more than you wanted to read, or if a scarcity of news in the coming days means there’s not much to discuss later in the week.

  • I received multiple packages of joy from the good folks at :01 Books since lasts we spoke, and it’s going to be very weird to not credit the until-now omnipresent Gina Gagliano¹ for these review copies. :01 no longer being a one-person-per-job-function kind of place, it looks like Sophie Kahn is the one who sent out All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Animus by Antoine Revoy, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (words) and Emily Carroll (pictures). Give me time to thoroughly read the, and we’ll talk.

    Additionally, I received a copy of Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (previously received and reviewed here), which means I now have an extra. Which means that one lucky reader is going to get a copy of Be Prepared in the mail, with the sole requirement that they ensure at least one age-appropriate reader (say, a kid from 9 up) gets to read it when you’re done. Pass it on, loan it out, whatevs … just make sure kids get to read it.

    If you want to be considered, send an email to me (that would be gary) who is the editor at this blog (Fleen), which is a dot-com. You have until I wake up on 1 June 2018 to get your entries in. Be aware, you may set the book down more than once because of feelings and or cringes of recognition. These are not bad things.

  • It’s tough to find any bit of positivity in the world of social media, but like some metaphor about something beautiful rising from the muck that I can’t be bothered to construct right now, there’s occasionally bits that restore your hope. So far today, I’ve seen three.
    • First, via Lucy Bellwood, a comics piece by Wendy MacNaughton about prisoners in the infamous San Quentin lockup confronting the reality that America’s prison population — thanks to mandatory minimums and three strikes laws — has a rapidly graying population; there are a lot of incarcerated people who are elderly, sickly, and approaching the end of their lives.

      Eight inmates — all lifers, which means we’re meant to understand they are the worst of the worst — have responded by asking to create a hospice program so that their fellow inmates don’t have to die alone. They aren’t approved yet, but if there’s any sanity in the prison-industrial complex, this will be approved and spread to other facilities yesterday.

    • Second, from Scott McCloud, a note that comics and medical care seem to be overlapping to a growing degree (cf: Cathy Leamy, who uses comics for medical education and outreach), and a pointer towards the newest instance he’s noticed.

      Therapy Comics is tackling the problems that arise when mental care services (in this case, in England) rely on a baseline level of literacy and facility in English; whether because those in need of services speak other languages, or because whatever prompts the need for mental health care keeps them from communicating effectively, comics can help provide interventions without relying on language.

      The practitioner behind Therapy Comics, Michael Safranek, has so far provided resources for improving sleep hygiene, dealing with panic disorders, and learning progressive muscle relaxation. Safranek’s asking for feedback, so if you think you could use some help in any of these areas, or if you’re well-versed in how to build effective comics, give them a good reading and let him know your thoughts.

    • Thirdly, from many, many people, a thread by Steve Lieber of Helioscope Studio in Portland on how to give art critiques that is the best I’ve ever seen. It focuses on what the person seeking feedback needs (both in terms of what the reviewer sees in the work and what the reviwee identifies as the direction they want to take their work).

      It mostly boils down to a small — but crucial — bit of empathy at the beginning: We only have a little time, so I’m going to talk about what I see that needs improvement in your work, but that doesn’t mean everything is wrong. Show me your best, tell me what kind of work you’re seeking, who do you emulate or look to for inspiration? The rest is a set of principles that Lieber applies to himself as he looks through the portfolio, and it’s deeply insightful. If you work with others in any kind of creative fashion, this is worth your time.

  • The hoo-ha in the Interwubs about exactly whose childhood is being ruined by the announcemnt of a Thundercats reboot has driven out another announcement out of the news cycle. Which is a pity, because the previous announcement, the one that nobody has anything by enthusiasm for, is that Noelle Stevenson will be co-executive producing and showrunning a She-Ra reboot for Netflix.

    On the one hand, it’s a little sad that more people will see Stevenson’s work because of a legacy IP than for her groundbreaking comics. On the other hand, a generation of kids will be influenced by the stories, the designs, the message that she gets to set into their eyeballs. And heck, her comics ain’t going anywhere, they’re still right there on my bookshelf and will be until the bindings fall apart from overuse.

    Congrats to Stevenson, and whether the next big thing you work on is more She-Ra, the Nimona adaptation, or something completely new, we’ll be here to snap it up.


Spam of the day:

Record and Download Any Video from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, The CW, NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, and More. This is a Limited-Time Offer.

Wow. You get a one-time payment of US$39.99, I get infringement grief from at least nine famously litigious and massive corporations. I think your business model may not be skewed to my advantage.

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¹ Every publishing house in the English-speaking world is mentally re-evaluating how well they’ve treated their key people; when Gina gets to hiring, you’re going to see the absolute best in the business go to work for her.

Likewise, I imagine every graphic novel imprint is frantically looking at their most lucrative creators, wondering if they can sneak in a contract extension a year early; when Gina gets to signing talent, you’re going to see some seismic shifts.

Cool Projects From Cool People

At least one of which, I’m certain, the Cool Person would preferred to not have made!

  • That would be Yuko Ota, who in years past started developing a repetitive stress injury in her right (dominant) hand and arm. Kids! Don’t let anybody in the art community (school, peers, bosses) tell you that pain is normal and you just have to work through it or you’re a wuss. These people suck and I hate them. Because just work through it was the path that Ota took, and it wound up damaging her hand and arm in lasting ways.

    So she started — initially out of curiosity, latter out of necessity — drawing with her left (nondominant) hand to see how well she could do. Eventually, it became a lifeline that saved her career, in that she could do some work with her left while saving her right for more important (deadline, paying, etc) gigs¹. This years-long process is now documented in Offhand, Ota’s collection of her left-hand drawings (and in one spread, matching left- and right-hand drawings done at the same time), previously Kickstarted, now being delivered to backers. Give it a couple of weeks for fulfillment to finish up, and I’ll bet you’ll be able to score a copy in the Johnny Wander store.

    This book is for anybody that likes Ota’s work, anybody that has interest in the how and process of art, anybody that likes to see artistic progress, and anybody with an interest in the biology and anatomy of the human wrist (it’s basically a cobbled-together disaster!). For the latter, see if you can talk a Kickstarter backer out of the limited edition hardcover, which the lenticular image of Ota’s wrist MRI; please note that you cannot have my copy under any circumstances.

    For the art progress fans, it’s fascinating to watch how quickly Ota was able to move from crayon scribble level drawings to work that’s nearly indistinguishable from her baseline skill level; it’s evidence that art and style and more about brain than hands. In a couple of years, Ota’s left hand was able to develop the fine control that her brain spent a lifetime teaching to the right hand. For Johnny Wander fans in general, you’ll see early sketches of Percy and Leeds from Ota’s current work, Barbarous, from 2014, and what appears to be a proto-Leeds from as far back as 2013. Considering that Barbarous launched in 2016, it shows just how long the development of characters and story takes.

    And good news! When I spoke to Ananth Hirsh (Ota’s husband and creative partner) at MoCCA Fest last month, he mentioned that she’s found a treatment that is maintaining her function and keeping the discomfort where it should be. The damage is there, but it’s being contained, and now that you’ve got her example in front of you, Young Artist, make sure you don’t fall into the same trap. Take breaks! Stretch! Take breaks! Working through pain is not a good idea! Take friggin’ breaks!

  • In what will also be a long-development-time project (with an equally long run), Lucas Landherr has been spending a chunk of his Surviving The World wind-down time consulting on a new series for the Crash Course channel at YouTube (a collaboration of John & Hank Green, and PBS Digital Studios). This one will be on the topic of Engineering and launched Episode 1 (What Is Engineering?) yesterday.

    The series is hosted by Dr Shini Somara, and over the next year will be looking at electrical engineering and other, lesser forms of engineering (like Landherr’s chemical engineering, Somara’s mechanical engineering, and Joey Chestnut’s civil engineering); Somara will talk about what the engineers doe in their disciplines, and show how they apply the laws of science to the solving of problems and the making of things. Or, as David Malki ! put it, how to make math louder.

    I’m certain that the entire series will be enlightening and teach people (many of whom have no idea what my professional tribe does) the hows and whys of engineering. And here’s hoping that we get some much served attention paid to the engineer who, perhaps more than any other, was responsible for modern communications and computing. Yes, I will always find a way to mention Shannon. Figure One, yo. Right-hand rule represent.


Spam of the day:

Save on printer ink

Nnnnnope. Nope, nope, nope, the spam filter is also telling me that you’re attempting to steal my identity just by looking at this ugly piece of garbage on the screen. Bugger off.

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¹ Which is to say, she was able to damage her right hand more slowly while investigating possible treatments.

Camp 2018, Part One

For anybody that’s read this page, you may recall that Comics Camp was a major formative experience for me in 2017; if you wish, you can read about 10,000 words on it here.

The first I realized I was truly on the verge of Comics Camp this year was 26 April, early afternoon in Juneau; I was 13 hours and four time zones from when I started my day at Oh-Stupid-Thirty, and I stared out of my fourth floor hotel room and pretty much directly into what looks like the kitchen of a house not that far behind the hotel. Juneau is a very vertical city, populated at all times by ravens, at some times by wolves and/or bears, and pretty much nonstop by eagles if you’re near the dump. A raven alighted on the roof of the house whose kitchen I was staring into, nonplussed.

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The thing about Alaska Robotics, the one-day con they put on, the myriad of school visits by creators they arrange¹, and the Camp associated with all of the previous, is that it’s run by the very best people, attended by even more of the very best people, in a location that is almost as far as it could be from my home. As I find myself past the half-century mark, the travel necessary to attend these marvels is taxing in ways it would not have been ten, or even five years ago. And as I find myself in an increasingly chaotic society, those rigors of travel become a price I am increasingly willing to pay.

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Thursday is the travel day for most who are making their way to the Mini-Con/Camp², so the afternoon is largely open; I dropped by the Alaska Robotics Gallery (a comics/game store, with art supplies and magnificent works of local artists) to get my volunteer assignments for the Mini-Con, as well as my staff t-shirt. I also make arrangements for my assisting gig at the kick-off event of Comics Time in Juneau; the musical cohort of Camp — Marian Call, Seth Boyer, Molly Lewis — will be playing at local cafe The Rookery³ and there’s seating to arrange and a door to watch.

The show is the latest iteration of Call’s Space Time series, which often involves writers, scientists, Flight Controllers and Directors … you get the idea. Tonight, it’s Three musicians and a series of comics artists that will be livedrawing along to the music. There’s a local poet, Catherine Hatch, talking about relationships and fighting and compromise If You Want Your Laundry Folded. There’s a reading from The Little Prince (the meeting with The Businessman); the tone slides from earnest to silly to contemplative and back.

Lewis sang her ode to Juneau hirsuteness, The Year Of The Beard. Boyer brought the room to tears with the saddest, most melancholy song in English. Call shared the story of how her signature tune got turned upside down and backwards via a musicbox and a Moebius strip, and became a tribute to last year’s eclipse. Georgia Patton, Lee Post, Lucy Bellwood, Lucas Elliott, and Kerstin La Cross took inspiration from the songs and created Art.

And through it all one thought resonated, but was finally brought to voice in the refrain of the second to last song of the show, which is also the last song of Call’s latest album:

Beggar, Banker, King, and Pawn
We’re only bones with stories on

We are the sum of our stories, the ones we tell each other and the ones we tell ourselves. The storytellers were gathering, and Juneau was poised to listen.

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Pictures:

    The crowd gathers, and the performers perform. Pictures drawn to Good Morning, Moon, No Paper, The Year Of The Beard, Pantsuit Sasquatch, Frozen Man, the story of The Businessman, Good Night, Moon, I don’t recall which song, Mediocre Algorithmic First Date, The Avocado Song, don’t recall again but man, it’s pretty, All Star, Like This, Grandpa Had It Right, and Space Weird Thing.

    Music:


    Spam of the day:
    Sent away until Camp recaps are done.

    _______________
    ¹ More than 50 of them this year; last year, it was closer to 35.

    ² At least, those who are coming on the exhibitor side of things; attendees will be making their way to Juneau from across Alaska, but not until after work on Friday in many cases. Alaskans think nothing of hopping down to the local airport and flying for hours in this fashion; organizer Pat Race would recount stories of traveling a thousand miles or more in order for his high school soccer team to play in an away game. Things are just bigger up there.

    ³ Run by lovely people, and home to some of the most outrageous cookies known to humanity. Try the Chocolate Chip, Cornflake, and Marshmallow cookies.

    The Saddest Thing You’ll Ever See

    You’re a monster, Zach Weinersmith, a monster for today’s strip (trimmed above so as not to give away the punchline). And the extra gag (or votey, as the cool kids call it) was even more cruel.

    It’s all so mean, in fact, that all I can do today is present my occasional Clearing Of The Spams in lieu of anything else that might require me to feel joy, damn you. It’s impossible for me to note that today is the release date of Vera Brosgol’s superlative Be Prepared, or that today’s Oh Joy, Sex Toy [NSFW, obvs] contained a nice little namecheck of ComicLab with Brad Guigar and Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett¹. Nope, it’s nothing but spams today, thanks ZACH.

    PS: Yeah, okay, it’s not like you haven’t warned us before.


    Spams of the day:

    But as for the mystery of what happened to Australia’s megafauna, Price said: “The reality is that we just don’t have that much information.”

    This eventually shifts around to the topic of knockoff NBA jersey available for bulk purchase from China. It’s kind of impressive, really.

    The persons shown in photographs in this email may not necessarily be actual users of loveswans.com

    Well, yeah, seeing as how it’s women in the photo and not swans.

    The persons shown in photographs in this email may not necessarily be actual users of asiacharm.com

    And another thing, as long we’re doing boilerplate disclaimers and what claim to be unsubscribe addresses — are you in fact located in Inverness, Scotland, or Madison, South Dakota? Because you use both addresses in all your spams, and South Dakota is not exactly known as a place you can get good single malt, golf courses by dramatic seaside cliffs, or fog-enshrouded moors. Make up your mind, already!

    Nude selfies of women you most likely know are available for you to view

    Those women are not nude. Do you get how words work?

    Chase Finance

    I get the feeling this is a setup for a joke. Is your finance running? Well, you better catch it!

    Ever heard of Medical Bill Sharing? See if you qualify!
    Christian Healthcare is a community of devout Christians helping each other out with unfortunate healthcare burdens. It is flexible, compliant with the Affordable care act, and provides a proper sense of community

    Yeah, lemme stop you there. One, your cost-sharing model seem to shortchange people right when they need help the most (especially if the folks reviewing claims decide the claimants aren’t righteous enough). Two, you aren’t an insurance plan, and you replicate many of the drawbacks that the Affordable Care Act meant to deal with. Third, do you know that you’ve got the same opt-out address as the mail order bride folks up above?

    _______________
    ¹ Persevere. You gotta scroll down a ways before you find the plug (so to speak).

    Kicking, Starting

    I am cautiously optimistic that all the of frozen water I cleared away from my house will be the last we get this season; much of it is melting away as we speak, which makes me wonder what the point of it all was.

    Anyway, let’s talk Kickstarter, and not for the reason that appears to be all over subtwitter¹. Rather, let’s see how Kickstarters can/should be run from people with a history of running them well.

    • First up, the irrepressible Lucy Bellwood² is presently in Denmark teaching various things, including the effective use of Kickstarter; by a peculiar corinsidence, this came just as notices of shipment were going out for Bellwood’s 100 Demon Dialogues campaign, bang on time.

      Bellwood, being the community contribution maniac that she is, has also kept a live Google spreadsheet showing all the finances on this project so that all can learn from her hard-won experience. And since looking at a spreadsheet isn’t enough to learn all of her secrets, her talk is here, where over the course of an hour she talks about community-building, reward design, budgeting, and outreach — plus some important information about wizards and how they can totally heck up your whole deal. If you don’t want your whole deal hecked up, give it a careful watch or five.

    • Brad Guigar is utterly predictable in a couple of respects: he will burst out laughing like his life depends upon it, and his Kickstarts follow a definite pattern. Namely, he takes a year’s worth of strips, pitches a reasonable number of tiers to his fans, gets 1.5x to 2.5x overfunding, prints ’em up, and does fulfillment on time between two and four months later (shorter for stock items, longer for personalized). Guys, when it comes to Kickstarter, boring is good; you know exactly what you’re going to get from him.

      Which, in the case of his latest print collection, is exactly what I just mentioned, along with the added bonus of smut. Guigar’s got fans of his teens-and-up strip, and fans of his (ahem) late-night Cinemax Patreon tiers, and for the first time he’s providing for both in one campaign (instead of the whole thing being adults-only, there are a couple of tiers that include the cartoon sexytimes, with most being safer to leave out on the coffee table around family).

      Boring, but with suddenly revealed sizzle is the pitch for more porn movies than you can think of because it works. I anticipate that the Guigar Sons College Fund is going to benefit mightily from BBWSRS for the foreseeable future.

    • Howard Tayler³, on the other hand, swings wildly in his Kickstarts; not in the BBWSRS sense, but in the sense that he’ll do alternating quick turnaround, narrowly focused campaigns, complex, ever-growing campaigns with long fulfillment times, then back to simple. The books come as the chapters dictate (and are planned out well in advance, at this point).

      Every once in a while, he’ll throw in a simple project, but mix it up so he doesn’t get bored. Case in point: his first new shirt designs in some time, which is running with a unique stretch goal model. Reaching the US$25,000 figure (US$10K over goal) unlocked a shirt design that everybody was going to want. Reaching a total of 1500 shirts ordered allows everybody at the three shirt bundle tier (US$60) to choose a fourth shirt for free.

      But please notice that there are five designs, and if the total orders reach 3000 shirts, people will be able to add on additional shirts for US$15 instead of US$20. Everything about the stretch goals increases value for the backers while simultaneously incentivizing them to give Tayler more money. It’s a thing of beauty where everybody (but especially Tayler’s bank balance) wins. Writing the adventures of money-maximizing borderline sociopaths must be inspirational, as Tayler’s got the money maximizing part down cold; here’s hoping he leaves the lessons learned there.

    • Kel McDonald (for whom the McDonald Ratio is named) has done every kind of Kickstart under the sun — print collections (simple reprints to multivolume omnibus editions), anthologies, pins, done-in-one stories, and more. Of late, she’s been working around digital-only projects, which simplify the crap out of fulfillment. Got a story to tell? Write it up, get a team of seasoned comics pros to edit, draw, and color it, and have it in everybody’s hands in 60 days or so. It would be a mistake to think that McDonald couldn’t make good on any campaign, what with a baker’s dozen under her belt, but with the help of Roxy Polk, Kara Leopard, and Whitney Cogar, it’s pretty much a slam dunk.

    Spam of the day:

    Easy care suits: Wear. Wash. Repeat.

    Why is this the subject line for a spam full of pictures and links to knock-off jewelry?

    _______________
    ¹ For the record, I’m far away from the corners of Webcomickia where all of this went down and don’t know any of the principals, but people I know and trust have Opinions and yeah — been a while since we had a mess like this. And it seems risky for Kickstarter to have offered a 22 year old a job in charge of stuff without an unimpeachably solid record of managing people and processes (which pretty much no 22 year old has, so …).

    ² Adventure Cartoonist!!

    ³ Evil twin, etc.

    Yep, Dangerous

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

    Danger time:

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

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

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

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

    Pledge $250 or more
    In-Game Exister

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

    Pledge $500 or more
    Line Sayer

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

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

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


    Spam of the day:

    IVC Blood Filter May Shift In Your Veins, Causing Damage

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

    Clever Students And News of Dessinatrices

    This may be my professional bias talking, or my innate sense that engineering is the most fun you can have in the physical and mental worlds simultaneously, but there may be nobody taking comics into more exciting directions than Lucas Landherr¹ of Surviving The World. As has been mentioned on this page more than once, Landherr has been making comics (with a variety of artists) to explain the trickier concepts in his discipline (that would be Chemical Engineering²), and of late he’s been inspiring his students to do the same.

    As a class project last semester, his students produced new ways of explaining key bits o’ esoteric knowledge, ranging from their own comics (on convection, or heat transfer, or heat exchangers) to video (on heat transfer, or on heat transfer but with a Queen song³). It’s cool stuff, and I get the feeling in that last video that I’ve seen some of the tics that Professor Landherr exhibits in class, and I definitely fear — nearly 30 years distant from my own graduation — to ever take a class with Professor Satvat, judging by how often he shows up in these projects.

    From Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin:

    These ladies had messages to express with their comics in 2017, and you can bet they will persist in 2018.

    Our thanks, as always, to FSFCPL for keeping us up on Gallic comics happenings.


    Spam of the day:

    Hi Gary,
    I saw you tweeting about reading and I thought I’d check out your website. I really like it. Looks like Gary has come a long way!

    Not only has Gary come a long way, everything’s coming up Milhouse Gary!

    _______________
    ¹ Alter-ego of mild-mannered chalkboard enthusiast Dante Shepherd.

    ² Which, as a proud Electrical Engineer, I might concede almost involves more difficulty and scholarship than my own chosen field.

    ³ Very cool thing I noticed — judging from the clock on the wall in the lecture portion of the video, the Landherr-spoofing scene was done with few (if any) reshoots.

    4 If you need a refresher, these are comics specifically designed to be read by scrolling on a smartphone screen; they are a big deal (not to mention big business (French-only)) in Japan and South Korea.