The webcomics blog about webcomics

Thursday Things

Hey, how’s it going? I’ve taken to keeping a half-full bottle of gin on my desk¹. On the theory that it may help your day to get better, here’s some things to examine and/or plan for!

  • Today! Kevin Sonney is a magnificent dude; programmer and Linuxbender extraordinaire, tatted and bekilted con security heavyweight, and certified Disney Princess to whom critters flock. He’s also a persistent podcaster, mostly with wife Ursula Vernon — they cohost Kevin And Ursula Eat Cheap and consume things no mortal should; he is the voice of Reverend Mord on The Hidden Almanac.

    Right now, though, we’re focusing on Productivity Alchemy, which is about — stripped to its most basic — Getting Your Shit Together And Getting Shit Done. It is, ironically, the sort of thing that would paralyze me, as I am definitely the sort of person that would hopscotch from solution to solution, method to method, tool to tool, and obsessively chase achievement badges. My productivity works in fits and starts, and a lot of it looks like Ignoring The Issue At Hand from a distance, but it works for me². Which is to say, Sonney’s probably a lot smarter than me on every aspect of productivity as he’s put a hell of a lot of thought into it, and I’m more intuitive and decidedly nonanalytical about my methods.

    But sometimes I have to beak my own rule to see what’s on Sonney’s mind, and today is one of those days. He’s talking to Howard Tayler — my evil twin — about his approach to keeping life together, and dropping refs to the likes of Jennie Breeden’s The Devil’s Panties, KB SPangler’s A Girl And Her Fed, and Randy Milholland’s Something*Positive. It’s a fun, informative listen and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

  • Future! For those whose personal productivity includes future planning, and who also live in the Bay Area, the Cartoon Art Museum wants to help you sort out what to do with the kids this summer:

    Cartoon Camp is filled with active creative engagement for older kids and teens who are avid artists enjoying drawing and are looking to build skills. All materials are provided. Find discounts, details and sign up opportunities for museum members on the registration links. Register before camp sessions fill up!

    Classes are designed for the 10-15 year old set with a bit of experience under their belts, with a choice of three week-long sessions. You can do skill-building in the mornings with Mark Simmons, afternoons of group work and studio time with Ellis Kim, or full days to experience both (bring lunch, it’s not provided). There’s also a couple of drawing excursions to local scenic spots.

    Sessions run the week of 17 to 21 June, 24 ot 28 June, or 29 July to 2 August.; morning sessions run 9:00am to 12:30pm and afternoons 1:45pm to 5:15pm. CAM members get 10% off the US$300 tuition (full days are US$550); reserve now before slots fill up.


Spam of the day:

View live security camera feed from your phone

This is advance notice: If I ever give any indication that I have allowed any Internet Of Things™ or “Smart” appliances into my home, that is a sure sign that I have been replace by a pod person, and you should set “me” on fire at the first opportunity.

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¹ Okay, it’s one of those airline bottles on account of my exit-row seat home from Dallas t’other night entitled me to a free drink and that was all I wanted at the time. But still! Hard bitten journalising going on here!

² All the seeming off-goofing is my brain arranging itself into a Cave so I can hit the Zone. Lots of people achieve their Zone via external tools, but mine are on the inside.

If Homestar And 17776 Are Webcomics, So Is This

That is to say, both deeply weird Flash cartoons of the early Aughts and deeply weird space probe/football fanfic are idiosyncratic, personal creations made for the internet, marked by a sense of collaboration/accessibility with the audience, which makes them essentially webcomics, so say we all.

Webcomics as a concept, stretching past the literal definition of comics on the internet¹, can incorporate anything creative that probably won’t pass the muster of a publisher/editor, but which can find a niche of similar weirdos when thrown into the wilds.

Which is to say, Jonathan Coulton has always been a webcomicker, albeit one that worked primarily in words+sounds instead of words+pictures. No music publisher would have ever done something like Thing A Week, which means no music publisher would ever have made available a song about a very cool NPR morning host, fractal math, Leonard Nimoy’s late-70s paranormal-bait syndicated TV show, or (tangentially) Ferocious J². Heck, the guy partnered with Matt Fraction to do a graphic novel to accompany his last album.

(And, since JoCo has collaborated with MC Frontalot, you have a direct link to songs about Achewood, Wigu, and Indie Rock Pete.)

And what, I ask you, is more webcomics than doing a giant passion project that no sane publisher would get within 3.048 meters of, throwing it up on Kickstarter, and finding that a bunch of weirdos are into it?

My new album is called Some Guys, and it’s a collection of soft rock songs from the 70’s that sound exactly like the originals.

Our approach was more, what if we put these guys in a time machine and brought them into this studio and recorded them here today? What would that sound like? And what if we hired real horns and real strings? How much would that cost? A LOT! But would it sound delicious and make us giddy, like we had discovered an amazing secret or invented a new magic trick? Yes, it would. The end result is that these songs sound exactly like you expect them to, but they’re also different and new in an alternate universe sort of way.

And for a guy on his first Kickstart, JoCo’s apparently learned from his predecessors pretty well:

STRETCH GOALS
No.

Some Guys (seriously, go see the album cover, and read the writeup about the album cover, and especially watch the video — the clips that JoCo included sound exactly friggin’ like the originals, which is somewhat cognitively dissonant³, but in a wonderful way, and the message in the text crawls is inspiring) was announced at 10:00am EST, and as of this writing it’s over US$49,500 (on a US$20K goal).

The record is made, this is effectively a pre-order and a way to pay for physical versions (CD, vinyl) for those that don’t want digital downloads; it’s a zero-risk project if you’re looking for something wonderful, fun, soft, and cheering.


Spam of the day

You still have not taken the prize in the category Like the year 2018
15 0.1 2019 super prize is canceled

Aw, man, I really wanted super prize.

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¹ Since pretty much everything is on the internet even if emotionally it’s designed for another space.

² As seen here, in requisite tin foil hat.

³ I am reminded of the very first live event for This American Life, where the stage band (consisting largely of John & John from TMBG) went out of their way to reproduce song snippets that were heavily used on TAL in those early years. Not putting a TMBG spin on them, mind you, trying to make them sound indistinguishable from the actual songs, rather than just drop the original clip into the staged readings They didn’t attempt Perpetuum Mobile by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but can’t really blame them — it takes about 15 musicians playing in I think 7 different time signatures.

Things To Check Out

Well I mean I would bet basically one dude or maybe none in a million from the vast Fleen audience is unaware that Noelle Stevenson’s take on She-Ra debuts at Netflix today, so I’m not sure why you’re reading this instead of binging. From here, I can tell you two spoiler-free things:

  1. It’s cool that the closest thing to costume cut-outs are on characters that appear to be dudes; no boob windows here!
  2. It appears that episode 8 (Princess Prom) is going to be cameoriffic. Keep your eyes peeled for awesome people in animated form.

That keening sound you hear in the distance, ever so faint? That’s either the whiny manbabies who are upset that these characters are no longer designed for the male gaze¹, or my new dog when she perceives and insufficient amount of attention is being paid to her².

The much louder cheering sound is a mix of adult animation fans seeing something well-made and entertaining, and younger kids seeing something aimed at them that broadens their perception of who can be a protagonist — shapes, sizes, skin tones, and apparent genders are are broad enough that kids who didn’t get to see themselves as the hero now have a chance to. Bravo.

In other news:

  • We mentioned comiXology’s move into creator-owned stories back around SDCC, and how they’d tapped a series of webcomics creators to help launch the new comiXology Originals endeavour. One that looks particularly promising is The Stone King by Kel McDonald and Tyler Crook. I had a chance to read issue #1 before its debut tomorrow³. The story’s a little Moebius, the art is a little early Finder crossed with War Child-era Grendel. If you’ve got a comiXology account, I strongly recommend checking this out.
  • Ever since Goats celebrated 20 years of comics last year, we’ve been in the territory where more and more webcomics (and/or webcomickers) of a similar vintage would be meeting the mark. The Walkyverse hit 20 about five months after the Goatsiverse, and Penny Arcade will roll over the two decade odometer on Sunday, with a retrospective up at the site.

    PvP actually cleared the Big Two-Oh back in May without much fanfare; the actual day didn’t have even an oblique reference in the strip, unless you count that obvious 20-sided die in panel two. And now, it’s clear there was a reason for the earlier quietude.

    Scott Kurtz is doing a comprehensive reprint of the entire damn thing. Oh, sure, you can get a single hardcover with 200-odd pages of the best PvP strips (plus Kurtz’s Wedlock and Elementary, the former of which hasn’t been seen in forever and which I still maintain is his most promising work) for US$50. Or you can admit you’re a completist and get the strips not in the 20th anniversary volume. That’s nine damn hardcovers, every single strip, 2500+ pages, for US$200 which is kind of a bargain.

    I mean, it’s not spare change, but US$50 is an eminently reasonable price for a 200-ish page color hardcover, and by rights nine of them should come to US$450. Oh, plus whatever it costs you when you go to the doctor for painkillers after you throw your back out lifting the box they came in, because it comes to more than 22 frggin’ kilos.

    The PvP Definitive Edition 20th Anniversary Collection Kickstart runs for another 24 days, and by the FFF mk2 can expect to raise US$92K-138K (the midpoint of that range is about 153% of the US$75K goal). One potentially important factor: due to the relatively high price points on all rewards (US$10 for 1 PDF, US$45 for all 9 PDFs, physical rewards from US$50 to US$2000), this is going to be a relatively low backer campaign (as of this writing, the amount pledged per backer averages a staggering US$141!), and campaigns with fewer than about 200 backers on the first day (Kurtz had 90) are notoriously hard to fit to the prediction model.

    The McDonald ratio (hey, there’s Kel again) is probably a better predictor and it says US$108K. We’ll all find out together in a bit less than a month, and I for one am intensely curious to find out how many superfans out there are willing to engage in this degree of purchase.


Spam of this day:

At launch, the service includes comic titles such as, ‘Give My Regards To Black Jack’, ‘Vanguard Princess’, ‘Danity Kane’, ‘God Drug’, ‘Soul Ascendance’, original animation videos such as ‘Demian’, ‘Break Ups’, ‘Short Age’, the official soundtrack to the video game ‘Vanguard Princess’, and the award-winning feature-length animated film ‘Padak’ among others.

I wouldn’t even have mentioned this one except for two magic words: Dannity Kane. Because now I get to point you again to the one of the best editorial cartoons of the year: Reality Star’s Son Allegedly Had Affair With Reality Star by Kendra Wells. It never fails to make me giggle.

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¹ That’s pretty much their entire argument — if they can’t see copious titties in the kids cartoon, it’s devoid of worth and a dire insult.

² So same thing, really.

³ And dropping new issues on New Comic Day? Smart. Getting the readers to accept these are just another form of comics is going to drive readership, I’m sure.

For Your Pachydermic Consideration

Check out my sick elephant!
My! Check out that sick elephant!
Check out my thicc elephant!!
Sick out my check elephant.
Chekhov, my Elle sycophant! (1423)
Check out … Mice! Ick; Aleph Hunt.
Shrek out my Chick Hell event!
Che gout! My sequel affront! (1426)
Check out shy MacOlaf aunt. (1427)
Check out t’my C Kelley Fund. (1428)
“Shaquille if ent? My check is out!”
Chuck, out my Shaquille event.
“Chuck ’em” Isaac Elephant.
“Check out my schtick, LA!” vent […]
“Check it — buy six elephants.”
Chuck, add my sick elephant.

[crickets]

Check out my Sikh olive vint!
Check out my sheikh/caliph hunt!
Check out my slick ‘L’-glyph font!
Schick cowed my sect colophon!
Check outside — McAuliffe fan!
Checks outbuy soft eloquence.
Chuck out my alley-found stick!!
Hell out my Czech sickle fount!
Chekhov’s mighty sick of all of it!
Checked out, Mike Seagal, I found!
Chekhov’s — MY! — sitch, elephants!
Chekhov! Nice schtick! Hella fun!
Check out my icky skelephant!

… and still three more parts in The Elephant Of Surprise, (which started its 10-part epic in comic number 1427).

Assumning that three more strips are all that remain, that will mean that 23 strips — roughly a quarter of Wondermark’s annual output — will have been devoted to this one running gag. Considering that there have been 28 subsquent variations on the initial repeated phrase¹, I’d say that my flippant prediction that David Malki ! would both a) produce at least 26 variants; and b) rename his strip to Checkoutmysickelephantmark is on its way to coming true.

And I suspect that in Malki !’s appearance on the latest Jordan, Jesse, Go! with Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn features at least one stealth elephant, sick or not. Thorn and Bullseye² sent over a camera to make a video of Malki !’s workplace, and I’ve been watching it obsessively, trying to figure out where the elephant in the room is. I know it’s there somewhere! I just have to connect all these strings on this corkboard and I’ll find it. Oh yes, I will.


Spam of the day:

30,000+ Russian Babes Desperately Need Boyfriends

Ladies! Please! Granted, I am a sexy, sexy man, but there is but one of me.

_______________
¹ Plus one more on Twitter.

² Malki ! is well-acquainted with Thorn, having been a repeat participant/presenter at MaxFunCon, a previous guest on Jordan, Jesse, Go!, and a previous interviewee on The Sound Of Young America³ (the original name of Bullseye).

³ I asked Malki ! once how long the original interview with Thorn was, that was cut down to the approximately 26 minutes that was broadcast. He told me that there wasn’t a longer original to be cut, that everything pretty much went to air as it was recorded.

This is because Jesse Thorn is one of the best interviewers alive and really knows how to structure a conversation, but also because David Malki ! is an easy conversationalist, one that makes this kind of interview easy. Check out these slick gentlemens.

Had To Share

Nothing earth-shattering today, just a few random thoughts before I win the big lottery jackpot tonight and celebrate by getting better friends, a better hobby, and maybe a helicopter. Tuesdays, right?

  • Dante-Lucas Landshepherdherr is many things — a wizard with chalk, a labcoat fashion plate, an award-winning educator, a YouTube personality enabler, and occasionally a webcomicker. Yeah, yeah, his webcomic wrapped up earlier this year, but he’s got a book coming out, which is what I wanted to mention.

    Landshepherdherr made an update — a public one, let me hasten to add — to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, noting that everything’s off the printer, and sharing the front and back covers. It’s the latter that I wanted to share with you:

    Every good book has a quote on the back, so here is an actual quote from an end-of-semester student evaluation the author received from an anonymous student:

    At the beginning of the semester, he acted like he was supreme ruler of the universe. Over time, he got better.

    [transcribed from image]

    This is possibly from back when the Landherr and Shepherd identities were not quite so commonly associated by the general public, but regardless: kudos, amusingly-bitchy ChemE student! You made it through 20+ years of life encountering nobody horrible if you found Dr Landherr to be grandiose or self-important; I hope that streak continues. Also, please be aware that the man had deadly aim with an eraser and now that you are no longer his student, you are fair game. When the EMTs find you covered in an irregular layer of calcium carbonate, I’m certain that he will have an ironclad alibi¹.

  • Not as recent — in fact, it’s a little old at this point — is the episode of ComicLab that Kazu Kibuishi guested on. Kibuishi is, of course, the creator of the Amulet series, Daisy Kutter, and Copper, as well as being the driving force behind the Flight anthology series. He’s one of the most erudite, thoughtful people in comics, and the entire podcast is great listening from start to finish.

    But the part that’s stuck with more for a couple of weeks now was a description of his process (which you’ll find starting about the 31:28 mark); it explains a lot about how Kibuishi regards the concept of story, as well as why he seems to take a relatively long time to put a book together. Short form is, he has a very malleable approach to ordering of plot elements. Kibuishi works up sequences and scenes that he wants to tell, completely independently from each other, then arranges them in the books. It’s a nonlinear approach to storytelling that I don’t think anybody else uses².

    He’s had the advantage of telling a story that’s largely episodic, with different groups of characters in different places, so switching back and forth makes sense, but it also allows an unusual degree of flexibility; he mentioned later in the discussion that a reader questions prompted — relatively lately — the need to answer a question about the story that became the opening scene of Supernova. And honestly, I can see it in retrospect — that scene could have occurred at any point from about the middle of Book 5 to the end of Book 8 (and possibly into the not-yet-released Book 9), but he shifted things around and decided that the start of Book 8 was where it had the biggest impact.

    The thing is, if he hadn’t talked about it, you wouldn’t have known it. The great skill isn’t in an unusual approach, it’s in designing these sequences with entrances and exits that allow them to be slotted wherever they have the biggest impact; the story as a whole reads smoothly from start to finish. It’s not a means of storytelling, it’s a tool that he finds helpful to produce those stories with a maximum degree of flexibility³. It’s also probably the most subtle, master-level tool in the toolbox, so maybe don’t try to shift your approach without a hell of a lot of practice? Just a thought.


Spam of the day:

How About a Checking Account?

Got one, thanks.

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¹ I’m not saying that Landherr is Batman or anything, but who has an alter-ego except righters of wrongs who are also The Night?

² Although in the production of The Sculptor, Scott McCloud did talk about working on the book in chunks of 40-50 pages, that being his unit of production. It’s not really a story that would allow for swapping around those chunks, however.

³ See our discussion of graphic novel editing from last year to appreciate the process most publishers will want to see a full story in rough form and work out plot details before moving onto pencils. Kibuishi could make a shift the week before returning final pages without disrupting the book!

A Less-Disturbing Encore

I think I speak for all of us when I say that yesterday’s post from Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin was a tough read. Along the same lines, I invite you to consider how much more difficult it must have been for FSFCPL to research and write it; as such, I think we’ve all earned a palate-cleanser. Please enjoy the following submission from Our Man In France on the intersection of two media that seem to have a lot of overlap these days.

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On the menu: using comics to promote a video game, using a video game to promote comics, and having a comics creator illustrate and tell the story for a video game … using comics of course.

  • While it has been known for some time that webcartoonists Thorn and Meredith Gran have been working on their respective point-and-click adventure games, you might not have known illustrator Pins has been working on his own called tiny and Tall: Gleipnir, which is now out.

    The story? Fenrir, the wolf son of Loki, is devouring everything on its path and the Gods of Asgard have to react before it ends up devouring the whole world; however, no chains have proved capable of keeping Fenrir down, so they commission two blacksmiths, the titular tiny and Tall, to come up with restraints that can restrain the unrestrainable. Easy. Follows a number of hijinks as the protagonists have to first locate the recipe, then the improbable ingredients necessary to accomplish this quest.

    The game works like the point and click adventure games of old, with you needing to solve various puzzles using found objects and your wits. And if you get stuck, no matter: clicking your partner will provide you with information necessary to proceed. But where the game shines is with its humor, especially in its writing: overenthusiastic tiny contrasts well with fatalistic Tall, desperate of ever seeing the project to completion (but duty-bound to try, at least).

    Pins even felt the need to introduce us to the characters ahead of the game’s release through comic strips released online … we can now safely say that the promotional effort went slightly out of hand, as not only did he do more than 200 strips (this is strip 81 of the second book), but he even managed to release a collection of the 130 first strips, published by Lapin, before the game even came out; and his humor hits home just as well in comics as it does in the game.

    tiny and Tall: Gleipnir Part One is available through Steam on PC and Mac for 14.99€; this review is based on the Mac version of the game.

  • Raphaël Beuchot, on the other hand, first set out to create strips around music in a project called Medley; and it is in order to promote the recently-released collection that he came up with an online game called Backstage.

    The premise? You’re running a concert hall, and you need to raise its standing enough that celebrity DJ Acier Fulgur (Steel Lightning) will consent to producing himself in it. But that will only happen if you successfully manage your concert hall day after day after day … and here, success entails satisfying the needs of the bands that produce themselves in your hall: their scene equipment needs, their food and drink needs, but also their (legal) drug needs or smoking implement needs. All that on a deadline. And that is even without mentioning the occasional agitator to dispatch with security, or the occasional inebriated person to put in a lateral security position….

    The gameplay does not have a lot of depth (though is not necessarily a bad thing), and you can complete the game in about one hour, but what I find most interesting with Backstage is that, while it is not a music game, its gameplay is well integrated with the theme of the musical scene: the bands you get at first are hesitant to ask for food when they do so, then quickly you will get requests that turn out to need nothing, nevermind, until in the late game where these prestigious bands complain that they even need to request that seafood be brought to them.

    And new elements are introduced in a piecemeal fashion, but you can’t help but notice that French singers get introduced at the same time as the folk guitar gets added to your available scene instruments … and as Xanax gets added to your pharma kit. In short, the gameplay builds on the theme to keep you on your toes (I once got a request from a punk band to give their dog four bottles of beer!), which prevents the game from feeling repetitive, and helps give sense to the game … well, except for that one band where the instruments included both autotune and accordion. I’m still scratching my head over that one.

    That is very consistent with the strips of Medley, which don’t always deal with music per se, but always at least refer to it while using it to comment on critics, journalists, campaigning political parties, or just music consumers.

    Backstage is available for free (with ads inserted for Medley at appropriate times) and is playable directly on your browser, including mobile ones; it was reviewed on Safari on the Mac¹.

  • Finally, it is time for me to swap my French correspondent hat for my Apple devices correspondent hat to bring you the news of Factory Hiro, with art and story by KC Green. What makes this (more) relevant for Fleen is that part of that story is told as in-game comics cutscenes, in which we learn that the titular Hiro is responsible for an assembly line, the gameplay being to manually manage routing of incoming components and combination of these components to create finished products. Can you run your assembly line fast enough to make your quota in time for the end of the work day, without screwing up and loading the delivery truck with garbage?

    What does that have to do with my Apple devices correspondent hat? Factory Hiro is actually a remake of a classic 90s Mac game called Factory: The Industrial Devolution which finally makes it available on modern platforms, including tablets where its point and click — now touch — interface really shines. Make sure to give it a try.

    Factory Hiro is available on PC and Mac through Steam, and on iOS and Android through their respective app stores (I got it for 3.49€ on the French iOS App Store; pricing will depend on your region); it was reviewed on an iPad Air 2 running iOS 11.4.1.


Spam of the day:

Im Regina, im single with no kid….I am a great self-sufficient lady who has achieved a lot in her life. I am a starting swimsuit designer which is taking the time to get second education. I am studying interior design. I love working on myself, and self-improvement. I spend most of my time in the USA, and came to visit my family in ontairo states for a few months every year. My documents have been figured out. I am looking for pure love, and beautiful relationship.

Regina, I think that just maybe you’re trying a little too hard here.

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¹ FSFCPL sent along a clarification that Backstage is only available in French, but you don’t need a lot of vocabulary to successfully play it. This may or may not be a comment on the language skills of musicians.

I Love Free Stuff

I have, perhaps, mentioned The Nib once or twice in the past here at Fleen. You have, perhaps, backed the Kickstarter that launched their quarterly themed magazine, each issue of which is full of original cartoons on a single topic. If so, by now you’ve received the first issue, Death, printed on ridiculously heavy stock and sealed against both rough handling and the possible escape of ink aroma¹. You may even be aware that The Nib has launched a membership subscription program to support their efforts online (including their animated offerings) and the magazine.

You might not be aware that two of the above things overlap to your benefit.

If you supported the Kickstarter, watch your email thanking you for joining the subscription program (The Inkwell, by name). I mean, if subscribing at the appropriate level is enough to get the magazine, it makes sense that getting the magazine means you should get some of the perks of subscription — phone wallpapers for a start, maybe more later. It also explains the description of the Kickstarter reward — The Print Magazine, Early Bird Special. Sure, we got our issues of Death prior to the official debut at SPX, but Early Birds at Kickstarter are traditionally not just early shipping, but also a discount. The KS backers got the first year for US$10/issue, and subscriptions that include the print collection start at US$4/month or US$12 per issue. Eight bucks savings, woo!

It also answers what The Nib’s model for the second and subsequent years would be — you wouldn’t want to Kickstart every year to figure out your operating budget, not when you’ve already commissioned the comics (printing must have started almost immediately after the funds cleared, and people were receiving their copies less than a month after the campaign closed). At present, there are only month-to-month subscriptions, no annual plans or specific print subscriptions; we’ll see what gets offered in the coming months. Me, I’d like to pay once a year (even perhaps a bit more than month-to-month) because I hate auto-repeating charges on my credit card.

But you know what? Death was damn good. I’ve got about 10 months to decide if I want to put up with a month-to-month, but if the next three issues are as good as the first one? I’ll be signing up.


Spam of the day:

Yikes – Get Covered Now Low Monthly Rate

That’s … strange wording for convincing me to buy insurance.

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¹ I’ve never experienced such a strong smell off any printed material, including scratch-n-sniff features.

This Is New — An Afternoon Drive Home That Doesn’t Involve I-95

Instead, I get to make my way home from the Navy base I’ve been on all week; a Navy base in the center of Pennsylvania, not even on a river or lake. I don’t makes ’em up, folks, I just reports ’em.

In the meantime, please enjoy the news that Comic Chameleon — the mobile webcomics aggregator that actually works with and pays creators — has updated. You can history of CC by searching on chameleon and browsing back through six or so years of posts; my favorite part was when creator Bernie Hou was able to provide Danielle Corsetto with all the alt-text for Girls With Slingshots following a site hack¹.

Anyway, those using Comic Chameleon on iOS have a new version (with Android hopefully on the way), with improvements and fixes. If it’s been a while since you fired it up, give it another try. Then come back here and read Scott McCloud’s thoughts on comics navigation online/on mobile and just contemplate the nature of comics for a while. I’ll be driving home while you do.


Spam of the day:

Good afternoon. It’s hard for me to navigate the site, could you help me find it? Here, little place, I have everything I need written on the plate here is the link. I really look forward to hearing from you. Bill Rogers [link redacted]

Is it Bill Rogers, or is it Alfred Plono, which is who the post claims to be from? Try harder, spammer scum.

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¹ Reminder: back up your stuff in multiple, mutually-separated places. Test your backups. Document your process.

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:

Wish you could touch this ass? You can! CLICK HERE

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.