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Raw Zudanotes III: Services Agreement

Editor’s note: we continue our skim of the Zudacontracts, with Big Ideas to be developed later. Today: the terms under which you supply ongoing contributions.

First impression: the Services Agreement is between the Submission (short) and Rights (long) Agreements in length. As before, numbers are taken from the various paragraphs in the contract, and it starts with standard boilerplate about who you are and why you’re signing.

1. You are being hired (“engaged”, in the text of the contract) to produce 52 pieces of work (“Screens”) based on your winning entry. Unless you and Zuda agree otherwise, it’s weekly, at $250 each. That’s $13,000 you’ll be paid under this contract, plus the $1000 from the Rights Agreement, plus whatever royalties may apply.

2. By mutual consent, at the end of 52 weeks, Zuda may hire you at the same rate to keep producing stuff. Said stuff can be immediately after the 52 week run, or delayed until schedules work out. If you opt not to, Zuda can hire somebody else to do your webcomic. I’ve said it before in these write-ups: if your webcomic is your baby and you don’t want to wonder who it’s running around with after curfew, then Zuda (indeed, any work-for-hire arrangement) is not for you.

3. You have a schedule for delivering your work, Zuda has one for publishing.

4. In addition to what you get in the Rights Agreement, you receive your per-screen payment of $250 within two weeks of delivery, plus 4% of cover price of print works. Merch is 6.4% of SRP or 12.5 of gross receipts, reprints are 30% of net, and both foreign-language reprints and English reprints outside the US/Canada are 15% of net. The implication I’m getting here is that the royalties under the rights agreement are what Zuda pays you for their long-term ownership of the material, and this paragraph covers your payment to make it.

5. But there are reductions to the amounts in paragraph 4. If you’re part of a team, those that produce the work split the money; if you’re part of a collection or anthology with other creators, you get pro-rated; combination with other properties is likewise pro-rated (so if your ICSWAFP gets paired up with — I dunno, Batman — and they become partners, you get half I guess). And here’s the interesting bit:

If Zuda exploits any Print Work, Retail Product or Licensed Reprint Edition that includes Material for which You rendered Services in a way or on a media platform not contemplated by this Services Agreement, whether now known or hereafter devised, Zuda shall pay You in accordance with the consideration structure created by Zuda, in good faith, for such exploitation.

Which I’m reading as, “We’ll come up with a rate for that brain-beaming. Trust us.” Once again, it’s these ambiguous cases that I hate, because it lets whichever party has the advantage in a contract (one guess as to who that is) leverage things further to their advantage.

6 and 7. Except for the biweekly $250 installments, payments and accounting are as in the Right Agreement: every six months and only if you’re owed at least $200, and you’re allowed to audit the books at your own expense.

8. What you create under this contract is subject to the same rights transfer as the Rights Agreement.

9. You may be assigned an Editor, and you will do what (s)he says.

10 — 13. Boilerplate matching the rights agreement: you created this stuff, it’s yours to assign, nobody else has a claim on it; if either you or Zuda screw up somehow, the other is not to blame; you’ll get credited on things that Zuda produces/prints; you get free stuff.

14. Layin’ down the law — if you fail in certain ways, you’re in default of the contract:

  • not meeting deadlines
  • not providing satisfactory work
  • not doing anything else in this contract for any reason (including being incapable)
  • not being straight about who you are and being legally able to enter into this contract with respect to this work

Given that I’m not any kind of lawyer (much less entertainment/IP), I’m guessing that this paragraph is entirely boilerplate; it’s reasonable enough to have things like deadlines, and if Zuda were to become arbitrary about what’s “satisfactory” or make a habit of coming up with unworkable deadlines with the sole purpose of screwing you, word would get around pretty fast. Hell, just putting these contracts out there in advance of accepting any submissions tells me that they aren’t interested in screwing you in an arbitrary fashion.

Zuda are apparently going to be avoiding the all-too-common situation in comics where a “monthly” book slips to “bi-monthly”, then “quarterly”, then “we’ll let you know when we can re-solicit”. As a reader, I applaud them for this; when asked for advice about how to build a webcomic audience, pick a schedule and stick to it is always at the top of my list.

BUT if you have circumstances in your life where, at random times for unpredictable durations, you’re unable to work (health or family issues, crippling creator’s block, whatever), best to disclose that at the beginning and find out if Zuda are willing to amend the contract or not; being in breach (no matter how unpredictable the reason) is not somewhere you want to be. How much do you not want to be there?

15. You got 10 days to fix the situation after you’re in default, then you’re subject to termination. You’ll get nothing more (except for what you’d be entitled to from the re-presentation of your work in other forms). Let’s call paragraphs 14 and 15 the Howard Tayler sez, “Keep a damn buffer!” section of the contract. You don’t get to run guest weeks at Zuda.

16 — 27. Repeats from the Rights Agreement: you or Zuda can transfer your interests to another (but you can’t up and say, “Pay Bob over there for the strip ’cause he’ll be drawing it from now on”); Zuda can do business with other Time Warner companies; register all issues in writing; law of New York state prevails; in the event of dispute, your only recourse is a suit; waivers are specific to individual items; Zuda isn’t obligated to actually publish you; if it’s not attached to this contract it doesn’t exist; you can’t be compelled to do something illegal; you and Zuda are not partners; paragraph headings are descriptive and have no legal meaning; and there are no third parties.

Raw Zudanotes II: Rights Agreement

Editor’s note: we continue our skim of the Zudacontracts, with Big Ideas to be developed later. Today: the rights and reversions under which you operate.

First impression: the Rights Agreement is about twice as long as the Submission Agreement. This could take a while. It starts with boilerplate — who you are, who they are, you won, yay. Numbered paragraphs ahoy.

1. Everybody on a creative team has to agree to sign the contract. Question (and this isn’t a knock against Zuda) — what if one contributor doesn’t? Presumably the team loses the opportunity to sign and then we have the question from yesterday — what rights from the Submission do you get back?

2. Okay, it’s boilerplate, but it’s still creepy:

You grant and assign to Zuda, its successors, licensees and assigns, solely and exclusively, in any and all languages and media, whether now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, for the term of copyright, all rights in and to the Material (emphasis mine)

So when somebody invents direct brain-beaming of comics on Omicron Persei VIII, this contract already covers how Lrrr can read it. Creepy. Specifically, rights include:

a. print and electronic publication, including A/V of all sorts, merchandising, software, multi-media, Internet and mobile, live stage and commercial tie-ins
b. use and/or licensing; I’m guessing this means that if your ice cream scooper with amazing freeze powers becomes a hot property, DC can pass the movie rights to Warners
c. advertising & promo, including you & your image/bio; if you become famous for other non-Zuda work (in comics or out), expect coattail-riding
d. Verbatim:

The right to edit, alter, revise and make any and all changes to any Versions of the Material, including making necessary additions thereto and deletions therefrom.

Hmmm. VERY hmmm. If you’re absolutely emotionally tied to your idea, this could be a dealbreaker for you.

You can sell your originals, as long as they’re labelled with copyright & trademark (more below), and 100 repros/year. Ownership of your originals is one of the elements of the Creator’s Bill of Rights from 1988 (see Reinventing Comics, pp 60 — 62 and here), so I’m very pleased to see this here.

3. Zuda wants you to sign the Services Agreement and create more work for them; presumably that contract has the details.

4. You get royalties, plus whatever payments the Services Agreement spells out. This is going to be fairly important, so details are:

a. You get $1000 “non-recoupable” up front for what gets posted on the Zudasite. I think “non-recoupable” means that Zuda can’t reduce that amount to reflect expense and effort to promote you (c.f.: the entire history of recording contracts ever)

b through f. various royalty rates are:

  • print — 1% of cover price
  • merch — 1.6% of SRP or 5% of gross receipts if no SRP
  • reprints — 20% of net
  • non-reprint publications (novelizations, books on tape, etc) — also 20% of net
  • other productions (including movies, TV, and stage) — 40% of net

Royalties will be reduced for things like unsold, returned, damaged, freebie, and deep-discounted (70% +) items. “Reprints” apparently covers print not done by Zuda, so the Bulgarian edition of ICSWAFP will get you a paycheck minus

any unrecouped foreign taxes, import duties and/or currency exchange losses, and less all direct costs incurred by Zuda.

I suspect that this is entirely standard boilerplate in any IP-based industy; lotta room there for creative accounting.

Interestingly, the merch royalties don’t apply to licensees. So if Zuda makes an action figure of your ice cream scooper with amazing freeze powers (gotta come up with a shorter name for that character), you get a royalty. But if Warner’s makes a movie out of ICSWAFP and there are action figures that look like, I dunno, the Tobey Maguire of the future as ICSWAFP, you get zip.

The 40% on scripted productions sounds good, but I’m not sure if the “net” in this case means “net on what Zuda made from the licensing”, or “net profits after ICSWAFP turns out to be a $300 million blockbuster”. Even if it is the latter, keep in mind that Frank Zappa once described entertainment-industry accounting as existing somewhere between “usury” and “science fiction”.

5. Teams split money paid out evenly, unless all team members agree to a different split. If your work is commingled with others (say, in a Best of Zuda ’08 anthology), you get pro-rated based on amount of content in the total package. If you don’t complete on deadline and Zuda has to pay somebody to finish for you, they get paid out of your royalties (up to a 50% reduction in payout to you). These all seem pretty reasonable.

6. Royalties are biannual, but you don’t get anything unless it amounts to at least $200. Fair enough.

7. The proverbial big one. This is going to be a vicious reduction to first principles:

  • You keep copyright. That’s good.
  • Zuda gets trademark. That’s less good.

Going back to the popular Siegel & Schuster example, if they’d kept copyright on Superman from Action Comics #38 and DC’s forerunner kept only the trademark, they would have wound up in about the same place as they did by having neither. S&S could have determined how and under what conditions the specific content of the Superman story would be printed and distributed. But the idea of Superman, and the ability of DC’s various historical identities to use Superman however they saw fit would stay with DC.

Which of those two is more valuable in the long term?

8. But you might get your rights back. After four years of your last hand-in of material under the Services Agreement, if Zuda hasn’t paid you at least $2000 over the prior two years, you can request in writing that all rights return to you.

It seems from a cursory reading that if your property if worth enough, but the royalties (or the terms of the Services Agreement) are slight enough, Zuda could just issue a new edition, cut a check, and keep the rights in play. This reminds me of the famed “Alan Moore gets the rights to Watchmen back as soon as it goes out of print” paradox.

And there’s my answer in sub-paragraph b: within six months of your request, Zuda either (choose one):

  • returns the rights
  • pays you for more services on mutally-agreed terms
  • finds a way to pay you at least $2000
  • brings material back into distribution

There’s the out — as long as Zuda are willing to cut you a check of at least $2000 every other year, you will never get the rights back. The cynic in me notes that what with pre-press, promotion, legal & other sundry costs, $2000 is probably a lot less than it would take to a) prepare a new release; or b) negotiate new work with you. So pretty much it’s either give you back the rights or cut a check.

The next sub-paragraphs indicate that if Zuda doesn’t give you your rights back, the 2 year clock starts again, and if they do, you get everything back. Given the long history of comics publishing treating all creator effort as work-for-hire, I suppose that even the theoretical return of rights is a step forward. But given that Zuda is meant to be working in the space of webcomics, which has a history of creator ownership, this model is about 180 degrees from the way that virtually every webcomicker works. They may be able to attract people who are not presently known and pro-grade webcomics creators, but I think this is a dealkiller for any existing webcomics creator.

The rest of paragraph 8 is technical details: you can publish whatever you like after reversion, but you have to leave Zuda’s name off it; anything they created in conjunction with you work they keep; any licenses or options (say, for ICSWAFP: The Movie!) in effect at the time of reversion stays in effect (but reverts to you on expiry), and nothing strikes me here as unreasonable.

9. Zuda has power of attorney to make deals on behalf of your material. Makes sense.

10. You can audit the books at your expense; bring your own forensic accountant.

11. You have the legal authority to assign rights to Zuda because this really is your work and nobody else has a claim on it. Boilerplate.

12. If you screw up, Zuda is not to blame and you can’t sue them, and vice-versa.

13. You get credited as creator of the work “in a size and manner consistent with Zuda’s standard practices at the time of publication”, which could include the fabled Teeny-Weeny Eyestrain-o-Vision. But if anybody fails to credit you as creator, inform Zuda and they’ll try to fix it.

14. You get free copies of various stuff. I like free stuff.

15. Zuda can sell their rights to the work, and you can direct them to pay your share to somebody else.

16. Zuda does business with Time Warner companies, and you agree not to challenge dealings solely on the basis of their having a common corporate parent. Still and all, expect Warner TV or movie productions to have a leg up on the option for ICSWAFP.

17. All notices in writing, make sure you get a receipt, and don’t send it postage-due (’cause honestly, you’d be a jerk if you did).

18. Again, all of this is governed by the law of New York.

19. Except as laid out above, none of Zuda’s interests will ever be given to you unless you sue and win.

20. Severability again: If any part of the agreement gets waived, it’s specific to a given item and not applicable to the rest, or to future agreements.

21. Zuda doesn’t have to publish your work at all. If that’s the case, look for a reversion after four years if they decide they don’t like your idea, or $2000 checks every other year if they do.

22 — 26. There are no side agreements, neither party is compelled to do anything illegal, you and Zuda are not partners, paragraph headings are labels only and have no legal meaning, and there are no third parties to the agreement. All boilerplate.

Four elements of the Creator’s Bill of Rights — right to accounting, legal counsel, prompt payment, and original artwork — are addressed in this contract. In fact, as others have pointed out, Zuda is recommending that you get a lawyer to advise you on the contracts before you decide to submit, so that’s actually progress. Unfortunately, the other eight — especially the first, The right to full ownership of what we fully create — are wavied under this contract.

Raw Zudanotes I: Submission Agreement

Editor’s note: for those who missed yesterday’s rare weekend posting, we’re looking at each of the three Zudacontracts as quick overviews; the real analysis will come later. Up today: the terms under which you can submit.

Okay, the Submission Agreement. It’s not too long — about five screens full; much shorter than other contracts I’ve read. Numbering is as in the contract.

1. Definitions of terms — who are You, who is Zuda, what is the Website, etc. Most interesting part: “Submission” includes everything:

title of the work, the art and script comprising the work and the concepts, plots, themes, storylines, characters (including names and images), environmental settings, devices, characterizations, logos, trademarks, designs and other elements to the extent included in the work. (emphasis mine)

I have a feeling those things in bold are going to be critical;

2. If you don’t get selected, “Zuda shall have no rights at all in or to the Submission.” — that’s better than I hoped for.

3. You can’t use your submission in any other way during the review period (and presumably if you get selected that will be governed by the other contracts). If you were thinking about using Zuda to try to get a current project a wider readership, into print, or make some money off of it, stop thinking that now. You have to take it down and not show it in any form while it’s in consideration (which is for 90 days after submitting, or until explicitly rejected, whichever comes first). You cannot run a Zudaentry on your site.

4. If you’re chosen as a winner and sign the other two contracts, they come into force. Make sense. But if you decide not to sign with them, does Zuda get any rights to the work? I don’t see that explicitly laid out. That’s bad.

5. Okay, if Zuda doesn’t reject you and it’s not 90 days yet, they can enter you into a capital-C Competition; this extends the time you cannot use the work any other place and

a. you must allow them to use it on the Zudasite
b. and in promotions for the website
c. and in any print anthology forever, although you can also run it as you like
d. if you don’t win, the Zudasite can continue to run your submission unless you inform Zuda in writing that you want to recover the web rights 90 days after you lose the competition; again, you may also run your entry as you like, with or without Zuda keeping it on display
e. and those last four details also apply to your name, likeness, and bio. If you lose, be sure to recover your likeness rights, okay?

6. If you’re selected for a capital-C Competition, you get $500 in exchange for everything in paragraph #5 (make sure you submit your W-9; I wonder if this disallows non-US residents?). If you get included in an anthology, it’s another $1000 (unless you win and are governed by the other contracts). If they reprint a hardcover anthology as softcover, or any other variation of form with the same content, you get nothing more. Sneaky.

7. Just a definition of how winners are chosen in capital-C Competition; usual bit about DQ for ballot-box stuffing.

8. This looks like the important one in this contract — what happens if you win the capital-C Competition? You get sent the Rights Agreement and Services Agreement (anaylses forthcoming), and you sign ’em within 10 business days, and then you’re governed by those contracts.

If you don’t sign, then “Zuda shall have the right to rescind the deal offer and select the runner up as an alternate winner.” Still no explicit description of what rights Zuda retains and what reverts to you if you don’t sign. The disposition of everything in graf 5 is not laid out in that case; that omission is making me nervous.

9. Looks like the standard, “You are who you say you are, you created the work, you have the legal right to dispose of the work as you wish, and you aren’t going to cause us any legal headaches down the road” boilerplate. No big deal.

10. I was wrong about paragraph 8 being the important one in this contract. Let’s quote Number 10 in its entirety, shall we?

You acknowledge that Zuda has no obligation to You for Zuda’s use of material that was created by or for Zuda without the benefit of the Submission, before, during or after You submitted the Submission, and that is similar or identical to the Submission in theme, characters, ideas, plots storylines, formats or other similar respects. In addition, Zuda shall have no fewer rights with respect to the Submission than any member of the general public. (emphasis mine)

That second sentence is just ass-covering, but do look at the first one. By my reading, it says that Zuda can create additional work that is “similar or identical” to your entry at any time and they don’t owe you anything.

In one reading, this could be interpreted as, “Well, we once ran a story that was about an ice-cream scooper with amazing freeze powers who fights crime, so you can’t submit something similar and claim we ripped you off.”

On the other hand, it could be read as, “You submitted a story about an ice-cream scooper with amazing freeze powers who fights crime, and after we rejected you we created a new character who’s an ice-cream scooper with amazing freeze powers who fights crime, and it’s become the biggest thing since Siegel and Schuster signed away Superman, which by the way is a situation you should be very familiar with on account of it’s what you just did, Sparky.”

Let’s put it in bold — by my I Am Not A Lawyer, plain-English reading, this is the paragraph that explicitly identifies Zuda as an idea-farming mechanism and win or lose, you just gave up your story idea for ever and ever, Amen.

11. Standard severability boilerplate — if any single part of the contract isn’t valid, the rest still holds.

12. Standard jurisdiction boilerplate — the contract takes place in the state of New York, and if you want to dispute elements of it in future you have to do so there. If you live a long way from New York, enjoy the commute to court.

13. Standard completeness boilerplate — this contract (and the other two, if you win a capital-C Competition) is the entire legal agreement, nothing else governs the deal between you and Zuda.

I still don’t see the explicit reversion of rights to you if you get selected as a capital-C Competition winner but don’t sign. Zuda explicitly waive all its interests if you lose, but nothing about what happens if you reject them. Keep in mind that it’s a hole in a contract that does not completely answer a question that makes for lengthy fights in future.

And hey, guess what? DC Comics (wholly owned by Time Warner) has a hell of a lot more IP and contracts lawyers than you do, not to mention an annual legal budget that looks like the GDP of a small South American country. No matter how strong your position in a dispute, they can wait you out.

The remainder of the contract is divided into Technical Requirements (the 4×3 dictate, the length of the submissions, format of the images, and text descriptions), and a list of wherever the work may have previously appeared or currently appears.

To sum: by Zuda’s own declaration:

Everyone wishing to submit a comic to Zuda must read and agree to this agreement. If you don’t agree with it you should not submit your work.

If anything here (particularly the logic hole referenced in paragraphs 4 and 8, or the terms of paragraph 10) gives you that prickly feeling up the back of your neck, stay away. If you can, on careful reflection and consultation with an actual attorney, live with what’s here, then come back tomorrow as we look at the next contract.

Incorporating A Mini Fleen Book Corner

Thanks to everybody for trying to gin up some conflict on my behalf; you’ll never know how much it touches me to know that webcomics were willing to start a riot on my behalf.

We’ll start with a little something for our readers in the northeastern corner of the US: looks like they won’t be digging up Tom Carvel after all, and I think we all know the reason: zombies.

Megatokyo Volume 5 dropped yesterday; gotta say, it reads much better in bulk than on a per-installment basis. I’d pretty much given up reading MT except in three- to four-week chunks because I’d lose the thread of the story. Of great interest are the timeline and reader’s guide in the back of the book:

  • the former puts the whole plot into perspective — from strip 1 to the present day is roughly two months of story time, and everything from June 2001 forward represents a week
  • the latter includes character bios so you can remember just who the heck everyone is

Now I’m starting to wonder just how big a story Fred Gallagher intends to make out of Megatokyo; at this point, I think I’d be surprised if we’ve reached the halfway point yet.

An Evening Of Uplifting Frolic And Cavortment

The thing to understand about Off-Off Broadway shows, in those little theaters with about 100 seats and something new every night of the week? It’s never quite assured what you’re going to get. Could be the next great playwright (in about 20 years); could be five friends on a lark; could be fairies on a string or a naked guy slapping meat on his head.

Or it could be Gloria Calderón Kellett — wife of Sheldon creator Dave Kellett, actress, screenwriter, sketch comedienne, and all-around creative genius — leading a cast of really talented movie & TV regulars in a monologue show about love, relationships, and doing your best to get it right.

Ms Calderón Kellett’s show, Skirts & Flirts, had its New York premiere last week, running five shows in the East Village. Thirteen characters monolgoued their way through their intricately interwoven stories, featuring everybody from a sports-crazed straight guy (and closet knitter) to the best female friend a man could ever have (she’ll help you get laid) to a 22-times bridesmaid who really wishes the bride (Becky! Beckyyyyy … Becky) all the best in a boozy, funny/tragic reflection on loneliness.

Other standout characters included a personal trainer who used to be a fat guy, an entrepenuer interviewing boyfriend candidates, and a musician who totally rocks the Journey (and sometimes — Air Supply) but is having a teensy bit of heartache just now. Keep your eyes on Calderón Kellett’s website and go check out any show she’s involved in if it’s within three states of you. I hear that there may be such a show in Los Angeles in the next three or four months.

Now here’s where I’m torn — the other Kellett in the show, Dave Kellett, did a bang-up job as groom on the verge of marriage that could have come off like just a stand-up routine of my wedding was such a pain in the ass and instead became a funny-sad meditation on how the process became more important than the people. I want the world to know that he was just as strong and nuanced a performer as the professional actors in the cast.

But on the other hand, I don’t want the one person in the cast without an IMDB profile to think that this acting thing is more important than the cartooning thing. So: Dave Kellett, don’t quit your day job. Please?

If MacGyver Had Gills

The thing to understand is, we get a fair number of “Hey, please check out my comic that you’ve never heard of” messages coming to the authors link up there to the right; most of these are the email equivalent of cold calls, and the strips they reference usually don’t last a month. The good discoveries are usually word-of-mouth.

But there are good ones out there, and we got one for you today; it’s called Fish Tank, it’s by a guy named Carl Ray, and it’s got a breezy style (both artistically and on the writing) that I find really appealing. Just look at the title banner from the FT homepage, that insanely positive fish giving you the fins-up? That’s Ted. He’s got more bad ideas regarding technology than Wile E. Coyote, but Ted’s usually result only in setback, not utter disaster. The storylines careen from near-disaster to nearer-disaster as Ted, Angelo (a narcissist angelfish) and Hoover (a bottom-feeder — and proud of it — out for himself) start out with what seems like an ordinary situation and quickly find all rationality going out the window.

Case in point: having seen a nature documentary about salmon returning to Alaska, only to be eaten by bears, Ted is determined to help. He and Hoover end up (don’t ask) in Brazil, threatened by piranhas. How to get out of it? How about comandeering a satellite, James T. Kirk style? For my money, the best gag there isn’t the Wrath of Khan joke, it’s the exchange between Ted and Angelo:

T: I need you to punch up the data charts of the Iridium communication satellite’s command console.
A: The what?!
T: Okay look, just click “Start” and go to “Programs” …

This ends up with Ted and Angelo deorbiting an entire constellation of satellites into the Amazon basin, which would be the cue for any regular comic to say, Okay, wackiness complete, send the characters home and let’s pop a beer. Nope, Ray sends them on their
merry way to Alaska, where they have to deal with bears and … piranha?

Along the way, Fish Tank is chock-full of batshit insane, MacGyver/A-Teamesque concoctions like hypergolic spacecraft engines, homemade thermite, and a fascination with Lifetime TV movies, with a distinct Lord Flasheart vibe from time to time.

The strip goes color about 60 installments in, and it’s a nice addition to the artwork; Ray is on a hiatus for vacation, so you’ve got a good opportunity to catch up on the 130 strips in the archive. I imagine that some of it is probably funnier if you’re a “fish person”, but for my money, Fish Tank is pretty funny on its own.

And Then There Was Mr. Toast

I was roaming around the interweb when I came across a link on the Patches website titled Mr. Toast. I curiously clicked and was transported to a world of quirky foodstuffs. The comic is written and drawn by Dan Goodsell who hails from L.A. His website is full to the brim of fun thingy things to click on and enjoy.

The comics are one –panel drawings that focus around a main character aptly named Mr. Toast. His best friend is Joe the Egg, and they are found in many non-adventures, such as magical tic-tac-toe games and doing hard time. It may seem ordinary, but when you are dealing with a toast and egg duo, there is no telling what will happen. Mr. Toast and his friends are a light-hearted bunch, and appeal to the child-like innocence that is buried underneath our adult, real-world exteriors.

The website is bright, fun, and simple to navigate. There are a wide variety of items to enjoy, from animations to storybooks about the solar system (which is quite informative). He is working on his own store, where he will sell Mr. Toast dolls, books, and hopefully some original artwork. He has some great fans, which send in some fantabulous drawings and pics of themselves posing with their Mr. Toast doll. I might buy a Mr. Toast doll myself, because I’ve decided that Mr. Toast is the balls.

If you would like to see why Mr. Toast is the balls, go ahead and click here. And if you like Mr. Dan Goodsell’s artwork, then check out his art shows or his personal gallery. And if you really like Dan Goodsell to the point of weird obsession, here is a link to his very own bloggy blog. You’re welcome.

Minireviews And Random Thoughts

The mailbag is gettin’ a mite full of webcomics that cry out for review; rather than taking the time to go through each thoroughly and do a full writeup, we’re grabbin’ random strips and doing the free association thing. The validity of these minireviews is highly suspect, but it’s not fair to leave ’em in limbo forever.

Popped Culture, by Justin Stewart: The problem with pop culture gags is, even when your audience hasn’t heard them before, they think that they might have, so it’s tough to stay ahead of the curve and come up with jokes that get past the meh stage. That being said, little bits of weirdness (like season salt) help Popped Culture feel fresher than you’d expect. Also: velociraptors, so all former NASA roboticists are advised to stay away.

Random: Do you love Canadian webcomics and want them to win awards?

Natural 20s, by Tyler and Mimi: The art in this thing appears to be the perfect intersection of a Nintendo Mii, Scott Pilgrim, and Genndy Tartakovsky‘s sketchbook. Into this oasis of cute is thrown a surprisingly sharp sense of humor, what with screwin’ unicorns and all (no permalink to that strip yet, but odds are it’ll eventually be #59). Plus, check out the moustache on that guy! It’s like looking in the mirror.

Random: Weirdly rambling hate mail to Rich Stevens.

Captain Excelsior, by Zach Weiner and Chris Jones: Ever wonder what a bitter, washed-up Superman hittin’ on chicks would look like? Well, you don’t have long to wait, ’cause that happens within the first three strips. Our heroes are just as rotten as we are, so they’ve got no possibility but to improve as metahuman beings. Great fun potential.

Random: Wapsi Square has gotten pretty darn dynamic in its staging; Paul Taylor’s had some significant challenges in his personal life over the past year (hopefully improving), which may account for the simpler layouts that’ve been seen for a while now. Coincidentally, Girly creator Josh Lesnick trepidatiously took Taylor to task not long ago over the (in his view) unnecessarily-static turn the art had taken, so perhaps the feedback and art changes are related? In related news, apparently I’m a moron who dishes out blinding praise to Taylor, which is apparently unwarranted and unhelpful. I just report ’em, folks.

PvP: The Series, Episode I

I ought to go back and retitle this thing, since I wouldn’t want to get any of another Episode I on what Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, and Blind Ferrett have produced; this goes by the subtitle High School Daze, and is described thusly:

Francis worries about high school; Brent and Cole relive their glory days.

This episode starts off with the same 90 seconds or so (Office! Cubicle! Office! Cubicle! Fire!) that formed the series preview … certain things that were a bit awkward in the teaser trailer (like background noises at too high a level, which made the offices of PvP Magazine sound like a much busier place that it’s ever been shown) have been resolved. Brent’s voice (which to me was the strongest part of the trailer) sounds a bit more confident in the first installment, and the animation features a broader range of framings and motions than the preview. HSD proper starts immediately after the title logo and obligatory panda mauling.

There’s boobs, and barfing, and a bleeped naughty word, and you’ve got characters acting as you’d expect, but… It doesn’t entirely feel like PvP. This is probably because Skull doesn’t appear in the episode at all, which seems an odd choice given his key role in the strip. Sure, it’s just the first episode, and there’s nothing that says he has to appear in every one — but to not have Skull feels weird, like we’re watching a pilot for a new TV show that hasn’t found its groove yet.

The story itself plays like a PvP strip stretched out in time, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Think about it this way: a three-panel comic strip is like a three-act story; there’s the setup in the first panel/act, the reaction in second, and resolution (usually with comuppance) in the third. In this respect, the shifting from three panels to three acts gives time to put more in than could possibly be accomodated in a regular strip offering, and allows for a smoother story than a comic strip arc could. When comic strip stories continue from day-to-day, you usually have to sacrifice at least part of panel #1 reminding people what they read yesterday; without that 24-hour-delay-and-reminder everything moves more smoothly, and the characters don’t have to act like they have low-level anterograde amnesia.

And yet, I’ve always thought that both Kurtz and Straub have done their best work when they set out to tackle longer story arcs; as their comics grew from daily gags to week-long themes to full-blown plotlines, they became much more interesting. I have a feeling that as they become more confident in their writing for this new medium, we’ll see stories structured less like a strip (in the sense of a single-day’s comic), and more like a strip (in the sense of an ongoing thing with character development and a sense of backstory). Given that Kurtz & Straub have spoken of the series as having “seasons”, I suspect that we may see an overall theme, like the year in PvP when Jade & Brent broke up, and many shorter story arcs were part of a buildup to their eventual reunion. I’d love to see a story that plays out in multiple installments (without the obvious crutches of cliffhangers) and becomes a coherent whole; that’s tough to do when you’ve only got 5 minute chunks to work with, but it can be done.

So bottom line — let’s say that the pilot’s been picked up, and we’ve got a 13-episode committment. And while Kurtz & Co. were kind enough to comp me a subscription, based on this first episode, it would have been a worthwhile risk to plunk down the cash myself. There’s potential, and Kurtz & Straub have the chops to build on it, and we just have to see if they can translate those chops to the world of sound & motion.

What On Erf Do You Mean: “My Language”?

So when two so very different people as Howard Tayler (upstanding SLC family man destined for heaven) and Jon Rosenberg (insane NYC whackjob headin’ straight to Hades) both tell me to check out a new webcomic, I figure there’s gotta be something there. And when said webcomic shares a collective with Order of the Stick, is written and drawn by established creators, and is opened up under a Creative Commons license that allows remixing, then it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

Thus, Erfworld. It’s every fantasy, RPG, and gamer geek trope rolled into one, with Giant Magical Elvises (Elvii?) and speech impediments thrown in for good measure. Short version: the idiot Lord Stanley, attempting to conquer the world, has managed to decimate his own forces by putting a series of prettyboys in high military offices. His chief magic slinger, Lady Firebaugh, has a plan to import the ultimate tactical genius (from whatever dimension) to take over the army and prevent Gobwin Knob from being destroyed.

But it looks like they got Parson Gotti, a semi-depressed gamemaster/webcomics creator who works at Kinkos and waits for marshmallow peeps to get good ‘n’ stale before eating them. Clearly, Parson getting imported into a fantasy game world is the key setup of the story, and we’ve only just gotten there (Balder and Noguchi have taken their time setting up the world and its rules), so there’s lots of potential in front of us.

Given that the plot is just getting started, what I’m really digging most right now are the little details and touchstones that populate each page; it’s hard to tell if a magic communicating hat that accepts messages with a POOF and delivers them with a FOOP was Balder’s idea or Noguchi’s, but it’s hilarious. Likewise, keep an eye open for obligatory Tolkien references, IM without technology, poop jokes, turn-based game references and comically oversize weapons, graphical memes and leetspeak, more poop jokes, Watchmen references, and Tron references with more cleavage than Jeff Bridges ever dreamt of.

And what the hell — if you actually followed all those links, you’ve read most of Erfworld already, so you may as well read the rest. It’s good stuff.