The webcomics blog about webcomics

Evan¹ Better Than We’d Suspected

We at Fleen have more than once remarked that Island Book by Evan Dahm has a numeral 1 on the spine, tantalizing us with the prospects of further adventures with Sola. At MoCCA this year Dahm was careful with his choice of words, never confirming to me that there would be more to the story, but never outright denying it either. He may as well have adopted Beatrice’s protest: but believe me not; and yet I lie not; I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing.

But wonder no more, for Dahm has made it clear today: there will be a sequel to Island Book, and a third volume as well:

This interview is also maybe the first overt Announcement that there will be TWO SEQUELS TO ISLAND BOOK

The interview mentioned is at The Comics Journal, with the always-erudite Sloan Leong. There’s very few people that think about the act and meaning of creation, and the context of story within the entire artistic tradition as Dahm, and he’s given a lot of room to talk about his intentions in the interview. There’s a lot of creators that make deeply philosophical comics, and of course there’s a McCloudian philosophy of comics, but I think that Dahm is the the closest thing we have to an actual philosopher working out a system of the world via comics.

More about the Island Book sequels is at Dahm’s Tumblr:

Two sequels to Island Book are in production with First Second Books. These sequels build a cohesive trilogy out of Island Book, and expand the fable storytelling of the first book into an enormous, harrowing adventure story with a focus on authoritarianism, looming apocalypse, and queer identity.

Of all of those themes, I would have only said apocalypse was a likely story arc based on reading only the first volume; I would have described the cultures of the islands we’ve seen so far in terms of small-minded prejudice (in once case, something akin to toxic masculinity), but a critique of authoritarianism? Queer identity? I can’t wait to see how those fit into what we’ve seen so far, if only because the big-publisher process of editing² is going to make Dahm refine his message to the point where it’s super effective. The kids that read Island Book don’t know how many big ideas he’s going to hit them with in 2021 and 2022.

Me? I just want to know who that guy on the left is. We saw one of Sola’s fellow islanders was be-stached in passing, but didn’t get any of his deal in volume one. Is this the same character? He looks important, or maybe thinks the sword and epaulets make him important. I want to know his deal, just because he looks so different from what we’ve seen so far. But that’s kind of Dahm’s whole approach — That character right there, we’ve never seen their like, what’s their deal? — and it always pays off.


Spam of the day:

Our International company consists of about 65 Internet projects related to crypto currencies and ICO. Now we recruit staff from around the world. Best regards, Evan Ferguson, HR Dept.

The thought of a crypto farm having an HR department absolutely tickles me.

_______________
¹ I see what I did there.

² Longtime readers may recall that Mark Siegel at :01 Books (who I believe has been working with Dahm) has described his editing process before. It’s pretty much the opposite of how Dahm freeforms his self-published work. I’m not going to say it’s something he’s in need of, but I will say that it likely makes his work far more likely to succeed in a kids demographic than he could have accomplished on his own.

Kickstarters Come And Go

As Jon and Amy Rosenberg’s Kickstarter From A Multiverse successfully concludes at the high end of the expected range (the FFF mk2 had the midpoint of the range right about at the goal), and C Spike Trotman launches her … I want to say 22nd? … campaign for her latest anthology.

You Died is an anthology of what happens to us after death, and for my money the big news is not the participation of Raina Telegemeier (contributing to a story called A Funeral In Foam) or Caitlin Doughty (and could there be a better choice for the foreword than America’s favorite mortician and scholar of death?), but the price point.

In typical Spike fashion, it’s a simple campaign: the two tiers allow you to get a PDF only, or a PDF and print copy (an early bird tier offered free domestic shipping and cheap international shipping, but is otherwise just the print tier); the one stretch goal (a cover enhancement) kicks in at US$5K over goal (which is the same level that the Iron Circus creator page bonus starts at). Two weeks for the campaign and if I know Spike, the art’s in and the production’s ready to begin the day the payment clears. All of this is bog-standard operating procedure.

But that one tier (okay, and the early bird) that gets you a physical book? It’s ten bucks less than Spike’s ever done before:

A thing I’m compelled to point out: As YOU DIED ((link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ironspike/you-died-an-anthology-of-the-afterlife?ref=djikjm) kickstarter.com/projects/irons…) demonstrates, black-&-white Iron Circus anthologies will now be $20 a pop. This is a 33% price reduction.

The reasons for this: Printing larger runs, distro sales on the back-end, and the Hesitation Point.

No, I don’t mean the vista in the Brown County State Park in Indiana (although it IS lovely). I mean the price point at which potential buyers unfamiliar with ICC’s output will no longer outright reject a book before consideration.

$30 was fine when we were a small press that primarily self-distributed, or sold online and at cons. But now, The books have EXTENSIVE lives after the Kickstarter and con season.

Like… I essentially sold 4 figures (unit count, not dollar amount) in one day, last week.

When you’re moving volume, you print in bigger runs. And when you print bigger runs, the per-unit cost craters. Which is why a mid-range publisher can print, say, 10k units and charge $10 each, but a boutique pub maybe puts out runs of 1500-2000, and the same book would be $20.

All the feedback I get from the distro I work with (and sometimes from the folks I have at the ICC booth at shows) is $30 was too much for a book someone was wishy-washy on getting. I wanna convert the wishy-washy folks into customers. That’s what price cuts do.

And goofy as it sounds, the psychological angle is advantageous, as well. Take the price down ten bucks, and suddenly it’s only one bill out of someone’s wallet instead of two.

Weird? Yeah. But Totally A Thing Regardless? Absolutely.

All those scales and side-effects from distribution will make one other thing noticeably different about You Died vs all previous Iron Circus anthologies: delivery isn’t scheduled until September 2020. When you work at distribution scale, you have to give plenty of notice about your offerings. If Spike turned this book around in six to nine months like previous offerings, a fair number of clients might not be able to take it because they’ve already planned their budgets and spending around books that were announced a year ago.

And if they could place an order that quickly but something (cough, cough, trade war, cough) were to delay the books a week or two past the promised date? Promotions budgets, space on bookshelves, even warehouse stock space would be disrupted. And those buyers that got burned would think twice about ever taking another Iron Circus title.

Spike’s in a whole different world now, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see how well she’s done so far. The number of people that can take a company from one-person garage startup to part of a global supply chain with dozens of inputs and thousands of outputs and not screw the pooch is vanishingly small. Those are completely different skillsets, and the managerial mindset necessary for the post-transition business (especially the importance of delegation) is about 173° out of phase with the fast hustle that’s needed pre-transition.

It’s part of why so many start-ups (not to mention mega-huge Kickstarts that keep growing in complexity) crash and burn — the kind of person that can run the one-person endeavour is usually not only really bad at management, they usually are even worse at recognizing the things that they can’t do (or at least, need to do differently). So sincere kudos to Spike for beating the odds in yet another way; it’ll give her detractors one more thing to cry into their Cheerios over.


Spam of the day:

GET YOUR DONALD J TRUMP COMMEMORATIVE COIN TODAY! Best wishes, Your patriotic friends at Ape Survival

So that’s an Australian prepper supply site getting badly misreading my interests in commemorating anything about Donald Trump other than the monumental crap I’m going to take on his grave someday.

Never Seen This Happen On Release Day Before

So the plan was to pick up a copy of Shing Yin Khor’s The American Dream? A Journey On Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, And The Perfect Breakfast Burrito and read it. Khor’s work, as has been discussed on this page, is powerfully personal; their watercolors are capable of the most delicate filigree and the angriest rage, often simultaneously, and perfectly suit their stories. Plus, this one has at least four of their obsessions in it — dinosaur statues, muffler men, road trips, and a small adventure dog named Bug; it’s been my most-anticipated book of summer.

But it wasn’t in stock at the local bookstore. It wasn’t in stock at any store I could find in the state of New Jersey via Indiebound¹, not in stock at Powell’s, or The Strand, or even Barnes & Noble. At the time I checked, Amazon (who I will not buy anything from as long as an alternative exists) had eleven copies in stock. Eleven. As in, ten plus one, nationwide, on day of release. And none of those we-don’t-have-it-in-stock places would take an order because they couldn’t tell when the backorders would fill.

I mean, I suppose I could have gotten a copy of the e-book, but I believe I’ve made my feelings known on licensed media.

Somewhere between the publisher (Lerner) and the distributor (there’s basically one left, Ingram²), there’s just no copies that have made it to the retail end point — and based on a conversation I had with the publisher’s sales division, it’s probably the distribution end that is slow this time. See, I placed an order with Lerner’s online store (which is really skewed towards schools and libraries from the look of it³) and then called to find out what the ship time would be (answer: probably about ten days, arrgh) and the very pleasant gentleman I spoke to told me we’ve got about 4000 copies in the warehouse, and it’s not like they held onto every copy for themselves.

So as of this writing, if you want to get a copy of TAD?AJOR66DDSMMATPBB, your choice for copies-on-hand are Lerner, maybe Target (if you’re interested in the library binding), or people on Ebay and Amazon’s Marketplace that claim to have single copies (possibly advance review copies) at inflated prices. Oh, and if you’re not opposed to Amazon? Too late. In the time since I started typing, they’re down to nine (9) copies in stock, and by the time you read this they’ll be out. Okay, okay, they’ve probably got the library binding edition. It’s still Amazon.

On the one hand, this is great — people want to read Khor’s work, and when the backlog in the pipeline finally eases, that demand will hopefully be promptly met. On the other hand, my bookselling experience (high school, plus summer breaks through college and grad school) tells me that when a book isn’t available when people want it — and these days, especially for online order — they tend to forget about it. With any luck, readers who are just now learning about Khor’s work will have the patience to make it through this rather distressing hiccup and be amply rewarded when the book comes out.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of teaser pages, and here’s an interview with Khor at The Beat, and you can buy a bunch of Khor’s minicomics here. With any luck, when their next graphic novel releases next year (date TBD), it’ll fare better on the logistics end.

PS: Five copies at Amazon, which is now listing it as #1 New Release in Teen & Young Adult Cultural Heritage Biographies.


Spam of the day:

Make money with your woodworking skills!

There was really no choice which spam to feature today, when I was talking about the Sawdust Bear. My woodworking skills are, by comparison, somewhere between nonexistent and pathetic.

_______________
¹ Except — maybe — a Hudson’s newsstand in Newark International Airport, terminal C.

² The comic shop industry could probably have warned the book publishing industry about what having only one distributor means.

³ And which required I open an account to make a purchase which I hate, but not as much as I hate buying from Amazon.

Sorry For The Missed Update

Spent most of the day in the ED for a medical thing that is now hopefully resolved. Everybody’s good, but it took priority. I know you understand.

What You Need On A Friday

Recently, Rosemary Mosco — science communicator extraordinaire and all forms of nature but especially birds afficianado — ran a comic (seen above) about birds whose common names suffer from Tony Danza syndrome¹. The Mo[u]rning Dove has a mug expressing its opinion on the topic of mornings, and because Mosco is a professional, you should know immediately that cloacal kisses are totally a thing.

Meanwhile, the mad geniuses over at TopatoCo know a good thing when they see it. The world needs a Mornings Can Kiss My Cloaca mug (complete with handy arrow) and now there is one. There’s also some misprints that lack the arrow for five bucks less, but honestly? It’s the arrow that makes it. Well, that and the irritated eyebrow the bird sports. Get one for the morning-averse person in your life.

Yeah, we’re a bit short on words today, but you got nearly 15,000 of them in the past ten days and I need time to catch up on everything that happened since SDCC started. Enjoy the weekend, we’re out.


Spam of the day:

How did your recent visit to 7-11 go?

I haven’t been to 7-11 in more than five years when on weekend EMT duty on the hottest day of the summer, we stopped by 7-11 on the way back from the hospital for Slushies. I hadn’t had a Slushie for, I’ma say 35 years, and had a moment of panic the next day. Blue is never a color that should come out of you.

_______________
¹ As in, what’s the refrain to that one Elton John song? Hold me closer, Tony Danza, right?

Viva

There’s only one thing to say today: For the first time since they revived under the auspices of First Look Media, The Nib didn’t update on a weekday. This is twice now that a media company sponsor (the first time was Medium) decided to pivot to something that we all know won’t work, and took The Nib into a state of uncertainty.

Today, it’s a one-person shop, with Matt Bors doing everything himself. His editorial staff — Eleri Harris, Matt Lubchansky, Andy Warner, and Sarah Mirk — are laid off until he figures out what happens going forward. The stable of cartoonists that brought us politically-informed chuckles, nonfiction stories, and reports from countries that barely get mentioned in news channels, much less get to provide editorial cartoons from their own POV are on hold, until Bors figures out what happens going forward.

I said it before, I’ll say it again: subscribe. Subscribe because The Nib 2.0 published more than 4000 cartoons and paid cartoonists more than US$1.5 million. Subscribe because in just under two weeks, they will be publishing again. Subscribe because the fourth issue of the print edition of The Nib has made its way to the world, and it’s their best yet. Subscribe because people deserve to be paid for their work, and as of today, we’re it for funding. Subscribe, because if you follow cartoonists, you’ll find that they are overwhelmingly urging you to subscribe and doing so themselves.

And when you subscribe, consider this: the cover price for the print edition of The Nib is US$14.95; that comes to US$60/year, or five bucks a month. Bors is letting you subscribe to the print edition for four bucks a month; if you value the work being done, don’t take the discount. Go to US$8/month or more; even though it doesn’t get you any additional physical rewards, you’ll be giving Bors the financial resources to get his staff back to pay his contributors, to have those multiple cartoons each weekday continue.

Me? I’m hitting up the US$16/month level, because that’s just about what I pay to back up this site, and that benefits only me. I can support the best cartoonists in the world at least as much as I support this quasi-vanity project. And hey, if that means the site stays more afloat and some of you who aren’t in a position to subscribe today can pay it forward later? Bonus.

Updates (for now) can be found via The Nib Daily newsletter, or their twitterfeed. The twelfth will be here soon and we’ll all figure it out together going forward.


Spam of the day:

The miracle that scares Big Pharma

I told you to stop emailing me, Marianne Williamson.

The Best Panel I Saw During SDCC

I had a picture of the panel, but it was one of the ones that got eaten by my phone, dammit.

[Editor’s note: This will be the last of our SDCC 2019 panel recaps. Exact quotes, italics, etc, you know the drill, but since there were so many go back-and-forth elements to the answers, I’m going to do my best to identify who made each of the paraphrased points.]

I went to the panel on how magic and technology can coexist in fiction on a whim, and I’m glad I did. Moderator Lilah Sturges did the best panel-wrangling job I saw in San Diego, tossing questions, prompting useful digressions, keeping things moving, and avoiding the dreaded Now each of you answer the same question in depth, one after another at all costs. A’course, when the panel includes Ursula Vernon, Bree Paulsen, Gene Ha¹, Carey Pietsch, Maya Kern, and Katie O’Neill on the panel, there were plenty of opinions to go around.

The only okay, everybody answer this question was the first which was Is Star Wars sci-fi? Clarke talked about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, and if it is, what’s the difference? Nerd senses tingling, hands involuntarily clenching, takes heating to the searing point, the panel was on notice that they’d have to bring their A-game, and the audience was primed to be invested in the answers. While the panel pretty much all dodged the first part of the question, they dug into the second with their own thoughts on the differences.

Kern: We can at least pretend to understand technology.
O’Neill: Technology is created for a purpose and direction, magic isn’t.
Paulsen: It depends on how characters interact with it.
Vernon: Technology is replicable, magic is just Yer a wziard, Harry. Sometimes it’s democratic, sometimes it’s Luke, you’re a Jedi but nobody else it or can be.
Paulsen: It’s the difference between created (technology) and channeled (magic).
Pietsch: Are you reading Witch Hat Atelier? Spoiler warning: people in the story believe that magic is inherent to witches and nobody else can use it, but it turns out that it’s a skill set. I really enjoy stories that tread that line.
Paulsen: I like stories where technology is used to direct or harness magic.
Vernon: Spontaneity is key — magic can just exist out in the woods on its own, but an iPad doesn’t just happen.
Ha: Mary Shelley is regarded as the first science fiction writer, but you could say that she wrote a story of a wizard who engaged in forbidden rituals. Frankenstein is a fantasy story but it’s told in terms of technology, these new discoveries. She invented the mad scientist.
Kern: Bottom line: technology needs people to make it/use it, but magic can just exist on its own.

Notice that back and forth? It worked great. Sturges’s later questions didn’t request that everybody answer, they were just lobbed out there and people had a conversation until they’d all made the points they wanted to. Panels that turn into an open discussion by smart, engaged people rock, and I wish every session at SDCC ran like this one did. The next question asked the panel how they use technology and magic for different kinds of stories.

Paulsen: Okay, we all know vampire lore, you can’t take their picture, but I’ve decided that was because film cameras have a bunch of mirrors in them, and your phone doesn’t, so you can get a selfie with a vampire if you wanted to. I like to find workarounds to folklore.
O’Neill: I love the intersection of magic and domesticity, or magic tied to a skill like weaving or blacksmithing.
Pietsch: I like using magic as a craft but also as a way to put characters into situations we don’t have a framework for.
Vernon: I have a story set in the Old West where the trains became sentient, then became gods, so they obviously needed priests. It’s tech becoming suddenly huge and disruptive, it must have looked like magic to the people seeing it for the first time …
Sturges: I want to do any exorcism with a train priest.
Ha: I HAVE DISCOVERED MUZAK’S TRUE NAME, NOW I HAVE POWER OVER IT.
O’Neill: One thing I like to do is think of limitations on magic, like you’d get with technology. [Editor’s note: somebody please write a story where magic is limited by the equivalent of battery life, or no signal.]
Ha: Samuel Johnson, in the 18th century, said the job of Art is to make the everyday magic, and make the magic everyday. When creating these systems, like the train priests, those engineers were folk heroes, so your metaphor about life back then …
Vernon: Who among us has not seen Elon Musk treated as a prophet?²
Pietsch: The edge cases are the most interesting to me. Maybe you could never achieve this [gestures to indicate modern life] with magic, now how do you get round that?

The panel firing on all cylinders (technology reference!), Sturges lobbed the big one at them: What is the difference between fantasy and science fiction?

Pietsch: Gatekeeping? [applause break]
Sturges: Okay, next question! [laughter break]
Paulsen: I think science fiction is where people are starting to understand something and ask But what if it went this far? It can be anything, and the line gets blurry.
Vernon: I’d say sci fi has a could happen vibe, and fantasy more this could never happen.
Paulsen: But the line is still blurry, especially as we learn about space. Black holes, cool! That’s magic!
Ha: In an earlier panel, a woman said the difference is gendered. In Star Wars, Luke is a princess, Ben is a fairy godmother, Vader is the evil step-parent …
Vernon: And he has a Death Star instead of a dragon!
Sturges: So science fiction concentrates more on how, and fantasy more on why?
Vernon: Yeah, but you can think about a million counterexamples. Lots of sci fi doesn’t care about how How does acid blood work? I dunno, but it looks cool.
Pietsch: I feel like it’s a matter of framework, not definition. What was the author interested in?
Vernon: The stories that Trek wanted to tell were Why were humans like this? Why were aliens like this? That one Next Generation with the ugly bags of mostly water? That was hard-SF. The rest, not so much.

With that settled, it was time for the key question: Can technology and magic coexist in the same story?

Paulsen: I want a story where a witch can send a message around the world for you, but a text arrives first.
Vernon: Modern technology mixed with magic stories rely on hidden worlds a lot. I think they can coexist, but adult muggles have to be really dense for those stories to work at all.
Ha: Almost every good story is a mystery story. Magic is all about mystery. We can look up the answers to anything, so a lot of the storytelling depends on trying to figure out new kinds of questions.
Kern: You could say that augmented reality could be a form of magic.
Pietsch: If you could get persistent, self-sustaining augmented reality, that would be magic.

Sturges threw open the session to audience questions, and made an observation that should be made at every panel: Questions end in a question mark, and should fit in a tweet. It worked, too! No grandstanding, no manifestos, no explanations to the panel about how they’re wrong and bad and wrong some more. Bliss!

Question: What are some examples of blended magic and tech in your own work?
Sturges: I have witches researching spell components, inspired by bioresearchers that use supercomputers and simulations to explore new drugs via algorithm.
Vernon: Train priests³.
Paulsen: Vampires and cameras.
Ha: Mae is portal fiction, with mad science, pre-human technology, and magic plus technology mixing.
Pietsch: I have elevators in a medieval fantasy setting. I like to draw technology and have the characters just run with it
Kern: Snapchat filters are magic in real life.
O’Neill: My Tea Dragons grow tea, but it’s about how technology can be quick, efficient, accessible, but also you end up overlooking the older (and still valuable) methods.

Question: In stories, the role of magic is often to empower, but technology serves to isolate and polarize. Can we get magic to solve these troubles for us?
Vernon: I suspect that if magic existed the same things would happen, but that doesn’t make good books.
Kern: Allow me to introduce you to every old, weird magic hermit in fiction.
Ha: In art history, there’s always the images of saints tormented by demons, which makes me think that Hieronymus Bosch4 was just foreseeing the internet.
Vernon: [with gravity] We are all Saint Anthony.

Question: How do you address the complexity in the systems of modernity, the Industrial Revolution, and such? Do we need a story that can serve as a cautionary about climate change?
Vernon: One point I wanted to make about the train priests was the trains were no longer under the control of the financiers and rail barons that paid to build the rails. When the decided on priests, they looked to the people they’d seen work and die to build, so 2/3 of the train priests are Chinese, black, Irish, a few Cornish. Troops got sent and the trains ate them.
Paulsen: Thomas, no! I remember a Discworld book that talked about the pollution of a river; magic mining was going on but the side effects were still there.
Pietsch: Was that Thud!?
Vernon: Could be The Fifth Elephant.
Paulsen: A real world example: companies are harvesting white sage unsustainably, which is needed for ecological balance, but we’re all witches now.
Sturges: Also there are eye of newt shortages, newts just bumping into each other.

Question: There are two discourses here; what about the stories we’re telling ourselves in a post-truth world. I don’t know if you saw the anti-vaxxers parading around, there’s magical thinking …
Pietsch: Oh, you mean lies. [applause break]
Vernon: I think we could use some hopeful stories about, say, climate change. Grief is paralyzing, and it’s hard. I’ve tried to write about dealing with this new world, how do we deal with it and what do we influence? If there were easy answers, we’d be doing it.
Paulsen: Tommorowland tried to address this, but it didn’t quite land.
Vernon: How we can write stories to make people not listen to Fox News? I got nuthin’.
Paulsen: I recommend NK Jemisen’s The Broken Earth books. They’re about facing a global catastrophe, but hopeful.

Question: Okay, so muggles are dumb. How do we write stories with non-dumb magical systems included?
Vernon: I just make have the shamans homeless, and everybody ignores them.
Ha: I’ve worked a lot with Alan Moore, and in his system, magic is language.

Whew! That’s a lot of transcribing, but it was worth it. Follow all of the folks that took part, and thanks again to Lilah Sturges for a magnificent job of keeping things rolling.


Spam of the day:

Is international dating more trouble than it on most DAYS during his commute from Green Lake to his Georgetown office, Alejandro Pea is observing his phone.

I can’t tell if international dating is meant to refer to dating across national borders, or just the run-of-the-mill mail-order bride deal. Clarity, please!

_______________
¹ Who spent time thinking about answers by sketching folks in the front row or so of the audience, then presenting them with the portraits.

² Me and Vernon’s husband Kevin who I was sitting next to: [stiffen and subvocalize growls, as if to express the thought Fuck that guy.]

³ Because the question came up, you can find the train priests in the novelette The Tomato Thief, which won a Hugo. The story features Grandma Harken, who also featured in the Nebula-winning short story Jackalope Wives. I love Vernon’s cantankerous, wise old women that smart folks know not to cross.

4 Weirdly, this was the second time Bosch came up at SDCC for me, and Carey Pietsch was present for both of them.

Ask Them Anything

[Editor’s note: Disclaimer time again. The purpose of these recaps is to get at the gist of what was being said and by whom; to the extent that direct quotes occur, they will be italicized. And just because you don’t see somebody’s name doesn’t mean they weren’t in the middle of the conversation; it just means that I need to learn shorthand, or go back to typing these things.]

So you want to get comics into the classroom (which was a recurring theme of the sessions being held at the San Diego Public Library, which is a magnificent facility bee-tee-dubs), so what better way than to be able to have a nearly entirely question-driven session with creators (Jimmy Gownley and James Parks, with Ben Costa in the audience because the table was full), academics (Talia Hurwich and Meryl Jaffe, authors of Worth A Thousand Words), teachers (Derek Heid and Tracy Edmunds), and publishers (Mark Siegel and Gina Gagliano, who was honored by Publishers Weekly today)?

It was rhetorical, but the answer is There is no better way.

The questions from the audience ranged from the purely physical (How do you keep graphic novels from getting shredded in circulation?, a librarian wanted to know) to the application of theory (Teachers wanted to discuss leveling, the process of determining reading level for materials, and why graphic novels are consistently rated too low), with the ever-popular How do you get buy-in from parents/colleagues/administrators? along the way. Let’s take that last one first.

Jaffe admitted that she used to be one of those parents/teachers who thought that graphic novels weren’t useful in the classroom; she credited the kids in her class who did an intervention with me. She noted that because there is so little text on a page, the vocabulary tends to be advanced, with an extremely high incidence of metaphor. Gownley supported this point, noting that the most garbage Marvel superhero comics are written to the same level as the New York Times. Parks added that comics stretch the reading skills further, in that they — uniquely — allow readers to interpret what happens on a page more broadly than other forms of reading.

We noted a couple recaps back that the Common Core standards require students to examine a work classic literature in at least two different media; Heid stressed that to read text only is not teaching to standard, and Edmunds pointed out that graphic novels are specifically listed in those standards as a media type to be used in¹ fifth grade.

Siegel was happy to note that parents are the last pockets of resistance, when they think that their kids are getting short-changed or being given half measures. Librarians (and this is a recurring theme with Siegel over the years) have been ahead of the curve, obtaining and pushing graphic novels².

When there is still resistance in the community, he recommends putting up a display of books with all the shiny awards stickers on the front — the National Book Awards don’t have a category for graphic literature, after all. But, he allowed, it gets a little tiring to keep having the same conversation about format. Gownley had the ultimate solution: These people will get old and die someday.

Heid remarked that teachers are pretty much onboard, since they saw how large the medium (not genre!) is, but is ticked that at education conferences, there’s no panel on Novels In The Classroom. Nobody even thinks to question their inclusion, but somehow the absolute equivalecy of novel:=literature persists to the detriment of other media.

Let’s jump back to the circulation question; the answer was at least partly to adjust expectations. Gagliano pointed out that the typical graphic novel binding will hold up to about 60 circulations, which is as good or better than prose. The librarian admitted that they’re seeing about 75 circulations, so there you go.

Gagliano also mentioned specialty bindings for libraries from outfits like Perma-Bound and Bound To Stay Bound to increase durability (Gownley chimed in that they aren’t as pleasing to read, but they hold up). Siegel noted there’s an increasing number of simultaneous releases of hardcover and softcover, specifically with libraries in mind.

The discussion around leveling fascinated me, because it was clearly of great interest to nearly everybody in the room, but also completely new to me. The discussion began when a teacher said she had no problems with her elementary principal, librarians, fellow teachers, or parents. Her issue was that the district wants comprehension tests after every book, and she needs both documentation that kids aren’t reading below grade level and a mechanism to evaluate how well the students are reading (NB: The teachers and teacher-adjacent in the room would refer to what I saw as two things almost interchangeably).

Edmunds jumped on the leveling issue: the grade level assigned by the most common leveling rules/services does not accurately reflect the complexity of the reading. The levels, and most tests available to teachers, are algorithmically generated and only take into account the text. Gagliano mentioned that publishers are constantly in communication with the test-generation folks to more accurately reflect the material and the leveling.

Gownley almost hopes that a solution isn’t found — when the books are outside the official curriculum, there’s no test, no proofs of proficiency, a slight hint of being forbidden, then reading becomes more fun.

But returning to why there isn’t a leveling tool that incorporates words+pictures, Edmunds explained that it’s difficult to to. Leveling is the province of computers, not humans; Jaffe added that it’s done by people who aren’t in classrooms. Siegel expressed some sympathy for the lack of accurate leveling, in that the entire idea of visual literacy is hazy right now. As noted a few days ago, we’re all just waiting for McCloud to give us the vocabulary to have the conversation that we need to have in order to come to a consensus on this complex and constantly changing landscape.

The last question of the session³ was about how to incorporate graphic novels along with nongraphic novels, rather than instead of. Heid jumped in to say it depends on what you’re teaching, but using both allows all kinds of discussion. For example, To Kill A Mockingbird presents the climactic verdict scene with a focus on Jem, but the graphic novel adaptation shifts it to Tom Robinson, with each Guilty shifting his expression from shock, to horror, to the sure knowledge it was always going to be this way. After your kids have read both, ask them, Why did Harper Lee focus on Jem and the graphic novel focus on Tom?

Jaffe says the contrast between text-only and graphic novels allows you to explore questions with students that you couldn’t otherwise. Contrasting the different formats allows investigation into concepts like How do you communicate? Gagliano focused on the fact that a lot of literature teachers may not have a background/training in art, but they can learn with their students; you can think about why a page was designed the way it way, why the choice was made to use color or B&W, what job each panel has to do. Asking the questions and seeing what answers they come up with will spur a teacher’s own education.

And that education continues: Hurwich is working on her PhD (graphic novels and other media in the classroom and their effect on student literacy) and Heid his Masters (on education standards and how graphic novels fit); Gagliano and Siegel keep seeking out the best books they can, and Parks and Costa keep figuring out how to make their series more entertaining and relevant for kids. None of them will ever stop trying to do more for their students or their readers.


Spam of the day:

Get Vivint.SmartHome monitoring now and sleep well

You’ve got some damn nerve pushing this on me the same week as a tremendous security disclosure around embedded systems like those featured here? Remember, kids: The S in IoT stands for Security!

_______________
¹ Or possibly starting in fifth grade, rather than solely fifth grade. My notes got a little rushed, and any teachers familiar with the Common Core are welcome to clarify for us.

² Asked in a follow-up when the librarians started pushing graphic novels, Gownley perkily answered Thursday! to general laughter. Gagliano remarked that the annual YALSA Great Graphic Novels For Teens list started in 2005, which she described as the tipping point. American Born Chinese would be nominated for the National Book Award the next year, and once SMILE took the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction, the momentum was pretty much irreversible. Edmunds half-lamented that it’s almost not possible to keep up with all the good graphic novels being published today.

³ Well, second to last; the last was Where will we see you after this session?, which prompted the best response from Gownley: The Crowne Plaza sushi bar.

What The Kid(s) In Your Life Are Going To Be Reading

Sometimes, panels don’t lend themselves to traditional write-ups (or, at least not write-ups as I do them; everybody’s got their own style, after all), and the preview of all-ages comics from Scholastic/Graphix is a prime example. It wasn’t so much a discussion as an opportunity to talk about what Graphix has coming up in the near future, with creators talking about their current/forthcoming projects. Thus, the disclaimer I normally start with on these panel recaps is missing, since there’s not so much the opportunity to confuse quotes with paraphrases. Okay, there’s one quote coming up, you’ll know it when you see it.

Instead, I’m going to talk about some of the work that was previewed, with little things that caught my eye. For example, Jim Benton is half graphic novelist, half IP licensing machine, and Catwad straddles that line. Benton actually first came up with Catwad years ago, but similarities to a slightly more recent cat with grumpy tendencies¹.

Tui Sutherland talked about the process of adapting her book series, Wings Of Fire (thirteen books and counting!) to graphic novels (third one coming soon). Particularly, she’d like to note that while it’s all very easy to describe an arena full of dragon-type beings as far as the eye can see, it’s quite another to expect Mike Holmes to draw that over and over (Sutherland: Sorry, Mike!). And since I don’t see her credited on the series page (or even on the covers, for goodness sake), I’ll note that the colorist is Maarta Laiho, who has her own challenges — rainforests, chameleonic dragons who change color, leading to completely different colors from panel to panel — and deserves a bit of recognition here.

Jon J Muth’s adaptation of The Seventh Voyage by Stanislaw Lem was included in the giveaway bag at the Scholastic party on Thursday night, so I can tell you that it’s smart, charming, funny, and very, very different from any other graphic novel you’ve read or are going to read this year. Lem’s ability to lambaste Poland’s political institutions and society without running afoul of governmental authorities is legendary, and you’ll see a prime example of his skill as Ijon Tichy struggles to resolve a life-or-death situation despite the interference of a bureaucracy of himself² doing its damndest to prevent anything from actually happening. And the space suit³ is hilarious.

Raina Telgemeier let her audience know that Guts is different than her previous work (her exact words were Wake up, ’cause we’re going to talk about anxiety!), but in a way that let them know that’s okay. That she had a hard time dealing with the stressors in her life at their age, and sometimes still has those feelings, but she got help. And if they feel overwhelmed and anxious, they can get help, too. She’s really our best ambassador to the middle grades, the one that remembers what that time was like and can converse with those who live their in terms of their own experiences. As I told her when I got to read an advance copy back in April, I wanted very much to travel back in time and hug Young Raina and tell her it would be okay.

The only question I noted was when a girl, about ten years old, came to the mic to ask Miss Raina, what happened to Amara’s snake? Readers of Sisters may recall that Raina’s younger sister had a snake who got loose and lost, only to be found six months later under the seats in the minivan (or at least, a snake similar enough to the one that was lost as to make no difference). In the meantime, their mom had gotten Amara another snake and when that one got loose, Raina said I left the house. It was time for college, but the snake was definitely part of the decision. Like I said, she know how to speak Middle Grader.

Release dates:


Spam of the day:

I reaiiy need to find a friend with benefits.

Yep, this is wholly appropriate for a post discussing all-ages comics. Yeesh.

_______________
¹ Who, it could be argued, primarily went viral because of a mash-up with a Kate Beaton punchline. Speaking of Beaton, she’s got a new diary comic up, featuring doggo Agnes with a supporting appearance by daughter Mary Lou. It’s a treat.

² Or, more precisely, himselves, as they are all time-displaced instances of Ijon Tichy thrown together and forced to try and cooperate.

³ Baggy, shapeless, five sizes too large at the very least, stubby-legged, and featuring an umbilical attached in the middle of a buttoned-up buttflap.

A Selection Of Quotes From Ursula Vernon’s Spotlight Panel, Some With Context

[Editor’s note: Yeah, pretty much forget the earlier disclaimers. This time I’m going for exact quotes.]

There’s something refreshing about giving Ursula Vernon a microphone and no set topic list for an hour. With her A/V tech/husband, Kevin Sonney¹, by her side, she projected slides of her artwork, digressing as the mood struck her on each. Oh, and for those that don’t know, Ursula Vernon is also T Kingfisher when writing for adults, the difference between them being, T Kingfisher wears a hat. I mean, I’m wearing a hat now, but it’s because my hair … yeah.

Let the quotes begin!

I had a blue period because the only ink bottle I could get the cap off of was blue.
— Explaining why the crested caracara was that color

I just like painting stone.

Sometimes you want to get back to your roots, but not enough to draw humans.
— Explaining why she painted Pen-Guin the Barbarian, decked out for war and murder.

Turnips are inherently funny.

Oh, God, they produce so many eggs.
— On the keeping of chickens

Ursula: The chicken had a tragic backstory …
Kevin: I’m not made of stone.
Ursula: … which lead to multiple adults unironically stating We just want what’s best for the chicken.
— On how they wound up with the Strong Independent Chicken. Also, Kevin is a Disney Princess, animals just flock to him.

I had the grandiose idea of doing steampunk moths.

Oh, the pear
— On seeing the Biting Pear Of Salamanca, which came about because Vernon was drawing a lot of fruit, but was also inspired by how Rob Liefeld draws teeth but again didn’t want to draw a person. Most people only focus on the pear and not the fact that it’s clearly a tourist attraction and so the little rodent in the foreground is photographing it. Nearly everybody overlooks the giraffes in the background but come on, you can’t have too many giraffes.

Inspiration knocks on the door occasionally. Spite will bang on the door all year long.

Kevin: I HAVE INSTRUCTIONS IF YOU START AN EPIC.
— On what to do if Ursula decides to start another strip the length of Digger. They involve a shovel and an unmarked patch of land out back.

At least it’s prime!
— There are eleven volumes of Dragonbreath, not ten.

It’s all right, the fox can’t hurt you anymore.

Spinning wheels are really hard to draw … but hamster wheels are easy to draw.
— On how a desire to tell a fairy tale became Hamster Princess.

Don’t get me started on potatoes … [Kevin nods pointedly] … the Russet Burbank is an abomination.
— She’s got opinions. This came at the end of a question if her degree in anthropology helps her writings. It lead to the point that you should get the food right, that not everybody eats the same things, and that in general there should be fewer potatoes in your faux-medieval setting.

The answer is always more sauna.
— On consulting with a Finnish folklorist to see if she got details right in The Raven And The Reindeer, and being told that the folklore and food were fine, but there wasn’t enough sauna in the story.

I have much less trouble than is emotionally healthy.
and
Many children’s book authors are frustrated horror authors.
— On any difficulty she may have code-switching between the two genres. Turns out kidlit authors get told you can’t write that, it’ll scar a kid fairly frequently, leading to frustrated ambition and resentment. All of those scenes get more and more horrifying until they’re ready to explode in a brain-melting cavalcade of madness and terror.

Or, you know, you’re Ursula and just fight with your editor on Twitter. No big².


Spam of the day:

Please review how you can easily produce quality videos to show or communicate more about Fleen.

This spam purports to come from somebody named Orko and … no. Just no.

_______________
¹ Ursula and Kevin are capital-M Married, with an innate feel for where the other is, mentally, at any given moment that omega-level psychics would envy. Of course, they mostly use that knowledge to mess with each other for extremely dry comedic effect.

² That’s what she said!