The webcomics blog about webcomics

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.


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.

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.

Back In The Saddle

Wow, that was a busy week. I’ve got pretty much no idea what’s been happening in [web]comics across the last seven days (except for the news that Raina Telgemeier announced her next two books, because that got reported everywhere).

Enter the secret weapon of the beleaguered webcomics opinionmonger and any right-thinking blogger’s best friend: Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, who dropped a reminder of my impending mortality and a thoughtful piece about an (at best) unsavory happening in French comics on the same day. The former is linked in the last sentence, the latter begins below.


Before I begin, I must mention there is a language warning for explicit sexual language in this post. Onwards …

Is it possible to be so disgusted with a creator’s behavior that you’re considering foregoing their creations entirely, even those without relationship to the matter at hand? [Editor’s note: Yes. This was definitely answered by Cerebus #186 when Dave Sim went batshit insane, and has only repeatedly doubled down on his misogyny ever since. He is one of the most creative letterers that’s ever lived, and it is impossible to separate the creator — pre-batshittery or not — from the work.]

I have recently been made aware of a new release from Bastien Vivès (who you may remember from Last Man): it is a comic book called Petit Paul which is pornographic, explicitly so even: prominent warning on the cover, in a collection called Porn’pop dedicated to pornographic content, etc. This by itself would not be cause for alarm or even disapproval in the Fleenplex — if it were, we would never have made mention of Slipshine or Smut Peddler, for instance.

The issue (and the reason I have been made aware of that work), however, is that the eponymous protagonist is depicted to be about ten years old.

Let us take aspects one at a time. First, is it actually pornographic, or is the pornography warning just a way to avoid issues down the line for the publisher; and in a related matter, can we distinguish this from pedopornography trial cases where we can’t even know whether this is innocent child nudity? We can answer both questions thanks to Actualitté, who describes the depicted acts¹: not only does the titular Paul have an enormous penis, but he is in erection for most of the book, and he is shown ejaculating on multiple occasions; moreover at some point his female teacher is inflicting a [sic] cunnilingus upon him, for the next sequence Paul’s pants are torn open under pressure from his erection. To hide Paul, only one solution: penetration. Once again without really consulting him, and later on more sexual acts, all involving little Paul.

Nevertheless, that still leaves open possibilities for defense, and some have attempted: what if this is so ludicrous that this ends up being purely parody? But the creator himself has weakened if not foreclosed on these avenues in an interview with the Huffington Post where he is quoted as stating:

Le HuffPost: So you think that comic can be arousing?

Bastien Vivès: I made do with kinks that arouse me personally. […] If it is not arousing, I hope readers will at least get a laugh out of it.

This quote, regardless of the contents of the book, is what caused general reactions of disgust; in particular, Tanx, keeping on her theme of skepticism as to whether the artist can be separated from his creation (the bubbles read: You must separate the artist from the person, erm, well, but then … along which way do you cut?), wrote a reaction to clearly state her stance, which is that she is not invoking state censorship, but rather expressing disgust as to Vivés’ attitude, and that vile ideas can and should be fought with criticism; and that such criticism, even widespread and vigorous, is not censorship. Many creators found Tanx’s words to express their position better than they themselves could.

As for me, I tend to agree with Tanx. In particular, I remained unconvinced by other defenses of Vivès: Gilles Juan for Slate, for instance, sees a double standard between the reaction to the obviously illegal sexual acts depicted there and that for other illegal acts such as murders depicted in movies and comics, for which we do not even bat an eye; but beyond the initial objections (it is much harder to shoot a sex scene without actually performing it than it is to shoot a murder scene without actually performing it, so the distance in case of a depicted sex scene is necessarily reduced by a lot), there is the major objection that, through his ambiguous attitude, Vivés is allowing vile people to gather, and potentially organize themselves, around his work.

As far as I am concerned, this is the criterion for my utter disapproval; it is not a matter of needing writing talent in order to cover “edgy” subjects (though that may help), or even a matter of this work making it more likely for pedophiles to act out on their impulses, this is a matter of making sure the work cannot realistically be (mis)interpreted as validating ideas that must not come back to the surface; and Vivès has completely failed this part of his responsibilities as a creator.

But I am willing to hear everyone’s good faith takes on the matter.


Fleen thanks FSFCPL for spending more time on this than we would ever have asked.

Spam of the day:

20,000 Anime Fans Want to See You


¹ Which is fortunate as I sure as heck was not going to fork over any money to find out for myself.

Gonna Be A Busy Week Or So

Traveling home today, then weekend EMT duty, then off to a conference next week (and bee-tee-dubs, probably won’t have much change to post next week, so apologies in advance) but there’s still some things I wanted to share.

  • Firstly, that Minna Sundberg’s superlative Stand Still, Stay Silent wrapped up what’s now termed Adventure 1 yesterday. There will be more, but once upon a time this might have been the end of the explorations of the Silent World. It’s been just under five years, just over 1000 pages (FULL COLOR PAGES, y’all) and one NCS Division Award for Long-Form Webcomic, and you know what? It’s still a damn good, damn beautiful read. Sundberg’s taking a couple weeks breathing space before diving back in with Lalli, Emil, Sigrun, Mikkel, Reynir, and Kitty¹ for more exploration of a world gone feral:

    No update next week, but check in Monday the 8th! That’s the official launch date of the physical book 2, the kitty plush and keychain charm set, and I’m working on the first ever SSSS-themed t-shirt design! So there’s something new even for people who already got the book and other stuff. After that I will post something every week like I usually do during chapter breaks: the cover for the next adventure, cover of first chapter/prologue, maybe even the first page early. I’ll give specific dates for those on the 8th, so see you then.

    Another important date: the French translation of SSSS book 1 is coming out (in bookstores and online) on the 16th of October! So if you’re a French speaker definitely keep an eye out for that, it’s being published by Akileos publishing.

    Hey, Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin, let us know how good the translation is.

  • Secondly, and also yesterday, Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett wrapped up a hell of successful Kickstarter campaign for Drive Book 2. He cleared US$116,000 on a US$25,000 goal², and unlocked something like 19 stretch goals, including every Tales Of The Drive “shared universe” story since Book One (and also including one running now: The Ballad Of Fintresslanope, Hero Clerk Of The Fillipod People, drawn by Carissa Powell and written in rhyming couplets by Dylan Meconis), enhancements to the hardcover, and e-books of every single book LArDK’s ever put out³, whaaaaat.

    That last bit? I’m not sure he can dangle that particular carrot again, at least not to those of us that backed this campaign. I mean, next book around we’ll already have e-books of every book he’s ever put out, so I guess he’ll have to get a whole bunch of new fans so that the eventual Books 3 through ∞ get the same awesome treatments as Book 1 and 2. Get on that, LArDK, I don’t want the remaining volumes to look chintzy next to 1 and 2!

Spam of the day:

Oops! It’s No-Pantie Day! [bikini emoji]

Please do not send me your surreptitious upskirt photo collection spam at a time when women are having their past men-inflicted traumas revisited upon them. Which is to say, ever. And if on the off chance this isn’t a collection surreptitious upskirt photos, but rather carefully-staged upskirt photos meant to look like they were surreptitiously taken, then read the damn room, jerk. This is not the time.

¹ RIP, Tuuri. >sniff<

² As mentioned at launch, no FFF mk2 prediction for this one; the early launch to Patreon supporters messes with both the FFF and the McDonald Ratio.

³ Including the self-pubbed print collection of his pre-Sheldon college strips. Pretty sure none of us have ever see those.

Fleen Book Corner: Amulet Book 8

This is going to be a bit brief, not because the latest from Kazu Kibuishi doesn’t deserve a few thousand words, but because the time you spend reading my review would be better spent reading that latest book, Supernova. It’ll be surprisingly light on spoilers. Every kid in America (and some considerable number of us older folks) that waited for years for the eighth installment of the Amulet series wants to know how it wraps up, and now they have a wait¹ … so we’ll all be reading and re-reading and finding new bits that eluded us.

And what struck me about Supernova was two-fold:

  1. Amulet really is a trilogy of trilogies. The first three books laid out the situation, the middle three raised the stakes, and the most recent two have been positioning us for the endgame. Within the arc of 7-8-9, you’ve got the buildup and cliffhanger of all cliffhangers in 7, and a shifting of players to get us where we need to be for the big finish in 8. Now he’s got to bring it all together.
  2. Amulet continues to grow like ripples in a pond, but we keep finding ourselves echoing back to the beginning; it’s all been the same story: family, courage, doing what’s right to help those that need it. Being strong to resist those that would turn you in bad ways. The evil you fight today has its roots in pain and fear, and the causes need to be addressed as much as the results because the challenges are always going to be there.

That last is particularly resonant. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Earth (and goodness, it’s a long time since Emily, Navin, and Mom saw Earth) or Alledia, or if you’ve left the fantasy world for the space station and now the Stonekeepers come from many worlds, fighting shadows across galaxies: Authority from fear contains the seeds of its own destruction. People that have enough food and who don’t fear for their children won’t go to war. Whispers that promise power have their own motivations and rarely good ones. We can pull ourselves back from darkness. Mountain bikes are hella cool².

And each time you fight the darkness, each time you push back against evil, each time you fail to stop it once and for all?

You learn something. You get stronger. And you never give up.

Navin and Emily have been presented with these lessons since their adventures began, but they each come to a more innate understanding of the depth and breadth of their fight, and an acceptance of their responsibilities. They’re still kids, but over the course of the series they’ve grown up before our eyes.

What started as a fairly standard family legacy leads to quest with immediately definable goals story has grown to encompass the sprawl of history, time travel, space, magic, temptation, redemption, and a struggle against a threat to many worlds. We’ll get a conclusion to this particular story, but the larger is not going to finish in one more book. The fight goes on because the fight always goes on.

One day, not too long from now, Kibuishi will decide he’s done enough research. He’ll start drawing Book 9, and sometime after that Cassandra Pelham will provide her editor’s wisdom and Jason Caffoe will start to render colors and environments. Covers will be designed, production schedules agreed, printing presses engaged. Ships and emails and posters and trucks and bookstores and teachers (so many teachers) and librarians (so, so many librarians) will each do their part.

All of us part of the adventure, reading the stories of people that fight the shadows so that we can learn to be the kind of people that fight the shadows that would threaten our own world. To ensure that children have enough food so that adults need not go to war. To clean the air and water. To serve more than ourselves. And, in our spare time, to ride a hella cool mountain bike.

Come on along, Kibuishi says, in a voice that sounds like Mr Rogers and Hayao Miyazaki, just as soon as it’s ready. In the meantime, we’ve got eight books that could stand a re-read or twenty.

Spam of the day:

Memorial Day Solar Savings

You’re … you’re pretty far away from Memorial Day. Did you maybe mean another day? I’m reliably informed today is National Scarf Day, National Crush A Can Day, National Chocolate Milk Day, and National Corned Beef Hash Day.

¹ The day after release Kibuishi tweeted that he’s doing research for Book 9, then production, then printing and distro — it’ll be a while. The only thing we know — some of that research involved ambulances. Take from that what you will.

² Kibuishi is an enthusiastic mountain biker, and the extended sequence his hobby inspired is just plain awesome. Does it advance the bigger messages of the series? Nope. But sometimes, you just have to put your character on a barely-controlled bike careening down the biggest mountainside in the known universe, constantly half a heartbeat away from eating it like nobody has ever eaten it before.

Fleen Book Corner: Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules

I neglected to note that yesterday was Amuletmas, the day that Kazu Kibuishi’s many readers have been waiting for anxiously for going on two years. Yesterday was the release of the eighth Amulet book, Supernova, picking up at the biggest cliffhanger of the series, setting up the big finish in (the still in the planning stages) book 9. Fantasy becomes sci-fi! Space! The darkest hour with a protagonist fallen to the dark influences of the Big Bad! I’ll be picking up a copy as soon as humanly possible, and reporting back.


Not released this week, or even all that recently, the focus of today’s post is Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules, third in that series, by Tony Cliff. As always, we at Fleen would like to thank :01 Books for providing a review copy.

TPOH is a slightly odd read; what I mean by that is it doesn’t follow what we expect from a third book in a series. So many books are conceived of and sold explicitly as trilogies — thanks, Tolkien — that we expect the books to perhaps work more as parts of that larger arc of story and less as standalone efforts. Sometimes the books really do stand on their own while also functioning as parts of the whole (Ben Hatke’s Zita The Spacegirl and Faith Erin Hicks&rsquo’s The Nameless City are good examples), sometimes they form multitrilogies (such as Amulet, and, I suspect, Cleopatra In Space by Mike Maihack).

But Miss Dirk and her faithful companion Mr Selim have an entirely different feel. The books definitely form a sequence, but there’s no feeling of beginning, middle, end. If Cliff had released the second book first, then the first as a flashback, then the third, they would not lose anything for the jumbling. Perhaps appropriate to the time they take place in — Europe and the Mediterranean slightly post-Napolean, with England and France vying for influence and enough unexplored places that adventurers need not follow set paths — there’s a sense of loose connection.

The best analogy I can think of is Dickens wrote a bunch of stories that did not connect to each other, but which take place in the same world. There’s no doubt in my mind that young Ebenezer Scrooge lived in one of the Two Cities, but cared not a whit what was happening in the other. The connections are of sensibility, not plot. One story tells what happens to other people, in a different place, at a different time, but in the same world. Their individual stories are the point, not how they cross over.

Which is why I see TPOH less as a sequel, and more as a continuation of a story that’s not really dependent on what came before. Oh, sure, the second book (The King’s Shilling) introduced the best kind of antagonist — the bullheaded jerk who gets shown up and rather than take the L, doubles down every possible chance, abandoning all reason, assuming his nemesis is as obsessed with him as he is with them — but if he’d shown up for the first time in TPOH with a half-page aside about how he’d been a thorn in Miss Dirk’s side ever since that earlier conflict a few years ago, nothing would be lost. The first book (The Turkish Lieutenant) is wide-ranging heist and condequences, the second is a prodigal returns home story mixed with a jerk who just won’t let a minor insult go, the third is part archeology (and dealing with insufferable patrons) and part revenge story. What they have in common is the setting, the timeframe, and the two protagonists.

Then again, Miss Dirk would probably say protagonist and sidekick.

Mr Selim — less sidekick, more voice of reason when Miss Dirk is taken by flights of fancy, desire to kick and ass that desperately needs it, or is just being reckless because she can — really comes into his own in this book. He’s gone from inciting McGuffin in book one (he’s the titular Turkish Lieutenant) that kicks off the plot to almost-but-not-quite-acknowledged equal (especially after book 2, when even Delilah’s disapproving family determined that nobody can make the tea quite like he can). There’s a meeting of the minds here, and they come to a new stage in their relationship.

That word is fraught, and what they have barely recognizable by its modern connotations. They’re traveling companions, they’re becoming friends¹, the respect is deepened, and it’s possibly become an always-will-be chaste life partnership in that neither will ever really be happy without the other, but it’s not a romance. You’d have to use a language other than English, which has multiple words for different kinds of love, to truly describe them. Not quite brotherly-sisterly², more than traveling companions, definitely not getting
(as Ray Smuckles would have it) mad rutty. It’s platonic, in both the sense that there’s no erotic feelings, but also in the sense that this is an ideal for respectful partnerships. They complete each other.

And so the adventure itself almost doesn’t matter. Oh, there’s derring-do and comeuppance and you’ll boo and hiss the villainous turns, fear not. This book doesn’t feel like a wrap-up any more than it feels like a beginning or middle. It’s all happening now, there have been adventures before, there will be adventures hence, and we’ll read some of them and others we won’t as Delilah Dirk and Erdemoglu Selim spend their days at adventure, forever.

Spam of the day:

Formuláře Google

Huh. A countdown timer letting me know that my very special opportunity (in Russian) will expire in 22:15:30. Weirdly, every time I open the email, it starts over again. Odd, that.

¹ Miss Dirk has always been a bit haughty towards Mr Selim.

² But if it were, it would definitely somewhat staid older brother being run over by a wild younger sister.

A Little Behind

Okay, maybe a LOT behind. A big behind? You get the idea. Thanks as always to Pepe and Seymour for providing the best graphics for referring to the state of behind.

On the plus side, I’m having dinner with Brad Guigar, so that’s okay. See you tomorrow.

Spam of the day:

We are in the midst of updating our broken link resources to include current and up to date resources for our readers. Our resource links are manually approved allowing us to mark a link as a do-follow link as well

Gosh, the ability to be included in another blog as a must-follow link. Those never annoy people!

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.

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

Fleen Book Corner: Don’t Tug On That; You Never Know What It Might Be Attached To

Which is to say, Dr Buckaroo Banzai and Dr Sidney Zweibel are in the house and our topic is The Brain, the latest in the Science Comics series from :01 Books (who kindly sent me a review copy), written by Tory Woollcott and illustrated by Alex Graudins. What, you thought I was going to go with a zombie reference to braaaains or something? You wound me.

Let’s get one sad bit of business out of the way. Because of printing lead times, it was true when the book went to press that, as her bio says, that Woollcott [lived] with her husband, Kean Soo, and her minor internet celebrity dog, Reginald Barkley. Sadly, Barkley died before he could see himself immortalized in at least two cameo appearances in the book, and though Woollcott and Soo are now happy with Oliver Crumbwell, he is missed by all. RIP, Barkley.

Okay, onwards. Requisite reminder that there may be spoilers ahead.

Woollcott and Graudins weave a story of two sisters: Nour, who’s selling cookies for her Girl Scouts/Girl Guides analogue, Woodland Adventure, and who is absolutely ruthless in her pursuit of the Junior Vice President Of Marketing And Sales merit badge. She will see her enemies driven before her in her quest for all the badges! She even lets out a wild, 7-to-9 year old MWAHAHAHAHA recounting her destruction of the upstarts in Troop 12. ALL HAIL AND FEAR NOUR.

And then there’s her much more grounded older sister, Fahama; she’s got better things to do than help her kid sister sell cookies (even if Dad made them, even if they’re delicious), but Nour mentioned that the JVPOSAM merit badge comes with a video game system, and that’s up Fahama’s alley, so she’s in. Then, on page four, she rings the doorbell of a creepy old mansion, a trapdoor opens, and she finds herself the “guest” of a deranged brain-in-a-jar mad scientist who very much wants to remove hers. Her brain, that is.

Dr Cerebrum looks way too handy with the hacksaw, so Fahama borrows a trick from Scheherazade and starts delays her fate. Tell me about brain science! What are the evolutionary structures? What’s with all the wrinkles, and what functions take place in what part of the brain? How do neurons communicate? What about memory, and sensory processing, and executive function, and types of intelligence?

It’s a lot to take in, but Woollcott and Graudins dole it out in easily-digestible, bite-size chunks so that a reasonably motivated kid will retain the details. It helps that Graudins has created characters for the cellular actors in the brain’s activity, which visually relate their function and tie back the narration. Hey, it’s almost like they use several kinds of learning prompts and stimulate different kinds of intelligence in teaching you about learning styles and kinds of intelligence! Pretty sneaky, Sis!

Speaking of Sis, Nour’s a ninja. She tells her parents that she suspects her sister is in deadly danger (from a rival WA troop, naturally) and sets out to rescue her; they humor her game, never knowing what a force of nature they’ve unleashed on an unsuspecting world. She might have the wrong idea about why Fahama needs rescuing, and what dangers exist in the world¹, but when she finds the creepy mansion with the creepy braintaorium in the creepy basement, she’s more than ready to unleash some sister-saving whoopass. Don’t cross Nour, man.

The only thing I’d want from The Brain is the same thing I’d want from most of the Science Comics — pronunciation guides in the text. It’s a bit unreasonable to expect a kid (or even an adult without prior experience in a field) to know how to pronounce diencephalon or inhibatory neurotransmitters. There’s a lot of vocabulary in this one, and an editorial shift would make it easier to keep track of.

Science Comics: The Brain, by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins, hits stores everywhere on 16 October. You can give it to anybody you want to make smarter, or possibly give advice on how to destroy all who cross them. (Hail Nour).

Spam of the day:

Gwyneth Paltrow

Nope. This is something about Goop or some idiotic, nonscientific drivel that coincidentally makes her a lot of money. Get bent.

¹ Nour fears no rival troop, but don’t make her deal with clowns.



Three things. One’s going to hurt.

  • Saturday! John Allison, your British friend if you don’t have another one, has reached a milestone that damn few creators have:

    On Saturday it’s 20 years, since I put my first comic online. I’ve written/written and drawn approx:
    1200pp Giant Days
    1200pp Bad Machinery
    1800pp assorted Scary Go Round/minis
    132pp By Night
    1000pp Bobbins

    They weren’t all winners but I’ve tried my best.

    Aside from that 132 pages of By Night (available one Wednesday a month from BOOM! Studios, courtesy of your favorite local comic shop), that’s about 5200 pages of delightful weirdness in the Tackleverse, a single, sprawling story matched only by the most dedicated veterans (8700 pages of Lone Wolf And Cub over 28 volumes; I’m guessing about 5500 pages of its spiritual successor, Usagi Yojimbo), the most insane (6000 pages of Cerebus over 300 issues), or David Willis (I’m not sure even he knows how many pages of Walkyverse comics there are).

    More importantly: Allison is one of about three creators¹ that continually gets better; issue after issue, I love Giant Days more and more. Give By Night more than its intended 12-issue run and I’m certain I’d say the same. Even more importantly, the vast majority of those stories are free for you to read, right now. If you start now, you can probably be jussst caught up in time for the shindig on Saturday, if you don’t eat, sleep, or attend to other bodily imperatives. Get crackin’.

  • Before long, there’s likely going to be a fourth name on the always gets better list, and you’ll know who it is from three words:

    Sluggo is lit.

    The news hit like a cannonball yesterday: Olivia Jaimes is coming to CXC next weekend, and we have Tom “The Spurge” Spurgeon to thank for it:

    Jaimes will participate in one public panel on Sunday at 3:30 PM, and a pair of non-public events designed to mark the historical moment of the cartoonist’s initial success. Cell phones and recording devices will be collected at the door of Jaimes’ Sunday event and returned to their owners afterwards.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such subterfuge, or perhaps skullduggery in comics before. Exciting! Do give Ms Jaimes my regards, and remember: whoever decides to blow her anonymity will go to the Special Hell.

  • It was not quite two years ago that Kate Beaton first shared the news with us: her sister Becky, a year older and fixture in Kate’s entire life, had cancer. She fought, and she got better, until she didn’t. She fought the metastasis, fought for life, and until the end she fought the indifference and disregard of the medical establishment.

    With her sisters and Becky’s fiance, Kate’s written a remembrance of Becky that will make you furious. It details the delays she had in her initial diagnosis, delays that cost her time, delays that cost her options. Even worse, as an immediately-post-treatment patient when things started not feeling right, her oncologists disregarded her reports² and delayed recognizing that her cancer had spread; I’m no doctor, but I’m absolutely willing to believe that between the first set of doctors and the second, they cost Becky her life.

    Becky’s plan for the rest of her life was to advocate for cancer patients, to teach them how to manage doctors that disregard them, to share her hard-won knowledge; thanks to doctors that don’t listen to patients — particularly women, particularly young, seemingly healthy women — she never got the chance. So Kate, and her sisters, and Becky’s fiance have done this bit of it for her. I won’t be surprised to see more of it in the future.

    Becky’s beyond all but our memory, but let that memory drive you. She can’t advocate for patients to their doctors, but it’s something we can do for her. I hope you never have to, that an ugly diagnosis and a painful fight never comes for your and yours. But should it come, think of Becky, dig down deep, and let those doctors know that you aren’t going to allow them to be indifferent.

Spam of the day:
Spammers don’t get to share the page with Becky.

¹ Ryan North on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is another, and while Meredith Gran isn’t doing a regular strip now, she definitely falls into the category.

For reference, Stan Sakai is not one of the three, because there is no better he can get. He’s reached the pinnacle of the form.

² I have never wanted to slap another living human as much as when I read Becky’s first doctor was so bad, a year later their medical license was suspended, and that she was never able to obtain her records from that time.

Then, a scant six paragraphs later, when she was trying to get her oncologists to pay attention to a leg swollen with what would prove to be more cancer, one of them added a note in her file: Rebecca continues to be paranoid. I hope those words hang on the conscience of that dismissive alleged professional for the rest of their life.

Fleen Book Corner: Electric Margaloo

That is to say, The Creepy Case Files Of Margo Maloo book two: The Monster Mall by Drew Weing. There’s something great about Margo Maloo (the webcomic) and Margo Maloo (the character). The webcomic is great because it’s breezy, fun, and the sort of low-grade creepy that kids can enjoy without getting nightmares. It’s the Ahhhh, that’s so cool end of the scale instead of the Can’t sleep ever again end of the scale. The character is great because Margo defends the kids of Echo City from monsters not by force, but by words. She’s not a Monster Slayer, she’s a Monster Mediator.

And she knows a lot more than she’s letting on to Charles, the POV character, new to Echo City, unused to its ways, prone to taking the subway the wrong way for three stops, and desperately trying to turn himself into a blogging force of nature re: the supernatural. He’s essentially the three nerds from The X-Files as a pre-teen, and he’s easy to identify with¹.

He and Margo (according to Charles, they’re partners; according to Margo, he’s her assistant²) are wondering why there’s so many more interactions between kids and monsters these days; she’s desperate to keep the whole thing from blowing up into open warfare between the humans and monsters, and he just wants to learn and share as much as he can. Margo’s willing to go along with his idea of a kids-only blog to talk about monsters in ways that will keep the peace, but there’s cards she’s playing close to her chest.

In particular: how does a kid barely older than Charles have the run of the city? Where did she learn all her lore? How long has she been mediating, given every kid in Echo knows rumors of her, and half the monsters are terrified of crossing her? What happened to the older generations of monsters that caused at least some of their children to turn away from their habits? Why does she live in a spooky old house with doting (and possibly exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms) uncle (or, more likely, grand-uncle), but no parents? Who wrote all of her casefile entries back before she was born, and why are things changing?

And, crucially: Who is trying to provoke things between the various residents of Echo City?

The other thing that’s great about the Margo Maloo stories is how Echo City feels like a living place. The endpapers in the print collections are a subway map³, story arcs take place in different parts of town, with Margo telling Charles where to meet her, and generally a couple of panels of him in transit. It’s lived in, it’s a place of change, each neighborhood feels consistent to itself. It’s a tough think to pull off, and Weing does it with easy.

The Creepy Case Files Of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall is available in bookstores everywhere, and is a darn run read for everybody able to read on their own and sustain their attention over 100 pages or so. We at Fleen thank :01 Books for the review copy.


While we’re here, I want to thank :01 Books for something else; the inside back cover for a number of their Summer/Fall 2018 releases (mostly books for older teens and up) have a nice feature that I’ve not seen elsewhere. There’s a decision tree printed that helps readers find other books that they’d like, depending on topic and treatment.

Want adventure (historical)? Try Delilah Dirk. Want adventure (apocalyptic)? Spill Zone or Last Pick are what you need. Mostly the recommendations are in the current releases, but you’ve also got some classics (American Born Chinese, the book that made the imprint) and some future titles (Kiss Number 8, coming next year).

It’s a great tool for discovery and promotion, and more publishers should use it. For that matter, it would be great to see a similar bookfinder for (age-appropriate) titles in the younger target audiences (okay, probably not the big picture books for beginning readers, but everything above that).

Spam of the day:

Rachael is my name though

Yes, and? (I feel like Del Close having to prompt like this.)

¹ Uhhh, not that I’d now anything about being an awkward, overeager kid without many friends. Nope, not me.

² Verging on flunky.

³ With more than a few stations seemingly named for cartoonists: Wrightson, Beaton, Fink, Rowland … and King could very well be a reference to Stephen.