The webcomics blog about webcomics

What I Want For My Birthday

Hey. It’s the day before (American) Thanksgiving and I have things to do and also it is my birthday. This means that it is also the birthday of Jon Rosenberg, the guy that got me to launch this damn site in the first place and still hosts it.

At like the second Pub Night I attended we discovered our co-birthday status, albeit with six years between us. Next year we’ll be a combined 100 years old! You’d be doing me a favor if you considered doing your shopping for whatever gift-proximate solstice holiday(s) you observe over at Jon’s Product Emporium. He and the multiple smallish replicants in his home that he is legally obligated to feed will thank you, as will I.

And if you’re not in the mood or economic state for commerce of that nature, please enjoy these updates from Jonsgivings Past, and may you always have the luck to remain on List 3B.

Spam of the day:
Nope. Spammers don’t get to share Jon’s/My day.

Fleen Book Corner: Open Borders

It’s not every day that an internet goofball who’s done or partnered up to create a half-dozen webcomics, a video comedy series, a scientific conference pastiche, a pair of choosable-path adventures, adaptations of great literature and religious doctrine, an AR-enhanced popular science overview and that thing with the monocles is going to spend more than two weeks at the top of the Amazon charts on immigration policy.

But we live in Davedamned interesting times, and Zach Weinersmith isn’t just any internet goofball. Nor is Bryan Caplan, who’s responsible for the words portion of the book in question, any professor of economics. He’s part of the economics faculty at George Mason University (which, along with the law program, is regarded as hostile to the notion of government, regulation, or acknowledgement that not everybody is equally advantaged to succeed in life), and associated with the Koch-influenced/funded Mercatus Center and Cato Institute¹.

They’re an unlikely pair (who happen to be fans of each other), and they’ve produced a book that does exactly what it sets out to — make a case for a policy position, argue for it, anticipate counter-arguments, and present reasons why the counter-arguments don’t hold water. With comics².

If you don’t feel like digging through another 2000 words, take that as the tl;dr.

This is going to be an unusual review for Fleen; I’m not warning about spoilers because it’s not that kind of book. I’m also going to virtually disregard the pictures part of this comic, because in this case the message is almost entirely divorced from the medium. The comics serve to make the economic argument to a different audience, and I can absolutely see Weinersmith’s influence in how Caplan’s points are paced and rendered accessible. In that sense the pictures are indispensable. But the artistic choices are not going to either make or break the economic argument, so this is going to be almost entirely about Caplan and not about Weinersmith.

Open Borders: The Science And Ethics Of Immigration is the first of the public policy offerings from :01 Books (and anticipating their coming civic society/engagement and history lines, marking a more academic direction for them, or at least moreso than the kid-aimed Science Comics and Maker Comics), a copy of which was kindly sent to me by Weinersmith.

It’s a compelling read, one that is going to grab the attention of anybody from any part of the political spectrum (as long as they don’t have an implacable bug up their butt about comics being beneath them; they exist, in all parts of said spectrum), and challenge assumptions held by nearly everybody regardless of how they feel about immigration. It reminds me a great deal of Larry Gonick’s work, in that it synthesizes a great deal of information (the notes and references are voluminous), presents it in an easily-considered format, and throws laugh-chuckles in as a bonus.

It’s left me about 85% convinced that Caplan is completely right, 10% convinced that he’s underselling some points and/or trying to have some things both ways, and 5% thinking he’s dodged a fundamental question or two. Let’s take them in order.

Caplan’s strongest argument is that, but for a poor choice of parents, many more people would both succeed in our society, and contribute enormously to the common good. It reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould’s famous declaration I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

As much as inequality within our society is a killer of human potential, Caplan rightly observes it applies to an even greater degree to the world at large — that a relatively small number of wealthy countries, by preventing a much larger number of people from poor countries from joining them in their societies, both perpetuates poverty and deprivation in the impoverished parts of the world, and deprives us all of the Shannons, Partons, and Curies that might have benefited all of humanity.

Along the way, he argues against the usual objections — it will cost too much, it will harm the standard of living in the rich countries, immigrants are a burden, they’re dangerous, only monoculture societies can thrive, it’s against my worldview or religion, only the most restrictive burdens can possibly moderate damaging side effects. It’s a conversational presentation, it’s convincing, it appeals on personal freedom grounds to those that prize that above all, and on ethical/humanitarian grounds to those of a parallel inclination.

The first area of concern that I have, the 10% worth, is with what Caplan calls Keyhole Solutions — tailoring immigration restrictions to be the narrowest possible interpretation instead of the broadest. For example, what if we counter the argument that immigrants will cost us too much (even though they won’t) by charging them large amounts of money to be redistributed to those already here, or preventing them from accessing benefits that they should qualify for as taxpayers. Caplan’s previously established that these fixes aren’t necessary, but he’s willing to go partway as a sop to the fearful or prejudiced, which strikes me as a bit unwilling to stand by his true convictions and beliefs.

Isn’t it better to let some people in and let them get somewhat economically exploited as opposed to not allowing them in at all? And if the alternative is zero immigration, there’s a certain logic there. But I think that allowing accommodations to those who are insisting that policies address what Caplan regards as untruths is an odd compromise to make.

And I think he’s not accounting for the degree that those who would be crafting these keyholes would invariably make them larger and more restrictive until we’ve taken what was supposed to be narrowly-tailored restrictions and made them maximally exploitative. Where on the spectrum from Nobody gets in to Everybody gets in with Some of you get in and we screw you for a while in the process in the middle do we find that the screwing is acceptable, and where it’s not?

We’ll let you in but we’ll haze you and it’s better than not letting you in at all isn’t a compelling argument if you’re talking about, say, an Ivy League secret society choosing which fourth-generation legacies to let in, and it’s positively repugnant when talking about people Caplan’s argued are systemically disadvantaged and exploited by not being able to come here freely. I also think that such a system would work to undermine the historically thorough assimilation process that he rightly observes elsewhere.

Right now, to my eye (and I’ll immediately state that I haven’t studied this in anything resembling the depth that Dr Caplan has; it’s purely based on my personal observation growing up in a part of the country that had multiple, successive and overlapping waves of immigration from different parts of the world), immigrants to the US regard the viciously ridiculous process of getting permanent residence and/or naturalizing as bureaucratic, expensive, complicated, stupid, and sometimes Kafkaesque, but not actively malicious. The Keyhole Solutions have the potential to upend that belief.

Not to mention that for somebody who lets his general distrust and disbelief in government involvement in life — taxation, spending, and regulation — occasionally come out to play in Open Borders, Caplan seems curiously willing to let that happen to immigrants under these Keyhole Solutions for the benefit of those already here. I’m just not sure how somebody whose body of work has such deep skepticism about the ability of government to act competently can muster the belief that government can find a way to responsibly haze newcomers and make them feel thankful for the trouble. There may well be a needle that can be threaded, a keyhole narrowly cut, but it still smacks of capitulation to those that Caplan’s arguing against.

The more serious concerns I have are with some assumptions Caplan makes that are fundamental to his thesis — and not directly related to immigration and so not addressed. Open immigration will be a net win for everybody, he argues. It will increase the wealth generation of the world by 50% to 150%. Trillions of dollars of economic growth otherwise missed out on! The usual arguments against these positions come down to There’s no room!, which is plain nonsense, but Caplan takes the time to counter them anyway. Full marks there.

But he comes from an economic school that assumes productivity can keep growing, and more stuff can be made more cheaply, forever. And on a planet with diminishing resources (particularly water) and accelerating climate change, that’s not true. There’s no acknowledgment of what negative outcomes may result from unrestricted growth, nor of the fact that increasing productivity has for decades now come from squeezing the labor force and not sharing the additional wealth generated. Every increase in productivity has been accompanied by a stagnation or reduction of real wages in the American workforce, a shifting of money to higher economic bands, and reductions in skilled labor.

Caplan’s argument that everybody net wins is based on the idea that somebody from a terribly poor country will come to the global north and still be poor, but in a richer place and therefore better off in absolute terms. Those in the rich countries that have already been displaced by productivity gains will, he assumes, move up into more skilled and privileged positions.

But the past four decades have shown us that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to without extensive spending/taxation/regulatory changes, something that Caplan doesn’t favor. The corporate state absolutely will not share its wealth broadly without redistributive policies, with or without open (or open-ish) immigration. Without addressing the hollowing of the American workforce and the gigification of the economy, the rosy predictions that modern capitalism can continue to produce and grow³ out of whatever difficulties we have now or in the future are not something I want to base predictions on.

Caplan’s convinced me that there’s no rational argument for immigration policies that favor immigration rather than restrict it, open to the point that we probably let in almost anybody. I like the thought of being able to say, Hey, you murdered a bunch of people/have a history of bribery and tax avoidance/despoiled land that didn’t belong to you/stole from your fellow citizens from a position of trust, you don’t get to come here, but saying Only professional-class Norwegians can come, you’re too brown/poor to be allowed in needs to go by the wayside. I may even be convinced that it’s possible to craft keyholes that won’t immediately be gamed for the purpose of inflicting pain on the vulnerable for the benefit of the powerful.

I think there may also be arguments about the development of new technologies or solutions to the problems of infinite consumption, and I think that getting people to where they can fully act on their abilities is a good in and of itself, even if we don’t make the global economy enormously larger. Caplan doesn’t address them, and I’d like to see him do so. He’s given a distinct impression that unrestricted immigration is an intrinsic, ethical good and I believe that he believes that.

I just wish that he didn’t feel the need to tie it to a set of economic assumptions that are not sustainable as they are — much less if you kick them into higher gear — without intervention to offset their negative effects.

None of which is to say that it’s not worth reading this book. Caplan and Weinersmith set out to have a conversation, start a discussion, and shift the Overton window away from Immigrants will eat your children and towards Oh for Dave’s sake, don’t be an innumerate, racist jerk towards your fellow humans. They’ve succeeded at that, and they’re going to have me digging into the notes and resources for some time to come. Besides, any book that features a dozen babies angrily berating Nobel laureate Milton Friedman is always worth at least one read.

Open Borders is available where you get books.

Spam of the day:

My friend Alex Allman has posted a video revealing 3 simple tips that actually trigger an ADDICTION-like response in women so that her body and mind will literally become OBSESSED with YOU.

Treat her like a human being with agency and not some videogame boss battle that has a cheat code?

¹ I think I’m sufficiently on record that I think the kind of libertarianism espoused by the Koch Brothers and those they favor is premised on the core philosophy of Fuck You, I Got Mine, dressed up by people who aren’t sufficiently without shame to just admit that part out loud.

² Because comics are never the work of just one person, I’ll note that Mary Cagle is credited on the title page as colorist, and she’s done her usual bang-up job (assisted by Lindsey Little, Edriel Fimbres, and Polyna Kim). Rachel Stark and Calista Brill provided editing, and given the technical, persuasive, and potentially controversial nature of the book, I’d say they probably contributed more than the usual degree.

³ Given how much of the productivity gains requires shipping manufacturing to low-regulatory countries with cheap labor, what happens if Caplan’s global raising up happens? WalMart sells stuff for five bucks and makes three-fifty in profit because they can offload the manufacture to desperately poor countries.

Caplan’s stated goal is to erase that differential between wealthy and desperately poor, so where will the stuff be made? How do we avoid the race to the bottom that we already find with respect to everything from polluting industries to promises of job creation that leads states and municipalities to fall over themselves to offer more freebies and bigger tax exemptions?

Given that one of Caplan’s very first arguments is that the global poor are disadvantaged by not being allowed to sell their labor here (and he repeatedly acknowledges that most who come here under his model will be low-skilled), it looks like something his plans count on rather than avoid. Working for an arm’s-length contract supplier under miserable conditions in an Amazon fulfillment hellhole may be better than the conditions they left, but it’s still objectively bad and not something we should want for anybody.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Randy

Nearly done with November, which means we’re nearly done with this kidney stone of a year. Let’s get to it.

  • We’re into one of those birthday-rich times of year in webcomics, today being the day that one may, if one wishes, offer glad betidings to Randall J “Uncle Randy” Milholland, aka The Nicest Guy In Webcomics.

    I’m serious — Milholland is the absolutely nicest guy who attracts the absolute most terrible people, which results in consequences. Look, being the nicest guy in the world doesn’t mean you have to let people shit on you. Niceness is not synonymous with being a doormat.

    Anyway, in addition to birthday wishes, and sincere hopes that his toddler daughter goes easy on him, today is the day of the year that I remind you that Milholland is also one of the best writers in webcomics, with a knack for creating characters we really care about (even the ones we really hate sometimes), characters that live and breathe and change, because none of us is who we were half a lifetime ago.

    Also, the characters are terribly funny, frequently in horrible ways. Thanks for all you do, Uncle Randy, and if your next instance of not letting people shit on you means you need a place to lie low for a bit, or maybe stash a body, you’ve got my number.

  • In other news today, Mike Maihack has some of the good variety to share. Maihack’s Cleopatra In Space series (which we’ve discussed before but which I don’t think I’ve ever done a review of — suffice it to say it’s five great books for the all-ages reader in your life, with a sixth on the way) has been a delightful read, with a strong sense of design aesthetics, and a compelling heroine, supporting cast, and Big Bag. Not to mention cats. So many cats.

    So it’s a surprise that the obvious wasn’t announced until today — Cleo is making the leap to the small screen:

    So yeah. This is a thing. A pretty exciting thing.…

    Asian premier tonight. Stay tuned for more information about the series in the US and around the world!

    #CleopatraInSpace #dreamworksanimation

    For now, Cleopatra In Space will be available in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Judging from the still in the story, Cleo’s friends Akila and Brian made the jump to the show, although Akila’s apparently gone from human with robot arm to fish-person with robot arm.

    Weirdly, to my eye the designs of the faces and the cats seem to have been complicated a bit from Maihack’s originals, where things are normally simplified for animation to reduce the production efforts; they look good, though. We’ll probably hear more about the series in the coming weeks, but for now it’s all very exciting for Maihack. We at Fleen congratulate him, and look forward to Cleo & friends making the leap to the US market.

Spam of the day:

I’m talking about people like this “CRAZY” nurse who discovered one of the biggest secrets of the mankind… It’s the same device that was used with great success by the US navy to propel their ships for millions of miles… without any fuel… and that big energy fat cats almost started another war for… just to hide it from the public.

Roping nurses (widely regarded as the most respected and trusted of professions) into your free energy bullshit is a new approach, I’ll give you that.

It’s Raining And I Have To Drive Home On I-95

So it feels dreary and oppressive and somehow appropriate that the news comes today that Gahan Wilson, cartoon chronicler of the unsettling and uneasy, has died. We will not see his like for a long time, and we are the poorer for it.

On the other hand, he never had to live in a world with Cybertruck, the current embodiment of Elon Musk’s continual self-beclowning. I’m going to step back from all the dystopia and see about getting home. We’ll talk next week.

Spam of the day:

Never “learn” how to manifest money, again

If I could learn how to manifest money (which I think means make it just … appear?) I would certainly try to learn more ways to do that. I’d repeat until I manifested all the money ever, then give it all away until scarcity no longer existed and the act of having billions of money made you no different than anybody else, the fiction of wealth laid bare.

Yikes, I am in a mood today.

Slowly Clawing My Way Back

Enough so that hi, I’m here, I’m not dead. Not so much that I’ve got a lot for you today, but I did want to mention something that those of you that may be engaged in commerce ahead of the Solticetime holidays should find compelling. Namely, advice from the good folks at TopatoCo about how late you can order stuff and expect it to get to its destination by 24 December.

If you’re overseas, you’re already into the interesting times phase where mere First Class delivery is only good for another four days or so. Note that Cyber Monday (I hate that entire concept) is late this year, 2 December, by which time you are almost out of time for International Priority shipping. Naturally, anything international will also run up against whatever delays customs may impose in your country, adding time from zero days to half a year or so.

Please remember that Canada counts as international, folks.

USAians are good with anything up to 10 December, then they need to bump up to priority methods until the 16th, and then it’s 2nd Day special methods until the 20th; the problem is that the 24th is a Tuesday, so not many delivery days before them in the run-up. I’d advise you try to get your mail-order shopping done by Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day and then you won’t have to stress about it.

Okay, time for the next dose of jitter-making generic knockoff DayQuil. See y’all tomorrow.

Spam of the day:

?????????????? who is miley cyrus dating 2017

A day ago I would have said You have vastly overestimated my interests in Miley Cyrus’s dating life in 2017 and Miley Cyrus in general, but I’ve been listening to Dolly Parton’s America, the new podcast series from Jad Abumrad¹ of Radiolab, and I learned yesterday evening that Dolly is Miley’s godmother, so now I have more interest in her than I did. You can’t be an uninteresting person if you’ve got Dolly in your life.

You have still vastly overestimated the degree to which I want to intrude into the personal life of a 24 year old woman (in 2017) who does not owe me any kind of details.

¹ Fun fact! Abumrad is a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, making him a peer of 2016 Fellow Gene Luen Yang. You can find a comics connection to anything.

An Oddly Relevant Bit Of Spam

Spam of the day:

sepia homeopathic remedies modafinil herbal bath salts

See, today I am a bit brainfuzzed due to the whatever it is that’s taken up residence in my mid-pharynx. I have a voice (which works out well for teaching) as long as I drink hot liquids and it goes away within about ten minutes when I don’t. I am laughing at the instructions on this bag of cough drops that says they should be used every two hours — a new eucalyptus charge goes in before the old one fully dissolves — and the generic DayQuil I’m on has me jittery and oddly hungry no matter how much I eat.

Yeah, so not paying attention to webcomics today. Gonna finish out class, head back to the hotel, and crash hard. Somebody let me know if we still have an international criminal conspiracy occupying the executive branch or if it’s collapsed yet.

Oh, yeah, and modafinil is a stimulant, homeopathy is a lie, and bath salts make Florida Men eat each other’s faces.

Hey There, Have Some Links

There’s some cool stuff you should know about and I’m going to tell you about them, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

  • Kickstarting today (since late morning EST, if I’ve got my timing right), The Nib (who’re sitting on just a slew of awards and recognition, particularly since their unceremonious dumping by First Look), is producing their second anthology, Be Gay, Do Comics. It’ll feature a plethora of top-tier creators (see the picture up top), with previously-run favorites plus new comics from Matt Lubchansky, Breena Nuñez, the Space Gnome, and more.

    Like the previous Eat More Comics (from goodness! four years ago), it’ll be hardcover, over 250 pages, and undoubtedly super-pretty inside. US$30 and up to get the physical book, about halfway to their goal, delivery in April … the usual stuff going on. Oh, and because it’s something I’ll be looking for, right at the beginning of the project description is the solidarity statement with the Kickstarter Union. Good for Bors & Co.

  • Hey, remember we told you about Christopher Baldwin’s Glens Falls (not visible from baldwinpage) like two weeks ago? Of course you do. What we at Fleen didn’t mention then (because we didn’t know it until yesterday) is that in addition to making GF available at TopatoCo, Baldwin is also running the book as a page-a-day webcomic.

    It’ll take a little hunting since it’s not visible in the sidebar at his page (although you really should be reading Spacetrawler there if you aren’t), but it’s there. Go to and you’ll get the latest page, Monday to Friday. It’s only up to story page 7, so it’s a great time to jump in and get to learn a bit about one place at a particular time.

Okay, done for today. Sore throat, must mainline cough drops. Apply for #ComicsCamp!

Spam of the day:

Someone eaten a swordfish? I’m looking for manual how to cook it.

Let me Google that for you.

Some Few Items Of Interest

I had my top story of the day all laid out, full of righteous indignation ‘n’ such, and it got knocked out of the first slot by something more important. Partly because it’s a happy story instead of an enraging one. Partly because it’s something you can act on instead of something where we’re basically forced to be passive. But mostly because it’s #ComicsCamp:

Hi. Applications for our Comics Camp are now open!

That from Pat Race of Alaska Robotics, Camp Dad and guttersnipe most profane. You best believe my application is in, and there’s more than one of you I’ve spoken to this year about the necessity of you applying to come to Juneau next April. There’s s’mores, and boardgames, and music, and amazing food, and Northern Lights, confirmed guests, and an intentional community that will energize you for the year. There’s also financial aid offered if you’re unable to afford the costs. If you’re not sure if #ComicsCamp is for you¹, here’s some words² to help you decide.


As with so many things, The Onion had it right, and more than two decades ago: Disney being one of the few remaining corporations sucks ass for a bunch of reasons. It was end of the summer that we found out that pretty much every Fox-affiliated movie in development has been canceled, and Fox’s movie library is being memory-holed, and now some of the animated features that had been presumably unaffected have been pushed back.

Specifically, Nimona, godsdammit:

Nimona, the Blue Sky Studios feature based on Noelle Stevenson’s comic and directed by Patrick Osborne (Disney’s Feast), has been delayed over 10 months, from March 5, 2021, to January 14, 2022. Prior to Disney’s takeover, Fox had announced a Nimona release date of February 14, 2020.

That original release date means that Nimona is essentially done, ready, in the can and releasable. But it’s being pushed back so that various Disney/Pixar movies (including at least two that don’t even have titles yet) can go first. Because Disney is fundamentally hostile to anything it doesn’t own in its entirety. Because today is Mickey Mouse’s birthday and copyright will continue to be extended until the heat death of the fucking universe before Disney will ever see the cartoon rodent presented or shown in any way that doesn’t make them all the money. Because owning Star Wars, Marvel, The Simpsons, Pixar, and every other damn thing is never enough.

And we still don’t have seasons four and five of The Muppet Show released.

Fortunately, Nimona is going nowhere. You can buy a copy today, at least until Harper Collins (which is owned by News Corp, which is Fox) gets bought by Disney and they suppress it because somebody else dared to make it. We’re about fifteen years away from owning non-Disney media or stories of any kind is declared a crime; I’m prepared to circulate the samizdat as we speak.

Spam of the day:

Do THIS When A Gun Is Pointed At Your Head

If your secret isn’t cry and wet yourself, you’re lying.

¹ It is.

² About 35,000 words, to be exact.

Fleen Book Corner: The Midwinter Witch

Sometimes, I think that JRR Tolkien’s most enduring contribution was the idea of the trilogy¹. Maybe it’s just because it’s become a default structure, but there’s something innately satisfying about not just a story having a beginning, middle, and end, but having whole stories act as beginning, middle, and end of a larger tale. A good trilogy reveals patterns and meaning that a single book keeps hidden, or maybe fallow, waiting for the context of other books to let them blossom.

Thus, when reading The Midwinter Witch by Molly Ostertag (a copy of which I finally obtained this week, Diamond doing its absolute best to not supply my comic shop, where I pre-ordered it in June), I find myself regarding the story on its own, and as of a piece with its two predecessors, The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. Thoughts on the newest story and the larger narrative below, with the requisite warning that here be spoilers. If you don’t want to accidentally learn story specifics, the short version is that Ostertag brought the series to a satisfying and earned conclusion and the third book is easily the equal of the first two.

There’s a progression in the Witch Boy series, something we come to learn about Aster and his friends and family, even when the story doesn’t focus on him exclusively. The first book was about Aster’s coming to grips with his desire to be a witch, even though everybody knows witches are exclusively girls and boys are exclusively shapeshifters. He broke more than one family taboo, bringing nonmagical (but oh so awesome) Charlie into his family’s world, a sounding board free of the mores and culture he grew up in that told him what he could and couldn’t be. It’s fundamentally a book about learning to be yourself.

The second book introduced Ariel, with awakening magical powers and nobody to teach her, finding herself walking a dark path of imagined slights and too-real vengeance. Change is happening in Aster’s family, his cousin Sedge is breaking patterns in his own way, Charlie is becoming an accepted extension of the family, and together they’re able to pull Ariel back from her own worst impulses. It’s fundamentally a book about learning to accept love.

And now that Charlie and Ariel have become adjuncts to the Vanissens, the story shifts to the extended family and their midwinter festival. Cousins and cousins-of-cousins that haven’t had time to get used to the idea of role-defying witch boys have their say, Aster’s mom asks him to keep a low profile (mostly out of a desire to protect him, but I think a little out of concern about What Others Might Think), and the term we’ve used to describe Aster — Witch Boy — is spat at him as insult by a particularly jerky cousin. It’s curious that the extended clan doesn’t have a problem with Charlie’s presence but Aster being different? Whispers and more.

But Aster isn’t who he was two books back. Ariel, Charlie, and Sedge are fellow boundary-stretchers alongside him, and his sister Juniper — recognized last year as the best witch in her age cohort — has his back. So does his dad, for that matter, and Grandmother settled the question of Aster’s place in the family some time back and no distant cousin is ready to cross her. Mom’s almost got Aster talked out of being witchy in public but Sedge — who was so mean two books back — is the one that asks What about the other kids like you, though? You know there’s got to be other witch boys in our family. Maybe they’re better at hiding it than you. Or shifter girls, as Charlie points out, the two of them making the point that seeing somebody like himself when he was little would have meant the world to Aster².

And if Aster’s grown so has Ariel, learning about her powers, very slowly letting down the walls she’s had up for so long. But there’s a nagging sense of doubt, one that becomes tangible. Ariel’s the scion of a magical family that doesn’t play by the rules of the Vanissens and the other families. Not just the gender rules, the rules about don’t use magic to hurt people. Her long-lost aunt visits Ariel in a dream to whisper Your mother was my ally, we stood against all of them, but she got sick and weak and pushed me away. You could be my ally.

She needs allies, because it turns out Ariel’s birth family uses their powers to steal magic from others. Her aunt doesn’t say so, but mom’s distancing was probably a matter of self-preservation. You’ll end up hurting people she whispers, and They’ll turn on you, and Only I understand you. She’s telling Ariel simultaneously she needs to leave those that love her for their own good, but also that they secretly hate her and why shouldn’t they, since she’s a monster after all. She’s an abuser, seeking to isolate her victim, and the lies are sweet poison that almost work.

But Ariel’s not who she was one book back; she is able to fight her doubts and trust those that have shown they’ll risk anything to help her instead of those that promise magical domination. Soft-hearted, her aunt sneers, Disappointing. But I’ll take your magic all the same. Ariel chooses Aster, protecting him and liberating herself. This book is fundamentally about standing up to those that would tear you down³, learning that you can do no harm but also take no shit.

It takes time to find your place in the world. Aster’s gone from Mom and Dad don’t really get it, but … I don’t know, they haven’t kicked me out or anything to honestly confronting his mother about her actions (and Dad’s totally in his corner). The witches he competed against at the festival are hanging around in the spring, all witching it up with him. Some people grow, some stay stunted, but the forest of their lives gets taller and broader with each passing season. And that little pre-witch boy or pre-shifter girl is watching it all happen.

The Witch Boy trilogy is for everybody — every different kid, no matter how they’re different, every kid that will stand with them against the close minded (and not because they expect adulation), everybody that was one of those kids in the past — and I suggest you go get all three books for your own shelves immediately, and then decide which kids (of any age) need their own copies at the next appropriate holiday or birthday. You won’t just give them a great story, you’ll make them better people.

Spam of the day:

P.S. I am 28 yo and i am coming from Kiev, ukraine.


¹ If that grizzled old philologist hadn’t existed, the publishing industry would have had to invent him, maybe with a kid that’s less of an obsessive completist/posthumous editor.

² This conversation, it should be noted, takes place at a slumber party at Charlie’s place, as Ariel is doing Aster’s nails in purple polish. It’s subtle, but the color is present every time we see his fingernails for the rest of the book. Charlie’s dads have zero problem with boys and girls crashing out in front of the TV with pizza bagels and nail polish because they are awesome dudes with their heads screwed on right.

Although one of them remarks that Charlie sure seems to want everything to go perfectly, almost like she’s trying to impress someone. She blushes, but she doesn’t say which of her three guests she might be crushing on. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Charlie rules.

³ Is it a coincidence that this book came out almost exactly at the same time that a self-proclaimed white guy ally in animation — Ostertag’s day job — got all pissy on the Grams for not being patted on the back constantly? Beware those that heartily declare I could be your ally, just do what I say.

There Were Giants In The Earth In Those Days

We are coming up on 15 years here at Fleen, more than 4000 posts, maybe a million and a half words, and there’s times when I still feel like a brand new hobbyist. In that time there have been people that do what I do for real who have encouraged me, linked to me, directed others to me, on those occasions that warranted it let me know that I had my head up my ass, told me what I was doing was worthwhile, and generally treated me like a peer. People like Scott McCloud, Heidi MacDonald, Dirk Deppey, Brigid Alverson, Johanna Draper Carlson.

Tom Spurgeon.

For as long as I’ve been aware that there was such a thing as writing about comics, Tom Spurgeon was the name that came to mind. His knowledge of the medium was encyclopedic, his love of comics was infectious, and the regard in which seemingly everybody in comics held him (and which he reciprocated) was boundless. Every time I caught a backlink from The Comics Reporter felt like getting a gold star, and him thinking me knowledgeable enough to pick my brains one day (and being kind enough to make me look smart) was a personal high point.

I could never get over the fact that I’m slightly older than him, because it seemed like he must have been one of those old grey eminences to have done everything he’d done, to know everybody and everything he knew, and to have had so damn much fun at it.

He never found comics to be a chore. He never shied away from a situation that absolutely needed another 250 words to get the idea across; he never hesitated to let a post consist solely of one perfect panel and a caption. He wrote prolifically, with great insight and affection for comics and the people that made them. He did his absolute damndest to build a world where not only comics would be seen as capital-A Art, but that the people that made them would be treated well by the mechanisms we’ve allowed ourselves to publish them.

We only met in person for the first time this past July; I fanboyed a little and he was gracious. We didn’t know each other well, and I’ll always regret that I’ll never have the chance to change that. But I suspect that he’d get a kick out something that ran through my head so I’ll share it now:

Last night I learned that he was dead — as I imagine most of us did — from a tweet that started We lost Tom Spurgeon today and I swear to you, my first thought was How? Guy’s like six-three, no way you can misplace him. The thought that I would ever live in a post-Spurge world took a little time to sink in.

We won’t be without his words, thanks to Karen Green and her colleagues, but after the scheduled updates stop the world of comics will be a little smaller — there’s one less giant it needs to make room for.

See you in the funny pages, Tom.

Spammers don’t get to share the day with The Spurge.