The webcomics blog about webcomics

Fleen Book Corner: Last Pick

Oh, what a title we have here. What a cutting, straight-to-the-quick, revisited childhood trauma Jason Walz has packed into two little words: Last Pick (a review copy of which was supplied by the fine folks at :01 Books). You’ve been there, when the teams are picked and every kid is carefully scrutinized for what they’ll bring to the team and somebody gets left until last, the sting of uselessness hanging over them.

What happens when you’ve got a whole society — a whole world — of last picks?

The aliens¹ (oh, spoilers ahead, but pretty broad strokes and not much more than you’d get from the cover summary) that descended on Earth three years ago took everybody that they deemed useful — all able-bodied adults between 16 and 65 — and took them who knows where for who knows what purpose. They’re a utilitarian bunch, the aliens, almost Randian in their fetishistic approach to value and uselessness.

The old, the infirm, the very young are useless for their purposes and are left behind to try to fend for themselves. They can’t, of course, a whole planet of elderly and children, so more aliens come down to manage their new resources. They go native, with the installed “sheriff” of Elizabethtown, Kentucky adopting a bad attitude, a bolo tie, and a drawl that almost has him declaring that What we’ve got hyeeahh is failyuhh to communicate². They have nothing but contempt for the useless.

Which, as is hinted throughout the book, they are in danger of being judged themselves. They get sick after being on Earth for too long, and those who get sickest get denied the medicine that might make them well, because why waste it on the useless? And where better for the aliens to leave their useless than on a planet of those they deem useless.

That’s the situation facing twins Sam and Wyatt; they’ve just turned 16, the cutoff age for being useful, but nobody’s been collected since they aliens first arrived. Neglected, punished, probably killed, but not taken away. When the collection ships come, they’ll not bother with Wyatt because they don’t want him — flashbacks hint at a life on the autism spectrum without ever applying a label. So it’s his sister that has to try to keep a low profile, but she’s too stubborn for that.

Sam’s defined by her emotions in the way that Wyatt’s defined by his trouble processing emotions. She’s angry. Angry at the aliens, angry at being abandoned, angry enough to steal supplies and redistribute them, angry at being thanked for doing so, and especially angry at her obligation to protect Wyatt (at the same time that she loves him more than anything). She got handed a burden as a tweenager that plenty of full-grown adults struggle with, and she’s been dealing with it in a world where there’s literally nobody she can rely on to help with her brother and she feels the weight of that every day.

And that’s why she has to leave him, to let herself be taken so that he can find a way to stand on his own. Knowing inside, maybe, that when Wyatt loses himself to hyperfocus — whether it’s studying alien comm devices, cataloging the alien types, or detailing the flaws of season two of Ultraman — there’s nothing he can’t accomplish. If that hyperfocus is directed at finding Sam, he might just liberate the whole damn world and help all those abducted to come back home. The angry and the uncertain are about to shake this corner of the galaxy.

But to test that theory, to take her angry, troublemaking self away from Sam and not give the aliens reason to pay attention to one more useless human? She’s going to have to leave him alone, and that’s going to cut both of them deeper than anything. He’s going to have to face the unknown of having nobody that understands him or has the patience for him; she’s going to have to face the literal unknown of a life beyond the stars, where the aliens take the kidnapped humans.

And it really is a pair of unknowns that they’ll be facing, because we won’t know what Sam and Wyatt are up against until the sequel, Born To Run, releases. And given that Last Pick is set to be a three book series, it’ll be longer still before we see how it all shakes out.

Last Pick, by Jason Marz, releases on 9 October 2018; find it wherever books are sold.


Spam of the day:

SALE ENDING THIS WEEKEND GET 60% OFF the WSJ NOW!

So the Wall Street Journal is offering subscriptions via [checks email address] 09clown.fun? I … am unconvinced.

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¹ A variety of species, or perhaps castes, they don’t name themselves as a people.

² I hate the sheriff more than any fictional character this side of … let’s say General Xinchub, or Agent 146.

A Finer World

Because when it comes down to it, there’s people out there trying to improve things, and we can all help in our own way.

  • It took about two weeks, but there it is — the fundraising site that lets all of us get in on the defense of eleven creators (and one small publisher) from the SLAPP brought by Cody Pickrodt. When it started making the rounds of social media yesterday, I saw one of the principals say that of the US$20,000 given by SPX so far, fully 15 grand has already been spent on lawyers. It was enough to provide a response and avoid a default judgment, but not enough to make a proper fight of it.

    But US$46,320 (as of this writing)? That’s enough to make a quick-payoff-seeking lawyer think twice about opportunity costs and marginal gains. It’s not enough for a protracted legal contest, but it’s enough to alter the math for the opposing side. Those of you heading to SPX this weekend, I’m sure there will be donation buckets around. Got leftover singles after making your purchases? Better to give ’em to the cause than to let them get sweaty and crumpled in your pocket¹. I won’t be able to join you at the show², but I’ve donated and I invite you to join me in that.

  • Meanwhile, you know how you can hang out with friends for upwards of a week at a time and know that they’re working on something, but they don’t let on exactly what? Rich Stevens and Jason Alderman have more than one secret project cooking, but one is no longer secret. Behold: a 50-state (plus DC) map of the country with voting information for each provided in comic form.

    Choose a state from the drop-down, or just hover over to see which of your favorite comics artists worked on which political territory. Read, get a wry chuckle (hopefully) or a dry, bitter laugh to keep away the screaming (all too often), then follow the links to check your registration and make plans to friggin’ vote.


Spam of the day:

How 71-year-old Kevin Cured His ED

Why.

Just, why?
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¹ Mostly directed at dudes, since ladies are often not given the courtesy of pockets. Also, ew.

² I was gonna say Tell ____ I said hi and give a list of folks who are gonna be there, but then I realized that it would basically be the entire exhibitor list. So whoever³ you see, tell them I said hi, and I’m sorry I can’t be there.

³ Okay, fine, say hi to MollyAbbyHollyMeredithKCShingYukoMakiMikeEvanAnanthSaraBrittColleenAnneBenJamieGeorgeWhitCareyRonKoryFrankGaleTanekaDer-shingBeckyBenKatMKDrewDustinCarlaLonnieSpikeCartaMagnoliaSophieGinaNgoziOthermollyAlexTomJessEricDanielleChrisKateMattOthermattRosemaryOtherchrisMonicaAmandaBlueandGeorge.

I Do Not Think

… that is this, the year of the common era two thousand and eight friggin’ teen, that it is too much to ask that I get four consecutive days of function from the damn network at my client. I really don’t think I’m being unreasonable here.

Post tomorrow, and to all in the path of Florence — stay safe, do not drive into water, and watch out for falling stuff.

Fleen Book Corner: The Divided Earth

There’s this one moment in the third book of the Nameless City series, The Divided Earth by name¹, where Faith Erin Hicks hits a peak; there’s 800 pages of story (more or less) across the three books, and while they all read true and the characters are all believable, this is where she get something so right that it stopped me in my tracks.

The meddling kids (it’s always kids that have to bring the empires back from the brink of war) have succeeded, the city is safe (uh, spoiler alert, but come on … book three of a trilogy? You knew it was happening) and co-protagonist Rat (who could be a completely generic Street Kid Taught To Trust Again in a lesser writer’s hands) realizes that they’ve won, and a friend she thought was gone forever is there and she throws herself into his arms and starts sobbing.

She doesn’t know why, she can’t say why, but the emotion, the relief that it’s all over, the greater relief that she’s alive and victorious and doesn’t have to have the tough exterior for just a moment and it all comes rushing out … it’s a beautiful, true moment of triumph and confusion and Being A Teen all mixed up together, and it’s the most right thing I’ve ever read in a YA story about the youth that save everybody from the war.

The rest of it is excellent, don’t misunderstand me. The sneering villain is far less confident than you’d expect², the hidden betrayers have their own motivations, the plucky comic reliefs can be depended on to both screw up exactly as their nature requires and find a bigger purpose to their actions. These are stock-in-trade elements of YA fiction, but they’re never cliche, and never done in a perfunctory manner. And anything that seems familiar (especially to those that have watched Avatar or The Legend Of Korra) is executed with the highest skill.

The Nameless City feels real and lived-in, almost a character itself. The color palette matches perfectly with the polyglot aesthetics, which are clearly derived from the different looks and feels of the three different contending nations. There’s dirt and dust, there’s new and shiny, there’s conqueror and conquered all brought together with an eye on verisimilitude.

But all of those just sort of fall into the background when Rat hugs her friend and cries because she’s relieved and happy and confused and gets to just be a moody kid for a moment. There’s big changes behind and bigger ones yet to come, but now? Yeah, she earned those tears and Hicks earned our eyeballs.

Fleen thanks :01 Books for the review copy of The Divided Earth, which will be available at bookstores everywhere on 25 September. Take the two weeks between now and then to read (or re-read) The Nameless City and The Stone Heart.


Spam of the day:

Your very own Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Bitches, I’m an EMT. I can get the good stuff any time I want: pure, uncut O2, at 15 liters per minute, at 2200 psi from a rocket bottle if I handle things carelessly. Take your lame-ass battery-powered concentrator and peddle it to somebody that doesn’t know the difference.

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¹ A reference to both the continuous warring of the three major nations that ebb and flow through the land and fight over the Nameless City, and the terrible weapon that was once used to sunder the stone of the earth itself, to provide trade access.

² But utterly, utterly convinced not only of the righteousness of his cause, but it’s fundamental selfless and altruistic nature. He really is doing it for the benefit of the people.

Fleen Book Corner: Ocean Renegades!

Abby Howard gets more cartoon effect — pathos, wry recognition, gut-busting laughter — out of fewer, simpler lines than anybody else. Her style is minimal to begin with, but the slightest change to the curve of a mouth line or the angle at which an arm is cocked results in a primal, visceral sense of recognition.

That is pure smugness your brain tells you of the character on the page, or That dad joke physically hurts me why would you do that to me Abby Howard, why, why or That creature that I thought was hideously frightening is actually cute. Every time she pulls one of those tricks, it makes the panel in question stick in your brain, like a song that won’t go away.

And if that panel in question is teaching you about evolution and mutation, or the importance of the amniotic egg to the conquest of the land by non-insect life, or the places of diapsids, synapsids, and anapsids, you’re gonna remember it.

Thus, when Ronnie and Miss Lernin (a dead ringer for Howard herself) find themselves on a new trip back to the dawn of multicellular life in the Cambrian Explosion, and work their way forward through the eras of the Paleozoic to see what critters looked like before dinosaurs? There’s probably no better narrator for our journey than Abby Howard. Not only does her art lend itself to the variety of creatures and plants encountered, her paleontologist training serves well to ensure that the journey is as scientifically accurate as modern understanding allows¹.

This is particularly true in her insistence on providing pronunciation cues for most of the species that Ronnie and Miss Lernin encounter, and it a habit that all long-weird-name-including graphic novels should adopt immediately². Like last year’s Dinosaur Empire!, Ocean Renegades! is a fun, informative (for any age; no matter who you are, dinosaur-era creatures, pre-dinosaur-era creatures, and post-dinosaur-era creatures have been subject to scientific discovery and re-evaluation since you last looked at them) introduction to a deep, immensely interesting topic.

I’m going to guess that Ms Lernin and Ronnie make one more appearance in the Earth Before Us series, as there’s still the Cenozoic Era to explore. Ronnie loves the cute critters, I can’t wait to see what she loves in the Age Of Horns, or how she feels about the now-extinct glyptodont (giant armadillos) and megatherium (ground-dwelling enormo-sloths³).

In the meantime, I will revisit Ocean Renegades! on a regular basis, and provide copies to kids (of every age) that have an interest in giant extinct animals (also trilobites, which were not large but very, very cool and supremely successful in their eco-niche for about 250 million years) that didn’t have to do what mom & dad said because they were HUGE and therefore AWESOME.


Spam of the day:

Free Fox — Most instant Matrix! fly at the start, you will not regret!

You had me with the free fox, but lost me at the end. Don’t presume to tell me what I will or will not regret, spammer scum!

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¹ I caught one error, where a time period was misidentified in terms of how many millions of years ago it was. 4xx should have been 3xx. Confusing for a moment, but any kids reading will likely figure it out for themselves and learn the valuable lesson that even grownups can make mistakes.

² I love you, :01 Books, but you need to include some phonetics in your Science Comics series.

³ And the reason we have avocados. Think about it — that pit? That’s the seed. Ain’t nothing that snacks on an avocado that’s going to carry the seed to new territory unless it’s big enough to a) swallow the avocado whole, and b) poop out the pit a couple days and several kilometers later. Only megatherium is that large, the correct kind of herbivorous, and in the right place/right time to spread avocados up and down what’s now Central America as they migrated into North America a million years ago. Thanks, extinct giant ground sloths!

I Am, All Things Considered, Remarkably Calm

Just five exercises behind in a nine exercise class at the end of Day One.

The class runs two days.

Gag, Running, Etc

If there’s one thing that we at Fleen enjoy, it’s a running gag. There’s Ryan North and the running gag that gets revisited every 1000 strips. There’s the Final Fate Of RPG World, which was a running gag before this blog launched in 2005. There was the majesty that was #buttrocket, and our habit here at Fleen of both excessive footnoting and an unrepentant man-crush on Brad Guigar¹.

But I can’t recall anybody taking something so pedestrian, so quotidian as a garden-variety Wondermark bit of random weirdness and spinning it into endless variations on a theme. Gentle readers, I invite you to consider the many variations of Check out my sick elephant!

Sick as in diseased, an emphasis on checking out, sick as in sick humor, sick as in gravely ill², sick as an excuse to work on the multiple meanings of trunk, sick as in falling apart, and a three-fer involving a previously sick elephant that becomes a thicc elephant, and finally provides a dad-joke inversion that I will not dignify with a transcription.

Responding to my fascination/horror at this strip, Wondermark creator David Malki ! promised/threatened more. Should you see him this weekend at XOXO Fest in Portland³, please convey to him my heartiest congratulations/condemnation.


Spam of the day:

We found your next girlfriend today, she is sexy, naughty, pretty and she made a very sexy video message that you need to watch.

So wait, she’s thin but not too thin, has a big rack, hips but not baby-having hips, and is sexy but not in a slutty way?

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¹ He’s dreamy.

² Gravely, I see what you did there.

³ Other webcomics types in attendance or at least walking around: the aforementioned North, Lucy Bellwood, Shing Yin Khor, Erika Moen, Blue Delliquanti, Taneka Stotts, Graham Annable, Lisa Hanawalt, Matt Furie, and MariNaomi.

Numerous other webcomicky (or at least webcomics-adjacent) folk will be across town at Rose City Comic Con, including Matt Bors, Molly Muldoon, Barry Deutsch, Jennie Breeden, Indigo Kelleigh, Kel McDonald, Kerstin La Cross, Kory Bing, Rebecca Hicks, Lucas Elliott, various members of Helioscope and artists associated with Nucleus, for some reason the US Navy, and Katie Lane.

Gaaaahhhhh …

I hate the class I’m teaching today; it’s structured in such a way that you must get to a certain point on Day One — it is literally impossible to make up any material you may be behind on Day Two — and it always goes late¹.

There have already been two separate, unrelated, time-eating environment failures. I’m going to be setting a new record, I fear.

Post tomorrow.

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¹ My record (good kind) is finishing 14 minutes after scheduled end of day.

My record (bad kind) is finishing 3 hours and 48 minutes after scheduled end of day.

Celebrating Canadianess In Comics

One may recall the nominees for the 2018 Joe Shuster Awards (discussed here), along with the general appreciation of we at Fleen for an awards program that is blessed brief — the entire slate consists of Writer / Scénariste, Cover Artist / Dessinateur Couvertures, Artist / Dessinateur, Cartoonist / Auteur, Webcomics Creator / Créateur de Bandes Dessinées Web, the Gene Day Award (Self-Publishers) / Prix Gene Day (Auto-éditeurs) (in both Single Creator/Creative Team and Anthology formats), the Harry Kremer Award (Retailers) / Prix Harry Kremer (Détaillants), the Dragon Award (Comics for Kids) / Le Prix Dragon (Bandes Dessinées pour Enfants), and the The TM Maple Award / Prix TM Maple (for achievements outside the creative/retail communities).

Eleven categories, done. It’s more than the three categories of the Doug Wright Awards, but a hell of a lot less than the thirty-damn-one categories (plus Hall Of Fame) of the Eisners.

Back in May, we noted the inclusion of Jim Zub, Stuart Immonen, Rámon Pérez, and Jillian Tamaki — all current or past webcomickers — in non-webecomics categories; Zub won for Writer / Scénariste, Immonen for Artist / Dessinateur (which precluded Pérez), and Tamaki lost to Jeff Lemire, which is no shame.

That’s a pretty good representation in the non-web categories, and moreso when you consider Cover Artist / Dessinateur Couvertures went to Djibril Morissette-Phan, Zub’s collaborator on Glitterbomb. Webcomics Creator / Créateur de Bandes Dessinées Web went to Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon for Ménage à 3.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m just mentioning this now, when the Shusters were due to be awarded at the Montreal Comic Con about two months ago, and the answer is the awards were delayed to give the juries more time. Heck, the Dragon Award nominees weren’t even announced until a couple of days after the planned presentation date.

It’s unfortunate that the logistics got away from the committee, but given a choice between a rushed (and potentially crappy) awards and one that was deliberated upon, they chose the latter; I can’t blame them for that. Thus, the announcement went up today, and the winners have been notified. I guess they’ll get the physical components in the mail?

Fleen congratulates all of the winners, and notes again that the Canadian comics awards have pretty much universally avoided weak or lame nominees, so just being nominated really is an honor.


Spam of the day:

It Couldn’t Be Easier To Learn Piano

As my mother, the lifelong pianist and organist might tell you, I am uniquely un-teachable at the piano.

Fleen Book Corner: Larry Niven Flashbacks

Why Larry Niven, you ask? Because in junior high and high school, it was a time for plentiful reprints of old ’60s SF stories, and I read pretty much everything that Niven wrote in that time period. One short story, about a protagonist named Richard Mann¹, has stuck with me. It involved ancient living artifacts of a long-ago stellar empire, trees genetically engineered to act as solid-fuel rockets to power spacecraft to explore the solar system. Also, how bad things happen when you use them to make bonfires.

So I had Niven on the brain as I sat down to read three of the recent Science Comics which were kindly sent to me by the fine folks at :01 Books: Trees, Rockets, and Solar System. Let’s take ’em in order.

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Trees, by Andy Hirsch (who contributed the volume on Dogs last year) was the book that I learned the most from; biology was never my strong suit, and I learned a great deal about the gross (and cell-sized, for that matter) anatomical structures of trees, expanding my vocabulary by quite a bit; given the age range the books are intended for, pronunciation guides in the text might have been useful (my wife, the trained biologist, corrected me on several occasions).

Hirsch starts with the general nature of the tree’s lifecycle, then carries the POV character (Acorn, who doesn’t want to plant himself, because trees are boring) through an exploration of the mechanics of tree growth, adaptation, reproduction, dispersal, forest-level impacts (on individual trees, entire species, and whole ecosystems), and ends up on the truly freaktabulous network of fungi that connects basically every tree in a vicinity to every other tree, allowing for energy and resource exchange, information transfer, and a whole lot more. By the time they’re all done, a tree looks no different, but a stand (or a copse, or perhaps a forest) starts to look an awful lot like a collective intelligence² and I am resolved to be nicer to trees in the future.

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I didn’t learn as much from Rockets by Anne and Jerzy Drozd, but was impressed at the level of scientific detail included; this book is likely to be the one most challenging to the target audience, if only because it’s got math³. It also jumps around history a bunch, following different threads of the development of rockets (not unlike the seminal Connections series by James Burke, who knows a thing or two about rockets); it’s a nice addition at the back of the book that the history of rockets is laid out in chronological order, with references to pages in the story.

The story of rockets is conveyed by animals that have intersected rockets throughout history — a mechanical pigeon that flew in 400 BCE; a chicken, sheep, and duck that took the first artificial flight; Russian cosmodogs Belka and Strelka, and a pair of bears (a grizzly, who was involved in ejection seat development, and a polar bear … to talk about the Cold War). They all do a great job teaching the basics of physics (Newton’s laws, etc) and the fundamental paradox of rockets: to fly, you need fuel, but fuel adds weight, so you need more fuel to lift the fuel, so you need even more fuel to lift the first additional fuel…. And while I started this section by pointing out that I didn’t learn as much, I at least learned that Tsiolkovsky, the great theorist of rocketry, was largely self-taught because he was deaf and left school to take up residence at the Moscow State Library.

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I was also pretty well-versed in the history of our Solar System, but Rosemary Mosco and Jon Chad did a nice job of bringing what could have been a rote recitation of facts-n-figures to life, electing to set up a framing story of a young girl home sick, her friend trying to stave off boredom, and pets recast as heroic explorers. There’s a snake with glasses, and a spacesuit pocket protector with pens in the pocket! There’s literally no way not to love that.

Also well done — expressing the scope and scale of things in space in ways that young readers can understand. The asteroid belt is largely empty space, contradicting every movie ever to show an asteroid belt. The immense size of our largest planets are well-explained, as well as some surprisingly small sizes. Did you know that Saturn’s rings are only about the height of a three story house? Or that Uranus smells like rotten eggs and cat pee? Or what the dance of a binary star system looks like? Or that Tycho Brahe got in a math fight and had his nose chopped off? That’s not a space fact, but it’s awesome nonetheless.

Mosco & Chad’s emphasis is not only on what we know, but how much we’ve discovered recently, and how much we don’t yet know … kids are going to absolutely be convinced that the world above (not to mention the one right outside the door) is one they can explore and discover themselves.

All three books are well situated for your tween-to-early-teen reader (with Rockets maybe on the upper end of the range and Solar System maybe on the lower end), and all come highly recommended. Solar System releases on 18 September, and the other two are available now.


Spam of the day:

Bettie Carbonara: Let us pick up the check =)
Sadly, not an offer to buy me dinner. Why are spammers obsessed with the costs of kitchen garbage disposal repair?

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¹ Rich Man, who was very poor and trying to make his fortune.

² I also have the SC volume devoted to The Brain but haven’t read it yet; I might have gotten in a review four-fecta if I had.

³ All the way up to and including Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation; there’s also a math error that looks to be the result of a copy/paste mistake at the lettering stage. 1 kg at 1m/sec does not equal 0.5 newton, and hopefully it doesn’t confuse kid readers too much.