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Fleen Book Corner: The Hidden Witch

Do I need to say it? There’s spoilers ahead.

The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag released last Tuesday, and I’ve been reading it (in whole, front to back, back to front, certain sections again and again) nearly nonstop since then. I must confess that I feared I wouldn’t love it as much as I builtit up in my mind. After all, I loved the first book in the series, The Witch Boy (just yesterday, I was earnestly recommending it to the youth librarian in my town’s public library), and it was possible that it wouldn’t live up to my expectation.

I should have trusted Molly.

Which, in a way, is the lesson of The Hidden Witch. Trust is a tough thing to give, a tough thing to receive, and if we are brave enough to trust, and lot of grief can be avoided. If we can trust those who are different than us, can trust ourselves to see the good in them, we can maybe heal the hurts of the world.

Quick primer for those that skipped The Witch Boy: go read The Witch Boy. Do it now. If you absolutely can’t do it now for a damn good reason — like you’re on a ship at sea, or that one Russian dude that stabbed somebody in your Antarctic research station for being a jerk about spoilers is giving you the hairy eyeball, here’s the deal:

Aster’s just on the edge of his teen years; his family is magic, and the rules are clear: boys are shapeshifters, girls are witches. You can bend or stretch any rule you want except that one, and for damn good reasons — within living memory a boy that was determined to learn witchery was corrupted by dark magic and became a dangerous beast. Aster doesn’t want to become a beast, but he feels he’s a witch. Nobody really understands him but Charlie, the girl from town who’s nonmagical and doesn’t get the rules. Oh, and that beast? It’s picking off Aster’s cousins as they learn shapeshifting.

It’s also Aster’s grandmother’s brother, Mikasi; he had a talent for witchcraft, she has some skill shifting, and he got lost. It’s only because Aster escapes Mikasi’s notice that he’s able to help capture the beast — no boy would be a witch, no shifter could resist Mikasi’s power, and so he doesn’t think to guard against a witch boy. At the end, Mikasi is captured (but not redeemed), the family still loves Aster (well, they haven’t kicked him out or anything), and they’re trying to figure out what to do. It helps that Grandmother puts her foot down — Aster’s a witch.

Fast forward to the current book and Aster’s still finding his way in his family; not all of them are accepting of his choices in life. Mikasi is still captive and bestial, and while Grandmother knows how to take the darkness from him, she needs Aster’s help. That means that more than anything else, Aster must be open to understanding what drove Mikasi to become corrupted. Aster doesn’t want to understand, he’s much more comfortable retreating — and it’s not unreasonable for anybody to say he Hey tried to kill me and corrupt my cousins (even if they’re dicks to me sometimes) and I’m not cool with having to forgive.

But he does. And little by little, Mikasi starts to emerge, a half-century or more older than he remembers being.

Meanwhile, Aster’s cousin Sedge is having misgivings about his role in life; unlike Aster, he went along with the way things are done, but now that he’s seen darkness he’s not sure he wants to shift again. Maybe he never wanted to shift in the first place. But now that Aster’s shown mold-breaking is possible, Sedge is admitting it out loud, and to himself. He doesn’t want to be a witch, though — he wants to be a nonmagical kid, go to middle school, study math and science. It might be an even bigger break with How Things Are Done than Aster’s was.

And then there’s the unknown witch, one who’s messing with dark things not understood, one at risk of falling into the same corruption that took Mikasi. She’s a new kid in Charlie’s class, one that just wants friends but has so convinced herself she doesn’t have any (or deserve any) that she pushes everyone away. And there’s this helpful shadow that she can use to torment those who are mean to her (or pre-emptively before they get the chance to be), and her temper is shorter by the day. Charlie wants to be friends, but untrained witch Ariel doesn’t really know what that means. Her conception of friendship is full of exclusivity — almost possession — and runs riot with a jealous need to protect what she regards as hers.

Charlie isn’t magic except that she’s got empathy, and will risk danger among all these magic-slingers for the sake of a friend, even one that doesn’t think she’s a friend. Aster and Mikasi have the magic to clean up the darkness that tries to claim Ariel, but it’s Charlie that makes it possible. This is the central message of the story — magic is not greater than the bonds we make between ourselves.

Nowhere does Ostertag get at the heart of the contradictions that define us all (but especially teens and tweens) as in two simple panels. Charlie, Aster, and Sedge have made it past Ariel’s creatures and arrive to confront her — not in anger, but out of concern. Ariel is just starting to realize that she can’t control what she has unleashed and when she sees Charlie she’s relieved and grateful, followed quickly by closed off and resentful. She doesn’t like herself, she can’t believe anybody would like her, and so Charlie can’t be here to help her and screw her anyway.

Two panels. A heartbeat’s worth of time in the gutters between them. Two pictures. A lifetime of hurt and mistrust conveyed with utter crystalline clarity by the simple motion of Ariel turning away. And then the exchange that gets to who these characters are in eight words:

Charlie: Ariel —
Ariel: I won’t want you here.
Charlie: Too bad.

Oh, there’s more. Charlie not letting Ariel wall herself off, telling her that she deserves friendship, she’s worthy of it, to not be afraid of accepting it, to not let her darker impulses rule her emotions. There’s other small moments that pack as much in (Aster revealing to Sedge that he’s been helping Mikasi heal, Mikasi admitting the monster still resides in him), and there’s more sacrifice and growth on the part of nearly everybody. But those two panels, those eight words are the high point of the book. They pack all the emotions and lessons learned into their truest form — I’m here for you, and if you try to push me away, I’m still here for you. You’re hurt. You’re family.

There’s a reason that Charlie is the larger (and foregrounded) character on the cover; Aster’s story may be the throughline, Ariel’s may be the central focus, but Charlie’s the hero this time. She doesn’t need to study or dabble in esoteric knowledge — she’s got the simplest of the powers of anybody here. She knows how to offer friendship and to accept it in return. She knows how to call you on your crap when you deserve it, but let you know that she still loves you unconditionally. She knows how to bring out the best in people. She’s willing to help you with your damage. And she’ll literally dunk on you if try to mess with her friends; that basketball ain’t just for show.

The messages of The Witch Boy are still there, still being expanded on, but The Hidden Witch adds a very important truth to the mix — being different doesn’t mean you have to be alone, and those who aren’t perceived as different have the ability to welcome the lonely, the distressed, the outcast. If The Witch Boy taught every kid struggling with feelings they didn’t know how to process about who they are and who they can be, The Hidden Witch reminds every reader that being welcoming and open to who people are is our job. I know in my heart that in the past year, kids that see themselves in Aster are better off for his example; I know that in the year to come, kids that see themselves in Charlie are going to help those Asters and Ariels and Sedges find the space to be themselves.

And that’s magic.

The Hidden Witch, words and pictures by Molly Ostertag, is available at bookstores everywhere. It’s appropriate for every age that has the patience to consume a 200 page story.

Spam of the day:

Your Dishwasher repair costs are covered (complete details inside…)

In fact, my dishwasher had a problem — the gasket that seals the door had gotten folded over, making it impossible to close it fully. I fixed it with the foldy-over sealing cardboard from the top of a FedEx envelope.

The Good News Is I’m Now Only Half A Day Behind

The bad news is I only have one day to catch up.

Sorry, folks. Most likely see you on Monday.

No Post Today

I’d love to say it’s because The Hidden Witch is taking up brain cycles to the point that I can’t think of anything else but I haven’t formed my thoughts into all that I want to say yet, and that would be about 35% true, maybe 40%.

But mostly it’s because I have a class of rude, demanding, keep-interrupting-to-ask-the-same-question-over-and-over-again-hoping-I’ll-give-the-answer-they-want types who have put me, at this point, approximately one full day behind on a three-day class and Day One isn’t even over yet.

So tomorrow, maybe. Depends on if I can kick these butts into gear or not.

I Couldn’t Decide What Image To Use, So I Used All Three

I’m mostly sitting here, trying to get work done in time to run out to the bookstore and pick up a copy of The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag, which is only the sequel to my favorite book of 2017. As soon as it’s obtained, you may expect a review here.

But that’s not all that’s going on this Halloweeneve, there’s other news from other webcomickers, and as is so very common these days, the most interesting work is being done by women. Let’s see what’s going on.

  • I mentioned The Hidden Witch, right? Just wanted to be sure.

  • Abby Howard, who produced my favorite book to date about dinosaurs, and my favorite book to date about pre-dinosaurs, answered both a question that I had and also my dearest wish. One may recall that in the review of Ocean Renegades I remarked:

    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).

    (The footnote referred to the fact that we can thank giant ground-dwelling sloths for avocados. Really!)

    And now we have our answer:

    This month I’ve been working on the inks for Earth Before Us 3, which will be out next summer~

    With an illustration of extinct mammals, giant rhino-like critters that in some cases dwarfed our modern elephants. Hooray! This is what I wanted, but boo! Judging by the release of the first two Earth Before Us books, it’ll be August before I get to read it.

  • Because if I missed mentioning The Hidden Witch, I’ll just kick myself, y’know?

  • I forget, do you need two unusual, related events to declare a trend, or three? Because I’m declaring a trend on webcomickers taking over legacy comic strips. We all know that the pseudonymous Olivia Jaimes has, over the past six months, shown us how good Nancy can be, and revealed a fundamental truth that all suspected but none could articuate: Sluggo is lit.

    Now Joey Alison Sayers has shared the news that she’s taking over a comic strip that’s arguably even older than Nancy¹:

    I’ve been sitting on some big news for a little while. I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you!
    Alley Oop Will Return (Spoiler Alert)

    And I’m incredibly lucky to be working with the brilliant @lemonworld

    Okay, so maaaaaybe I oversold the women run comics now, deal with it crybabies angle just a bit, as Sayers is partnering with Jonathan Lemon of Rabbits Against Magic on art. I absolutely don’t want to get into the false dichotomy of whether art or writing is more important in comics/comic strips, because they’re incomplete without the other. But my point stands — women pretty much are running comics, and that’s a damn good thing.

    That aside, uh, aside, Sayers tells us we should see the new Alley Oop come January. It’ll be a tall order, seeing as how the strip’s been in reruns since the start of September, and has 80+ years of history behind it².

    The great thing about Jaimes’s run on Nancy has been an acknowledgment of life in the 21st century while returning to the reality-bending heyday of Bushmillerian weirdness. I can only imagine what Sayers and Lemon will be able to do, but I suspect that in the new year we’ll find a breath of new life, excellent beefy-armed cavepeople, and awesome dinosaurs.

  • Seriously, though — go get The Hidden Witch.

Spams of the day:

Need a Loan? | Bad Credit? | Loan Options


Ready for Takeoff? | Private Jet Charters

In the past 24 hours, I received both of the spams above, which both sport the same bullshit “click here or write to us at this address [in Cyprus] to be removed from these mailings” bit at the bottom. Spammers, you are not targeting me very well. Do you think I’m a deadbeat in need of a usurious loan, possibly involving a pay day, or do you think that I have the money to throw around on private jets?

¹ Arguably because while Alley Oop started in 1932 and Nancy in 1938, that’s the date that the title (and focus) shifted to Nancy from her Aunt Fritzi. Ernie Bushmiller had been running Fritzi Ritz since 1925, and the strip had been created in 1922 by Larry Whittington.

² Even more, considering the many side trips via time machine in the strip’s continuity.

Trust Me: Keeping Up With An Interview In Real Time Is Difficult

Fleen Senior French Correspondent Pierre Lebeaupin was tasked to attend the Quai de Bulles BD festival and report back. Please enjoy the approximately 2700 words he filed, which is beastly amount of work.

Just like last year, I had a great time at Quai des Bulles chatting with creators, visiting exhibitions, attending panels, and of course buying comics (Akileos did have the French edition of Stand Still, Stay Silent book one for instance), but the most interesting event was definitely this interview of Laurel which is transcribed at the end of the post: she had not signed her comics in France in the last 6 years, and so was eagerly expected.

I was able to chat with her at her booth on Sunday, and it had gone well: she and Adrien already knew they had made back their expenses, and she was glad to meet readers in this fashion again; she is not stopping, as she has more festivals planned even just this year.

One note: the meetup occurred on Friday, and this year the festival occurred outside of school holidays, so the auditorium was filled with school children (most about 10, some in the 14-15 range) which made for a very nice ambiance. Seriously.


[Editor’s note: FSFCPL has produced an account of the interview, but this should not be taken as a series of literal quotations. For starters, Laurel and Adrien should not be taken to referring to themselves in the third person.]

Present were Laurel and Adrien Duermael, interviewed by Arnaud Wassmer.

What is Laurel doing today?
Laurel: She has always wanted to do comics, and when blogs started appearing, she put online what she considered a kind of diary. It took off, and accumulated a community as it went on. She claims to have the first blog BD (French-language comics blog) as she started it in 2003, after which she was joined by Boulet, Mélaka, Maliki, etc.

What was her initial intent?
Laurel: First of all, her pen name comes from Laureline, her actual surname (which itself comes from Valérian comics). These days Internet and the web enable young newcomers to start out from wherever they are, without the need to enter an artist studio. She taught herself (she did not pursue studies beyond the Baccalauréat [Author’s note: equivalent of the A-levels/high school diploma]), and she wanted to do it from her childhood reads.

What kind of stories doe she tell? Why autobio?
Laurel: It’s not because she’s self-centered; since she started out with a blog, she fed it with daily life stories, and that continued into her books: the characters were already ready, and she could more readily count on her community to buy them.

Adrien: As time goes on, you fall more easily into an observer role, ready to take note of relevant situations.

Laurel: It doubles as a way to be able to recount these stories to their own children, when they will be older.

So the children are taken along in the ride. How to set the limit between what you can tell and what is too intimate, and in a related question, how much storytelling versus literal telling is put in the stories?
Laurel: Everything is true. But the matter of making the children uncomfortable? Good question … At the same time, they tell very ordinary things about them (doing the dishes, school grades), nothing really intimate, even the story of expecting her second child that she’s telling has nothing specially revealing.

Doesn’t she risk fanning jealousy between her children?
Laurel: Her eldest Cerise does have her own book series …

What about the animals?
Adrien: Squirrels were often used to for narration, especially to tell of negative events, express messages, that sort of thing.

Laurel: Indeed, to have the squirrels complain while telling what happened is a good storytelling technique.

Laurel is drawing on a tablet these days. Why?
Laurel: She worked for 10 years on paper, even when she put colors digitally back then she did it with a mouse… But when she started working on video games, she had to switch to a graphic tablet for productivity reasons: games need tons of assets, and drawing on a tablet avoids having to scan the original, clean the lines digitally, etc.

Nevertheless, it did require her 6 months to get used to the graphic tablet, then 6 more months to be really comfortable with it. The material (texture, etc.) is not the same, and you have additional latency before the stroke appears as well as an air gap; and that is without mentioning technical parameters to worry about such as file resolution. She does however appreciate the possibility to cancel: she often retries the same stroke 10 times in order to get a clean one.

Adrien: Cerise is more comfortable with tablets than Laurel is.

What are her graphical influences?
She was influenced by Pénélope Bagieu, also by games such as Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on Nintendo DS; for the last 6-7 years she has had her own style.

Which is very expressive.
Adrien: Indeed, and for the messages of Comme Convenu, this is very useful to convey them, like for animation.

Laurel: Nevertheless, she considers that part of her work to be in line with French-Belgian comics traditions.

Here we see some panels before inking.
Laurel: One important part of the panels is their size: at the beginning Comme Convenu was not designed for a book, but they instead considered going for a mobile app, and therefore every panel was the size of a mobile phone screen, with 4 of them fitting an iPad screen. Then they did a book with that layout.

Adrien: The application never saw the light of the day, and it was easier to design that way than to design pages for A4, then try and cram them in a phone screen.

But does this change the way you tell the story, how to think in term of story rhythm?
Laurel: She tried to think in terms of multiples of 4 panels, and then on a larger scale to have breaks on the story fall on Fridays.

Adrien: Though it is a single story.

Laurel: Indeed, so the breaks were sometimes cliffhangers to get readers to return the week after…

Why then publish on paper?
Laurel: She wasn’t even sure at the start whether she would get to complete it or not, but with readers coming in and comments, she was encouraged especially as it provided her with an outlet next to her difficult day job; it was nevertheless taking her 6 hours of work per page. When she proposed it to publishers, she was proposed 8000€ [Author’s note: of advances, though that is often the only thing creators earn these days) for 3 years of work: there was no way she was going to accept that.

Does it make a difference in the story if it is published online or traditionally?
Adrien: Regardless, it is important for them that this story was published on paper in the end, as he saw multiple video games he worked on virtually disappear (no physical artifact remaining) when they were pulled from sale: here something concrete will remain. But it makes a difference for it to have been prepublished on an interactive medium, such as the ability to be reacting to feedback when continuing the story (as well as fixing typos).

Is she feeling pressure from comments? How to take them into account without compromising her work? Are they mostly positive or negative?
Laurel: Most commenters mean well, but sometimes she is not clear, and in one occasion she took a lot of heat and tried to address that by inserting a new page … which got heated comments as well, with much less justification this time. She realized that people demand because they like the feeling of being in control, without it being necessarily justified. She trusts Adrien to tell her when she ought to change something or if commenters are out of it. Twitter is sort of an additional comment stream, but on it people may not necessarily realize they are telling her something that 50 other people are telling her about already: it is not harassment per se, but a close equivalent.

Why did you move to California?
Laurel: Adrien is a software developer. In many aspects when developing applications it is better to be on location to meet Apple, Google, etc. So they uprooted their whole life and left with Cerise in tow.

Adrien: One advantage is that he previously went on holidays there; nevertheless when they started the business while still in France, and they would deal with the European offices of Apple for instance, as a result their apps would be promoted in France, but not worldwide. Coming to California was also important for them to meet other businesses in the same sector.

Laurel: It really is a super area, she had the feeling of being in a series.

How did the environment influence storytelling?
Laurel: Among other ways, she met with people from Pixar, and their work influenced her drawing style, more so than the move from paper to graphic tablet; she was also able to meet U.S. comics creators, go to conventions, and in general open herself to many different aspects of the local culture.

Adrien: He noticed there an important tradition of “artisanal” graphical expression, such as in burger restaurant menus, or lettering in coffee shops.

It was not exactly smooth sailing, hence the origin of Comme Convenu.
Laurel: They had a work visa, meaning if they were fired, they couldn’t stay, and they did not have the means to move back to France, plus they did not want Cerise to have to move again just after settling in. As a result they ended up having to unquestioningly obey their boss, Joffrey. They are not holding a grudge these days, but they suffered a lot at the time, especially when Cerise was involved, as a result this story had to come out. At the time they thought that, besides making an app out of it, it could allow their partners to see their side of the story and perhaps make them go off their backs, but that did not work.

Adrien: When Comme Convenu started they were really at their lowest anguish point.

Laurel: They were very protective of Cerise, as a result this story is also a way to tell her about these events in a time-shifted fashion.

Why use comics?
Laurel: It is the way she expresses herself. And when publishers showed interest but only proposed her insignificant revenues, she went: I’m going to show them how I can do it by myself.

Adrien: They had heard of Kickstarter, so given the ridiculous sums offered by publishers, they thought they had nothing to lose by going with crowdfunding, so they went with it. They were going to go with Kickstarter when Ulule took notice of them and proposed their platform, which had some benefits but in particular that of being oriented toward the French-speaking market for instance.

Could you elaborate on the crowdfunding concept for our audience?
Laurel: So you put your project up on the Internet on a platform such as Kickstarter or Ulule. You must have something to show already, and you’re asking people to chip in. They asked for 9000€ (US$10,300 then) which would have allowed them to print the book (which would have cost US$15,000) using an additional loan, and if that sum is reached the book is printed.

For the second campaign it is claimed the goal was reached in 6 minutes.
Laurel: Having a promo video helps a lot for promoting the crowdfunding, she doesn’t like doing them at all but it worked. The first campaign collected more than 8000 pledges for as many copies of the book, much more than she would have been able to do with traditional publishing. She is not throwing them any stone, but there they are.

Here the audience can see her with the printer.
Laurel: It was a California company, Global PSD, recommended by another French-American creator. She tried to get involved every step of the way, and she managed to have goodies (stickers, etc.) put along with the books.

And here the audience can see pallets and boxes of books being opened …
Laurel: They had 800 books shipped to their home in order to sign them, and they assembled the bundles of goodies by hand, including Cerise.

And they went with crowdfunding again for the second book.
Laurel: That allowed them to keep owning all the rights to the book and use them as they like later, for instance for a digital edition. They own everything.

Adrien: As a team, they own everything. While for her other comics books, they ended up seeing them on apps without being told about it.

And now everyone can read it.
Laurel: They wanted it to be available for everyone on the Internet, people in the audience can go read the 500 pages right now if they want.

Now the audience can see some of the pages from the book …
Adrien: Their cat, Brume, is indeed useful here to materialize the question they were asking themselves: why were they allowing themselves to get exploited?

Now they are back in France. What’s next?
Laurel: Right now she is telling her experience of expecting a baby (and side stories) in California.

Adrien: First it deals with the adventures in a video game studio, then with expecting a baby, but in fact it is larger than that.

What is Adrien’s opinion on his drawn double?
Adrien: I do see myself in him, well OK I’m less scrawny, but in all seriousness I find myself well drawn. In that story we are together, after a few more years have passed I would like to read it again.

[Adrien exits stage left. Now the public is allowed to ask questions.]

Will she do comics in a different style?
For now she sticks to what she is doing, but she previously did about 15 books: classic Cerise books for instance. When she will be done with her current project, in about 3 years, she will see.

Is she considering doing prose?
No, she needs to draw; writing is a very different job, but it is true that Diglee and Maliki are managing it.

She worked with Adrien for recollecting their memories of the story, did she do the same with Cerise?
Yes, Cerise was able to show her viewpoint at the end of Comme Convenu.

Were scenes changed or interpreted differently?
The names were changed, that’s it, but of course there are exaggerations, such as the size of a spider, but the dialogs occurred as shown.

How much time did they stay in California?
Five years, they would have stayed but could not renew their visas, now they are located near Vannes as Adrien has family nearby.

Do they intend to make video games in the future?
They do have projects to that end, they love developing games. They are proud of making games without ads, interesting, pretty, and out of people who download them there are people who appreciate that and allow one to make a living out of it.

What takes the most time, the scenario or the drawing stage? Would you consider you would need help on the scenario side or the drawing side?
Before she did draw scenarios from others. What she finds the hardest is dialogs and the process of dividing the scenario into pages and panels; however sketching and inking she feels are faster and more pleasant, and she can do so while watching series anyway. However, she has to watch against losing concentration because of social networks. She would rather work with a scenarist.

Would she like living in the U.S. again?
She would love to; her two youngest were born in the U.S., so they could claim citizenship when the time comes, but it is harder and harder to come, lately her immigration applications were solid but rejected anyway, she is not entertaining too many illusions. They will be able to come the U.S. for holidays already.

What games did she work on?
With the warning that they may or may not be online any more: Grub, which is a kind of snake by tilting the phone, and Greedy Grub, which is a village management game. They recovered the rights to them and are preparing a release, including on Android.

Thanks as always to FSFCPL for his unerring sense of interesting stories and creators in the intersection of BD and webcomics.

Spam of the day:

Used by all military, police, fireman and astronauts personnel. So powerful it can over e miles of light It can protect you more then a knife or gun

It’s a flashlight. And what kind of threats do you think astronauts are facing that they need the flashlight that’s more powerful than knives and guns?

For Your Pachydermic Consideration

Check out my sick elephant!
My! Check out that sick elephant!
Check out my thicc elephant!!
Sick out my check elephant.
Chekhov, my Elle sycophant! (1423)
Check out … Mice! Ick; Aleph Hunt.
Shrek out my Chick Hell event!
Che gout! My sequel affront! (1426)
Check out shy MacOlaf aunt. (1427)
Check out t’my C Kelley Fund. (1428)
“Shaquille if ent? My check is out!”
Chuck, out my Shaquille event.
“Chuck ’em” Isaac Elephant.
“Check out my schtick, LA!” vent […]
“Check it — buy six elephants.”
Chuck, add my sick elephant.


Check out my Sikh olive vint!
Check out my sheikh/caliph hunt!
Check out my slick ‘L’-glyph font!
Schick cowed my sect colophon!
Check outside — McAuliffe fan!
Checks outbuy soft eloquence.
Chuck out my alley-found stick!!
Hell out my Czech sickle fount!
Chekhov’s mighty sick of all of it!
Checked out, Mike Seagal, I found!
Chekhov’s — MY! — sitch, elephants!
Chekhov! Nice schtick! Hella fun!
Check out my icky skelephant!

… and still three more parts in The Elephant Of Surprise, (which started its 10-part epic in comic number 1427).

Assumning that three more strips are all that remain, that will mean that 23 strips — roughly a quarter of Wondermark’s annual output — will have been devoted to this one running gag. Considering that there have been 28 subsquent variations on the initial repeated phrase¹, I’d say that my flippant prediction that David Malki ! would both a) produce at least 26 variants; and b) rename his strip to Checkoutmysickelephantmark is on its way to coming true.

And I suspect that in Malki !’s appearance on the latest Jordan, Jesse, Go! with Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn features at least one stealth elephant, sick or not. Thorn and Bullseye² sent over a camera to make a video of Malki !’s workplace, and I’ve been watching it obsessively, trying to figure out where the elephant in the room is. I know it’s there somewhere! I just have to connect all these strings on this corkboard and I’ll find it. Oh yes, I will.

Spam of the day:

30,000+ Russian Babes Desperately Need Boyfriends

Ladies! Please! Granted, I am a sexy, sexy man, but there is but one of me.

¹ Plus one more on Twitter.

² Malki ! is well-acquainted with Thorn, having been a repeat participant/presenter at MaxFunCon, a previous guest on Jordan, Jesse, Go!, and a previous interviewee on The Sound Of Young America³ (the original name of Bullseye).

³ I asked Malki ! once how long the original interview with Thorn was, that was cut down to the approximately 26 minutes that was broadcast. He told me that there wasn’t a longer original to be cut, that everything pretty much went to air as it was recorded.

This is because Jesse Thorn is one of the best interviewers alive and really knows how to structure a conversation, but also because David Malki ! is an easy conversationalist, one that makes this kind of interview easy. Check out these slick gentlemens.

Changes Afoot

On the one hand, I have nothing but sympathy for creators who have found the last year-plus of Patreon to be haphazard and chaotic, and the slow rollout of Drip to not have provided a solution. The news yesterday that Drip is on the way out certainly didn’t help things, but there are two bits of good news in there:

  1. Kickstarter have made their announcement well in advance of any changes. So much of the headaches around Patreon last year were traceable directly to the announcements that amounted to We’re changing the rules in like two weeks, deal! By contrast, Drip will stay as it is for at least the next year.
  2. More importantly, the eventual replacement to Drip is being headed by The Andys — Baio and McMillan, the founders and driving forces behind XOXO. If being an independent creative were a real-life face-to-face recurring event, it would be XOXO. In fact, it pretty much is.

    I don’t know Baio, but I do know McMillan, and anything that he’s involved in, I am absolutely confident will be designed to present a playing field that is accessible to all, and sees the promotion of underrepresented communities not as an afterthought, but as an ethos.

So here’s what’s happening. For the moment, Drip remains as it is. It’s not a lot bigger than the initial 100 pilot creators, and Kickstarter appear to have recognized that it’s a service that’s very different from what they’re set up to do. To fix/change/redesign it is more work than starting from scratch.

The Andys have formed a new public benefit corporation for which Kickstarter is providing seed capital and access to the Drip code. When whatever the new platform is debuts, Kickstarter will help the Drip folks migrate. The focus of the new platform will be financial stability¹. Features, size, limits, even the name of the new enterprise are yet to be announced, but one very critical item has been stated unambiguously:

When asked whether LGBT content would be flagged as adult content, even if it is not explicit — a controversy that has recently erupted around Patreon — Baio’s response was succinct: “LGBT content is not inherently explicit or NSFW in any way.”

All in all, this is a remarkable turn of events. It’s not a spin-off, it’s not a sale or transfer or acquisition of assets; this is Kickstarter saying We’re going to get out of this business, but we’ve found people we trust to build a thing that handles this business — hopefully better than we’ve been doing — and we’re going to help them get started but we won’t have an ownership stake in it.

I can’t think of any precedent for a company giving up a line of business by paying somebody to develop a competitor/successor because it’s better for their customers. I’m dangerously close to admitting that a corporation² can engage in a genuinely altruistic behavior to the detriment of their own income. And yeah, it means another round of upheaval in a year or so, followed by another ramp-up period, plus whatever changes Patreon decides on in the meantime, but the end result will, I think, be worth it.

Now it just needs a name³.

Spam of the day:

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No, no, no, spammers! If you’re going to put up a link that tries to look like the one that Gmail has for displaying images, you have to a) match the wording, and b) do it before the Gmail redesign takes that option away for messages in the Spam folder. Too bad, you suck.

¹ Which mission overlaps significantly with McMillan’s Liberty Foundation, launched last year during XOXO’s hiatus, but stalled since then. One problem: the name is pretty much guaranteed to make nonprofit recognition a pain, what with the IRS having a history of dealing with a bunch of bogus “nonpolitical” Tea Party-type organizations demanding nonprofit status, many featuring the word Liberty in their name.

Also, in the interests of disclosure, I have committed to donate a large chunk of money to The Liberty Foundation (or whatever it may end up being renamed) when it is ready to launch, but I have not received any inside information from McMillan on Drip II: Electric Dripaloo.

² Okay, a public benefit corporation.

³ I may have done some digging without coming to an answer. Relatively few states have public benefit corporations, and of those that do, that only one I could find with an easily searchable state government database of PBC registrations is Oregon, where XOXO happens to be located. No luck so far, though.

Less Than A Week To Go

I believe that I’ve made no secret of the fact that the book that I enjoyed the most in 2017 — not just the graphic novel I liked best, the best book period¹ — was The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. I also believe I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was my distinct pleasure to tell Ms Ostertag that in person. Ever since I learned that a sequel was in the works, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to The Hidden Witch.

It releases on Tuesday, the very eve of Halloween. I am already bouncing off the walls in anticipation. In fact, I may have reacted to the news that Ostertag is having a launch party in LA on Saturday by trying to figure out if a quick cross-country round trip was practical².

But for you lucky SoCal types, The Hidden Witch will debut to the public at Secret Headquarters, 3817 W Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles from 3:00pm to 5:00pm. Afternoon, perfect for your younger Ostertag fans! She’ll be signing! There will be candy! Wear a costume!

And above all, tell Molly that I’m very proud of her, will be lining up at the local bookstore to purchase on the 30th, and that I’m pretty sure that The Hidden Witch will be my favorite book of 2018.

Spam of the day:

Trust us, it’ll only take days to drop your belly bulge

Mofos, if I drop any part of me I’ll disappear. I’m a twig.

¹ Bear in mind that in the same year I read an excellent biography of Claude Shannon, the man that invented the field of electrical engineering upon which I concentrated my undergrad and graduate studies, the man whose seminal Figure 1 is my Pietà. Sorry, not sorry.

² It is not.

Had To Share

Nothing earth-shattering today, just a few random thoughts before I win the big lottery jackpot tonight and celebrate by getting better friends, a better hobby, and maybe a helicopter. Tuesdays, right?

  • Dante-Lucas Landshepherdherr is many things — a wizard with chalk, a labcoat fashion plate, an award-winning educator, a YouTube personality enabler, and occasionally a webcomicker. Yeah, yeah, his webcomic wrapped up earlier this year, but he’s got a book coming out, which is what I wanted to mention.

    Landshepherdherr made an update — a public one, let me hasten to add — to the book’s Kickstarter campaign, noting that everything’s off the printer, and sharing the front and back covers. It’s the latter that I wanted to share with you:

    Every good book has a quote on the back, so here is an actual quote from an end-of-semester student evaluation the author received from an anonymous student:

    At the beginning of the semester, he acted like he was supreme ruler of the universe. Over time, he got better.

    [transcribed from image]

    This is possibly from back when the Landherr and Shepherd identities were not quite so commonly associated by the general public, but regardless: kudos, amusingly-bitchy ChemE student! You made it through 20+ years of life encountering nobody horrible if you found Dr Landherr to be grandiose or self-important; I hope that streak continues. Also, please be aware that the man had deadly aim with an eraser and now that you are no longer his student, you are fair game. When the EMTs find you covered in an irregular layer of calcium carbonate, I’m certain that he will have an ironclad alibi¹.

  • Not as recent — in fact, it’s a little old at this point — is the episode of ComicLab that Kazu Kibuishi guested on. Kibuishi is, of course, the creator of the Amulet series, Daisy Kutter, and Copper, as well as being the driving force behind the Flight anthology series. He’s one of the most erudite, thoughtful people in comics, and the entire podcast is great listening from start to finish.

    But the part that’s stuck with more for a couple of weeks now was a description of his process (which you’ll find starting about the 31:28 mark); it explains a lot about how Kibuishi regards the concept of story, as well as why he seems to take a relatively long time to put a book together. Short form is, he has a very malleable approach to ordering of plot elements. Kibuishi works up sequences and scenes that he wants to tell, completely independently from each other, then arranges them in the books. It’s a nonlinear approach to storytelling that I don’t think anybody else uses².

    He’s had the advantage of telling a story that’s largely episodic, with different groups of characters in different places, so switching back and forth makes sense, but it also allows an unusual degree of flexibility; he mentioned later in the discussion that a reader questions prompted — relatively lately — the need to answer a question about the story that became the opening scene of Supernova. And honestly, I can see it in retrospect — that scene could have occurred at any point from about the middle of Book 5 to the end of Book 8 (and possibly into the not-yet-released Book 9), but he shifted things around and decided that the start of Book 8 was where it had the biggest impact.

    The thing is, if he hadn’t talked about it, you wouldn’t have known it. The great skill isn’t in an unusual approach, it’s in designing these sequences with entrances and exits that allow them to be slotted wherever they have the biggest impact; the story as a whole reads smoothly from start to finish. It’s not a means of storytelling, it’s a tool that he finds helpful to produce those stories with a maximum degree of flexibility³. It’s also probably the most subtle, master-level tool in the toolbox, so maybe don’t try to shift your approach without a hell of a lot of practice? Just a thought.

Spam of the day:

How About a Checking Account?

Got one, thanks.

¹ I’m not saying that Landherr is Batman or anything, but who has an alter-ego except righters of wrongs who are also The Night?

² Although in the production of The Sculptor, Scott McCloud did talk about working on the book in chunks of 40-50 pages, that being his unit of production. It’s not really a story that would allow for swapping around those chunks, however.

³ See our discussion of graphic novel editing from last year to appreciate the process most publishers will want to see a full story in rough form and work out plot details before moving onto pencils. Kibuishi could make a shift the week before returning final pages without disrupting the book!

No Word On Whether Or Not He Taught The Band To Play

Sometimes, you gotta just start with the quote; from Krishna Sadasivam:

It was 20 years ago today that PC WEENIES made its debut on the world wide web! I’m formally retiring from the strip at the end of October. More details on -thanks for reading! #pcweenies #krishnadraws

I’d put in the obligatory note about how in just one more year (well, one year from yesterday), PC Weenies could legally drinks, except not:

I’m really proud of how the strip has grown and evolved. It’s not perfect, but it represents a body of work that I can look back on and say “I did that”. As many of you already know, the strip comes to a close on October 31st this year.

So sad, cut down in its prime; then again, PCW has had hiatuses before, and Sadasivam just can’t seem to entirely quit Bob and Company. And, to be fair, Sadasivam’s internet online endeavour has been far more than just comics for some time — hardware and software reviews, and I still maintain that his best comics work was actually his family-inspired Uncubed, so maybe he goes back to that? His daughter’s got to be 11-12 years old, there’s some prime material for comics … and Dad-inflicted kid embarrassment.

What I’m saying is, Sadasivam is no stranger to cartoonic reinvention¹, and come Thursday next week, we get to see what else he’s got up his sleeves.

Spam of the day:

I hereby ERASE your debts forever!

I am not Screamy Orange Grandpa (credit: KB Spangler), I have no need for scammy bankruputcy services to cheat people out of what I promised them.

¹ Much like R Stevens, whose work we see above because the title demanded it. Besides, how many comic strips can you name that feature Xeni Jardin, Stan Lee, Scott McCloud, Steve Wozniak, Chewbacca, and me? It’s a shame that The Belz wasn’t able to join us for the shoot that day, it was a blast.