The webcomics blog about webcomics

Varsity Level Techniques

One of the things I love about capital-C Comics (web and otherwise, but hold that thought for a moment) is how they can work on you at a really intuitive basis to convey story and emotion and you don’t need to realize what they’re doing or why for it to work. And then somebody comes along to tell you what they are doing and why it works, and you’re all [mime head blowing up with hand gestures — you know the one¹].

Today, I’d like to point you at two people who get how Comics work, from the perspective of construction and the perspective of reader perception, and how it gives creators (especially of the web variety) tools to make and present comics to tell the stories they want.

  • First, Melanie (no last name provided), from MassArt’s animation program, and her final essay (in comic form) for her class on the history and theory of comics. She’s talking about Octopus Pie (a great choice; as is well represented in the record here at Fleen, Meredith Gran spent a decade getting continuously better at both storytelling and Comics), and how it breaks the established conventions of comics.

    She looks first at gutters providing not only a sense of tone and time (which McCloud taught us all about 25 years back), but also Gran’s penchant for using them to convey emotional distance (which I hadn’t seen described before, and which in retrospect makes perfect sense). Also, I’ll note that last page also includes one of Gran’s best-ever panels, with Eve’s lizard brain reacting in a wholly appropriate way. Which, as it turns out, is Melanie’s second area of exploration.

    She notes that Gran excels at visual asides representing interior mood, use of in-scene elements to act as impromptu panel borders, and size and placement of speech balloons to convey tension and release. I’ve commented on some of the same pages that Melanie did, but hell if I’d ever noticed that as Park was pushing self-serving bullshit at Eve, his balloons were getting wider and hers were getting smaller.

    Beyond The Border is a terrific analysis, and I’d love to see more of Melanie’s thoughts on Gran’s work, and comics as a whole. This could easily grow to be a study of How To Comics that’s as long (or longer) than Understanding Comics.

  • Second, let’s recognize that a lot of what Melanie identified in Gran’s work is only possible, really possible, in webcomics. Sure, those two super-tall, verging on infinite scroll Octopie episodes appear in the print collections, but they lack the participatory oomph of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling some more.

    Likewise, there’s a question at the heart of webcomics these days about how to present work to both reach an audience (getting them to your site is a hell of a lot harder than it used to be; getting four panels into a tweet may get many more eyeballs) and make it easy to read. Seeking input into that very question, Los Angeles resident Dave Kellett asked his readers:

    Just out of curiosity: Is it better when I tweet the comics as one big image…or as individual panels to swipe through?

    (Note on LArDK’s tweet: the image in question doesn’t include his URL, but does include his Twitter account name; the era of individual sites vs than social media accounts appears to be at an inflection point.)

    There was a pretty clear consensus towards swiping, but as it turns out reader preference is only one factor that a creator needs to consider. Enter Keegan Lannon, academic researcher with an interest in comics and how we read them. There’s a payoff at the end that I want to discuss, but to get there, we’re going to have to extensively quote from Lannon’s thread:

    So … this is a really interesting question, and I have some ridiculously obsessive thoughts on the presentation of comics. It involves some light narratology and a discussion of directional reading protocols.

    The question is about how we read comics. The obvious assumption (though problematic) is that we read comics like we read lines of text: consider each lexical unit in turn, constructing meaning along the way.

    [Editor’s note: some really interesting stuff about how we read is omitted here — go check it out.]

    A few caveats: reading digitally and reading in print are different, and comics translated from print to digital formats complicates this discussion even further. Mark Waid gave a good talk discussing these issues in more detail than I could here:

    So, with all of that said, one of the more reliable ways to figure out how we read comics is to make use of eye-tracking software to see where people’s eyes go when they engage with the text. A few years back, @zackkruse gave a paper on just such an experiment.

    Granted, it was an incomplete experiment, but the researchers found that when presented with a page of comics readers tend to jump around the page in a loosely diagonal fashion, working from the top-left to the bottom-right, but not purely left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

    [Editor’s note: the next three tweets are what you really need to pay attention to.]

    Likely, you took in the whole shape of the comic first, giving special attention to the panel with the couch as it is the most visually arresting panel on the page. You might not have taken in the “whole” meaning of the panel, but you certainly jumped to that first.

    Presented individually, this would not have been possible. Would the joke still work? Probably. Would it have worked in the same way? Probably not. Seeing the punch line early allows for the reader to read the first three panels in context of that information (however incomplete)

    So, I would answer Kellet’s question by saying it doesn’t matter what the reader wants, but more the effect that he wants to create. The different presentations will allow for different narrative effects. [emphasis mine]

    That right there? That’s a dissertation in the making², but until it gets written creators will have a lot of experimenting to do. Smart ones will discover a new tool for constructing the stories/gags/emotional context they want in their webcomics. Those who master this means of guiding their audience will be able to exert a level of authorial influence that I don’t think any other medium presently has.

Spam of the day:

sup Gary

Oh, not much, just hangin’ out. Maybe play some video games, buy some Def Leppard T-shirts.

¹ Vocal sound effects optional.

² Whoever decides to make it, do us all a favor and team up with Melanie.

Know What We Haven’t Had For A While? A Roundup

We’re kind of all over the place today.

  • Okay, this one is going to cost you some money, maybe. Brad Guigar — cartoonist, speaker, consultant, itinerant smutmonger, and weaponized jollity delivery device — has stepped up to talk about the (almost entirely bad faith) backlash against diversity in comics. The vast majority of those who are opposed to characters who aren’t straight white dudes are like the anonymous guys (of course they’re guys) that regularly shit on Jim Zub for “caving”, who gives them far more thoughtful responses than they deserve. But somewhere in there are some few that — if you squint really hard — aren’t opposed to creating characters that don’t look like them, but are scared.

    If I get it wrong, their argument goes, they’ll call me racist/homophobic/whatever. I’m not! They’re making me that way! Yeah, it’s about this far from the claim that calling out racists makes them become full-bore Nazis, but let’s have a Zublike moment of patience for the argument. Or, better yet, let’s let Guigar do so in a post today at Webcomics Dot Com:

    “I’d write more black characters into my comic, but I’m … scared.”

    The rest is behind the WDC paywall, but the gist is this: yes, if you write outside your comfort zone, you’ll get it wrong sometimes (likely in inverse proportion to the amount of research and listening you do). People can tell the difference between somebody that tries, gets it wrong, apologizes, and learns, and somebody who’s being disingenuous. As a writer, stretching yourself is something you ought to do. I’d only add one thing to what Guigar wrote, and that’s the value of cultural/sensitivity reviewers, who can tell you where you’re getting things wrong before your work hits the wider world.

    It’s a neat refutation of the argument that everybody that’s trying to avoid diversity but I’m not like those haters over there, and the only drawback is that a bunch of those that most need to see it won’t. But then again, Guigar brings back posts for free preview on Fridays, and this would be a great one to include at some point in the future. Either that, or find the diversity-resistant creator you know and convince ’em to drop five bucks for a one-month trial.

  • Speaking of diversity, the latest Cautionary Fables anthology has started its funding, this one with a focus on Oceania. Previous volumes did attract some discussion as to how many creators contributing stories about Africa and Asia belonged to the cultures and traditions that originated the stories; this time, I’m seeing a fair number of creators who identify as being from Pacific Island cultures contributing, and prominently promoting the campaign. For instance, from Rob Cham:

    I gotta commend @KateDrawsComics @sloanesloane and @kellhound for putting together such a rad anthology and giving us a platform to share our stories Got to read through this antho and man it is an amazing book

    That focus on a platform to share our stories wasn’t as visible in the last couple of volumes, and it’s a credit to series editor Kel McDonald (joined this time by Kate Ashwin and Sloane Leong) that she recognized that this makes for a better book and better stories. The Kickstart runs until 13 July (about a week shorter than the 60 days McDonald usually runs, but the 20th would run into SDCC and nobody needs that complication).

  • Know what never attracts any controversy? Awesome cartoons about delightful pets. Sam Logan tallied up the pet-themed comics from the long and storied history of his career, and discovered he had more than 100 pages worth of President Dog (a dog), Baker (a corgi), Butcher (a cat), Buddy (a goldfish), and more. They’re now collected into Vote Dog, Kickstarting in softcover, hardcover, and deluxe artist editions, along with prints, pins, and commissions of your bestest fuzzy friend.

    Basically, this is your chance to get an entire book with the sensibilities of that corgi shapes poster, which is pretty much guaranteed to make anybody happy. The campaign runs until 21 June, with rewards expected by December aka the gifting season, hint, hint.

Spam of the day:

Can your idea survive the Shark Tank?

You’re looking for inventions you can rip off and exploit? May I point you at a dude that is literally giving ideas away?

Vermont Is Lovely In The Summer

I first noticed things yesterday at the twitterfeed of the Center For Cartoon Studies, who teach a lot of folks How To Comic; the announcement was for a particular workshop with a universally-regarded creator:

CCS Summer Workshop: Creating YA Graphic Novels, July 30-Aug 3. @yalsa award winning author @JoKnowles teams up with Ignatz winner and Eisner-nominated cartoonist @TillieWalden ’16 to teach this incredible five-day workshop: … #comics #graphicnovel

But here’s the thing — this is just one of a whole stack of summer sessions at CCS! If you follow that link, you end up at a page full of workshops:


  • Drawing and Writing Single Panel Comics with Hilary Price: June 11-14
  • Cartooning Studio with Luke Howard and Jarad Greene: June 25-29
  • Graphic Memoirs with Melanie Gillman: June 26-30
  • Beginning Animation with Alec Longstreth: July 9-13
  • Create Comics: with Beth Hetland and Luke Howard July 16-20
  • Creating Graphic Novels for the Young Adult Market with Jo Knowles and Tillie Walden: July 30-August 3
  • Graphic Novel Workshop with Paul Karasik: July 30-August 3 or August 6-10
  • Queer Comics with Tillie Walden: August 6-10 (sold out, call for waitlist)

So in addition to Tillie Walden (who’s spent the past 18-24 months exploding onto the comics scene, with Spinning being just the most visible of her work), you’ve got Melanie Gillman (whose As The Crow Flies has been tearing up the critical acclaim and award nominations since it hit print with Iron Circus) from the general realm of Webcomics.

As an aside, one of the hallmarks of a good educational institution is when people stay associated with it after graduation; Walden is a 2016 graduate, Jarad Greene got his MFA at CCS before taking a job in the admin arm, Beth Hetland also took an MFA before joining the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Luke Howard got yet another MFA before joining the CCS faculty.

Add in the expertise of the workshop leaders (Hilary Price has been awarded Best Newspaper Strip by the NCS four times; Longstreth and Howard are Ignatz winner and nominee respectively; Karasik has an Eisner), and you’ve got some high value being shared. The tuition varies from US$600 – US$1000, with an option to extend Karasik’s workshop for eight weeks only (an additonal US$1200), and options to get college credits for an additional fee.

Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but if you want to up your game rapidly, a four-day intensive correction of your trajectory as a creator could be worth as much as a year or two of self-discovery. Only you can determine if the investment in your skills is worth the money, but at the very least it’s a pretty spot to spend a working vacation.

Spam of the day:

Name, We may be able to help you pay off your credit cards

That placeholder only works if it’s properly parameterized and you supply a list of values to substituted in. Come on, spammers, it’s not like we didn’t get taught how to do this in Mail Merge 25+ years ago!

Three Media

When the rules keep you from being able to act like a normal human being, it's time to ask where we went wrong.

You know I probably could have broken up all the news into several posts, but I couldn’t bear to not talk about any of the stuff that’s on deck today. My apologies in advance is this is more than you wanted to read, or if a scarcity of news in the coming days means there’s not much to discuss later in the week.

  • I received multiple packages of joy from the good folks at :01 Books since lasts we spoke, and it’s going to be very weird to not credit the until-now omnipresent Gina Gagliano¹ for these review copies. :01 no longer being a one-person-per-job-function kind of place, it looks like Sophie Kahn is the one who sent out All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Animus by Antoine Revoy, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (words) and Emily Carroll (pictures). Give me time to thoroughly read the, and we’ll talk.

    Additionally, I received a copy of Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (previously received and reviewed here), which means I now have an extra. Which means that one lucky reader is going to get a copy of Be Prepared in the mail, with the sole requirement that they ensure at least one age-appropriate reader (say, a kid from 9 up) gets to read it when you’re done. Pass it on, loan it out, whatevs … just make sure kids get to read it.

    If you want to be considered, send an email to me (that would be gary) who is the editor at this blog (Fleen), which is a dot-com. You have until I wake up on 1 June 2018 to get your entries in. Be aware, you may set the book down more than once because of feelings and or cringes of recognition. These are not bad things.

  • It’s tough to find any bit of positivity in the world of social media, but like some metaphor about something beautiful rising from the muck that I can’t be bothered to construct right now, there’s occasionally bits that restore your hope. So far today, I’ve seen three.
    • First, via Lucy Bellwood, a comics piece by Wendy MacNaughton about prisoners in the infamous San Quentin lockup confronting the reality that America’s prison population — thanks to mandatory minimums and three strikes laws — has a rapidly graying population; there are a lot of incarcerated people who are elderly, sickly, and approaching the end of their lives.

      Eight inmates — all lifers, which means we’re meant to understand they are the worst of the worst — have responded by asking to create a hospice program so that their fellow inmates don’t have to die alone. They aren’t approved yet, but if there’s any sanity in the prison-industrial complex, this will be approved and spread to other facilities yesterday.

    • Second, from Scott McCloud, a note that comics and medical care seem to be overlapping to a growing degree (cf: Cathy Leamy, who uses comics for medical education and outreach), and a pointer towards the newest instance he’s noticed.

      Therapy Comics is tackling the problems that arise when mental care services (in this case, in England) rely on a baseline level of literacy and facility in English; whether because those in need of services speak other languages, or because whatever prompts the need for mental health care keeps them from communicating effectively, comics can help provide interventions without relying on language.

      The practitioner behind Therapy Comics, Michael Safranek, has so far provided resources for improving sleep hygiene, dealing with panic disorders, and learning progressive muscle relaxation. Safranek’s asking for feedback, so if you think you could use some help in any of these areas, or if you’re well-versed in how to build effective comics, give them a good reading and let him know your thoughts.

    • Thirdly, from many, many people, a thread by Steve Lieber of Helioscope Studio in Portland on how to give art critiques that is the best I’ve ever seen. It focuses on what the person seeking feedback needs (both in terms of what the reviewer sees in the work and what the reviwee identifies as the direction they want to take their work).

      It mostly boils down to a small — but crucial — bit of empathy at the beginning: We only have a little time, so I’m going to talk about what I see that needs improvement in your work, but that doesn’t mean everything is wrong. Show me your best, tell me what kind of work you’re seeking, who do you emulate or look to for inspiration? The rest is a set of principles that Lieber applies to himself as he looks through the portfolio, and it’s deeply insightful. If you work with others in any kind of creative fashion, this is worth your time.

  • The hoo-ha in the Interwubs about exactly whose childhood is being ruined by the announcemnt of a Thundercats reboot has driven out another announcement out of the news cycle. Which is a pity, because the previous announcement, the one that nobody has anything by enthusiasm for, is that Noelle Stevenson will be co-executive producing and showrunning a She-Ra reboot for Netflix.

    On the one hand, it’s a little sad that more people will see Stevenson’s work because of a legacy IP than for her groundbreaking comics. On the other hand, a generation of kids will be influenced by the stories, the designs, the message that she gets to set into their eyeballs. And heck, her comics ain’t going anywhere, they’re still right there on my bookshelf and will be until the bindings fall apart from overuse.

    Congrats to Stevenson, and whether the next big thing you work on is more She-Ra, the Nimona adaptation, or something completely new, we’ll be here to snap it up.

Spam of the day:

Record and Download Any Video from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, The CW, NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, and More. This is a Limited-Time Offer.

Wow. You get a one-time payment of US$39.99, I get infringement grief from at least nine famously litigious and massive corporations. I think your business model may not be skewed to my advantage.

¹ Every publishing house in the English-speaking world is mentally re-evaluating how well they’ve treated their key people; when Gina gets to hiring, you’re going to see the absolute best in the business go to work for her.

Likewise, I imagine every graphic novel imprint is frantically looking at their most lucrative creators, wondering if they can sneak in a contract extension a year early; when Gina gets to signing talent, you’re going to see some seismic shifts.

Cool Projects From Cool People

At least one of which, I’m certain, the Cool Person would preferred to not have made!

  • That would be Yuko Ota, who in years past started developing a repetitive stress injury in her right (dominant) hand and arm. Kids! Don’t let anybody in the art community (school, peers, bosses) tell you that pain is normal and you just have to work through it or you’re a wuss. These people suck and I hate them. Because just work through it was the path that Ota took, and it wound up damaging her hand and arm in lasting ways.

    So she started — initially out of curiosity, latter out of necessity — drawing with her left (nondominant) hand to see how well she could do. Eventually, it became a lifeline that saved her career, in that she could do some work with her left while saving her right for more important (deadline, paying, etc) gigs¹. This years-long process is now documented in Offhand, Ota’s collection of her left-hand drawings (and in one spread, matching left- and right-hand drawings done at the same time), previously Kickstarted, now being delivered to backers. Give it a couple of weeks for fulfillment to finish up, and I’ll bet you’ll be able to score a copy in the Johnny Wander store.

    This book is for anybody that likes Ota’s work, anybody that has interest in the how and process of art, anybody that likes to see artistic progress, and anybody with an interest in the biology and anatomy of the human wrist (it’s basically a cobbled-together disaster!). For the latter, see if you can talk a Kickstarter backer out of the limited edition hardcover, which the lenticular image of Ota’s wrist MRI; please note that you cannot have my copy under any circumstances.

    For the art progress fans, it’s fascinating to watch how quickly Ota was able to move from crayon scribble level drawings to work that’s nearly indistinguishable from her baseline skill level; it’s evidence that art and style and more about brain than hands. In a couple of years, Ota’s left hand was able to develop the fine control that her brain spent a lifetime teaching to the right hand. For Johnny Wander fans in general, you’ll see early sketches of Percy and Leeds from Ota’s current work, Barbarous, from 2014, and what appears to be a proto-Leeds from as far back as 2013. Considering that Barbarous launched in 2016, it shows just how long the development of characters and story takes.

    And good news! When I spoke to Ananth Hirsh (Ota’s husband and creative partner) at MoCCA Fest last month, he mentioned that she’s found a treatment that is maintaining her function and keeping the discomfort where it should be. The damage is there, but it’s being contained, and now that you’ve got her example in front of you, Young Artist, make sure you don’t fall into the same trap. Take breaks! Stretch! Take breaks! Working through pain is not a good idea! Take friggin’ breaks!

  • In what will also be a long-development-time project (with an equally long run), Lucas Landherr has been spending a chunk of his Surviving The World wind-down time consulting on a new series for the Crash Course channel at YouTube (a collaboration of John & Hank Green, and PBS Digital Studios). This one will be on the topic of Engineering and launched Episode 1 (What Is Engineering?) yesterday.

    The series is hosted by Dr Shini Somara, and over the next year will be looking at electrical engineering and other, lesser forms of engineering (like Landherr’s chemical engineering, Somara’s mechanical engineering, and Joey Chestnut’s civil engineering); Somara will talk about what the engineers doe in their disciplines, and show how they apply the laws of science to the solving of problems and the making of things. Or, as David Malki ! put it, how to make math louder.

    I’m certain that the entire series will be enlightening and teach people (many of whom have no idea what my professional tribe does) the hows and whys of engineering. And here’s hoping that we get some much served attention paid to the engineer who, perhaps more than any other, was responsible for modern communications and computing. Yes, I will always find a way to mention Shannon. Figure One, yo. Right-hand rule represent.

Spam of the day:

Save on printer ink

Nnnnnope. Nope, nope, nope, the spam filter is also telling me that you’re attempting to steal my identity just by looking at this ugly piece of garbage on the screen. Bugger off.

¹ Which is to say, she was able to damage her right hand more slowly while investigating possible treatments.

Did I Say In Transit? I Meant Twelve Hours Of Being Jerked Around By The Travel Gods

I particularly enjoyed the post-midnight my time dressing down by the ancient (dude seriously looked like he was in his late 70s) flight attendant when I asked a question that he deemed impertinent. I bet he’s practiced that Respect ma authoritah speech in his head daily for the past five decades. And then when I got to my final airport, I still had a 45 minute drive to the hotel nearest the client location, in fog, on a night with lightning arcing overhead, on a route that the GPS assured me was completely normal but which for one memorable stretch lacked pavement¹.

So while I wait for my brain to adjust and these calories I was finally able to obtain to actually work their way into my system, some quick notes for you.

I got an email last week asking if I knew what was up with the suddenly missing Bug Martini by Adam Huber; it wasn’t just the person that wrote in, it was down for everybody and they feared Cartoonist Suddenly Disappeared meant something dire — quitting to herd sheep, abducted by lizard people, the possibilities are pretty much endless when it comes to cartoonists that go dark unannounced.

A quick run by Huber’s twitterfeed revealed something rather more prosaic (and frustrating):

@BugMartini Just a heads-up: Seeing some DB errors on your site.

Yep. Thank @bluehost . They can not keep my site running and support has been no help at all.

At this point I just want my site to be up long enough to tell everyone to just read my strip on Instagram or Twitter.

Owning your own website sucks. I’m spending tons of money to have a site that constantly goes down.

While other cartoonists like @SarahCAndersen wisely use multiple social media platforms that are far more stable and free.

Huber’s got a point about the state of infrastructure for webcomics in the modern day, although there is a counter: when you get free services, you’re the product and you have no say over things. The Patreon clusterfucks (plural) of 2017, the massive overreactions in the wake of FOSTA/SESTA of services companies to disassociate themselves from anything that might even hint of adult content, and the like means that they aren’t the panacea some might see them as.

But then again, if you are jerked around by a free service, at least you aren’t paying for the privilege:

And now @bluehost has suspended my account while the person I hired was working on fixing it. Wonderful. Website ownership is so fun.

I hired someone to fix my website. I’ve been trying all morning to get Bluehost to just ALLOW her access to my site so she can fix it.

It seems that Huber’s host is one of about 80 that have been (mostly quietly) bought up by a holding company and which are subsequently shifted to a business model of grab up everybody you can and if some go down, oh well. After some tech problems I had in the past year, I was not entirely surprised to see my host (at the time) on that list; my favorite part of them was when you click the link in your account to get a contact number they direct you to a page with no contact information (other support click sequences lead in a circle).

So yeah, not a surprise that a lot of people are (or are heavily considering) shifts to a Tumblr infrastructure, which means that a clever coder could offer a service to get around the biggest obstacle — migration. The inability to trust any infrastructure you don’t entirely control yourself means that what we consider to be an archive may be in for some shifts.

Or, again, an opportunity. I happen to know about some trusted folks within the community that are brainstorming a new solution for back end — hosting, CMS, and more, built to the specs of people that have done this for a looong time. As one of the principals told me, tell you soon as I’m getting paid.

Spam of the day:

Do DlRTY things to me, #xksql

The picture of the young lady that accompanies this spam is on all fours and, as Randal Graves once observed, I think you can see her kidneys! But what caught my eye is that random tag that uniquifies the subject line: #xksql. Now I’m pretty sure that whoever sent this is really into another Randall mis-using the Structured Query Language in hot, hot ways.

¹ I think GPS needs an option besides Fastest and Shortest and Avoid Tolls, namely If I Crash On This Road And Am Dying Somebody Will Discover Me Before Next Week.

If We Get Up To Like US$30K, I Bet He Can Get Some Hydraulic Lifts

Whew, it’s been a while since we at Fleen had a regular post; lots of things have happened since then. Let’s hit them in no particular order.

  • This year’s Creators For Creators grant has been announced, and the recipient is a British individual named Des (who, by the way, has a Patreon that is woefully undersubscribed). As a reminder, C4C offers a grant of US$30,000 to support a cartoonist or writer/artist duo to produce a new original work of 64-100 pages over the course of a year.

    Want to keep this Golden Age of comics that we’re in right now going? Make it possible for creators to live while they produce that first work and hopefully jump-start a sustaining career. It’s important work, and seeing as how there are names of people I know on the contributor’s list, I think it’s high time I found out if I can contribute as well. I’ll report back what I find out; I’m not a creator myself, after all, but damn if I don’t feel a need to support this medium that I love so.

  • Jorge Cham doesn’t do comics anywhere near as frequently as he used to; a life of far-flung travel for speaking engagements, making two movies, and co-authoring a general-audience book on the frontiers of physics (with a possible future Nobel laureate¹) will do that. But he decided that he needed to acknowledge a proverbial elephant in the room, given that PhD started on 27 October 199-damn-7, which means he has more than two decades in the comics game.

    Between that milestone, and recently passing strip #2000, it’s time to acknowledge the age and do something appropriate. So on Friday last Cham announced that there’s going to be a 20th Anniversary book, the Kickstarting for which launched yesterday. Goal (plus an extra US$48) was met on Day One, naturally, and as of now the FFFmk2 puts the eventual total at US$80K-120K.

  • Speaking of Kickstarts, how about a little love for the sequel to the Greatest Kickstarter Of All Time? No, not the potato salad guy, Brandon Bird and his Jerry Orbach lowrider. Thanks to 622 people who love the idea of capital-a Art, Jerry Orbach is forever memorialized on an art car; now it’s time to trick that mutha out and take it on the road:

    [W]hat do you *do* with a Jerry Orbach car? The most common suggestion I’ve had is, “You should take it to [name of town where I live].” I think they’re right: the world needs to experience the Orbach Car.

    So, the purpose of this project is: 1) upgrade and improve the car to make it tour-worthy, and then 2) take it on tour. How fancy and how far, that’s up to you! [emphasis original]

    Since the launch of the campaign yesterday morning, the Orbach Across America project has nearly reached its (exceedingly modest) goal of US$2500; at that level, the Orbachster will get new tires and rims and make its way to some local SoCal car shows. After that comes mechanical improvements and bling (LED effects! Orbach stencils for the cop spotlights!) with an ultimate stretch goal of US$18,000, which means that the car will drive all the way to New York City for a meet-up on West 53rd and 8th, aka Jerry Orbach Way. I can already hear the echoes of doink-doink.

And a quick side note: tomorrow will largely be spent in transit, so there may or may not be a posting. Hopefully! But no promises.

¹ Although please note that we at Fleen refer to all particle physicists as possible future Nobel laureates, given that pretty much only the particle types ever get the Nobel.

Spam of the day:

Federal, state, and local governments are offering limited time incentives in 2016

Received 25 April 2018. You are very bad at your job.

Today Is Becky’s

Most of us never met you, but Kate shared you with us — stories of when you were young, and when you were well, and of these terrible past few years when you weren’t. She loved you, and we felt that love and so we came to love you, too; anybody that Kate would introduce us to, she’d have to be special.

Goodbye, Becky. I’m sorry I never got the chance to tell you how wonderful you must be, to make my friend love you so deeply.

Edit to add: Donations in Becky Beaton’s memory may be made to the Central Inverness Palliative Care Society. According to the most recent government numbers, CIPCS operates on less than CDN$50,000/year. They don’t have a website, but you can donate here.

Camp 2018, Part Five

The Egg Situation at Breakfast on Monday is off the hook; it’s a scramble/caprese deal, more delicate and loved that even Ray Smuckles would manage.

The structure of the programming has loosened; yesterday, a considerable number of games were conducted, role-playing and otherwise, and space in the schedule is being made so that people can improvise. Scott C talks about how to find inspiration while Sophie Lager (a local artist and musician, and all-around awesome lady) shows me how to cast yarn onto needles. I spend the rest of Camp adding knit stitches into something that nothing in particular, letting the physical work allow my mind to drift¹. I suspect Scott C’s journey through art and artists that inspire him will always come to mind when I have needles in my hands.

When I first mentioned to Dylan Meconis at last year’s Camp that I wanted to learn to knit, she immediately declared that I’d be great at it. It’s all just math, Gary she told me. Now I can see the geometry of the yarn hangs together, and I’m reminded of ropework that I’ve practiced in my habit of rock climbing. I’ll eventually abandon the mutant first project (Meconis told me to pick a skein of wool in a color I didn’t care about, so I wouldn’t be precious about unraveling as needed) and start a second practice work: 20 stitches wide, careful counting, uniform slack. It’s got about 1000 stitches in and I haven’t picked it up for nearly two weeks, but I’ve got flights for work next week and I suspect it’ll be in my carry-on. Eventually, I may even learn a second stitch.

I learn a bit later that as long as I keep my hands within my peripheral vision, I can knit and use language; brains are funny things — I learned from a decade of work commuting that I can’t listen to podcasts or music and talk or read or fill in a crossword, but I can do sudoku. Likewise, knitting and conversation flow together when Lucy Bellwood hosts a conversation on how to sustain a [creative] career. Bellwood’s rightly known for her large personality and adventurous nature, but she’s also the perfect moderator of a discussion that deals with smaller, quieter issues — emotional stability, worries about money, confidence in your work and place. The leap she took in sharing her little jerk and speaking about him honestly has made her a center in this quirky culture.

The sense of community is more powerful than I recall from last year, maybe because this year I’m a little more in control of my impostor syndrome. It’s revivifying to be around people who are insanely creative, innately good-hearted, willing to let down their hard-earned defenses (remember, most of them make their living in large part on the friggin’ internet, and a majority of this year’s attendees are women), to talk honestly about their ambitions and their own little jerks.

I’ll tell you that this discussion took place, for this block of time on Monday afternoon and throughout the rest of the weekend. That’s all I’ll tell you. But I will urge you — if you haven’t already — to find a similar intentional community within your own geographic/professional/whatever circles and to allow yourselves the same sort of discussions. I said it more than once to friends since I first attended, but I’ll say it now for public consumption: for me, attending Comics Camp is better than a year’s therapy.

Part of that is because Pat Race (and he’s far from the only person that makes Comics Camp run, but he’s the heart and soul of it) is very, very aggressive about soliciting and acting on feedback. He wants to know about how we’ve experienced the logistics and arrangements, the activities and scheduling, both before and during Camp. He talked about how school the visits worked, about how after three years the students finding continuity; he asks our opinions on the Library show and the involvement of the community at all stages. It’s universally agreed that everybody loved what Lily and Ishmael Hope shared with us, and would like to see more exposure to local culture in future.

Maybe it’s because it’s the last day, but the main lodge seems to hold more people than any time since arrival; our banner is hoisted, POoOP Number Two voting continues, people circulate in ever-changing swirls. After dinner, there’s a rundown of how Tuesday morning will go — breakfast, followed by cleanup, and a bus departure for those on the cartoonist-heavy flight to Seattle at lunchtime. And there’s a special presentation to Jeste. You may recall that when introduced to us, Jeste announced she had a requirement. You’re all cartoonists, she declared, and nobody’s drawn me yet.

Well. Let it not be said that cartoonists are not up to a challenge.

Over the weekend the Jeste Shrine takes form; from the high altarpiece — it reads Our Lady Of Dank Snax — which lights up to the many, many portraits, it continuously grows and changes. Each time I take a picture, it has a new representation of Jeste that needs to find room for inclusion. I think my favorite is by Vera Brosgol, who’s drawn Jeste like one of the summer camp kitchen ladies in Be Prepared. She’s a bomb-ass chef, she fed us better than anybody would expect from a summer camp kitchen, and she is beloved.

Tuesday morning passes quickly, but not before a drizzly group photo; my flight isn’t until stupid early on Wednesday; others will be around until late afternoon or evening. Those of us not on the early bus spend a little extra time cleaning the lodge and kitchen, before making our way back to town. Shing Yin Khor and I have Mexican, then are called over to the local distillery for delicious gin drinks by Marian Call.

That night, I end up going to see The Avengers: Infinity War with Call, Race, and some of the other local Juneau folks, a reintroduction to the machinery of mass culture after days of being away. I’d started tapering off my email checking and Twitter habit before heading into the woods, and the lack of cell signal means I went into the movie entirely devoid of spoilers. The trip home and the days following will see me slowly reintroduce my regular life.

I love Camp, I love the people there, I love Juneau. I couldn’t live there, partly because I’ve made my home in the place that feels like home, but partly because living in Juneau would make the place start to feel ordinary. It’s where I can go to reset, to spend some time (never enough) with an intentional community of my people, to take what I learn from them home. I know that’s sounding distinctly Campbellian, and I’m no journeying hero².

Juneau gets to be my Rivendell because it’s a journey away; the people I meet there are sometimes in my neck of the woods, and their welcome in my home is perpetual. It’s not for everybody, particularly in this very cynical age³, but if it’s in your means, I urge to you visit the Mini-Con as you are able, or apply to attend the Comics Camp, or to build your own intentional (if intermittent) community in a similar vein. It’s not a time or a place, it’s a process and a commitment to each other. Join ours, or build your own, but in a world that seems out of control, take a step back and seek out a bit of re-creation.

One final thing before we go: Aud Koch (who I’d not met before, and who was a fellow inhabitant of my very polite cabin) has shared some pieces from her sketchbook. They’re really pretty.



    Pack out always has a bit of confusion, cartoonists love doggos, and Amalga Distillery has the Portland International Airport carpet of wallpaper

    ¹ Which may explain that what started as a 15-stitch wide swath of yarn eventually turns into a 28-stitch wide swath of yarn. I’m not sure how I managed to make things wider (or why I didn’t notice earlier), but Sophie assures me it’s an advanced technique that I’ve stumbled on to.

    ² Mostly because the hero doesn’t get to return to the land of wisdom and peace on a yearly basis, as I plan to.

    ³ And I am a very cynical man, but Comics Camp is enough to make me declare my allegiance to sincerity.

    Camp 2018, Part Four

    Sunday at Comics Camp always means one thing: in the morning, newcomers discover that last night’s dinner — sandwiches and such — were just for convenience. Jeste is bringing the tasty at full speed with heaps of sliced fruit, oatmeal, stuff to put in oatmeal, sticky buns, and an enormous hotel pan of migas; breakfast will not lack for tasty eggs and it’s just going to get more impressive as she takes the measure of her helpers.

    There’s a split in the first programming block, with each of the two sessions having an upper limit due to materials constraints; on the one hand, you can learn to do accordion binding and build a notebook (Erika Moen does one that’s an absolutely gorgeous tribute to her beetlings), on the other hand, you can learn Ravenstail weaving. Having come to Camp determined to learn to knit (a decision I made last year and am only now acting on), I opt for the weaving.

    Lily Hope is a Tlingit weaver, who learned from her mother, who learned in turn from one of a handful of surviving master weavers; there are a dozen or two people in the world that can do what she does, which is to make the warp and weft threads dance and to tease the geometric, always-symmetric designs from wool. She sets up a standing loom that contains the starting portion of a ceremonial shawl (as she describes it, it’s sort of a shoulder throw or shawl, and good thing too or it might never be finished), the result of three months hard work. An accomplished weaver, she tells us, can do about one square inch of design in three hours.

    She sets us up with key rings tied with warp bundles and a pair of weft threads strung about them as starters, and two sets of instructions (one written, one visual) before walking us through the basics: tie two threads together, one in front of the warps (always an even number), one behind. Drop the behind weft, thread the front weft behind the next bundle of warps, bring the behind thread in front. Repeat across the warps and tie it as best you can at the right side (Ravenstail weaving is always left-to-right, and the design always rides on the front of the piece only). Repeat with the next pair of wefts; don’t let the warps tangle, don’t let the wefts slip, don’t miscount, don’t tie off too tight or too loose, don’t let the tails get in a snarl.

    We move our fingers clumsily, slowly improving as she talks about the differences between Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving (Chilkat is adapted from the aesthetics of formline carvings found in house screens and totems), about the traditions of gifting across clan boundaries, and the meaning in the work. Human figures in the weaving are never shown with five-fingered hands, because it ties the work to a particular person, she says; the intent isn’t to say I was here, but instead to say A person made this, and who is less important than the people that person came from.

    That idea isn’t always easy to get across; she’s had commissions from people that love the blankets and robes she produces and insist on the making designs as authentic and traditional as possible. She has to explain that the most authentic work must reside with the clan; to make a piece that’s appropriate for ceremony but that won’t be used in ceremony, that will hang on the wall of a collector in the Lower 48, can’t be done. If they want authentic, they need to talk about donating the piece to a clan that will make use of it; if they want to keep it, she’ll put in elements that are meaningful (representations of her family and her children), but which are not traditional designs. It’s a conversation about what makes your culture special and gives it meaning, and how far that meaning can be transported to other places and people.

    She watches as we make our way through work that can be frustrating; I’m pretty good at the right-side knotting, but my warps keep tangling. My mind drifts to ideas of how I could add mechanical aids to the process (just a small bit of weight at the bottom of the warp would be helpful; I’ve seen it done by weavers of everything from Bruges lace to Shinto shrine decorations). I also consider that getting frustrated at a difficult task that takes a lifetime to master after about 20 minutes is also not a good look¹; she takes that time to tell us that we’re all doing very well and we’re really focusing on task much better than her usual students. Then again, her usual students are fourth graders, so….

    The 90 minutes goes by and I’ve got about ten rows done; I’m keeping my elbows in close like I’m told, and I’ll spend much of the rest of the day completing this one small set of black and white chevrons with yellow accents. It’s still in my lap as we head back to the main lodge for the best-attended session of Camp. Lily’s husband, Ishmael, is going to talk about how indigenous stories and traditions can be brought into modern contexts without losing their meaning.

    Ishmael is a poet, storyteller, writer, videogame producer, and steeped in the tales of his Tlingit and Inupiaq heritage. He talks about how a culture can’t be window dressing in a story, a game, a movie — the concerns of the people that live it must be given primacy if there’s to be the authenticity that the outsiders (who asked for input, after all) claim to want. He tells the story of a young boy taken by the Salmon People to learn the value of the food that he turned his nose up at; his storyteller rhythms are hypnotic, lulling; his voice conjures images in your mind. At night around a fire, the shadows would dance into shapes to illustrate his words.

    There’s a lilting musicality to his story that fades as he speaks prose again; I’ve not woven a thread in an hour, but the design appears to be more recognizable than it was before.

    Georgina Hayns teaches soft sculpture — two pieces of fabric, a design drawn in mirror image on them, representing the front and back of character, which will be stitched together and stuffed into a flat pillow shape. Whales, horses, blobfish, T-Rex (one guess who made that one), and a Scott C nightmare rabbit are among the designs that are painted, then stitched up and eventually stuffed. I watch, but have no character that I want to create; I continue weaving as the pillowcritters take shape (most of which will be finished over the next day; the paints need to dry, after all).

    After lunch, Vera Brosgol teaches fabric arts for the homicidal: needle felting! You take a pile of wool over here, mush it up into a rough shape over there, and then you stab stab stab stab stab with a special barbed needle until it compresses and sculpts into the desired shape. More stabs allow you to connect different bundles of wool together. If you’re smart, Brosgol says, you stab not against a pile of wool held in your hand, but one that’s resting on a dense sponge; she asks casually if we’re up to date on our tetanus shots, but does not ask if we’re smart. In the end, only two people stab themselves and only one draws blood, so yay.

    The Stabatorium is filled with aggression release as most of us make mushrooms (a relatively simple beginner project); Ryan North makes a small head that’s meant to be David Malki ! and Nikki Rice Malki’s year-old son. Jeremy Spake makes a little guy that looks remarkably like the old Henson coffee advertising Muppets, Wilkins and/or Wontkins. I decide that a pile of red wool will make a nice Amanita, the deadly mushroom genus responsible for more deaths than any other; I mention that Amanita‘s mycotoxin works by melting your liver, which would ordinarily be responsible for removing the toxin from your system. Sneaky buggers, them shrooms.

    I do my turn in the kitchen on dinner prep — many veg are cut, salmon in a green curry sauce is prepped with a multi-veg slaw; it’s terrific, and I see how improvisational Jeste’s cooking is; she knew the salmon was going to be the centerpiece, but the rest of the meal came together over the 90 minutes or so that we were at work. She asks Georgia Patton, my fellow kitchen helper, if she’s ever worked in a professional kitchen before. You’re competent, Jeste says; this is high praise from any chef.

    After dinner, the Pacific Order of Onomatopoeia Professionals reconvenes for the first time since last year’s First Annual Regional Terminology Summit. When POoOP president Tony Cliff announced that this year’s meeting would in fact take place, I spent the best part of a week trying to come up with an appropriate backronym for the event. Then Raina Telgemeier casually dropped the perfect label: Number Two.

    I may have come up with a winner with the sound of people making out with tongues: le kiss. The results will be compiled by the estimable Mr Cliff soon enough, and as with last year’s FARTS, will be binding. Cliff, by the way, brought two copies of his soon-to-be-released third Delilah Dirk book, and there was not a single time that either of them was not being read. He’s pretty great at creating comics, and has lots of impressive onomatopoeia inside (even more impressive, I just spelled that word correctly on the first attempt for the first time in my life).

    My weaving is done, some five hours of work in total; I’m surprised at my dive into the work of fabric, then surprised that I’m surprised. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized that the very male realms of engineering (in general) and making (in particular) greatly undervalue the textile arts. The draping of a garment from a 2D pattern to a 3D person, with a soft medium that changes with temperature, humidity, wind, and gravity, that behaves differently depending on how it’s cut and constructed — fashion is the most hardcore materials engineering discipline there is.

    In retrospect, the tactile crafting going on this first day (Jason Alderman decided to attempt a full stuffed animal rather than a 2D+ pillow form; I saw him sketching out gussets), a buffer from the real world before we get into the deeper feelings in another day. Andy Runton and I catch up on years of not seeing each other; he’s been too absent from the new releases list for too long and his return will be welcomed by many, not the least me (my youngest nieces and nephews all got the Owly books; now the oldest are having their own kids, and I’m just saying that a new edition of them would be well received over the next couple of years, publishing industry).

    Yarn, thread, needles, wool, books, stories — the tangible (and the made tangible by force of words) have stitched us together on this first full day.



      Lily Hope is one of maybe ten, maybe fifteen people in the world that can do what you see here, and it took her three months. The little baby socks keeping the bundles of warp threads organized are a nice touch. The pattern that we’re weaving can be seen in the pixelized design maps; I really cannot overstate the degree of concentration that was required to make progress.

      George’s horse looked great! Everybody else was a day or so away from their ravens, whales, T-Rexes, blobfish, and scary-ass rabbits. Felting, by contrast, is simple; just stab stab stab until things come together and then you have a pile of mushrooms and also Young Master Malki !.

      Balloting for new official terms would continue for approximately 30 hours; you can’t quite read what the candidates are, but Cliff should be releasing the results in a week or two, and we’ll share them then. In the meantime, here’s last year’s again.

      ¹ Then again, she casually mentions that if any of us are engineers who can design her a loom that can collapse in a connected fashion instead of having to be completely disassembled when she wants to move it to a different place, she’d be grateful. Tradition and technical advancements can be compatible.