Thursday, February 25, 2010

How Cartoonists See Themselves

For all the crap I give other people, I'm a pretty lousy artist. I'm trying to remedy some gaps in my artistic skill set by taking a class over at SFAI on drawing the head and the hands. This has led to some not entirely successful attempts at self-portraiture, and I got to thinking about how cartoonists represent themselves. Cartooning is, of course, representational, and it's often less about capturing what a person actually looks like than about capturing some basic essence of the individual. So let's take a look at some of the cartoonists gracing my RSS reader and their cartoon alter egos:

Adam Cadwell:

Box Brown (Okay, this is a cheat, since it's actually Ben, a character from Bellen! But Brown tends to treat Ben as an alter ego, and renders himself the same way in his book.):

Dylan Meconis:

Erika Moen:

James Kochalka:

Jeff Schuetze:

Jeffrey Brown:

Jeffrey Rowland:

Jeph Jacques:

Joel Watson:

Julia Wertz:

Kate Beaton and her Younger Self:

Lucy Knisley:

Marc Ellerby:

Meredith Gran (Note that the quickie self portrait was done back when she had dreadlocks.):

R Stevens:

Rachel Nabors:

Randy Milholland:

Rene Engstrom:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bring James Kochalka's Glorkian Warrior to Video Game Life

James Kochalka, creator of the diary comic American Elf and books such as Johnny Boo and Superf*ckers, is getting into the video game business. Years ago, Kochalka began designing Glorkian Warrior, a video game he has begun developing with indie gaming company Pixeljam. Now the game is nearing completion, and the team needs your help.

Pixeljam needs a bit more time to polish up the game, so they've launched a Kickstarter, asking for $10,000 to fund the last month of development. Backers at various levels receive copies of the game, Glorkian Warrior stickers and temporary tattoos, and books and artwork by Kochalka himself. So if you love James Kochalka, or just love indie gaming, pledge your $10 and make sure the game gets made.

James Kochalka + Pixeljam = Glorkian Warrior [Kickstarter]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Revisiting Iran in Black and White

Via The Beat, here's a comic to keep on the radar. Zahra's Paradise, by an anonymous Iranian-America writer ("Amir") and an equally anonymous Arab artist ("Khalil"), chronicles a family's search for a missing protestor in the wake of the 2009 Iranian elections. It promises to give us a look inside modern Iran -- its diverse population, its political turmoil, and the dark corners into which a person can disappear.

Zahra's Paradise is being simulcast in English, Farsi, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch. Now all those tweeters who went green last summer to highlight the news in Tehran can spread another tale of protest and consequences, this time in black and white.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blaxploitation Is Back. Can You Dig It?

Last week, Scott Kurtz give a talk at San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum on (what else?) webcomics. One of the problems with webcomics, according to Kurtz, is that too many creators are setting up "Cargo Cults" to creators like Kurtz and Kris Straub, making their comics in imitation of those storied successful webcomics. Comics, Kurtz notes, should be about love. You should love your characters, love your art, love the things you write about -- be it history or geek culture or, hell, even love.

The inimitable David Brothers pointed me to World of Hurt, a webcomic that proves just how far love of a particular subject can carry you. World of Hurt is a comic in the style of 1970s blaxploitation entertainment -- not a sendup, not an update, not a parody, but a straight-up homage set in a 1970s California filled with corrupt cops, ambitious pimps, and the one man who can solve all of your problems. And you know what? It's entirely fun and satisfying to watch Isaiah "Pastor" Hurt knock heads, bed women, and watch out for the little guy. And the notes author-artist Jay Potts includes with each installment show what a careful student of the genre he is. Potts not only loves blaxploitation movies, he respects them, and we get an action pulp that's suspenseful and blissfully free of the furry hats, platform shoes, and exaggerated jive plaguing so many works dipping in the same genre well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fluble: My Gateway Drug

Normally I use this blog to highlight shiny and new comics -- or at least comics that are currently running -- but I recently stumbled across the archives for a blast from my past I'd like to share.

When I got to college, I hadn't had a whole lot of exposure to comics. There was no comic book store in the town where I went to high school (in fact, the town's first comic shop opened just this past October), and thanks to a crappy ethernet connection, I was only able to view webcomics during visits home. And oddly, one of the first webcomics that I sampled over the dial-up was The Thin H Line, now better known as Sexy Losers (Warning: link is nine kinds of NSFW). Life was better when I spent my final term interning for a congressman in DC, where the Internet was plentiful and I could use part of my food allowance to buy manga in Georgetown.

Thankfully, in college, I made friends with a floormate and self-described fanboy who loaned me his copies of Judd Winick books and Squee! and Sandman (the later of which I failed to return). Plus, five a days a week, there was Fluble in the Brown Daily Herald.

Fluble, created by Brown student Chris Mastrangelo, was, in a lot of ways, a sort of proto-webcomic, filled with the sort of sad sack characters and generally inanity that would come to dominate a good chunk of webcomicdom. The titular character is a genetically engineered frog who, despite a general lack of ambition, manages to conquer Luxembourg and cross his universe's various cosmic forces. There are conspiratorial penguins, evil bunny rabbits, several characters who happen to be hallucinatory, the depressed ruler of Hell, and a smiling fish that never speaks, but is often seen hanging out in the background.

There were essentially two types of folks at Brown: people who thought Fluble too crowded (too much text, too much weirdness to follow) and those who thought it utter genius. Me, I was rapt; I had to read Fluble at lunch every day (I'm sure to the chagrin of friends who were trying to have actual conversations). The tragedy of Mastrangelo's graduation from Brown (we only overlapped by a year) was softened when I discovered the entire Fluble archive online.

In fact, I rather blame Mastrangelo for this whole webcomics obsession of mine. Once I got through the archives, hungry for more little tiny words spoken by insane fictional people, I made the mistake of clicking the "Links" button (back when every site had a "Links" button). From there, I stumbled into College Roomies from Hell, which in turn led me to Fans!, and, well, the rest is history.

Maybe Fluble will similarly ruin your life. Or maybe you'll just ruin your eyesight.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tales From the Webcomics Crypt

Back in October, I collected a list of horror-themed webcomics for Halloween. Most of the comics I've mentioned here before, including Eerie Cuties, The Zombie Hunters, and Lovecraft is Missing. But while I was compiling the list, I stumbled across a comic I hadn't seen before: Split Lip, an anthology by Sam Costello. Now I've finally gotten a chance to sit down and give Split Lip a thorough reading and I'd like to give it its due.

Personally, I'm a big fan of short form fiction, and I'd love to see more of it in webcomics (shameless plea to short form writers: send me your comics). And Costelllo understands that an anthology is an opportunity to play with different styles. Wisely, he has each story illustrated by a different artist, and the art runs from classic comics clean lines to dark and watercolory.

Although -- zombies aside -- I'm not particularly well-versed in the horror genre, I can tell that Costello is himself a huge horror buff and many of his stories pay tribute to some of the genre's favorite fixations. There's an homage to Lovecraft, a dash of body horror, sleep disorders, a biblical apocalypse, and, of course, plenty of bugs and spiders. Split Lip walks pretty close to the classic horror line, but it's clear that Costello has a lot of fun playing in this particular sandbox. Be especially sure to check out Straw Men, a look-left-throw-right piece that evokes 1950s science fiction.

Because Split Lip is an anthology, I would love to see the occasional guest spot from other writers who share Costello's obsession with the macabre. But for fans of horror, Costello himself has plenty to offer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman, and Cory Doctorow All Love xkcd

Boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada.

So I meant to post this yesterday, but all of the browsers on my laptop simultaneously contracted swine flu.

Boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada.

This installment from xkcd, inspired by the Discovery Channel's commercials, has already inspired an animated video, courtesy of one Noam Raby. But what Olga Nunes and Elaine Doyles' video lacks in animated Cory Doctorow, it makes up for in real Cory Doctorow, plus Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Lawrence Lessig, Jason Kottke, and more of the web's favorite celebrities.

A-boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada.

I'm totally going to have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Girlfriends Hate Hourly Comic Day

For good measure, a few leftovers from Hourly Comic Day:

Saying Farväl to Anders

It's been a long road for Anders and Maria. The titular couple of Rene Engstrom's Anders Loves Maria has had a lot of growing up to do in the nine months amid the cheating and the picking fights and the running away when things tough. Could they shed their more juvenile impulses and become responsible parents?

In the last installment, which Engstrom released back in December, Maria finally gave birth. Today, in the final set of Anders Loves Maria panels, we find out what happens after that. That the ending is bittersweet is hardly a surprise, but I wasn't expecting it to be so complete.

If you haven't been reading the comic, I would definitely recommend starting at the beginning so you can grow as attached to the main characters as the rest of us. I'm not sure what's next for Ms. Engstrom, but I hope against hope that once she's had a chance to catch her breath, she returns to webcomicdom.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Month, Another Zuda Competition

You would think this would be etched into my comic-reading muscle memory by now, but I'd almost forgotten that this week meant a fresh crop of Zuda contestants (for those wondering, War of the Woods clinched the top seat last month, after The ThunderChickens mysteriously dropped out). But then my friend Jorge Vega announced that he's got a dog in this month's fight. Jorge is the author of Gunplay (which Fox 21 is developing as a TV series), Nine Months, and the kid-friendly Kaeru Boy.

Vega's comic Bloody Pulp narrowly missed the big Zuda prize back in August, but this month he's back with something for the kids. It's called Aliens vs. Ninja vs. Samurai, and you can probably guess what it's about. The ninja-filled art is by Vega's Kaeru Boy collaborator Darrin Stephens. Personally, I hope they win so I can see Jorge pull off this one-haiku-per-page business for 52 weeks.

(Once again, Jorge is my friend, so you probably shouldn't trust anything I say. Except the bit about haikus. That man must love haikus.)

The other big standout from this month's competition is Monsterplex, a horror-themed comedy about a cineplex staffed by B-movie monsters, where the managers must deal with their employees' lower urges as well as their new corporate overlords. This comes from Brock Heasley of the webcomic The SuperFogeys. The intro here's a bit overstuffed (as Zuda entries often are), but I dig the comic's Saturday morning cartoon feel. Horror, sci-fi, and comedy seem to translate particularly well to Zuda. If you can blend two out of the three, all the better.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Hourly Comic Day Hangover

Yesterday was Hourly Comic Day, the day when anyone with access to pencil and paper is encouraged to keep track of their day by making one comic each hour. It's a day when the pros and the amateurs alike come out to play, and we get a peek inside other people's daily lives.

A few highlights:
And I'm sure there are tons of great ones I've missed. Check out the Hourly Comic forum for more comics, and feel free to include your favorites in the comments.

Hourly Comic Day 2010 [TenCentTicker]

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Escapist Wants to Buy Your Webcomic (But Be Sure to Read the Fine Print)

The Escapist, the online magazine perhaps best-known for hosting the Zero Punctuation video game reviews, is apparently suffering from a little Zuda envy. Not willing to be left behind while DC snaps up all the competition-hungry webcomics creators, The Escapist is looking to add a new webcomic to its stable of content with its own webcomic beauty pangent.

The rules are simple. Aspiring Escapists should submit their comic's logo and four pieces of artwork (I'm sort of guessing they mean strips/big panels here, although they're not entirely clear) by February 28th. If their panel of snarky gamer judges deems one of the submissions worthy, the creators will win a paid contract with The Escapist. Shamus Young of Stolen Pixels (currently an Escapist comic) has provided a visual run-down of what content your comic can't feature.

But before you start sending in your favorite jokes about pudgy kittens and the iPad, be sure to read the fine print carefully. Aside from revealing that one of The Escapist's favorite comics is Garfield (really?), the contest page includes this bit of legalese:
By participating in this contest, contestants grant Themis Group, Inc. the right to print, publish, broadcast and use worldwide in any media now known or hereafter developed, including, without limitation, the World Wide Web, at any time or times, the contestant's name, as news or for public information and education without additional consideration or compensation. Any entry becomes the property of Themis Group, Inc. and will not be returned. Entrants surrender copyright and all interests therein of their submissions to Themis Group, Inc. with the understanding that the materials may be used for promotional purposes.
Okay, so speaking as someone who's written her fair share of terms and conditions, I will say that sometimes companies go with the strictest, scariest-sounding terms as a sort of cover-your-ass measure. And here's the brand manager's reply:
We actually only keep the rights to what you give us. So, that does not mean you can't use your characters or ideas somewhere else if you don't end up being the winner. It only means you can['t] re-publish what you submitted elsewhere. So, it's actually not that restricting at all and we've purposely created these rules to protect us and much as to protect creators and their ideas.
Plus, we aren't looking for ideas, we are looking for people who want to create ideas and then we pay them.
Rough translation: The Escapist is probably using the wrong terminology here (they probably mean that contestants are offering first publication rights -- web or otherwise). However, if you win, there is always the possibility that you will be providing The Escapist with a work for hire (in which case, they will own the copyright, FYI). And, if you don't win, there's a chance that your work will still show up on The Escapist's site in some capacity. Still, any time someone is throwing around phrases like "surrender copyright," approach with severe caution.

Update: The Escapist's brand manager Jeff Palumbo wrote in to let me know that this is the controlling language on the intellectual property (and he's rewritten his page to reflect this):

The contestant hereby grants a non-exclusive, royalty free, world-wide, irrevocable, perpetual license to publish, distribute, sell, and otherwise exploit the Contest Entry in any medium to Company. The contestant retains all other right, title, and interest in the Contest Entry.
This means you're giving The Escapist a right to display your material (and no take-backs on that), but they don't own it. Thanks, Jeff!