Saturday, July 31, 2010

How Comic Con looks from the exhibitor's point of view

Aside from the Galactus hats, one of my favorite things to come out of Comic Con is Dylan Meconis' illustrated SDCC diary. This was Dylan's first Comic Con in six years, and she told me that she had been keeping a journal comic as a sort of therapy for all the convention madness -- guest starring Erika Moen, the Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and a legion of zombie editors. I thought five days as con press was tough, but manning an exhibitor's table is an entirely different brand of insanity.

Comic-Con 2010 Sketchbook [Flickr]

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SDCC Detox

So things have been quiet here for the last week, mostly because I've been in San Diego, helping to cover Comic Con for io9. It's been a wonderful, crazy, hectic week, and I'm hoping to have something up over at io9 soon about webcomics and Comic Con.

Of course, I've been out of the loop for a few days and I come back to a backlog of 200 comics in my reader (not that I'm complaining), plus all this crazy news. Axe Cop is crossing over with Dr. McNinja! Bellen! is ending! Probably other things that have escaped my notice!

In the meantime, I'm just going to link to this sequential article (see what I did there?) from the Bay Area online magazine The Bold Italic. It's about three of the larger comic shops in the San Francisco city limits, and includes Isotope, my personal Wednesday haunt. That's James Sime, the proprietor, at the top, and yes, he really looks like that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Transgirl Princess Sarah is Perfectly Adorable -- and Perfectly Normal

As I've often said, one of my favorite things about webcomics is the wild variety that grows out in the Internet jungle. The earliest webcomic pioneers may have aspired to the four panel strips syndicated in newspapers, but the medium has evolved to host a wide range of formats, storytelling conventions, and subject matters.

Often, though, artists return to that newspaper style. Sometimes it's in homage to the strips they grew up loving, and sometimes it serves a deeper purpose. In The Princess, Christine Smith writes a perfectly conventional strip with a somewhat unconventional protagonist. Sarah is a young girl who one day decides that she's fed up with being called "Seth" and treated as a boy and made to wear boy's clothes. Contrary to anatomy, she knows that she's a girl. So she dons pink dresses and a paper crown and insists that everyone call her "Princess Sarah."

A comic strip starring a transgirl could have been transgressive, but The Princess is as wholesome as anything in the Sunday funnies. Sarah is a fairly normal (if especially girly) little girl, and much of the humor of the strip derives from other people's responses to Sarah -- ranging from the bully who is confused that she makes such a cute girl to her mother, whose concern for Sarah's safety outweighs her desire to accept her child as she is. And, as the strip progresses and people get over the initial shock that Sarah is, in fact, a girl, it becomes more about the interplay between different characters. Sarah, who longs to be treated like a normal girl, finds her perfect foil in Irma, a girl who is deliberately and self-consciously odd.

Of course, all this wholesomeness and normalcy just serves to show that Sarah herself is a perfectly wholesome, perfectly normal child, albeit one whose point of view we don't see very often.

The Princess [Drunk Duck]

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Diary Comic That's on a Diet

Don't stop reading. I know, the very mention of a comic about weight loss evokes visions of Cathy's terrible cawing ("AAACK! AAACK!") and diatribes on the evils of swimwear.

But Sarah Becan is no Cathy Guisewite, and I think you're saucesome. makes a concerted effort not to wallow in the narcissistic self-loathing that makes Cathy so unbearable. Becan doesn't think that chocolate and cheeseburgers are conspiring to make her fat. She doesn't drag us into the fitting rooms to dissect the horrors of women's fashion.

Instead, Becan offers an honest look at the perils of losing weight while trying to be body-positive. She tries to alter her eating habits without viewing food as the enemy. She sometimes hates her body, but confronts her self-loathing instead of owning and trading on it. She admits that sometimes, she links other women's success with their thinness. She's even externalized her self-doubt, representing it as a teasing demon, a black, obnoxious thing that needs to be reigned in if she ever wants to feel good about herself.

One neat feature of Saucesome is the tally Becan keeps of all the food she ate that day (down to the peppermint candies). At first, I wasn't sure what purpose this served -- other than to keep Becan honest -- but it actually provides some useful context. Becan isn't someone who trucks with diet foods, and she's honest about her (sometimes excessive) love of really good beer. The visual food log helps us as readers understand what she means by changing her eating habits while still enjoying food.

If you truly can't stand any discussion of calorie counts or weekly weigh-ins, then you should probably steer clear of Saucesome. But if you have any interest in the struggles of healthy living and self-love, Becan has managed to create a fun and personal portrait of life at 200+ pounds and the long journey downward.

I think you're saucesome. [via Comics Worth Reading]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Life and Times of the Joyless Cartoonist

I recently commented to a friend that one of my key issues with comics is that they tend to be written by cartoonists. This means that many autobiographical and semi-autobiographical comics star cartoonists. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but cartoonists write surprisingly little in autobio comics about their process, and I find myself wishing that more comics were written by chefs or teachers or lab technicians.

A moment of silence for the late, great Harvey Pekar who had -- and wrote about having -- a day job.

But I wouldn't mind it so much if more comics were like Dylan Horrocks' Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen. Horrocks wrote the graphic novel Hicksville, about an internationally acclaimed comic book creator who is universally hated by the comic book-obsessed denizens of his New Zealand hometown. In The Magic Pen, Horrocks once again examines comics and the people who make them. His unhappy protagonist is Sam Zabel, a comic book writer and artist who created one great piece of sequential art: Pickle. Pickle is at once Sam's masterpiece and his greatest frustration -- an acme he is convinced he will never reach again. He makes ends meet by writing scripts for Lady Night, a series about an ass-kicking superheroine. But for Sam, the joy has gone out of making comics. He fixates on his lack of joy and, when faced with a blank computer screen and a serious case of writer's block, finds himself taunted by a sexually aggressive apparition of Lady Night. "Honey, I hate to break the news," she tells him before plastering her body against his, "but you ain't no Alan Moore."

In many ways, Sam Zabel's career parallels Horrocks' own. Horrocks, after all, wrote a comic series called Pickle (which contained the Hicksville story) and wrote scripts for Batgirl. And The Magic Pen feels like a very personal story, one in which the artist has laid himself bare on the page. It's a rare insight into the world of a cartoonist who's spent time in the Big Two's trenches -- and hasn't always enjoyed it.

Be warned, this comic is briefly NSFW.

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen [Hicksville]

Saturday, July 10, 2010

13 Webcomic Supervillains Poised to Conquer the World

Who doesn't like a good supervillain story? This weekend, kiddies across the continent will delight in Despicable Me, the heartwarming tale of a normal guy who just wants to steal the moon. Webcomic superbaddies of all stripes -- mad scientists, Nazi uberfrauen, mobsters, and caped catastrophizers -- have their own nefarious plots. But which supervillains have what it takes to achieve their villainous goals?

Helen Narbon (Narbonic)Nefarious goal: To take over the world with mad science. One-upping her alcoholic, narcissistic mother also wouldn't hurt.
What stands in her way: The usual -- rival mad scientists, a trigger-happy lab assistant, genetically-enhanced gerbils overrunning her lair, a forensic linguist, and the occasional lab burning down. And then there's her mother.

Veronica (Plan B)
Nefarious goal: To amass the latest in superpowered technology and get revenge on her misogynistic superhero ex-husband.
What stands in her way: Several superheroes, including the aforementioned husband. Fortunately, none of them are terribly competent.

Evil Inc. Staff (Evil Inc.)
Nefarious goal: To facilitate the advancement of crime and chaos through the world's most evil entity: the corporation.
What stands in their way: Stands in their way? I'm pretty sure Evil Inc. is running the show.

Herville Schtein (String Theory)
Nefarious goal: It's not clear yet, but his dignity has got to be high on the list.
What stands in his way: Crippling phobias and neuroses, rotten luck, a crappy childhood, and a general fear of women. Those creepy bionic eyes don't help much, either.


Hitlerella (The Non-Adventures of Wonderella)
Nefarious goal: To destroy Wonderella and clear the path for Nazi world domination. That the Nazi party was defeated decades earlier doesn't strike her as the least bit problematic.
What stands in her way: Believe it or not, Wonderella and Wonderita. Go figure.

King Radical (The Adventures of Dr. McNinja)
Nefarious goal: To invest in and improve the city of Cumberland, Maryland. Hey, just because his methods are criminal doesn't mean his motives are.
What stands in his way: Aside from the occasional McNinja-related interference, very little. King Radical may be a villain, but he's a villain who is beloved by his community.

Telescope Gun Cop (Axe Cop)
Nefarious goal: To get revenge on Axe Cop and Dinosaur Cop for not letting him join their team.
What stands in his way: His story is written by a five-year-old kid. Five-year-olds never let the bad guys win.

The Third Man (Superfogeys)
Nefarious goal: To round up the world's greatest (and oldest) superheroes and supervillains in the retirement home Valhalla for shadowy purposes.
What stands in his way: At least one aging superheroine thinks something's rotten in the state of Valhalla.

Webcomic MODOK (Chillin' Like Villains)
Nefarious goal: To defeat a hero -- any hero.
What stands in his way: General ineptitude.

General Maximiliana (Fans!)
Nefarious goal: To create alternate realities that she and her troops can invade and conquer. After all, world domination is its own reward.
What stands in her way: Those meddling kids from the Science Fiction Club.

Gregor Mendel (Goats)
Nefarious goal: To conquer New Jersey, then the world, with his army of genetically engineered pea plants.
What stands in his way: He's much better at biology than strategy.

Ashley (Applegeeks)
Nefarious goal: To get revenge on Hawk for destroying her tricycle.
What stands in her way: She's, like, five. Plus, her henchman is a stuffed bear.

Scratch Fury (PVP)
Nefarious goal: The destruction of Santa, world domination. The usual.
What stands in his way: You ever seen a cat? They can't go thirty seconds without being distracted by something shiny. And they're raging catnip addicts.

Which webcomic supervillain is most likely to take over the world?
Helen Narbon (Narbonic)
Veronica (Plan B)
Evil Inc. Staff (Evil Inc.)
Herville Schtein (String Theory)
Hitlerella (The Non-Adventures of Wonderella)
King Radical (The Adventures of Dr. McNinja)
Telescope Gun Cop (Axe Cop)
The Third Man (Superfogeys)
Webcomic MODOK (Chillin' Like Villains)
General Maximiliana (Fans!)
Gregor Mendel (Goats)
Ashley (Applegeeks)
Scratch Fury (PVP)
Other (Add your favorite villain in the comments) free polls

Friday, July 9, 2010

Irrefutable Proof That Cats are Evil

Yes, it's a webcomic full of cat jokes. It's also dark and weirdly adorable. [cat versus human]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Web Comics App Rides Again

Dale Zak wrote in this morning to let us know that the Web Comics App 1.1 is now available in the iTunes store. As many of you will remember, the original version of Zak's drew the ire of some very vocal webcomic creators (and their fans), who (wrongly) accused Zak of content theft.

Version 1.1 speaks to a lot of the concerns webcomickers had about the original app. The application still comes with several webcomic RSS feeds pre-linked (some people have used the term "pre-loaded," but since you actually have to click a link to load the feed, "pre-linked" is a bit more accurate), but these feeds are from webcomickers who specifically asked to have their comics included. Users can now add additional feeds from other comics by typing in the address of the comic's RSS feed, and can "discover" comics added by other users.

My own problems with the Web Comics App involved the user interface, which I found clunky and less easy to use than other mobile RSS readers. Unfortunately, those problems still stand in the new version, and I don't see the Web Comics App replacing my current RSS reader any time soon. But I do really like the idea of a community-recommended RSS reader as a way to discover new comics. I'm definitely keeping the Web Comics App, and I will be checking it regularly for updates.

Who knows? The controversy around the original application and Zak's willingness to rebuild it may have resulted in something really cool.

Web Comics [iTunes]

Kate Beaton: The Animated Series

If you asked me to list ten webcomics that should become animated series, Kate Beaton's historical and literary comics would have been no where near the list. But these Hark, A Vagrant! videos by Vimeo user Squadron B might make me a convert. They're certainly heads and shoulders above those animated New Yorker toons and Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy.

[via Forbidden Planet]

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another Diary Closes Its Pages

Aww. Comics are just ending left and right lately.

I've written a great deal about Ellerbisms here. Something about Marc Ellerby's style, his ability to recognize the narrative in his own life, really resonates with me, and I appreciate his honesty in presenting some of the less happy aspects of his life.

Of course, sometimes being honest with yourself means knowing when to quit. Ellerby has decided that working on Ellerbisms is no longer fulfilling, so he's going to end the comic with episode 250. This neatly coincides with the shuttering of Ellerbisms' sister comic, Adam Cadwell's The Everyday.

I'll be sad to see Ellerbisms go, although I understand Ellerby's reasons behind the decision. The departure of Ellerbisms from my RSS reader also means it's high time that I checked out Ellerby's print comic, Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter -- even though I'll have to pay for it and *gasp* in pounds.

Marc's Health Scare [Ellerbisms]

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Anime Club Disses Its Final Fansub

Are you reading KC Green's Gunshow? If not, you're missing out. Green is one of those instinctive cartoonists, much like Kate Beaton, who infuses each line with love and has an innate sense of composition and comic timing. The artwork contains shades of John K, and the comics are, by various turns, manic and tender. Plus, it's got one of my favorite plot arcs: "The Anime Club."

The brilliance of "The Anime Club" is that it feels at once familiar and unexpected. It follows the misadventures of a group of nerdy Japanophiles -- misanthropic Mort (who considers himself a true connoisseur of Japanese animation, despite his love of Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon), ticking timebomb Dave, wide-eyed Clyde (who truly falls for anime after a disturbing hentai incident), and Mark, the group's ever-so-slightly-less-insane leader.

Green posted the final installment of "The Anime Club" this weekend, which pits the Anime Club against a vindictive store owner, their insufferable rivals at the Japanese Animation Club, and their own inability to get along. Green says he may post more Anime Club comics down the line, but this particular arc has come to a close -- and we can expect a print edition soon enough.

[The Anime Club]

Friday, July 2, 2010

Requiem for Zuda

Wow, so Zuda's really dead. Or at least the website is.

I suppose we should have seen Zuda's announcement that they were ending their "American Webcomics Idol" contest as its death knell. But I didn't expect it to perish so quickly, smothered by the pillow of DC Digital Publishing. As of yesterday, the entire Zuda site has been taken offline, taking all of its comics with it.

Hmmph. Guess I should have read Bayou when I had the chance.

DC Digital's Ron Perazza says we shouldn't mourn for Zuda's titles just yet. Zuda is being folded into the larger DC Digital Publishing initiative, meaning you'll be able to read Zuda titles on your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or PSP.

Color me unexcited.

I realize that reading on mobile devices is probably the future of comics, and I'm probably revealing my luddism here. But you used to be able to read Zuda comics on any device with Internet access. Now, you'll have to buy a certain (rather pricey) device to read the comics at a decent size. Perhaps this will become less of an issue as more tablet computers come on the market, but right now, I'm feeling pretty much blocked from reading Zuda's digital-only comics.

It also means that we will have to pay for comics we used to get for free. Le sigh. At least DC Digital is planning on doing a revshare with creators. I do genuinely hope this change means some cash for the Zuda creators.

No more Zuda website means no more Zuda reading community. As many problems as the Zuda competition system had, it got a community of readers invested in the comics, the creators, and what would happen next. I was really looking forward to seeing how Zuda would evolve once it did away with the competitions and how it would continue to engage the reading community. It's frustrating to think that DC wasn't willing to give them a chance to innovate when innovation is so key to online comics.

I don't know enough about the internal workings of Zuda to speculate on why DC killed the website, but other people have their suspicions. From Sean Kleefeld (via Robot 6):

See, I get the impression -- from all the anecdotes I've heard over the past few years -- that there was a distinct schism between Zuda and "DC-proper." The Zuda crew have very much been a family. That's readily apparent if you watch any of them in Twitter. Not only are they all chatting with one another, but there are often notes about them all hanging out together at a bar or something. By and large, they come across as a pretty tight group. But a tight group that was doing something totally different than what was being done in the Superman and Batman offices. From what I saw -- and, let me emphasize, we're talking just anecdotal evidence from one guy now -- there was more interaction between the Zuda crew and folks working for Marvel than any of the guys working at "DC-proper." From my vantage point, the split between DC and Zuda (emotionally and philosophically) was about the same as can be seen between newspaper cartoonists and webcomic creators. There were these old school print guys who, for the life of them, could not wrap their head around free digital comic distribution.

In other words, the folks at DC weren't feeling warm and fuzzy enough toward the folks at Zuda to try to understand what Zuda was doing or let them prove out their ideas. If that's the case, it's sad. When Zuda launched, it looked like a major publisher was taking webcomics seriously, and it's frustrating to think that they've dismantled it because they just "didn't get it."

But PVP creator Scott Kurtz says that we shouldn't count the Zuda crew out yet:

What I’m hoping is that DC understands that there is an opportunity here to create new content for the web and its new digital platforms. Beyond just reprinting their print versions on the iPad and PSP. I had a wonderful talk with a guy at DC I won’t name because I don’t know if I have permission to. But he seemed eager to discover the proper format for creating new digital content. I would like to think that Zuda is poised to become what I always hoped it could be: a push by DC to create web-based (or digital) comics with new and established talent. A new line, like Vertigo, that is synonymous with digital.
Well, that's sweet. But how am I going to finish reading The LaMorte Sisters now?

The Future of Zuda [Zuda]

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A 9/11 Thriller That Isn't About Terrorism

Nathan Sorry has one of the best webcomic pitches I've ever seen.

With thousands of webcomics dotting the Infosphere, it is more important than ever to have a solid pitch, something that quickly encapsulates what your webcomic is about and what audiences should expect.

Here is Rich Barrett's pitch for Nathan Sorry: "Nathan Sorry did not die on 9/11. He ran."

Even without reading the comic, I already have an inkling that Nathan Sorry is a thriller about a man who vanishes from the grid in the chaotic aftermath of September 11th. I already know whether this was the kind of comic I wanted to read.

I don't come across a lot of crime/thriller webcomics, which is surprising given how well comics lend themselves to the crime genre. From the violent morality plays of 100 Bullets to the straight-up badassery of Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, crime does well on the comic book page.

But far from being a head-knocking heist man, the protagonist of Nathan Sorry is a timid white-collar crook who's been helping his coworker embezzle money from their employer. On September 11th, 2001, Nathan was supposed to return to New York and his dreary World Trade Center desk job after a business trip in Arizona. Instead, he wakes up late for his flight with a nasty hangover, unclear on what happened the night before. He arrives at the airport just in time to watch the Towers fall on television. Suddenly, he realizes that everyone he works with is dead, and everyone he knows assumes he's dead, too.

Now he's got an obituary and access to ready cash a new identity. So what does he do? He disappears.

Like so many people dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, Nathan begins to question the very nature of his reality. How did he, a man who always feared airplanes, manage to avoid a head-on collision with one? What happened on the night of September 10th, and what does it mean that he can't remember? What forces allowed Nathan to escape not only death, but also his life?

As Nathan hides out in a small North Carolina town, waiting for American life to cool back down so he can escape to the Caymans, he begins to suffer from an existential paranoia. That paranoia could come in handy, as Nathan wasn't entirely successfully in covering his tracks.

I've actually been putting off reading Nathan Sorry for some time now because the artwork left me cold. The opening airport scene is a bit flat, and the blue-gray tint doesn't do much to warm things up. But as I read, I noticed there are a lot of rough spots in the art, places where the faces or off or a character stiffly tries to smoke a cigarette, and I realized I'm just seeing an unpracticed hand. As the comic progresses, a more confident style begins to emerge.

Barrett also has a knack for building suspense. At 47 pages, it's a slow burn so far, but one of nicely building mysteries. What did happen the night Nathan blacked out? Will the feds realize that Nathan Sorry didn't die in the Twin Towers? Is Casey, the small-town waitress he seems destined to befriend, as wholesome as she seems? And what does a post-9/11 world mean for a man on the run from his own identity?

[Nathan Sorry]