The webcomics blog about webcomics

Extra Update: Jess Fink Speaks!

First, go read this. Then come back and enjoy the candor of Jess Fink regarding art, jerks, and her fists.

Fleen: Art is all about appropriation and reworking, but this is at least the — third? fourth? — fairly obvious direct copy of your work by different parties. What is it about your work that makes you such a high-profile target for these situations?

Fink: There is a great deal of difference in being inspired by a work and completely copying it. I’ve been inspired by a ton of artists and it’s reflected in my work I’m sure, but that is the outcome of living within the art community and growing up with it. After cookie loves milk got printed there was a swarm of food based shirts, peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard and if they were inspired by my design it wouldn’t bother me.

I think the reason It’s been stolen so many times is that the art is fairly simple. I’m just playing around with the idea of cookies being good with milk, it’s something everyone understands. I’ve made other designs for Threadless that are much more illustrations rather than funny concepts and those never get ripped off (not that I’m daring anymore) because it’s a much more complex thing to copy. The thing with simple designs is that you can just take the idea and make art that is slightly different, that way they think no one will notice who they stole it from. Obviously I also can’t hold a copyright on the idea of cookies being good with milk, but I can take action against people who blatantly copy and even trace my designs.

Fleen: In a weird way, is it flattering that so many people want to copy your designs?

Fink: No! Haha. A lot of people ask this and it’s really not! Every time I get an email about some Cafe press store selling cookie loves milk rip-offs or a big name department store selling a trace or some shop in Hong Kong printing exact copies it just completely ruins my day. You don’t get paid an awful lot to make shirt designs so feeling like you are getting exploited is never fun. If it were just something similar someone made that they weren’t selling it would be a completely different story, but I know these places are making money off of something that is mine.

Fleen: This is a Threadless shirt design, and they hold the copyright to be defended. In a perfect world, what would they do now?

Fink: Well it might not be a perfect world but it might be a polite one at least! In the past when dealing with these situations Threadless has granted me the authority to take legal action myself.

Fleen: What would make it less likely for you to be targeted in this way?

Fink: I’m not really sure. Less jerks in the world? Science needs to find a way to see if a person is a jerk or not right when they are born! “It’s a girl! Oh…I’m sorry, it’s also a jerk.”

Honestly I think more people need to be aware of art theft and how often it happens and how wrong it is. There are people who just appropriate things without even thinking that it’s stealing. Someone once sent me a shirt with a panel from my comic, Chester 5000 on it. It was cut up in with a bunch of panels from other black and white comics. I would assume that the person who made the shirt just thought they were making a shirt covered in cut-outs from cartoons, not realizing that you can only use art from the public domain. I don’t think most people are actually taught what intellectual property means.

Fleen: What do you think drives people to engage in such blatant copying?

Fink: I think it’s just ignorance and in the case of Todd Goldman simply wanting to make a buck by any means possible. He churns out copy after copy of other people’s work, it’s the quantity over quality technique. He thinks, “If I make enough crap someone will buy at least one.” And at this point it’s really pretty disgusting since he knows he is blatantly ripping off hard working artists and he’s been involved in so many legal battles for it, it’s hard to imagine being such a nasty person.

Fleen: Todd Goldman has tossed lawsuit threats over copying accusations in the past. Do you feel that speaking truthfully about this — “situation” — puts you at any risk?

Fink: It’s always a little scary dealing with situations like these but I feel that I have enough evidence against Goldman that I can talk freely. His rip-offs of my work are far from coincidental since he actually offered me a job back in 2008, telling me he loved my Lil’ Soap and Cookie Loves Milk designs and then instead of giving me work apparently decided it was more profitable to just rip me off.

Fleen: How long before somebody starts passing off Chester or Time Traveling Jess as their work? How badly will you beat them?

Fink: SO HARD. I will beat them with all of my fists at once! And then Top Shelf will beat them too! Both books (Chester 5000 and We Can Fix It) are due out next year and honestly I’m excited but kind of scared to death!

Fleen thanks Ms Fink for her time and openness, and reiterates that Mr Goldman has been invited to respond via his representatives, but has not done so yet. Spread the word and do what you can, my minions.

Breaking Walls

I don’t know too many people that do webcomics under pseudonyms any longer — it was once pretty common, as an outgrowth of gamer/message board handles, or just nicknames; in most cases those weren’t meant to obscure identity as much as establish it. Sometimes they came about gradually, such as how the main characters of Penny Arcade spent six months without identities before becoming Jack and John, and only later being actually identified as Tycho and Gabe, but the names Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik were always there in the copyright info. You were more likely to find such in days gone by in the comics that featured boning (such as Sexy Losers, credited for many years to Hard, and eventually the mononymic Clay), but that’s gone by the wayside, too.

So I’ll be perfectly honest with you when I say that upon first encountering Surviving The World, I had no reason to suspect that Dante Shepherd was a pseudonym¹, and even once I realized it was, it didn’t make much difference — he was writing under a pseudonym to keep his comic life and his professional life separate², something that authors have done with pen names since time immemorial³.

Once “Shepherd” announced that he was moving into academia and he let clues drop in public about which school, it was pretty trivial to figure out his actual name (if such was your desire) by checking the faculty listings of the Chemical Engineering department at Northeastern University and looking for the guy that looks like this, only minus the lobster hat (funny thing, first time I went looking for him I missed him, because he wasn’t wearing a hat in the faculty photo; I’d started to think of that Red Sox cap as part of his actual skull). No need to bring up that info in public, though, since he found it valuable to maintain the fiction, despite mentioning more and more on social media that his students recognized him immediately.

Dante Shepherd, meet Lucas Landherr:

The pseudonym served me well — turns out many/most/almost all academics don’t use the internet, so while my students recognized me pretty quickly, I flew under the radar for years with the people who had real influence on my future career prospects — basically allowing me to do years of comics work without it influencing my professorial chances. At this point, with my students making hash of what had been a secret and with my colleagues all in on it, the pseudonym isn’t needed anymore, so I may as well be honest about it.

Truth is, I’m still gonna think of Herr Doktor Landherr as Dante for a good long while, because that’s how I’ve interacted with him; while I’m not going to go so far as to think that Landherr is the pseudonym and Shepherd the real person (à la Batman/Bruce Wayne, or Superman/Clark Kent), I will say that the lobster hat picture would do pretty well as an official portrait on the faculty page4. Give him a couple of years on the tenure track, and they’ll let him do a photo without jacket and tie, I bet5.

All of this is to say, if you show up for Shepherd/Landherr’s talk on Kickstartering next Wednesday in Boston (refreshments provided!), you can decide what to call him and he’ll probably answer, as long as you don’t call him a Yankees fan.

¹ Not that “Dante” kept the fact that it was a pseudonym secret; it only really became obvious when he mentioned his wife, The Swede, and eventually his kid, Cannonball. This isn’t too different from how Howard Tayler has had a policy of not naming his kids online until they’re adults or close to it. Heck, I tweet under the identity of Fleenguy, but that’s only because both Fleen and Gary Tyrrell were taken.

I’ve tweeted back and forth with Gary, by the way. Nice guy.

² I suspect that Gene Ambaum, now removed from day-to-day librarianing, need not keep up the wall of secrecy, but at this point the pen name is too valuable to give up.

³ I still have a moment of confusion when I get email from the actual real-life name of Xaviar Xerexes.

4 The lobster hat photo is objectively better; there’s too much shadow on the face in the faculty photo.

5While I haven’t been in academia, I recall being a very junior member of an instructional staff when I was younger than Landherr, and feeling like I had to break out the jacket and tie. Now I’ve been doing the job for more than 20 years, I’ll use any damn picture of me I feel like. There is at least one official professional forum where my headshot is supplied by Principal Tyrrell/Cousin Gary.

Getting Up

this is why no matter how bad I feel, I get up in the morning. you never know when the #weinermobile will show up. — Rich Stevens

The news that Robin Williams died yesterday — a suspected suicide — has stirred up a great deal of shock and sadness in the social media that I follow. I think he was likely a formative comedic influence (maybe the formative comedic influence) for a lot of cartoonists¹, and the further detail that he had been struggling with severe depression² likewise hit hard.

So many of the creators I follow — so many of my friends — have their own struggles with depression and other mental illness; as recently as five years ago I wouldn’t have realized it because it wasn’t talked about. We, as a society, have made strides in destigmatizing mental illness. I’m grateful that there are medications that help to rebalance whichever bits of brain chemistry get out of whack; I’ll be more grateful when it’s easier for everybody to get them, and to navigate the period of time it takes to get the right mix of brain drugs.

I’m grateful for every one of my friends that speaks up and says Here’s why today was a hard day; here’s what helps me have better days. And I am particularly grateful to whoever put together two words to get the most important idea across: depression lies.

If you’ve heard those lies, heard the falsehoods that nobody cares, that nobody would miss you, that you lack value, look around at everybody that’s been where you are while making things that you love. I haven’t had those lies directed at me but if I should in the future, remind me that they are full of shit until I can believe it again; we can only be there for each other.

And besides, listen to the lies and maybe you’ll miss out on your own chance to see the Wienermobile; it scientifically proven that you can’t help but have a better day when you see the Wienermobile³. Now I’m going to hit you with short items until we’re all feeling a little better.

  • What Passes For Journalism These Days, I Swear The utter lack of effort in this story makes me shake my head. Okay, maybe you don’t recognize the Capture Creatures but you couldn’t take ten seconds to ask around? Or take two minutes to browse covers at the Boom! site until you find some that look like the same style and wonder who this Becky Dreistadt is and then you’ve cracked the code.
  • Ryantastic and Estradariffic Ryan Estrada has answered my question from yesterday about what happens if one of his Patreon backers stops backing with respect to licensed works:

    @fleenguy Folks can continue to publish what they already published while a supporter, and if there’s a grey area- I’m happy if they are.

    Also, we now know why he’s willing to go to all the effort of researching and comicking Gimme Five! answers: penance.

  • Late Notice, Sorry A healthy chunk of webcomics will be at GenCon starting the day after tomorrow; Jennie Breeden’s done a floor map for you, so I just need to note that the PvP/Table Titans crews will be at booth 2435, Jim Zub and Howard Tayler at booth 1437, and Blind Ferret’s (booth 541) guests will include David Malki !, Alina Pete, Randy Milholland, James Hicks, and Sam Logan.
  • Even Later Notice, Sorrier Tonight at Modern Myths Comics in Northampton, MA is Ladies Night with Jess Fink and Kate Leth, presented by TopatoCo. I don’t want to promise anything, but Northampton is just one hampton over from Easthampton, where the Wienermobile was just an hour ago. It is not impossible you might see it if you go to Ladies Night at 7:00pm.

Spam of the day:

can vinegar kill mold

It is not widely known, but my superpower (my other superpower that is; my main superpower is moustachery) is that I can clean almost anything. I have gotten ground-in chocolate out of a white fabric couch and an olive oil spill out of a suede jacket. And when life calls on The Stainmaster, the two tools closest to hand are baking soda and vinegar. So I feel qualified to say that while vinegar is a tremendous asset in cleaning, its lethality vis-á-vis mold varies with the species involved. To kill mold, I’d recommend bleach.

¹ And given the longevity of his career, it doesn’t matter how old said cartoonists are.

² Along with long-standing addictions.

³ True story: one of my sisters was up for a job driving the Wienermobile right out of college but didn’t get it. It’s a damn shame, because I’ve always thought she’s exactly the sort of person you’d want driving the Wienermobile.




Comics Across America

Received in the mail today: one copy of Meredith Gran’s latest Octopus Pie collection, Dead Again. I can’t wait to read it tonight¹; I think this is the pivot pint where Gran went from Damn good comic take on life to Amazingly revealing examination of our lives and times (with jokes). Highest recommendation.

¹ Or, more properly, reread it, since I read each of these strips as they updated, and frequently went back to read entire story arcs because they’re that good.

Kickstarts And Cuttings And Comics Arts Festivals

Relatively quiet weekend, relatively busy Monday. Let’s do this.

  • Oh my, that blew up further than I thought it would; the last four days of Smut Peddler 2014 were in the top six days of the full campaign, and the final total just cleared US$185K, for creator bonuses of a staggering $US1700. Well done Spike, and everybody that loves the porns. Which, based upon the previous SP collection and the Sleep of Reason collection, leads us to the conclusion that porn is 2.8599 times as popular as horror.
  • Speaking of Kickstarts, the latest book from Johnny Wander creators Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya¹ has just gone up, meaning you’ve got a chance to get a copy of Cuttings in a handsome hardcover, or an even-handsomer limited-edition hardcover. It would appear that this collection also includes perhaps my favorite Ota/Panagariya collaboration: PONY COP. Everybody jump on this so I can get PONY COP in a handsome hardcover book, please. As of this writing, Cuttings is just shy of 40% of the way to goal, which is just shy of 60% too little. Step it up, people. Do it for the children.
  • TCAF, one of the best shows on the comics show calendar, runs this weekend in a now certified crack-smokin’-mayor-free Toronto. Today, the full programming slate was released, with multiple tracks of goodness packing the two days. There’s a full track for children (Kean Soo! Jeff Smith! Dave Roman! Ben Hatke! Raina Telgemeier!² Kazu Kibuishi! And many more!), a Canadian reading series (Tony Cliff! Karl Kerschl!Jillian & Mariko Tamaki! And more!), round tables and interviews and profiles (Lynn Johnston! Chip Zdarsky! Jeet Heer! Box Brown! Spike! Katie Shanahan! Rachel Duke! Mike Maihack! Noelle Stevenson! Kate Leth! Tom Spurgeon! Heidi Macdonald! Kate Beaton! Meredith Gran! KC Green! Tom McHenry! Jess Fink! Faith Erin Hicks! Becky Cloonan! Cameron Stewart! Becky Dreistadt! Ryan North!), and, of course, George.

    If you think I’m linking to anybody other than the mononymic George, you’re crazy.

  • Not to do with Kickstarts, Cuttings, cats, or comics arts festivals, and possibly my even mentioning it could spiral out of control and cause the creator in question to ‘splode, but what the heck: Randy Milholland has heard the plaintive cries of his many fans and lo he has smiled upon us. There are finally — even now, unto the seventh generation we have waited — concrete plans for the first Something*Positive collection.

    It is a long way off, and will involve a lot of work on Milholland’s part, which means that everybody that’s ever wanted a copy had better be prepared to step the crap up and make a purchase³ when the time comes.

    And there was much rejoicing.

¹ Who were apparently cats all this time. Who knew?

² Speaking of Telgemeier, she’s just reached an astonishing 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for Smile. Wowzers.

³ I am speaking here directly to the many, many people that have bitched to Randy over the years that because he did a donation drive to quit his day job and draw the strip a decade ago that they are entitled to as much free entertainment as they see fit to demand from him. Without fail, these people are never in Milholland’s records as actually having donated, but they have a massive sense of entitlement anyway. Time to quit the passive-aggressive games and prepare to finally drop some cash, fakers.

Holiday Comic Roundups

Anybody that reads comics online knows that when Kate Beaton goes home to Nova Scotia, the comics that result are always gold — heartfelt, hilarious, occasionally bizarre, and always featuring the inadvertent comedic stylings of her mum and da.

In case you missed them as they hit Twitter over the past ten days or so, Beatonmas Comics 2013 are collected for you on Beaton’s Tumblr in five very tall roughly chronological sections. Go read them now.

Every year, Jess Fink’s in-laws hold Jessmas a few days before Christmas, as Fink isn’t able to spend Christmas Day with them. Taking a lead from Beaton, this year’s Jessmas made it into comic form as well and if there are fewer of them than of the Beatons, there’s about 100% more contextless mentions of vagina so that’s all right. Go read them now.

Perhaps feeling that the west coast was underrepresented, David Malki ! got into the famiy holiday comic-making game as well, with a series featuring Earth’s feistiest grandma. Go read them now.

All told, that’s about 100 comics to tide you over until next year; if you have trouble waiting that long, just go back to one of those links on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and read one update each time. And if you draw comics, maybe grab a Moleskine or two when you head home next.


Re: Cards Against Humanity’s 12 Days of Holiday Bullshit and hints of the involvement of webcomickers. There are more than twenty creators whose work has been wrangled into shape (by R Stevens) together in a Sunday Funnies-style comics section.

You can enjoy the entire thing online, if you happen to dig on people like (in no particular order) Allie Brosh, Nick Gurewitch, Dylan Meconis, Erika Moen, Maki Naro, Abby Howard, Anthony Clark, Sam Brown, Jon Rosenberg, Ryan North, Natasha Allegri, John Campbell, Zach Weinermsith, Shawn Smith, Elaine Short, Kris Straub, Megan Murphy, Jana Kinsman, Jess Fink, or John Allison¹.

For my money, though, the best one was from Katie Rice, a wordless, delightfully evil little parable about Santa rewarding good children and punishing bad children. For your money, you’ll just have to browse through, and if you find work that you particularly like, maybe visit the creator and check out their fine wares?

In other news, as I write this, there have been Something*Positive comics for twelve years and eight minutes. Sadly, I can’t claim to have been there from the very beginning, having been tipped off to the brilliance of the pudding cat known as Choo-Choo Bear some time after his first appearance, probably around the time two dangerously violent psychopaths got luchador masks. I guess that means for me there’s only been eleven years, eight months, eleven days, and eight minutes of S*P, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

I have written extensively on this page about how Randy Milholland may be my favorite writer of characters, because they quickly grew out of the caricature stage and into messy, complex, changing (ever so slowly) people, none of whom can be entirely dismissed or despised. All of them, even Ollie, have reasons to empathize with them².

Maybe it’s appropriate that today’s strip features Kharisma, as she’s grown the most of any of the cast³. It’s a messy kind of extended family that Milholland’s built centered on Davan, who I’m just now realizing I haven’t felt the need to describe as hapless for a couple of years now. That’s the way that Uncle Randy works — slowly, incrementally, and before you realize it, those little incidents of not being an utter asshole have assembled themselves into something resembling redemption and self-improvement.

The really amazing thing, though, is that Milholland used S*P as the springboard for multiple other strips, each of which are just as good. Seriously, get the Super Stupor issues and ask yourself (like I do) why Randy doesn’t have major publishers offering him miniseries.

Finally, let me wrap up this by reminding you all that it is your moral duty, on whatever occasion you may actually meet Mr Milholland, to badger him mercilessly until he does the Fluffmodeus voice. You may need to offer booze. It’s a fair trade.

So sorry about that, Randy, and thanks very much for the comics; you — and they — are damn good.

¹ All of whom, it should be noted, were paid for their contributions, ’cause CAH don’t screw around.

² Okay, not Avogadro, but he’s dead. Also, I’m not sure that Fluffmodeus is actually a sentient being as opposed to free-roaming hallucination.

³ Except maybe Mike, but I’d argue that he’s much further along the way towards being an actual, whole person and Kharisma is very much still a work in progress. Additionally, Kharisma’s growth has largely been by dint of her own personal effort, seeing as how she’s on the wrong and the only good examples she’s got are the ones she can make for herself.

Catching Up

Just imagine the rockin' soundtrack, or click here. IT'S YOUR CHOICE.

Whew, that review of Boxers and Saints yesterday took a lot out of me, and preempted some news that would have been timely yesterday. Let’s get all caught up, shall we?

¹ As far as I’m concerned, Ms Cooper is the sine qua non of sexy, sexy cartoons.

² If you’re here because you googled “Miss Danielle”, close this page and forget you saw anything, okay?

³ Whatever cranks are left unturned in my vicinity by Ms Cooper are heartily handled by Ms Fink.

Slightly Behind The Curve Scratch That, I Just Noticed This Is Post #2500, So Yay Me

See, the thing is, I’m on vacation in a city populated almost entirely with excellent food (much of it in carts), beer, public transport, and awesome people, and I am not online all day as I have things to do that involve interacting with excellent food (much of it in carts), beer, public transport, and awesome people. Between my phone and the basic netbook I have with me, some browsing and webcomic¹ and such, but I am likely horribly behind. I trust that you will adapt in some manner.

  • Ryan North has now shared what it was like to win an Eisner Award², but I don’t believe he has shown you what that Eisner Award looks like. Wonder no more, it’s right up there at the top of the page. You can click it for embiggening.
  • Zach Weinersmith announced (or perhaps “launched”) his latest Cool Thing during the rush of SDCC — in collaboration with the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, Weinersmith has an e-book of 128 (2^7) nerd insults, with illustrations lovingly supplied by the inimitable Jess Fink. Weinersmith mentioned to me in San Diego that they really wanted to do 2^8 disses, but that they couldn’t come up with a full 256. Anyway, you can get up in the grill of smart people for as little as one dollar.
  • Kris (Straub) and Scott (Kurtz) have, as previously mentioned, done up a Mappy series of animated shorts for ShiftyLook, the first of which is now online. It’s difficult to watch with the resources I have at hand, but it’s definitely got the feel of Blamimations³, so that’s all right.

Below the cut, the best remaining cosplay photos from the con: Toki and Murderface, a Plants vs Zombie zombie, and Attack on Titan trainee Sasha “Potato Girl” Brause.


Well, Hell

Having picked up a copy at my local comic shop over the weekend, I was going to tell you what I thought of We Can Fix It today, but then I made the mistake of reading The AV Club and saw that Noel Murray said everything I wanted to, only better:

A clever, poignant twist on the autobio comics format, Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It!: A Time Travel Memoir (Top Shelf) ponders what would happen if the author went back in time to warn her younger selves not to make so many dumb mistakes, whether it be trusting the wrong boy, taking the wrong drug, or acting rudely toward her mother. [...] The result is a book in which Fink treats her own life as a series of loosely connected vignettes, open to different interpretations depending on who she’s become by the time she looks back at them. This isn’t just an effective way to handle autobiography, it’s one with a touching take on the interconnectedness of people’s best and worst moments.

That’s much better than what I was able to come up, which isn’t really a surprise given that Murray is a nationally-regarded culture critic and all. In any event, I’m more than happy to point you towards words that may convince you to read We Can Fix It, as I think it’s something everybody should do. It’s smart and funny and sweet and wise and full of joy and hurt and sexy, sexy time-travel jumpsuits. Give it to the person in your life that needs to be reassured that none of us has all the answers, but that’s okay.

  • Hail to our new overlords protectors, I meant protectors. Wes Citti and Tony Wilson, previously best known for making some amazing soup, have decided to branch out into technology and are Kickstarting the entire process. I must say, their campaign to build an orbital death ray is going to throw off my Kickstarter models, what with having backer tiers up to the US$100,000,000,000 level and a total goal that could be expressed as approximately 4% of US GDP.

    Going by the Fleen Fudge Factor for Kickstart predictions¹, Wes and Tony are on track for reaching their second stretch goal. On the other hand, I expect the usual delays in delivering on the promised rewards, so don’t hold your breath that the world will be destroyed until at least six months after the predicted doomsday.

  • Readers of this page should be well familiar with Zahra’s Paradise from :01 Books, which launched back in 2010 and saw print eighteen months later; for those who are new around here, it’s the work of semi-anonymous political exiles commenting on life in Iran since the discredited elections of 2009. When the state has taken your child and you’ve finally retrieved his body, what more is there to fight for?

    The thing about elections, even in places where only the vestiges of democracy exist, is that they come around again. Zahra may not be a real person (although her experiences mirror those of far, far too many people in Iran), but that hasn’t stopped her from taking a stand in this election cycle. Vote4Zahra chronicles the story since “the end” as Zahra declares herself a candidate for President and speaks truth to the clerics that hold power in a country made up predominantly of youth eager to engage with the world. Here’s hoping her message makes its way to where it can encourage those who need encouragement.

¹ Look at the Kicktraq prediction afer two days of funding, and at the trend prediction; most projects will hit somewhere between 1/3 and 1/6 of the prediction.