The webcomics blog about webcomics

Preparations

Quick programming note: my plan right now is to post smaller, mostly-text pieces from the show throughout the day; I’ve got a new ultra-light, ultra-fast laptop with a keyboard action that lets me type fast, but it sucks down battery like a motherscratcher so we’ll have to see how it goes. In any event, photos will most likely have to wait until the plentiful hotel wifi becomes available at the end of the day.

There’s a certain calm — almost a rationality — that hangs over San Diego the day before Preview Night. It’s a time when you can touch down at the airport, hop a hotel shuttle, check in, drop your bags, walk ten blocks to the Convention Center and meet Rich Stevens who has your badge¹ in the space of 57 minutes. By this time tomorrow it will not be possible to cross the train tracks and get to the show floor in less than 57 minutes². It’s a time when you can unload a pallet of, say, Android toy four-packs and make a Jenga-style pyramid taller than a man. It’s a time when plans of pre-show donut runs seem plausible³ and not a cruel joke as exhaustion causes you to sleep as late as possible before dashing to the convention center.

And it was a day that, oddly, the management of San Diego Comic Con sent a very interesting email to at least registered members of the press; I don’t know if all attendees got it, but they probably should have. There’s the usual stuff about not allowing carts on the show floor, the fact that fixed recording equipment isn’t allowed, and that prior permission is needed for commercial filming. But a few things stood out that seem to apply to more than just the press crowd:

  • The general prohibition on recording during clips and footage in panels has expanded to mention Google Glass; if you have prescription Glass, you must swap them for another pair of glasses while footage is shown.
  • There’s a recommendation for interviewees (not interviewers; remember, this went to press, so I wonder if it was copy/pasted from an email that went out to everybody) to not sign interview releases until after the interview is done, which should give some leverage for people confronted by the sort of jerk “media” that seem to pop up at every show.
  • There’s an explicit communication of the anti-harassment policy; SDCC has come under criticism for not having made this policy available, so if this was (as I suspect) taken from a communication to all attendees, it represents a welcome (if late) improvement. For the record, the policy reads:

    Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy.

    Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a Comic-Con staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner. If your safety is at risk and you need immediate assistance you may also use a white house phone and dial 5911.

    Security may be contacted by visiting our Show Office in Lobby C. A Comic-Con staff member will be in the office during public hours.

    It’s still pretty weak given its reliance on weasel words like common sense (Emerald City has been held up as a good example of what you want your harassment policy to be like, for both clearly identifying unacceptable behavior and describing their obligation to keep all attendees, staff, guests, and exhibitors feel safe), but it’s still the most publicized instance of the policy I can recall seeing in my years of attending and covering SDCC. So yay, I guess.

Shortly, the real work of show prep will begin; boxes that were pulled inside booth perimeters will be unpacked, banners will be unfurled, people that you see once a year4 will trade labor, and scissors, and duct tape. As I write this, it’s less than eleven hours until the full force of CON descends, and may glob have mercy on those empty spaces where our souls are supposed to be.

Spam of the day:

Rational picking firms(For example mister Spock in significantly music finest travel collections) Wish sound judgement to set the standard of their wl weighed choices such as. Individuals be placed remote this shock of their own behavior as well as, go on a heli idea of the problem.

Hey! Leave Spock out of your crap, all right?

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¹ Your mileage may vary; it’s unlikely that in your particular case Rich would have your badge, but then again the man is a goddamn miracle worker.

² I exaggerate but slightly; there are signs on the exterior of the convention center — which I did not notice in past years — that inform people from the opening of the doors it may take 20 minutes to clear the lobby area and enter the show floor or make it upstairs to panel rooms.

³ I am not in my usual hotel which is four blocks from the convention center and one block from my preferred breakfast place, with the to-go breakfast burritos. But I noticed last night that my usual hotel has three enormous construction cranes in the immediate vicinity — like on the same block — so maybe that’s not a problem. I am also at the further border of the Gaslamp, away from the loudest party spots; this has a certain appeal now that I am old and need my sleep.

4 Like Brian Sunter, merch-wrangler extraordinaire for the Penny Arcade Imperium. As the PA and Dumbrella booths face each other, Brian and I have spent years giving each other regular register-monkey nods during lulls in the crowd. I particularly associate Sunter with this show as I met him on the floor during prep some years back, about a week after he was hired in Robert Khoo’s first public cattle-call job announcement/decimation hiring process. If the tweet earlier this week about PA possibly abandoning SDCC for PAX South in future years comes true, I’ll miss seeing him.

Because I Thought You Should See It, And Not Buried Behind My Verbosity Below

Robert Khoo on what PA want to accomplish with the Diversity Hub & Lounge.

tl;dr: It’s being headed up by one of the founders of GaymerX.

Contributing To A Robust Discussion (With A Side Of Paychecks)

You know, Matt Bors is a damn good cartoonist; I don’t agree with his take on everything, but I like that he’s got a clear POV, a rational, consistent approach, and a habit of kicking up rather than down. I read his stuff and react in about equal measure with

  • Heh — you tell ‘em Matt
  • Huh — I never thought of it that way
  • Feh — you’re crazy, Bors

Voiceless fricatives aside, that’s a pretty ideal mix of reactions when dealing with political cartooning. However, I think that Bors may be even better as a cartooning curator/editor, a task he’s had at Cartoon Movement [edit to clarify: Bors is no longer with Cartoon Movement although at the time of this writing he was still listed on the masthead], and more recently at Medium, where he edits comics under the heading of The Nib. Since taking the reins at The Nib in September, he’s been collecting talent and enticing more than a few webcomickers with the opportunity to stretch themselves by playing to a new audience and get exposure paid for their skills. He was kind enough to describe how things are going over at The Nib for me:

Medium hired me as a full time cartoonist and editor in September and I launched The Nib, a collection for political cartoons, comics journalism, non-fiction, and humor in general. I’m going for an eclectic mix and I’m pulling in web cartoonists and people from all over the print world. That means a funny strip by John Martz, a journalistic comic from Susie Cagle, or a comic by Bill Roundy about dating gay men with vaginas.

I’ve been publishing original cartoons from the likes of Rich Stevens, Zach Weiner, Liza Donnelly of The New Yorker, and Brian McFadden of the New York Times. Rich is bi-weekly and Weiner is doing an original cartoon once a month. Scott Bateman is doing charts. Wendy MacNaughton is doing some work for me as is Jen Sorensen.

Josh Neufeld is doing a series on a family bouncing back from Hurricane Sandy. Sarah Glidden’s going to be contributing. Canadian conservative political cartoonist JJ McCullough is doing sprawling op-ed cartoons. Molly Crabapple published an illustrated report of her time covering Guantanamo Bay. Shannon Wheeler, Tom Tomorrow, and Ted Rall are involved. I’m talking to more than a dozen others about contributing.

Asked about working with web-types, Bors said:

I love getting cartoonists to stretch out and do something a bit outside of their normal workload. The strip Rich did on Penny Arcade came about through some back and forth we had about their job listing controversy. We’re always spitballing about topics and I try to just direct his bottomless energy reserves into the best possible comics.

More on that job listing controversy in a moment. Back to Matt:

I have a regular stable of contributors now and that will only be expanding in 2014. I have a substantial budget to do this and you’ll be seeing other names you recognize in coming months.

That’s the most important part to me — not just that comics are being seen as an essential part of a website that’s aiming to be a place for conversation — but that they’re valued enough to pay the creators. Here’s hoping that it becomes the start of a trend online and revives the idea of paying for cartoons in print. Thanks to Matt Bors for taking the time to answer our questions.

Okay, about that job listing. I’ll confess, I’m a bit surprised that this one came in for a fairly large wave o’ comments, considering that previous Penny Arcade job solicitations haven’t, and (to my reading, at least), they’ve all presented the idea that working at PA will involve a hell of a lot of work. It’s maybe because this job is more clearly delineatable into different job functions; many of the criticisms I’ve seen have been in terms of If it’s four jobs, why aren’t you hiring four people?

But honestly, it’s probably more because of the combo of these two lines:

We’re terrible at work-life balance. Although work is pretty much your life, we do our absolute best to make sure that work is as awesome as possible so you at least enjoy each and every day here.

and

Annual Salary: Negotiable, but you should know up front we’re not a terribly money-motivated group. We’re more likely to spend less money on salary and invest that on making your day-to-day life at work better.

I’ve seen more than one critique zeroing in on the salary description; if PA runs three trade shows and sells all that merch, why aren’t they paying their people more? Good question, and if you’re the four-function unicorn that could actually fill the job, definitely one that you should ask in salary negotiation. However, as a privately-held company that doesn’t release financials, none of us has any idea how much profit PA derives from the various iterations of PAX¹ or how much margin they make on all that merch. We do know that they carry headcount that is not only not profit-making for the company, but dedicated towards an entirely non-revenue-generating endeavour.

And, this morning, we have information from the guy whose departure in the next couple of months prompted the job opening in the first place. Kenneth Kuan² shared his perspectives on being the Penny Arcade IT Department, and he doesn’t come across as exploited or burned out. There’s going to be a special mix of job skills and temperament that will be able to fill this job, and my suspicion is that person would take the job at almost any pay scale that didn’t require food stamps.

As Kuan points out, different people have different motivations for their work; case in point, while I like my job very much, it’s definitely work and there is a threshold salary below which I wouldn’t be willing to do it. When it comes to blogging, I’m not paid at all and motivated by less tangible things³. When it comes to my work as a volunteer EMT, I’m not only not paid, I drop a significant sum of dosh each year for the privilege of helping the needy (and the abusive drunks, but let’s not go there) (please let’s not go there, I’m riding tonight).

None of which is to say that the PA job posting is off-limits for commentary; Mike and Jerry have built a career around throwing grief where they think it’s deserved, and in the process become both Major Players and Public Figures. That status that makes them legit objects of criticism and/or ridicule, as the situation warrants.

I don’t imagine they’re losing any sleep over this discussion. However (and this applies as well to political cartoonering, bringing us full circle), criticisms and ridicule are always more effective when they’re about what somebody has verifiably done, as opposed to what they are assumed to have done. My gut feeling is that this time, the balance of the critiques are falling towards the latter end of the spectrum.

Now that I’ve doubtless managed to infuriate everybody on all sides of the issue, have a happy Thanksgiving (if you’re in the US) or Thursday (everywhere else) tomorrow. I’ll see you on Friday, provided my blood-pie level doesn’t have me in a coma.

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¹ I’ve worked for various corporations that put on trade shows, exhibitions, conventions, conferences, and the like, and they never turned a profit on such events. The hotels, conference space, event planners — all the external show-running partners — did, but the actual subject of the show would be damn lucky to break even. Point being, none of us knows whether “Three PAXes” appears in the PA ledgers in black ink or red.

² Whom I met briefly in January; nice guy.

³ It’s probably closest to my motivation for spending half my college life on the radio, which I regarded as an opportunity to inflict my musical tastes on (theoretical) listeners in a very modest radius.

Change-Ups And No-Brainers And Some Damn Big Numbers

Dang, that's pretty.

Some things go exactly as you expect; anybody could have told you when PAXEast registrations went live today, the tickets site (and the hotels site, for that matter) were gonna get hammered like the Obamacare site on launch day. Seems to have sorted itself out, in the sense that much of the registration and hotel inventory are now spoken for. Have fun in Boston, y’all.

  • One thing that’s been pretty much constant for a really long damn time is that every morning, there will be a new update at Sinfest. Love it or hate it (or, given that it’s about five different strips in one, love parts and hate other parts), Tatsuya Ishida’s strip is something you can practically set your watch by — checking the archive, the last break in the daily schedule I can find was the several weeks long gap between 14 June and 10 July of 2006. More than 2600 days in an unbroken streak followed until today.

    Not that Ishida (who is quiet and not well-known in webcomics circles) owes us an update or anything — it’s just that when a long-established pattern suddenly changes, it sure as hell catches your eye. Fleen hopes that all is well with Ishida and thanks him for all of the free comics to date, and appreciates him in advance for any that he creates in the future.

  • More than seven years of an update streak is a pretty big number, and here’s another: 1,254,120, which readers may recall as the number of United Sates Dollars raised by Rich Burlew in his record-shattering Kickstarter campaign last year¹. I’m bringing Burlew and his campaign up because he emailed me regarding The Lando Effect (as described by Rich Stevens yesterday) and declaring it the reason that said Kickstart became such a huge success:

    I just wanted to point out that the Lando Effect that you mentioned in yesterday’s column is exactly what powered my Kickstarter project. The initial pitch included a bonus digital story about the history of a secondary character, and also allowed three backers to buy additional stories about any character they chose that would then be distributed to all backers. As the drive went on, I added more side stories with each goal hit … So, yeah, it absolutely does work, as long as your audience is invested in the series as a whole and the chosen character is compelling enough in their main story appearances to pique interest.

    In case you didn’t have a reason to believe Stevens, Burlew has given you one-point-two million more reasons, and also ascribes to the “side story” model the success of his print collections that pre-date the Kickstart. Just don’t ignore his last line, which we’ll repeat here with a little emphasis added:

    So, yeah, it absolutely does work, as long as your audience is invested in the series as a whole and the chosen character is compelling enough in their main story appearances to pique interest.

    Also, try not to have near-career-ending injuries at any time; if you find yourself on the cusp of having a near-career-ending injury, just imagine Burlew standing a meter or so in front of you, sadly but firmly shaking his head and silently mouthing the word No.

  • Finally, it’s Wednesday, and that means it’s Charles Christopher day², and for those of you that have always wondered Hey, Karl Kerschl lives in Montréal, when will we be able to read Charles Christopher in French?, the answer is Real damn soon now, Sparky:

    The first volume of The Abominable Charles Christopher has been translated for the French market by my pals at Studio Lounak! It’s their first publication and it’s a beautiful hardcover volume with a spot-gloss on the lettering.

    It’s available through a number of retailers and you can buy it now from werehouse.ca, which also stocks my other books, as well as books by Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger and Cameron Stewart.

    This is the first of many such volumes, and hopefully more translations!

    Given how non-culturally-specific TACC is, I’m not surprised at all to see that Kerschl’s pushing for translations — there’s a world of people who would read these gorgeous, heartfelt comics in other languages, and I hope that they spread the word far and wide in their respective linguistic communities. My French is extremely spotty³ so I think I’ll give this one a miss, even though it comes with an exclusive bookplate that looks pretty gorgeous.

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¹ Which resulted in a creative-production and fulfillment job that would send most rational people into a fetal ball o’ panic, and give rise to serious thoughts of taking the money and fleeing to a country without an extradition treaty. Burlew continues to make progress (hampered as he was not only by the scope and scale, but also by a near-career-ending injury 13 months ago) and has set the standard for communicating progress made on the many aspects of fulfillment via his brilliantly-designed Workometer.

² Also weekly computer maintenance day, but maybe that’s just me?

³ When traveling, I count myself lucky if I can use the local language to get a train ticket, a hotel room, and a beer. I’ve managed that so far in Czech, French, Dutch, and Japanese, but I only “studied” one of those for four years in high school. Oh, and when I speak French, I have a tendency to drift into other languages, including on one particularly embarrassing occasion outside of Antwerp, tlhIngan Hol.

Man, Getting Old Sucks

This was supposed to be a day of catching up on things, and instead it’s a day of nursing a spine that’s determined to insist that it is the boss of me. Ow. Let’s see what some young’uns with presumably good backs are up to.

  • As previously noted, it was a weekend with several important cons, at least of one — PAX Prime — which is still going on. As anticipated last week, word came regarding the new artist of The Trenches, and it turns out to be Strip Search alumna Monica Ray¹; congrats to Dan Stefanidis who emailed me on Tuesday with a guess that the line weights and color palette reminded him of Ms Ray’s work.

    Continuing their habit of throwing projects to people who don’t end up working in-house (cf: the Penny Arcade Personality Pins, as drawn by Tavis Maiden, whose Kickstarter is down to its final two days), not only will Monica Ray be drawing The Trenches, she’ll find fellow Artist Ty Halley on writing duties.

    Given the trend in the ten weeks or so since Katie Rice was declared the winner², it appears that nobody lost that first season, except those of us who were looking forward to the traps. Certainly not audience- and crew-favorite Cool Guy “Nick” Trujillo who took the opportunity of the Artist Reunion panel at PAX Prime to propose to his girlfriend and simultaneously raised the bar for all future PAX-related proposals.

    In any event, Ray, Halley and Trujillo are all disgustingly young and presumably have backs that do not give them trouble, for which they should be grateful. Also, apropos of nothing, Strip Search Artist Abby Howard, who also just moved to Seattle, should know that thanks to a sketch she did at PAX this past weekend, I finally have found an image that I think is important enough to get tattooed on my body. Oh, Robertso dreamy.

  • Know who else is young and had a good weekend? Howard Tayler, born on the 29th of February, and thus between the 11th and 12th occurrences of his birthday. Last night, he failed to break his streak of winless nominations for the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story; he can take some solace from the fact that he is the only person to be nominated for this award every year since it was introduced in 2009³.

    Oh, and also from the Hugo that he won in the category of Best Related Work, for his part in the podcast series Writing Excuses.

    Now I’m speculating here (Tayler being my Evil Twin only gives me so much insight into his thought process), but I feel that this award might mean even more to him than Best Graphic Story; Tayler’s a pretty self-effacing guy and as much as Schlock Mercenary is where he made his bones, he’s grown to be more than a single-creation creator. He’s done both illustration and writing in the SF/gaming world, and Writing Excuses is all about providing advice and mentorship for future writers, and I just get the feeling that it’s where he might allow himself to feel a bit more pride.

    You done good, Howard; you’re the best nemesis I could hope for, and I’m thrilled that we’re not the sort of mismatched pair that annihilates each other if we come into contact. Assuming that we truly are opposites, I’m guessing that today’s discomfort means that your back is in stellar shape and I’ll let you have that one today. Tomorrow though — I’m expecting you to take your fair share of this stiffness.

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¹ Her dinosaur/rollerskates comic was possibly my favorite piece of art produced in all of Strip Search season one, and you can get an absolutely beautiful print of the comic, cleaned up and reworked for color, is available from her store and you should get it.

² And who just started her year in residency at Penny Arcade, and who has already worked on the PA Presents Project Fairway Solitaire.

³ I’m not about to do a comprehensive search of Hugo history, but this may make Tayler the only person to be nominated every year of a permanent award’s existence. While there are some other repeats in new awards — such as Best Fancast, existing for two years, featuring a number of repeat nominees, and in fact won both years by the crew of SF Squeecast — the key there is new awards. Hugo rules, as I understand them, will require a vote after three iterations to determine if these awards become permanent.

For Those Playing At Home

I have no idea what’s been going on in webcomics because of work issues; long story short, yesterday was an absolute horrorshow that kept me isolated from life¹. Randy Milholland could have gone on a naked bear hunt on the show floor of the Toronto Fan Expo and I wouldn’t have heard about it. So I’m writing off anything that happened Sunday or Monday, and making a real quick survey before I have to deal with the remainder of this gig and I see….

New, mysterious artist(s) at The Trenches replacing Mary Cagle? Robert Khoo acting all mysterious? It’s Tuesday, all right. Theories as to the mysterious new contributor’s identity in the comments, at least until Khoo decides to let us know. Probably an announcement will be made at PAX Prime this weekend or something, so it shouldn’t be long.

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¹ I was on-site at my client from 6:30am to 6:10pm, during which time I did not see the sun; I didn’t get a break until 1:30pm and I had a total of 25 minutes in which to eat (at the mysteriously-empty company cafeteria, which managed to give me a low-grade case of food poisoning). We’re now at least two hours behind in a two-day class because the technical environment was not what I was promised, and we don’t start until 1:00pm today just because. I’ve spent most of the time since end of class yesterday either sleeping or wishing I had some Judge Harlan’s Parts Unknown Tonic and flour water. This entire thing is sass in the main and I am ready to tear off somebody’s entire middle.

Talk Time With Tavis Two

Welcome back to Part Two of our talk with Tavis Maiden; yesterday we talked about his upcoming project, Tenko King, and how Kickstarter fit into his launch plans. Today we’ll be discussing how most people came to know him and his work, Strip Search, the nature of being around creative people, and how facial hair is critical to marital stability.

Fleen: Mind talking about Strip Search?
Maiden: Not at all.

Fleen: Looking back on it, what did you get from the show. In the sense of “If I hadn’t gone on the show I never would have ______ .”
Maiden: Swung for the fences. Strip Search taught me to swing for the fences.

(more…)

Stepping Out

I love it when creative types are creative in more than one way, and I mean that as sincerely as I’ve ever meant anything in my life. Case in point: Andy Bell has more creatures, critters, robots, and things in his head than he can reasonably contain, and within the room I presently occupy, I see them in the form of vinyl toys, paintings, stickers and printed books. Were I to move to the kitchen and open the freezer, I’d see them in the form of ice cubes; somewhere upstairs is a zipper pull shaped like meat, and there are also sculptures and plushes and things that I don’t own. Specialization is for insects.

  • But, Gary, I hear you cry, that’s one webcomicker type that works in multiple interesting ways. Who else? Glad you asked me, Sparky; how about Jeph Jacques, one of the proverbial¹ giants of webcomics, has launched a project close to his heart: a Kickstarter to record his next Deathmøle album in an actual studio, leading to CDs and possibly vinyl.

    The Permanence campaign cleared goal in an entirely predictable 2.5 hours, no surprise there — until you consider that it launched in the dead of night when not so many people were paying attention, and that 2.5 hour mark was at approximately 2:15am. In the twelve hours since, the project has closed in on spitting distance of US$25,000 and is well on track for six digits of total given that there’s still 29 and a half days to go. Heck, even if metal’s not your thing, check it out just for the names of the backer tiers, and keep an eye out for stretch goals once Jacques has a chance to think them up.

  • Okay, that’s two. What else you got? How about voice acting, a topic that is near and dear to my heart? I trust that you have all seen Natasha Allegri’s complete Bee and PuppyCat, yes? And you noticed Wallace, right? And you noticed that Wallace was voiced by Frank “Becky and Frank” Gibson, right? This makes our Frank the sixth (and possibly best) Frank Gibson at IMDB, officially qualifies him for a Bacon Number of 3 (via Tom Kenny), and makes him entertainment industry royalty. Yay, Frank.
  • These examples are somewhat obvious, Gary; can’t you come up with something that stretches the idea a little? Straight to the breaking point, if you like. Look, merch design is a part of the webcomickin’ game, and thus the push of Penny Arcade into the world of cloisonné pins is just another bit of merch. Except what they’re making isn’t just merch, it’s a social ecosystem with rules, artistic and business partners, and a touch of fanaticism for good measure:

    If you have pins from a previous show (Boston or Australia) you should bring them [to PAX Prime] to trade or just to show off. I saw a guy in Australia holding a cardboard sign on the last day that said “Will trade dignity for PAX East pins!” If you do have some pins from another show to trade I can promise you they will be like gold at Prime.

    Like a lot of social ecosystems, I’m not sure that I want to get in on this one — I have enough completist tendencies that the “Gotta catch ‘em all” impulse would likely become dangerous to my sanity, my wallet, or both. However, I will state here and now that anybody cared to set me up with a Robert Khoo and/or Brian Sunter, that would be awesome. No particular reason, nope. Definitely not a secret shrine in my basement, no way. Honest.

  • Finally, if you want to get a good idea of what kind of multi-modal² creativity exists/mutates/is possible in webcomicking and beyond, the annual symposium³ to such ideas will be kicking off in the DC Beltway ‘burbs the weekend after next. Intervention is back for its fourth iteration, having hit that self-sustaining point far quicker than is usual for the smaller-scale, single-hotel type shows.

    The guests and programming are eclectic, the participants range from audience to enthusiasts to major pros, and the cross-pollination of creative energies are going to be considerable. For those looking to step into other areas of creative expression, it ought to be of considerable interest.

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¹ Literal as well. How large is Jeph Jacques? In that photo at the top of the page, the Cintiq in the foreground is the new 57 inch prototype.

² Oof, what a horrible word. Sorry for that.

³ In the original sense of the word: drinking party.

Quote Of The Day

Sorry, if you didn't pledge, this is all you get to see.

It all comes back to comics:

Sometimes I stop and think about the fact that Homestuck is the 4th longest work in the English language and just kinda nod. — George Rohac

  • Know who’s been making himself damn near indispensable to comics as a whole, constructing what may well be the definitive filmic history of the art form? Freddave Kellett-Schroeder, the hive mind that’s been toiling for pert-near four years to bring STRIPPED to a big screen near you. Last night, Fred and Dave released the first five minutes of the film to backers of their Kickstarters, and my friends — it was glorious. Somewhat less than 5300 people have had the opportunity to see that tease, and with any luck the entire world will be able to see the entire thing soon. It’s gonna be great.
  • Know who’s been making himself damn near indispensable to an entire community of webcomickers? Brad Guigar, editor and everything-in-chief of Webcomics Dot Com. And in case five years back is fading from your recollection, Guigar was one of the authors of How To Make Webcomics, which tells you exactly what it says on the cover. The thing is, as good as HTMW is, it covers a medium that changes rapidly, and five years is a near-eternity in internet terms.

    There have been many requests for a sequel over the past half-decade, and Guigar has leveraged his writing for WDC to make that sequel, The Webcomics Handbook, now available for pre-order on Kickstarter. This one’s a no-brainer, folks, especially considering that all backer tiers come with — quoting here — Guigar’s “undying friendship”. Remember, the sooner you pledge, the sooner you can book a weekend for him to help you move.

  • Strip Search — let’s face it, season one of Strip Search — wrapped up its finale last night which means you’ve had 16 hours (as of this writing) to have seen it, and if you don’t want to be spoiled on it, look away. I was conflicted watching Katie Rice get named the winner: zero surprise, as she’d utterly dominated the back half of the game; elation because her work was so very, very good; crushed because Abby Howard and Maki Naro didn’t win¹.

    In the end, it came down to what comics almost always comes down to — personal preference. Jerry and Mike had to decide what they personally most wanted to see:

    • A longform, horror-based, immersive-world graphic novel² from Abby, and one where they liked her off-the-cuff work better than her planned work
    • An almost anthropological personality study from Maki, not so dependent on your traditional-type punchlines
    • A loose-continuity, every-strip-has-a-punchline story that was the most comic-strippy of the finalists from Katie, and one where as strong as her final competition entries were, her pitch material was even better, giving confidence about how strong a work with plenty of time could be

    From the beginning, they showed a clear preference for work in the vein of what Katie presented, and you know what? That’s okay. Their show, their judgment, and it’s not like giving the nod to Camp Weedonwantcha means that The Last Halloween or Sufficiently Remarkable are erased from our collective memories. I will be reading (and more importantly, buying) all three of those projects because they all hit different pleasure centers in my comics brain³.

    Everybody associated with Strip Search is bound up into a web of professional and personal connections that will last and pay off for decades (Maki had some really gracious thoughts along the same lines today). As was determined back in January:

    Khoo stressed the responsibility that PA had towards the winner. We will do them right. People put their necks out there and trusted us; we didn’t tell them shit. They didn’t know what the show would be like or how we would make them look. For taking that risk, Khoo is determined that the reward is as good as he can make it.

    It’s pretty clear that the doing-right is extending to all the Artists; consider that Alex, who we didn’t get a chance to know, Alex has moved to Seattle, as has Amy, and also Monica (I half expect to hear that Ty and Nick are scoping out the U-Hauls). Add in the proximity of Mac and Erika, and it’s clear that whatever benefits accrue to Katie being in-office will spread fairly immediately to the others in the PNW, and only slightly later to those still scattered across the country. Being part of Strip Search surely helped the crowdfunding that Monica and Lexxy undertook to success, and Erika’s new comic, and the soon-to-be-announced Kickstarts from Maki and Abby. Also, is it a coincidence that since he was on the show, Tavis and his wife had a kid? Okay, yeah, probably, but you never know.

    Whatever else Strip Search achieved (and from everything that Khoo, Jerry Holkins, and Mike Krahulik have said, it wasn’t intended to achieve much beyond being entertaining), they’ve created a resonance cascade of skilled creators who are going to make each other better. Somewhere out there are people that either didn’t make the cut or want to be on a future iteration and are stepping up their own comics games; almost none of them will make it onto the show (whenever a new season might occur), but a nonzero number of them will share their comics with the world.

    Penny Arcade Industries has given us all far more than US$15,000 of comics that we will get to enjoy. Oh, and it’s entirely possible that they’ve created a competitor that will eventually challenge them for their position on the top of the webcomics heap, so it’s a good thing that they’ve still got Khoo on their side … for now.

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¹ Unlike virtually every reality competition ever, I was fully invested in all the finalists; there was no villain or obvious weak link there, meaning that it was guaranteed I would be happy and sad when it was all over.

² AKA, “filthy continuity”.

³ Although to be completely candid, of the three I think Sufficiently Remarkable spoke to me the most and I’m not sure if I can articulate why. In my perfect world, Sufficiently Remarkable has both “daily” and “Sunday” type strips, with the latter having the same feel as the first strip in Maki’s submission packet with Riti and her father.

Two, Two, Three

I’d like to start off today with a correction, or a clarification, or whatever’s appropriate when you specualte out loud and it turns out you were totally off base, but since it involves spoilery information I’ma stick it down at the bottom of the page and we can start with something else.

Books! New books! Second volumes, in fact, the both of them!

  • There may be no single [web]comics character of the past few years that is as disturbing as Cornelius Snarlington, Business Deer (although whatever the hell that is menacing Wadsworth Zane in today’s Broodhollow is rapidly heading for the top spot). In case his mayhem-related office activities (or office-related mayhem activities) aren’t enough to piece your very soul, he also stares at you dead-eyed, menacingly, from the cover of the new collection of Jon Rosenberg’s Scenes From A Multiverse, Business Animals, which has just gone up for pre-order.

    Usual disclaimer: Jon got me started in this blog-based opinion-having racket and also he owns my soul. But none of that changes the fact that regardless of whatever bias I might be injecting into this discussion, PZ Frickin’ Myers wrote the foreword, and you can’t do much better than that.

  • In a neat bit of self-wanging, Zach Weinersmith managed to hose up his own site by crosslinking SMBC and the Kickstarter campaign for his newest original book, Trial of the Clone 2: Wrath of the Pacifist. Like the original Trial of the Clone, ToTC 2:WotP is a choosable-path comedic story, wherein your character from ToTC has failed upward to being in charge of the galaxy and now must rule; near the end of the first book’s Kickstarter campaign Weinersmith asked if the sequel should follow the protagonist on a Good path or an Evil one, and the consensus was Good.

    While Evil often looks to be more fun, you can’t deny that there’s nothing funnier than to watch somebody attempt to do Good and screw it up (and since the “hero” of ToTC is easily the most inept being in all of time and space, there should be plenty of room for up-screwing).

    In the hours since the book-kick launched, ToTC 2: WotP has cleared 75% of its US$20,000 goal, and reached the first four stretch goals (Weinersmith having pioneered the art of setting goals below the funding goal, building excitement while guaranteeing some outcomes). So far the stretches have all been related to getting more illustrations (by Weinersmith’s longtime collaborator, Chris Jones), but I imagine that there are some interesting goals in store once goal has been met in … oh, I’d say about two hours from now.

Okay, here’s that correction and remember: spoilers ahoy.

  • Four days ago I laid out a timeline for the remainder of the season of Strip Search:

    Okay, looking at the calendar we’ve got the Maki/Lexxy elimination tomorrow, then four more episodes on 7, 11, 14, and 18 June. I had speculated early that there might be a final three approach (there’s ample precedent in the reality competition genre), but given the setup of the Strip Search Thunderdome, it make sense that all eliminations will be two Artists head-to-head, and this schedule reinforces that thought Consider: that gives us time for a social challenge among three competitors (7 June), a competitive challenge for immunity (11 June), an elimination to get us down to two (14 June), and the Big Ready-Set-Art on 18 June.

    So, yeah, my guess was wrong; as seen in today’s episode of Strip Search, none of that is happening. I should have stuck with my original speculations, since it turns out that by defeating Lexxy on Tuesday, Maki advanced to the Strip Search equivalent of Fashion Week: he and Abby and Katie face no more challenges in the house, are sent home to work up a final challenge for two months, then return to make their pitches.

    The original strips that they develop over eight weeks must include a name, three character bios, six sample strips¹ and a t-shirt design. Judging will be shown in a two-part finale, next Friday (14 June) and the following Tuesday (18 June), which per Robert Khoo will have some live component.

    There is at this point no way to tell which of the three finalists has the edge — each of the three could (and deserves) to win the prize, who wins almost doesn’t matter. While US$15,000 and a year’s embed in the Penny Arcade machine are nothing to sneeze at, the attention that the Artists have garnered, the audience that each of their new comics will have right from the beginning, and the support system that they’ve forged among themselves² means that they’re all winners³. Abby, Katie, Maki, it’s been a hell of a ride that you’ve given us and I just want to thank you for it.

Updated to add: Tickets for the Strip Search finale just went on sale. Tuesday, 18 June at 6:30pm PDT (GMT-7) at the Meydenbauer Center in Seattle. The final three episodes will be played in the theater, with the final episode released to the world at 7:30pm. Oh and on an unrelated note, kudos to the Meydenbauer for keeping ticketing fees to an entirely-reasonable US$1.52; I just bought tickets for Alton Brown’s Tour O’ Fun and I got socked for ten bucks a ticket. Screw you, Ticketmaster.

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¹ It’s gotta be the best six strips I’ve ever written — Abby.

² Everything that the nominal winner learns from their year in the PA offices will absolutely filter out to the other Artists. There’s a precedent for this kind of very fast, very thorough knowledge diffusion, and it’s within Mission Control during the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo era. As Gene Kranz observed, it wasn’t necessary for one flight controller group (or crew) to experience everything themselves, because they worked under the model of What any one of us learns, we all learn and build on.

³ There’s no lose in this. — Maki.