The webcomics blog about webcomics

Best Of Fleen: Crossoverpalooza And St. Elsewhere

Editor’s note: Gary’s lack of regular internet access continues, so please enjoy a dip into the past. This one is about a heinous crime visited upon webcomics by a villain of the first order (a fact only confirmed by his enormous height, looming over decent folk and webcomickers like a malevolent mountain). In fact, since this piece was first written in early 2007, the problem has only gotten worse. Do the math. Follow the trail. The end is coming.

Jeph Jacques continues his quest to feature cameos from every webcomic in existence. Helen and Dave appear in the background of panel 1 in yesterday’s Questionable Content. This is an incredibly dangerous trend … stick with me here.

QC is fast becoming the Kevin Bacon of webcomics; if Dwayne McDuffie’s theory of TV crossovers applies to webcomics as well, this means webcomcis as we know them don’t really exist. Counting cameos and explicit crossovers, you can play Six Degrees of Marten and Faye with Punks and Nerds, Something Positive, Midnight Macabre, New Gold Dreams, Queen of Wands, Bobbin, Scandal Sheet, Scary Go Round, Bobbins, Goats, Worlds of Peril (subscription needed, links through Fineas), megaGAMERZ 3133T, The Creatures In My Head, Nukees (which gives us Schlock Mercenary), Mystic for Hire, Buzzboy, Narbonic, Lil’ Mel, Picture Story Theatre, Fans (subscription needed, links through Dr Narbon), College Roomies From Hell, Roomies/It’s Walky/Joyce and Walky, Shortpacked, Melonpool (iteration 1), Cool Cat Studio (reference in Fans to Evil Mike), Lethal Doses, Winter, Mac Hall, Megatokyo, Applegeeks, Angry Zen Master, Little Gamers, Ctrl-Alt-Delete, Waiting for Bob, User Friendly, When I Grow Up, Wigu, Magical Adventures in Space, The TV Network Channel, Overcompensating, PvP, Penny Arcade, Diesel Sweeties, and Sluggy Freelance all sharing a reality.

If the guest strips from when Pete Abram’s daughter was born are considered canon, you can work in Bruno the Bandit, Kevin and Kell and GPF (which leads to Newshounds, Help Desk and Kernel Panic). Actually, allowing guest strips is probably a bad idea, as it permits the Jacques/Logan rivalry further space to spread its poison. Finally, if you consider content not explicitly designed for the web, you can even link in Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield! And that’s just off the top of my head. Now considering that Melonpool rebooted, and Jeff Rowland has a tendency to delete universes, this means that Jacques may have managed to invalidate the existence of most of webcomics.

For the love of God, Jeph … stop hurting webcomics.

Fleen Guest Column: Christopher Wright In, Threat And Menace

Editor’s note: Today’s the first day of our two week festival of canned content; we at Fleen thank you for your patience in these trying times. To help make up for it, here’s a doozy: Christopher Wright took at look at the writeups of the Threat or Menace? panel and ideas started perkin’ around. Please enjoy.

I was thinking about your panel (Webcomics: Threat or Menace?) the other day — mostly musing about the crap that the professional webcartoonists have been taking from the professional justcartoonists — and it occurred to me that everyone is wrong.

Webcomics: Threat and Menace. There you are.

The fundamental point I think everyone is missing nowadays is that it’s harder for professionals to make money doing what they do because the barrier to entry in those fields has been drastically lowered, if not utterly obliterated, by advances in technology over the last twenty years.

Consider that it is possible, right now, for someone to spend about $1,000.00 and set up a studio in their home that is as good as or equal to the recording equipment that was used to record the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course in order to make an album as good as a Beatles album you still have to have the skill of the Beatles and George Martin, but the tools are there for a comparatively minimal investment. And you can spend less and still get something that sounds good depending on what you’re going for.

And that’s just in the music world. In terms of print publishing it’s even easier.

Once upon a time you needed complicated machines to mass publish. In the 80’s this started to change because the personal computer allowed you to do all the typesetting, which used to be something that required equipment that cost thousands of dollars — with PageMaker and other similar programs you only had to shell out $800-900 or so. And as time went on the software got cheaper (not PageMaker — I refer you to my general opinions about the Computer Industry as to why — but these days you can download a program called Scribus that will do most of that for free, and you can even alter and recompile the source code if you are so inclined).

But there were still two other barriers to entry: mass production and distribution. You still had to go to a printer, and you still had to get people to buy it — or at the very least, to read it — once you were
done. And the most effective ways of doing this were through publishers, because they had the capital to most efficiently create large volumes of hardcopy to market and sell.

Enter the World Wide Web.

Suddenly anyone who logs on and buys web hosting has a distribution medium comparatively equal to everyone else who logs on and buys web hosting. All that’s required is to get people to come to your site and look at your content. There it is. And while these days the main focus of that kind of publishing seems to be monetizing that content, at the very root of it, the content is a form of communication.

And the plain and simple fact of the matter is that any jackass can use the web to say their piece in whatever form they like. I am solidly, unflinchingly, unapologetically proof of that. I can’t draw, have never been able to draw, and don’t forsee any time in the future where I suddenly uncover hitherto untapped veins of drawing talent that spurs the quality of my art to unparalleled heights … and yet I am a webcartoonist and have been one for 12 years. I decided to start a webcomic because in my opinion the medium was better suited to what I wanted to say (the webzine already had funny editorials — I thought a comic would have more editorial punch) and it worked well enough to give me little reason to stop doing it.

Justcartoonists dislike webcartoonists because webcartoonists are doing more work to make less money and therefore devaluing their product. Some professional webcartoonists, in turn, are more than a little annoyed by us amateurs because we’re not really trying to make any money at all, which makes it harder for them because they’re competing with people who are saying “just come on and have a look!” And I know for a fact that there are people out there in the webcomicking community who fervently wish that a great swath of people doing webcomics would just STOP, so that some standard of quality control and self-respectability can be put in place.

But the sad and simple truth is that the internet is a communications medium, not a professional publishing for profit medium, which means that there’s not a damn thing any of them can do about it. The unwashed masses have a chance to have their say, show their drawings, record their music and film their movies, and the only effect it can have is to drag the professionals down due to saturation alone.

While I don’t begrudge people actually earning a living off of any of this — in fact, I’m very happy to know that people do, and I hope that they manage to continue doing it — there’s a bigger picture that makes that harder than it used to be. The idea of the “Web as the new public commons” is old hat and has been turned into one of those trite catchphrases spouted by people who want to appear like they know what they’re talking about, but it’s still fundamentally true: it is easier to access ideas, discussions, plans and collaborations on the web (and the internet as a whole) than in any other medium, and that is far more important to me than whether I can retire by 40 on t-shirt sales and ad revenue alone. Of course this new public commons is a treacherous place: along with the clear-sighted eloquent visionaries thoughtfully discussing serious and important ideas you also have weird-smelling twitchy guys with Tourette’s Syndrome who spout off about aliens injecting beetles into their ears at night while they sleep, and people who are trying to actually make money are going to have to fight through ALL of that noise, battle idealists and cranks and loud-mouthed know-it-alls, and then some in order to make a buck. There are professionals who consider this grossly unfair. Me, I consider it a necessary component of a healthy, functioning republic, which is probably why there’s so much resistance to the idea.

In short, the fundamental element of publishing is communication, and the web opens up communication to everyone. Therefore: Threat and Menace, with no apologies.

Final Word On The Print/Web Digression

It’s died down here and at The Daily Cartoonist, but there was one last hurrah in The Great Web/Print Convocation of Aught-Eight — an open conference call set up by Scott Kurtz last Friday, leading to Webcomics Weekly #29. From Kurtz:

So I set up a conference call via Talkshoe and invited everyone in last night. I was granted permission from the group to record the session and the resulting two hour debate is this episode of Webcomics Weekly.

A word of warning: This is a 2 hour podcast. I’m not sure of the audio quality because I used Talkshoe’s built in software to record it. At times, everyone is LOUDLY talking over each other. EXPLICIT LANGUAGE WARNING: Some of us curse. Mostly me. Sorry.

I was hoping that more of the print/syndicated cartoonists would show up. But mostly it was us web guys. Ted Rall called in shortly after we started and so did Matt Bors (who does editorial cartoons and is a part of Ted’s Attitude cartoonists). Halfway through our own Brad Guigar shows up and later in the podcast we hear from Rich Stevens and Meredith Gran.

I don’t want to say too much. I’ll let you listen yourself. A lot gets brought up and we don’t really solve any of the world’s cartoonists problems. But I think we make some headway in understanding each other a little better.

I’ve only had time to listen to the first half hour or so, thus far. It’s a bit random at first, as everybody gets used to talking without visual cues (as the veteran of many corporate con-calls, this is a very common thing). I’m reliably informed that the quality of the conversation ramps up once everybody’s figured out how not to talk over each other.

In other news, Spike’s totally awesome Templar, Arizona makes the jump to Keenspot, which means that as of today Reagan is scientifically proved to be 38% sassier.

And finally, a very happy 12th birthday to Help Desk; that is a long damn time, even factoring out “internet years”. May the malevolent boss of Ubersoft give you a break today, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

A Busier Wednesday Than Usual

When I started my trawl this morning it looked like a light day. Then lots of stuff popped up.

Your Favorite Mammal

Bunch of things today, in the order they occur to me.

  • The WCCAs are back for another go-round.
  • Speaking of “another go-round”, xkcd seems to be drifting towards (filthy) continuity.
  • The paper doll thing is really taking off, with others available now, and the promise of still more in the coming days. It makes me wonder who the most disturbing webcomics characters to get the paper doll treatment might be. Probably Jon and/or Hastings.
  • Speaking of which: is that a mini Goats/Ugly Hill crossover I see?
  • Latest to try the Offer Your Webcomic To College Papers Approach: Wondermark. Snap it up, college editors! All it costs is a little (potentially disturbing) information about your bizarre personal fetishes:

    The editor of the paper should email me the following information:

    1. Who you are and what school you’re from
    2. How many weeks worth of comics’ you’d need (i.e. how long is your semester)
    3. Name and contact info of a faculty advisor
    4. Favorite mammal and why

    Wow! Not creepy at all, David Malki ! from Wondermark!
    Crap, I just noticed that Malki !’s bio includes something about being a freelance firearms specialist. Um, sorry about all that “Dreamcrusher” stuff, Mr Malki ! sir. Please don’t murder me.

  • Finally, welcome back from the land of No Internet to Christopher Wright.

Various Followups

Lost in the aftermath of Estradamania (Estradacalypse? Estradarama? anyway, check of the inside scoop on the recurring dadnugget theme) was a note from Jeffrey Rowland on the relative success of the highly-disturbing me shirt. Now for those who may scoff and say that $28 is not a lot of money, bear in mind that the fine folks at the CBLDF need every penny they can get for the infinitely-prolonged Gordon Lee trial, and $28 is a bit more than one membership would net them. I’m certain it will be appreciated.

Also lost in the fray was any mention here of the Ignatz nominations, including well-deserved nominations for Achewood, Grace, Persimmon Cup, Thingpart, and my nemesis, crusher of my dreams.

Sadly not overlooked, the crap-fight in the comments section: it’s been suggested that the comments be locked, deleted, and that we all agree to never speak of this again. Much as I am tempted, I’m philosophically opposed to it. As unpleasant as it is to see a genuinely awesome accomplishment get tarnished by proximity to unwarranted unpleasantness, it did happen. Time may be an illusion (and lunchtime doubly so), but we can’t just rewind and “make it didn’t happen”.

I believe that Jennifer Babcock‘s future is well assured, and I don’t think that inspiring people on the internet to such heights of emotional outburst is necessarily a bad thing for a career in museum curatorship — if nothing else, it proves that her efforts will attract attention, and hopefully spur people to learn more about the creators she highlights.

That being said? I think we’ve nearly all agreed that it’s over, it’s done, we’re all embarassed by it, and attempts to restoke the flames accomplish nothing. A rousing flamefest is good for my hits, but let’s try not to live down to John Gabriel’s expectations, hmmm?

So let’s end on a high note — from Christopher B Wright:

Help Desk published its 1500th strip today. This shining achievement is marred slightly by the simple reality that there are younger comics with larger archives — but these are comics written by cartoonists who can only be described as “driven” and “dedicated,” whereas I can charitably be described as “unfocused” and “an undisciplined wreck”.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who made this goal possible: my readers, who routinely put up with my dodgy publication schedules, the captains of industry, who made it so easy to come up with 1,500 jokes about their total lack of moral fibre, and of course the inventors of “cut” and “paste.”

From The News Desk

Many items to cover today; let’s tuck right in, shall we?

  • From the Foob Desk: On the heels of Funky Cancercancer, we have total burnsauce.
  • From the New Versions Desk: Congrats to Megatokyo, which will be produced for the Japanese market by Kodansha. And congrats to Fred & Sarah Gallagher, which will be producing a small human being for their household (no permanent link).
  • From the Aniniversary Desk: Brink is one year old as of July 10 (thanks to Shishio for the tip; he’s rapidly becoming the Brad Guigar of IV Comics).
  • From the Technology Is Your Friend Desk: Lots of new features and stability over at Help Desk, which given creator Christopher Wright’s battles with databases and blogging software, seems like a beautiful, beautiful dream. Comics are now tagged by storyline/keyword/character, and transcription search is coming soon. It’s not easy to retrofit features onto a site with such a huge archive, so well done Mr Wright.
  • From the Emotionally Invested Readers Desk: Cool things will be done for your comic, even when on extended hiatus. Case in point: a 37-song fan soundtrack created for Alien Loves Predator.
  • From the Here Be Dragons Desk: More people for your SDCC webcomics crawl — the redoubtable T Campbell will be at the Tokyopop booth (#3529) and Dan Goodsell of The World of Mr. Toast will be in booth #2648.

    To find Campbell, walk along the top of the Unshelved logo from right to left and keep going another 7 aisles after the map ends. To find Goodsell, on the map, start at the “S” in the Unshelved logo and go three aisles up (opposite the Wizard Entertainment booth; say hi to their web guys, they’re cool). Please note that you won’t actually see the Unshelved logo printed on the floor of the convention center; we’re working on that for next year.

  • And from the Final Items Desk: The why of the explosive proliferation of webcomics review sites is something for others to remark upon. But let us remark on the latest entrant into the game (or at least, the latest to email me and say howdy) — Jack’s Webcomic Reviews. It’s got monkeys.

Running Your Own Server x 2

Word from Christopher B. Wright that — because moving across the country isn’t stressful enough — he’s leaving the Green Keen Empire to take Help Desk solo:

The other news is that I’m going to be leaving Keenspot. Over the past year I’ve been trying to move to a database-driven site, and each attempt manages to screw up the Keenspot servers something fierce, causing crashes and slowdowns and other me-related havoc. If I want to keep going in this direction — which I do — it’s pretty clear that in order to do so I’m going to have to set out into uncharted waters and get my own website hosting. So come July I will be switching over to a non-Keenspot hosting provider.

It’s a pretty scary prospect. I’ve been with Keenspot for 7 years and haven’t regretted it. I get a lot of site traffic from Keenspot and expect that a lot of that traffic will go away when I move on. That said, the prospect of crashing a brand new server is somewhat exciting.

Best of luck to Wright, and be sure to cut him some slack if there are server hiccups, yes?

Speaking of server hiccups, you may recall that Scott Kurtz posted recently that his provider was doing some preventative maintenance and bringing additional server resources online; as I recall, it went unusually smoothly. Naturally, a clean server transition really means unexpected outages will crop up later, just when you’re breathing easy. Kurtz would like you to know:

[T]he PvP server had some hardware issues that my host Speakeasy is working on. We’ve been down for about a day. We had planned to run maintenance over the slow part of the weekend but apparantly the server had other plans and crapped out early yesterday.

It’s all a part of running your own website.

I’ll be posting strips over at until my site is back up again. But it might be a long weekend.

Now that you can all get your PvP fix, how about a dip into the mailbag?

  • From Tommie Kelly: The End is into its fourth chapter; I held off on linking until there was a bit of content there.
  • Straining the bounds of the concept of “anniversary”, Dean Tan let us know the other day that his comic, Life In Existence, hit its ninth consecutive strip. By the time you read this, it may be at twelve or thirteen!
  • Taking a more straightforward approach to the “new webcomic” announcement (yeah, talkin’ to you, Tan!), Michael Hoskins announces Nightworld. Number of installments necessary to reach the first decapitation and head-eating: three.
  • Speaking of college themed strips, John Kroes writes to invite you to Last Ditch Effort, which runs both online and in several dozen college papers across the country.

And as we all know, strips that start in college papers can lead to bigger things, like books that end pre-orders on Monday. Just sayin’.

Lastly, condolences to Mr T for laughing too hard and giving himself Winkernoma. Hope you’re feeling better, T.

And More For Monday

Quick items of note this day, in roughly the order I noticed them:

Circles Of Friends

Lots going on in webcomics that addresses the ideas of “collectives”. First off, you have a thinky piece by Gilead Pellaeon over at Comixpedia about what makes a collective. There’s been a range of opinion about his conclusions, both in the comments (scroll down), and in a group interview with Blank Label Comics (or at least 7/9ths of Blank Label). The lads hold forth on what their group identity means, plans for the future, and how they feel about each other (hint: look for Kris Straub and Howard Tayler to get in a knife fight soon)

The print edition of Wizard is an unreadable morass of comic fanboy stereotypes, but they’re doing some interesting interviews on their website. Case in point: at the recent New York Comic Con they spoke with Steven Cloud and Jon Rosenberg of Dumbrella; it’s an interesting contrast of philosophy reading about how Dumbrellists seem themselves as a group, versus how Blankers do.

Nor is collective behavior always predicated on ongoing relationships; sometimes all you need is a one-off, sorta-collaboration to make a gag work. By way of example, take one part xkcd, which is published under a Creative Commons license. Add one part Help Desk, and bingo: a derivative work (fancy legalese for ‘mash up’) that’s funnier than it has any rights to be.

It works with complete strangers as well: as Ryan North tells us in the newsbox for March 8 (read it quick, because it’ll scroll away in a few days), one of his cartoons inspired somebody named Dr McMuffin to compose an opera. There’s sheet music there, but Dr McMuffin’s contribution is not merely compositional; the good doctor has added some defining characteristics to our favorite dinos — namely, the fact that T-Rex is a tenor (and Dromiceiomimus a soprano, Utahraptor an alto and raccoons a chorus; I wonder what the tiny woman is?).

Lastly, we at Fleen wish to announce that we are enlarging our community a bit. Anne Thalheimer has jumped on the Guest Columnist program with brio, and since she keeps writing stuff that sparks conversation, we’re just making it official. Welcome aboard, Anne.

Update: And in other collectives/network news, Little Gamers announced late yesterday that they’re now part of the National Lampoon Humor Network, along with such luminaries as White Ninja and Superman Is A Dick.