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Welcome to MATT CHATS, a weekly interview series in which I, Matt O’Keefe, talk with people of interest in the comic book industry. Whether they’re writers, artists, letterers, editors, retailers, etc. if they have something to say, I want to hear it and share it with you. Here’s a special conversation I had recently with webcomics maven Scott Kurtz.
Scott Kurtz is one of the original webcomic pioneers, having created PvP (Player vs. Player) nearly seventeen years ago and making a living writing and drawing it for almost as long. He eventually launched a spinoff of PvP named Table Titans about friends playing a role playing game that’s taken on a life and legacy of its own. I spoke with Kurtz about the huge-and-still-growing webcomic series, the role the owners of Dungeons and Dragons have in the comic, building an online empire and more.
What were your initial hopes for Table Titans creatively, professionally and personally?
My hope with Table Titans was to create a comic book that captured the spirit and joy of tabletop roleplaying. I’ve personally wanted to make a fantasy comic for many years, and after a reader survey revealed many of our fans were into tabletop gaming, it seemed a perfect topic. We’ve been telling stories for years at our kitchen table that nobody but our gaming group is aware of. What an amazing opportunity to tell them to a wider audience and simultaneously encourage them to tell their own stories collaboratively with friends.
How do those hopes compare to where you are now?
All of our hopes with Table Titans have been fulfilled and exceeded. The comic is doing gangbusters. In only two years it has the same traffic as PvP on days we post new strips. That’s more than we could have ever hoped for. And every email, and fan interaction at cons involves someone telling us how they started playing D&D because of the strip or one of our podcasts about gaming.
You brought Steve Hamaker on to color Table Titans, but choose to leave the pages black & white when he’s unavailable. What brought about that choice?
Steve is always available. It’s just that sometimes I’m late getting pages in to him where it works inside his schedule. So on those days, we run in black and white and then once Steve gets the time to color them we pop them up. It’s my problem. Steve is a monster.
How did the collaboration with Wizards of the Coast on Table Titans come about?
We had an existing relationship with Wizards from our D&D podcasts and live shows we do with Penny Arcade. So we talk all the time. And we ran the idea of Table Titans past them at the early stages of outlining the comic. They loved the idea and we talked to them about the possibility of working in a marketing partnership with them on it. They promote the comic, the comic promotes D&D. Win-win, right?
Do you have to jump through many hoops to use their characters and concepts?
Not really. We’re not an official Licensee. It’s a marketing partnership. So they’re very hands off. There are a lot of things I can put in the comic that, while are a part of D&D, aren’t owned by Wizards. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, Goblins, Clerics, Fighters, etc. I just don’t get in trouble when I drop in something they do own like the drow or a beholder or displacer beast.
How involved is Wizards of the Coast in the storylines in Table Titans?
Not terribly. We talk all the time about what they have coming up as far as their campaign settings and if it interests us from a story level, we get to incorporate it into the comic. Season one of the comic centered around their campaign to reintroduce the idea of D&D as a collaborative storytelling exercise. We focused on that theme quite a bit. And season two lined up with their “sundering” campaign (sort of). So we see what they’re doing and if it ignites an idea we run with it. But these are our stories. They’re very hands off.
What are the big benefits of getting to use the Dungeons & Dragons content in Table Titans?
The biggest benefit is that we’re associated with Wizards of the Coast and they promote the strip on their social media sites. We’ve also worked with them collaboratively on a couple of non-comic projects. We’ve jointly made a beholder dice bag and a vinyl figure of our main character Val standing triumphant over a beholder. Those projects are a lot of fun. Plus I grew up playing D&D and so it’s the game I want reflected in the comic. I could have just made up a fake game they were playing, but how great is it that they get to play D&D. Just like we all do?
Are there ever times you wish you were using creator-owned characters and setting instead?
All of Table Titans is creator owned. We own everything we create. Sure if we drop in a displacer beast or a drow (as we have done in the two years we’ve produced the strip), Wizards owns those characters. But it’s worth creating an antagonist from the pages of the offical Monster Manual for our characters to go up against. And in the end, we own Table Titans. We’re also currently working on our own campaign setting which we’ll be featuring in the strip in upcoming seasons. We wanted to show the natural progression players take. Season 1 was D&D encounter groups (what you do when you’re learning). Season 2 is a purchased campaign setting. Season 3 and beyond will show the Titans playing their own home-brew setting. And in the real world, we’ll be building that setting ourselves.
How business minded would you say a lot of your creative decisions are?
It’s impossible not to be business minded about all the decisions you make. But at Toonhound Studios, we make what we love and find a way to monetize it afterwards. We try not to put the cart before the horse. I’ve also been lucky to have found a business partner in Cory Casoni (formerly the marketing director at Oni Press, currently the Director of Business Development & Brand Management at Toonhound Studios LLC). Cory came on board about 3 years ago and we’ve been building Toonhound Studios into an American Mangaka. That’s why we work with so many talented people on all of our projects like Dylan Meconis, Brian Hurtt, Tavis Maiden and Steve Hamaker. We’re trying to build the independent publisher of the future here. And having a ball doing it.
Are you setting out to build a webcomics empire, or is it happening organically?
It’s happening organically. And it’s nothing that I had any interest in until I hired Cory. His first couple of years were spent undoing all the mistakes I made on my own over the first 15 years of my career. HA HA!. Then once all the old business was settled we sat down and said “What’s next?” Honestly, I handn’t thought much past “I want to be a cartoonist.” So that’s been a difficult but exciting and challenging question to try to answer. We are always trying to remain fluid and lean and ready to adapt. Things change so fast in this industry. We always want to be creating new content and trying things that challenge us and scare us a little bit. So yes we have plans. But to say we’re trying to build an “empire” is a little far reaching I think.
You eventually stepped away from The Trenches, and helped bring in and guide the new artists on the series. Would you ever do that with Table Titans one day?
We’re already doing it. Brian Hurtt will be taking over drawing duties on Table Titans for the next season. He’ll be writing and drawing a story with a side group called the Dungeon Dogs. Meanwhile I’ll be busy drawing the next Table Titans adventure and we’ll move the comic from posting 2 days a week to 4. Tavis Maiden (tenkoking.com) is also working on a new project with me that takes place in the Table Titans universe that’s so crazy and hilarious It’s hard not to talk about it. And I’m writing PvP now with Dylan Meconis, so everything at Toonhound is a group effort. Working collaboratively is my next step as a cartoonist and it’s making all of our work better across the board. Hands down.
How do you see Table Titans (and PvP) evolving as time goes on?
Who knows. I’m equally nervous and excited about it. I just turned 44 and PvP is turning 17 in May. I don’t see myself ever stopping either strip. I love making them so much. I still love writing and drawing PvP after over a decade and a half. I want to join my heroes Stan Sakai, and Sergio Aragones in celebrating 20 and 30 years of making the comic. Same goes for Table Titans. I can definitely see myself creating new comics and characters and working with others to carry on PvP and Table Titans with my guidance while I work on other things. Another hero of mine is Jim Davis and he built an amarican Mangaka at PAWS. A lot of people give him shit about that or look down on him for it. But they respect and honor Miyazaki for working the same way. Makes no sense to me, but it’s all cultrual. I know the benefits of collaboration and I intend to do more of it as my career continues.
You can find Scott on Twitter and his simply excellent podcast Surviving Creativity. Check out Table Titans if you know what’s good for you.
Issue #4 of Tüki Save The Humans, Jeff Smith’s saga of early humans and their migration, has been postponed from May to December due to a recurrence of an arm injury that creator Jeff Smith has been battling for a while.
“The past 12 months have been really busy,” says Smith, “and last month, after doing two issues of TUKI back to back, I noticed my arm was getting numb. I’ve had trouble with carpel tunnel syndrome before, and while I haven’t crossed the line, it’s not something I want to mess with.”
“I also have a secret project I’m working on that is adding to the workload,” he continued, “so I’ve decided the best thing to do was to slow down, move the book to where it will be best for TUKI. Sincere apologies to all of my readers, and I thank you for your patience. We plan to add a few surprises to the issue and hopefully the wait will be worthwhile!”
Tüki launched as a webcomic, with print issues following, and the third “season” wrapper a while ago.
While this is disappointing news, any “secret project” from Smith is exciting.
The USA Network held its “upfronts” at which pilots are announced, and the big news was Smackdown is coming HOME to the USA Network as the WWE rolls out a more millennial friendly and aspirational “For the Hero in All of Us” program. But also, a show based on an unannounced upcoming Vertigo series is in development:
When a neurotic family man buys an online “smart pill” to increase his focus and jolt him out of his slump, he gets much more than he bargained for. To his surprise, the pill gives him incredible strength and power. The project examines both the mighty highs and humiliating lows of being a real-life super hero. AMPED is based on the characters created for an upcoming comic book by Eric Kripke (“Supernatural,” “Revolution”) for DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint. Kripke will serve as executive producer/writer of AMPED, from Kripke Enterprises in association with Warner Horizon Television.
Kripke is indeed the creator of the hugely successful Supernatural and Revolution, and to all you Vertigo naysayers,
this is a comfort zone for the imprint: developing network ready fare that doesn’t involve the DCU. I Zombie is doing well on the CW, so anything is possible.
Lots of other shows announced, including the return of Tough Enough (probably not with my beloved Al Snow) and a show starring Sawyer from Lost and Lori from Walking Dead for the ultimate crossover.
Also promoted at the press event were “Colony,” a futuristic drama starring Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies as the head of a family of resisters in alien-occupied Los Angeles; and “Complications,” starring Jason O’Mara as a doctor drawn into a deadly gangland saga when he saves a kid from a random shooting.
Oh and here’s a great quote about the rebranded WWE:
Peter Lazarus, USA’s ad sales chief, said they’re now focused “educating the marketplace about WWE’s positive attributes.” Those include the fact that it is mostly DVR proof through its live weekly airings and continuing storylines, and the fact that it draws a healthy amount of family viewing. The push to polish up the WWE reflects the wide-ranging new deal that NBCU and the wrestling giant struck last year, one that gives NBCU more control over advertising sales for the programs.
I didn’t have a photo from the still unannounced AMPED so I put up a photo of current WWE champ Seth Rollins. I don’t follow wrestling any more so I have no idea who this jabroni is, but one look tells you that his matinee-ready millennial look is totally on fleek.
A LOT of the shows in development have futuristic-y SF-y elements, or in other words “USA Network fare.” Why they even need to try this when Fox had to take Almost Human off the air is beyond me.
–Yr grumpy old TV fan
Here’s a history comic on Newyorker.com by Julia Wertz about when pinball was illegal in New York City
In other Wertz news, she’s working on Impossible People, a second memoir about her alcoholism that she started after The Infinite Wait and then abandoned. To fund it’ she’s running her own crowdfudning effort, which you can support at the above link. Why her own thing?
While many cartoonists have had success with Patreon (a monthly donation site) or with Kickstarter for specific projects, I decided I would rather create my own page for two reasons. 1) Both those sites are built on a rewards model for donation amounts. While that sometimes works great, my time is very limited and I think it would be more beneficial for readers, and myself, if I use all my time to generate new material for everyone to read, rather than spending time making extra nonessentials for an exclusive group of people. I’d much rather be making less money while producing substantial work, than making more money and creating extraneous things. A) I am uncomfortable with the transparency sites like Patron and Kickstarter that make public financial amounts and goals. It is really no one’s business how much or how little anyone is making, and I have no set financial goal, as I’m just grateful for anything.
Here’s a page from the original version:
I’m a big fan of Wertz’s work—it’s funny, perceptive and brave. Her reasons for going with her own platform make a lot of sense for some creators—fulfilling elaborate Kickstarter pledges are a lot of work, and Patreon, while not as complex, has its own time-consuming maintenance. I hope a bunch of people will support her in her work.
Scholastic’s editions of Jeff Smith’s BONE were what originally put Steve Hamaker on the map, and he’s only improved since his introduction to the comics scene. After coloring over a dozen BONE graphic novels, Hamaker went on to color Jeff Smith’s follow-up RASL, Strangers in Paradise-related projects for Terry Moore and Scott Kurtz’s webcomic Table Titans. Recently he’s been producing his own webcomic named PLOX that shows off his illustrative chops as well as his honed coloring skills. I spoke to Steve about his background, workload and growth as a creator and storyteller.
Let’s start with the origin story. What brought you into comics?
I was working for a small toy design company that worked on license action figures. We did toys for lots of properties, like Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, Speed Racer, and BONE. I was the designer on BONE, so that’s where I met Jeff Smith. He hired me away from that job, basically the day I was being downsized, so it worked out perfectly.
Was coloring comics always the goal?
Actually no. I’ve always wanted to make my own comics. The toy design thing was a stepping stone, but I really did enjoy that as a creative career. Jeff inspired me and then taught me how to not only make comics, but how to self publish and promote them.
Line art by Jeff Smith.
You only work with a select few artists. Jeff Smith, Scott Kurtz, Terry Moore… How do you decide who to collaborate with?
Well, Jeff happened to be my boss, so that was an easy choice [laughs]. Coloring BONE was a huge undertaking for us both. It taught me every technique I use, and made me fall in love with the whole process. Terry Moore is a good friend of Jeff’s, so that was also very natural to work with him. I have been a fan of Scott Kurtz’s since he started PVP, so I stalked him early on, and once the coloring of BONE got more and more attention he took notice. We became friends along the way too, so that adds another layer to it. Coloring BONE was really the flood gates opening for people taking notice of me. I have a lot more choices to be selective, and that makes a difference in how I approach the work.
With those artists and with PLOX you’re aiming a little outside the typical Wednesday Warrior demographic. Do you have any desire to color a “mainstream” comic?
I would be interested, sure. It would have to be meaningful subject matter to me, so hopefully the right book will come along. Technically, I have done some work for DC with Jeff’s Shazam story, and Marvel was very nice when I colored a Thor story for Terry Moore. Ironically, the bigger publishers pay better, usually give cover credit, and even pay royalties in some cases. That’s not why I would do it, though. It’s just good to see them treating colorists in an increasing positive way.
An example of a reward for Patreon subscribers.
You mentioned marketing earlier. What kind of efforts do you make to market PLOX?
Right now it’s mostly social media, cross promotion with other online comics folks and general word-of-mouth. Terry Moore is running PLOX ads for me while I color his new SiP Kids mini series. Scott is obviously a great help with his PVP audience. He runs banners for my comic and I get to attend shows with him like GenCon and PAX. The audience building has been one of the most incredible experiences in making this comic. Seeing the reader numbers increase, but more importantly knowing that so many of them are genuinely invested in the comic.
Yes! I haven’t given Patreon quite the love and attention it deserves, but it’s a great tool for reaching your audience. It’s tough because I have to spend so much time coloring or creating PLOX that I can’t devote the time to making the Patreon really engaging. It’s a Catch-22 of sorts. I hope to change that in the future.
It must also be hard to use something ongoing like Patreon that it is to promote something one-off like Kickstarter.
Yes. I haven’t done a Kickstarter yet for PLOX, but I plan to. I want to make sure the Kickstarter for the collected book is really well organized and rewarding for the donors, and especially that they won’t have to wait two years to get their stuff! I will most likely tackle that when I am really close to being done with the first PLOX story.
When will that be?
Hopefully later this year. I keep writing new scenes that push the ending back.
Now a question I’m sure you’ve been asked many times: what does “PLOX
I chose PLOX for the title from the idea of how our language has been affected and truncated on the internet. The word ‘please’ change to ‘pls’, then to ‘plz’, then gamers would type so fast that it became ‘plx’. Then people started speaking over the internet with Teamspeak and Ventrilo, and they would phonetically say “plox”.
It also looked cool as a logo.
How is “please” central to the story?
The word isn’t important really. It was the idea of how the internet can affect things like language, and in the case of my story, relationships.
Since the story is centered around a World of Warcraft-like game it would be easy to include a lot of fantasy visuals, but there aren’t many in PLOX. Was that intentional?
Starting out, I definitely envisioned that I would do in game cut-aways, like we do in Table Titans. After writing the first 3 or 4 chapters, I realized that the game isn’t the central ‘thing’ about the story, and it didn’t seem appropriate anymore.
The dream sequences were key for showing the in game avatars, however. That was a big breakthrough for me in writing this.
It’s really important to me that people can read PLOX and not have to know everything about Warcraft. The story is semi-autobiographical, so I felt like I had to include the game because it was tied up with my emotional state and daily life during that time.
It’s a story about three people. That’s hopefully compelling enough [laughs]. I’m half-kidding. I love that it has the gamer slant to it, and it affords a lot of opportunity for comedy, but I don’t want it to be a barrier of entry for my readers.
Chad would be a dick to his Bingo group down at the church. The game could be anything.
What do you like about the square page layout?
It looks good on the computer [laughs]. Honestly, I wanted the comic to take up more space. I could have gone rectangular sideways, I realize.
The format was kind of mystical for me actually.
It kind of cracked my brain for writing and layout… in a good way! I was struggling with writing a comic page in the conventional format, and the square page just liked me more. I can see pages and scenes before I draw them much more easily.
So you find the four or less panels a page more freeing than restricting?
I think a lot of people who come from more of a writing background would feel the opposite.
I wouldn’t doubt that. I’m not complaining, but It’s a very daunting task to write, draw and color a long form comic. It was a crucial thing for me to overcome in order to move ahead.
Oh, totally. I was just kind of musing on the differences. I feel like in the creative process artists (whether they be illustrators, writers, etc.) do best when they limit the number of things they take chances with. Like how you should only have one or two variables in a science experiment.
I think it’s different for everyone, to some extent, but I agree that limits can (not do) make better art. You can agonize over every aspect of the writing or drawing, but in the end, you need to stop and share it with the world. That’s why God created editors and deadlines.
Where are you kind of taking risks with PLOX?
I don’t have as many fears as I did when I started. The risks were numerous. Can I write, draw, and color the whole story by myself, will people like my art… or my writing for that matter!
The character of Kim being gay was also scary for me. I’m not gay, so I had this huge weight over my head that was telling me to abandon it.
The more I wrote and thought about each character the less scared I was. It sounds cheesy, I know, but they really started to tell me what they needed.
I think of a setting or a story from my own life, and the characters just kind of embed themselves into it like they were always there.
I know I’m not a really great writer, but I try to be honest with the story in every way.
I disagree with that last part, but well said! Last question: what’s inspiring you? Whether it be comics, stories, life, whatever.
Well, thank you. I’m proud of the writing, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t have an inflated ego that I am doing something new or groundbreaking.
The last few years since I got married and my son was born, my real life has been the most influential. I have art and music that I enjoy, but my friends and family are the ones that really push me forward.
You can check learn more about Steve at his website, follow him on Twitter, support his Patreon campaign and read PLOX at plox-comic.com.
We’ve covered Oyster War here quite a bit, Ben Towle’s historical fantasy webcomic about 19th century Chesapeake bay oystermen engaged in a territory war with some magical assistance— it’s part Scalped, part Sailor Twain. Towle alluded to a print publisher a while and ago and Oni just made it official: the print, color version is coming in September for SPX! Towle is a three time Eisner nominee for books like his Amelia Earhart bio, and this is a fun, frolic of a book.
In the coastal town of Blood’s Haven, the economy runs on oysters. Oyster farming is one of the most lucrative professions, but also the most dangerous. Not just from the unforgiving ocean and its watery depths—there are also oyster pirates to worry about! Commander Davidson Bulloch and his motley crew are tasked with capturing these ne’er-do-wells—but they don’t know that Treacher Fink, the pirates’ leader, possesses a magical artifact that can call forth a legendary spirit with the power to control the sea and everything in it!
“I started work on Oyster War five years ago with a very specific vision,” says creator Ben Towle. “I’d done several historical fiction books previously and now I wanted to jump squarely into the realm of the fantastic. Oyster War is a nautical adventure story set in a not-quite-real late 19th century US that’s full of pirates, brawlers, sea serpents, and shape-shifters. It’s far and away my favorite work to-date. I couldn’t be happier with the way Oni’s bringing the Oyster War print collection to life. Presentation was always in the back of my mind as I worked on the story. From the get-go I conceived of Oyster War as a big, hardcover, European album-sized book with high-end production values—and that’s exactly what’s going to wind up in readers’ hands!”
Oni’s March Madness thus far is awesome!
33 hours, $4000 — you people need to do this.
Songgu Kwon is a former Xeric grant winner for Blanche the Baby Killer. He currently works in the animation business doing things like character designs for Metalocalypse. I daresay, he draws like a melon farmer. Gorgeous stuff.
He also has a long running webcomic called Elf that takes on RPG tropes in a weird and wacky way.
Imaging Knights of the Dinner Table drawn by Cliff Chiang. Sort of.
Anyway he has a kickstarter for acollected edition that needs only $4000 dollars in 33 hours. A little about it.
Elf is a fantasy web comic that I started in 2012 as a fun project that I could develop little by little, uploading just one page a week.
It began as a series of short vignettes centered around an archetypical Tolkienesque elf character and her talking wombat sidekick, Clarence. A rather strange fellow named Pieter would soon join them.
Clarence is no ordinary wombat. He’s really of a subspecies I like to call… the Greater Wombat!
The initial strips were conceived with very little planning. I wanted to poke fun at and pay homage to the high fantasy genre as represented in countless books, films, video games, and my own experiences playing table top RPGs in the days of my youth.
In a nutshell, Elf is a story about a warrior called Blackfeather, who just wants to hang out with her pals, help others, and have adventures. This simple goal comes with many obstacles as deadly perils as well as the elf’s own past crash into her path.
I think the art speaks for itself.
Let’s do this people!
After backing the campaign last June, I was extremely pleased to receive a shipment in December containing my reward from the Kickstarter
for Lady Sabre
, a webcomic created by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett and Eric Newsom. It took twelve months longer than anticipated to get my copy, but the creative team delivered a very special edition that perfectly suits its source material. Not only that, Kickstarter stretch goals also unlocked a Pocket Guide written by Rucka about the world where Lady Sabre takes place, a process book that illuminates how Greg and Rick work together and other extras. Below is my review of that package.
Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether Book 1: The Map begins with a prose story called “The Affair of the Mickten Clockwork” that sets up the relationship between Lady Seneca Sabre and Captain Hans von Kater. Rucka is a well-seasoned writer of novels, with a library that includes the Attius Kodiak and Jad Bell series as well as two Queen & Country books. More people should be reading Greg Rucka’s prose, and this short story and the worldbuilding material in the back of the volume will likely convince them to do exactly that. At the same time, Rucka should be writing more prose like this. It’s easily among my favorite I’ve read.
Book 1 of the Lady Sabre series is very much the start of a longer story, but it’s an impressive introduction to what I presume is the main cast. Chapter 1 dives straight into one of Sabre’s escapades, which includes a grand theft and duel with Hans. There isn’t a ton of story in the first chapter, necessarily, but you get a lot of atmosphere out of those pages, especially if you read “The Affair of the Mickten Clockwork” beforehand.
Chapters 2 and 4 introduce us to Marshall Miles Drake and Tracket Keyton Drum, also through elaborate action sequences. While giving Burchett more chances to shine, Rucka also shows his writing chops with clever back-and-forths and a demonstration of the pair’s bold heroism. Chapter 3 sets up the larger storyline with the very convenient but appropriate appearance of a prophet, who predicts some of the danger lying ahead.
Chapter 5 is the first time Drake and Sabre get to interact. The tension between a man of law and a woman of lawlessness is a fun dynamic, and the rapport we get between them is one of the highlights of the volume. Their acquisitions from previous chapters reveal the instrument for the larger story. I’m also intrigued to see that move forward, but it’s a testament to Rucka’s writing and Burchett’s illustrations that I’m most excited for the palpably tense relationship between Sabre and Drake to continue.
Part of me wants to complain that Lady Sabre is decompressed, especially given all of its action sequences, but I think the only reason I feel that way is that I want more of it sooner. The story is not text-heavy and each page has a relatively low panel count, but, in spite of that, though, every page feels significant. I may believe that in part because I’m aware of the original 2-pages-a-week format, but it’s clear that Rucka and Burchett went out of their way to make sure every one of their updates mattered. I’m hoping that future volumes of Lady Sabre also contain prose stories so readers can get more background and plot a little faster, but it’s hard to complain about the pacing of the comic itself. I don’t know how long Rucka and Burchett intend Lady Sabre to go so this volume could either be the first step of the hero’s journey or the entire first act. Either way, I know I’m on board until the ship lands.
Rick Burchett’s art isn’t flashy, which might be why he and Rucka couldn’t initially find a publisher for a project. Flashiness, though, is overrated. Burchett’s art is high quality in every panel; he never fails to deliver the goods. His solid storytelling skills are something the flashier artists should take note of.
I read that Burchett said that he was nervous about working with Rucka on Lady Sabre because he “can’t draw beautiful women,” but beauty is relative. He isn’t drawing pinup models, no, but for my money the personality he imbues in Sabre and other characters makes them more “attractive” than any two-dimensional characters gorgeously drawn by a Frank Cho or Terry Dodson or Adam Hughes. Greg Rucka is known for writing powerful women, and Rich Burchett compliments Rucka’s development of Sabre with a powerful, non-exploitative depiction.
As a veteran of superhero comics, Rick could probably have delivered satisfactory action sequences with relative ease. But he doesn’t rest on his laurels, offering up innovating action in several of the first five chapters. The swordplay early on in Chapter One is particularly excellent, from the motion lines when the blades swing to pages that feature Sabre’s epic duel with Hans.
I believe Lady Sabre is the first comic Rick colored, which is pretty impressive. The color choices don’t astound, but it’s never a distraction. That’s more than I can say for some of the comics being released by major publishers, and I only expect Burchett’s coloring to improve over time.
The next thing I want to address is the pocket guide included with the Kickstarter package. The amount of worldbuilding done in the mouthful-of-a-title Edwin Windsheer’s Pocket Guide to the Sphere: The Odom (Part 1): Allyria & Fueille is absolutely staggering. To the best of my knowledge, Rucka didn’t really get compensated for these 64 pages that help you further understand the world of Sabre. If anything, it probably cost money due to printing While tiny, the hardcover book is definitely readable, though I admit I prefer viewing it as a PDF on my tablet to reading the hardcover itself. Even with that in mind, if I ever lost the pocket guide my collection would feel woefully incomplete. It’s beautifully designed, and is a wonderful companion to the main book.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the process book other than that it demonstrates the effort Rucka and Burchett put into Sabre. The paperback includes annotations by Greg and early design sketches by Rick, immersing you into their (obviously effective) creative process. Watching the project come together and move forward is something special to behold. I hope they offer a copy of the book on their website eventually, so more would-be webcomic creators and creators of comics in general can learn a thing or two.
The design of all three books is one of the best parts of the package. I pledged for the least expensive edition, and it still largely failed to feel cheap. As beautiful as the cover is, I particular love the the look of the graphic novel without the dust jacket. The only real flaw I can point to is the back insert. The pouch and the map felt sort of jutted out. I actually ended up peeling off the pouch, which thankfully caused minimal damage to the book. To be fair, though, the map and pouch were part of a stretch goal that the team didn’t even reach, and the map itself is great, so it’s hard to complain too much.
Lady Sabre is, to date, the 23rd most successful comic book Kickstarter campaign ever, but I highly doubt it was anywhere near the 23rd most profitable. Rucka and company were extremely generous to offer so many upgrades to already-impressive rewards, especially for a price as low as $30 for print copies of the first volume, the Pocket Guide and the Process Book. At some point the creative team plans to offer remaining copies of the book on the Lady Sabre website
. I would highly encourage you to buy them while you can.
Rating: Worth The Wait
§ High Moon, the werewolf/cowboy comic by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis is back. After running on DC’s Zuda webcomic site (remember that?) and seeing a print edition, four new pages will be posted every Monday, in a mobile responsive interface, and available on Tapastic and Comixology as well. Nerdist has a preview , and artist Ellis, who’s also drawing the Better Call Saul comics for AMC, did a Reddit ama yesterday. The story involves bounty hunter and Pinkerton agent Matthew Macgregor investigating the spooky goings on in a Texas town seeing hard times while trying to hide his own supernatural secret. This is a good looking comic!
§ Broken Frontier examines Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch in 2015, namely Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino and Adam Vian. I didn’t know any of these creators but now we know who to watch for!
§ Multiversity’s Small Press Spotlight month has wrapped.
§ The comic-Con experience is coming to every corner of this nation of ours. The second Camden Comic Con takes place March 7 at the Camden Rutgers campus:
Camden Comic Con, an annual convention that celebrates the art and culture of comic books, returns to Rutgers University-Camden for a second time on Saturday, Mar. 7. This year’s event will feature nearly 100 vendors and a host of special guest comic creators, artists and writers, such as Dave Bullock, Bryan Glass, Shawn Martinborough and Mark McKenna. Get ready to geek out on a full day of workshops and forums. There will be demos and workshops on comic art, lettering and character design, as well as special effects make-up.
….and there’s even a Fargo-Moorhead Comic Con for North Dakotan fans:
Graphic novel fans won’t have to wait months to get their fantasy fix as the Fargo-Moorhead Comic Con delivers this weekend. Illustration fans can check out vendors selling books, games, videos and more, like a costume contest for kids and adults. The fun runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., then again from 7 p.m. to midnight on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at Baymont Inn & Suites, 3333 13th Ave. S., Fargo.
§ Various tish and tosh over the superhero tedium evinced at the Oscars. While everyone was turning up their noses at the way superhero films have taken over Hollywood, even as NINE of the 20 acting nominees have played roles in superhero films. James Gunn, who has taken his place as the nerd auteur, was first to spring to the defense.
Whatever the case, the truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite. I’ve already won more awards than I ever expected for Guardians. What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films. I’ve made B-movies, independent films, children’s movies, horror films, and gigantic spectacles. I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do no find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film.
Badass Digest also pointed out the hypocrisy
It was destined to be an awards season heavy on superhero hate when Birdman became the front runner. After all, this movie starring some people who were bankable enough to get the film made because of their work in superhero movies was all about the idea that the bad side of Hollywood – the blockbuster side – was killing art. Or something. I’m not really sure what the movie was trying to say about that stuff, except that it’s bad. Superheroes are bad, and Birdman proves it by making one of its best scenes an action battle and another a flying sequence.
But Sujay Kumar at The Daily Beat ponders How Superhero Movies Lost Their Humanity
while suggesting Sam Raimi’s 2004 Spider-Man 2 was the highpoint of the genre and it’s been callow thrills since then.
To be honest, SM2 WAS a highpoint, and since then the Marvel Studios formula which dominates the genre has evolved into a fairly generic stylistic mold, even while allowing for some genre departures like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Winter Soldier. Entertainment is entertainment, but Kumas has a point that I’ve often made here as well: Spider-Man 2 was about a young man trying to keep his girl, while superheroics kept intruding, while every current MCU movie is about saving the world/universe. It’s kind of refreshing to switch now and then to the Fox/Mark Millar formula that involves more personal angst.
At any rate, I think most of this anxiety stems from the 20-30 superhero movies coming at us from now until 2020. That is plenty of time for the spandex set to overstay their welcome.
§ In such a milieu, it is refreshing to leave them wanting more, and that’s just what happened with Agent Cater. After an 8-episode run that gained a very fervent following—and blew Agents of Shield out of the water for quality—the show’s future is uncertain. an who’d like to see more are urged to follow the instructions in this post. Myself, I’d rather see another quality 8 episodes mini season than water it down with universe saving.
According to a news blast they just sent out, Hiveworks, a digital comics portal, had 12,000,000 users in January—last year it had a total of 65,000,000, so it’s on track for a lot of growth. But what kind of growth? According to their about page, “Hiveworks is a creator owned publisher and studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses. We serve as mentors and as a home for many comics.”
Basically it’s a portal where you can browse and buy digital editions of various webcomics. In January they started offering digital editions of the popular Atomic Robo comic (above), which helped out.
“Things have gone pretty great the last few years,” said CEO Joseph Stillwell in a statement, “While the online comic sector has proven rough for others I believe [the online comic sector] is moving into a much healthier position than it was when we started. Having such quality and diverse content allows us to help readers find more comics to read and enjoy. By marketing any one comic within the network we’re ultimately helping those new readers find other comics. Ultimately, we wind up with happier fans and happier creators.”
Titles credited for helping with the rise in pageviews include Blindsprings, Stand Still. Stay Silent, Parallax. amd additions Atomic Robo (http://www.atomic-robo.com/), SMBC, Der-Shing.
The New York Times has been dabbling in “future comics” type stuff over the past year orzo, and they se Lille Carré up to bat and she hits a home run with The Bloody Footprint an inquiry into memory and and identity that cleverly uses the scroll and gif panels for an effect distanced enough for memory and sharp enough for contemplation.
Speaking of scroll comics, Frank Santoro has a smart essay dissecting them
However, in comics there is a new language: the scroll. The scroll as a formatting reality for old and new comics is an incredible development. It is not retro, and is barely related to Asian scrolls of centuries ago or even contemporary Japanese four-panel scroll comics. There has been a real concerted effort to utilize the scroll in comics in a way that, to my mind, has never existed ever. There is a direction for forward-thinking comics; it is not a stylistic thing so much as a new format that is available because of the new technology. Music exists as time–new technology may help make the music but there is no way to speed up listening as there is to speed up reading.
Have you seen any good future comics (those using electronic and other non traditional storytelling formats) of late? Share it in the comment.
Streaming anime service Crunchyroll is getting into the original webcomic game with a new “Crunchyroll Originals” program, and it kicks off with HYPERSONIC music club by artist Hiroyuki Takahashi, with a story by Patrick Macias . The story line involves world of tomorrow young cyborgs fighting a mysterious conspiracy led by monster girls. Just a day at the office. Takahashi’s work is a mix of manga and music influences, and his work has a colorful explosive effect just right for HD computer screen.
According to Crunchyroll GM, Japan Channels, Vincent Shortino, “The Crunchyroll Originals line represents an opportunity to develop new and compelling content for users in addition to our licensed anime and manga offerings. Combining forces with artists like Hiroyuki Takahashi underscores Crunchyroll’s commitment to Japanese pop culture and pursuing innovation in the digital media space.”
The comic will be free to read and launches this Friday, January 30th. You can follow along on tumblr here and see more of Takahashi’s work here.
Carver is a new project by cartoonist Christopher Hunt, a talented artist whose been been seen in Dark Horse, 12 Reasons To Die, Escapo and elsewhere. But Carver is his passion project, a story that starts in 1913 Paris with Carver himself, a man with a mysterious past, and skills with both his fists and with the ladies. It’s adventurous, romantic and ready to rock and roll. You can read the first chapter here or watch the teaser
If you like what you see, there’s a Patreon campaign here , and if you really like it, there’s a launch party at Jeffrey tonight. Here’s a few pages as a teaser teaser.
Anders Nilsen sees the year out at Medium with a beautiful full color comic called On Optimisim: Why 2015 Won’t Suck. It’s a very direct and straightforward work from the often oblique (and marvelously so) Nilsen, but it has a few good words that we should all tam into account for 2015. Even though 2014 was a pretty great year for comics, for a lot of folks (The Beat included) it was kind of sucky on a personal level, and a lot of the creative personnel of the industry seem to be sinking into a “happy peasant” mind set, as living in a hovel on the outskirts of the giant corporate castle seems like a lifestyle choice worth making.
All that said, optimism is the fundamental human state and despite the setbacks 2014 had a lot of great, amazing stuff. And 2015 will be even better. As I mentioned many times this year, I’m finally living in the world that I envisioned wham I was 13 years old, a world of limitless storytelling and a return to the diversity that comics always had. A world where people don’t think comics are dumb or stupid,
So thank you for your support throughout the year, both in the form of encouragement, written and verbal, and monetary (Advertising, Paypal and Patreon) and to all my wonderful contributors—Kyle, Hannah, Zach, Todd, Torsten, Jeff, David, Kate, Kate, Jason, David, Alex, Matt and Lindsey and anyone I’m forgetting. Thanks to Steve, Zainab and Joshua who quickly moved on to bigger and better things. And thanks to everyone at Stately Beat Manor who fed the cats and made us laugh.
And here’s to a 2015 filled with ninjas, dinosaurs, kittens, iPads, shooting stars, pirates, emeralds and chocolate hazelnut Vietnamese instant coffee.
We’ll leave you with this reminder: Always don business wear before sitting down to the drawing board or keyboard. IF JAck Kirby did it, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Long running—since 2004—and very popular webcomic Girls with Slingshots will be drawing to a close in the next few months, as announced in the strip and an essay. Creator Danielle Corsetto will be taking some time off to further her art education, but she doubts that it’s the last we’ve seen of the characters in the strip:
But I doubt it’ll be the end of GWS. And by “doubt” I mean “unless next year’s artistic experiments result in an intense interest in psychedelics and I shift my path from comics to acrylic tie-dye style paintings on turtle shells,” you will see Hazel and Jamie and everyone else again. It most likely won’t be in webcomic form; in fact, if GWS comes back, it’ll be a format that will give the characters more room to breathe.
I was a photo major in college, and despite a handful of great art classes, I never quite got the art education I wanted. I’ll be pursuing that in the upcoming year, taking classes and experimenting with paint and classic media, so that no matter what I do after this, it’ll be my best effort.
And I’ll be sharing my progress here, because uuuhhh honestly I think I’d get lonely if I didn’t. :) I’m forever indebted to those of you who read this comic every day and have been for ages; your patronage and support over the years has been unparalleled, and I’d honestly miss y’all if I didn’t stick around where you can find me.
Corsetto is part of a pretty sturdy generation of webcomic makers, but she’s earned some time off. Best of luck wherever this takes her.
Another neo classic comic for the hols as Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s homeless crimefighting skateboarder, Street Angel, teams with Santa on a brief adventure to find some missing reindeer in a bad neighborhood.
It’s all courtesy of Boing Boing, which is running new Street Angel comics regularly. And if you don’t have it already, give yourself a present by picking up the recent AdHouse edition of the original Street Angel mini series.
Gilbert Hernandez has a new weekly comic at Vice.
So one good thing happened this week.
Web serialization of a comic intended for print is one of the standard models of comics production now (Although it still isn';t profitable but that’s a whole other post) and here’s avery insightful post by Ben Towle on the conclusion of his webcomic, Oyster War. I’ve been enjoying his account of local skirmishes between 19th century Chesapeake Bay oyster farmers since he started it in 2008, and much has changed in how he put the comics out in that period, including the rise of Tumblr and yet more social media. Towle offers some VERY practical advice including how running it on GoComics affected the comics, mistakes in character design and URLS (get a separate URL for your comic) and also preparing for print:
Assume that your comic will be printed, Part I. – You may just be planning on throwing some stuff up online and seeing what sticks, but you can make some serious trouble for yourself down the line if you wind up deciding that you want to print your comic if you haven’t been doing some basic “just in case” things. Thankfully, I did the most basic of these with Oyster War–more just out of habit than good planning. Work in CMYK. Exporting CMYK to RBG is a lot less prone to problems than vice versa. Also: work at print resolution. I keep my line art at 1200 dpi and my coloring at 300 dpi. Again, it’s easy to export all that down to 72 dpi for screens… but there’s no way to do it in reverse.
Assume that your comic will be printed, Part II. – Some print-prep things that I really should have done, I didn’t start doing until about half way through. I wish I’d done them from the get-go. First: coloring with a K-free palette. Despite Oyster War being my first long comic I’ve done in color, I knew good and well that it’s a best practice to do CMYK coloring with little if any black (K or “key”) values in your colors… but, I foolishly took a “I’ll figure it out later” attitude, and now I’m having to go back and color correct a lot of early pages. I felt especially dumb when I finally decided to remix the color palette I’d been using to get it K-free and it took all of about 45 minutes to do. Other things I should have done from the get-go that are now costing me time: digitally blacking in areas of spot blacks that didn’t scan as completely black, superblacking the color under the line art.
Some of this will be a “Duh!” for web veterans, but it’s always someone’s first time at the rodeo. There are many technical aspects to this model that keep being reinvented. But it did work for Towle: Oyster War will be coming out in print in 2015 from a yet unnamed publisher.
As long as there have been comics, there have been people imagining what happens when Superman and Lois Lane have sex. Larry Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” set the standard, with a sobering, scientific look at Kal-El’s supersonic baby paste, and the potentially horrific effects of a human/Kryptonian hybrid pregnancy. And now the new artist of Rat Queens made his own little version. The headline says it’s Lois but isn’t it time for more Superman/Wonder Woman fanfic along these lines? No kleenex there!
For Supes/Lois fetishists, here’s an 8-bit version of the same scene. Like I said, it’s a timeless classic of fanfic.
Illustrated version of real torture techniques used by REAL CIA operatives drawn in an old school Basil Wolverton style for added punch.
BTW, isn’t “detainee” another word for “prisoner”?
NSFH = Not safe for humans.
A few years ago, a simple request for a t-shirt design to artist Mike Norton grew into an Eisner Award-winning, multi-volume webcomic. Norton publishes a new page of his Battlepug
saga every week, and hardcovers collecting the series are released yearly. To celebrate the release of the third Dark Horse-published volume
, I spoke with Norton about his dog-starring epic.
Did you have a specific plan when you started posting pages for Battlepug?
Yeah, I figured if I was gonna start doing it I should know where I was going. Not having written a whole lot before, that was one thing that I did know, that you should have a beginning, middle and end for your story. I didn’t write it down but I had it in my head so it’s just kind of meandered from point A to point B but I know how it ends and all that stuff.
Did you know it was going to be published by Dark Horse at the time?
No. I didn’t know any of that. I just put it out there because I’d just done the 24-hour Comics Challenge [Note: also about pugs] and I really liked the experience of it. I have a lot of writer friends who make comics for a living and I didn’t want to go through the whole come-up-with-a-story pitch process thing; I just wanted to get it done. I was just super-excited and wanted to do something so I put it online and I think it was less than a month before people started asking me about it. I didn’t have any publishers in mind when I put it out there.
How do you write Battlepug?
It’s Marvel style, sort of. I don’t really write it. I’ve gone back and forth with writing out the plot on paper… an outline! That shows you how much experience I have I struggle with the word outline [laughs]. I have major milestone points written out and every week is kind of a page and a scene, but I also wanted it to be a full beginning-middle-end strip because it only comes out every week. So I started writing those as I was drawing them. It felt more like I was drawing a comic book because with a comic book I know where one left off and the other started so I would write them as I went along knowing where I was going. So I know where it’s going while I write it, so I kind of draw-write it.
I was going to mention they all seem to hold up as pages on their own.
Yeah. A lot of the webcomics out there tell stories in one page. And there are the old time serials where you kind of have to assume the person reading it is never going to read it again, so you wanna sorta give them something to end off.
Does it take longer to write that kind of page than a typical page?
Yeah. I mean, you have to think about that stuff while you’re drawing it. If you’re writing a comic book you already know what’s gonna happen on the next page and you know that person is gonna flip the page after that and you can leave things unsaid. You don’t have that pressure. But I’ve only written a couple things myself for comic books and those I prefer to type out so I know what’s happening from page to page.
This is kind of a technical question, but what are the dimensions of the Battlepug pages?
I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head! I kind of tried to get the ratio that you would see with the browser open so that you’d be able to see the whole thing. I looked at a couple other comics that were using it and it’s pretty much the same dimensions as I think maybe Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo.
I think I read that Scott Allie told you it was the longest comic he’d ever publisher at DH?
Yeah, like physically longest?
They may have made bigger by now. They hadn’t done a horizontal size like that. When I started drawing it I was thinking of something like a French album and luckily they went with that.
It looks great on the bookshelf. You’ve been very adaptable with your drawing style over the years. Would you say Battlepug is your ideal drawing style?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think I’d get bored if I just drew… it’s hard to answer that. I mean, Battlepug is the most natural for me. If I were sitting at a restaurant drawing on a piece of paper I would probably draw [in that style]. But I enjoy drawing the way I do with my straight comic work where it’s more representational and more comic book-y. But I do like cartooning. Cartooning is very natural and easy to me and I don’t think of it as work. That might be why I am hesitant to even think that I write Battlepug. It’s kind of just a thing that I do just because it’s very natural. But yeah, I would say that it’s more me than it’s what naturally spills out but I have a lot of fun doing the other things.
Battlepug is on its fourth volume as a webcomic. Do you know how many volumes the series will be in total?
Five, I think, but I’m trying to make everything work out in my head. Now that we’re close to the end of Volume 4, I have to wrap up all the loose ends in 52 pages of story. I’ve never had that kind of problem before and I said I know where everything is heading, but now I have to make everything make sense [laughs]. I mean there have been a couple of times from the past four years that i’ve allowed myself to meander and wander around the story. Now i have to buckle down and start actually paying attention.
Last question: what do you like so much about pugs?
What do I like so much about pugs? [laughs] I like the what do you call it… not the dichotomy… they don’t make sense. They descended from animals that probably hunted and stuff and now they’re just these ridiculous animals that can’t live without us. I just kind of like the absurdity of that. I think that they are ridiculous and lovable and I just like animals in general. That’s kind of why i wanted to do the comic. So I could just draw whatever stupid animal comes into my head. But dogs are a big favorite and I have two of my own pugs and I think they’re just ridiculous animals. They just make me laugh is all.
[Laughs] Well, your love for them definitely shows.
Talk about an early Christmas present.
Emily Carroll’s delicious and innovative horror comics are a yearly Halloween treat, and now she’s gifted us with a Christmas themed comic about two little girls who are perfect angels…or are they?
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Every year cartoonist Kate Beaton returns to her parents house in the maritimes for the holidays, and the series of hilarious and touching comics that result are getting to be a holiday tradition, as the intersection of parental concern and parental eccentricities combine to form HUMOR. IT’s an experience that many of us are going through right now, and Beaton’s gentle, loving humor—while rooted firmly in her own family’s character—can also stand in for the universal experience.
She’s been posting her comics on twitter, but they’re also up on Tumblr, where they are easier to find. And should anyone be searching in the far flung future for them, here’s the direct link for the one shown above.