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Io9′s Lauren Davis has compiled this list of 51 Awesome Webcomics The Eisners Have Completely Failed To Recognizethat really functions as a basic list of Webcomics 101 (Although there are certainly omissions.) Still if you wanted to catch up the list is a great start.
Also, what webcomics do YOU read? WE do they every few years — sound off in the comments! and have a great holiday weekend.
Giancarlo Volpe, showrunner of Green Lantern the Animated Series has drawn a comic about a focus group test of the cartoon. It’s an interesting behind the scenes of how the testers said the kids wanted the opposite of what Volpe thought would work for the show. Luckily Bruce Timm comes to the rescue.
Focus groups can be pretty brutal. If you know what you’re doing, they can be a hindrance, but if you don’t…sometimes a truth is revealed. Unfortunately a lot of kids entertainment is heavily focus grouped and you can usually tell the ones that are because they are bland as hell.
Cartoon Brew has more tales of focus groups gone wrong.
A new comic by French cartoonist Boulet is always worth noting, and this one about the horror of buying new clothes is no exception, from the dread of buying underwear from snotty sales girls to the doomed perfection of new shows.
I saw Sam Alden reading these at the NY Comcis SYmposium the other night and let’s just say it gets better and better. He uses a 500×500 pixel grid to do everything.
Kate Beaton’s DUCKS, an autobiographical comic about her time working at Fort McMurrayruns five parts and here are links. Fort McMurray is part of ming operation around the Athabasca oil sands in northern Alberta.
Warning: it’s the opposite of funny.
Every so often a comic arrests you on the spot, and you’re drawn wholly into a new world, style, and story. It happens sometimes completely by chance, which is what happened when I first came across the webcomic Decrypting Rita, by Margaret Trauth. Starting out with a single world, the series quickly develops and shows us multiple simultaneous realities at once – as the series is told in a horizontally scrolling format, Trauth is able to really experiment with the way stories can be told, and the use of design, colour, pacing is utterly engrossing.
I was left with a distinct need to find out more about how the story came about, and how this comic is put together. And happily, she was more than happy to talk to me about her work, and how she processes it. This is one of the most interesting interviews that I’ve had the pleasure to do for The Beat, I would suggest – and I hope you find it as fascinating as I did!
Steve: Probably your best known work currently is the side-scrolling webcomic – and Kickstarter success – Decrypting Rita. This is one of those stories which works best the less you know about it perhaps, but how would you describe the general premise of the story?
Margaret: It’s about a robot lady who’s dragged outside of reality by her ex-boyfriend. She’s got to pull herself together across four parallel worlds before a hive-mind can take over the planet.
That is, assuming it hasn’t already.
Steve: What first stands out is obviously the nature of the comic, which is told in a side-scrolling landscape format. What made you decide to use that format for the story?
Margaret: The core formal consideration here is that I’m telling two or more stories in parallel on every single page. That was one of the initial things I wanted to explore with this comic. Initially I was going to have more timelines splitting off from each other, ala Rebecca Dart’s lovely little book “Rabbit Head”, but the story didn’t end up supporting that very well. My initial doodles that became the seed for Rita were based around traditional portrait pages!
The landscape format comes from the medium I’m doing it for. It’s presented first on the screen, and reading portrait comics on a screen is a real pain in the butt. You’re constantly scrolling up and down, you can never really appreciate the design of the whole page unless you have a huge monitor. My last project solved this dilemma with square pages, which I largely thought of in terms of the double-page spreads; for this one, I just think about everything that way. I print each page you see on-screen as a spread when I make the books; there’s a big gutter down the center where nothing important to the story can ever be placed.
As the comic went on, it started sprawling across the page boundaries. I think that’s an inevitable consequence of those two choices; it’s really hard to fit anything like a complete thought into half of one landscape page. So the panels started slipping across the edges to hint to the reader that the thought continued after a page turn.
Steve: Do you see digital comics less as a like-for-like equivalent of the standard 20-page print comic; and more of a place to experiment like this on page layouts, formats, and structure?
Margaret: No. You can do some wild things in the constraints of the standard page. Dave Sim did some really amazing things in ‘Cerebus’ (I got lucky; ‘Reads’ coincided with a time in my life when I rarely visited a comic shop, so I could enjoy his experiments without the lingering taint of the raging misogyny that he really laid bare in that story arc.). Phil Foglio’s done some gorgeously designy layouts that really served the story. Matt Howarth’s early work really broke comics down into its component parts and reassembled it into something strange and glorious.
There is more freedom to experiment once you shed the unnecessary constraint of a standard size with its roots in what was the cheapest thing that worked. My early comics loves included broadsheet-sized comics like Little Nemo and Krazy Kat (thanks to the wonderful Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics), and all the Asterix albums I could get my hands on; I’ve been quite impressed by Chris Ware’s modern broadsheet-sized work, despite my disinterest in stories about sad, lonely people living empty lives. I’ve seen comics done as related panels on cards, that the reader is invited to shuffle. You can do all kinds of crazy things on paper.
I don’t think working digitally is inherently experimental. There’s lots of people doing very traditional stuff; a lot of the lore of How To Succeed In Web Comics is from people working in the form of the daily comic strip, which is an incredibly conservative and limiting format. There’s just no room to do wild layouts there. There are certainly exciting new possibilities in the computer – infinite canvas, limited animation, hypertext, minigames, who knows what – but for every When I Am King or Homestuck, there’s plenty of successful web-based work that obeys much the same physical limits as anything DC or Marvel publishes.
There’s also lots of things left to do in physical paper. I’ve never seen anyone do what I’m doing with spot gloss in the printed version of Rita. I suddenly wonder if anyone’s ever done a comic with pop-up elements, for instance! That would be totally rad. Turn a wheel to see a hidden succession of panels! Follow a character through a teetering house, opening doors along with them! Filing that idea away for, um, 2017 or so, unless someone beats me to it. Please feel free to beat me to it, because I really want to see this but don’t want to have to learn paper engineering and do it myself.
Steve: As the comic scrolls left to right, the reader is responsible for investing momentum into your story, in a sense – they’re actively involved in continuing the narrative. When planning the comic, was this something you had in mind?
Margaret: Yes and no. Not explicitly, but in some ways, this comic is my response to the chapter on time in Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”. The reader’s actively involved in continuing the narrative in every comic; giving you all these parallel timelines to read really makes it obvious. How do you read it? Do you try to read each page as a whole? Do you follow one timeline for a few pages, then jump back and follow another? Do you skip around in the book at utter random?
The whole story is laid out in space before you, already crystallized. It’s purely the observer that gives it any sequence of time. Every single comic book is like this. I’m just rubbing your face in it.
From Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
It is possibly at this point that I should mention that parts of Rita come from sudden flashes of fully-formed imagery that I had while very, very stoned. I have spent time while stone cold sober trying to visualize reality from a point of view where time is merely an illusion created by our consciousness moving along the time dimension, and there’s definitely some of that going on in the comic.
I may have a hidden agenda in trying to get you to think this way – though at this point I think it’s mostly hidden from myself, as well. To borrow a line from the appendices of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, “This book has programmed the reader in ways that he or she will not understand for a period of months (or perhaps years).”
Steve: Momentum is typically described as one of the more difficult things to convey in art, and yet your action sequences seem incredibly kinetic. How do you lay out the pages? Do you work on paper first and then transfer to digital, or is this all done on a computer?
Margaret: It’s 99% digital. I’ll spend time doodling stuff in sketchbooks now and then, but it’s rarely more than just exploring the flow of the story. The real meat happens in Illustrator.
Illustrator really comes at the task of drawing from a different place than most programs; one of the things I really rely on for Rita is the fact that it has a huge drawing surface to work on, of which the “canvas” is merely one small rectangle. I’ll put the previous page just to the left of the canvas, and my sketches and dialogue for one page will often turn into sketches and dialogue for several pages, sprawling off to the right. I’ll copy all of this stuff into the next page, move them to the left one page’s worth (I do that so often that I have a macro for it), finesse the arrangement to best fit on the page, and repeat until I’ve run out of sketch.
(Oh, and for people who’ve played with Illustrator and wonder how on earth I get all these fluid drawings out of what most folks find to be a very precise and pernickety program? Go watch this video, in which I explain my key settings and methods. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZE6e2UhQks)
A lot of the kineticness of the individual panels comes from my time in animation. A lot of animators fall in love with the “smear”, a kind of highly distorted drawing you’ll find when you start single-stepping a cartoon. It’s a stylized version of the blurs you see when single-stepping footage of fast real-world action; animators tend to start playing around and drawing, say, thirty eyes, twelve noses, and sixty-seven fingers in a single frame of a character crossing the screen. They can become these amazing pieces of abstract art, hidden beneath the surface. I loved drawing these, and I’ll take any excuse to stick one of these in my comics that I can.
More broadly, I kinda feel like my philosophy of drawing comics is that at least half of my action panels should be an inbetween rather than a key pose. Off-balance, in motion, distorted, fluid, alive.
Steve: The colouring as well comes across as a choice you made. This is a digitally coloured comic, and the colours separate – and conjoin – the various narratives which run alongside one another. How did you decide on the colouring palette for the series?
Margaret: A big part of beginning any large project, for me, is working out the limits of the colors; I’m often interested in using them as a channel for information and symbolism, rather than coloring things realistically. The number cards in my Tarot deck were done largely in black, white, and a color unique to the suit, with occasional mix-ins of the colors of the other suits. My unfinished comic “Five Glasses of Absinthe” has two (occasionally three) colors per spread mixed in whatever way I feel like, keyed completely off of the lead character’s emotional state.
For Rita, the initial image that popped into my head was what became the second page. A barely-defined Rita, climbing the side of a building. All in blues and whites. There was really no conscious thought to it; this was the fully-formed vision the Muses presented to me.
I decided to limit things to white and two colors per world, with no gradients, no transparency, and a minimum of hatching, in an attempt to keep things simple to draw. And then of course I promptly started doing some disgustingly complicated backgrounds now and then because I can’t keep things simple.
Steve: Thematically, was there an intentional purpose of your use for blue in the more sci-fi story, brown in the more [initially!] real-world story, and so on?
Margaret: Not really. The blue was a requirement from wherever the story came from in the first place. The other colors were chosen to contrast with it. There’s a certain amount of “what feels right for this world” going on – the world where Rita’s a dragon is orange and brown because I wanted it to feel closer to the red/yellow normal world, and the Skylands are green because, well, that’s kind of the color of the lead of Five Glasses of Absinthe, which also takes place there. Not that I ever actually used representative colors in that story either.
Steve: The more I read of the comic, the more craft I notice in your structure and design. What’s your artistic background? Who are your influences?
Margaret: The short version is “Animation burn-out”. I spent some time in animation school, and ended up hanging around Spümcø for several years. In a non-drawing role, for a bunch of complicated reasons. Which is part of why I drifted out of the industry. As I mentioned elsewhere in this interview, a lot of the action drawings in Rita are me finding an excuse to do wild smear drawings. I still miss animation sometimes but I wouldn’t go back to it; it’s a colossal amount of work and it’s really hard to do a project that’s not full of compromises due to the sheer number of people and dollars involved.
Influences. Hmm. Let’s be alphabetical here:
M.C. Escher, Fleischer Studios, Phil Foglio, Edward Gorey, Walt Kelly, John K., Matt Howarth, George Herriman, Al Hirschfeld, Carol Lay, Winsor McCay, Mike Mignola, Ralph Steadman, WB cartoons.
Not all of these are influences I wear on my sleeve, but I think they’ve all been important in shaping my work. Rita, in particular, I’d say owes the most to Howarth, Mignola, and WB shorts out of this list. Matt’s work is full of parallel-universe shenanigans; “Savage Henry”, about a dimension-hopping music act, is my favorite of his various ongoing projects. I would love to see some major reprint efforts of his stuff someday.
Mignola, obviously I learnt a ton about chiaroscuro from his work, which I think really informs how I’m doing the three-color worlds of Rita. And the WB stuff, well, it’s just your basic solid cartooning with occasional crazy action, you know?
Steve: Where did the idea for this series in particular come from? How did you get the initial premise of the story together and then thread it together into a comic?
Margaret: Ah, this is a dense little knot of history.
The short version is “I got really stressed during a breakup, and hid in my studio smoking a lot of weed until I moved out on my own”. The long version…
I’d moved from Boston to Seattle with my boyfriends. We were living in a house with several of their friends. It turned out I really, really didn’t get along with these friends, and there was a nasty breakup when my boyfriends went back on their promise to move out with me if it didn’t work out – living with them turned out to be a thing he really, really needed, just as much as not living with them turned out to be a thing I really, really needed.
I’d been working on a comic with one of those boyfriends. “Five Glasses of Absinthe”, a story about a thief who steals something too valuable to sell, fucks up all her relationships, and has a lot of kinky sex. We’d done the first chapter, and had the rest of it in various stages of completion, from “loose outline” to “second draft script and full chapter thumbnails”. And loose ideas for two sequels set later on in the same world. I was getting ready to really get going on the second chapter of it when the breakup happened.
It was definitely time for me to be making comics, but there was no way in hell I was going to work on Absinthe any more. I mean, I held a lighter to the corner of the folder full of notes on chapter 2 of that at one point. Until I managed to move out, I spent a lot of time alone in my studio, getting very stoned, drawing stuff, and pondering what on earth I was going to work on. I wasn’t ready to work on “The Drowning City”, a dark angsty story I’ve been slowly piecing together since 1995. I didn’t think the other ideas I’ve had kicking around for a while felt worth developing into a full comic, not just then. So I just kind of let the back of my brain work on it.
I got the idea for doing a comic with several parallel worlds. I did some little doodles thinking about interesting things I could do with the panels in that. I liked it but didn’t have a story, so I put it away.
I bought a copy of the catalog from the 1965 MOMA exhibit “The Responsive Eye”, a major exhibition of Op art. I’ve always been fascinated with Op ever since reading Ed Emberly’s “The Wizard of Op” as a kid; I’ve done a few pieces using Op techniques over the years. I did a drawing inspired by Yaacov Agam’s pieces that change based on your viewpoint, called “A Moment Outside”.
Its imagery came, in part, from a brief vision of being surrounded by an infinite tessellation of color-cycling stylized eyes, of the kind that keep showing up in Rita. Did I mention that I spent a lot of my time hiding in my studio being very very stoned? For a while I was followed around now and then by networks of watching eyes whenever I’d close mine. I’m really not sure of the objective reality of those, but it’s certainly an experience that fed into what would become Rita. I don’t want to get all Alan Moore here, but I’ve dabbled in chaos magic just enough to be really unsure about what “reality” really is. Really.
I started attending Indigo Blue’s school of burlesque dancing and learning a lot about how to better inhabit my body. There is definitely something of what I learnt there in the way I pose Rita in the early action sequence. The blue may or may not be a coincidence.
And then I read a discussion on Sean Witzke’s blog about Steranko’s first issue of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (http://supervillain.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/seneca-vs-witzke-vs-steranko-vs-everything/). I took a healthy bong hit, and took a shower. As my mind wandered around, I had a sudden vision of what became the second page of Rita: a white, feminine silhouette – that I knew was a robot – climbing a building, rendered starkly in blues and whites. I finished my shower and went straight to the computer to draw this.
Then I typed “EDUCATING RITA” on it in a Saul Bass-looking font — I knew her name was Rita, I didn’t have to give this any thought, it was just there along with the image — and thought that sounded good until it was pointed out that there’s an Oscar-winning movie of the same name and maybe I should change it. I really don’t watch many movies. Maybe this was cryptomnesia, maybe not. Either way, I filled a page of my sketchbook with alternate titles; “Decrypting Rita” was the clear stand-out. It wasn’t until about halfway through the first book that I remembered that “Rita” is one of the several shortenings of my full name; I prefer the inexplicable short form of “Peggy” so it took a while.
I started drawing the next few pages and posting them on my blog. People liked them. So I started asking myself questions: who’s this woman? Who’s this voice giving her directions? What does she want? I really had no idea going in, but it feels like it came together surprisingly fast; it worked well with my vague ideas of doing a multiple-world comic, I pulled the eye images out of that riff on Agam and started using them for a mysterious Thing watching the goings-on from the space behind the panels. At times it really felt like it was writing itself. Tom was just going to be some hired assassin until he opened his mouth and revealed himself to be Rita’s crazy ex, then completely broke her reality for her because he thought she’d like it.
Ultimately, I think it may be some sort of exploration of various ideas of mystical transcendence and enlightenment. There’s a sequence I have planned for the end where I really hope to capture something of the slippery nature of the vast thoughts that can run through your mind when very high, and can’t be put into words afterwards. We’ll see if I can make it work in words, pictures, and the spaces in between them.
Somewhere in the first rush of pages I moved out of that bad situation to an apartment all by myself, alone in the University District.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, I mostly patched things up in that relationship. The ex I wrote Absinthe with is now my “ex with benefits”; I see him regularly, and he’s had some very thoughtful questions to ask about Rita’s story as it evolves. I’ll probably be resuming work on our collaboration once I finish Rita, along with doing that long-simmering angstfest I mentioned not wanting to work on so soon after a nasty breakup. Happy endings!
Steve: Do you think of yourself as an experimental artist? Your design – especially once we reach the second volume – seems to really expand, and you seem to always be pushing forward.
Margaret: Part of it is that I had to teach you to read the comic in the first volume! I made myself hold back and introduce the whole parallel worlds thing slowly, to give readers time to make sense of it.
I’m definitely experimenting in this comic; I keep on trying to find new ways to weave these storylines together that suit what’s going on in them at the moment, and to suggest that all these parallel worlds are getting increasingly tangled with each other. I often refer to it as my PhD thesis on the nature of time in comics. I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an experimental artist so much as someone who’s in an intensely experimental phase right now; my next project is going to play some other games with the form, but I’m going to really relish only telling one story at a time once I finish Rita. I won’t say I’ll never do another parallel-stories comic like Rita, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be a long time before I decide to do it for another 300 or so pages!
I also kind of need to keep surprising the reader in this story. I want you to sympathize with Rita’s utter lack of a real idea of what’s going on, even though you have more information than any particular incarnation of Rita has. At the end of the story, well, you probably won’t have a definite idea of What Really Happened, but if I’ve done things right, you’ll have two or three very compelling theories of that. So I have to keep on shaking up the panels just enough to keep you on your toes, without throwing you completely out of the story.
I’m also of the mind that I don’t want to stagnate. Some of my idols really aren’t producing work any different from what they were making when I was first discovering them in the eighties; I can see a lot more of their consistent flaws than I could when I was a kid. I still love what they do, I still eagerly follow some of them, but my eyes are so much sharper now. Some of them have even lost a certain edge to their work. I’m hoping to avoid that as long as I can; I want to keep myself fresh by playing with different techniques and ideas. That next project is going to be much more painterly than Rita, which will force me to confront some of the holes I know I have in my skills.
Take your best work so far. Put it where you can see it regularly. Try to top it. When you do, repeat this. That’s the advice I give beginning artists, and I try to follow that myself. I don’t want to rest on my laurels. Maybe that makes me something you could describe as “experimental”? And maybe eventually I’ll come to a place where I feel I don’t need to push myself any further in any particular artistic direction. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not at that place yet, and I’ll be perfectly happy if I never get there.
Steve: The story speaks to the idea of an internal and external monologue, and of inhabiting different worlds. As a trans woman, do you see this as an element of autobiography, almost? How personal is the story to you?
Margaret: It’s… more about myself than I really intended it to be, I think.
Blue-world Rita is definitely my Mary Sue. I’m a transhumanist at heart, not just a transgendered person. I’d love to be able to separate my consciousness from the network of meat that it started running on and be able to pour it into different, stylish bodies, back it up, and play around with who and what I am. The whole story is quite possibly triggered by her difficult-yet-charismatic ex. There are lots of casual mentions of the kind of three-person romantic relationships I’ve had.
At times, I seriously wonder about the reality of the world I live in. It seems to be a lot more malleable than I thought it was as I was growing up. This story’s definitely about that slightly-paranoid PKD kind of place. The flashback to the conversation with the normal-world Kim was a way to talk to the part of myself that pretty much believes what she says there. A hundred pages later, it’s pretty obvious who won that argument – if life’s a game, I’ve decided to keep playing it and try to rack up the highest score I can. Assuming I’m not just a colorful NPC.
But I’ve taken deliberate steps to make it not About The Transition. Rita, no matter who she is, is happy in her skin. She’s very much the person she wants to be, whether that’s a robot, a skyfaring wizard, a normal human, or a dragon. Well, maybe normal-world Rita isn’t quite who she’d like to be; she and her friends are trapped in the same sorts of problems that most people I know are.
“The Drowning City”, my next project, now that’s gonna be a definite trans metaphor. That’s about a girl who’s slowly turning into a monster. That metaphor is quite obvious, and I’m willing to let it be there, what with the story also being set in my hometown of New Orleans and touching upon what it felt like to move back three days before Katrina. And some other bits of personal angst as well. And creepy rapey elves and magical graffiti and destined heroes and prophecies and magic swords and stuff. It’s not what you’d call autobiographical, but it sure is holding a funhouse mirror up to a lot of the things I’ve had to work through. I’m probably going to lose a lot of whatever audience I build up for Rita when I start doing that thing.
If Rita’s about the transition at all, it’s about what happens when the transition is over.
Steve: Do you feel that the American comic industry speaks to trans readers and creators? I was trying to think of trans characters in mainstream comics, and the only one came to mind at both DC and Marvel – and they were both created last year.
Margaret: Oh god no, not at all. Not explicitly – there are certainly things that resonate by accident. I was a big fan of DC’s ‘Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld’ when I was growing up, for instance, in no small part because the basic setup of ‘kid gets magical gem that portals her to an alternate world where she’s a powerful and beautiful princess’ was a fantasy I could totally inhabit, despite a little voice in my head telling me that this was totally not supposed to be a fantasy that appealed to a boy. Adding a bit of cross-world gender-swapping wasn’t exactly a stretch when you were suspending your disbelief that far. Or now and then one of the kids in “Dial H For Hero” would get a cross-gender hero for one issue.
But really? Trans issues did not exist to most people until the past decade or two. It took me a good while to figure out what was going on and that I could do something about it; I really envy today’s trans kids, who can hear about it in their teens and see it as something they can actually do. Or even younger. I think as we start to see more trans creators ,more creators with trans acquaintances, and easier transitions, we’ll start seeing more trans characters, too. Ones whose transition is not really a subject for deep discussion or narrative interest, just something that casually comes up now and then.
I’ve only done an explicitly trans character once; the title character of “Five Glasses of Absinthe” is a woman with a penis. Nobody in the story cares about this in the least; she presents as female, gets female pronouns from everyone, and is generally considered hot and sexy (if you can look past the fact that she’s kinda crazy and incredibly self-centered). That’s mostly the world I inhabit, and I’d like it to be the world more people live in.
The only Marvel or DC comic I read right now is Hawkguy, so I haven’t seen how DC and Marvel have handled those token trans characters myself. I’ve vaguely heard good things about them; they certainly seem to be less sensationalistic and othering than, say, the transwoman in that one Sandman story, or Grant Morrison’s majgickqal drag queen persona showing up in The Invisibles!
(And tangentially? I’d kind of like to see not just trans minor characters or superheros in the cape books, but trans supervillains as well. For whom the transition is a side-note rather than the reason they’re a criminal. Which I’m quite sure will be hard to do without an uproar, even if the entire creative team involved is full of Pronoun Trouble.)
Steve: Decrypting Rita has now been successful twice on Kickstarter – for the first and second collected volumes. How has your experience on Kickstarter been? I note that your second Kickstarter hit a higher goal than the first, so is there a sense of progression there, for you?
Margaret: I LOVE KICKSTARTER. Kickstarter is the best thing to happen to small-press comics since whatever technologic/economical shift set off the B&W boom of the eighties. I basically use it as a pre-order system: this is how much it’ll cost me to do a print run of the book at a reasonable cost per book, if I can’t get that then OH WELL.
My first volume hit its very modest goal in two days, despite launching on a weekend (everyone says never do that), then managed to barely get close enough to my stretch goal that I shrugged and made next to no profits so I could have spot gloss throughout the story, which enhances it a lot. The second volume HAD to have a minimum goal around the final level of the first; it would seem really weird to have spot gloss be a crucial part of the story in the first part and not the second.
There’s a definite progression. I’m really hoping that my audience will have expanded enough by the Kickstarter for book 3 that I can pass 10k, mostly on just selling the book. That seems to be the point when a campaign takes on a life of its own just from the sheer inertia of all those people sharing it with their friends, and a few of those friends happening to be major connectors or tastemakers who can reach a huge new pool of potential buyers
I’m also kind of hoping that this progression eventually leads to someone being interested in taking over some chunk of pre-press, shipping, and promotion, whether it be a traditional publisher of books, or one of the new hybrids emerging out of online collectives. I had a taste of that when Lo Scarabeo dealt with printing my Tarot deck in China, translating the book into several European languages, getting it into stores all across Europe, and sending a big pile to Llewellyn here in the States.
There is no way I could get that kind of reach on my own without investing almost all of my time in that part of the business. I’d gladly trade 100% of the profits and 100% of the work for like 20% of the profits on a print run a couple orders of magnitude larger that just sort of happens without me doing much. But until then, I guess I’ll just keep trying to make each campaign build on the lessons I learnt the last time.
(I’ve also been playing with Patreon; after about a month of that, I’m pulling in a whole five bucks per page. Which is pretty good given that the extent of my promoting that has been a couple of tweets and a diffident link at the end of every fourth chapter. It is also turning out to be a surprisingly useful extra carrot to hold in front of myself sometimes – right now my id doesn’t care how little I get paid, it just cares that finishing a page means an external reward!)
Steve: What advice would you give for other creators looking to head onto Kickstarter?
Margaret: You need one of two things: a serious track record, or a definite chunk of the final product.
Tim Schaefer could go onto Kickstarter, say “Hey guys, I wanna make a point and click adventure, wanna give me four hundred thousand bucks? I have no idea what it’ll be about, but I’m sure it’ll be cool!”, and make three million dollars. Tim Schaefer has also been making video games since 1988, with his name on some of the best-loved examples of the point-and-click adventure genre.
You are probably not Tim Schaefer. You will probably need to have a playable prototype of your game, a big chunk of your comic, half of your concept album, whatever, available online for people to check out and say “woo this is awesome I want to see more!” The link to that should be one of the first things in the text portion of your pitch.
Make a video. Tell people why your project is cool, tell people why you’re passionate about making it.
Don’t assume people know you, or your work. Sure, that’s your initial sales. And that can be a big part of them. But ultimately I think Kickstarter is great for growing your audience, as it asks all of your existing audience to tell their friends about this cool thing they pledged for and want to see happen. You need to sell your book or whatever to THOSE people, who are hearing about this thing you’re making for the very first time.
Reach out to new places. Part of why the second volume did better than the first was me getting a mention on Boing Boing, because I dropped them a note myself. Figure out the places where your audience goes looking for new amusements, and throw out a link to your thing – expect it to not get run, but be happy if it does. You should do this kind of thing now and then, not just before your campaign, but it’s not like I actually follow THAT advice myself.
The more work you do up front, the easier it is to set an achievable goal. I spent a year and a half drawing the first third of Rita; it was all there online when I launched the first Kickstarter. You could read it all for free and be done with it at that point. Or you could get it in a convenient single package that sits on your shelf, with some cool physical effects. (If you can make your thing a cool physical artifact, that’s a bonus.)
Either way, I wasn’t asking for enough money to support myself for a year while I drew the comic, with only chapter 1 on display; I just wanted $2.5k to completely pay for a modest print run. (About four times the number of people who pledged on the first campaign; I didn’t make much profit off that at all – but I had about 300 books sitting in my closet, and selling them has been a big chunk of why I attended ten cons in 2013, and broke even at almost all of them, including the one I had to travel all the way across the US to attend.)
If you’re gonna be making a print run, plan to print a lot more than just your KS backers.
I like to keep it simple. I’ve played with things beyond just the book, and they really don’t bring in enough money to be worth the extra hassle. The tiers for volume 3 are going to be “pdfs of all three books”, “volume 3 + pdfs”, “all three volumes” (limited by stock on hand), and a couple “volume 3 + drawing, some level of sponsorship, and I’ll throw in 1 and 2 if you want them as well”. No prints, no shirts, no stickers, no nothing. Because I have to draw that stuff, and I have to make it get printed, and I have to pack it and ship it, and ugh I just want it to all be over with and can I please get back to drawing the next comic instead.
There’s a nasty productivity sink there where I feel like I can’t work on drawing more comics until I’ve gotten the book out the door, and I really don’t want to work on the book because it’s boring, and suddenly it becomes drastically important that I complete this quest chain in Skyrim or something like that. Especially because I seem to end up printing in the dead of winter when I have no energy anyway.
If your basic deliverable is purely digital, then you probably need to hassle with some extra thing. I don’t have any experience with those so I can’t say for sure. I just know that I don’t EVER want to have to wrangle more than just the book ever again unless I have people to deal with that for me. Scale changes these things, if you’re planning a project that needs several people working for a while to make it happen then please ignore these last couple paragraphs and go talk to someone who’s done big multi-person projects with lots of add-ons and options.
Steve: Aside from the third volume of Decrypting Rita, which I believe is coming up later this year, what else are you working on at the moment? Where can people find you and your work online?
Margaret: Let’s see. There’s a short story in the works for the back of Image’s ‘Prophet: Earth War’ about the power of massage, and a short piece about a demonic booty call for Heavy Metal. I’m also slowly getting things together for my next project after Rita, a dark urban fantasy called “The Drowning City”. That’s described more fully earlier on in this interview; the last piece of the puzzle came to me in winter of 2012. I’ll also be resuming work on “Five Glasses of Absinthe”, the sexy prog-rock fantasy I was about to get back to when my co-creator/scriptwriter/boyfriend became my ex-boyfriend, and I started Rita on my own instead. I will need to work on something silly while working on Drowning City.
The main place to find my stuff online is my web site, http://egypt.urnash.com. You’ll find Rita, the first chapter of Absinthe, and a bunch of standalone art, as well as my blog, and links to my presences on DeviantArt, FurAffinity, Live Journal, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
I guess that’s about it. Holy crap I sure can go on, especially given how stripped-down my comics are. Thanks for reading this far!
When Jeff Smith launched his new webcomic, Tüki Save the Humans last fall there was a lot of excitement over a cartoonist of Smith’s stature trying to webcomic-to-print model for a new series. And while the strip itself—which is about the first humans to leave Africa, and the evolution of the various species of humans—is as stunning as you’d expect being from Smith, the interface for the comic itself was…well, it would have been a little dusty for Geocities.
The reception was mixed.
BUT, not only has Smith been continuing on with the comic—he just wrapped the first “episode” — but the entire Cartoon Books website has been redesigned. And now you can read Tüki in the easy-navigation, wide screen format it always needed.
And…it’s an amazing story—nominated for a Reuben Award—with humor, fantasy, mystery, danger and everything you’ve come to expect from a Jeff Smith comic.
The first episode will be released as a print comic in B&W in July. But the color on the web version is spectacular. The Boneville folks acknowledge that the launch was “slightly disappointing.”
“When TUKI began, we redesigned the site for the occasion. Unfortunately, our roll out made Healthcare.gov look good,” said Smith in a statement. “Still, like Rasl, our motto is: It’s never too late to fix it! We listened to our readers and came up with what we hope is a better experience for reading BONE, RASL, and TUKI.”
The new season of TUKI Save the Humans (or TUKI for short) will begin May 16th, with updates every Monday and Friday.
Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes have created a new webcomic called The Key as part of the BC’s Freedom2014 project spotlight free speech issues. “We have a rebel who wears a key around his neck. His key represents his own individual expression, explains Morrison in an interview. “With the state seeming to execute this character for dissent, many people realise they have keys of their own. It triggers a landslide and people start to act.”
Morrison and Hughes previously collaborated on a controversial run on Dan Dare.
A year or two ago I spoke to the creative team of The Only Living Boy about their project, a successful Kickstarter which led to a print comic coming out in two volumes subsequently. And now one half of that creative team – artist Steve Ellis, who works on the comic along with writer David Gallaher – comes to The Beat to talk about the newest move for their story. We don’t forget a project here at The Beat!
Launching today, The Only Living Boy will be published as a webcomic, with instalments coming out online for anyone to read. As the story progresses online, print editions of each issue will come out once enough story has been collected together. Considering Ellis is a veteran of digital comics by now – he’s worked at Zuda, had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has just announced a comics-related film through Amazon Studios – I wanted to find out more about the story of The Only Living Boy, and what was behind the decision to put the comic online. Read on!
Steve Morris: What is the general premise of The Only Living Boy? How did the project come about?
Steve Ellis: It’s about a runaway who finds himself in a patchwork fantasy world, filled with all manner of crazy alien- and other-types of creatures. He has to find his way and learn to survive in a place that resembles his own fractured identity. How do you like THEM apples? I wanted a project that has the life and adventure of the stories that made me excited about reading as a young person, but also a project that provides the depth of storytelling that engages me as an adult.
SM: You’ve worked with writer David Gallaher for a long time now. Did he come to you with the concept of the series, or was this a story you came up with and worked on together?
Steve: David came to me with an idea of riffing off an old Simon & Garfunkel song! But he left it there, and I pushed it to go further. The initial concept was very different and involved zombies. But aren’t there too many zombies? It was too nihilistic at the beginning, and we wanted something more adventurous and fun. So we worked on developing it into a wider, more expansive story.
SM: How does the collaborative process between you work? How do you go back and forth about ideas, characters, or designs?
Steve: On my end, it involves a lot of talking on the phone and jumping up and down. We get really excited about our ideas. Usually David will come with loose story framework that we’ll brainstorm. I usually waste a lot of his time changing things, haha. But he has a strong influence on my drawings too, so it’s very collaborative.
SM: When you set about designing the world of this series, what kind of influences or inspirations were you keeping in mind?
Steve: Oh wow. John Carter of Mars, Thundarr the Barbarian, Saturday morning adventure cartoons from when I was a kid–I hate to admit it, but I can’t do anything that’s not influenced by Star Wars on some level. Honestly, in a weird way, certain anime series and animated films had a big influence on it, like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds.
SM: When you take on a new project, to what extent do you consider various different line styles, sequencing ideas, inking and so on; to fit the tone of the series?
Steve: That’s a huge thing for me; for some people who follow my work, it might actually be confusing. I try to consider each project I work on to be a wholly different idea. Some projects I do with pencil and no ink and a painted color style, some I do with very rough inks (like High Moon). Only Living Boy has a cleaner color and ink style to emphasize the sense of adventure, where the mise en scéne of High Moon is dark, gritty horror.
Basically, each project is its own individual. Only Living Boy is obviously about youthful energy, and the design style is meant to resemble the clean, open aesthetic of animated films rather than traditional comic books.
SM: Does the fact that this is deliberately a young adult story have any effect on your approach to the art of the series? With a younger audience reading, do you change things up at all?
Steve: A lot of young adult books explore more “mature” themes and concepts. The Harry Potter series is an easy example, but both my eleven-year-old son and I enjoy that series on different levels, despite some of the more violent or frightening aspects. Only Living Boy won’t shy away from stronger themes as the character grows; young adults live in the same world as the rest of us, and face the same problems and fears. Erik’s answers might just be a bit more fantastic.
SM: How did you plan out the central design of your main character, Erik? What do you think motivates and drives him, what’s his personality?
Steve: What’s nice about Erik is that he’s kind of a cipher: he comes off as a fairly average kid, but there’s something darker underneath his skin. He’s running away from something at the start of the story, but he doesn’t remember what. Whatever it is, he’s haunted by it. So his design is going to grow and change as he grows and changes and assimilates his complex, shifting environment. He’s a classic hero in the midst of change! His design is very simple and becomes more complex, like a warrior collecting scars.
SM: The greater world itself is a mix of fighting pits, jungle – inhospitable domains. When building a world, how much world do you actually, well, build? Do you map things out, to give a sense of perspective, or plan aspects which never actually show up in the comic itself?
Steve: Ha! Actually, there’s a lot of backstory to all of my projects visually and narratively. For example, we have been developing an upcoming race to be revealed soon: the Myrmidonians. A great tragedy in their past has made them what they are. We don’t know the tragedy as an audience, but it permeates their personalities and society.
Their culture, hierarchy, and even architecture is very protectivist in nature to reflect their tragic history and their response–but it isn’t necessarily directly relevant to the story at hand. You get hints of it through their attitudes towards Erik and other creatures in the world of Chimerica, but, yeah, a lot of the work we do to develop these cultures goes unseen! David and I are both history buffs, and we put in a lot of forethought to give these things richness.
SM: You’re not a stranger to digital comics, having worked at Zuda and on several other digital projects. What was behind the decision to bring The Only Living Boy to webseries?
Steve: Underneath it all, we make art so it can be seen. Kickstarters are great, but you still have a limited audience! Maybe it’s naive of me, but I want to give this story to the world and feel the web is the best way to do that. Anyone can read it for free and easily pass it along to somebody else. How that works out for us, we have yet to see.
In a way, I think of being an artist as being a storyteller after the manner of an ancient tribe, and I want my tribe to be as big as possible. Sharing stories builds community, and having a webpresence for the book allows us to reach a broader, more diverse readership.
SM: How will the story now progress? Once the webcomic catches up to the print books, will you continue on, or release print first?
Steve: Right now, the plan is to release the story online and have print follow. But depending on how our relationship with different publishers and other media goes, the plan could change.
SM: What are your thoughts in general on the rise of webcomics and digital? You’ve seen this rise almost from the ground floor yourself – how do you think digital has changed comics?
Steve: I think it’s created a whole new audience for comics that’s very large, international, and transcendent of the traditional, direct marketplace idea of what a “sellable book” is. There are a lot of projects that wouldn’t get traction in a tradition direct market but that get traction beautifully on the web. From a creative standpoint, not being restricted by page count enables us to tell different types of stories. Print isn’t an obstruction to the creative processes.
I also think it’s an excellent way to develop an audience for print. While I generally consider digital media as a completely unique and enjoy the new types of comics found there, print still has a certain amount of prestige. The print object becomes a prestige format for the devoted fan, but you can only get devoted fans from having a large readership. If you have an immediate print price point, you’re already alienating an audience that doesn’t have the money to pay for anything outside of what they usually read.
If I knew I could read Superman online for free, I would probably read more Superman. If I read Superman online for free and loved it? I would probably buy a good-looking prestige collection. You see how they work together?
SM: What else do you have coming up? Where can people find you online?
Steve: We’ve got new things coming for High Moon, and I’m currently waiting on a reprint of The Silencers, which is a book I created with author Fred Van Lente. But if someone was hunting for updates, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as hypersteve!
But for something more direct, I’ll be doing an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, March 28, so people should definitely come say hello! You can see stuff from David Gallaher and I at Bottled Lightning, on The Only Living Boy site, and my personal stuff at http://steveellisart.com.
I also blog at http://hyperactiveart.blogspot.com, and I put a lot of sketches and instructional stuff there.
NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette
Nathan W. Pyle
$10, 144 pages
I kept expecting this book of cartoon tips to be funny and it wasn’t. Then I realized it wasn’t meant to be funny. It was meant to be what the title says: tips and etiquette, like how to order pizza and how not to hang on the subway pole (I admit I do that because I don’t like touching its mega-germy surface), avoiding garbage and similar pieces of wisdom. Most of these tips—like the smelly garbage one—would be germane in 50% of the places on earth, but there is the occasional nugget like the Horror Of The Empty Subway Car (usually involves two or more of the following: a bum, puke, piss, poo.)
This book started as a webcomic by Pyle, a recent Ohio emigre who came to NYC to produce TV shows. The tips got socialed all around and a book deal followed. Pyle’s art falls into one of the Seven Kinds Of Weak Comics Art categories that I have identified over the years, namely “Thinks He’s Toth, But He’s Not”—relying completely on contrasty pages with stark white and black areas, without really having a great grasp of anatomy or architecture. The simplicity of the imagery does carry it through though, and people like diagrams.
I have never used this particular TJs technique but might give it a shot.
Despite these flaws, this is a useful book if you have just arrived in New York or even if you needed a brush up on some of the basics. Now that NYC has been turned into a complete shopping mall/holiday for nouveau riche euro trash, Hedge funders, trustafarians and Tom Brady, it’s good to remember the olden days when street smarts—and not the Benjamins—were the key to survival.
I have never used this particular TJs technique but might give it a shot.
No website but there is a FB page.
Over the last few years I’ve done a series of panels called “How to Get News Coverage” (organized by Rik Offenberger) at various cons and I often talk about how you must send out press releases, followed by saying how hard it is to get me to open an email with a press release — due to time restraints. But I confess, when I got one entitled “My New Sci-Fi Graphic Novel about student loans” I had to check it out. The GN in question is called The Default Trigger, and it’s by a fellow named Christopher Kosek. As he pointed out in his cover letter, student loan default is a very serious problem for many people In This Economy. In a world where good paying jobs for college grads are still hard to find, many people find themselves “stuck with crippling debt” as they say, and misery follows.
Anyway, in The Default Trigger, a fellow with six figures of student load debt is about to default…until some mysterious men in black show up and offer to pay off all his debt if he’ll just do a two-week job for the government…and remember nothing of what he did.
This is very much a home grown comic and the art is rough but makes effective use of design to get the story across. Darned if I didn’t finish reading the whole thing. So you may too. In his cover letter Kosek writes:
Like so many other college graduates I have more student loan debt that I can even comprehend. I’m not alone, just about everyone I know has the same, and its so frustrating that our elected politicians don’t seem at all worried about this. Naturally, a [redacted] conspiracy seemed like an appropriate spring board and the story grew from there.
I’m making it available as a free/pay what you want model because I believe that the subject of student loan debt is one of the great political issues of my generation and it should be discussed in fiction and comics. I also believe that too many indie comic creators price themselves out of readers in a saturated self-published market. I’m just starting out, and I really just want to grow some readership, meet more collaborators and have my work out there for the world for all to see.
If you want to read this student loan comic, you can read it for free here, or if you are a responsible adult with a buck or two to spare, buy it on Gumroad, where it’s pay what you want.
Here’s a few pages to get you going.
Before she was a world-famous cartoonist, Kate Beaton studied history and worked at a oil mine in remote Fort McMurry Canada. Once in a while she does a comic about her experiences there. Here’s one.
Richard Sala is running another Tumblr comic, SUPER-ENIGMATIX. IT includes mysterious masked figures, pretty girls, enigmas and other Sala trademarks.
You know you want it.
Launched in 2011 with much fanfare, ShiftyLook was a fun idea: redeveloping old Namco/Bandai video game properties as webcomics with an eye to further developing animation and new video games. And now the experiment is ending, publisher Rob Pereyda has announced.
Given Japanese video game companies’ penchant for pulling the plug at a moments notice, having a three year run is pretty good, and they even turned out some good comics along the way, including WonderMomo and Bravoman. In a statement on their website, Pereyda gave a time table for the shut down, which, as big corporations often do, is near total; almost all the comics and game will shut down at the end of the month, although Namco High, the Andrew Hussie designed dating game will stay up until the end of June. The Wonder Momo game will go on as planned, with announced books and apparel coming out from licensees also appearing.
Dear ShiftyLook Fans:
We originally got the ShiftyLook project going at NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc. back in Fall 2011. The idea was to take the unused, “sleeping” video game characters of our past and bring them back first with webcomics, and then – once they had gotten enough traction – expand into other media like web animation, games, and merchandise.
I’m happy to say that we’ve done this with Wonder Momo, Bravoman, and some other very cool characters, which are now beloved not just in gamer circles, but at conventions, art groups, and many, many places we’d never expect. That said, now that we have successfully revived so many franchises, the heavy lifting is completed – and so is our work. We battled the video games abyss and won, which means it’s time for us to move on and let the hit-makers play with some new toys.
While we are melancholy about ShiftyLook as an overall project going away, Wonder Momo, our star franchise, has some exciting things happening for it. WayForward Technologies, lord of the platformer gaming universe, is making their most ambitious game yet in Wonder Momo. Kotaku loved it in an early preview and we know you will, too. There is a whole line of Wonder Momo t-shirts available over at WeLoveFine.com, and the long-awaited Wonder Momo hardcover comic book is on the way from UDON Entertainment.
For some housekeeping, here is what is happening to what at ShiftyLook (all dates JST):
BRAVOMAN: Binja Bash! on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore: In-app purchases available until March 16, 2014; download available through March 30, 2014
Namco High on ShiftyLook.com: Purchase available via Crunchyroll through March 28, 2014; servers shut down (no longer able to play) on June 30, 2014
ShiftyLook comics: Bravoman ends at #300; Wonder Momo ends at #200; Katamari ends at #150; Galaga ends at #100; Valkyrie ends at #100; Klonoa ends at #65; Tower of Babel ends at #26; Dig Dug Vol. 2 ends at #18
ShiftyLook website: No more updates after March 20, 2014; servers shut down on September 30, 2014; forums close on March 20, 2014
Wonder Momo video game: To be released on schedule on select digital download platforms
Wonder Momo anime: Stays on Crunchyroll and YouTube to view for free worldwide
Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and Galaga books: Releasing as scheduled by UDON Entertainment
Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and other apparel: Stays available on WeLoveFine.com
Katamari and Galaga plush toys and rugs: Stays available on Squishable.com
Thank you all so much for enjoying ShiftyLook. We’ll all miss you.
In its run, ShiftyLook spent plenty of money promoting their projects—for the last two years they had rented out the “arcade” area next to the Gaslamp Hilton in San Diego, meaning a prime location is available marketing people. Mr. Beat actually wrote (and Dean Haspiel drew) Dirk Davies, one of the ShiftyLook webcomics, and it was always a good time when ShiftyLook was around. That said, one always got the feeling that some day the grownups would come home and figure out what was going on and cut the allowance.
Udon’s Matt Moyden, who wrote Bravoman, gave a statement saying he hoped that they would be able to license the treatment from Bandai. He also had some sharp words, however, that might make that a bit tougher:
Looking at why Shiftylook failed though, there are a lot of reasons. In my opinion they spent far too much money and effort trying to SEEM successful rather than working to actually BE successful. Even though they were just starting out, they set up enormous booths at conventions with live music, arcade machines, free t-shirts etc. None of which seemed to promote what the company actually did – make webcomics. It also always felt like they were following some pre-made guide to how a company grows, constantly moving on to bigger things despite not yet really succeeding at the smaller things. I guess that is the danger of being the subsidiary of a large company like Bandai with near unlimited resources.
Besides that they didn’t seemed to have a monetization plan until very recently. They did finally come out with some minor games near the end of 2013, but I felt neither of them was very well thought out. The Bravoman mobile app to put it lightly was not very good, and add to that a freemium “pay to play” model which is never a fan-pleaser even for a good game. Their second game, Namco High, was a Japanese-style visual novel. It’s a game genre that is barely known in the west. Plus it seemed to be banking largely on Andrew Hussie’s mega-popular Homestuck characters as guest stars to bring in an audience, which kind of begs the question of why does it feature the Shiftylook characters at all? There is still the upcoming Wonder Momo game from WayForward, which actually seems like a perfect match, but too late to save the comics.
So, farewell ShiftyLook, we had some chalk drawings and some green tea Kit Kats, and some comics. It was fun — let’s do it again sometime.
Kelly Angel is the writer and artist of Anything About Nothing, a webcomic which describes itself better than I ever could. But I shall describe it anyway! A collection of strips, longer-form comics, illustrations and worries about her cats, Anything About Nothing is one of the biggest and most popular web series on Tapastic. Down to earth and silly, her comics are charming, hilarious, and thoroughly idiosyncratic things.
To find out more about how she got into comics, what motivates her to make them, and her thoughts on cats (and quick warning – halfway through this I do ask a ridiculously sincere question about the importance of cats), she kindly answered some of my questions for The Beat. Answers which you can read below! Hurray!
Steve: What was the first moment where you decided to start Anything About Nothing? What were your ambitions for the series as you started out?
Kelly: I just wanted to draw comics. I’d been playing around with comics for a little while and people seemed to like them so I decided to put them together under a name. I suppose it’s a little self indulgent; I mostly make comics because they’re fun. Of course I want people to read them too though and hopefully enjoy what they read.
Steve: How do you decide on what comics go up? Do you draft out several jokes or ideas and then filter through them, or?
Kelly: Most of the time I don’t really plan the comic strips, I get an idea in my head and then make a comic out of it fairly soon if I like that idea. Sometimes I sketch out a few comics and then come back to them a little later, or leave them if I don’t like them anymore. I should start writing down/sketching out more of the ideas that come into my head because I forget a lot of them. Saying that though, when I do put my ideas on paper my ideas down I’ll sometimes come to look at them at a later date and they don’t make any sense. I’ve written a note on my phone from a couple of weeks ago that says ‘Science comics. Why does this fish have 13 legs? It’s beautiful’. I’m not sure what that means anymore.
If a comic keeps my attention focused on it long enough to finish it and it still makes me laugh I’ll post it. Otherwise it’ll be left on the pile of shame in a constant state of incompleteness. I wonder sometimes what people will do with the shame piles when I am dead and what they’ll think when they see them…
Steve: You write very naturally about, it seems, anything that comes to mind. Is it difficult to keep a creative momentum when there are no limitations on what you can write about?
Kelly: Yes and no. On the one hand you have a lot of freedom to play about with lots of different ideas and themes so there’s this endless supply of source material. On the other hand having too much can be a bad thing, especially if you’re easily distracted. It’s kind of like Netflix where you can spend an hour looking for something to watch (because Breaking Bad finished) and you end up with nothing because you’re spoilt for choice.
Steve: You are the star of many of your own comics, and you’ve managed to build up a pretty firm comic persona for the comic version of Kelly Angel. What was that particular process like? How do you decide what parts of yourself to share and which bits to exaggerate, and so on?
Kelly: The comic me is pretty much real life me (I think), if slightly exaggerated. I’m not sure what the process was, it was sort of a natural progression to what it is now I suppose. People I know in real life read my comics so I try to keep them as true to life as possible (I want to avoid people saying things like ‘you never said that’ or ‘that didn’t happen’ or ‘THIS IS ALL LIES’ and then they spit on my face and we all cry). If there’s a comic with me in it, it’s most likely something that actually happened. Really, I’m not a very funny person, things just happen around me and I document them.
Steve: Cats also feature a lot in your comics. What is it about cats which are just so amazing? They rule the internet now
Kelly: People keep telling me there are a lot of cats, I’m starting to suspect there may be some truth to that yet there’s a small voice in the back of my mind saying ‘but is there ever enough?. They’re just really funny creatures; they have a lot of quirks. They’re also fun to draw.
Steve: Actually, I do have a question about this. A lot of cartoonists who write about the everyday seem to hone in on their pets as a source of comedy. I think it might be because you never know what a cat is thinking or planning, so they’re always unpredictable and one second away from doing something creative and new. Do you think that having pets serves as a good way to keep on your toes and constantly be able to think of something new? [I AM OVERTHINKING MY QUESTIONS]
Kelly: They’re relatable, which I think if you have slice of life as your genre is really important. If your dog or cat or budgie does something that makes you laugh there’s a good chance someone else has laughed at theirs for the same reason at one point. Them doing something unpredicted too can be really funny (cats especially like to have mood swings).
Another thing is animals don’t have to do much to be funny or charming and it’s really hard to make one unlikable. If an animal acts like a person it’s entertaining. I wear a hat, no one bats an eyelid. Put a tiny hat on a snake and people go crazy. And rightly so. You can’t really go wrong with animals.
They’re always close to us too so there’s that constant source of material available.
Steve: What made you decide to bring Anything About Nothing to Tapastic?
Kelly: I got an email a while ago inviting me to put my comics on there. I looked around and it seemed pretty cool. I also recognised a few comics too I’d seen before too like Fisheye Placebo and DaneMen. I think I made a good choice.
Tapastic interests me, in that they promote their community experience as a reason for creators to work with them. How have you found Tapastic as a community?
They’re really great (and everywhere too – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr as well as the forum on the main site). There are a lot of cool people there and it’s always great to be around others with the same interests as you. When you live in an area where there is literally nothing going on with anything creative, let alone comics, the internet is really important. Having a place where people discuss comics, get advice on things, get involved with projects and similar things, is almost vital, even if you just lurk. I lurk.
Steve: Do you find that as you develop a following, and repeat commenters, that their feedback influences the way you make your comics?
Kelly: Definitely, I think it’s hard not to. If I make something that gets a lot of positive feedback I’ll look at it and try to figure out why, similarly if I make something that no one seems to like. There are times where a joke could get lost from my head to paper and I won’t know unless someone else says something.
It’s always nice when you recognise commenters, it’s like people are coming back so I must be doing something right.
Steve: As a cartoonist, which other creators inspire your work? Do you read a lot of webcomics yourself, or do you find that hinders your ability to think of unique new jokes?
Kelly: One of my favourite artists is David Shrigley. He has this blend of crude drawings, accompanied by random humour that’s a hard combination to pull of right and he manages to do it really well (and sometimes gets these really profound, clever messages across too). Kate Beaton has a beautiful mind; I have cried laughing while reading her comics. I really like Gemma Correll’s work, it’s cute and she plays on puns a lot which I approve of greatly. Hyperbole and a half is really fantastic and completely hilarious. I could probably make a list a mile long of amazing people who make amazing things.
I love webcomics. The internet is such a fantastic tool for comics, there’s such a massive variety of styles and themes and from so many different types of people. On the one hand you can have this visually stunning high fantasy epic adventure and on the other you can have simple stick figures making math jokes and they’re both equally valuable forms of entertainment.
There have been occasions where I have had an idea to make a comic and I’ll come across a really similar idea done by someone else. Then I have to leave it and move onto something else. It’s near impossible to come up with something completely unique I think; someone will always be able to make a link to something you make with another comic or a line from a movie/TV show. Sometimes it can be frustrating but it’s unavoidable.
Steve: You’ve collected together a substantial number of comics for Anything About Nothing. Do you have any plan to publish in print at all?
Kelly: That would be cool. A few people have been asking about a book so it very possibly will happen, probably this year some time. Then I can be that person that joins random conversations saying, ‘Ha ha, yeah that was a great episode anyway have you seen my book?’ and it will be all my friends and family members’ birthday presents forever.
Steve: Lastly – you say that you’re in Yorkshire, at the moment, studying your degree. Have you managed to foster a healthy dislike for everybody south of Barnsley, yet?
Kelly: I’m in Lancashire. I’ll have to reserve judgement on everyone from Barnsley for now. I finished my degree in fine art a few years ago, which makes me a little sad because I miss being a poor student and having lots of time to paint and draw people. Sometimes naked people. Now I have to try and be an adult, I don’t like that.
Thank you to Kelly for her time! You can find her on Twitter here, and, of course, over on Anything About Nothing. Many thanks to Tapastic for setting up the interview!
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Straight from the offices of Publishers Weekly, it’s More to Come! Your podcast source of comics news and discussion starring The Beat’s own Heidi MacDonald.
In a More To Come interview special episode, Heidi talks with acclaimed indie comics creator Jeff Smith about his Eisner-winning kids’ fantasy epic Bone, his adult sci-fi tale RASL, the advantages and difficulties of being your own publisher, his new Paleolithic webcomic Tuki Save The Humans and much, much more on this episode of Publishers Weekly’s graphic novel podcast. in this podcast from PW Comics World.
Now tune in Fridays at our new, new time for our regularly scheduled podcast!
Stream this episode and catch up with our previous podcasts through the Publishers Weekly website or subscribe to More To Come on iTunes
A new book by Matthew Inman is coming out, collecting his comics from The Oatmeal. It’s called Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants, and the title alone includes two funny things: bears and underpants. Put them together and you have a guy who obvioulsy knows his way around a comedy sound or two. Inman has more info here, and when the book went live on Amazon the other night, it was briefly the #7 book OVERALL. Not in comics, on the main list. Sine then it’s cooled off to #12 overall.
Inman’s previous two books—5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth and How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You—also sold like gangbusters, and landed on many a best-seller list, making Inman one of the most successful webcartoonsits going.
This volume includes classic strips like Dear Sriracha Rooster Sauce and What it’s like to own an Apple product; it comes out October 1st.
by Bruce Lidl
The last few weeks have seen a number of big developments in the digital comics realm, from the highs of Marvel’s big announcements at SXSW to the lows of JManga’s imminent closure. Comixology continues to distance itself from its rivals, and with the new Submit program is poised to expand greatly the revenue possibilities for independent creators. By all accounts the digital slice of the comics industry does remain considerably smaller than its print sibling, and there are many comics fans that steadfastly prefer their floppies, yet little doubt exists that the trend and momentum for growth is strong for digital comics, JManga’s demise notwithstanding.
The crucial undercurrent to ever expanding digital offerings has been, and continues to be, the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of devices capable of displaying digital comics in an effect and compelling manner. And even more specifically, it is the specific recent trends towards ever larger smartphone screens and paradoxically, smaller and cheaper tablets devices.
The tide towards larger, and higher quality, phone displays has been going on for a number of years, but has clearly picked up steam in recent months. Last week saw the announcement of the eagerly awaited Samsung Galaxy S IV, with very nice 5 inch display sporting a 1920×1080 resolution, up from last year’s S III which had a 4.8 inch 1280×720 screen, and rapidly approaching the “phablet” category of Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note II, with its 5.5 inch screen, considered gargantuan not very long ago. The speed at which smartphone screens have grown, particularly on the Android side has been astonishing, especially when you consider the fact that the very first Samsung Galaxy phone from 2009 had a 3.2 in, 480×320 pixel screen, relatively tiny by today’s standards. And of course, even mighty Apple, which had resisted the trend towards larger screens in favor of consistency and compact sizes, finally changed course and released the iPhone 5 last year, bumping the screen from 3.5 inches to 4 inches while maintaining a “Retina” pixel resolution (1136×640). Reading digital comics on a smartphone has gone from a somewhat eccentric notion to a far more mainstream possibility, at least with readers willing to zoom in and out, or let their reading be directed by functions like Comixology’s “Guided View.”
While the increase in smartphone screen sizes is powering more digital comic reading (and hopefully sales!), a trend towards smaller screens on tablets is paradoxically also contributing to expanded digital comic penetration. Apple’s iPad basically invented the category of the tablet, and has dominated sales since its release in April 2010, and continues to be an excellent device for digital comic reading, with a brilliant 9.7 inch screen that has increased in resolution iteratively from the original 1024×768 to the current 2048×1536. However, the recent relative success of Android-based tablets with smaller form factors, primarily in the 7 inch screen range, has demonstrated a hunger among some consumers for smaller and cheaper alternatives to the iPad. Beginning with the original Barnes & Noble Nook Color and then really taking off with Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s own Nexus 7, smaller and less powerful Android tablets at the $199 and below price point have established themselves as real options for customers outside of the Apple orbit. And just as with the iPhone, Apple has not remained unmoved in the face of fierce competition, as shown by the November release of the smaller 7.9 inch 1024×768 iPad Mini. Overall, something like 170 million tablets were sold in 2012, with roughly half coming from Apple, and the rest overwhelmingly split among mostly Android providers (Microsoft’s push into Windows based tablets have struggled mightily, and current analysis puts the number sold at less than 1.5 million units since the October 2012 release). The surge in sales of smaller (less than 8 inch screen size) tablets has exploded in the last few months, with about half of tablets sold in the fourth quarter of 2012 fitting into this category, and driving the adoption of tablets ever higher. Smaller devices and cheaper prices have put tablets into the hands of an ever expanding body of potential comics readers, for while the screens used in the smaller tablets tend to be inferior than those on their larger cousins, they do still present a quite nice package for comic reading. More compact form factors also boost portability, although even the 7 inch tablets won’t fit into many pants pockets.
The boom in demand for smaller and cheaper tablets is expected by industry analysts to continue through 2013, and in fact, the iPad mini is currently even outselling its larger standard iPad sibling, while the rise of popularity in Android offerings will likely lead to that segment overtaking Apple this year.
How has the the shift in device formats affected your digital comics reading habits? Do the new devices encourage you to read more digital comics? Personally, I still read most of my digital comics on my 24 inch desktop monitor, but I do use my relatively large (4.8 inch) smartphone screen more often than in the past, and I like using the “Guided View” option quite with it.
Have you been affected by the JManga shutdown? Do you consider the DRM aspect and the vulnerability of locked-downed purchases a crucial weakness of digital comics? Do you prefer to purchase from Comixology, the publishers’ own sites directly or from online retailers like Amazon? Are you interested in Netflix style offerings of unlimited reading of older titles? Do you acquire comics from unauthorized sources, and does the ease of use of pirated comics versus the restrictions of legitimate content enter into your purchase decisions? Have you been swayed away from physical copies entirely or do you get some titles digitally and some in print?
Whoa! Jason Little —BeeComix, Shutterburg Follies—has launched a daily webcomic called BORB and it concerns a hobo and his hobo-adventures.
The first episode is called “Teeth.” Hobo + dental work = disturbing!
Had he been born in an earlier era, Little, with his meticulous style, would be one of the early newspaper strip masters, so let’s enjoy this in the here and now!
But it’s the Rugburn produced motion comic Axe Cop — not the yet-to-premiere animated version that will debut in July as part of Fox’s ADHD adult animation block.
Whoa are you confused yet? Perhaps. But the bottom line is…there can not be too much Axe Cop. You’ll recall that the webcomic is written by 5-year-old Malachi Nicolle and drawn by 29-year-old Ethan Nicolle. Well that’s how old they were when this whole thing started—Malachi is now 9 year old. His maturing themes and concerns are not displayed in this short, which is based on “THE MOON WARRIORS” an early tale/
In the meantime, here’s a still from the Fox version.
Axe Cop is currently published by Dark horse.
Click the image to read Ava’s Demon
Michelle Czajkowski is sort of a big deal on deviantart. Michelle started her weekly webcomic “Ava’s Demon” in 2012, and is currently at page 392. She seems to keep her personal life private and lets her art tell you all you need to know.
This is the only photograph I can find of Michelle:
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Andrea Tsurumi is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist working on a number of platforms. She’s a Harvard graduate currently pursuing an MFA at the School of Visual Arts, but in the meantime her work has been published by Penguin Books and The New York Times. Her long work DANCE PARTY (featured above) appears on her website, and shorter comics work YAKITORI can also be found there. She also contributes, with Keren Katz, to the site UNCANNY EATING, documenting the metamorphic and bizarre qualities of food across cultures. Recently, she’s also started blogging about comics events for THE RUMPUS. Tsurumi’s style is innovative and expansive, taking in the bizarre and grotesque while infusing them with a sense of humor. Her panel designs often break the frame and expand into full page spreads populated with active figures and mysterious vistas. She draws influence from film, pop culture, and the world of illustration and has a lot in common with a multicultural weird tales tradition in her art.
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Once again, it’s that time of year again! Sports geeks speculate who will make the Big Dance, who got snubbed, and who will be the Cinderella Team this year. Billions of dollars are wagered on the outcomes, as casual fans contemplate the 68 teams and fill out numerous brackets.
It’s not uncommon among comics fans to wonder, “Who would win in a fight, Forbush Man or ‘Mazing Man?” (Neither. Ma Hunkel would break it up and have them both over to the JSA mansion of cookies and milk.) So it’s not inconceivable that fans would take that simple idea, and turn it into a tournament. Who do you seed in each bracket? How do you arrange the divisions? Do you mix and match franchises and tribes?
Well, we here at Stately Beat Manor offer the following brackets as a community service, especially to fans of Gonzaga, New Mexico, and Kentucky. (Your lack of faith was disturbing. >choke<)
Let’s start with the big comic bracket: Mix March Madness over at ComicMix.com! Those crazy kids are at it again, this year adding a new wrinkle! You can BUY votes! All money goes to The Hero Initiative, so put your money where your mouth is! 300 webcomics have been reduced to eight, and it’s getting competitive! (This is the perfect opportunity to check out some new webcomics!)
The latest bracket (as of March 24, when I started this article):
The final is open for voting! Click to view, and to vote!
Comics Should Be Good, an awesome blog over at Comic Book Resources, has suspended their annual superhero tournament in favor of notable story runs by creators! Is Simone’s Secret Six better than Claremon’ts New Mutants? Byrne’s Fantastic Four or Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme? The Elite Eight (is that a superhero team?) can be voted on here! (X-Men vs. X-Men!)
Cosmic Comix and Toys, a store in Cantonsville, Maryland, is hosting a female-centric tournament, and the final is a humdinger! (One which I don’t think we’ve ever seen in comics, but which would be amazing if done right!)
The Victory Formation does a different tournament each year. This year, the fourth, is based all on Cereal! The Elite Eight are in competition!
The #1 seeds?
Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cap’n Crunch!
My fave, Lucky Charms, is a number two seed.
Princess Leia or Padme Amidala? Tarkin or Count Dooku? Boba Fett or Jango Fett?
Ooh! I like the triads! Population Go
matches Western characters on the left, Asian characters on the left!
Wow…. IO9′s March TV Madness
brackets are crazy! Some would make for interesting crossovers, like ALF meeting Kirk! Top seeds: Star Trek (TOS), X-Files, Doctor Who, The Twilight Zone! The final has been announced
! And decided! Not as close as some might expect!
(And in the separate, Whedon Invitational Tournament…
Buffy beat Dollhouse 81-19, while Firefly beat Angel 86-14. Buffy got smacked down 64-36 in the final.)
The Dallas Morning News continues their annual Tournament of Books
. No, I haven’t read any of them (and haven’t heard of most), but we welcome all geeks here, and they win the prize for best design!
Toy Story! Star Wars! (I suspect that the judges ignored the prequels…)
This could easily be expanded into four brackets, separating the franchises by number of films made. Add in some art films, animation, pre-war films, and it could get interesting!
Awwww… TV couples! Inside Pulse lets readers play match-maker with their massive tournament! I’m hoping for Bobby and J.R. Ewing to win! Third round voting can be done here.
Toys and Games
From Bricks To Bothans members took minifig heroes and villains from LEGO, created mechas for each to use, then started a Battle Royale! The winners have been announced, but I recommend you peruse the postings! (I just wish one could click on each character… there are some cool builds!)
16 technology geniuses match wits with 16 math and science brainiacs for the title of “Greatest Geek
“! Bill Gates (!) and Albert Einstein are the top seeds.
Once again, the Consumerist holds their Worst Company in America tournamen
t, featuring the return of last year’s winner, EA! They had a strong showing this year, especially after bumbling the much-anticipated launch of SimCity! Will they make it to the final? Facebook has many “dis-likes”, but at least their social networking system works!
Unlike EA, it’s quite easy to access Consumerist’s website, so vote early!
Which retailer do you patronize? Dappered.com lists Banana Republic and J. Crew are the top seeds. (Amazon, 7th? No Wal-Mart? Macy’s #4?)
And finally, which style do you prefer?
This news has been around for a while, but it never got it’s own item, so here it is: Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s blog/webcomic/highly-structured stream of consciousness whatever-it-is, is getting a book collection in October called Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. Brosh has been working on the book for a while—it’s slated to contain 50-50 old and new material—but she was sidetracked by the bouts of depression which her website has detailed in touching fashion. Although Brosh hasn’t updated in two years, a photo of the book’s manuscript on Instagram back in April led to great huzzahs across Reddit and the viral world.
For those not hep to the strip, it’s kind of Wimpy Kid for millennials, an extremely well-written, highly personal account of Brosh’s life and childhood memories (the Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas strip is a holiday classic) that uses deliberately crude drawings in “rage comic” style to mimic the emotional joy and distress of the process of growth. The strip, or whatever it is, is quite native to the web, so a book might be quite different, but Brosh is such a talented writer that I’m sure it will work out, The book is already in the top 1000 on Amazon.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Today I shall begin by ripping out your heart and stomping it into tiny shreds upon the floor. You may be aware that for years I have worked with the real Winnie-the-Pooh toys at NYPL. You may also know that the real Christopher Robin had a serious falling out with his father about the books. Now Ian Chachere has written was is easily the BEST graphic story about Christopher Robin at the end of his days. Thank you for the link, Kate.
- Well, get out your fire hoses and start running for the hills (I prefer my mixed metaphors shaken, not stirred). The Newbery/Caldecott prediction season is about to begin 4 realz. Calling Caldecott is gently starting its engine, checking its rear view mirror, and making sure the gas tank is full. Heavy Medal, meanwhile, is putting pedal to the medal (so to speak), revving this puppy as loud as it can go, and then tearing down the street leaving only burnt rubber and flames in its wake. If you have favorites, they will be systematically destroyed (even, God help us, Doll Bones if Nina’s comments are any indication). Personally I’m just biding my time until Jonathan Hunt attempts to defend Far Far Away as a Newbery contender.
- Speaking of the berry of new, Travis Jonker is churning out the fun posts on Newbery stats. They remind me of the glory days of Peter Sieruta (he loved these sorts of things). Want to win a Newbery of your very own? Then you’d better check out So You Want to Win a Newbery, Part 1 and Part 2.
- Whenever I hear that a celebrity has written a children’s book my reaction isn’t so much outrage as a kind of resigned, “What took them so long?” In my perverted take on Andy Warhol’s famous quote, in the future everyone will have their own children’s book for 15 minutes. The latest not-so-surprising travesty is Rush Limbaugh’s are-we-absolutely-certain-this-isn’t-from-The-Onion book Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. And we could pull out the usual jokes and all (certainly I’m highly tempted to buy a copy, if only to randomly quote from it on this blog to comedic effect from time to time) but it was Thom Barthelmess who classed the joint up recently by writing of it, “I believe that librarians can shape that discourse by modeling respect for those with whom we disagree. And I believe that every time we suggest to a child that her book choice is inappropriate we weaken the foundation on which she is building a life of reading. This, my friends, is where intellectual rubber meets the freedom road. Let’s be sure we’re holding the map right-side up.”
- How did I miss this? Last year I did indeed notice the plethora of Chloes. So why didn’t I see the abundance of 2013 Floras? Fortunately Elissa Gershowitz at Horn Book was there to pick up my slack.
- Once you start talking about Common Core it’s hard to stop. I’ll just close up my mentions of it here by pointing out that if you ever wanted some great reading, it’s fun to take a gander at Museums in a Common Core World.
If you’re not a regular reader of the very rare middle grade science fiction / fantasy blog Views From the Tesseract, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Stephanie’s recent post on the book The Fallen Spaceman is fabulous. Particularly when you discover which Caldecott winner and his son did the illustrations. Australian readers in particular are urged to comment on it.
- Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! It’s time for a little game I like to call Guess the Picture Book. Or, rather, it’s a little game Marc Tyler Nobleman likes to call, since he’s the one who came up with it in the first place.
A book award for wordless picture books? Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if such a thing existed? Well here’s the crazy thing. Now it does. Seems that the folks in The Town of Mulazzo (no, I am not making any of this up) collaborated with a host of heavies and came up with The Silent Book Contest. This is for unpublished manuscripts, so if you’ve a wordless piece that’s been burning a hole in your desk drawer, now’s the time to pull it out and submit it. Many thanks to Sergio Ruzzier for the heads up!
- It sort of sounds like a dream. Apparently if you win the Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship then you get to “spend a total of four weeks or more reading and studying at the Baldwin Library of the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville.” The catch? You have to be a working children’s librarian. Still and all, what fun! Maybe when I’m older . . .
- Well, I can’t really report on this without being a little biased. The first ever NYC Neighborhood Library Awards are happening and five of NYPL’s branches are up for contention. Better still, two are in the Bronx (as I visit branches I am rapidly coming to the opinion that the Bronx is this awesome place that no one knows jack diddly squat about). Good luck, guys!
- Things I didn’t know until this week: 1. That the New York Historical Society has this amazing children’s space that’s so drop dead gorgeous that I think I might cry. 2. That they have their own bookclub for kids who love history called The History Detectives. What’s more, they love authors who have written fiction and nonfiction books about New York history. So if any of you guys ever want to make a bookclub appearance, these folks would be a perfect “get”.
Of course, I highly recommend you read the piece just the same. The art of those jackets is dee-licious. Thanks to AL Direct for the link.
- To be honest, his grandfather was also a looker back in the WWII days. If you don’t believe me, read one of those books about his spying days.
- Here in NYC, Bookfest (that cataclysmic delight of children’s book discussions, hosted by Bank Street College) is nigh. Nigh and I’m moderating a discussion that so far includes Nathan Hale and Grace Lin . . . because life RULES!! Sign on up for one of the panels anyway. I’m sure there’s space (for now).
I don’t suppose this is technically a children’s literature article, but the hidden underground flowering world they discovered not that long ago sure feels like something out a kids book. Just a taste: