The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Friday, December 30, 2005

Of course, I think we all knew this was bound to happen one of these days

In case you missed it, Eric Burns has accepted an editorship over at Modern Tales.

And, honestly, why not? We all know he's the biggest name in webcomics criticism, perhaps the single person who could be identified as the progenitor of the concept of webcomics criticism. He inspired me to start writing, and he's inspired countless others as well. While some may question his loyalties, no one can question his writing talent or mastery of the criticism craft. His site has become something of a cultural Mecca for webcomic fans, a place where they can (nay, must) congregate to receive spiritual enlightenment on the webcomic form (sorry, Scott McCloud).

And we all know that he's a big fan of the Modern Tales umbrella. He dotes on Narbonic like it's going out of style, he's quick to mention strips like Digger, and he's got The Adventures of Brigadier General John Stark hosted on WebcomicsNation, for crying out loud. So there's no doubt he's into the whole collective.

And, quite frankly, it's the natural progression of things. People don't just stay critics their entire lives. If you're a good enough critic, at some point your opinions are considered to be valid enough that people want you to apply your critical skills toward improving the form itself. And there's one clear way you can do that: become an editor. All good editors began their lives as critics. The ability to evaluate pieces of work critically and determine their relative strengths and weaknesses is perhaps the most important skill of an editor. Now, naturally there are many other skills involved as well, but this skill is the one which is most important, and the most difficult to develop, and therefore most rare.

Eric Burns has the critical chops to become a stellar editor, and I wish him the best of luck with his new endeavor. It should be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

All I got for Christmas...

So, the "week between Christmas and New Years" malaise has set in. You know the feeling. When you've just had a big celebration, and you've got another one coming up, and you're probably off work so you really don't feel like doing ANYTHING. That's me.

But it has given me a lot of time for reading. And for Christmas I got plenty of stuff to read. First off, I got two collected volumes of Dandy and Company, which has forever proved to me that Lulu is a better printing service than Cafepress. Because the Dandy and Company books are from Cafepress and they're much grainier than the books I've gotten from Lulu in the past. So if you're a webcomicker looking to publish your stuff, I'd go with Lulu.

Next, I finally managed to secure myself a copy of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. And I've got to say, that book is rich. The theory of comics is packed in there SO densely, it's amazing. And also, somehow all these years it escaped my knowledge that Understanding Comics is a comic book itself, which is absolutely phenomenal. It's a great book.

I also managed to get some Homestar Runner DVDs (Someday I'll talk about Homestar Runner on this site. Someday.), and I picked up the first three volumes of a new manga series called Yotsuba&! (Yes I read manga. I have a life outside of webcomics). And I must say, Yotsuba& is quite possibly THE CUTEST THING I've ever read. If you like Count Your Sheep, go buy the first volume of Yotsuba&. You'll fall in love with it.

Oh, and one last thing. If Eric Burns keeps stealing my essays, I'm going to have to pop him in the nose.

Just kidding.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Personally, I think toy insurance is a pretty good idea. (Review of Shortpacked)

Batman proves he's the best at everything in Shortpacked.

One thing I want to mention before writing this review is that many, MANY webcomics include a superfluous "!" at the end of their titles. In general I don't consider these to be legitimate inclusions and therefore don't use them when referencing the comic. Shortpacked is one of these comics. Thank you.

When I read Shortpacked, I always have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind which just refuses to go away that's telling me I'm missing something. That I'm an outsider to the strip and to the world of David Willis, and I'm missing a lot of the "inside jokes". And to a certain extent, that's true. I'm vaguely acquainted with It's Walky and Joyce and Walky, but I've never read them. I'm pretty sure that a couple of the characters in Shortpacked were inherited from It's Walky, but I couldn't say anything definitively on the subject. I'm guessing there's some backstory to the characters, or David Willis' humor, that would make certain elements more funny.

But you know what? I don't care. Because Shortpacked is pretty dang good just on it's own. You don't need any additional inside jokes because it's not about the inside jokes. It contains many, many "public domain" type jokes, by which I mean jokes the general public can enjoy without being intimately acquainted with the strip. Many webcomics suffer from insider humor. If you've been following the strip, today's installment is the funniest thing you've ever read. But if you're just reading today's installment, without the context of the rest of the series, you're just left saying "what the hell?" In Shortpacked, David Willis seems to have found the perfect balance where if you're just picking it up on any given day you'll probably find the strip to be pretty funny, but if you keep up with it, it becomes more funny. And that's about the best thing anyone could ask for. Not only a great hook but also an enticement to keep reading.

So, with an introduction like that, maybe I ought to tell you something about the strip itself, eh? Shortpacked is the story of a bunch of workers in a toy store. Only, this ain't no Toys R' Us, people. It's definitely an independent store, and they seem to try to cater more to collectors than little kids. Also, it's staffed by a group of people which could only be described as a "cadre". From Galasso, the evil store manager who makes most of his money by demanding that his employees sell insurance on all the toys they sell, to Robin, the ridiculously excitable "6 year old girl in an adult's body", to Mike, who is really interested in nothing more than making everyone's life miserable, and even encompassing the more "normal" characters like Ethan, the toy obsessed, hard working geek, and Amber, who swears that her online boyfriend really loves her despite his seeming reluctance to meet in real life. It's a pretty interesting bunch, and they haven't disappointed yet in their antics, whether it be Robin harboring perverse sexual lust for Greg Killmaster or Galasso hiring someone to stir up controversy about action figures.

But while the characters are great, and it's been fun to follow their wacky adventures, they aren't what really carries the strip. What carries the strip are the jokes like the one displayed at the top of this post, with Batman training to become the best at Dance Dance Revolution. Or a joke about Transformers. Or today's entry, which not only does a decent job poking fun at Superbook, but also manages to include just about every modern character that's taken a trip to visit the birth of Christ. It must have been pretty crowded in that little Bethlehem stable (you know, the sad thing is, I think I've seen the original of every one of the references in that last panel, except for Flying House. I think I'm oversaturated). These little random jokes, thrown in the middle of storylines seemingly at whim, keep the comic fresh and "funny at the moment", and prevent the strip from getting too bogged down in character development and plot. And most of them fit in perfectly with the toy store theme because they deal with topics that most toy fanatics would be well-acquainted with: namely comic books, television, and movies which are likely to spawn toys.

I suppose the one problem with Shortpacked is that it is somewhat pop culture humor heavy. I know that I find the VGCats strips which parody some extremely obscure game to be insufferable, since they just make no sense if you haven't played the game, and I imagine that today's strip would envoke a similar response in someone who's never watched Superbook or any of those other Christian cartoons. And maybe you've never really watched Batman, or Transformers. I don't think David Willis dips into the obscure too much, but if you've never been into pop culture you'll probably miss a fair amount of the one-shot jokes. I think you can still appreciate the strip as a whole since it has a great deal of quirky relationship and hijinks humor, but there will definitely be a level you're missing. Just like I think I'm missing a level from not having read It's Walky (although I think that level is much deeper and much less important. After all, I still love Shortpacked without having any background knowledge). So if you're not big into pop culture you might want to give this one a pass.

But if you like relationship humor (and I think most people do... I mean, look at the popularity of frickin Friends), and you've watched at least SOME cartoons in the past twenty years, chances are you'll be a big fan of Shortpacked.

And I'll even sell you some insurance on that.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Some thoughts on fixed art comics

A yellowing page over at The Adventures of Brigadier General John Stark.

So, I was considering putting up the obligatory "Merry Christmas, everyone!" post, and then I decided that you guys deserve more than that. You don't come to this blog to be wished a Merry Christmas, you come to read about webcomics, gordangit!

So here's a post that's been sitting on the back burner for a few weeks. I've been wanting to give my insights into "fixed art" comics, and specifically what works and what doesn't.

Now, let me preface this post by saying that I've only ever actually read three fixed art type comics: Dinosaur Comics, Indie Tits, and of course The Adventures of Brigadier General John Stark. I know there's at least one more good fixed art comic out there but I couldn't remember the name and I couldn't find it (what do you search for on Google? Fixed art? Cut and paste? Sameness?). Anyways, I think these three are at least a representative sample of what could be considered "good" fixed art comics.

So, the question at hand is, why is Dinosaur Comics so consistently good (and improving all the time, some would say) while the other two comics seem to be languishing? It's certainly not the writers. Indie Tits is done by Jeph Jaques, who has received a lot of praise recently for his innovative stories and ability to really grip his audience. And I don't think anyone could legitimately call into question the writing skills of Eric Burns. Yet both of them have put their fixed art strips on hold, at least for the moment, and neither of them have enjoyed huge success with their ventures, in spite of both of them having a large readership to leverage.

And the problem, I think lies in their choice of fixed art. Anyone out there who's thinking of starting a strict form comic needs to take extreme caution in their choice of artwork, because whatever you choose you're going to be stuck with for the rest of the life of your strip, and you've got to make sure that it gives you enough freedom to allow your creativity to shine through. And my contention is that neither Indie Tits nor Brig Gen John Stark allows its author enough freedom, while Dinosaur Comics has the perfect balance.

Let's start with Indie Tits. Now, Jeph Jaques has even allowed himself a bit of cheat in this comic by having four different fixed arts which him can use at whim (as this archive page so perfectly demonstrates). One bird on a branch, two birds on a branch, three birds on a branch, and two birds standing side-by-side. So he's got a lot of options available to him for any given day. The problem is that each strip is only two panels long, and in each strip the two panels are the same. By only having two panels, Jeph severely limits the amount of dialogue he can have in his strip, and by using the same art in both panels he prevents the strip from having any action to it, meaning that all the humor must come solely from the dialogue. Now, in general with a fixed form strip the humor will be coming from the dialogue, but by not having any movement of the characters within the strip, there can be no sort of progression. It's just got to be a "wham bam" quickie joke, hoping to draw a laugh. There's no ability to have a traditional set-up and knock-down. And you can write these super quick jokes for awhile, but eventually you'll just run out of ideas.

My suggestion to Jeph Jaques is this: If you want Indie Tits to be more interesting and be able to do more with it, extend the length to 4-6 panels, and have different birds, with some birds flying in and out in different panels. Then you should be able to do some good things.

Now let's talk about Brig Gen John Stark. In this comic Burns provides himself with plenty of room to stretch his prosaic muscles with 5 panels. He also has some action, as the good general moves around from frame to frame, with some frames giving us the more introspective close-up and others giving us a more extroverted far-off view. But here's the problem with this one: There's only one character! With the way Burns has structured the strip there's nothing he can do but sit and have John Stark lecture at us day after day. Now, this isn't all bad; I mean, that's basically what Burns does with Websnark and it's worked out well for him, but when you try to translate that over to a webcomic, it can get a little dry. I mean, Stark can only talk about himself for so long before we run out of interesting events in his life. And there's a statute of limitations on Peggy Shippen jokes. Burns could dispense with the premise of the strip and just use John Stark as a mouthpiece for his own commentary on various things, but then the strip would basically have degenerated into a blog, and that's not very exciting. So eventually he's just not going to have anything else to say.

And I'm not quite sure what Burns can do to improve the strip. I honestly think if he wants to make it a long-term project and have it remain good he needs to have some method of dialogue, as opposed to just monologue. But with his source material that could be a problem. I mean, it's pictures of a statue (it's actually ONE picture of a statue, cropped up several ways). Maybe if there had been another statue nearby he could have taken a picture of both of them but I doubt there's another statue close enough for him to do that. Probably his only option is to have some implied characters offscreen (which Dinosaur Comics actually has from time to time, most notably with God and the devil). He could have some offscreen tourists passing by that he could argue with, or something like that. But I'm convinced he's needs dialogue to keep the comic fresh and interesting.

So let's look at Dinosaur Comics, and the formula for success. Now, I'm not saying that Ryan North's writing skills don't carry the comic. They do. Without question the strip would have quickly died were it not for his skills. But the Dinosaur Comics artwork specifically gives him the freedom he needs for his writing skills to flex and blossom. Notice that the strip has three characters onscreen, so there's plenty of opportunity for interaction. It's got six panels, which gives him enough time to set up and knock down a joke, and the last panel provides a perfect space for an additional remark which can really enhance the core joke. And the dinosaurs move around from panel to panel. It's not always the same dinosaurs in every panel, and their poses change. All of these elements work together to provide North with a canvas that actually has a lot of potential variability, and therefore more creativity from comic to comic.

So, if you're thinking about trying a fixed art comic, make sure you have all the elements you need to allow you to keep making new comics every day without running out of ideas. I think it's definitely possible to have a fixed art comic and have it be good, and I'd like to see more of them, but you've got to plan ahead!

Now, go have a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Webcomickry: Website Design (Part 3: Color)

Ok, I promise I've got reviews of Zap and Shortpacked coming to the head of the line. I swear it. But I've been meaning to finish up my series on webcomic website design for quite some time now, and I feel like I've got to get it done so it's not hanging over my head and I can move on to other things. So here goes.

So far in this series we've discussed the pros and cons of different site structures (news first, comic first, blog style) and we've talked about all the various features available for archiving. Now I'd like to talk about something a little less technical, but no less important: color.

What colors should you use in your website? This is perhaps the single most important decision you must make when designing your site. Color is frequently the dividing line between someone say "Wow, that's a really cool looking site" and someone saying "Well, that website is not very attractive." Having an unattractive website can truly be death to a comic. It doesn't matter how great your comic is, if you website is just pathetic, you're going to lose a lot of people.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert artist. Far from it, in fact. However, I do know something about aesthetic design for the web, and I think I know enough about the different schools of thought to competently present them and comment on them.

Let's begin with the golden rule of color choice:

1. The colors used in a website must not distract the viewer from the content.

I cannot stress this enough. I don't care how interesting you think it makes your site look, if the colors are distracting, people are going to get turned off. People come to your website looking for your comic, not for some wacked out set of colors. Now, I can think of two webcomics I've read which clearly violate this rule: Panda Xpress and Candi. Both of them have a very loud background colors, at bright pink and red, respectively. And it's pretty obvious in both cases that the creators are trying to make their site memorable. I mean, you see enough blue and green and black on the internet to really make you feel like warm colors have been straight up outlawed, and there's a certain part of you that says: "if I really do something different, I can be noticed." But you forget that all you will be noticed for is your outrageous choice of color. Panda Xpress has absolutely fabulous art, some of the greatest I've ever seen. But I imagine that the majority of people that visit the site remember it only as "that comic with the hideous pink background." And while Candi is somewhat more forgiveable because the red kind of fits with Candi's personality, it's still a lot to deal with for a first time reader.

Now, does this mean these creators should give up on their bold color choices and put in something bland and sterile? By no means! But the colors should be handled in such a way that they do not distract from the content. Pink and red make great accent colors. But as the primary color for 95% of your page? NO.

Now, this isn't to say that having some gaudy background is the only way to make your site's color scheme distract from the content. Take a look at VGCats. Now, some of the busy-ness there comes from the fact that he's got a lot of different ads and links and whatnot running on the site. But notice that even in the site design itself he uses no less than FIVE shades of blue, plus white. And take a look at HOUSD, which has a very distracting red and white scheme. The acid test for distracting colors is to look at your computer monitor and kind of let your eyes unfocus. If they drift somewhere other than the comic or a newspost, you've got trouble.

Ok, now let's look at the silver rule, which applies more directly to webcomics. This is not as universal or as important as the golden rule, but still necessary for quality site design:

2. The colors used in a webcomic website must complement the colors used in the comic.

Now, this is the area which is open to debate. There are two schools of thought, but before I delve into them it must be made clear that this rule has entirely different implications depending on if you draw a color comic or a black and white comic. So each of the two schools of thought has differing opinions for color vs. black and white, and I'll be discussing both.

The first school of thought is that the website colors should be chosen so that they draw attention to the comic. This principle is demonstrated very eloquently by the new Penny Arcade site. Click on the link to their comic page and let your eye casually fall on the screen. Where does it land? Depending on the loudness of the ad at the top, your eye should land either on the ad or on the comic. The dark, subdued grays and blues used in the page are designed to let your eye draw naturally to the areas of high color, and since Penny Arcade is a very colorful strip, your eye will probably land on the strip quite easily. And that easy landing is what makes the site aesthetically pleasing: it's "pleasing to the eye". The eye has less work to do to find what it's looking for because it lands there naturally. When you see a website that uses very dark colored backgrounds and box colors, they are subscribing to this school of thought. Some popular webcomics which use this technique are of course Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Megatokyo, and Applegeeks.

Now, this philosophy can spell trouble for a black and white comic because the vast expanse of whiteness can be a rather glaring contrast with the rest of the page. A good example of the trouble this can cause can be seen at Nowhere University (I'm linking into the archive right now because there's some rather sketchy guest art up on the main page right now and I don't want you to get the wrong idea about the artwork of the strip itself). Nowhere University has servicable artwork. But it looks like an eyesore in contrast with those dark blue-gray backgrounds. It you want to have the "eye-catcher" with a black and white comic without it being TOO eye catching, you need to blend in osme lighter shades that are still considered to be in the cool range, and maybe soften the borders of your comic. I love the way Fred Gallagher does it at Megatokyo with the dark gray transitioning to a lighter gray, and then the shadow gradient to the comic. It really prevents his comic from being overly dominant without losing the eye draw that his choice of background color has allowed.

Now, the other school of thought for choice of website colors is to pick colors so that the comic blends in with the rest of the site. This is a completely separate, and yet completely viable line of thought. By using this design principle, the rest of the site does not distract from the comic because everything flows together. This technique is much more commonly seen with black and white comics, where the comic strip itself is surrounded by either a white background or a white box which extends into other content. There are a lot of great examples of this, such as PvP, Starslip Crisis, Gossamer Commons, and The Big Three-Oh. Obviously the key with a black and white strip blending into a white background is to have some nice accent colors to keep the site interesting, and this is where some nice warm colors can come into play. Nothing too loud, but some tans, light blues, oranges, and lighter reds can work nicely.

This principle can be used with color strips as well. The best example is of course Count Your Sheep. The strip and the website blend together so seamlessly that it really is a thing of beauty. However, Count Your Sheep is kind of a special case, since Adis specifically limits himself to shades of blue and purple, making it very easy to build a site which will blend with the strip and look good every day. Most other comics use a much wider pallete and it can be very difficult to find a set of colors that will always look good with your comic, no matter what you decide to draw on any given day. That's not too say it can't be done, though. Both Tweep and Inverloch have done a good job of it.

Still, it's a great temptation for artists to use a white background with their color strip, just like the black and white folk do, since they know white will never clash with anything. But this typically doesn't work out too well. Instead of feeling like the strip is blending with the page, you really get a feel that the strip has been pasted on top of it. Take a look at Winger, for example. Carson Fire has even bothered to include exagerrated white space between his panels to try to fit the color strip onto a white background, but it's just not working. The strip looks like four boxes slapped on top of a white background. Now, there are two color strips which use a white background which I feel have successfully managed to blend their strip with the page: Real Life and Ugly Hill. And in both cases they've broken the white background with some blues and some more elaborate background work than just a solid color. So if you want to make a color strip blend using a white background, you've got to have that white background run into some other colors so that the overall feel is one of colorful pieces brought together with white.

So that's it for the colors in webcomic website design. I hope this information was useful and helpful to people out there, so that they can turn around and use it to improve their own webcomic's website. I think we need more better looking sites and fewer site which are either too busy or too bland. Sites which really present a comic looking it best by surrounding it with the optimal colors to complement it.

So what does everyone else think? Do you agree with one school of thought over the other? Did I miss anything? Did I diss someone's color scheme that you really thought was fabulous? Do you have an example of a great color scheme you want to share with the rest of us?

Post it up!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Steve Troop, Melonpool, and the Unfortunate Nature of Webcomic Commentary

Announcement of a (very brief) hiatus from the cast of Melonpool.

Ok, sorry for the long title, but I'm really intending to cover all of the topics mentioned in it, and I wanted to make it clear from the get-go.

So let's begin by talking about Melonpool. You see, not long ago, Steve Troop decided to reboot his nine year old labor of love. I'm sure this wasn't a terribly easy decision for him, erasing nine years of hard work from the public eye, but his burgeoning archives were becoming more than just a small impedance to new readers picking up the strip, so he took a gamble and decided to go all out and start the thing over from scratch, more or less.

And it was a spectacular moment. All of a sudden, Melonpool had been reborn. And there was a lot of talk about it throughout the webcomic community. It also spawned a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of rebooting in general. It really drew a lot of interest into Troop's strip.

And then, the phones went silent, so to speak. Everyone moved on to the next big event, and left Troop standing alone, yelling "Hello?" He saw a lot of discussion saying "Oh boy, Steve Troop just dropped his entire archive! That's pretty wild! This is going to be interesting," but not a single post saying "You know what, I really like Melonpool a lot better now. It's definitely improved." He didn't see any feedback concerning the effectiveness of his daring move, he simply saw recognition of the move itself. And to him, it was very disheartening. I imagine it gives you the feeling that you didn't really accomplish anything at all.

And that is the unfortunate nature of webcomic criticism at present. Right now all the critics are hot to comment on any shocking or stunning event in the life of a comic. I think Todd and Penguin gets a lot more attention than it really deserves solely for the reason that David Wright frequently makes extremely dramatic things happen to Todd. This is not to say that Todd and Penguin is a bad comic, but it certainly gets a lot more attention than most other comics of similar quality. Critics jump on board to comment on the cathartic moment without waiting to see how it affects the strip. I think this was clearly demonstrated in the recent drama in Questionable Content. Everybody jumped on board to provide their own thoughts on the revelation that Faye's father had committed suicide. No one waited to see what effect this revelation would have on the strip. I specifically waited in that instance until I could clearly see the effect because I didn't want to be another person saying, essentially, "OMG Faye's dad killed himself!" Then I posted my thoughts. And to my knowledge, no other webcomic reviewer did that. Now, this is not to blow my own horn, because I've been guilty of merely "adding my thoughts to the big story" on many occasions as well. I just think I was more useful in that instance as a result of my waiting.

But the main problem isn't so much that people jump the gun to report, as it is that the webcomic critics online generally don't like to return to a story. It's ok to link a comic when it does something crazy and say "wow, go check out this craziness over at so-and-so." That's part of the beauty of the immediacy of the web. What's not ok, but what unfortunately happens the vast majority of the time, is to then never go back a few weeks or a month later and say "Allright, now let's see how this whole craziness played out, what effects it's had, and if the strip is better or worse off for it." People just DON'T do that. They're too busy reporting on the next bit of craziness. And this is not helpful to the webcomic creator, who now has no idea how well-received his idea has been.

Melonpool has been greatly improved since the reboot. The color artwork has been fabulous, the larger page size for each day has really allowed Troop to experiment with different panel layouts and really give Melonpool a comic book feel which is much better suited to the strip than the newspaper feel. The pacing has been slower than I'd like, but Troop is probably trying to introduce the characters slowly enough that he can avoid alienating new readers. I think it's probably about time we got a bit more information about what's going on (I know Troop is trying to build suspense, but it's begun to get a bit on the boring side). This is the sort of thing that people should be saying about Melonpool. But none of these things is terribly exciting, really. None of these things is something which would really prompt a reviewer to say something about Melonpool, when they could spend their time talking about the latest piece of drama. So no one said anything, and the lack of feedback, coupled with all the trouble Troop has had in his personal life lately, has managed to dry up his creative well to the point that he's got to take a break. And that's sad.

And I admit it. I'm guilty of the same mentality. I want people to read my writing, so I try to talk about interesting and exciting things that are going on in the webcomic world. I also try to provide well informed, well thought-out reviews of lesser known comics because I think that's information that is both needed and sorely lacking in the webcomic world today. But I don't give updates on what a strip is doing, how well it is doing it, and any of my various thoughts concerning any given strip on a consistent basis.

So, I'm going to give it a shot, and see how it goes. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know I make a post roughly once a week entitled "Updates" in which I keep my readers abreast of new stuff I've been reading, what I'm planning to read, and what I'm planning to review. Well, now I'm going to start another post series which I'll try to add to roughly once a month entitled "The Roundup", where I'll basically summarize all my thoughts on what's been going on that month in the webcomics I read. Each comic will probably only get a couple of sentences, but it's better than nothing.

I really think this will provide some useful criticism, so I challenge other critics to start giving a Roundup as well. You don't have to say anything terribly profound, just enough to let people know how you think the comics are going and where they might improve.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On the correction of false assumptions.

Apparently, I think too highly of people.

This is not to say that my positive outlook on like has been smashed by a cruel and uncaring world. No, what I'm referring to here is my misconceptions on the apparent popularity of any given webcomic. It seems that my previously held assumptions about the popularity of a webcomic were somewhat misguided, as evidenced by the systematic demolition of said assumptions.

I guess I just kind of assumed that any webcomic which was well made and was a member of a high profile collective such as Keenspot, Dayfree Press, or Blank Label Comics, definitely had readers numbering in the tens of thousands, and probably over the 100,000 mark. In fact, at one point in time I told a friend of mine that the minimum number of readers required for entry into Blank Label Comics was 100,000. And based on what I've been reading, that's quite simply not the case.

Kris Straub mentioned on Starslip Crisis (at least, I think it was on Starslip Crisis. If so, it's not there anymore) about false assumptions of webcomic's popularities being the death of a webcomic. And I know just what he's talking about. When you assume a webcomic is really popular, you assume everyone's heard of it, so you don't need to mention it. You assume that some "other people over there" are doing all the talking and spreading of webcomic goodness, and that you really don't have to do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride.

But the fact is, it seems, that most webcomics, even GOOD ones, don't have a heck of a lot of readers. And the problem, I think, is that most of the readers don't realize how few compatriots they really have. So they don't really do anything to promote the strip. And then the webcomic creator wonders why none of his few fans are ever mentioning the comic to their friends, sharing funny moments, putting the strip's characters in their signatures or whatnot else. And I think the problem is not that the readers aren't interested in sharing, but that the reader's just don't think they need to. So that's a mentality that we've got to break, folks.

Now, HOW do we break it? There's there's the rub. And I think it's just going to take more education of the readers. So, just as my small contribution, I've started a page over at the WebcomicsWiki (I just can't call it Comixpedia. It's too easy to confuse it with the other Comixpedia that way) for a list of creators who make their living off their webcomic. I included in the list all the creators that I know for sure make their living off their comic, and I'd be delighted if more people went and added the creators they knew of to the list as well. I think this would be a good way for people to get an understanding of what's big in webcomics.

Now, what would be better than this would be a page which tracked the number of readers that each individual webcomic has (you just can't count on Alexa ratings). But I don't suppose that will be happening any time soon. So this is the best I can offer right now.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Canon. Freaking canon. From Count Your Sheep

I fear that all the useful and interesting things I've said will be buried thanks to the large number of posts I've made today. I'm a firm believer that it's better to make one post a day than seven posts once a week, but, dang it, there's just way too much to talk about today!

So this post is really just a shout-out, but first of all I'd like to point out that today's Count Your Sheep strip, shown above, is possibly the most canonical strip to describe what is Count Your Sheep that I've ever seen. This strip captures the tone of Count Your Sheep PERFECTLY. The punchline is the perfect combination of both humor and melancholy that runs as a theme throughout the whole series. We understand that Laurie is struggling immensely with being a single mom and raising her daughter basically at the poverty level. And we know that Katie knows this, to a certain extent. But Katie has this perfect innocence which surrounds her and makes everything bearable, and Ship is always there to provide comfort and the occasional uplifting quip to keep spirits high. And today's strip just captures that perfectly in the last "panel". Katie comments that when she asks Laurie for things, Laurie will generally cry, because she truly wants to shower her daughter with gifts, but she can't. And that's pretty sad. But Katie actually says she wishes Santa would respond that way, because that's the way Mom responds, and what Mom does has to be the best, you know? And then Ship tops it off with a little quip. Just perfect.

And now the shout-out part of the post. I must say, I was rather surprised today not so much by the fact that Adrian Ramos linked me (which is always kind of a surprise and a pick-me-up. For some reason you just feel special when someone links you), but by the text he included along with his link: "I'd like to dedicate today's strip to both Robert Howard and Gilead Pellaeon who, in their many discussions about CYS have inspired an idea I just had to increase our readership. Thanks, guys!" I noticed that Ramos made a LiveJournal post a few days ago expressing his desire to reach out to single parents, who he feels would connect with his strip, but he didn't know how to do it. Then today he mentions that he has an idea, and that somehow I was involved in the inspiration process.

And I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see what this idea is. I honestly have no idea what it is I may have said, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Ramos has planned. That being said, I've got my fingers crossed for a print collection. I love print collections. And I mean love print collections. But I know they're not popular with a lot of people, who just prefer to read things online and not pay money for stuff they've already read, so I can understand why a lot of people don't go through the trouble when they're probably not going to sell a whole lot of copies.

But still. Print collection. Dude.

Maybe a more efficient use of my time would be to just put up a post saying "Flame Me"

Ok, I really wasn't going to talk about this, but when I see people taking wholly black and white stances on topics, I can't resist throwing my two cents in.

I'm referring here to a recent debate on Websnark (which has also surfaced to a lesser extent on some other sites) about Penny Arcade's Charity dinner. In summary, Penny Arcade announced they made 82,100 dollars at a charity auction dinner. Burns lauded them for it. Some people called into question the motives behind Penny Arcade's actions. Flame wars ensued.

Let's start with the first debatable point: It doesn't matter what the PA guys' motivations were, eighty-two thousand dollars were raised for charity, and that can't be bad. In Burns' own words: "with hundreds of thousands of dollars going to make the days of sick children better, I don't care if they started this thing on a bet made with whores to score crack and buttsex." And while I agree that money given to charity is always a good thing for the charity, and for the public as a whole (assuming the charity does something meaningful), it does not mean that the person giving the money is necessarily a good person.

For example, let's take a look at the case with Jack Thompson. Jack says "make this crazy game and I'll give $10,000 to charity." Well, someone makes what could be considered at least a reasonable approximation of the proposed game, and Jack refuses to acknowledge it. So the PA guys donate the $10,000 instead.

Now, let's consider the motivations behind the donation. Did Gabe and Mike get up one day and say: "let's do something good for the community. Let's give money to charity"? NO. They said: "Hey we can really make Jack Thompson look bad here and make ourselves look good by giving to charity." So they did. This wasn't an act of "charity", so to speak. It was a very calculated political move. And it definitely doesn't make them any kind of saints.

Now let's look at Child's Play. What are the motivations behind it? On the Child's Play website they spell it out: "We set it up because we were angry the media decided to blame all the world’s problems on games and gamers. Basically they said that gamers were bad people, and we thought that wasn’t right." Again, this is a political movement. Through their charity work they are trying to change the public's perception of gamers.

And by the way, if they do have a different motivation, as so many people claim they do, they ought to, you know, post it on their website. Much better copy than what they currently have up would be something like: "The goal of Child's Play is to help make sick kids lives better. We know that although the media tries to paint gamers and a violent mob, you are actually very caring individuals. So let's make a difference in kids lives."

So my point is that simply giving money to charity does not make a person a saint.

However, there are more factors to be considered. Because, you see, Gabe and Mike don't just give money to Child's Play. They are Child's Play, essentially. They do all the behind the scenes stuff. They set up these charity dinners and auctions. They find corporate sponsors. They fnid hospitals to partner with. They advertise, they network, they work hard. This sort of effort cannot be compared to the "Jack Thompson spite", the entirety of which involved the amount of time it takes to write a check. Additionally, Child's Play (presumably) meets a need which was not being met by any other charity organization. If Child's Play didn't exist, the distibution of gaming systems to sick children quite simply would not happen, and that is laudable in and of itself. They don't just give, they work. And they work hard. And that is laudable. The Penny Arcade guys should be praised for this.

So in summary: Penny Arcade raising $82,100 for charity doesn't make them anything special. Penny Arcade displaying a massive amount of dedication and hard work in order to raise that $82,100 is. Credit should be given where credit is due.

Parting Thoughts on the 24 Hour Comic Book Challenge

All right, before I get into the meat of this post, I'd like to give a shout-out and general thanks to my good friend, roommate, and co-worker, Michael (Who appears as Michael in the MiSTEam comics). He stayed up almost the entire time coding the ability for me to make newsposts into the website, and also making those really neato progress bars at the bottom of the comic. He also diligently read every strip and informed me of typos and other errors. Rock on, Mike. Rock on.

Now, here's my thoughts on challenge itself. First of all, it's much more difficult that I imagined. Unless you're really naive, or you have a very poorly discerning eye, and you also managed to missed my post about "finding my pen" a few months ago, you should already know that my comic is a "paper doll" variety. I have vectorized versions of the characters, and some of the common backgrounds, which I manipulate to make any given comic. So the amount of actual drawing work that goes into any given comic is actually fairly minimal. Typically I just have to just resize the characters, position all their body parts in the proper locations, then add mouths and eyebrows to convey emotion. Then I just have to quickly draw up whatever special backgrounds I need for any particular comic. So even when I'm just making normal MiSTEam comics it usually only takes me a couple of hours, start to finish. So I figured I could easily cut that down to an hour a page by just doing a little bit of cutting and pasting and taking less time to perfectly work out the dialogue.

Well, what I didn't realize is that even if you are able to produce a page an hour, you need to be able to replicate that same production level 24 times in a row (and in my case I had to do 27 to get to the 100 panels minimum), without taking a break. In my entire 24 hour period, I stopped working on the comic only 3 times. Once to take a 5 minute shower, once to run out to the convenience store down the street and get more caffeine, and once to watch an episode of the Simpsons on DVD (just to keep my sanity). I had all my food delivered to me so I wouldn't have to take anytime to prepare it (thank heavens for Jimmy John's delivery. I can live off Billy Clubs). And trying to keep that grueling schedule is an intense experience. An experience which, in my opinion, can be broken into three distinct emotional periods:

1. The Honeymoon Period

This period lasts for about the first 10 pages. I call it the Honeymoon period because the experience is kind of similar to having sex over and over again with no breaks in between. Let me explain that, so you don't think I'm too weird. The reason I do a webcomic (and probably the reason most people start, at least at first) is because of that intense feeling of satisfaction I get every time I post a page. When I finish up a comic on some given day, I always take a few minutes just to sit and look at the finished work in it's place on the website. Not to check for errors, but just to enjoy the fruit of my labor. To remember all the little nuances that went into making it. To anticipate what other people are going to say when they see it. I like it when someone gives me positive feedback on my comic, but I like much more the sense of satisfaction that comes from posting a strip. It really just brightens my day. When doing the 24 hour comic challenge, I got that same sense of satisfaction every time I finished a page, but without the corresponding time to just sit and enjoy it. I'd finish a page and post it, and look at it and say "There. It's done," and then immediately go pull up another canvas to start the next page. It was a jarring experience for myself, constantly cutting short the pleasurable part so that I could dive back into the creative process. And I imagine that's kind of what it would feel like to have sex over and over again, nonstop, without any pause to just sit and enjoy the "afterwards".

2. The Malaise Period

The next 10 pages are the tough part of the challenge. At this point you have to start thinking about the pacing of your storyline, how you're going to get it to wrap up in 24 pages (which could mean either how you're going to pad the storyline or how you're going to compress it, depending on the circumstance). This is the point where you've got to throw out some ideas because they'd take too long, or they'd mess up the pacing, or you don't have the time to work them out enough that you'd be satisfied with them. You have to make compromises. And at the same time, this is when you start getting really tired because you've been either staring at a computer screen nonstop or drawing on a piece of paper nonstop, and your hand starts to get tired, your eyes start watering, and you just kind of generally feel "down". Personally, I got extremely emotional during this time period. I was listening to music the entire 24 hours, and during this period I actually starting crying during many of the songs. I freaking almost cried in Apollo 440's "Can't Stop the Rock", and that means there was something seriously messed up in my head at that point. And don't even get me started on any song by Mae...

3. The Freefall Period

Finally, the last 4 pages of the challenge are just one big adrenaline rush. You're racing to beat the clock, you're trying to do everything as fast as possible without making any mistakes. I did, in the end, have one strip with an unfixed error (first panel, Mike should be saying "we were snowed in" instead of "were were snowed in") due to time constraints not letting me proofread, and I'm not going to go back and fix it now because that would be breaking the rules. But during this period you get to end the challenge on a high, because you're scrambling like mad to finish, and your body produces all those really nice chemicals that make you forget about all the exhaustion and trouble you were having only hours ago. I actually had trouble falling asleep for a little while after the challenge (although after a few hours, when all the adrenaline wore off, I crashed hardcore). But while you're in the Freefall period, it's just one wild ride all the way until the end.

And that pretty much sums it all up. I had a lot of fun, and I very much enjoyed all the encouragement I received from people who contacted me via AIM. You guys rock. I'm definitely going to make a concerted effort to hang out on AIM a lot more than I have been the past few months.

Out of curiosity, for those of you that have done 24 hour comics, is this about the same range of emotions you went through? Did you have similar experiences to myself, or was it a wholly different atmosphere?


Ok, I have so much stuff to talk about today that it's not even funny. Today is probably going to have the mosts posts I've ever put up in one day. But I figured I'd start out with an Updates post so everyone knows exactly where I stand.

First of all, changes to the reading list:
I've read through the following comics' archives and have added them to the reading list (in no particular order):
No Need For Bushido

And I've changed Dandy and Company's status to "on hiatus".

For those of you keeping score, my "To Be Read" list currently contains:
Dominic Deegan (in progress)
Girl Genius
Schlock Mercenary
Monkey Law
Keep in mind with the "To Be Read" list that if I start reading something and don't like it, I'll generally just drop it without comment. But that doesn't happen terribly often because I like most things I read.

I reviewed No Need for Bushido earlier this week, and reviews for Shortpacked and Zap are upcoming. I picked up Winger because I saw Eric Burns mention it on Websnark. It's interesting how getting a shout-out on Websnark is like one of the most awesome things that can happen to a webcomic these days, since it pretty much guarantees that a few thousand HARDCORE FANS will come visit your site. These are the people you want visiting your site because these are the people who, if they enjoy your work, will work hard to spread it around.

Anyways, whereas Burns said he visited Winger in spite of it being a conservative comic, I went and visited it BECAUSE he mentioned it was a conservative comic, and those seem to be few and far between these days. Yes, I am a conservative, but not fiercely so, and I NEVER debate politics. So don't even try to start. Anyways, I really enjoyed Winger so I'm going to keep reading it. Don't expect a full review, though, because Burns already sort of did that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lift pen from paper, breathe.

Ok, well, that was a lot of fun. I must say, I have a new-found respect for anyone who's done a 24 hour comic, because it's HARD.

I managed to make my goal of at least 24 pages and at least 100 panels, but it involved some serious scramblage at the end. The first epilogue was actually planned from the beginning, but the second epilogue was an "oh crap I need 3 more panels and I have 5 minutes to go" sort of thing.

Still, I really enjoyed the experience. I have some more interesting things I'd like to say about it as well, but I'm far too tired to probe them in depth right now.

Now is the time for sleep.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pen hits paper, so to speak

Ok, I got up a little later than I expected, so the time period for my 24 hour comic starts NOW, the moment I put up this post.

I'll put up updates here at the Webcomicker, and you can of course read the actual strips in their usual location, they'll all be tagged with "24 Hour Comic".

If anyone feels like giving me some encouragement or just wants to chat, I'm going to try to be on AIM and MSN Messenger the whole 24 hours. My AIM screen name is Gilead Pellaeon, and I'm not sure how you get people with MSN Messenger but I think it's through their email, and my Hotmail email is also GileadPellaeon. So feel free to hit me up!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Huh. I guess he DIDN'T die.

I believe I mentioned on this blog at one point in time that the reality of the Hurricanes in New Orleans didn't really hit me until I was checking Fantasy Realms and I saw a post by Clay Gardener, the artist, a few days before Katrina hit mentioning that a hurricane was bearing down on him, and then no posts made after Katrina had passed. It just struck me that, hey, this guy might have actually died in the hurricane and resulting flood. And that was a weird feeling. Upon checking the forums I discovered that he did in fact survive (and was most likely never in any real danger), but still, Fantasy Realms didn't update. They just left that ominous newspost at the top of the page for months and months. It was as if even though the hurricanes hadn't killed them, they had killed the site.

Well, I'm happy to announce that Fantasy Realms is BACK. I mentioned this in my previous post because I actually discovered this while writing the post. So we can all look forward to more great artwork and hopefully some actual advancment in the storyline as the weeks go by.


And the blind jokes... Ohhhh the blind jokes.

Blind joke! From No Need for Bushido

Welp, another semester "down the hatch" so to speak. Tonight I drown my finals sorrows in webcomics and old movies. Tomorrow, 24 hour comic.

It's amazing what you can do when you've actually got some free time. I only finished my finals a scant few hours ago and I've already knocked off No Need for Bushido and Shortpacked from my "To Be Read" list, and made some decent progress on Zap. Once I finish that it'll be back to Dominic Deegan, which I should finish before the end of the week. Life has once again returned to that state which I like to call "good".

But I digress. This post is a review of No Need For Bushido. I first came into contact with No Need For Bushido via the Webcomic Hurricane Relief Telethon, where Kolesar and Kovell had one of the more amusing entries. Then I saw them again a few weeks later when they did a guest comic for VGCats, which was enough to get them on the "To Be Read" list.

Interestingly, looking at the list of webcomics I read, really the only one done in Manga style is Megatokyo (and Fantasy Realms and RPG World, I guess, but they haven't updated in like an eternity... er nevermind, I just pulled up Fantasy Realms to grab the link and they actually updated), which is funny because before my obsession with webcomics one of my major obsessions was anime and manga (which I do still keep up with, but it's more on the back burner these days), so you'd think I'd be all about the manga-style webcomics, but for some reason I could just never get into any of the online ones.

Well, No Need for Bushido has broken that trend. For those of you who are new to the comic, No Need for Bushido is basically about a band of travellers who pretty much just wander from town to town looking for excitement. In the strip's own words, they're traveling "North, because there's lots of cool things North!" Of course, like all manga flavored delights most of the character have either a dark and troubled past or some prophecy concerning their role in the future tagging along with them. And there is a serious plotline going on with wars, political intrigue, hired assassinations, betrayals, and the like. But for the most part the strip keeps a very light-hearted tone, such as the ever-present fear that the blind Taoist monk Cho is going to bring about the apocalypse because it has been prophesied that "A Taoist, a Hindu, and a Christian priest will walk into a Japanese bar and end the world."

Of course, the artwork is definitely nothing to sneeze at. One thing you can always count on from manga style artists is cool looking battle scenes, and No Need for Bushido is no exception. The only interesting thing about the art is that while Kolesar started with a very warm and homey feeling soft shaded coloring method, as the comic has progressed, the coloring has become much more traditionally cel style. I personally liked the older style better. I think the soft lines and tapered shadows highlighted the "tongue-in-cheek" aspect of the strip and really fit the characters much better than the hard-lined cel shading. The comic almost looks too professional now, like it's taking itself more seriously than it should be.

And that's one of the major flaws of the strip. Either it's taking itself too seriously, or it's not taking itself seriously enough. Even a quick browse through about ten strips in the archives will give you a good feel for the schitzophrenic tone of the strip. It's like Kolesar and Kovell just can't decide if they want a spoof of the cliches in the samurai mangas, or if they're trying to actually write a legitimate samurai manga, albeit a light-hearted one. It keeps wavering back and forth. Of course, I can't blame Kolesar and Kovell for this entirely. I'm sure they were inspired by some popular animes like Rurouni Kenshin, and the more recent Peacemaker, which often blended intense drama with outrageous humor. The trouble is, that's not really something they should be trying to emulate. In my opinion, the frequent bouts into the absurd really cheapened both of those works. And No Need for Bushido loses a lot of it's punch when you have a strip with some serious discussion of Japanese feudal era politics immediately followed by a strip in which the characters visit a hot dog stand. If the goal is purely to provide a humorous diversion, don't bother with all the serious stuff. If the goal is to provide an action/adventure strip with a more light-hearted tone, keep the humor within the bounds of the world of the strip and don't resort to anachronisms just for a cheap laugh. It devalues the work as a whole.

Another thing No Need for Bushido suffers from is some cliched characters. Quite frankly, the two lead characters, Yorikiro and Ina, are just boring. Yori's the typical "bumbling idiot with a heart of gold who's probably actually got some hidden skills." I've seen enough carbon copies of him over the years that it's beginning to get a bit old. Ina's the typical "loud obnoxious stubborn screaming punching girl who's actually really sweet deep down inside" that's been the female lead of practically every anime and mange series in the history of the art form. Fortunately, they are saved by their supporting cast. Cho is a work of sheer genius. No matter how many times they make blind jokes or tao jokes or he says some nonsensical proverb, he STILL manages to make me laugh without fail. And Kenta, while he is the "tough guy" archetype, manages to be so over the top that he manages to transcend the cliches and actually be darn funny and complex at the same time. And then there's Yukizane Masamune, who while only being a bit player is probably the most complex and fascinating character in the entire story. The supporting cast really carries this comic, and it shows. No Need for Bushido suffers when it's just Yori and Ina onscreen.

So, if you're a fan of the manga style, or if you like jokes about samurai and feudal Japan, or if you just want to read some really, really good blind jokes, head on over to No Need for Bushido. But if you're not into the manga scene, you'll probably miss a lot of the humor and probably won't care for the serious stuff at all, and you may just want to give this one a pass.

Giland. Land of the Gi.

The Comixpedia Roundtable is up.

Xerxes credited me as Giland Pellaeon, rather than Gilead Pellaeon, but I don't fault him for it, because for all I know it was me that made the typo in the first place and he just copied it.

Anyways, the roundtable discussion is basically a recap of 2005 and what we webcomic reviewers considered to be the best strips, most interesting events, most influential people, and so on throughout the year. There's a lot of good discussion and it's a good way to remind yourself of everything that's gone on over the past year. At the end of it we give some predictions about where we think webcomics will be going next year, so you should at least read it just so you'll know at the end of next year who was the most accurate (my money's on me).

So give it a glance.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Coming Soon to a Website Near You!

Once again the crushing weight of the world has left me with no time for chit-chat. Blasted crushing weight of the world...

That being said, keep your eyes peeled over at Comixpedia this week for the roundtable "year in review" article which should be going up sometime tomorrow. I actually participated in this roundtable, so hopefully my responses will be included (they were a little sketchy on the details). Anyways, I'll link it as soon as it appears.

Also, be ready because this week I'm taking the 24 hour comic book challenge. That's right, starting Wednesday, December 14th at noon and running until Thursday, December 15th at noon, I'll be making at least 100 panels of my MiSTEam comic in one contiguous storyline to satisfy the rules for the 24 hour comic book challenge. I'm doing this first of all to alleviate my guilt for having such a crappy outing in Nanowrimo, and secondly because I want to immerse myself in all the various challenges and events the webcomic community has to offer, so I can be a more informed and insightful commentator.

I'll be posting updates of my progress in the 24 hour comic throughout the entire 24 hour period here, and the actual pages will all appear in their usual location. Since I don't have a better idea for a storyline at the moment it's probably going to end up being some kind of Christmas story. Of course, as per the rules, I can't flesh out the entire story ahead of time.

I'll probably have more details Tuesday night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Payoff

An important point which must be understood from Questionable Content.

Ok, there's been a lot of talk about Questionable Content lately and I've done my best not to comment for fear of being seen as having a "me too!" mentality. However, I feel like I have to comment on today's strip because it's the most important strip of the two week "Faye's Confession" story arc and it's also probably the one that no one else will talk about.

That's right, today's strip was the most important strip of this story arc because it's the payoff. Sure, the strip where we find out that Faye's dad mysteriously committed suicide was dramatic, shocking, and probably the emotional climax of the affair, but did it have any effect on the world of Questionable Content? Not really. This is something that happened in the past. Years in the past. It's certainly not any new revelation for Faye, who's been grappling with it for some time, and while it probably came as a shock to Marten, he knew something major was coming.

But take a look at the second panel of today's strip. Marten says: "Okay, I don't PROMISE. But I will try my BEST not to keep my romantic life in a holding pattern while you try to get yourself back on track." And that tells us how the strip is going to change as a result of this little chat. That's the payoff of the storyline: that Marten's not going to sit around waiting for Faye anymore. He's going to pursue other relationships. Most likely he'll pursue them intentionally to try to prove to Faye that he's not waiting on her and make her more willing to go into therapy and whatnot. This opens the door for Dora (and, dare I say, Sara???) to reenter the game which they had eliminated themselves from out of deference to Faye. It opens up possibilities for any number of humorous and dramatic misadventures.

The amazing thing is that Jeph Jaques managed to bury this major change in the potential relationships of the strip (and remember, the strip is based entirely on relationships) in so much drama and emotion that most people probably don't realize that this last strip was the intention of the plotline all along. And that's good work.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Scott McCloud, webcomics, and legitimacy

Ok, so let's talk about Scott McCloud for a moment. I know the guy's been basically analyzed into the ground at this point, but with all the hubbub over the Webcomics Examiner's article on The Artistic History of Webcomics, Joey Manley's essay on webcomic troublemakers and Scott Kurtz's response (the latest news post as of this writing), the announcement of a Ctrl-Alt-Del animated series, and of course the usual end of the year type discussions (to many links for that one. Just check out the usual suspects.), there always has to be someone talking about Scott McCloud, and I guess it's my turn.

So who is Scott McCloud? In my opinion, he's a "comics theorist". While he has enjoyed moderate success as a comic book artist in his own regard, his main squeeze is discussing the theory and method of artistic expression in squential image art (aka comic books). He is most well noted for writing two books on the subject: Understanding Comics (which is considered by many in the comics community to be downright seminal), in which he tries to pick apart the comic book as an artistic form and make people understand the unique possibilities available in it, and Reinventing Comics (which is the work most webcomics artist know him for) in which he postulates future directions comics can go, focusing mostly on the possibilities of the internet as a medium.

Scott McCloud is well known for pioneering such ideas as the notorious Infinite Canvas and the 24 Hour Comic Book (which has probably had more far-reaching effects, although he's less famous for it). He was also a champion of the "micropayment" business model in which people pay extremely small amounts of money to view your comics (like 25 cents or something), as opposed to the advertising/merchandise model which seems to have been more successful in the long run.

And in most webcomics circles, Scott McCloud is seen at best as an old fuddy-duddy who's out of touch with the way webcomics really are and at worst as a pretentious art snob who's trying to turn something that's silly and fun into some serious artistic medium for "professionals". Infinite Canvas is used by most folk as a dirty word, and in general Scott McCloud just takes a lot of flak.

But Scott McCloud has a special place in my heart for one simple reason: He's the man who introduced me to webcomics.

That's right, my obsession which now takes up any number of hours in my daily routine was originally started when I went to a lecture on my campus given by one Scott McCloud. I went on a whim, mostly because it was recommended by the teacher of an art class I was taking and I was hoping to earn some brownie points in the class since I'm not the best artist in the world. And Scott McCloud was an entertaining, engaging, and all-around fascinating public speaker. Then he spent a good deal of time hanging around afterwards, signing autographs, talking, and whatnot. He mentioned Penny Arcade and spoke favorably about them, and also talked about most of the comics which have been featured in the "Artistic History of Webcomics Roundtable". And he sparked my interest. After that lecture, I went and read Penny Arcade and PvP, and quickly picked up Megatokyo (that's right, when I got into it, I started with the big guns. I imagine most people have had a similar experience), then it spiraled outward from there.

So what's my point? First of all that Scott McCloud does a lot to try to introduce the world to webcomics. He goes on extensive lecturing tours, and I imagine more people can directly attribute the beginning of their interest in webcomics to him than probably any other one single person. And for that fact at least the man should be praised.

But there's something more important that Scott McCloud is seeking to do, and I think it's the facet of his character which is both his greatest trait and the one most often overlooked. He's trying to legitimize webcomics, just like he did for print comics. This is what everyone in the webcomics world so desperately wants; to be recognized as more than just a cadre of geeks and losers, but as a legitimate alternative to the comic books and comic strips produced by the "professionals" and their publishing companies. They want favorable exposure to the general public, not just more inbreeding. And Scott McCloud is doing that.

This year at the San Diego Comicon (I reference the Comicon a lot not to try to sound elitist, but because it's the only con I've ever attended...) in the pre-Con magazine that they send out to everyone and then have available at the actual convention there was an article about webcomics in which they interviewed Scott McCloud. And a lot of people cried foul. "Why didn't they interview a real webcomics creator, like Gabe and Tycho or Scott Kurtz?" They ask. "Scott McCloud is not everything to do with webcomics, you know!" And maybe they have a legitimate point. So why did they interview Scott McCloud? Because they knew that people reading the magazine would recognize Scott McCloud. If you stop a random person at the Comicon and ask them if they know who Scott Kurtz is, they'll probably just shrug. But if you ask them who Scott McCloud is, they'll probably say, "isn't he the Understanding Comics guy?" The man has street cred.

Now, it is true that Scott McCloud is trying to legitimize webcomics in the sense that he is attempting to justify them as a means of artistic expression rather than as a means of popular entertainment. Most of us would probably prefer that he be emphasizing the latter as opposed to the former. And it's also true that Scott McCloud is really only reaching out to the artistic community and the general comics community, which doesn't encompass all the people who just sit down and read the daily newspaper comics everyday, which is really the audience that 90% of webcomic artists pine for. But both of those communities (art folk and comics folk) are greater in size and scope than the webcomics community, and branching out from them to the general public is a much easier task than branching out from the gamer/geek culture.

So, like it or not, Scott McCloud is the biggest asset that webcomics has got for it right now. Recently Scott Kurtz had this to say on the main page of his website:
Look, I didn't vote for any of these guys to be my representation or PR manager to the rest of the world. It really irks me how so many of them have just stepped up and taken ownership of that role. From the public displays of dirty laundry to the self-important internalization and faux critical review of the work that's out's all making me sick to my stomach.
And while he's not directly attacking Scott McCloud, you can be sure Kurtz was thinking of him when he said "these guys". And while Scott Kurtz does have a point about Manley's article, that we shouldn't be trying to represent the webcomics world as a bunch of troublemakers, he's completely backwards in the statement I quoted. Probably the most frustrating statement in the paragraph is this one: "It really irks me how so many of them have just stepped up and taken ownership of that role." You're ANGRY that people are trying to bring the world of webcomics to the general public? That people who have name recognition outside of the webcomics community have "stepped up" to promote the very thing that you are making your living off? That they've actually taken the role of an ambassador and tried to be the go-between to lead the general public into a greater knowledge and understanding of webcomics? You're ANGRY about this?

Scott McCloud, and those like him, who are actively seeking to promote webcomics to the world at large, are a group of people that are undertaking a difficult challenge, and they deserve our respect and support, not our derision and undermining.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Filler... or so it would seem!!!

So, I've got a really great essay planned concerning Scott McCloud, but the crushing weight of classes and my inability to plan ahead for them has put me under the weighty gun of my advising professor, who would be completely within reason to fire me on the spot tomorrow when I confess to him my lack of progress. But I still want to post SOMETHING, because I really want to provide consistent content here at the Webcomicker, so people won't be clicking here and leaving disappointed. Of course, as per my mission statement, that something must relate to webcomics. Thus is the premise.

That being said, today's Penny Arcade made me laugh a lot harder than I've laughed at Penny Arcade in a long time. They got me in the second panel with the statute of limitations on movie spoilers, and then hit a home run on Gabe's last retort: "Have you seen The Passion yet? Here's a spoiler for you: Jesus dies."

And it's funny because we've all had this conversation with someone at some point. You'll be mentioning something offhand about a movie that everyone knows about, and that person will suddenly become moderately irate with you and reply, "Well, thanks for ruining it for me!" and you're like, "Huh? I just told you that Pinnochio becomes a real boy at the end of the movie. How long have you been living in your cave?" I think all of us wish we could come up with as witty of a rejoinder as Gabe does in the third panel, and thankfully, now we don't have to. We can steal his.

On a slight tangent, one of my most favorite things to do to people is ask them if they've seen the movie Memento, and if they haven't, reply "Well, he kills his friend in the end."

And if you've seen the movie, you'll know why that's funny.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Ok, it's been awhile since I've had an updates post (by which I mean maybe two weeks or so). First off, now that the month of November is finally over, I've deleted that disgraceful Nanowrimo word total from my site. In honor of the spirit of the month I decided to keep it up even after I quit writing as a testament to how indeed there are Nanowrimo failures, and I was one of them. Ah well, there's always next year, I suppose.

As a way of (hopefully) alleviating some of the shame I feel from my abyssmal performance in Nanowrimo, later this month I'm going to be attempting the 24 hour comic book challenge with my webcomic, MiSTEam. I'll be doing the online variation, obviously. More details on that as the time in which I attempt to accomplish it draws nigh (I'm thinking somewhere in the December 15th range). I am currently trying to think of a storyline that could span 100 panels (25 comics), so if anyone reads my comic and has a suggestion. Drop me a line.

I haven't written very many reviews lately and that's because I haven't had a lot of time to read webcomic archives the past few weeks. The past few weeks and upcoming few weeks are that rare period of the year when my life outside of the internet actually becomes terribly busy and interferes with the hours of time I usually spend trolling around the web. So there may not be much in the way of reviews until after December 12th.

That being said, there are still a couple of comics I have added to my reading list since the last update: Dinosaur Comics and The Big Three-Oh. I also took the "rarely updates" off Staccato because Shawn Handyside finally got off his lazy butt and started putting out comics roughly weekly again.

Currently, I'm reading through the archives of Dominic Deegan, Oracle for Hire. But I doubt I'll have time to finish them, or read any other new comic, until the 12th.