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September 30, 2004

We've turned the tide!

No presidential ads, no fart dolls, no Latin dating services... just a bunch of links for comic book art. Google Adsense has regained its sanity!

For now.

For the record....

...even as we speak, a debate that might well decide the election in America is going on, carried live on most television stations and on NPR.

I, correspondingly, have gone to a cybercafe that's playing a jazz CD, surrounded by other people who are desperately hiding from open media sources. This might make me a bad person. If so, I revel.

November can't come soon enough....

My friend Matt refers to taking control of a situation as "picking up the shotgun." Does that apply in high fantasy?

(From Nahast. Click on the thumbnail for full sized getting serious!)

You haven't seen many pure adventure strips on Websnark. That's not because I don't like them, but because they're hard to do. It's hard to balance the needs of the individual strip's execution with the needs of the overall story's pacing with little to no Funny to balance the Story. Adventure strips typically need a lot of action to keep them moving, too. Not necessarily violence, but dynamic motion. It's rare to get all that right. But then, Nahast is rare in many ways.

Alejandro Melchor is a friend of mine, I should disclose. He's an RPG developer, same as I am, which is where I know him from. He's done a ton of work for Mongoose Publishing. He's very, very good at it. And when he put together Nahast, it was an idea of both synthesizing an adventure webcomic and a d20 RPG world at the same time. These aren't necessarily complimentary goals, but he made the right choice in the beginning -- focus on the story, and let the mechanics follow if they can, or fudge them if they can't.

The story is very good, because Melchor paces it well. More to the point, his execution is nearly flawless. Something happens in each strip, whether it's an action or a bit of exposition, so that there's always a sense of movement. That builds momentum and excitement. You want to know what happens next, but you don't have to reread six or seven strips in a row to grok what's going on.

Pacing and execution -- an excellent trait in a role playing game. An even better trait in a webcomic.

Good, good soup.

Mmm. New York City post-death. Think of the music scene, man.

mnemesis.jpgFrom Mnemesis.

A month's worth of Graphic Smash is $2.95. Some people figure it's not a good investment -- I mean, how will they know they'll like enough of Graphic Smash to actually justify three bucks? Maybe there's a strip or two that looks intriguing, but how will they know? (This, by the way, is one advantage PV Comics has -- they have lots of free preview stuff on their site.)

Well. Here's my answer to that. For $2.95, you can read the entire 84 page run of Mnemesis, beginning to end. And that's worth a lot more than three bucks all by itself.

Mnemesis is an entry into Magical Realism taken to the next level. In the afterlife, everyone simply is, and things are what you will them to be. Rather than becoming a power-trip, however, Mnemesis uses that as the springboard for a couple of newly dead people coming together and trying to remember their lives and how they died -- seems that amnesia comes hand-in-hand with death, at least at the beginning.

I won't spoil the series. I will say it went in directions I didn't expect, and employed very sophisticated storytelling without ever forcing 'sophistication' down your throat. Sylvan Migdal (the creator of the currently running Ascent, which I briefly mentioned a couple of days ago as "good soup") paces this story almost perfectly, and his artistic style is perfect for what he was trying to say.

I liked this webcomic immeasurably. I hope Migdal returns to his own particular afterlife someday to tell us more stories. I'll enjoy Ascent in the meantime, of course.

And you? You (more than likely) have Mnemesis ahead of your reading pleasure. And for that, I'm jealous.

Jesus Christ. All right, all ready. I'll block the damn site.

Clearly, I'm just cranky today, but I've had it up to here with the "George W. Bush Fart Doll" ad that keeps coming up. Why on Earth Google thinks I want that on my site is beyond me, but it's the first damn thing added to my filter list. In a few hours, Fartin' George should be banished forever.

Yeesh.

Mrph.

I fully accept that webcartoonists want to and deserve to protect their art. I don't have any complaint about that at all. Whatever steps they take are okay by me.

If, on the other hand, you use javascript tricks to make it impossible for someone to download your art in any capacity, there's no way for me to get a thumbnail of it for an entry.

I respect this. I honestly do. But more people click-through on the entries with the bit of color and art on them than the ones that lack the color and art on them. And I'm not going to go and ask for samples. I'm just not. To do so would involve pre-snark collusion, and that would color the result.

Which might be fine with people. However, if you're one of the people who does the javascript trick so people can't download your pictures -- especially if you're one of the folks who really wants to increase your traffic, and hopes that people render feedback and commentary on your work -- just bear in mind that this snark isn't on the strip I was going to snark, but instead is on the fact that I can't put up a thumbnail.

Just, you know, for the record.

On the other hand, I may be convincing a few hundred artists to do the javascript trick now... which is fine too. It's their art, and their choices. Always.

Of course, it's also my choice as to what I'm going to talk about here, now isn't it?

September 29, 2004

It's rough when your subconscious sets you up as a straw man....


(From Penny and Aggie. Click on the thumbnail for full sized realizations!)

Okay.

I knew I just needed faith, and I'd start to full on groove on Penny and Aggie. I like the subject matter in potential. And, if it's not L'Agencie VADO, neither is it trying to be L'Agencie VADO. Today? The character just clicked for me.

I don't know yet if this series is really trying to bring the Funny or the Story, per se, but it started vibing on Cool Cat Studio's vibe today, and that's a very good place for it to be.

Man, I have a whole new Trawl I need to detail for you guys, don't I?

The decline and fall of Esteem: why the Eagle Awards depress me.

I have three core "favorite comic books of all time." I went through a stage where I read a ton of comics each month (I'm almost completely out of comic books now, I should mention. If it ain't online, it's not likely to hold my attention), but there are three that had me, held me, and to this day I revere to the point of psychopathic obsession.

The first is the Legion of Super Heroes. Which means I'm one of those bitter people who still refuses to buy the 'Legion' they put out now, with the snake wearing Jeckie's powers and the dead "leviathan" and all the rest. The forthcoming rereboot of the Legion has me no happier. My Legion died at the end of the Magic Wars, and my desperate hopes that the corpse would reanimate ended at Zero Hour when they finally put a bullet into the Legion's brain and cut off the head.

The second is the Green Lantern Corps version of Green Lantern (though I dearly love Alan Scott and I think Kyle Rayner could have been handled well. He just wasn't). Maybe it's that part of me that loves Space Opera. Or maybe it's because I desperately want a power ring. But I've just adored the Silver Age Green Lantern, and while I think trying so hard to wipe away the last twelve years and bring Hal Jordan back is just plain stupid, I can hope it means a Corps will rise again. I might even buy that comic.

I loved the above two. But neither of them can claim to be my all time favorite comic. No, there's just room for one at the top, and that one is absolutely clear. The Micronauts.

The Micronauts.

I loved loved loved the Micronauts the way only an eleven year old could love anything. They were grand and majestic -- and yeah they were based on toys, but so what? I owned those toys. And the toys were the leaping off point for the series. They were epic, cosmic space opera. Baron Karza was a kind of evil Doctor Doom only dreamed of. Commander Arcturus Rann was the epitome of heroes, and his embodiment of the mysterious Enigma Force produced the kind of reaction in me that five or six years before fans of Darkseid and Kirby's Fourth World felt when they read his stuff. I was passionately in love with Princess Mari/Marionette, I thought Michael Golden's art was the best stuff ever (and became a dedicated Pat Broderick fan -- an opinion that carried me through his runs on Firestorm and Captain Atom later on -- when he took it over), and as for Bill Mantlo's writing? The man grokked space opera, simple as that.

The Micronauts never got to be rockstars at Marvel, though. They were also rans, after Spider Man and the Avengers (this was all in the years before X-Men hit it big and wiped away the Stan Lee era pretty completely, mind). Eventually, they were one of three "more sophisticated" books to go direct-sales only (along with Moon Knight and Ka-Zar), which proved to be as fatal for them as it was for the New Titans and to a lesser extent to the Legion over at DC (In effect, Marvel tried it with their lower-selling books, and DC tried it with their top selling books. It wasn't until the speculator craze hit that comic book stores took off enough to make direct-only workable.) So, I always felt like the Micronauts weren't getting their due.

And then one day, emblazoned across the top of the cover, just under Marvel Comics Group, was a banner. "WINNER OF THE EAGLE AWARD FOR COMICS EXCELLENCE," it read, or something like that, with the Eagle-in-a-Circle logo of that award.

I was thrilled.

Thrilled.

Someone got it. Someone got that Micronauts was good good stuff. And, because I agreed with the award, I raised the Eagle up to tremendous heights in my estimation.

Well, I haven't heard of the Eagles for years. But now, PvP is up for one. And I was thrilled -- not only were the Eagles still out there, but by God, they were adapting with the times. So I clicked on the link that was in Scott Kurtz's news post on the item, and followed it along to the ballot.

Dear God, what a disappointment.

There are three nominees from each category, chosen by "professionals." These nominees seem typically to be a mainstream fan favorite, an independent/alternative favorite, and something alternately obscure or mainstream-but-borning. Ho-fucking-hum. Take "Favorite Colour (Sic -- this was British, originally) Comicbook." The nominees are Fantastic Four, Planetary and the Ultimates. Is it really possible that Fantastic Four, Planetary and the Ultimates deserve a one in three shot at this award, above all others? Looking back over Dave Van Domelen's reviews, it sure doesn't look like those are the cream of the crop before all others. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked him. And, in his words:

FF is good, but not great. Planetary has its lovely moments, but there's other stuff I like more. Ultimates can bite me. Of the three, Planetary is least out of place. If it came out a little more often, I might even consider it for inclusion in my own top three. But when held up against stuff like Neotopia that comes out on schedule AND is lovely....
Or the Manga selections: Battle Royale, Blade Of The Immortal, and O! My Goddess, which don't strike me as anywhere near the top of the current Manga listings. (Shaenon Garrity might correct me on that, but I sincerely doubt she will.) Or "Favorite Comic Character," which gives us Batman, Hellboy, and Jessica Jones of Alias (mainstream, independent and obscure, respectively).

And then we get to categories I know quite a lot about, these days. In order:

Favourite Newspaper Strip: Maakies, Mutts, Spooner

Okay, first off? I like Spooner. I've always liked Spooner. But Spooner hasn't been in newspapers for well over a year, and last I knew he wasn't drawing new strips for his website (which itself expired on August 31, and seems like he's not that interested in reviving). Maakies -- eh, if you like it, you like it. Mutts, the same....

Those are the three they could come up with for Newspaper Strip? An independent strip, a low-to-moderate circulation King's Features and a retired strip? No Boondocks, no Foxtrot, not even fucking Dilbert? 99% of the newspaper reading public won't even have heard of those three strips. But that's what they get to choose from for their "favorites?"

Internet: Favourite Comics E-Zine: Newsarama, The Pulse, Sequential Tart

A little better. I like all three sites, and if Sequential Tart were up against sites I frequented more often, it'd probably still get my vote. But still, there's a feeling like their "professionals" googled and put up whatever they found....

And then, my favorite....

Favourite Web-Based Comic: Marc Hempell's Naked Brain, Mike Snart, PvP

...what... the... Fuck?

Okay, I like Marc Hempell just fine. But does anyone seriously think he's had an impact of any kind on the Web? I didn't know he had a webstrip. Googling for it turned up a home page but no links to any actual strips. It sure as Hell didn't seem like a webcomic to me. Googling Mike Snart, on the other hand, turned up nothing but notices that Mike Snart was nominated for an Eagle. It didn't turn up any site, any links to a site, any reference to a site -- anything that suggested that maybe, just maybe this thing was somewhere on the Internet. Hell, I still don't even know what it is, and I write a webcomics blog with some obscure tendencies!

Who were the "professionals" they consulted for this piece of crap? I promise you Scott McCloud wouldn't have suggested Naked Brain or Mike Snart. Why in God's name didn't they consult with Chris Crosby, Scott Kurtz, Joey Manley, Wednesday White, Pete Abrams, Gabe and Tycho, the Comixpedia folks, the Sequential Tart folks -- people with some basis of understanding what the Hell webcomics are about? Jesus Christ.

I encourage everyone reading my words to go in and vote. Vote for PvP. It actually deserves consideration for an Eagle in Webcomics. In fact, it deserves to be up there among worthy peers, fighting it out with Sluggy or Narbonic or Penny Arcade. As it is, landslide Kurtz's ass. Send as clear a message as you possibly can that it is unacceptable to put up "nominees" the webcomics community has never fucking heard of, and if they're going to include Webcomics at all, they have to put some fucking effort into it. They have to find professionals in the Webcomics community to do the nominating. If you're going to acknowledge the form, acknowledge it. Otherwise, we webcomics fans don't need you to do us no favors.

Kurtz deserves this award, this year. Overwhelm them with votes for him. And maybe next year they'll actually nominate a full field of creators, including Kurtz. That'll give him an award he can truly be hungry for.

I hate these people for making me wonder if, all those years ago, the Micronauts only won their Eagle because it was the one choice people had heard of in a group of nobodies. I want them to suffer. FLY MY PRETTIES! FLY!

Oh, sorry. I forgot. My name is Mr. Burns. So instead -- release the hounds!

(And if you really want to see me froth about awards, ask me about the Origins, sometime.)

Do you suppose Jeff Darlington wishes I'd just "you had me and you lost me" GPF and be done with it? Alternately, do you suppose he even knows I exist?


(From General Protection Fault. Click on the thumbnail for full sized ENORMOUS SHOES!)

So. We're still on a Nick and Ki storyline with GPF, which means I still don't much care. Only there's more to it, and it kind of crystalized for me while reading today's strip. Or more to the point, looking at today's strip.

I should point out for the record: I liked the Fooker plot that came before this one. And I'm hopeful that there's Fooker, Sharon and/or Dexter goodness to come. This is why I'm still here. But while we're treading water through the "Nick and Ki enact the transparent sitcom plot" storyline, I've been trying to analyze just why this doesn't just bore me, but actively bothers me. And then it hit me.

Darlington made a play for the Cerebus Syndrome. But when it failed, it didn't devolve into First and Ten Syndrome. It went somewhere else. I need a new crappy pop culture reference.

(You can pause for a moment, and check the Lexicon for definitions of "Cerebus Syndrome" and "First and Ten Syndrome." This will also give those who hate these terms a chance to do some deep breathing exercises, then decide they still hate them. I might not be responsive to criticism, but at least I'm willing to give a moment to let it fester. All set? Cool. Carry on.)

The incumbent danger of failing at Cerebus Syndrome is, rather that developing your formerly Funny-based strip into a delicately nuanced and sophisticated Story-based strip, you end up making it cheap pathos because cheap pathos is easier than maintaining the Funny -- which we call First and Ten Syndrome. (Despite my continued love of Queen of Wands, QoW is the strip most in danger of First and Ten Syndrome these days. You don't know how much I dreaded seeing we were going into another flashback sequence, this time from the last character who's designed more to be fun than unhappy left. But hope springs eternal.) And GPF certainly took a shot at Cerebus Syndrome. A very palpable shot. The extended news posts and FAQ entries during Surreptitious Machinations insisting that the Funny would return, he swore, just give it some time was testament to that.

Well, Darlington didn't pull it off. He didn't reach Cerebus Syndrome. Which is fine. Most people don't when they try it. Only you can't call him in First and Ten, either. He doesn't throw in cheap pathos to avoid trying for the Funny. But what he has reached doesn't work, and today's strip really epitomizes why.

On the surface, it's an innocuous enough strip. Oh, sure, my Idealized Geek Girl senses start tingling when we discover that the easily-mistaken-for-a-supermodel-unix-hacker-gamer-grrl Ki is also an expert golfer, but what the hey. Golf is moderately esoteric for the geek population (Gabe notwithstanding), so that could be chalked up as interesting character development. Or, you know, uninteresting character development. You milage may vary. And yes, we have the continually scowling father figure there, to provide us with "chances for big comedy," because God knows this whole "oppressive father makes his daughter's life a living Hell" schtick is Big Funny. And then we have Nick. Seen full figure, next to the other two.

With his enormous pontoon boat feet.

And it hits me. Nick looks ridiculous drawn next to Ki and her father here. Not disjointed, not funny in an intentional way. Ridiculous. He looks like he's a theme park employee wearing the cartoonish "Nick" suit out on the golf course with a couple of tourists. And he absolutely epitomizes the problems I have with GPF in that single panel. Nick is a cartoon character, born of a cartoonish tradition. But Darlington has been introducing more and more characters -- by his own admission -- born of a cartoon take on the superheroic tradition. Some of his characters, like Ki, have undergone some physical evolution to meet the changes. But Nick hasn't, and he looks goofy next to the more realistic Ki and her father.

And we can move this from the practical to the conceptual. Darlington is still trying to hit that Cerebus Syndrome -- he still wants there to be the serious Story and the increasingly complicated and nuanced characterizations. But he's also wanting there to be the simpler gag-a-day Funny. That comes out most cleanly when we deal with characters we either had on hiatus for a while -- like Fooker -- or more recent creations -- like Sharon and Dexter. When we take the older, more gag-a-day-born characters without complicated personalities -- Ki, Nick, the slime molds, Dwayne -- and toss them into these environments, the result is disjunction. You don't know what to expect. You don't know how to feel when you read it. Is this Story, or is this Funny? How can we tell.

I think this sequence is supposed to be bringing the Funny. But it doesn't come across. It's Ki and Nick and there's tension, so we think "ooo! Story!" And so we step away from Funny expectations. Minus those expectations, Ki's father isn't humorous or endearing, he's an actively spiteful character with no redeeming features whatsoever. And, as a result, I don't expect there to be any consequences from what's happening. If he absolutely forbids Ki to go out with or marry Nick, I expect Ki to tell him to go take a flying leap. If Nick decides that he can't marry Ki without her tyrannical father's permission, then Ki needs to dump him. But I don't expect that to happen. Hell -- Ki's mother jokingly asked if the pair had already eloped. If Ki's father forbids the marriage, that's clearly what they're going to do. There's no way I can foresee that the pair will come out of this except together. So there's no dramatic tension here at all.

So. This is clearly all supposed to be Funny. But he's using the more realistic models, and his pacing and execution are Story-oriented, not Funny-oriented, so we aren't embracing it as humor. And smack in the middle of all of it we have Yoshi (another "not my favorite character" though I enjoyed his interaction with Trudy, and think there is possibility there) actually apparently pushing the Story along....

There's a phrase I've stolen from Robert Reed, before. It's clearly entering the Lexicon, because it describes this to a tee: this is Batman in the M*A*S*H Operating Room. Batman, the goofy and silly and camp 60's version, could not work with his style of humor and storytelling on M*A*S*H, which used a blend of satire and realism (well, for the time period) to tell its story. If they showed up together, one or the other would have to break or the viewer simply would not accept the result.

Nick, with his clown feet and simple sketching and lack of sophisticated motivation, does not work next to Ki's father, with his more realistic design and serious demeanor and more sophisticated motivation. The slime molds and Dwayne's simplistic solutions and Trent's $1.98 "Evil" personality don't work next to nuanced relationship humor or Mercedes de la Croix's motivations or the weirdass evil twin thing going on with whatsername or....

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Darlington should have ended GPF with the end of Surreptitious Machinations and started a new strip with his new modified cast. He should have either left Nick and Ki, now united, there and brought them back only after a hiatus where they could simmer and mature the way Fooker did, or not brought them back except for guest shots. As it is, he's trying to blend his first year's expectations and motivations with his fifth year's (true -- GPF turns 6 on November 2), and it's just not working for me.

Well, sooner or later we'll get out of this and hopefully back to the interesting characters. I just need patience. Maybe this needs to go back onto the "Sporadically Checked" list. Maybe.

Two fifteen and awake again

So I went home and promptly slept, and slept, and then I slept. And then I woke up, and now I plan to sleep.

But I checked logs, because I'm vain (and because I'm curious how not actually posting affects my readership. Unsurprisingly, it means people don't read nearly so often, what because I'm not actually writing anything). And I checked the search strings that people used to find my page.

And one of them was "the devil's panties marcy".

Which you'd think makes a certain amount of sense. I mean, the Devil's Panties is one of the better webcomics out there and I'm sure there's a Marcy in it somewhere....

...only I've never snarked it. I admit I reffed her "The Kitty Compels You" graphic, but how would that point to my site? And there was no Marcy in that post....

Well, that's not the worst of it. Another search string was "aeire near death" -- that's not funny, yo!

Sleepies.

September 28, 2004

All right, I sort of lied. But this entry is crap, so there.

For the record? Ascent seems to be pretty good soup.

And I know a thing or two about soup.

Bereft of Snarkiness

I got nothin'.

Seriously. If I look at my daily trawls one more time, I think I'll throw up. Not because of them, but because my eyes hurt, my head hurts, I'm tired, and nothing's jumping out and saying "really good" or "really bad" today. I just got nothin'.

So, chalk up today as the first unqualified miss, even if I did put up a post saying "hi, I got nothin'."

More tomorrow.

September 27, 2004

Well, damn.

I'm not going to put a thumbnail up for this evening's Something Positive. If you want to see it, go read it.

You want to see it, I'd add.

If you think the strip lacks heart, you want to see it.

If you want to see a strip that brings daily Funny not bring any Funny at all and get no complaint from me, go see it.

Milholland gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

I wonder how it is....

...that webcartoonists find one another. There's an interesting column on this week's Comixpedia feed on the subject of collaborative webcomics versus single-creator comics. And obviously there's success in the collaborative model. T. Campbell, Shaenon Garrity (who's just as successful in single-creator stuff, of course), Gabe and Tycho and the like all show the strength of having a separate writer and artist. More than a few people who Megatokyo lost credit the time Rodney Caston left and Fred Gallagher took over the writing as well as the art duties as the breaking point for them.

My question is... how the Hell do most writers and artists find each other for collaboration?

In the garage band world, you go down to the local coffee house or guitar shop and tack up a note that you're looking for a bassist for your band. However, I don't know of any place you go and tack up "WANTED: One Writer -- must not suck at dialogue. Gag-a-day preferred but good if you know Nordic Tone Poems too" or "ARTIST WANTED FOR COMIC STRIP: no pay and I want you to stick to my script, but your name will be on it too if you want! Please have some understanding of how large a woman's eyes and mouth are proportioned to her face."

I honestly don't know the magic. Maybe it's because I live in New Hampshire, but I just don't see it happening. The one time I looked to collaborate on a webcomic was after I'd gotten to know an artist well electronically, and she ended up having commitments crop up that no person could possibly work around.

I agree that Collaboration creates powerful comic strips, sometimes. I just don't know how it comes about. Or should we petition eHarmony.com to start an art-matching service?

This entry is astoundingly long. It deserves to be. It's on Hitherby Dragons.

You all know I love webcomics. I love them for many reasons, but one reason is because I can't do them. We've seen the results when I try, and they aren't pretty. And so I can set aside any aspirations for drawing a strip, because I just don't have the chops, and I can revel in the artistic goodness I find without rancor.

However... I can write. I've even been told I'm good at it. Clever. I can write a story and make it readable, if not necessarily salable. All the work and time and effort I haven't put into illustration skills I have put into the written word. It's been the better part of a decade since I last let more than four or five days pass without putting a sequence of words into an order no one's tried before (not counting major surgery or other such external forces). I write because I like writing. And I dream of having impact -- not necessarily great popular renown, but emotional impact. I dream of having someone read my work and set it aside and shiver, eyes closed, unable to go on for a few moments.

I've seen it done. Dan Simmons did it in Hyperion, in a substory called "The Scholar's Tale." Sean Stewart does it. Neil Gaiman does it, though he did it better in comics than in fiction. But I don't aspire to be Simmons or Stewart or Gaiman. My dreams are humbler. I just want to have done it.

Which makes reading the glorious Hitherby Dragons actively painful for me. Because what I yearn to do with all my heart Rebecca Borgstrom does as naturally as she breathes. I have to keep reading, because I can't imagine my life without Hitherby Dragons in it, but each day I am reminded that she can do what I cannot, and that way lies madness.

I've met Rebecca Borgstrom. Met her before the days of Hitherby Dragons. I once bought her sushi and got my copy of Nobilis -- the Role Playing Game Borgstrom wrote, and perhaps the single finest development in the evolution of Role Playing Games in the last ten years -- signed by her. It was only the second copy she'd ever autographed. I knew then that she was supremely talented. I had no idea she would create a new art form within a few short years, or that it would inspire almost Grecian Tragedy levels of envy in me.

Hitherby Dragons defies simple definition. And yet, I once tried, in my Livejournal back in the dark days before Websnark. In that entry, I proposed we make 'hitherby' a noun and verb alike, to encapsulate the new art form that Borgstrom is creating with every passing day on her site. To quote myself:

Hitherby Dragons is simply, elegantly beautiful.

However, it's also indescribable.

Seriously. It embraces Magic Realism, but also a sense of whimsy. It's got elements of the old Fairy Tales and the new descendants of them all at once. It's got pop culture, but with brushstrokes of texture and depth.

They are themselves, and they can make you laugh, and break your heart, and make you laugh while breaking your heart. If you're not reading them now, you should.

Well, I was chatting with my friend Lon through the magic of the internet earlier today, and he made a comment about working in the comic and game mines. And I said "now I'm thinking about Comic Mines. There's a Hitherby there, I'm just sure."

And he knew exactly what I meant.

That's a compliment unlike any other, really. If you work in a style and genre of fiction so innovative, so engaging, and so captivating that a simple reference to your site name can evoke that style and genre, you become a noun. You have meaning beyond even your own work.

If I'm going to use the word 'hitherby' in casual conversation, I need to have a coherent definition, though. When grok left Stranger in a Strange Land and entered Webster's Third International Dictionary, the entry couldn't well define the word the way Heinlein did -- Heinlein's definition was ineffable. It meant love, and cherish, and drink, and hate, and any number of other things. You just knew what it meant. But dictionaries don't work that way, and if I tell you I grok Hitherby Dragons (I'm not at all sure I do, by the way) you're going to run to the Oxford English Dictionary and look it up. And you'll see that it says grok means:

a. trans. (also with obj. clause) To understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with.

b. intr. To empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.
which isn't very much what Heinlein meant, but it is what I mean when I use the word now. And it's not wrong when applied to Stranger in a Strange Land, so if it's inadequate we yield to the limitations of lexicography and accept it. And thus the English language grows.

So, defining hitherby in a way that makes sense, that isn't wrong when applied to Hitherby Dragons but also acknowledges it misses the forest for the trees, I come up with:

hitherby: /Hith"er-bE/ a. (noun) A vignette or short story that employs the fantastic or whimsical in structure, form and idiom while maintaining a strong internal consistency and sense of realism

b. (noun) A story (often fantasy or horror) that maintains its sense of the real despite absurdist events.

c. (verb) To write a hitherby; to write in fantastic or whimsical tropes while cleaving to realistic style.
It's inadequate, but it's what I can do. Suggestions cheerfully solicited.

It is a fine thing to become a word, I think.

Which makes this whole entry pretty long, but what the Hell. I'm baring my soul here.

I go on and on and on in Websnark.com on how more and more webcomics are embracing what makes their art form unique -- presenting an art form that couldn't exist in newspapers or books -- not the same way. Perhaps not in any way. Well, Hitherby Dragons is a textual art form born out of Movable Type that couldn't exist in the same way it does in a book. It is inexorably born out of the blog-form, and whether we use 'hitherby' to describe the individual stories or not, Hitherby Dragons transcends that definition to create the whole. Often funny, often tragic, blending folklore and physics, puns and pathos, Greek Tragedy and Passion Plays and Commedia Del Arte all rolled into one... it is like reading a painting, with each brushstroke adding more texture and color to the whole, and when you begin to glimpse the canvas over time you begin to understand how terribly wonderful the vision will be in the end.

It drives me mad, because I can't do it. I can't do it and I want to.

Take "At the Cherry Tree", a hitherby from last week. It takes a bit of folklore, a bit of Americana. Something we all own, culturally -- the "cannot tell a lie" story of George Washington. And it makes it....

...it makes it horrific, and beautiful, all at once. You understand the price of lying, the price of murder, the price of emptiness. You understand....

There are cherry trees behind his house. He goes to them, still with liquor on his breath, and there he sees the dryad. She is curled and straight: her body upright, but her hair wound round her in gentle curls and knots. It forms bark, and leaves, and flowers. It gives her more branches than her outthrust arms. Her teeth are wooden.

"George," she says. It is a minimal acknowledgment. She does not give much time to George.

"Dance for me," he says. It is rude, but he is a child, and he is drunk.

"There is sun," says the dryad. "There is soil. Leave me in peace, child. I am content."

"Dance," insists George.

"You are nothing," she says.

"I'm more than you."

So George goes to the shed, and he finds an axe, and he takes it out.

You see, don't you? Read the entries if you don't. Read them all, but measure them out. You'd get drunk on too many at once. Measure your consumption or pay for it in the morning.

I can't do this, and I want to. I want to so badly, and I work on my craft, and my imagination, and seeing the world in that way. I work on phrasing and impact and pacing and vocabulary. And then I write a story and send it away, because that's what you do with stories, and then it comes back with a form letter and I send it somewhere else, and then I go back to "Hitherby Dragons" and she's done it again!

I understand the legend of Salieri, staring askance at Mozart, whether those stories are true or not. I understand the yearning desire to be the defining artist of a generation, and being forced to watch someone else become that because they're just so damn good. So I'll smile, and tell you all to read Hitherby Dragons. But if, ten years from now, Rebecca Borgstrom lies stricken with consumption, eyes closed and dictating words of transcendent beauty to me that I then type into my word processor, an evil smile on my face....

Well, I warned you. Didn't I?

Of course, George Lucas would want to screen in Hayden Christensen's fa-- oh, screw it. I'm not going for the joke.

(From The Astronomy Picture of the Day. Click on the thumbnail for full sized interstellar gases.)

It's not that it's a gorgeous picture. It is. It's not that it isn't impressive. It is.

It's just... I can see the brush strokes.

Total fake, man. God's going to have to try harder if he's going to convince me.

Do you remember when blue screens were blue instead of green? Is it because of the whole Blue Screen of Death thing from Windows or what?

(From Real Life Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized green screening!)

So a few days back, I get e-mail from my friend Sean. Sean's a damn good writer (he's done a significant amount of work for an RPG company featuring albino canines who lack domestication) and a cool guy, so I like to get mail from him. And he brought up the last several strips of Real Life Comics in said mail, because... well, because.

To be honest, it was a sequence I was torn about. On the one side, we had metahumor -- the whole Cartoonist as character thing, with a side order of "our characters are really just actors though they're just like their characters in real life," which frankly isn't my favorite narrative device. On the other -- and this is the part that Sean brought up -- the artwork has been gorgeous. It's more than just a parody with scanned in backgrounds to ape the whole Sky Captain thing. He's selected a perfect color palette and saturation level to match the remarkable cinematography on the movie, and then added in just the right amount of gaussian blur (yeah, I know some Photoshop. Why?) to make the whole thing just work. This was definitely a sequence of strips where the behind the scenes work was much more labor intensive than the actual drawing of the strip.

Today's strip goes back to the metacartoonist thing, but oh well. Go back through the last several days and just revel in the artwork. And for those of your playing along at home, this was a whole sequence that just couldn't work on a newspaper page, period. (For one thing, newspapers don't print at a high enough LPI to make gradations this subtle work at all.) Dean deserves major props for even trying this, and he deserves a cookie for making it work.

(No, no biscuit. Metahumor needs to bring a lot higher degree of Funny before someone gets a biscuit from me!)

Drink deep of the Snark, now in more than one place!

Over on Comixpedia, you'll find the first of what I hope will be many monthly columns by me. Feeding Snarky features... well, more of my stuff. Only it also has an astoundingly cool 'icon art,' done by the equally astoundingly cool Ursula Vernon of Digger fame. And right there, that makes it much cooler!

Anyway, check it out. Or don't. I mean, I don't see the hitcounts for Comixpedia, so I'll never know. On the other hand, there's also a new Wednesday White article and one by Meaghan Quinn and they interview Steven L. Cloud, who draws the brilliant Boy on a Stick and Slither. So there's better reasons than my sorry ass to check it out.

In other news, Venture Brothers was good this week. That is all. All the news.

September 26, 2004

Breaking an unwritten rule, for your snarkreading pleasure


(From Freefall. Click on the thumbnail for full sized shiny, shiny button.)

You know, I don't have many rules for Websnark. Try to get something written. Credit the sources for the stuff I'm talking about. Try not to suck.

And don't snark about the same site two days in a row. Heck, I prefer to have many days between snarks on a given webcomic. Sometimes, I fail at that, but I still try. You're going to get sick of me talking about stuff if I don't shake it up, and I don't want to pull from peoples' archives too often. You're supposed to go to their sites.

And I sure as Hell don't snark the same site twice in a row. That's just silly.

Well, I started reading Freefall today, on a recommendation. I posted a snark when I laughed hard enough to piss my cat off. She was sleeping sprawled across my chest at the time, you see. Yeah, it was pretty damn cute. That's not important there. And I kept going.

This shouldn't be as good as it is, damn it. It's got a pile of cliches in it. Plus a furry. And a cheerful robot. Except it transcends cliche. It has a purity to it. The characters are what they say they are. The art is clean and pleasant. And there is daily Funny. Good daily Funny.

That's not enough to get a second Snark in a row. I mean, Jesus. This is the unwritten law we're talking about! I have some standards! I HAVE SOME STANDARDS!

And then it hit me. Like a gunshot. Only without the bleeding or gangrene.

This strip is hard science fiction.

Let me say that again.

This strip, despite having a wolf-girl, robots conditioned to shout DOGGIE, squid-con men in encounter suits and homicidal computers, is hard science fiction.

The last sequence of strips, which spanned from October 13 of last year until the current strip, has covered the group getting their first mission -- launching into orbit to deploy 20 satellites. They went through launch window. They underwent magnetic acceleration and multiple stages, using air as propellent until they were too high, then water as reaction mass, then magnetic scoops to pull in iron particles. They then had to deal with Sam learning how to maneuver in microgravity (so-called). And filter changes on the air recycling system. And dealing with problems in the cargo bay, requiring cycling into EVA suits. And rechecking everything because of the danger of incipient death!

I'm an SF fan. I've been an SF fan for... well, ever. I'd be a card carrying member of the Heinlein Society if those cheap bastards sent out cards, but they don't so I have to be a dues paying member instead. I love hard SF. I love reading extended ballistics lessons in the middle of novels featuring attractive red haired supergenius women who love octogenarian men. I love the philosophical dimension to Asimov's robot stories. I. Am. A. Geek.

Freefall nails that love. And yet, there is Funny brought every day. Every damn day! The strip proves you don't need to have bikini babes, lightsabre jokes or artificial gravity to have a funny strip that pulls you in. Mark Stanley (if that is the cartoonist -- not only doesn't he have a Cast Page, he doesn't even have his fucking name on the site anywhere I could find. The copyright notice on the cartoons reads Stanley and a "Mark Stanley" moderates the Freefall forum. So no, this strip isn't perfect, damn it) has easy to follow characters, good humor, and hard SF, all on the same.

So damn the unwritten law. You get two. So there.

You know, I keep thinking I have a sophisticated sense of humor. And then someone says the words "spider monkey" and I start giggling....


(From Freefall. Click on the thumbnail for full sized computer reports.)
I'm new to Freefall. It has a certain clarity I'm enjoying. It is what it is, and the gagaday works nicely.

Then, trawling the archives, I hit this strip.

I frightened my cat I was laughing so hard.

Just, you know, for the record.

September 25, 2004

On weekend posting

So... here's the thing. I don't seem to be good at updating on the weekends, except for those days that I am. Today wasn't a banner day for Websnark, though there was an actual entry.

Should I just declare weekends optional, or set a schedule, or should I just not sweat it as much as I seem to? I mean, I've posted a Hell of a lot of posts in the last seven weeks. Sooner or later I have to accept I'm just not going to post in a given day, don't I?

Maybe next we can have Gerald Fordmire walk through and trip. That's always a laugh-riot.

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail for full sized... puppies. You have to be kidding me...)

There are very few political figures who retain their comedic value over time. David Letterman and Jay Leno have done their level best to keep the Clinton Joke at the forefront of American Consciousness, but it's more a measure of how dominant a public figure Clinton was that it remains even somewhat effective. I can't imagine we'll still be telling George W. Bush jokes four years after he leaves office, any more than we told George H.W. Bush jokes after he left office. (Dana Carvey's an exception, based wholly on the fact that he had nothing else going for him. Sort of like Richard Belzer telling Reagan jokes until deep into the Clinton Presidency).

Still, seeing this particular Clinton trope dragged out again just seems kind of sad. Maybe it's because we yearn for the days when Clinton's sex life was the biggest national tragedy we had to deal with. Or maybe it's because on the whole, the Clinton years were generally happier ones for pretty much everyone. But it just seems like time to retire Clinton's number and move on.

I mean, to get into serious long-term Presidential sex-jokes, you should really go back to Kennedy. Go retro, man.

September 24, 2004

Cancer in the Collective Detective

First and foremost, I'm going to talk about Alternate Reality Gaming in this post. If you don't know what that is, go to The Haunted Apiary and the late, lamented Beast/A.I. Game (which I'd point to Cloudmakers.org to show you, but Cloudmakers seems to be gone. So here's a like to an archived version at The Internet Wayback Machine).

These are immersive games, using the nature of the web to build communities to solve their puzzles over the web. They are a unique art form on the web, using search engines (the Beast was reached by people who noticed "Jeanine Salla" being credited as a "Sentient Machine Therapist" in the trailers for A.I.) and internal links to build a consistent game world (thus, Alternate Reality Gaming). A couple of sites -- Cloudmakers.org and Spherewatch -- formed around the Beast to solve its core murder mystery. Along the way, the masterful writing seduced us.

I was a Cloudmaker, and proud of it. I checked the sites daily. I obsessed over clues. I shared what I had to share. I even did a fan site of the thing. It was exciting and wonderful. I still miss it.

Well, all indications are the same team who did the beast are doing "The Haunted Apiary," starting at I Love Bees and going from there. The theory is it's connected to the Halo video game, and from all accounts it's pretty cool.

One of the tasks the Beekeepers have been working on in the game is restoring the functionality to a crashed/insane ship's AI named Melissa. Melissa has been slowly designating some players as 'crewmembers.' And today, Melissa and one of those players collaborated to capture (or destroy) another AI, named the Sleeping Princess. It was a pretty cool move, unexpected....

...and, in a way, signals a death knell for ARGs as we've known them.

You see, the community that formed around the Beast -- the Cloudmakers -- was intensely remarkable. It was the best part of the game. Better than the puzzles. Better than Sean Stewart's astounding writing. Better than the visuals. Better by far than the actual movie A.I. We came together as a group -- a collective detective, as the term came to be -- and brought monumental results. We were part of something huge, if just for a little while. And it all worked because the moment one of us found something out, they told everyone else. We made our decisions collectively. We posted our mistakes collectively. We played our game in collaboration. When an AI named Loki had become a threat, we learned that he was attracted to nightmares. So Cloudmakers started posting their nightmares online, baiting a trap for the monster. And we destroyed him, and were rewarded with a remarkable Flash animation involving all of our efforts.

The Beekeepers were working in that same way. Triumphs were collective. Mistakes were spread about. But now, some of the players are keeping secrets from others. Some are making decisions unilaterally, not collectively, and having tremendous impact on the game. Suddenly, a small portion of the players have incredible power in the game... and suddenly, there is real factionalism to be had within the 'collective detective.'

I know at least one player who won't post his speculations on the Unfiction forum board, because he's afraid someone will use his speculations in ways he won't like. We've also seen that by keeping secrets and making decisions on their own, players get to have disproportionate control over what happens next. And casual players suddenly aren't players. They're advisors to the people who can have an impact on the game. Or they're groupies. But someone solving puzzles and posting speculations doesn't have the same impact that the people talking on the phone to Melissa do.

Some players are already aligning behind the Sleeping Princess, to free her. They've admitted this is now a goal. Others are "crewmen of the Apocolypso," and are going to further Melissa's ends. Others are probably going to help the Pious Flea. It will probably be lots of fun....

...but it's not collective. It's not collaborative. People now know secrets can be more powerful than sharing. People now know that the other players might do things they absolutely disagree with and there's nothing they can do about it, so they'd better do it first. And people now know that their contributions by their very nature are less than the contributions others put in.

The game goes on, but the Collective Detective has cancer of the massmind. And I don't think there's a cure for it. When the next big ARG goes live, people will go into it with these lessons burnt into them.

Like I said, Cloudmakers.org was missing when I went to go looking for it, this morning.

Maybe that's just as well.

A brief note

Still not feeling good, and I ran out of Digger to reread, so I read Rip & Teri instead.

T. Campbell is more than the hardest working writer in Webcomics. He's an absolute expert at pacing. And Waltrip is phenomenal at superspy action.

That's all. I'm going to close my eyes for a bit.

Some people will assume this is my normal state of being.

I've come over all dizzy and overly hot, which might be dumping syndrome (if those two words mean nothing to you, then you'd druther I not explain further. If they do mean something to you, then it's going smashingly so far, thanks.) or might be the flu, so with the blessings of my boss I've taken to my bed. I am now drinking fluids and rereading Digger front to back.

God, I love Digger.

In other news, I got my copy of the Narbonic collection in the mail today. Once more, there were gerbils drawn on the packaging. That is so freaking cool.

In other, other news my cat is sleeping on my leg. She likes it when I'm ill.

More later, when the world isn't spinning and Wombats aren't talking to me.

How does one say 'payback's a bitch' in properly nuanced British Stockbroker's dialect?


(From Alex. Click on the thumbnail for full sized performance anxiety!)

It might seem unfair to the casual Alex reader that Clive is making Alex's life such Hell. But not to me. I'm enjoying every teeth gnashing moment of it. I've always liked Clive, who can best be described as 'hapless,' and who tries his best to be as underhanded and nasty as Alex is but just fails. He always fails. He is failure given form. There will come a day when Clive loses his position as Head of Department and ends up back at the bottom of the totem pole. I am as confident of this as I am of anything in this cold, hard world of ours.

At the same time, Alex has this coming to him. After Megabank fired both Clive and Alex in the post-dotcom bust purging of their stockbrokers, they both ended up at loose ends. Alex recovered first, taking a job with Mr. Hardcastle -- one of the core clients Alex had at Megabank, putting Alex in a position to make Rupert and the rest of Megabank's executives miserable. And because Alex is a decent chap, he found a place for Clive....

...that place was as Alex's chauffeur. And Alex treated him miserably. Far far worse than Clive is treating Alex now. After all, making the workers dance for their bonuses is an ancient perk of the Head of Department in the City. This is just some well deserved grilling that Clive is indulging in.

Of course, Clive will fail. Be certain of this fact. And Alex will rise to the top of the materialistic heap. He always does. For a while, anyway.

And he's swung, Tom... he's connected... it's going... going... yes! It's a CLICHE!


(From Kevin and Kell. Click on the thumbnail for full sized 'shocker!')

Every so often, even the very best of webcomics can fall into the Mister Belvedere trap. You know the Mister Belvedere trap, don't you? No? Then let me explain! The 'hapless father' on Mister Belvedere was played by Bob Ucker, who made his career out of his inability to play professional baseball. Which to me implies I have a career in show business just waiting for me, but I digress. And said father would get himself into wildly implausible situations, and have wildly implausible things happen during those situations, and then Mister Belvedere would save the day with dry British wit and something even more implausible.

Any time a webcomic falls into a contrived circumstance that would make for an episode of Mister Belvedere, minus the dry British wit, you've got Mister Belvedere syndrome. You could as easily call this "Night Court" syndrome or "Hello Larry" syndrome or "Ozzy and Harriet" syndrome or "Happy Days" syndrome.

So, Bob Eucker, to make some extra money, has returned to his roots as a professional wrestler. And he's in trouble in the ring, but he's making a comeback... but under the mask, his opponent... oh my God, it's Mister Belvedere! Oh wait, I mean it's Dan Fielding! No no! It's Lenny and/or Squiggy! No wait, it's....

You get my point. This plotline was kind of weak to begin with. Surprisingly so, given Holbrook's usual finesse and skill in setting situations up. Not too long ago, Rudy found a tape that implied Kevin was once a masked wrestler. Kevin denied it. Then, gosh, Kell lost her job for no reason at all (despite being one of the few people who knows R.L. -- and at this point, most of the upper levels of Herdthinners -- is domesticated, which makes firing her a particularly bad idea since she could tell the world and ruin R.L. But she's decent and kind so she doesn't do this. Kevin returns to his roots as a wrestler, despite being years out of shape (and described as middle aged, though the cast page lists him as in his thirties, which as a person in his thirties himself I take exception to, greying hair be damned!). And now it turns out that his opponent in the ring is R.L., because God only knows that business tycoons moonlight as pro wrestlers in spandex in the real world....

This is just plain silly. And it's beneath the standard we expect from Holbrook, who generally lays the groundwork for "sudden surprise twists" years in advance and touches on them enough so we never feel lost in backstory. It's implausible at best, contrived at worst, and takes the reader completely out of the story.

Also, wouldn't Herdthinners's investors want to devour R.L. now, for embarrassing the company and moonlighting. And losing a televised wrestling match to a Rabbit, I would add?

Meh.

September 23, 2004

Leaping faith with a ten speed bike...

So I've been thinking about PV Comics. I like subscription models, as you know, because I like paying my way in the world of webcomics. And I've had an interest in PV Comics. If Modern Tales and the other Manley sites are the collective "Alternative Press" of our medium, and Keenspot is the "Mainstream Syndicate" of our medium... then PV Comics is lining up to be the Image Comics -- the upstarts coming in, with more of a rockstar feel than the Manley or Crosby approaches.

And yet, there's a feeling of youth to the strips, too. A Freshman feel, with the potential to grow into massively cool things, but a sense they aren't completely there yet. And unlike the Manleys, it's an up-front committment of $15 for unrestricted access to 18 strips. Nothing at all compared to comic books, but significant compared to, say, My Comics Page, which offers close to 140 strips for twelve bucks a year. Of course, most of MCP's strips are also available (with 30-day archive limits) for free, but that may be a perk instead of a bug.

I dunno. It's hard for me to just pay the cash on faith. Some of the strips -- Amy's Suitcase, for example -- absolutely kick my ass right out the gate. Others, like Yirmumah (which has its archives available right now) are strong Freshman strips, but still very much Freshman -- heavily influenced by the Kevin Smiths of the world, Yirmumah could turn into a hysterical daily read, but it's a hair clunky right now, and that makes it hard to jump into it. Yet another strip -- KU-2 -- really really intrigues me, with distinctive art and a real alternative-art feel to it, but the lead character hasn't grabbed me yet.

Still other strips that I've been able to sample don't interest me at all, though exposure might change that.

And then there's Nephilum.

Guys, I write for In Nomine, by Steve Jackson Games. I love myself the Antedivulian horror. I love myself the angels among us. I own two different translations of the Book of Enoch. I have written about 25,000 words of a home grown RPG based on the Grigori and the Watchers. I should be leaping into any comic called Nephilum with both feet.

Only... well, there's nothing but a prologue available without paying, and I'm not generally hooked by exposition. Especially when it's a variation of exposition I've already written myself, for a very different medium.

There's so much else to see and talk about. Atland could grow into a lot of fun, though it's not yet distinctive. Dewclaw's look and feel is gorgeous, but the flash comics interface leaves me cold (for one thing, it takes me way too long to click click click through things, when I could just scan a page quickly....)

I dunno. I get such a vibe of dynamic flow, of action, of excitement. I get the feeling like if I jump into PVComics now, I'll be at ground zero for something huge....

But it hasn't pulled me in yet. I've got some of its stuff on the "sporadically check" list, but nothing's moved into the daily trawl, and without regularly updating content on some of those strips, they're never going to end up on that list.

One of these paychecks I'll take the plunge, and then we'll see. But until then, I'm on the fence. And I have to wonder about people who aren't nearly as nuts about this stuff as I am -- what would it take for them to take the plunge?

I'm still left with the nagging feeling there's something we're all missing. That there's some magic bullet that will be shot into the hearts of financial difficulty and make it possible for art to flourish in this ultimate medium of distribution.

There has to be a better way.

And today's award for most out of nowhere pun goes to....


(From Home Run. Click on the thumbnail for pun action!)

No whey?

No whey?

This strip is so going into the daily trawl.

Saved by the Bell of Evil: The New Generation

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail for full sized tasty tasty cats!)

It might be because of the "Meanwhile in the Dimension of Pain" strips, but the classic demons from the DoP have... well, grown up. Reakk, Mosp, Isp and Osp, and the rest are a bit more seasoned, a bit more sane than they used to be. I personally enjoy the thought of them ruling over a world of Sheep, and the thought that Canada's the country that's defying them just warms my Northern Maine heart.

But the Dimension of Pain has always been fun. Madcap fun, full of innocence blended with horror in a way that just makes me giggle. That's right. Giggle! And Abrahms has pulled off a very difficult trick in keeping that element alive: he's introduced new characters with all the qualities of the old ones, and he's managed to keep them from sucking.

Tryka and Sweral are great, "old school" Dimension of Pain characters. I like them, I care about them, and they don't feel like interlopers just because they've been added in. They honestly feel like the fuckups among a culture of screwups, but they're still chipper, damn it!

I don't know if they'll end up on McDonald's plate at the end of this plotline (actually, I kind of suspect McDonald's going to be sticking with the Dimension of Grief after this -- I think we're seeing the end of the Dimension of Pain in these strips), but I honestly wouldn't mind seeing Tryka and Sweral accidentally end up on Earth with Torg and become secondary cast members. Of course, if I saw a lot more of the pair, I might think differently.

Also, Tryka's recurring excuse for killing and devouring the other demons' pets makes me laugh. Laugh real laughter. Out of my head.

On the revision of past success, or how to ride the pony a little longer


(From PvP, Casey and Andy, and Penny Arcade, respectively. You can click on the thumbnails and see the full sized strips in their natural, unLucased habitats.)

Okay, this is about the Star Wars DVD collection "controversy." Which isn't. You know. Controversial. I mean, if he'd called these things "Director's Cuts" everyone would be fine with it. Except, you know, the totally insane people. But that's not the point here. Because I couldn't care less. I'm not going to buy the DVD sets, because I don't buy DVD sets of that nature. I buy Complete Television Seasons On DVDŰ, because I love archives. Everything else, I let the Tivo slurp up when they become available on my extended tier Dish Network thing. I have a DVD burner built into it, so if I really want to keep them, I can. The only "Special Edition" movie exceptions have been the Lord of the Rings movies, which a friend has given me for Christmas the last couple of years, and which I really love. But I wouldn't have bought them for myself. Because Hell, Fellowship was on Encore already.

But you don't care about that. You want to know about the webcomics I'm referencing.

This is a big deal in the geek community, and so we've had a lot of Webcomics reference it. There've been a lot more references than just these three. The community's in upheaval, so people are making note of it. It's what they do. And these three strips between them surround the whole issue, to my mind.

Scott Kurtz has the sanest take -- the take that most needs to be said, in my opinion. Yes, he's putting it in Brent's mouth. Brent is his designated "guy who can say crap we all wish we could say but most of us never dare" character. Still. It's a clear bucket of cold water being thrown on people, and I'm glad to see it. Yes, it's a remix. Yes, the changes weaken the movies they're allegedly celebrating. Yes, Jesus, Han shot first and Hayden Christensen's damn face is in Jedi. Who the Hell cares? If you like the movies, you're still going to like the movies on DVD. If you can't for the life of you let this crap go, then you're going to buy the movies and enjoy being outraged, because clearly that's the kind of thing you like to do. There's nothing wrong with that, either. Also, Kurtz gets bonus points for shading the light on Cole's Vader helmet so it looks like one of /usr/bin/w00t's asshats. Subtle, but there it is. Tell me I'm wrong. (And for the record, I really wish Chaobell wasn't on break, because her take on this 'controversy' would rock.)

Penny Arcade takes the opposite tack. Their strip tells the opposite side, as well as anything I've seen does. Lucas is doing this for cash, and he's clearly lost any vision he once had for the movies. And, more to the point, they include a phrase I think should be locked into the lexicon of all fans everywhere.

That phrase? "Accidential Masterpiece."

George Lucas just isn't a top flight director. He's no worse -- and no better -- than Leonard Nimoy was, to be honest. If there had been no Star Wars, he'd still be known for American Graffiti, which was good but doesn't exactly make top ten lists. (AFI listed it as #77. They listed Star Wars as #15.) As a Producer, his only truly great work has been attached to other people -- Steven Spielberg had a lot more to do with the success of Indiana Jones as a franchise than George Lucas did. (Spielberg is a top flight director, of course.) Lucas happened to hit 00 on the roulette wheel with Star Wars. It was great. Truly great. Utterly wonderful. A triumph of casting, of timing, of story. No wonder he keeps trying to go back to that well -- nothing he's ever done has ever come close to it. The Prequel Trilogy -- which I actually enjoy, I would add -- are good popcorn entertainment, but they're nothing compared to Lord of the Rings. Same with Return of the Jedi. Empire Strikes Back is actually my favorite of the movies, but it's not as good as Star Wars was, and besides, he didn't direct it.

Lucas has to remind himself that he's great, so he keeps going back to the movie that was great. It's pathetic, but there it is.

Finally, we have Casey and Andy, which is by far the best satire of the 3. In fact, it's fall down hilarious. It hits all the high points of the controversy, and makes its point perfectly.

And more to the point, it highlights how utterly useless Lucas's efforts to 'improve' the movies are. No matter what he does to tinker with them, the simple fact is with flat effects and a true bastard owning the Millennium Falcon, Lucas accidentally created a pop culture phenomenon that literally exceeded Star Trek. Nothing he does now can possibly recapture that lightning in a bottle. It can't actually hurt the original movie (and the day he dies his estate will sell the original versions of the trilogy on whatever they're using for DVD that week, and will reap another ton of cash). It's just silliness.

I don't suppose there's any chance that these strips will cover the Cat Stevens denial of entry tomorrow, is there?

September 22, 2004

Now this is In Media God Damn Res!


(From The Suburban Jungle. Click on the thumbnail for full sized tension!)

So. Comfort and Dover have been building for this Wedding for a long while. They met all the way back on April 5th of 2000. They got engaged in November of 2001. (Setting the date, I would add, for 2004. Say what you like about Robey -- the man sticks to a plan.) Comfort's mother joked about whether or not Dover would be able to say "I do" by then.

Here we are. And we went from language lessons into the heart of the wedding in one freaking day. Most cartoon strips would do days and days of buildup, of wedding planner jokes, of last minute jitters, of assassins staking out the rooftop of the building opposite the cathedral (okay, that last was unique to Greystone Inn, but still....)

Robey? Robey has exactly one point of tension -- will Dover be able to force his lips to say "I do" without saying it in script form. And so we went from him failing his training straight to the moment. Dive into conflict! Damn the torpedos!

That being said, I kind of hope he fails. Dover is Dover. Comfort knows what she's marrying. If she doesn't want a groom that says 'set Dover.married="yes"' in answer to the question, she should have dated Woody Wolf. And then devoured him. Just like Leona should have. There should be more big cats devouring the people who piss them off, damn it! They're big cats! That's what they do! Meat is meat, damn it! It doesn't have to be antelope if it pisses you--

I lost the point again, didn't I. You really need to speak to me about that.

Anyway -- I really, really like how we jumped straight into this. Set robey.biscuit=2*'tasty'

Misery loves company, and continuity can be Hell.

(From Diesel Sweeties. Click on the thumbnail for full sized shriveled metal.)

R. Stevens does misery well. Clango is miserable because his ex-porn star girlfriend (who truth be told hasn't ever been that concerned about Clango -- when he lost his head and 'died' she moved on pretty fast) kissed someone while drunk. Li'l Sis has been sleeping like crap since she dreamed that she was married to Metal Steve, working at a bowling alley, and had Indy Rock Pete as a son--

Fuck that, now I'm scared.

--anyway, both look like crap now. And are both miserable. I am anticipating the ensuing of hijinks, especially when Maura thinks that everything's fine, and besides she's probably drunk again.

I do love strips that have no need for characters with redeeming qualities.

Man, when Kestral thinks you're nuts, you're officially far gone.

(From Queen of Wands. Click on the thumbnail for full sized askance looks!)

People who've been following my ravings for a while know that I'm a fan of Queen of Wands, but prefer it when it goes for the Funny. These days, I've been perfectly content with the balance, I should add, and today is a prime reason of why I like it.

It's a pretty standard three panel talking heads today, though it highlights the power of Aeire's "lightning bolt path" approach. The path itself is a little more noticeable today (in autumnal colors, no less), and like always it gives her room to grow. She can develop her idea smoothly, taking 85 words to set the joke up and let it fly, where a traditional newspaper comic would have to compress it (and more than likely weaken it).

Anyway, it made me chuckle.

Internet Explorer 6.0 hates Websnark. DAMN YOU MAX POWERS!!!!

Well! Here's the latest directly from Six Apart, the cheerful people who make Movable Type and who are working on helping us all with our Typekey problems:

Okay, it looks like you've encountered yet another IE quirk that has to do with what Microsoft calls "leashed cookies". This will affect those whose MT installation is on one domain but their blog site is on a different domain.

"Leashed" cookies are new to Internet Explorer 6. They're cookies that Internet Explorer prevents from being used later, by a third-party site. So when the TypeKey commenter cookie is set (for the domain where your mt.cgi script is installed), IE won't allow that cookie to be used on your blog site, because it thinks it is a third-party cookie.

You can add both sites to your Privacy settings in IE so that it will permit cookies from both domains to be used (but your visitors would need to do this also). You might also be able to set up your MT cgi script where it is accessible from both of your domains (your host can advise you on if this is possible and if so, how to do it), so you can use the same domain name in your templates for the CGI path as your blog site.

There may be some other workarounds available on the support forums; these are the two which I have heard about as potential solutions.

Regards,

Shelley

So! If you absolutely have to use Internet Explorer, make sure to add www237.pair.com and www.websnark.com to your privacy settings and it should work. But I personally recommending setting IE on fire and using Firefox instead, and it should be okay.

Thanks to Shelley. I'll keep working on my end and see if we can resolve the greater issues.

September 21, 2004

Internet Explorer's puttin' a hatin' on me...

For whatever reason, it seems to be that (some) people using Internet Explorer can't get Typekey to work right now. Six Apart is working with me to try to fix it. Firefox is working fine, so that's what I recommend folks use. Plus, you know, it has less of a stench of evil.

Meaningless Acknowledgements

For the record, as of yesterday Websnark.com was one month old.

In that month, while we had a couple of extremely light/crap days, we never had a day where no posts at all showed up. This is the 161st post.

On the one hand, I can't believe so little time has passed. It feels like I've been doing this for a year.

On the other hand, I can't believe I've managed to keep this up for so long.

On the gripping hand, I can't believe you people are coming and reading it. Thanks for that, by the way.

Onward....

This brings the Cute, damn it!

gerbnskull.jpgAnd here we are, my two favorite tchotchkes from webcomics: my plush Skull, from PvP, and my Gerbil, from Narbonic. I have no idea if Shaenon Garrity and Scott Kurtz like each other, hate each other, are indifferent to each other or "other," but on my desk these two get along in perfect peace and harmony.

The gerbil is handmade, in the best sense of the word. It's clearly excellently put together, with a scosh of craftswork in it. It's soft and adorable and sits very nicely, and is the best packaged thingy I've ever received. Oh, it showed up in a Priority Mail box full of packing foam, but what a box. See, I'm addicted to commissioned/original artwork. If I could, I'd wallpaper my apartment in bristol board dirtied with Sharpies. And the box the Gerbil came in had three Garrity original drawn gerbils on it (one on each of three sides) and a drawn picture of Shaenon Garrity herself on the front, a bold finger (not that finger) thrust upward as she declares "I BRING THE GERBIL!" This to me epitomizes going the extra mile.

Skull, in contrast, is machine made, in the best sense of those words. Well stitched, bean stuffed and amazingly soft, I'd gladly get Skull for any stuffed animal lover -- especially children. Skull was meant to be adored by a child. As for packaging... well, it got dumped into a secure mailer envelope and sent on its way. I was a bit torqued about that -- what if it got crushed? -- until it hit me that Skull is essentially stuffed with the same stuff you'd use to pack Skull in anyhow, so the chances that harm would come to him were negligible. (The gerbil, on the other hand, has a rigid spine, and so could be harmed in transit if care were not taken -- but of course, care was taken.)

So, I'm grooving on them both. This was a good day.

(Oh, the picture in front? More proof I'm not an artist.)

Moonlighting Syndrome and the modern webcomic.


(From General Protection Fault. Click on the thumbnail for full sized annoying little brothers.)

I honestly don't know what it is. I enjoyed the whole redux of the Fooker vs. the Brotherhood. I enjoyed Yoshi and Trudy's meeting. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with this plotline. It's lined up to bring the Story while bringing the Funny. It's got hijinks built into it. It has classic situations (though I get so tired of "immigrant parents who get offended when the American doesn't conform to every detail of their culture upon entering" as a riff -- I know it has some reality to it, but to be perfectly blunt my inner ugly American crops up and says in its most snarky voice "you moved here, boychick. We didn't move there. Burden's not on us to learn your ways"), is well drawn, updates on time and is really trying.

And it's a total burden to read. I just don't care about Nick and Ki any more.

I used to. I cared a lot, before they got together. I cared a lot when Trudy was in the mix. I cared a lot when the relationship was just beginning to form. I cared a lot when they finally looked like they were about to seal the deal. I cared a lot when the whole Mr. Pookel thing threatened to sink the deal.

Maybe this is yet another casualty of Surreptitious Machinations for me, but I couldn't possibly care less about either of these people. Give me a Sharon plotline, or another Fooker plotline. Or go check in with Trudy again. Or Dexter. Dexter deserves some long running plots. Any of those would at least keep me interested.

I think it has to be Moonlighting Syndrome. America loved Moonlighting when the sexual tension was thick and the romantic tension was thicker. And then one day it exploded, and David and Maddie humped like rabbits in heat. America rejoiced!

And stopped watching the show. They got to the sex, rolled over and went to sleep, then didn't call the next day. And Moonlighting died.

Nick and Ki haven't had sex, but honestly, so what? The point is they got together. They're involved. Even if Ki's father absolutely refuses to accept Nick, we know that Nick and Ki are going to get married at some point. It's boring.

I rolled over and went to sleep on these two sometime back in 2002. Get them married and get them offscreen, and let the unresolved characters back out to shine.

Oh, and let Trent, Dwayne and those fucking slime molds go with them. They can set up a little office somewhere while Fooker, Sharon and Dexter foil Trudy's new schemes, or something. Every so often, Sharon can phone up Nick and ask him a question or two, whenever Darlington has a yen to draw Nick again.

If you have had trouble with Typekey...

...please try again, commenting on this very post. The good people at Six Apart have given me a suggestion I've used to hopefully resolve the issue, but as I can't reproduce the problem myself, I count on you, the reading public to tell me if it's still causing trouble.

Thanks, all!

Snrk.


(From Doonesbury. Click on the thumbnail for full sized sadism!)

I don't have much to say here. Oh, I could bring up how important it is to reinforce the sacrifices our troops have gone through, or the continuing weirdness of seeing B.D. without his helmet, or how weird the rerun this weekend was showing him in the helmet... but that's really not why I'm here.

I just found myself giggling for ten minutes when I read this. That's all.

If we built a time machine and went back in time, would the time machine turn black and white or would we reenact Pleasantville?

(From Calvin and Hobbes. Click on the thumbnail for full sized explanations.)

There are many things Bill Watterson gets credit for, when people talk about Calvin and Hobbes. The sense of imagination. The sense of freedom. The Funny -- oh yeah, Watterson brings the Funny.

But there's one thing that leaps out at me that I really wish more strips would do. It's the deeper lesson than Watterson's (or Breathed's) surreal humor. It's what makes the whole strip hold together. And that's Watterson's willingness to let Calvin be a little kid.

Yeah, he sometimes uses words a kid his age probably wouldn't, but for the most part Calvin has a child's understanding of the world. He believes what he's told, if it fits his childlike world view. And that's very, very cool.

Alice is the strip that's come the closest to echoing this, in my opinion. (Though Alice has sadly dropped onto my "You had me and you lost me" list -- though I haven't looked in on it for a while so maybe I can be pulled back in.)

Also, Watterson was unafraid to make Calvin's father a complete bastard. Seriously. We see redeeming qualities in Calvin's mom from time to time, but Calvin's dad clearly takes what amusement he can from the kid and couldn't care less the rest of the time.

You, madam, are tattooed. In fact, you are extremely tattooed. And tomorrow, I shall be sober.

(From Scary Go Round. Click on the thumbnail for full sized flirty ensemble!)

I love the banter between Tim and Amy. In fact, I love the banter of Scary Go Round in general. It's a strip of gigantic heaving potent banter, throbbing with barely restrained wit and aplomb.

That might be the most suspect sentence I've ever written. You don't get that kind of double-entendre from Comixpedia, kids. Okay, sometimes you get cover art of women having sex with iMacs, but there's nothing double about that entendre. That's some decidedly singular entendre action. But that's off today's point, isn't it?

The thing about Scary Go Round's banter is it's unashamed. Most banter comes across as self-conscious. There's an assumption that somehow it has to have some kind of point, or connect to the strip, somehow. I think this is because so many Americans grew up watching the "banter" on sitcoms. Aside from Seinfeld, which elevated American banter considerably, American sitcoms don't banter so much as they trade clumsy insults and wait for the laugh track. Cleverness isn't encouraged. Sex references are. Do you have any idea how boring sex references become after you hear the fourteenth reference within a single hour?

Er, let's just ignore the double-entendre I opened this entry with, shall we? Thanks.

Allison comes from the British tradition, where banter has a deliciousness all its own. If P.G. Wodehouse were writing webcomics today, he'd toss in banter like this. We used to have a Banter tradition, but I fear it remained in the past with the Algonquin Round Table. I'm reminded of Steve Martin in Roxanne:

"We haven't had any irony here since about, uh, '83, when I was the only
practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was getting tired of being stared
at."
Questionable Content goes for the heavy banter points, but for the most part we're stuck with repartee that claims its banter. You know, like pretty much any exchange between Slick and Monique in Sinfest. It's funny, but it ain't banter.

Shiny on, you crazy Brit. Shine on.

Is it me, or is Artie just in the wrong line of work?


(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized partings if you're a subscriber, or click on the link to see today's strip if you're not. And then subscribe.)

And so we come to the end of the road trip. Well, not really. In fact, this isn't an ending at all, because Artie and Dave still need to get back to Narbonic Labs and Dave needs to explain to the rental agency how the truck got trashed and we don't know who the programmer is who's going to "remove" the order-taking compulsion from the Madblood Androids, or what the programmer will actually do to them. (This is assuming the programmer doesn't turn out to be Madblood himself, of course.) The revelation of Zeta's past is left hanging as she moves on, and Dave's jealousy over his brother persists.

And yet, this feels like the plot's end, so we're declaring it the plot's end. All else is denouement.

Denouement.

It means "the events following the climax of a drama or novel in which such a resolution or clarification takes place." According to Dictionary.com.

Look, I've used the word before. Just try to keep up, okay?

And Jesus, do we really need to see "Apprentice" promos before a movie? Don't they know Trump is totally last season?

(From Too Much Coffee Man. Click on the thumbnail for full sized constructive feedback.)

Dear God does this strip speak the truth. It's worse now than it ever was, and it makes me progressively more frightened for the future. See, way back when you would go to the movies and the following things would happen. First, the curtain would open up on the screen. Then, two or three previews of coming attractions would be shown. Then, there might be an advertisement for the refreshment stand or an injunction to use the exits at the far side of the room if the building caught fire. And then you would see the movie.

Then, the number of previews increased.

Then, the commercial for the refreshment stand grew more elaborate.

Then, commercials began to run, before the previews. Commercials for Coke, for Hollywood.com, for jeans. At first, they were distinctive commercials made for the movie screen. Then, they were the same crap we watch on television.

Then, they started showing a short film about the Jimmy Fund. I have no argument with this one.

Then, they began running slides before even showing the commercials, for when you first arrived at the theater. They had rebuses any developmentally disabled four year old could guess (when they actually have four or more letters on the screen, it's not a rebus any more, it's the work of a confused calligrapher who thinks a picture of a light socket is part of the English Language.) They had "trivia" that proved conclusively that the word derives from "trivial." And they had local commercials. The Portsmouth movie house we go to typically had slides advertising the York County hospital, just over the border. Generally, it advertised it with a giant picture of a baby, which makes me think I can drive to York County and pick up a small child for all my small child needs.

And now? Now?

The Twenty.

That's right, the slideshow encouraged people to ignore the ads and engage in conversation before the damn movie. We can't have that. So now we have twenty minutes of faux "behind the scenes" coverage of your 'favorite' shows from NBC and TNT, plus full out commericals. It's horrible, and it's offensive.

That's right, offensive. If I pay someone eight bucks to see a movie, I don't want to see commercials for FUCKING TNT. I have TNT and I never, ever watch it! And now they've driven me to block it from my Tivo list, so that I never even see it! Tivo can't even record shows off of TNT as suggestions any more! THIS IS WHAT THEY HAVE WROUGHT!

We have gotten some fun out of it, though. Part of my ritual for buying a ticket now includes my desperately asking the ticket taker if we get to see The Twenty before the movie. It's become clear the staff of the movie theater hates it as much as we do.

Probably more, actually. Most theaters have taken to playing it in the lobby. I'd think that would be grounds for an unsafe work environment lawsuit.

September 20, 2004

I'm home. Isn't that enough? Well? Isn't it? Punk?

It was an excellent trip back, beautiful and sunny. And I came across a 200 foot tall obelisk commemorating a Revolutionary war battle.

Well, of course I went to look at it. When you're driving along, round a corner and see a massive granite phallic symbol arching into the Vermont sky, you don't just ignore it. I took pictures, too.

Anyway, I'm tired. Back on the regular 'schedule' tomorrow.

One last light day

Hey all! I'm about to climb in my car and drive for New Hampshire. I'll try to get stuff done tonight, but I should be back on a normal life-schedule regardless tomorrow.

Also? Talk Like A Pirate Day failed to have significant Webcomics impact this year, as far as I saw. That's sad. Sad and wrong.

September 19, 2004

So it was a light day. Give me a break. I got drunk and saw many pretty girls. Now, look at the cats.

(From Two Lumps. Click on the thumbnail for full sized shinies.)

So the wedding was nice. It was a beautiful day, the food was fantastic, the bride was radiant and the groom had a sense of humor. Also, there were large bladed weapons and many girls in bodices. I had a small amount of alcohol... but I've also lost over a hundred pounds of mass, so it didn't take much to get me to the point where I was singing "Hit Somebody" by Zevon to my tablemates, all of whom were good friends.

I'm not loving this strip, today. I like Two Lumps very well. You know that. But while the drug strip last time rocked, today's is just kind of 'eh.'

Still, I like the unexpected splash of color at the end. So, some positives after all.

Still dancing for his amusement, after all these years.


(From Men in Hats. Click on the thumbnail for full sized cool breezes!)

A full-on Men in Hats strip needs to have two things: a dramatic assertion of dubious fact, and schadenfreude, This one has both. It's not that Gamal is in tremendous pain, it's that Aram takes such pleasure in the circumstances. Cartoon strips of all stripes are way ahead of the curve when it comes to total heartless bastards.

Darrrr! I want the white pony!

So, we spent the night with friends. And then we talked like pirates while riding a carousel. I met a kickass 8 year old girl who, the second time she spoke to me, said "THAR SHE BLOWS!"

My life is a webcomic.

September 18, 2004

An acknowledgement, both of an event and of a point.

This is a quote from the author of Comanche, from the Comixpedia thread.

You are completely right, and I have conceded to that before - in its current incarnation, Comanche (as every other comic viewer of the many that are available), is using bandwidth from artists websites without paying for them by displaying the ads! We need a new business model that allows the web artists to get their money when people use the alternative viewers they prefer. This model is nowhere to be seen (and not too many seem to be looking for it).
I have, therefore, made a decision: Until a viable solution is found, I will pull the program from the web! As of now, Comanche isn't available anymore!

Yet I don't think you have any reason to be happy about that! There are other comic readers out there, and there will be new ones in the future! Eventually webartists (as well as providers like Keenspot) will have to find a way to incorporate alternative viewing methods into their business model.

(The emphasis was his.)

First off... cool. He recognized the points being raised and he acted. While pandora's box is still well and truly open (and was open before Comanche), he's acted with responsibility and I think he deserves credit for that. It's not easy to do.

Secondly... in the rest of his point....

Well, he's right.

This is something webcomics are going to have to deal with. If not Comanche, than with something else. Some have taken drastic steps already to ensure that rippers have a hard time ripping (I know Something Positive's files have all been renamed to non-sequential things, to prevent automated scarfing).

Pandora's Box is open, and it won't be closed again. And people who deliver content over the web -- and who want to make money doing it, in particular -- are going to have to deal with the result.

He went on to quote Jack Valenti -- as I said in my last snark on the subject, there's been an attempt to conflate Comanche with file sharing and things like the betamax decision. While I don't think the situations are equivalent, there is something to be learned by looking to the past: you can't uninvent technology, and you wouldn't want to try.

So.

How do we do this? How do webcomics creators get to continue their creating and explore new business models without having them circumvented by people who want to read the strips in new ways? Do we have to begin incorporating the advertisements and business models into the structure of the strips themselves? How do we avoid overwhelming bandwidth with larger graphics files then? And there won't be any links involved, then. And people will hate it.

I don't know. I honestly don't have any answers here. And Comanche's author has been right about one thing: the questions have been asked, now.

On the other hand -- this is the internet. No doubt we can find some way to use porn to solve these problems. Porn: is there anything it can't do?

Updates on travels in the (moderately small) city

Ithaca is beautiful today -- the sun is shining and the air is crisp without being cold. I'm wandering the Ithaca Commons looking at things, sipping caffeinated beverages, and stopping off in various places where I can legally connect through the magic of wireless internet access, to tappa tappa tappa on the keys.

At the moment, I'm in the new public library. Its building used to be a Woolworth's, though that went out of business a long time ago. They've essentially rebuilt the building from scratch. It's gorgeous, well stocked and well laid out. This library is fantastic. And of course, wireless internet access and a place to plug my nearly-drained-powerbook in. This is a sizable bonus.

Around four, I'm going to crawl back into my car and drive back out to Frank's house, meeting up with his wife. We'll then drive (in her car -- I'm way exhausted when it comes to driving, right now) to pick Frank up at Cornell where he is working today, and then we'll drive up to see other friends up in Syracuse. We plan on celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Weekend by going to the Carousel Center Mall by riding on the aforementioned carousel. While, naturally, talking like pirates.

Tomorrow is the wedding I'm here to attend, and our second attempt to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (I was too tired to go to see it on Friday, as we'd originally planned). And tomorrow should be a restful day for me, as I'm not doing any of that driving. And then Monday I head back to New Hampshire.

This is all going by too fast. I'm remembering how much I love Ithaca with every passing second. I'm taking lots of pictures, too -- including at least one pertinent to Websnark.

In the meantime, please enjoy the hors d'oeuvres.

It's been a little while. We're due to look in on Something Positive again. Right? Right?

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized slashfic wrongness!)

Randy Milholland is guilty! Guilty of having built up a sizable cast, that is. He's good at making them distinctive and giving them depth, while still bringing the Funny even when he brings the Story. This is a good thing. I've really loved the evolution of Monette, started as a one-note joke idiot pseudo-Lesbian character and now one of the sweetest, if still stupid, characters, slowly crawling into the light of full evolution. I've liked how he's been gradually doing the same with Mike. If we reach a point where Jesus Mickey becomes a well fleshed out character, I'll be forced to pay Milholland's beer bills for a month.

But the cost of that is the gradual loss of the core relationships -- namely, the friendship between Davan and Aubrey and Peejee. Each has had their own plots, and each has their own supporting casts, which often don't cross over at all (Wednesday White's latest Comixpedia Article touches on webcomics that have the same core cast involved in all things, from saving the world to sleeping with each other to going to movies, and her love of /usr/bin/w00t/ for giving Sarah a life where her coworkers != her romantic interests != her gaming partners. And I agree. And Something Positive has delivered in that department. Every major character (and most minor characters) has developed a supporting cast of their own, plotlines of their own, interests of their own and relationships of their own.

But there is a cost to that. When Aubrey was feeling the pain of Branwen and Davan's soon-to-end relationship, there was something evocative involved... as well as a sense of gulf. Aubrey didn't know what was going on, and she added stress to Davan's life, and it made her pretty old depressed. And we the reader could empathize. It makes sense that Aubrey isn't plugged into Davan's life and moods right now -- there's a lot of other stuff going on in both of their lives. And now, we see Davan and Peejee today, with Peejee being drawn into the play Davan is directing.

There is that sense of gulf, again -- two years ago, Jason and Aubrey and Peejee would have been involved with the Shock Treatment production from the beginning. As with Nailed the extended cast would have been involved in all aspects, there would have been several injuries, and Claire would be both in the play and almost naked by now. Now... it's not a given that Peejee will be involved... but it's nice to see this connection being reopened.

And if you look at the progression, the pacing, and every step Millholland has taken to get from there to here, you won't see any sudden moment of now we are sophisticated. He's let it grow, naturally... and let this reconnection occur just as naturally.

Millholland gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

If I ever become this selfish, shoot me, okay?

The author of Comanche, the webcomics ripper I talked about in an earlier snark, has beed defending himself over on Comixpedia. I and several Webcartoonists, including luminaries like Boxjam and Graphic Smash editor T. Campbell, have all been debating with him.

I didn't think it was possible for me to lose respect for this thing. I mean, I used the word "contempt" in my last snark. "Contempt" isn't a word you pull out when you're trying to be openminded and fair and see all sides. "Contempt" comes out when you look at something, realize that in either concept or execution it's wholly irredeemable, and you close the door on it. "Contempt" means "I am yielding the right to later on say that I gave this a chance," and if you turn out to be wrong, the egg is on your face.

Today, having seen the author of the program justify and argue with it, I realize "contempt" was too mild a reaction.

I encourage folks reading this to have a look at his arguments for themselves, because quite honestly I don't expect anyone to be convinced by them. I'll sum them up here, but please realize, I'm trying to find a stronger word than "contempt" to describe how I feel about this guy and his software, so don't expect me to have any kind of objectivity.

In no particular order:


  • If all webcartoonists provided RSS feeds for their cartoons, I wouldn't need Comanche to rip their strips from their sites. Because, after all, if someone doesn't choose to provide alternate methods of reading their strip, you're justified to force it on them.

  • I want Webcartoonists to be paid. If they can come up with a way to change Comanche so they get paid, I'll change Comanche. Because the burden of correcting this rape is on the webartists, not on the author of the program, obviously.

  • Artists want readers. This will increase their readership. Which is of course why newspapers don't mind if you photocopy their pages and pass the copies around to all your friends, because they want readers, right? Oh wait, they do mind. Especially when you're stealing the photocopy paper from the newspaper publisher.

  • If the artists don't want Comanche to be used, they can block its user agent. Officer, if that lingerie model didn't want me walking into her house and stealing her panties, she should have locked her door. It's not my fault she didn't. Besides, the lingerie model should have been psychic and known I was doing this while it was happening.

  • The artists are publishing on the internet, and therefore should expect this will happen. Officer, she clearly wanted it. Look how she was dressed. And besides, she shouldn't have been walking down the street and she should have been on the pill.

  • You people hate 'pirates,' but its what the readers want! And here's my favorite -- the innate conflation of Comanche with the Kazaa/filesharing debate. Kids, I don't know how each of you feels about file sharing. You don't know how I feel about it. But Comanche isn't Kazaa. In Kazaa, the person who puts his entire MP3 collection up for free sharing is doing so from his server on his bandwidth. Comanche steals the artist's bandwidth, making them pay for unintended use of their artwork.


When I suggested that, if he really wanted to do right by artists, he let them choose to opt into the program instead of requiring them to block it if they don't like it. This seems to be non-negotiable on his part -- after all, people might not opt-in, and he WANTS IT! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND! HE WANTS IT!

I'm accepting suggestions for words that incorporate "contempt" but at a higher order of magnitude.

September 17, 2004

And! I survived the trip!

I am typing this entry from a Wifi hotspot in the internationally known Moosewood Restaurant, in Ithaca, New York. I survived, and except for a screwup on the Penny and Aggie snark, everything distributed.

Ithaca is rainy today, but Ithaca is always rainy. I lived in Ithaca and I lived in Seattle. Seattle had an omnipresent mist from November to March. Ithaca has big-ass drops of rain from the moment the Cornell students arrive to the moment they leave.

It felt nice. Like a baptism. Like a homecoming.

Okay, it felt wet. What do you want -- I'm exhausted.

Hey, does J. Jacques pay John Allison royalties? I'm just wondering.


(From Questionable Content. Click on the thumbnail for full sized orifices. Wait, that came out wrong.)

You know. I love this strip. I really do. It pings my Scary Go Round and Bobbins! senses, and that's a hardcore good thing. And Jacques is an expert and balancing the Story he wants to bring with the Funny he always, always brings. And that's good bringing, any way you look at it. I still have some trouble with Faye's lack of contractions -- it seems clumsy, sometimes -- but I can deal.

And if you're going to go to the Moonlighting well, it's best to go way overboard -- not only are Faye and Marten not yet having sex, but pretty much everyone in the strip is demanding that they do. It's the old comedy rule -- you can do a joke once, you can do a joke three times, or you can do a joke a million times, but four is deadly. Jacques is going for the million and to date he's pulling it off.

You know, it's nice to see teenagers act like teenagers in a comic strip


(From Penny and Aggie. Click on the thumbnail for full sized movie star smiles! (subscription required after today))

I got a smile from Penny and Aggie today, which is nice. I'm trying, on this strip. I really am.

I'm trying because I like T. Campbell, and back in the day I was a serious Gisąģle Lagacą© fanboy. I love her expressive, yet clean artwork. And I like Fans! and other projects Campbell has done -- he brings the Story well, and he's brought the Funny before, too.

But I haven't fallen in love with Penny and Aggie yet. I'm hoping to, but it's not there yet.

Maybe it's because I'm shallow. Or maybe it's because I'm secretly yearning for Campbell and Lagacą© to do some more L'Agencie VADO -- I reread that sequence of Cool Cat Studio a couple of days ago, and it was just really, really good -- there was chemistry, and the characters were compelling, and it was funny and it brought the Story in a big way....

I understand if they don't feel the yearn to do more VADO. And I think the art in Penny and Aggie is beautiful, and the pacing of the story is good. And....

And I'm hopeful. Today gave me a smile. It wasn't my first smile for Penny and Aggie. That's a good sign.

Wait. What the Hell does 'Fert' even mean?


(from For Better or For Worse. Click on the thumbnail for full sized ferting!)

Beyond the fact that we're having kind of a fun 'seniors aren't dead yet' sequence in For Better or For Worse, I think I should point out any time one of the more beloved of family friendly strips includes a clear reference to farting on the comics page. Because even substituting an E for the A doesn't change the fact that when a Fart becomes Old, he becomes an Old Fart.

Besides, kids need something to snicker about for twenty minutes.

Because I can't live a lie any more... you deserve... you deserve to know the TRUTH!

I get asked one question that's hard for me to answer, these days.

Oh, I get asked a lot of questions. I'm kind of surprised at how many questions show up, in fact. But there's one that just crops up over and over again. And the most interesting aspect of that question is just how mean spirited it is.

"Hey," it typically opens. "Why don't you snark [Various comic strips]? They really, really suck! It'd be funny to read your snarking about them."

Well, like I've said before, I don't stick with strips I don't like -- especially when I'd be reading them just to get material for insulting them. "Websnark" or not, that's not why we're here. I like the art form too much to denigrate it just for the sake of denigrating it. So no. I won't read [various comic strips] just to insult them. Sorry.

"Oh," they say. "Well, okay -- but why not just mention how hideous the artwork is? That wouldn't take long! And the art on [Various Comic Strips] sucks! I mean, really really sucks! I mean, a retarded vole could do better than this!"

And I answer, in a somewhat small voice, that I never make fun of other peoples' artwork. If I don't like a strip, or don't like the execution of a strip, I'll say so. I'll even try to be funny, and fail. If I really like either the overall art or an artistic choice of a strip, I'll say so. But I won't trash someone's art. I just won't.

"But... why not?" they ask.

The answer is simple. And terrible. And you need to know it.

I don't insult other peoples' art, because I wasn't always just a smartass with a Movable Type installation. Once... for one brief, shining moment, from April 8, 2002 to May 1, 2002, I was a webcartoonist. I was yet another black and white line art strip creator, parked on Keenspace.

And I sucked, really, really hard.

The strip was called Unfettered by Talent. That's right. I was going for ironic -- because I was so bad at drawing, I thought to make that the hook of the strip. The strip starred Deke, who looked like a character out of the old "Sunday Funnies" kid's activity section of the Maine Sunday Telegram (starring Mighty Funny, a super hero with 'mighty funny' written on his shirt, who would always say "that's Mighty Funny!" after a bad joke), Rhoda, who looked like a particularly bad puppet from Mister Rogers's Neighborhood of Make Believe, and the Demiurge, who created them both.

That's right. An avatar for the cartoonist appeared in the strip. In other words... you know how I say using the cartoonist as a character in the strip almost never works? I know from what I speak. I did it. And you know what? Didn't work. Even with Gnostic overtones and a funky font for the speech patterns.

I started the strip for a perfectly valid reason: I wanted to. I always wanted to do it, and it hit me that I could. Oh, I had no illusions about being able to draw, but I had seen -- sometimes many times over -- that a lack of talent or skill was no barrier to putting a comic strip on the web. And besides, the more I did it, the better I would become. Sure, I'd be embarrassed by my first few months' worth of strips, but so were most webcartoonists. I'd get over it.

And I deserve some points for effort. In the four weeks of strips I actually produced I never missed a day (I was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday updater). Sure, that's just twelve strips, but hey -- it's twelve strips. I only resorted to the 'cut and paste panel' tricks for the last two strips, when my time had already been consumed. I did experimentation. I tried to do backgrounds. Even on 'talking heads' strips I would change the camera angle in each panel. I was trying to evolve as an artist, and I was trying to make it at least fun.

A few people read the strip. A couple even still ask me if I'm ever going to update it again. After all, I didn't quit it, per se. See, It was right in this area that I got two larger projects as an RPG writer -- Sidewinder: Wild West Adventures and a supplement for Star Trek: The Role Playing Game that ended up never getting published when Decipher dropped their RPG line. I had a full time day job plus several tens of thousands of words to write that I was being paid for; something had to give.

That something was Unfettered by Talent. And I never went back to it. A forlorn hiatus notice remains on ufbt.keenspace.com, declaring my overall personal suckiness, and Deke, Deke's unseen but heard cat, Rhoda and the Demiurge lie fallow, waiting for an artistic return that will never come.

So no, I'm not going to mock peoples' artwork. Because I know that even if they can't draw well now, they'll get better. If I had stuck with it, we'd be two years and 366 strips into it. I wouldn't be mistaken for someone who'd learned draftsmanship or taken courses or spent their life drawing, but I'd be competent at the least. And I won't mock someone over something that deep down I know I couldn't do better.

Have I ever considered cartooning since? Yes. A bad stretch of my day job turned into 8 four panel strips called Figurehead Todd, which sit in a sketchbook. The art's even worse in that one, but I felt a lot better. Maybe someday I'll put them up on the Unfettered By Talent site, so that the six people who actually noticed would have something new to look at. But for the most part, the only sign that I was ever a Keenspacer, ever a webcartoonist, ever one of Berkeley Breathed's 'strippers' is a livejournal icon I still use, featuring Deke's head and wearing a goatee, drawn as an icon for strip I contributed to the late, lamented 2002 Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration.

I know... you've seen these strips, and now you can't look at me the same way any more. I've... tainted myself, in your eyes. I understand that. But... I... I couldn't go on like this. I couldn't take the chance that one day you'd be pawing through the attic and come across the scrapbook and see it. If you never want to see me again... I understand.

I'm on the road, even as we speak...

...driving to Ithaca, New York! I have a few short strips and one longer one queued up for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy!

September 16, 2004

Hey, what's time, energy, effort, payment model and site design. I WANT! I WANT SO SCREW YOU!

It's called Comanche, the WebComicServer. It's one of many well written open source alternatives for slurping webcomics from their pages into a nice, convenient place. Or even pulling down entire archives (on the artist's bandwidth) to sit, resident and pristine, on your hard drive.

This has little to do with me. My one foray into webcomics sits on Keenspace, lonely, unloved and crappy. And my own writing (which you're reading now) is under a Creative Commons license for noncommercial purpose. So I have no vested interest in what I'm about to say:

COMANCHE? THE BACK OF MY HAND!

This is beyond offensive and straight into full bore selfishness. These people generally put hours a day, time and effort into creating something. All they ask in return is that you go to their site and see the strip under their model. But why would you want to do that? Why would you want to look at their advertising or see their tip jar or merchandising day after day. You're busy and that makes you feel all guilty and stuff.

I especially love how it'll pull strips down and archive them locally, so those strips who give one strip or 30 strips away for free but require you to pay for deeper archives? Meh. What do you care? Subscriptions shmubscriptions! These people will do the work anyway, so why should I do anything here.

They have a FAQ entry on this site I absolutely love. Here it is:

Q: Don't you rip off the artists when you view the strips, but not the ads?

A: Ad revenue on the web is so low these days, comic artists have already added (or completely switched to) many other support models. And I encourage everybody to make those models work for them. Please buy books or T-shirts, join their clubs, tip them money, do visit their homepages and click on some ads... I do regularly!


Yeah. That's why you have plugins to pull down archives for Doonesbury (which after 30 days you're supposed to pay for access for). And why your tool takes you away not only from the ads the artists put on their site but also their merchandising, their donations, their subscriptions -- in fact, from every possible "support model" they could have.

Also? Guess what. Keenspot makes money on advertising. They make it work. PvP? Makes money on advertising. They make it work. Something Positive? Makes money on advertising. They make it work. Just because you believe that ad revenue on the web doesn't work these days doesn't make it true. We're not in the .com bubble any more, but neither are we in the bust -- and there's a reason ads still exist.

I had to make a decision, when it came to how Websnark was set up. How do I handle excerpting the strips, without dicking over the artists either in bandwidth (which Comanche is happy to use, just not help pay for) or in giving their strips away. I decided to do all-thumbnails (so someone has to go to the site for the full sized strip) with click-to-enlarges that take you to the very page the thumbnail references. You want to see the strip? See it the way the artist wants you to see it, in the model that most supports him.

Some artists probably don't care if you rape their bandwidth and steal their children comic strips to enjoy away from their sites. They don't do this for money any more than I write Websnark for money. But for others? This is their job. This is how they put food on the table. This is their artistic expression -- the whole thing, not just the bits that change from day to day.

This thing takes food out of the mouths of their children, and I have nothing but contempt for it.

And now, we achieve infrastructure.

Now here's something interesting. Randy Milholland of Something Positive did an interview with the Guardian on online fundraising, cyberbegging, and the difference between them. It's a good piece, and it actually puts Milholland's story out accurately (which is never a certainty in these matters). It's worth a read if you're at all interested in how the web is transforming asking for money.

That being said, it raises a red flag for me. One that goes back to my last snark on the subject. You see, one of bits the article goes into is a new service called Dropcash, which links Typekey (you all know Typekey -- it's the authentication service that Websnark uses to keep people from easily being able to comment, as part of my ongoing effort to spread rage and insanity across the land. So far, it's working) to Paypal and gives a progress bar page to keep track of your progress.

Which means we now have a ready made infrastructure for people who are developing fundraising goals. It is now officially simple to organize a campaign to raise money.

You know, I used to keep an online journal, back before the turn of the century, that did pretty well. I got a couple of thousand readers at its height (I was going through a medical drama then, and pathos=ratings, my friend). This was before Livejournal, before Blogger, before Movable Type. Heck, the first version of the page was before CSS. I coded each new entry page manually, then uploaded it, then changed all the necessary links to it. There was a small community of journallers in those days, so it was relatively easy to keep up with each other, and there was more than a little work to get things going. You had to understand HTML, server configurations -- all kinds of things.

And it got popular, so the folks at Blogger made a tool to make it easier. And then came Livejournal, and all its spinoffs, and Movable Type, and all the rest. And now anyone who wants one can have an online journal, and we all do as a result. And unless you have a specific purpose blog (like, well, the one you're reading now), you're a celebrity of some stripe for some reason, or you're young, pretty, female and uninhibited you probably don't have more than a few dozen readers, if that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, either -- it's just that in a land of plenty, people graze from the plates that are near them instead of seeking out the tasty cheeses at the front of the room.

It's the same with webcomics. When there were no automated systems for posting, revising, updating and archiving, it was harder to put your comic on the web and less people did. Now, between Keenspace and the Autokeenlite scripts (and, pretty soon, the Webcomicsnation hosting service), it's become dead simple to put an automated webcomic up. And people do. By the truckload.

We've had a few instances of donation drives/membership models working well, but there's been some barriers involved with setting up infrastructure, even with Paypal. Now, it's going to be dead simple to set up a funding drive. Simple enough that everyone will do it. Hell, I might set one up myself, under the title "Eric wouldn't mind owning a high definition television he can mount to his wall." Not that anyone would donate to it, because why the Hell do you care what's hanging on my wall, but it'd be simple enough to do so why not?

Why not indeed.

In the land of plenty, people graze with what's near to hand. When everyone has a fund drive going, they'll each get twelve people donating money to their cause, and no one will actually meet their goals.

I wonder if Amway started like this.

Trying desperately to fit everything in before driving until my eyes bleed....

It's a busy day at work, naturally. Even though I'm trying to get everything done, because the sooner it's all done, the sooner I can get in my car and drive. From central New Hampshire to central New York. At least eight hours on the road.

Snarking will come as quickly as possible today, but understand if it's a hair... abbreviated.

(Does anyone actually care if it's abbreviated or comes at all, for that matter? I mean, this isn't a webcomic -- it's just me blathering on about stuff I can barely understand through all the fumes.)

September 15, 2004

So, next year on the fifteenth of September, I need to remember to buy flowers for some guy named Jeph? That doesn't seem right, somehow.

(An excerpt from this particular strip of Questionable Content.)

You know how, after a couple of years of being in a committed relationship with a wonderful girl (or your preferred sex for committed relationships -- I'm open minded), she turns to you one day at the Food Court at a mall, sipping a frozen cappacino drink delicately, and says "when is the exact moment you fell in love with me?"

And of course, you have no idea. Or else it's actually the first time you ever had sex, and that's not what she wants to hear. So you think back to the first time you met her, that you remember, and come up with some vaguely plausible moment where she did something asskicking, or might have done but she was drunk so she won't remember, and you says "do you remember, that party at Stan's? You told Mike Davis to shut the fuck up and die. You had fire in your eyes. I knew right then you were it. You were the one. You were the perfect girl. I can't believe you went out with me."

Or something like that.

I don't want that, this time. I want this to be real. So, two years from now, when asked "when did you fall in love with Questionable Content," I will point to this panel. And there? True love.

Yeesh. See what happens when you say 'horror' and 'pantsman' on the same page?

Suddenly, three out of five Google Adsense ads Ads by Gooooooogle (who thought up that silliness?) are for surgical scrubs or kids' sized scrubs.

I don't get it either. Well, at least scrubs are dirt cheap. Or they were. Some of these feature logos and characters, which means they're probably more expensive than jeans now.

Unqualified gushing about Dead Inside. Just deal with it.

So. You already know I have a serious love on for Chad Underkoffler's Dead Inside. This is a role playing game that manages the hat trick of "easy to play, compelling background, and horror-based without being hopeless" with a scosh of "actual decency is rewarded and bastard-like behavior is penalized" that is the kosher salt that just turns the flavor up.

But I'm not here to cook. I'm here to gush. Specifically, about Cold, Hard World.

Cold, Hard World is a real world supplement for Dead Inside, which itself largely takes place in the Spirit World. And CHW fills in the gaps nicely. You can believe it, on the surface -- there are soulless people in the world. Some of them yearn to be whole. Others use their hollowness as justification for doing horrible things. Underkoffler gives people real motivations and real things they can do. In fact, it becomes possible to play Dead Inside without the Spirit World at all, which some people will prefer.

I playtested CHW, and liked it then. And Chad improved it based on playtest. This is just plain worthy.

And it's eight bucks for the PDF. Eight bucks! It's just thirteen for the PDF version of the core rules, too.

If you like horror with hope, if you like magic realism, if you like RPGs where tactical situations aren't the point of the whole thing, or if you like Neil Gaiman or Sean Stewart, you'll like this stuff. (And the dead tree version of the core rules is just twenty-five bucks, which is competitive with RPGs these days.)

Check out the Dead Inside Demo for more info. It's just worthy, damn it.

We need more superheroes with -Man after their name, damn it. Quartzman! Tileman! Pretentiousman!

(From VG Cats. Click on the thumbnail for full sized X-Ray Vision!)

I don't know why, but I have an inordinate love of the Pantsman episodes of VG Cats. It's not just the absurdity of the concept. It's that he absolutely runs with it. If you were a totally crap superhero with a totally crap gimmick, you'd be a little shit stirrer too. Batmobile? Egg that mother! Hall of Justice Reflecting Pool? Make your presence known!

What really nails it is the Superman delivery, though. Superman comes across as that one police officer who no matter what they do knows, in his heart, that things can be talked out. So he's just going to stand there and be reasonable. Of course, he can afford to do that. He can burn them if they won't be reasonable. Burn them with his eyes.

September 14, 2004

On supporting webcomics and the survival of the fittest fandoms.

Bang-bang. Two announcements, right in a row, unrelated except thematically. So close together their respective news posts are next to each other in Comixpedia's 24 Hour Pixel People.

Jamie Robertson announced that he would be ending Clan of the Cats in December, without resolving the plotline. Though if enough people subscribe to his new service he'll be able to continue it, he hopes. His reasons are financial -- with his current profession falling out from underneath him (in a way that reminds me, wistfully, of¨›Derryl Murphy's SF short story The History of Photography) he's looking at finding more work, and more work means taking the time to produce so elaborate a comic would be unfeasible.

Michael Jantze announced that he would be ending The Norm within the next six weeks. Though if enough people subscribe to his new service he'll be able to continue it, he hopes. His reasons are editorial -- after years of battling with the syndicates, he's getting out of the rat race, and as this was his job, he has to find other ways to support his family now, treating this as an ending.

Comixpedia connected the dots between these two strips, R. K. Millholland's successful challenge to his readers to financially support his leaving his job, and Fantagraphics's recent drive to raise money to survive. Robertson's situation is closer to the Fantagraphics situation -- he wants to continue, but doesn't see how he can afford to do so. Jantze's situation is closer to Millholland's -- he's effectively challenging his readers to put their money where their mouth is. Both clearly love cartooning and both have dedicated fandoms, with the question being can enough subscribers be drawn in to justify the decision.

To be honest, I don't know what to tell them. I'm in a weird situation. As you know, I support webcomics. I believe in them. I believe we're moving into a new era of patronage and micropayments and all the Scott McCloudisms you want to hear. I want to be supportive of these artists taking steps to change their circumstances.

And yet... I don't read either strip. So it's hard for me to be passionate, this time. And maybe that's good, because it lets me consider the model at play, here.

I don't read Clan of the Cats because despite its clear skill, it just didn't appeal to me. I tried archive trekking a few times (backwards and forwards, thank you), and the story didn't speak enough to me to make me want to continue. I think it's good, but clearly it's just not for me. I think it's an excellent citizen of the Webcomics community, however -- so I'd be really sad to see it go.

Note, by the way, that I think PvP is an excellent citizen of the Webcomics community too. So clearly, I'm insane -- to hear others say it, anyway.

I don't read the Norm, on the other hand, because I've never even heard of it. It just missed my radar. Go fig. And this doesn't seem like the time to start.

So the pitches being made aren't being made to me. They're being made, in effect, to the fandoms for those strips. I know Clan of the Cats has a vociferous one. I assume The Norm does as well. The question is, are the fandoms broad enough and generous enough to pony up the subscription fees. Unlike Something*Positive, they're not asking for one time donations with a clear goal in mind -- they're looking for a sustainable model. X number of subscriptions at Y amount of money = Z amount of food for the cartoonist and his family, and therefore we can do this thing. But even if they were just doing a straight donation drive (which is how Milholland, Fantagraphics, and even Sluggy Freelance did it), they're looking to their fandom to in effect become their bosses. Publishing, at the lowest order. They get paid to produce, and produce they will.

The question is, how many fandoms is the average webcomic reader a part of, and how many of them can they afford to support. Take me. I'm more nuts than the average person. I spend money on webcomics, and I subscribe to subscription services. But I don't tend to be part of individual fandoms. I don't do more than skim forums and communities (and being vain, it's more to see if Websnark was mentioned if anything). Other than tip jars (which I support when the mood strikes me) and merchandise (which is a whole other deal), when I subscribe to subscription sites it tends to be larger ones with lots of comics on them. The exception is American Elf, and even that's coming in less than Sebo's Kitty Klub and Join The Norm. There's only so much money I have to give. I'm not particularly affluent -- my needs are met and I buy nice toys, including money into cartoonists' pockets -- but I won't be able to subscribe to too many more sites if I want to have spending money for anything other than webcomics. (Not even counting paying my own bandwidth bills for what you're reading now, I would add.)

There has to be another way.

Frankly, I think that Clan of the Cats should eschew Keenspot (though Keen's been a good home to them) and sign on with Graphic Smash. I bet T. Campbell would be glad to have them, and have their extensive archives as a hook to draw people in. I think Robertson should do his Sebo strip, but host that on Modern Tales, so that someone who wants the Daily Funny is drawn to one pay site and someone who wants the Story is drawn to another.

But he might not be able to get enough to live on, doing that. He says he needs 200 subscribers. If they take the more-money-up-front-but-less-expensive-yearly subscription option of $25, that means he needs five thousand dollars a year to produce Clan of the Cats, even at 0 bandwidth costs by sticking with Keenspot. It doesn't seem like that much money, but I bet it's more than a Graphicsmasher gets, right now. (I'd love it if I were wrong.) As for the Norm? They're doing multiple levels of membership (shades of Sluggy, Kevin and Kell, and User Friendly) but also doing the Modern Tales thing of taking the archives away except for subscribers. Their lowest level of membership is $25 but it goes up to $5,000, and will include a magazine. We don't know how many subscribers are needed to "save the Norm."

I hope both of them make it, one way or another. But there's only so many independents who can do this before their fandoms' means will be exceeded by prior commitments.

There has to be a better way.

The power of scheduled posting compels you!

Today's snarks have been served up, despite the extraordinarily busy workload, thanks to Movable Type's latest version having the ability to schedule posts in advance. So, after my brief coma last night, I whipped out some snarkage and scheduled it for today. Assuming all went well, you had momentary entertainment through the morning, while I was able to desperately slave at work. What a glorious world we live in!

I'm going to Ithaca, New York this coming weekend. I'll be online from there, so Snarking should continue, but we'll ration the posts out through the glory of scheduled posting. Scheduled posting. It makes it seem like I care more than I do.

Will she do Tate's "Ode to the Confederate Dead" to try and get ten more minutes at bedtime?


(From Ozy and Millie. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Multitudes!)

Every so often, one must confront the essence of living within a poetic lifestyle. Simple truths have complex motivations. The world is never quite as basic as it might appear on the cover. Peanut butter can exist alone or with jelly to add flavor and liquid to the peanuty goodness. And as someone whose academic work was actually in American Poetry, I appreciate the Whitman ref. Though I wouldn't mind seeing more of a Robert Lowell thing going on the funny pages. Come on, gang!

I'm not as big an Ozy and Millie fan as I once was. The surreal humor tends to feel forced these days, and there's more and more sense of 'retread,' with less and less magic. Understand, Simpson is one of those artists who really pushes the "Calvin and Hobbes" button in my brain, so seeing the magic slip away is actively painful -- as it was when "Calvin and Hobbes" itself began to feel tired. I'm not a huge fan of the early retirements of the 80's/90's comic superstars (I think Breathed, Watterson and Larson punching out early after being moderately contentious did quite a lot to reinforce the idea that strips like Garfield are safe for syndicates, because their artists aren't so uppity and the revenue stream won't go away when they get tired, and that's just sad), but towards the end of Calvin's run it felt like he was falling into a rut. I've been scared "Ozy and Millie" was heading down that path.

Well, today's strip doesn't reverse that trend, but it certainly pauses it. This to me is what "Ozy and Millie" is all about -- something profound juxtaposed with something mundane. Millie being weird and yet Millie making sense, all at once. The Funny is brought, but makes you think, too.

Say it with me. Simpson gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

Stylized art WINS! Whoo hoo!

So, Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack won an Emmy in the category of "Outstanding Animated Program (under one hour)." To do so, they beat out Futurama, The Simpsons, South Park, and Spongebob Squarepants.

I like everything on that list (well, almost everything. South Park has gotten pretty old and tired, and I've never cottoned to Spongebob, though I can accept it's skilled in its own way), but I'm glad to see that when the field of cartoons up for the Emmy is humor, four out of five, it's the dramatic show that actually won. If we're going to start edging towards an America where animation is considered a serious art form, we need to have recognition of artistic achievement that goes beyond "made a good pop culture reference or fart joke."

Yeah, I know. The Simpsons is brilliant. Futurama deserved better its whole run. South Park consistently exceeded its crudity to achieve true commentary and hilarity. Spongebob Squarepants lives in a pineapple under the sea. I grant you all of these things. But just like we're fighting hard to break the idea that "if it's a cartoon, it must be for kids," we need to break the idea that "if it's a cartoon, it has to be about the Funny instead of the Story." Samurai Jack is stylized and beautiful. It employs sophisticated storytelling techniques, frenetic action, true pathos, and gorgeous design. It challenges the viewer all of the time. And while it uses humor sometimes, it's not supposed to be funny all the time.

And it's not arthouse fare. It's meant to be competitive in the mass market.

It's nice there are five good shows up for that Emmy in the first place. It's even nicer The Simpsons or Futurama didn't take it pro forma. And it's nicer still that the show going for the aesthetic instead of sight gags took the prize.

You know, "Trading Spaces" is on the Learning Channel. Why? Why? WHY?

(From Wigu. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Learning!)

One of the cool things about Wigu is the references to Rowland's earlier strip, When I Grow Up. Long time readers know the teacher, Miss Jackson, is really just Gina. And that's cool. Very very very cool. And it also means that those kids are being taught lies! Lies from a filthy whore.

Well, it's better than them sitting at home watching Zoe on television. Or watching the Learning Channel. Seriously. What is up with "The Learning Channel?" I mean, at least the History Channel has some history on it.

It it? No... no, it couldn't be... no wait, it is... it's an IRREGULAR WEBCOMIC SNARK! YAY!


(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized LEGO archeology!)

I've been trying, desperately, to Snark about Irregular Webcomic for days now. Every time I start an entry, something comes up, and by the time I can get back to it the spark is gone. It's like doing Reader Response in English 101, only without the smell of chalk and sitting next to attractive 19 year old Freshman girls. So it kind of sucks.

But Irregular Webcomic doesn't suck. And it proves a couple of things. First off, you don't need to be able to draw to make a webcomic. Secondly, physicists with coding backgrounds can take overwhelmingly large casts and multiple themes and make them comprehendible through the power of User Interface Design.

David Morgan-Mar is an Australian scientist with a love of role playing games and lego. A longstanding GURPS contributor, his webcomic is based on the idea that he runs many many roleplaying games. The different miniature figures and LEGO creations represent his campaigns. Along the way, he's broadened into surreal areas (I don't think GURPS Crocodile Hunter has come out, for example, and the whole sequence of William Shakespeare as advertising copywriter just came out of nowhere.) Because there are so many different campaigns and ideas he works with (he calls them themes), his "previous strip" bar breaks down by theme -- so you can look at the last strip he did and backtrack, or look at the previous strip in the same theme, or the like. When themes cross over, he puts navigation bits for each of the previous themes on one page. Clearly he spent time on the coding to make it all pretty seamless. Either that, or he's obsessive-compulsive and doing it manually. If I were him, I'd claim the former even if the latter were true. But of course, I'm not him.

It's one of the few comic strips where the cartoonist-as-character schtick works, since Morgan-Mar's self-photos generally represent him-as-gamemaster, which makes sense. It's silly, and funny, and it's amazing how expressive you can get LEGO men. Today's strip (yesterday's really, by the time you read this) is in the Cliffhangers theme, which centers on a family of archeologists in the Jones family named after states (Montana 'Monty' Jones, his father North Dakota Jones, his grandfather Schliemannian Chair of Archaeology Minnesota Jones, and apparently now a Doctor Ginny Smith -- Ginny I assume being short for Virginia) fighting various Nazis and Hitler's brain in a jar. There are also Space themes, Nigerian Finance Ministers raising money through spam, Harry Potter gone horribly wrong, the Crocodile Hunter, hobbit puns, occasional guest strips, and amazingly high production values for photocomics (on the Space strips, for example, Morgan-Mar snaps pictures on his little built LEGO set with a blue screen behind a window, then screens in Hubble space telescope pictures of starscapes. Say what you want -- this is not a lazy comic strip).

This strip brings the Funny in a laid back kind of way. Morgan-Mar does what he does because he likes doing it, period. He's a total geek in a good way, unafraid to let his massive brain for science influence his humor, and yet also unafraid to do a whole sequence of jokes based on lego Death-figures who are given very specific jobs (Death By Insanely Overpowered Fireballs, Death by Being Sat On By A Giant Frog, and so forth). It's good soup, damn it.

I don't get how I do a snark about Adult Swim and it's not about Venture Brothers.

So, in watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Adult Swim (through the power of Tivo), I noticed that Meatwad's added a new shapechange form this week....

Is it me, or did he absolutely turn into Bob the Angry Flower?

Very cool.

Proving I'm a bleeding heart liberal at heart....

I spend a certain amount of each paycheck on webcomics, in one sense or another. Not a huge amount, typically -- five bucks to a tipjar here, a subscription there. I seem to be a sucker for cute plush -- my Skull plushie is theoretically waiting for me to get enough time at work (which won't be this week) to walk over to the mailroom and get it, and I dropped money last paycheck on a Narbonic brand plush gerbil. And I get compilations every now and again.

This paycheck, however, my money went to support the art form as a whole. I dropped some change on a membership at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco. Not a high level membership (I don't have that much money), but enough.

The perks that come with membership... won't matter that much to me. I live in New Hampshire -- being able to walk into a San Francisco museum won't pay for itself, even if I manage to get there when I hit Baycon next year. I doubt I'll have much opportunity to use a discount at the museum store. I won't be at any of the receptions they hold, unless a miracle occurs. I doubt the newsletter will have much I don't already know.

But that's not why you give money to a museum.

It matters, guys. Art matters. Segar and Shultz and Capp and Gould matter. Abrams and Crosby and Krahulik and Kurtz matter. The hundreds... the thousands of webcartoonists and print cartoonists worldwide matter.

Art matters. So they get my money. Simple as that.

September 13, 2004

By "later," I meant "way, way later." And XPlay has some hope.

After barely sleeping last night and a notebook computer passing day of sheer adrenalin and discussing the merits of Berry Rubble versus Princess Ariel on the comment boards, I got home, settled in for an evening of snarking and cheer....

...and fell asleep. I'm going to go back to sleep momentarily. I only woke up at all because my cat demanded attention, and she has claws. Painful, painful claws.

While I pet her, XPlay came on the Tivo. Their new set (they moved from San Francisco, which is a cool place to be a TV show, to Los Angeles, which is... very standard) is incredibly busy and full of worthless tchotchkes... and the show itself is back to its low budget glory. Adam and Morgan wandered the new set and snarked about how utterly worthless it is for a show about video game reviews to have a set with egg chairs and fluorescent checker sets. It's back to being video taped, the higher production values only having lasted until they could take the time to go to Ikea... and walk around behind it, to where the Swedes take powerful drugs before designing furniture. And the voiceovers are back.

I am content.

Today and tomorrow...

We are handing computers out to our student body. The school year is beginning.

Snarks will be later rather than sooner. However, after this, it's all biscuits and gravy.

Thanks, all!

September 12, 2004

I'd be more impressed if it was the special unrated edition with pharasees gone wild

I just saw a commercial for The Passion of the Christ on DVD. With "special bonus features."

I would pay two hundred dollars for a copy if one of the features was a Thermian language track like on Galaxy Quest. This thing is screaming for something surreal.

The unmitigated sensitivity of the 1960s cartoon industry

Heard just now on Birdman and the Galaxy Trio. Yes, I'm still watching Boomeraction. Despite having a Tivo. Go figure.

Falcon 7: Birdman! We've just received disturbing news about your old friend, the Maharajah of Ramadan. He's been kidnapped!

The... Maharajah... of Ramadan....

I suspect he was kidnapped from his Gentleman's Club, where he has lunch every Tuesday with his old friends the Viscount of Ascension Sunday, the Mayor of Yom Kippur, and the Governor-General of the Christmas Shopping Season.

Kill all the Oompas! Kill them all!

The incomparable Wednesday White made mention of this. Like a madman or a fool I followed the link. Suddenly, I was back rereading Joseph Conrad. Suddenly, Tim Burton was revealed as a sham and a poseur. Suddenly...

But there is no describing it. There is no describing what Stephanie Freese has done. You can only click the thumbnail yourself.

The horror. The horror.

Boomerang is one way to pass a Sunday. That's for sure.

When watching Boomerang on a Sunday, during the Boomeraction block where old action cartoons -- largely Hanna Barbara or Ruby Spears, but with exceptions based on whatever else Turner and Time-Warner managed to purchase so they can run for next to nothing -- it's sometimes fun to play "hey, it's that voice!" The most fun is to play it with Ted Cassidy, who was most famous as Lurch on The Addams Family, though truth be told we don't remember him for his voice on that show. The great thing is, he was gigantic and powerful, and yet he was also a kick-ass voice actor, doing voices on a vast majority of Hanna Barbara's different cartoons (and singing -- singing -- the Adam Ant theme song. It was fun to identify him as Meteor Man in the Galaxy Trio and Frankenstein Junior in the cartoon as the same name. And of course, when he guested on Star Trek as the android Ruk, and shouted with exactly the same voice as Meteor Man that "That was the equation! -- well, it was a great moment of cognitive dissonance. (And made you suspect that James T. Kirk would have sexual relations with Gravity Girl in the next scene.)

Today was the king of such voiceover shenanigans, though. The evil ruler of a shrunken city, on Thundarr the Barbarian, was done with the completely undisguised voice of Fred Flintstone.

Not the original, mind. Alan Reed died some years before Thundarr. But whoever voiced that villain was also the replacement actor for Fred, and was uncannily good at emulating Alan Reed's performance. And he used that same performance on Thundarr.

Years later, Thundarr worked as a mob enforcer for "Dabba Don" Fred Flintstone on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. I can't help but think this is where they met. And that Barney nailed Princess Ariel. Sure, Barney was married, but dude -- Princess Ariel. I mean, wouldn't you?

Dis is whut we get today? Chee!


(From Superosity! Click on dis tumnale for full sized hully gee!)

Comics history time, kids. Richard Felton ("R.F.") Outcault created newspaper comics, for all intents and purposes, with Hogan's Alley, featuring the Yellow Kid, first published in Truth Magazine in 1894, then making the jump to Joseph Pulitzer'sThe New York World newspaper (and then other papers) in 1895. He was popular, so William Randolph Hearst lured Outcault away with a big salary and put newspaper cartoons on the map. Cartoons quickly became seen as important commodities for newspapers -- especially the "Yellow Newspapers" known for more sensational news as compared with the more staid, non-tabloid papers. Pulitzer and Hearst both published Yellow Kids comics for a while, and both merchandised the character, proving the market for such things. Consider the impact that had on cartooning through the new century, leading up to today. Outcault eventually returned to Pulitzer, by the way, and created Buster Brown for him.

Clearly, when Chris, Bobby and Boardy traveled back to 1895 to celebrate the first Labor Day, Richard Outcault's lesser known brother Ralphie met them and had his future changed, causing him not to die in a pile of pig manure and to take his brother's role as the grandfather of newspaper cartoons.

Which means Superosity was the very first Comic Strip! And you thought Chris Crosby wouldn't ever amount to anything. Sadly, this also means that Chris, Bobby and "Irony" are all in the public domain. But naturally, Keenspot will exercise its titanic merchandising muscles and force changes in Copyright Law to protect their huge profit potent--

Oh, who am I kidding. No one would be that nuts about comic strip characters.

September 11, 2004

This is a small test.

Hi all. This is a small test of the "scheduled posting" system. We'll see if it works. If it does... um... go me!

More snarks later.

Gerbils and dinosaurs, and I'm very tired.


(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized revelations (subscription required)!)

I really was tired. And still am. I woke up bright and early but then fell back asleep, then woke back up, over and over and over again. It wasn't very fun -- I almost wonder if I was fevered, because I had some weird weird dreams during it all. But I'm not going to take my temperature. It's more fun to wonder.

I may go back to sleep, but before I do, I want to actually snark about Narbonic for a bit. I came late to Narbonic -- Hell, go through the backlog and you can see when I finally discovered it and started running through the logs. It was fun. Very fun. This strip is demented, but never loses the thread of Story (or should we call that the thread of sanity). Plus, there are gerbils, and said gerbils are amazingly cute.

Now we have the revelation that Zeta is part gerbil, which we knew from her light sensitive eyes anyhow. Or suspected. But when she takes her glasses off, she doesn't look unlike Dave, and her name of course is Zeta, which makes it sound like yet another Narbon clone.

I suspect that Zeta's got some Dave genes and some Helen genes and some Gerbil genes, either from Doctor Narbon using bits of DNA she got when Dave visited her in the past, or from Helen, who spliced various DNA into one of the gerbils she loves working with, then fired the result into the past to gestate and grow because she didn't want to wait. We know Zeta and Helen have History, and that it isn't pleasant. Or at least Helen doesn't want to talk about it. Or see Zeta.

Alternately, Zeta might have merged with Dana, somehow.

No, I'm not making this particularly easy for you to understand. What part of "I'm tired" don't you get? Coherence is beyond me right now.

Plus, I've been backtracking through the archives of Daily Dinosaur Comics, on the advice of a friend. They also linked to me, though the friend recommended them before the link. There is an amazing zenlike quality to backtracking through those strips... and the oddest sense of Deja Vu. As well as some element that reminds me, for some painfully obvious reason, of David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World. Only, you know, Daily Dinosaur Comics is funny.

September 10, 2004

Dear God I'm tired. Oh, here's an update on a snark I did yesterday.


(From Greystone Inn. Click on the thumbnail for full sized told ya so.)

I'm tired. Very, very tired. I should be asleep, but as of now I am not. Next week, our students return (we start late, because we're 6 day a week -- it's a boarding school. We want to maximize the time the kids spend with their families.) The playtest is going very well. The comments are good and spirits are hi. I got some playtest comments from one of the people behind White Lightning Productions, which is one of the better run adult comics/webcomics sites (adult being the point, unlike, say, Sexy Losers, where the Funny is the point and the adult bits are the premise) out there. I don't think the playtester knew that the Websnark guy was the person he was commenting about, but WLP was one of the first sites to actually link Websnark even though I hadn't snarked them (and honestly don't plan to, as I'm not generally into adult webcomics without more of a hook -- Story or Funny or the like), so I was aware of him. And one of his artists is a friend of mine -- and a damn good artist, I would add. It's a small world sometimes.

I'm very tired, and the "scheduled updates" system promised in Movable Type 3.1 hasn't worked right, so I need to place a service e-mail in (the joys of paying their price) and see if I can get the damn thing troubleshot. The Cron job is running, but it's not doing the updating. So my master plan of doing late night snarks to run in the morning and give you all regularly updating content despite my irregular hours has been scuttled. Damn my eyes.

I'm very tired, but I wanted to update you on a snark from yesterday (which is where the strip above came from). Guigar did in fact follow up with the traditional denouement graphic designers face -- he got the blame for all the crap he was forced to do, but on the bits he did without interference, the editor gets the credit. It's the story of the Desktop Publisher's life. Guigar clearly has worked in this field, or knows someone who has. He groks it.

I've very tired. But I'm wired. So more later. Maybe I'll finally successfully snark Irregular Webcomic. We'll see.

Two immediate thoughts -- it's impressive they have a comic up anyway, and no one gives a rat's ass about today's comic. Just, y'know, for the record.

Today, Penny Arcade has a comic strip out, as they do every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It's about line dancing or something. Honestly, who cares. That's not important, today. Normally it is. People love that crazy Penny Arcade. Today? Who cares.

No, Penny Arcade is all about the News Post today.

Penny Arcade is famous (infamous) for its News Posts. Scott Kurtz -- one of the few webcartoonists in Penny Arcade's league when it comes to readership and success -- has mocked Penny Arcade's habit of setting a newspost on a seperate page from the comic, necessitating two page visits for each visitor, two chances to look at the advertising, et cetera et cetera et cetera. He's also mocked the sometimes esoteric nature of the comic strips, making the news post required reading. Penny Arcade has fired back that yeah, that's all true. And by the way, they own his ass in page visits. All good fun, until someone loses an eye, when it will be even more fun.

Today's news post details the birth of Mike Krahulik's son. With pictures.

Mike named his son "Gabriel." Which is somehow one step dorkier than naming him "Mike Junior." And yet it is somehow incredibly endearing. Though when his child is old enough to go to gaming cons, he'll be confused. "Dad, why is everyone calling you by my name?" "SILENCE, child! Can you not see I am down two kills? I need total concentration!" And then someone calls Child Protective Services and we all have a good laugh at the end of the episode.

This is amazingly cool. It honestly is. In part because we the Penny Arcade readers have been involved with this marriage from the get-go, dating back to 1999, when Gabe proposed to Kara in a strip. Now, five years later (Jesus Christ -- five years later) they've had a child.

Of course... you realize... we own him now. Totally own him. Before, he just had a wife and a crippling addiction to Pocky. You can break those. But a child? That's forever, and you have to feed it regularly. If not, see the reference to Child Protective Services above. He's officially chained to his job, and we're his job. Now, we just need to get Tycho bred and we'll lock Penny Arcade in for the long haul.

In other news, my Skull plushie is en route...


(From PvP. Click on the strip for full sized manly facial hair.)

It's been too long since we've looked in on our friends at PvP. It's time we rectify that, because things have been interesting. For one, Kurtz continues to nail opportunity square in the forehead with a high powered rifle. In a good way. He's doing a bundle of City of Heroes, which is frankly brilliant. He's already produced the definitive City of Heroes webcomic sequence -- and I say that as a dedicated and obsessed CoH player myself. So he's proven he can handle the material in a way that CoH players enjoy. And he brings in a broader audience for City of Heroes in general.

But on the other side of it, he pushes PvP out to many, many more people. And he gets paid to do it. Scott Kurtz gets merchandizing and advertising. He honestly does. He's not the only success story out there, but he may be the smartest.

As for the above strip itself? Well. It's actually one of his more clumsy executions. And yet, I had instant identification. Not with my mustache (yes, of course I have a mustache. And a beard. It's required for my brand of geek), but with my hair. And that brings up my Big Friend Frank.

Frank and I were apartment mates back in Ithaca, New York, when we lived under a bridge in an apartment we called Trollhome, within easy staggering distance to the seminal Chapterhouse Brewpub. (And just slightly further down the road was the ABC Cafe, which had bad tea, good coffee, and live jazz. Live jazz. On the street where I lived. After growing up in Northern Maine, this was like winning the lottery.) Frank was, and is, for that matter, the manliest man I have ever known. He is huge, with bulging muscles. I've never been small, but he used to casually lift me over his head as a demonstration. He looked like a pro wrestler, with his thick beard. And wearing a Greek fisherman's cap he loved, he looked like Tolstoy after undergoing the Super Soldier Formula. Think about how that would have changed comic books.

One could easily have felt inadequate next to Frank. Once, when he was walking through an alleyway leading off the Ithaca Commons into a parking garage, a guy with a board attacked him to mug him. Frank sidestepped the attack and one-punched the guy, then calmly headed to the Police to tell them what had happened. While both of us had relationships, he was the one who got it right, marrying his perfect woman and raising a family of cool people. He is artistic as Hell, producing graphic work that blows me away.

But I've never felt inadequate... because I have hair.

Male pattern baldness is a sign of testosterone, and like I said, Frank is the manliest man I have ever known. The baldness came on slowly, and he grew his remaining, thinning hair long until he got sick of it and shaved his head. Now, of course, he looks more like a pro wrestler than ever with his gleaming pate. And it looks damn good on him.

And then, there's me. With my thick, luxuriant, full head of hair. It's beginning to go grey on the temples in that 'distinguished' way that pisses the less fortunate off. It's thick and rich and has a healthy shine. It is hair, glorious and full, and is the reason why (some) men who don't have it buy products with Rogaine in them.

Looking at today's strip, I can easily see Cole's easily grown mustache -- and his jab at Brent -- as an echo of my (excellent) hair, and Frank's gleaming skull. Brent may have the unbelievably hot girlfriend, the pony tail, the artistic talent, the Macintosh, the sunglasses and the considerably trimmer build... but Cole has a mustache he can grow at will.

So there.

(Update! Today's comic came out extra special early... because... um... Kurtz is away, I guess... and yes indeed. The overcompensation of Brent's scalp hair versus Cole's lip hair has begun. I now identify with both of them. Which makes sense, because I'm a pretentious Mac user by day, and by night I'm a total geek.)

And now, a word about my sponsor(ed linkí—Ę)

If you've been watching the (cough) Ads by Gooooooogle block on the side, you'll notice it's learning about us more and more. The pet food seems to be mostly gone, and more and more comic strip stuff is appearing. This is cool.

However, it's not actually capable of reading. Otherwise, it would have noticed that I have little to nothing good to say about current Dilbert. Once, I liked Dilbert. Dilbert however won't get a "you had me and you lost me" essay, because I try to be detailed and insightful in those essays and there's no good way to pad "it stopped being funny around 1997" to 250 words. And I have a degree in English Literature, so I know from padding.

That's not what gets me, though. If you click the Dilbert merchandise link, you discover it takes you... to a Cafepress site.

Does Dilbert, arguably the most popular modern first run comic strip in the free world, really need to use a Print on Demand shop for its tee shirts and mugs?

This is a commentary site, not a fucking confessional...

...but it's mine, so I'm going to break the rules just once. I'm not going to go into details on my life, because honestly, no one here cares. You're not here for that. I will say, however, that since March 3 of this year (when I had doctors with various frightening implements do things to me while I was unconscious), I have lost 108 lbs. Or, the combined weight of both of my nieces.

And tonight I joined a gym.

HAH! In your face, Death-Before-40! You want me? Hit me with a fucking bus!

September 09, 2004

Can you get next day shipping?


(From Lore Brand Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized online convenience!)

Cut and paste comics live and die in their humor. For most humor strips, the execution consists of phrasing, of art choices, of panel sizes. When your figures barely move and generally only talk, however, language becomes all, tone becomes crucial, and your job gets a lot harder.

Of course, Lore SjąŹberg is humor on a plate. He doesn't bring the Funny. He's taught the Funny to heel, retrieve the newspaper and not urinate on the rug. One of the architects of the late, lamented Brunching Shuttlecocks website and still the purveyor of the hysterical Book of Ratings, among other sundry projects, Lore is a Comedy God. Or at least a Comedy Demigod.

Lore Brand Comics is Webcomics's equivalent of Steven Wright. The delivery is deadpan, and sometimes it takes a second or two, and then brilliance washes over you. Dissecting the humor is like synopsizing a Three Stooges cartoon -- it's technically possible, but why would you ever do it? You just kick back, enjoy, let it wash over you, and accept that yes, this is funny.

Casey and Andy: brought low by MAD SCIENCE HOSTING

Casey and Andy is currently down, which makes that link worthless, doesn't it? WORTHLESS! By checking their forums, I found out that their hosting company is switching servers and DNS and other such things are currently -- this is the technical term -- screwed.

As it works out, the latest comic is at a Livejournal Mirror. And is pretty funny. So if you're grooving on the Casey and Andy fun, check it out. If not... this post meant nothing to you.

That's it, Gleek! Take his Exorian punk-ass to the curb!


(From Liberty Meadows. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Ack. Subscription required. There's nothing I can do about that.)

I don't really have a snark here -- I mean, these are all reruns anyway. I just want to say this has to be the funniest Cathy related joke of all time.

And for those who are bummed out because you can't see the full sized without paying, here's a different thing from Cho's site. Click it for full sized. He's going to burn in Hell for a very long time, so be sure to thank him for making you laugh while you can.

And Brad Guigar goes for the Snark... he's up on the vault -- NAILED it! That's impressive Snark, Bob.


(From Greystone Inn. Click on the thumbnail for full sized snarky goodness.)

I worked in Desktop Publishing for years. Years and years and years and years. I had this conversation more times than I can count. It's always the same things. Someone comes in with a project (often a totally crap project, but I digress). They detail what they want. And by detail, I mean "they make vague comments about how they want it 'Strong' or 'Sensitive' or to have 'Impact.' You ask for clarification and they repeat the exact same thing, over and over again, as though you're a foreigner and, like all foreigners understand English perfectly if it's spoken slowly and with an accent.

Oh, you show them fonts and graphics and samples, and talk about design elements. You try desperately hard to get hard guidance on the vision in their heads, but they have no vision. They have a glimpse through soft focus of a piece of paper with maybe a bit of color and a title, but that blurry hint of something is the absolute Holy Grail they seek. They don't know what it is, but they know that if you, the designer, just give it to them they'll recognize it instantly -- and if you don't give it to them it's because you're stupid and lazy and just don't want to be helpful.

Guigar nailed that sentiment in this strip. He nailed the frustration. And he nailed the driving, yearning need to drive a spike through the eye of the client.

I have to wonder if tomorrow's strip will end the way all of those projects end. With the irate client (editor, in this case) coming back and saying "that's not what I meant at all," demanding a free redo and money off besides, and then filling out a comment card on your substandard work. Dollars to doughnuts it is.

September 08, 2004

I've had workdays like this. I have a nasty slice, though.


(From Overboard. Click on the thumbnail for full sized treasure!)

This is kind of the archetypical Overboard strip. Equal parts traditional pirate and modern day life, bringing the Funny without braining you over the head with it. Also note that Charley, the short pirate, isn't exactly kind to his boss. This is a strip where it's considered standard procedure to feed your boss to a sea monster to get out of doing laundry.

The playtest is going well, as are preparations at the school for the arrival of those punk kids (we're a six day a week school, so we start late and end early). It's really, really busy -- which is why you barely heard from me today. For that, we are very sorry. And yet, you were warned, so.

Excuse me? I thought when you made this you'd use milk -- not crap

XPlay has always had a kind of "cable access charm." It's total lack of production values and snarky sense of humor (there's that word again) made it fun. Great fun. The kind of fun that... well, every G4 show has failed to have.

Now, their San Francisco studio has been closed, their staff has been fired, and Adam and Morgan are down at G4TechTV's Los Angeles studios. Yesterday's show showed promise -- declaring that their studios hadn't been built yet, they filmed it out of Adam's apartment with all the 'graphics' being sharpie-on-cardboard. It was fun, in an Xplayish kind of way.

Today... they're doing riffs on movies. Filmed. With clear money being spent. Costuming, effects, writing. Production values. A significant bump in everything they do.

Dear God this show sucks now. I mean, sucks. All the charm has been bled out, leaving bad jokes and stale references. Even the reviews seem overproduced now, though they remain the strongest points of the show.

Tell you what. Give Judgment Day the budget. That show already sucked, so some influx of new ideas might do it some good. Let XPlay be XPlay. Right down to video tape, bad wigs and stupid jokes.

Alternately, do bikini shots of Morgan. I mean, if you're going to pander, pander.

September 07, 2004

Wherein the author gets pulled into paid copy

Hi gang!

One of my paid RPG writing projects just went into playtest. As I'm contractually bound to those folks, a lot of my ancillary writing time will have to be devoted to that for the next couple of weeks. I should have at least some snarking every day, but understand that when someone slips me filthy lucre, they buy my loyalty, so.

I can't say what project or for whom, yet. If I did, they'd haul me up the thirteen steps and throw me off the pyramid, and no one wants that, do we?

That was the phone I learned to play the 1812 Overture on... good times.


(From Achewood. Click on the thumbnail for full sized jilapidation!)

I've likened Achewood to jazz music before, and it comes out here. In the phone interference from Ray's old cordless, Waterbury's secret mission crosses lines with the relationship between Ray and Roast beef. Ray's the melody line, but two different soloists doing improvs around it slide around his phone. The art connects and cross connects, and makes something different than a strip on either one would be.

I understand about the phone. When I went off to College in 1986, I bought a cheap Radio Shack phone -- not a cordless. Back then, those were pricy -- but it had like twelve autodial buttons on it. My roommate of the time told me it'd never last. It was just cheap junk. My parents still had their rotary phone with real bells inside -- the few times electronic phones had entered our lives, they'd proven to be shoddy and untrustworthy.

I finally retired that Radio Shack phone in 1998, after a year in my first apartment right here in town. It was falling apart, the number pad driven into the unit at a weird angle, but it was still hard to give it up. That phone had seen me through College, through Boston, through Ithaca (twice), through Seattle, through returning to Maine and finally into New Hampshire. I had history with that phone. I still own it, piled up in the back room along with a bunch of other useless junk.

But you probably don't care about that, do you?

Is explaining a comic strip another way to make something even duller than school?

(From Superosity. Click on the thumbnail for full sized fraternal ennui!)

It's somewhat difficult to point to any one Superosity strip and say "There! Hah? Haaaaaah?" Superosity is a little bit like pointillism -- each strip is a dot unto itself, and the whole forms something remarkably different. Reading a pack of Superosity strips is a way to get myself in a good mood, enjoying the tone and Crosby's utterly warped sense of humor. It also allows me to enjoy the sheer consistency he brings to his craft. Crosby has never, to my knowledge, missed an update. Certainly he hasn't in all the time I've been reading Superosity, though that was after he made the strip -- and Keenspot, which surrounds it -- his profession.

This strip is neither particularly good nor particularly bad at evoking the overall sense of Superosity. A bit clumsier than usual in execution (Bobby's tacked on "idiot" when talking to his brother is perfectly in character, but feels clunky) yet setting up a plotline that frankly tickles me something fierce (why shouldn't there be a plot on "the true meaning of Labor Day" or "the first Labor Day." Just because a national holiday isn't Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter doesn't mean it doesn't deserve an animated special, you know!), there is a lot of promise for Crosbyesque weirdness offing.

One note, however. As clumsy as I think today's dialogue between Chris and Bobby is, I note it also nails the casual disregard most people in Superosity have for even their most beloved friends. Chris is matter of fact about how boring Boardy is, and would be the same to Boardy's face. Bobby's disdain is genuine. One gets the sense that some obligation to his own sense of the universe motivates Bobby to follow along with Chris -- certainly, it's not affection.

So I don't know if there's a core reason to point to this strip as representative of Superosity. However, it's the strip we've got, today, and it looks like something's about to start. So, there you go.

Random reader question randomly answered

"Why do you care so much about webcomics, anyway?"

Because art matters.

Mornings are too damn early. Also, Dumbrella still seems to be down....

Maybe it's just me, but I can't hit the Dumbrella sites at all this morning. So, no Diesel Sweeties. No Goats. No Scary-Go-Round. And other such things.

Though Wigu? Wigu came right up. And looked good in black and white, no less.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the only one who can't reach the other Dumbrella sites. Maybe Old Man Stevens is on his porch with a shotgun full of rock salt, keeping a weather eye out for me, ready to blast a few barrels at me. "G't off my damn property!" he shouts, in a virtual sense, eye narrowing as he sees my pickup approach. "Go down th' damn road! Peddle your sass to Krazy Larry, see if he puts up with it!"

Later that night, I'll climb over the fence into the cornfield he shares with Old Man Rosenberg. I'll climb into their gazebo and drink beer with a couple of my buddies, and we'll try to keep our voices down but we'll be laughing too hard, and Old Man Stevens will come out of his house in his nightshirt, lantern in one hand, Ol' Bessie in the other, shrieking like a banshee. Years from now, when we get together at the 20 year high school reunion, we'll trot the story out and snicker about it, our children embarrassed as Hell. The cornfield will have been paved over for a strip mall by then, of course -- bought out by the Allison twins when the bachelor farmers couldn't make their mortgage payments. Young Sassy Rosenberg will be a teacher at the school then, and she'll be at the other end of the room, quietly seething for her uncle's violated pride. Mr. Rowland, the principal now and still the principal then will put a hand on her shoulder. They'll share that moment together, as my friends and I laugh. And Mr. Rowland will remember with cold pleasure that he still has our permanent records under lock and key, and one day, when the time is right, those records will see the light of day....

It occurs to me that all evidence suggests I'm significantly older than all of the named cartoonists above. It also occurs to me that I'm barely awake because it's too damn early in the morning. These are not necessarily related facts.

September 06, 2004

Jesus Christ. If you love Something Positive and Queen of Wands so much, why don't you marry them?

I promise to drop M. Milholland and Mlle. Aeire for a while. I really do. And I won't even put thumbnails up or anything.

I just wanted to note... in today's S*P, Davan expresses a decision that is materially opposite to the opinion Kestrel makes in today's QoW.

There's plenty of good reasons for it, of course. Kestrel is leaving her friends to take a good job and forge a new life, where Davan is deciding to not follow his girlfriend to Vancouver and try to make a life for himself. They're both choosing to live for themselves, not for those closest to them. But still, Kestrel is leaving Angela, Shannon and Felix behind, while Davan is staying with Peejee and Aubrey.

I'm hoping that Kestrel becomes a S*P character when she moves. There's been speculation that she and Davan will end up involved. Me, I'm pulling for her to wake up, nude and hung over next to T-Bob. Or Jesus Mickey. Or both.

I mean, if she's going to enter Something*Positive, she has to be ready for trauma and lots of it, right?

On what to snark, and why to snark.

I get a lot of mail these days, which honestly is very nice. I hear from people who like what I'm doing and I hear from people who don't like what I'm doing. I hear from wonderful people and I hear from Assholes. Some of the mail I get has me staring and saying [Name withheld to prevent lame namedropping] wrote to me? He/she/they/it/other read something I wrote?" Other of the mail has me staring and saying "how does someone with no command of the English language manage to fill out a request for a Yahoo mail account in the first place?" Some mail is insightful, some is sophomoric, and I love all of it.

A nontrivial amount of mail I get are requests to look at comic strips -- either by the creators or by fans of the strip. I really like that. Honestly. I can't swear I'll check these recommendations out quickly or snark on what I find if I do, but the world of webcomics is so tremendously large and involved, and the best way to find fresh goodness is to be led to it.

And then there are the other recommendations. The ones that, more or less, say "hey! You should snark about [name of webcomic withheld to protect the innocent]! It sucks! I love when you tear into crap!"

That, I don't need so much.

See, pretty much any webcomic that I stick with long enough to be able to snark reasonably about it is one I like. If I don't like it, I honestly don't care enough to put in the time and energy to develop an informed opinion. And, if it's not an informed opinion, I don't really want to slap it up here.

Yeah, I know -- it's "websnark." That makes it sound like I'm always going to say nasty things. Except I don't think a snarky sense of humor precludes writing about stuff you like. This isn't a site that reviews webcomics and gives out stars. (The closest thing I do is give out biscuits -- tasty, tasty biscuits -- but I don't give those for whole webcomics. I give those for individual strips that impress me. And they're not that serious as all that.) This is a critical site, but the criticism tradition I'm working in isn't reviews, it's art and literary criticism. I'm making points, and the stuff I comment on either illustrates that point or illustrates the absence of that point. Hopefully in an entertaining fashion.

Sure, I make a lot of references to strips I'm not as enamored about any more. I'm not as happy with User Friendly or It's Walky or Megatokyo as I once was, and I'm unashamed to say why... but I did like all three, terribly much. I invested some of myself into them because they pulled me in. Even if they had me and they lost me, there was a point where they had me, and that's why I care.

A good number of folks are following the stuff I snark to strips they haven't tried before. And that's fantastic. If you follow a link to a strip and enjoy it, I've done a good thing. Even if it's a strip I've lost my smile over. If I have to be a reviewer, I'd rather be a reviewer in the style of that Simpsons episode when Homer became a food critic. He loved food, he loved restaurants, he burbled happily about every place he went into, and all of Springfield prospered -- restaurants did a boom business and all of Springfield happily gained weight. It was only when the other critics pressured him to write only bad things that everything went south.

I respect reviewers. I respect bad reviews, but that's not my thing. If you want to read entertaining snarks about really bad popular culture, read Television Without Pity. It's hysterical and sarcastic and mean as Hell to shows they can't stand. And they pay their contributors, which is I expect why those contributors are willing to continue to watch television they loathe.

Me? I don't get paid for Websnark. In fact, I've spent a nontrivial amount of money to produce it, and I expect to spend more. I never expect to make more money than it costs, and I'm okay with that.

But I'm not okay with spending a large amount of time reading stuff I just don't enjoy. I won't swear I'll never do it -- if it illustrates a point I want to make, I'll use it -- but for the most part, I'd rather celebrate the stuff I enjoy.

Oh get over the "kidnapping" thing already, King Luca. Everyone else has.


(From Nukees! Click on the thumbnail for full sized Jenga!)

Bleuel has a real gift for dialogue. He honestly does. Oh, I could sit here and nitpick King Luca's use of Elizabethan dialect until the cows come home (for example, "sometimes thou kidnappeth people and strappeth them to cots?" It doesn't work. It should be "Sometimes thou dost kidnap people, who then be made strapped to cots." Just because it's archaic doesn't mean there aren't grammatical rules to follow, skippy. But I digress.) but that doesn't change the skill Bleuel brings to the table. Cecilia's shift from vulnerable to scared to determined to enthusiastic is frenetic, but also handled deftly. And King Luca's responses are perfect. It's odd to have such an insane ruler over the Berkeley Nuclear Engineering department as the straight man, but sanity is relative and Luca does it well.

You might notice a slight flush around your face. That's your self-esteem trying desperately to reassert itself.


(From For Better or For Worse. Click on the thumbnail for full sized snarkiness.)

Lynn Johnston makes her points with a kind of sarcastic humor that comes out of left field. People take the tremendous amount of Story she brings to the party and use it to forget she has a wicked sense of humor. Well, for the last week or so the Junior High April has been complaining because she wants to wear a whore dress to school, and her mother makes her wear it with tee shirt and tights. Once there, we see a number of the other girls dolled up for streetwalking.

I've seen schools that are draconian with dress codes. (I don't even count the school I work at that way, by the way. It's a private school. You go to private school and you should expect to wear a tie. It's as simple as that. They should be glad we don't make them wear catholic school outfits.) My own high school, my senior year, outlawed sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts. I guess because they wanted to ensure we didn't adopt hedonistic hawaiian values. But at the same time, I'm on the other side of the desk now, and being a full on adult I think a certain amount of decorum -- and a certain amount of "you're thirteen years old, stop trying to pretend your nineteen and a dancer in a hip hop video" is appropriate.

I love the execution of today's strip. It kind of sums up the whole -- there is a practical side to clothing, and if it takes keeping the Gym at 62 degrees to remind kids of it, that's a good thing.

By the way -- the whole "whore clothing" thing? I only feel that way in August and September. Come April and May, those first few warm days when (admittedly a hair more post-pubescent than this) girls crack out of their woolen cocoons and emerge, near naked and stretching their still-winter-pale limbs to the sun, I am simply and humbly pleased to be alive.

No snarkiness on this -- this is just pretty!

(Taken from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. Click on the thumbnail for full sized galactic splendor!)

I know I tend to be a wiseass with the APOD pictures. Well, occasionally I need to just stop, stare slack jawed at one of them, and say "this is the universe we live in. We can see this, from our world." This is M51, a galaxy some 30 million light years away, that's over sixty thousand light years across. Which means this is the light M51 generated 30 million years ago. And yet, staring at it, it coalesces into a whole that looks immediate and eternal.

Someday, we're going to reach M51. We're going to see what's there. We're going to spread out throughout it. Someday, M51 will be ours, and we will look back at the Milky Way from it with a sense of wonder and awe not unlike what I feel looking at M51.

Sadly, this means one day WalMart will open stores through M51, driving local businesses out of business. Which reminds me, I need to go get a picture frame sometime today.

September 05, 2004

Dear God, HERO was a good movie. Now, webcomics

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized parental love and respect.)

It's hard to write a snark, having just come in from seeing HERO. This was a movie that shows that someone on Earth understands how to make a movie that has a moral stance at its core, epic in scope, that does not talk down to its audience. This movie blew what little mind I had, and will stay with me for a long, long time. If you haven't seen it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, go see it. If you know you're going to hate it, go see it. If you won't go see it, you're stupid. Got it? Good.

Oh, yeah. Something Positive.

The thing I liked about this strip was how far we've come with the evolution of Monette. Yeah, Monette's still dumb as a bag of hammers, but she's now truly, officially a Macintyre -- right down to being browbeaten by her adopted father. Personally, I have no problem with peanuts in Coke, and I'm not a lobster fan -- not because of the truly hideous way we cook it, but because I think it tastes like rubber dipped in butter, which is why I can't actually live in the State of Maine. They'll let me be from Maine but won't let me actually live there. Not if I won't eat the sea-bugs.

For the record, I also don't like Moxie. But that's considered "sane."

But the trappings of the strip are just that: trappings. Monette's over the trauma in her life and has found where she's happy -- where she belongs, with people who care about her. And the remaining reticence on Mr. Macintyre's part is essentially gone now. She is in the family: ergo, he can bitchslap her verbally with impunity. He'll absolutely kill anyone who hurts her, but that doesn't make him a nice guy.

Anyway -- I liked it.

Now go see HERO.

September 04, 2004

Don't you fucking tell me there are no magic words. I know better.


(Found on Narbonic.com in support of Modern Tales's comic Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized prenarbonic action!)

So, having consumed Narbonic's archives over the past couple of days, I'm now ravenous for more. And that, by the way, is what a truly great webcomic does. It infects your brain with its premise, with its attitude, with its expectations and whips you up into a froth, so that you want more, damn it, now!

This does not, by the way, explain why some people are total assholes when it comes to updates, especially from hobbyist cartoonists. No, that's not because those people are so desperate for the next strip they lose all rhyme or reason. That's because those people are total assholes. Entirely different reaction, really.

So I went looking for more stuff. And saw on Garrity's web site that she had some old strips from her college days and the like. All very nice and neat, and I looked through them -- including the above strip, which was called "North of Space."

And there I saw it. The magic word.

Cushlamocree.

Doesn't mean anything to you? Then your world is a much sadder place than mine.

Back in the forties, a man named Crockett Johnson wrote and drew a comic strip called Barnaby. This was a strip about a young boy named, appropriately enough, Barnaby -- who wished one day to have a Fairy Godmother. Well, the fates gave him a Fairy Godfather instead -- Mr. O'Malley, a small, portly pixie with a pork-pie hat and a "fine Havana wand" that looked a whole lot like a cigar. And so began a series of absolutely whimsical, absolutely magical, savagely sophisticated and satirical comic strips.

They were absolutely wonderful. When satirizing the campaign of Thomas Dewey for President, they revealed three ghosts coordinating his campaign strategy -- all of whom were working to turn back time, because they didn't like the modern world. One of them -- Colonel Wurst (a conflation of the names of the owner of the Chicago Tribune and William Randolph Hearst -- two rabid anti-Roosevelt voices) -- published news in the papers that was old, each day pushing the news back another day in time. In the end, they gave up the campaign after Wurst published news from the day before Black Monday. Since they had decided they had moved back before the Great Depression, they were all rich again, so they didn't care about politics any more. The relationship of the Pixies, the kids who saw and believed in them and the parents who didn't (and who called them Pixeys -- a slight difference that made all the difference) is echoed in everything from Calvin and Hobbes to Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Duke Ellington once wrote to the newspaper that published Barnaby to state, for the record, that he believed in Mr. O'Mallery, no matter what Barnaby's parents thought. And Dorothy Parker wrote a review that she described as a valentine and a mash note to Johnson. This is the depth of impact Barnaby had on popular culture.

Johnson also wrote the seminal children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon -- a book entirely about unleashing one's imagination through art. It was beautiful and wonderful. But I first came to know Johnson through Barnaby. One of the greatest runs of the strip -- the Hot Coffee Ring -- was in that Smithsonian Cartoon Art collection I mentioned a while back.

Mr. O'Malley had an all purpose expression -- somewhere between an exclamation and a swear -- that he used all the time. "Cushlamocree."

When Garrity used Cushlamocree in her strip, she instantly brought all of the above back to me... back to my own childhood. Back to a lot of people's childhoods.

Magic.

I owe her a beer if I ever meet her.

September 03, 2004

The question is, does the iconography come from the Sims or did the Sims just use the iconography?

(From College Roomies From Hell! Click on the thumbnail for full sized tartan goodness.)

You've seen me rant before on the subject. You've seen me waste time and electrons on it before. And deep in your heart, you've heard the sobbing in yourself as well.

"Jesus Christ -- these situations are contrived! These characters are dumb as posts! How do I suspend disbelief that large? Are we supposed to actually believe Miranda would have left all this to A.J.'s idiocy for so long? Damn you, User Frie--"

Right. College Roomies from Hell. I can focus.

Well, here it is, kids. In all its pristine glory. Resolution. We had setup for conflict, and we had conflict resolved. And we actually get a feeling that Blue likes Dave for who he is, not who she wants him to be.

I think the heart iconography (which I like. I like the language of cartoons that allows us to just know that "yes, it's official now." I liked it when Mike forlornly fell for Peejee in Something Positive, and I like it here) is the perfect endnote. Blue knows what she's got in Dave, and when he explains -- not excuses, because... well, there is no excuse... but explains, she accepts, wholly. And she covered for him with Mike, who would have Dave killed, horribly.

But that heart... that heart just jumps out at me. Because we've always known that Dave loves Margaret, but he's never really had any good reason to. And now, he loves Blue. Who he does have a reason to. And Margaret did everything in her power to set them up, because she loves Dave too, but she knows her life is going straight to Hell.

So. My immediate assumption is if Dave doesn't stand by Margaret in her hour of need, the whole world dies in flame, and the forces of darkness win. And damned if I'm not rooting for Dave/Blue now.

Maritza Campos? Biscuit. Tasty, tasty biscuit.

It's like they can see inside my mind. Of course, they *do* have six years worth of my archived e-mail....

It's another killer day of systems administration. Between that and reading the Narbonic archives and giggling like a madman every second I can spare away from the machines handling everyday life, there's going to be another day of late updates from me. But, like yesterday, I do promise there will be snarks, as soon as there can be. I don't promise they'll be any better than yesterday's snarks, but then you're used to that, right?

In the meantime, I have to point out something Google (excuse me, Goooooooooooogle. I mean, what the Hell?) Ads have managed to do.

After days of pet food, cat comics, and "make your own blog," they've started advertising Krazy Kat shirts.

God help me. At the rate I'm 'making' money off of Google ads, which after all are meant to defray operating costs for Websnark, it'd be months before I could afford to buy a Krazy Kat shirt. And yet, it's classic Herriman. On a shirt. Damn it, Google ads have figured me out! It's insanity! Insanity!

(How has Narbonic managed to avoid my radar before now? This is brilliance! BRILLIANCE! Garrity's opinions of my patter aside, of course.)

Unsnarked out of fatigue...

This was a brutal day's work at the day job. And tomorrow's likely to be the same, though I'll try my level best to have higher levels of snark for you all.

For the record, I have strips in my upload directory, but I don't have the brainspace, the energy or the concentration to do them justice. So, Greystone Inn, Irregular Webcomic, Achewood and American Elf? I'm sorry. I'll try to get you guys in tomorrow.

As for now? Bon soir.

It's okay, man. You're keeping us informed. Don't worry, already

This is about Something*Positive. Read this strip or suffer your friends calling you stupid.

I love Something Positive. Chances are likely you do, too.

Randy Milholland has had the worst possible thing happen to him, though. See, he vented. It was a good vent. A proper vent. A vent the size of his native Texas. When some cretin was bitching about a spelling mistake, he lost it, and said, in effect, "ALL RIGHT YOU SONS OF BITCHES! YOU WANNA BITCH ABOUT SOMETHING YOU'RE GETTING FOR FREE? PAY MY SALARY FOR A YEAR!"

And they did.

I mean, holy shit.

I know, this is old news by now. But the problem is, Randy's discovering the down side to having rabid fans. Having paid him his money, they now think they own his ass, and so the same assholes who were hounding him before are hounding him all the more virulently now. If he misses a day, they smack him down. If he's not funny in their opinion, they smack him down. If he offends them (which by now they should just expect), they smack him down. When he went on vacation (which he's entitled to do by Federal Law, you know -- even if you did donate five bucks to his fund) and had a couple of filler strips -- still there, interesting, funny, with art, the works -- they still bitched him out.

Now he's back, exhausted from traveling. And he got out a strip and promised a second strip "tonight," to bring himself up to date.

As of this typing, he has six minutes on the East Coast, and I for one couldn't care less if he makes it or not.

"But wait, Eric," you're saying. "You're Mister 'It's your Fucking Job!' Mister 'PvP Update Pool!' Mister 'You Had Me and You Lost Me, Megatokyo!'" Why aren't you raking Milholland over the coals now, in an entertaining fashion?"

Because he was on vacation, God Damn It!

Look, I do put him in the 'it's your job' category. And I publicly snarked (long before I had this website) when he got self-righteous during the early days of "S*P is my job," when he was finding his rhythm. And further, I'm of the opinion he should simply set his daily update time to midnight, get up whenever he wishes (God knows I would), do the strip whenever he likes during the day, dump it into the auto updater and move on with life, so that his readers' expectations would be met while not screwing with his own schedule.

But Jesus, people. If he tells us his situation in advance, don't bitch. Accept, and enjoy the Funny as it comes. And Mr. Milholland? You told us well in advance there would be a gap. Don't kill yourself to fill it. Take your time, get rested from the trip, refresh yourself, and don't sweat the bastards.

Including me.

September 02, 2004

The single greatest filler comic of all time.


(From Karn. Click on the thumbnail to embrace the fullness of its glory. I'm serious. A thumbnail can't do this justice. Just embrace the trueness of Karn #7.)

The bitch of it is, he probably really did miss her.

(From Diesel Sweeties. Click on the thumbnail for full sized ulterior motives.)

There is a certain purity to Diesel Sweeties. While he sometimes goes too often to the well with some jokes (dude, seriously, we don't need to see Maura e-mailing on the toilet any more), Stevens builds our expectations and then lives up to them. Indy Rock Pete and Pale Suzie were a good couple, because she was understanding and he was an asshole. Understanding people are necessary to perpetuate assholes in the species. And assholes are necessary for the good of the breed as a hole because without them, we are forced into introspective self-examination of the kind that eventually leads to the kind of extended Disney Theme Park existence that Jean-Luc Picard talks about so longingly in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Admit it, after you got finished having sex with supermodels on holodecks, you'd get bored out of your skull in the Federation.

Here, we see Indy Rock Pete slinking back to the ex because he has to. But you also get the feeling he'd really like it if she took him back, because, y'know, he likes her. And Pale Suzie can sense that and is touched. And will probably also brain him with a tombstone. It's been a while since someone got crushed in this strip.

Contrariwise, being lonely doesn't necessarily mean you are alone.

(From No Stereotypes. Click on the thumbnail for full sized loneliness (note: requires registration. Click on the link for the most current strip free.)

Let us stop and consider Amber Greenlee. I first saw her art when she guest stripped for Melonpool, lo those many moons ago. I was stunned at how well her artwork suited Melonpool -- but how distinctive it was, too. There wasn't anything quite like it. I wasn't sure how much range her wide eyed (though not truly Mangaesque) characters would have, but I liked the playfulness they conveyed.

Well, I can certainly see the same style at play in "No Stereotypes," but it's a whole different experience.

The blending of the visuals with the text is evocative, here. Jody's descriptions blend with Atom's reactions. Tension builds. And we feel something building between them. It's a nice moment -- a calm between the storms.

Nice.

It's a busy day....

...and me with eight strips set aside for snarking, too. Sorry gang, but for the moment the day job has me in thrall. You'll get stuff at some point today, though, and that's a promise.

September 01, 2004

Really fast, so I can go home and eat.

I'm new to it, but I'm kind of grooving on Vigilante, Ho!, over on Graphic Smash. I always liked Basil Flint, though it's not currently on the Daily Trawl, and it looks like Troutman's stretching his storytelling a bit. It's a bit freshman yet, but it's going somewhere nice.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea when the last one was posted, as the Modern Tales/WebComicsNation database engine doesn't date entries. So it might be orphaned or current, and I wouldn't ever know. I'll see if it updates tomorrow, though.

Now -- food!

Does one pronounce it like "Ae-REE" or "rhymes with 'hair.'" I'm never sure.

QueenWands20040901.jpg(From Queen of Wands. Click on the thumbnail for full sized hospitalization!)

Mmmm... now there's the Aeire-created goodness I've been wanting. A sweet moment, some Funny, some implied asskicking, and the potential for sweet sweet resolution. You have no idea how sick I get of webcomics where there is no resolution, especially in areas like this one. Yes, yes. I know. A.J. and Miranda have the hots for each other. It says so right here. But no, we're not going to resolve it. We're User Friendly! We don't have to resolve things! It just hangs there, like an open HTML tag, and we beat our heads into the fucking wall...

Oh. Queen of Wands. Right. Heh.

I mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. This strip takes four panels and makes elaborate conversations readable and uncrowded. The art works well. It's just plain good. And there will soon be resolution. Aeire gets a biscuit.

That's right. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

In Nomine fans: Balseraph alert. Everyone else: I'm a geek.

st20040901.gif(From Sore Thumbs. Click on the thumbnail for full sized capitalism!)

This strip shows a good trend for Sore Thumbs, which is still a freshman and is still having some issues with finding its voice. One simple route to go would have Fairbanks as hopelessly incompetent at everything, but that would get real dull, real fast. I like the Fairbanks and Harmony dynamic in general, and having Fairbanks begin to apply conversational judo (or Zen and the Art of Gouging) effectively and begin to build a success is a good thing.

I'm also glad (knock on formica) that they're not touching on the Republican National Convention. I'm firmly convinced that Sore Thumbs isn't a political or gaming strip, and the times they try to become one or the other tend to fall flat. There's nothing wrong with going political, and I don't mind the hammering both neoconservatives and ultraliberals get in this strip, but I still sigh in relief when they let the anvils go undropped.

FAQ: Lexicon

Some note has been made of the number of posts I've managed to bang out. It's amazing what kind of output you can get when you combine enthusiasm with living in New Hampshire and therefore having little to do with your time. Also, it's been very hot recently.

However, a kind of technical language has developed in this strip, and because there are so many posts, it's being kind of spread out. As readers have pointed out to me. And pointed out that a cast page is less important to this kind of project than a simple glossary would be.

So, this is the first of our FAQ pages, and it features a lexicon of terms.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: LEXICON

Biscuit, Tasty Tasty
When I think a particular individual strip really nails something -- be it a joke, an artistic device, a storyline point, a cliffhanger, or whatever -- I extol it. It's more than just saying "this is cool." It's saying "this is how it's done." It's a chance for others to learn. And I want to reward that webcartoonist who did this great thing. And it reminds me of something David Letterman once did on Late Night, back before the CBS Move. You see, he was doing Viewer Mail, and someone said "hey, Letterman -- you do this late night show, and it's funny! So what do you want -- a biscuit?" And Letterman said "yeah. I kind of do want a biscuit." So, the monumental NBC machine went into motion to fly the very finest of British Digestive Biscuits from London to New York, then run it up by courier to Letterman's desk. Since then, my mother and I always used "biscuit" as a reward for a job well done -- much like you would do with a dog. As for the tasty, tasty bit... well, the first time I used the biscuit thing, I followed it up by qualifying that it was tasty. And I happened to do it the second time as well, quite unconsciously. And when I realized that, I went with it. Besides, wouldn't you like to have a biscuit right now? A tasty, tasty biscuit?

Bringing the [whatever]
As an aficionado of Aaron Sorkin's writing, I have adopted some of his mannerisms. Yes, it annoys my friends and family too. One of those adopted phrases is 'bringing the' whatever we're talking about. On Websnark, this refers to the Webcartoonist bringing one of the core elements of a strip. For example, a webcartoonist can bring the Funny, meaning that there is a quality of humor that resonates with the reader. (Well, with me, anyway.) He can bring the Story, meaning that continuity and characterization are handled deftly and the reader wants to see what happens next. He can bring the Toolset, meaning he is bringing expertise in his craft. And so on.

Cast Page
One of the most important elements of a webcomic is its cast list. This can be a succinct list of characters and a short description, or it can be elaborate, updated in near-real time. However, it is absolutely necessary, because it provides the new reader with a fast roadmap so he can jump right in, and provides the long time reader with a quick reference to refresh his memory if need be.

That so many webcomics don't have a cast page mystifies we at Websnark. That some webcomics have a link or other site design for a cast page but don't actually have one can drive Websnark into a froth the likes of which few have seen and fewer survived. Few things like a nonfunctional Cast Page link can pull the word "dumbass" out of Websnark.

Cerebus Syndrome
The effort to create character development by adding layer upon layer of depth to their characters, taking a character of limited dimension (or meant to be a joke character) and making them fuller and richer. The idea is to take what was fun on one level and showing the reality beneath it. 'Cerebus Syndrome' refers to Dave Sim's epic, sometimes tragically flawed magnum opus, Cerebus the Aardvark. Cerebus started life as a parody of Conan the Barbarian starring an Earth-Pig born. Over time, it grew extremely complex, philosophical, and in many ways much much funnier. Then, Dave Sim went batshit crazy and Cerebus went straight to Hell, but that's for another day. People saw how Cerebus's humble roots could lead to glorious heights, and as cartoonists get bored with what they're doing, they decided to pull a Cerebus of their own.

Boredom is generally the key to a Cerebus Syndrome attempt. After a while, even a successful webcartoonist gets tired of fart jokes and sight gags and wants to make these characters more than they've been.

It is extremely hard to take a light, joke a day strip and push it through a successful Cerebus Syndrome. Dave Sim did it in stages, and at least in the early days of the transformation brought massive amounts of Funny to cover it over. Done perfectly, one only realizes in hindsight that the strip has turned out to be quite different than it used to be. Done sloppily, the Cerebus Syndrome fails, and the webcomic enters First and Ten Syndrome. Unfortunately, a failed Cerebus Syndrome is an excruciating process for the webcomic's fans to endure.

Please note that one can continue to bring the Funny while going for Cerebus Syndrome -- and in fact, probably should. It is far more common to drop the Funny, which increases geometrically the chance to fall into First and Ten. Note also that not all strips that bring heavy Story, mix humorous and serious elements, and have bad things happen to their characters are undergoing Cerebus Syndrome (or First and Ten Syndrome, for that matter). It's only those strips that began on a very light, even limited dimension level and then transform into something different that really shoot for the Cerebus Syndrome. So, Sluggy Freelance, which started out mostly humorous and now has a healthy dose of the Funny and the Story (with occasional forays into sequences like "Fire and Rain") is that rarity of rarities -- a successful Cerebus Syndrome. Digger and For Better or for Worse, on the other hand, had complex characterization from day one, and cannot be said to be in Cerebus or First and Ten. Got it? Good. There will be a quiz.

Daily Webcomics Trawl
Those comic strips I read every day, or at least every time they come out. Usually a combination of my personal enjoyment and a moderately regular update schedule combines to put a strip on the Daily Webcomics Trawl. The strips on the Daily Webcomics Trawl are the ones most likely to be snarked at any given time.

Execution
Contasted with Pacing. Execution is the way an individual strip does everything -- brings the Funny, brings the Story, sets up the joke, delivers the punchline, impacts us with seriousness, or whatever. Execution is local -- each strip is a separate execution.

First and Ten Syndrome
First and Ten was one of the earliest "made for HBO" television series, and bears about as much resemblance to The Sopranos as American Pie bears to American Beauty. It was a tits-n-ass fest with football player stereotypes and the always 'fun' plot of having a woman own the team. Because women? And football? Gosh, that could never happen. It was light, frothy and fun, in an exploitive way for a couple of seasons. And then, they decided to make it serious. The stereotypical coach became a browbeater who emotionally abused his assistant coach because he suspected the coach would leave. There were teen runaways and drug abuse and sexual abuse and darkness at all turns. It tried to become dramatic -- in part because it's felt drama is easier to pull off than humor.

Well, I admit it's hard to find the Funny if you don't know what you're doing, but losing the Funny in exchange for 'character development' leaves pure schlock, untouched by new viewers who weren't interested in the comedy series, but alienating the existing fanbase. When the E True Hollywood Story is produced 20 years later, inevitably the "change of direction" is touted as the reason for the inevitable decline and failure.

A strip falls into First and Ten Syndrome when they take a shot at Cerebus Syndrome and miss. Rather than be a mix of the Funny and the Story with much better developed characters and more of a sense of reality, the strips fall into a suckfest of angst and misery, with bad things happening to characters we like and all sense of fun beaten out with a stick. While webcomics that fall into First and Ten can continue to have good -- even great -- moments, it's an exercise in masochism to find them. The seminal First and Ten Syndrome comic was the original Roomies, which veered away from silliness into angst so deep that ultimately, Willis had to end the strip and start It's Walky. Note that Willis may have very different views on this transition.

The Funny
Born of Aaron Sorkin and Sports Night, the Funny is one of the core elements ascribed to webcomics by Websnark. The Funny is not so much humor than attitude. A strip can be said to bring the Funny when its overall tone is meant to appeal to a reader's sense of humor, sense of the weird or both. The Funny does not have to mean jokes, and jokes do not necessarily bring the Funny. Whether or not a given strip brings the Funny is a subjective decision -- for some, Superosity brings the Funny every day. For others, it doesn't bring it at all. When I snark about a strip bringing the Funny, it's always in my opinion. Of course, so's everything else on this site. It's an opinion site. You see how that works? Of course you do.

Please note, a strip can bring the funny, lowercase, without bringing the Funny. In other words, putting out a bunch of lame jokes does not the Funny create.

The nature of the Funny is that lapses in other elements of the webcomic -- the Story, the Action, the Execution, the Pacing, and so forth can be forgiven in the presence of the Funny. The Funny is the only attribute of a webcomic that can keep people coming back day after day if everything else fails. Which is not to say that strips with no interest in the Funny are doomed to fail -- they can be the best strips on the planet. But they have their work cut out for them.

The Funny, I should reiterate, does not mean rolling on the floor howling with laughter until bladder control is lost. To be honest, I rarely laugh vocally at any comic strip. I might smile a bit or, for a particularly humorous bit, snort, but the Funny doesn't require that. It requires a sense of humor to be present in the strip that appeals to my sense of what the Funny is. And mine and yours, like I said before, may differ. So don't bitch at me about it.

For the record? Foxtrot brings the Funny. Garfield does not. All clear?

Pacing
The development of a webcomic over several strips -- contrasted with execution, which is individual. Generally, Story strips need pacing more than Gag-a-day strips, though gag-a-day still sets a tone which can be considered pacing. Pacing is generally a reflection of the tradition that a given webcartoonist is operating in. A strip heavily influenced by manga is often slower-paced, letting the situation develop slowly. A strip heavily influenced by traditional four panel newspaper comic strips is generally much faster paced. Story-heavy strips, like adventure strips, can have slow or fast pacing depending on the nature of the story. Too fast a pacing can make a strip seem frenetic and unfun. Too slow a pacing can cause your readers to blow their own heads off in frustration. Combining slow pacing and irregular updating is a good way to get death threats, which seems like an overreaction. I mean, it's not like we're curing cancer or making pound cake, here. Mmm. Sweet sweet pound cake.

Premise
The conceit of the webcomic. A comic's premise is the short description of what the comic is about -- and what differentiates it from all the other comics about a couple of mismatched college roommates out there. Note that the more complex a strip's premise (ie -- the more that needs to be said about it to describe it concisely), the more labored the strip will seem. The more of the strip's trappings that can be cut away without inexorably changing the strip, the better. Superosity's premise, for example, is "an innocent man-child, the supergenius sentient board he lives with and the man-child's horrible little brother muddle through life, love and abusive friends and family." If time travel, nanotech suits, overly commercial movies and cat poop were all cut out of the strip, it would still be Superosity. If, on the other hand, Chris grows up (as he did once, though it didn't last) or Boardy goes away it stops being Superosity. Contrast this with College Roomies from Hell, which is "Three college roommates -- a cynical manipulator, a decent fellow, and a flake -- deal with romance, anger and the fight against evil with their counterparts -- a hard edged warrior, a beautiful woman who can't cook or deal with reality and a manipulative blond who has killed off her inner, better self -- while Satan plans to use them in different, terrible ways." CRFH needs all of the above elements to continue to be CRFH, which makes it harder (though hardly impossible) to support the premise. Story strips tend to have more elaborate premises than Funny strips, though this is hardly a law.

Safari Tabs
The way I trawl through my daily webcomics, on a daily basis, is to open a block of webcomics all at once in Safari (I am indeed a Mac user) and bookmark all of them at once as a series of tabs. So, when I click on "Day Comics" in my button bar first thing in the morning, something like twenty three tabs open up, all at once. While I read the first several strips, the rest download. As a result, it takes me very little time to read a whole bunch of strips each day. Which is how I can do this and not lose my job.

Snark
Snark, according to Dictionary.com, refers to Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and to unexpected computer disasters. And that's a nice pedigree, honestly. However, common usage in recent years has made "snark" into a verb, usually meaning "complaining about something in a sarcastic manner."

I'll be honest. When I was first putting this site together, I had a laundry list of things to call it, because I expected all the simple names to be gone. The leader, I'm sorry to say, was "stripping-the-web," off of Bloom County's term for cartoonist: stripper. I knew I'd get traffic I didn't want, but I assumed it would be available. When I finally sat down to register the site, on a whim I plugged 'websnark' in first, thinking that it would perfectly describe what I did -- a computer disaster on the web, often with sarcasm -- but that there was no chance in Hell it would be available. Which shows what I know, and here we are.

I don't review here. I don't do number ratings or critiques or recommendations. I pretty much just blather on about whatever's caught my attention, express my opinions, and move on. So when I use 'snarking,' I mean 'posting about stuff that interests me.' An individual snark is therefore an individual post on something that interests me.

Why not just use "post" then? Because "snark" gives people some preconception of what I'm doing -- and if they read the site, they know that they're not going to agree with everything. But that it's possible it'll entertain them.

Besides, I like the word. Snark-snarkity-snark snark snark.

Sporadically Checked
There are some webcomics -- including some I truly enjoy, like Men in Hats and FLEM Comics, that either because of incredibly sporadic updating or just personal preference I prefer to go and check every once in a while, reading all the strips I need to read to catch up. Certain Story strips, like General Protection Fault can end up on here when a story has bogged down a bit and would be better served read from beginning of the plotline to end. However, it's hard to ever get back onto the Daily Webcomics Trawl after this happens, and it's a short step from there to "You Had Me But You Lost Me."

The Story
Derived from 'the Funny,' the Story is another of the core elements ascribed to webcomics by Websnark. Encompassing continuity, plot and character development, the Story describes any strip where what happens now develops inexorably from what has come before. This can be comedic or dark, soap opera or adventure strip. Strips like Sluggy Freelance heavily rely on the Story, where strips like Men in Hats don't use it at all.

Strips that don't bring the Funny typically bring the Story, if they're going to truly be a webcomic as opposed to an online art sketchbook. Not that there's any problem with online art sketchbooks, but they usually have a problem keeping repeat readers. Unless, of course, the sketches are of naked ladies, but that's not important to this lexicon.

Toolset
The tools a webcartoonist brings to his trade. These can be artistic or textual, plot or humor oriented. Each creator brings different tools to his trade. Recognizing what toolset a webcartoonist possesses and works with is an essential step to properly bitching about assessing his work in a fair and honest way.

Webcomic
Some form of sequential art that is available via the web. Period.

Honestly, that's it.

No, I don't care if a comic strip also appears in newspapers. It's still a webcomic. I don't care if you have to pay to read it. It's still a webcomic. I don't care if it's full pages of a graphic novel being developed. It's still a webcomic. If it's sequential art, and it's on the web, it's a webcomic. Honestly, why is this so hard a concept?

[Webcomic] For Dummies
This refers to those strips (often with overly elaborate premises or extremely slow pacing) that desperately need third party sites to fill the gap for confused new (and even existing) readers. As the plotlines for these comics descend into a self-referential pit requiring deep commitment on the part of readers to keep straight, a webcomic can either document things simply (generally on a cast page or some kind of synopsis) themselves, or rely on their fanbase to produce some of their own. Megatokyo is one of the worst offenders in this regard, and several fan Megatokyo for Dummies sites have appeared in answer to the need.

Why Do I Read This Webcomic, Again?
A list of webcomics that, whether because of changes to the strip or a lack of changes to a strip (no one said this stuff was easy) has become more of a chore than a pleasure. It remains on the Daily Webcomics Trawl, but it's far more likely to get a cynical snark out of me than a happy one, and it can fall off the list and onto "You Had Me But You Lost Me" all too easily. User Friendly is a strip on "Why Do I Read This Webcomic, Again." It's Walky recently dropped off it onto the "You Had Me But You Lost Me" list, and General Protection Fault and Real Life Comics are rallying to emerge back into the good graces of the Daily Webcomics Trawl.

You Had Me But You Lost Me
Sometimes a strip that I liked or even loved just... drifts apart from me. We start doing more and more things alone. I don't call as often. Look, baby. You know you deserve better, but... it's not you. It's me. Okay? I think I need to read other webcomics, and you need to spend time with a different audience. Let's still be friends, okay? Oh, I'm gonna need my records back.

You Had Me, And You Lost Me: It's Walky

20040823a.gif(From It's Walky.)

I remember when I first started reading the strip that would one day be "It's Walky." It was back in the Roomies days, and it was pretty fun. The art was more cartoony then, less polished, but it was still dynamic and fun. One of the more standard premises fueled Roomies -- two very different but also very similar young men were rooming at college. One was a prig, the other a horndog. Their supporting cast included the dream girl who had dumped the prig unexpectedly, a sheltered fundie who loved the prig wholeheartedly -- for no real reason -- and a number of secondary characters. The catchphrase for the series was 'Perverse Sexual Lust.' It was frenetic and funny.

And then, towards the end, it grew morbid. Terrible things started happening to characters. People died. People became alcoholics. People lost faith. People lost hope. Hypocrites reigned and then got abortions. I've described this process before, when a light strip goes dark. I call it Cerebus Syndrome -- the effort to force one's project through a sea change from light satire and parody to a darker complexity. It is seductive, and when it fails -- it almost always fails -- it falls into First and Ten Syndrome, emulating the raunchy light HBO's comedy's inexplicable and bad shift to raunchy drama. Well, Roomies did about a season and a half of First and Ten, towards the end.

But it seemed like David Willis, the author, knew that. And, as he embraced the increasing science fiction elements in his strip, he completely changed focus, changed the name (to "It's Walky,") and went with lighthearted science fiction adventuring. And "It's Walky" was, once again, a ton of fun.

But there were dark clouds on the horizon, even if we squinted and declared them to be alien ships or flying giant robot monkeys.

For one thing, "It's Walky" detailed the adventures of a secret organization that David Willis had been thinking about for years and years. At least once he put up a series of strips that he drew back in high school for his friends, featuring SEMME fighting aliens under the command of a Doritos-obsessed leader who was a clear model for Walkerton. (Though when he moved to the web, Willis changed the snack food's name to Nachitos, to avoid any lawsuit trouble. Which, given the more gross-out nature of some his jokes, was probably a good idea. Not that it was bad gross out humor.) Willis had clearly been working out this plot arc in his head for years, and was also clearly excited to be using it in a story now.

Only... well, let's put it like this.

As all of you know, there's a huge computer section in bookstores, now. And a large percentage of the computer shelves are made up of Various Computer Programs for Dummies and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Various Computer Programs. These were so popular with users that Dummies books began coming out on any number of subjects. I own some Dummies books. Odds are you do too. But the question comes up -- why did these things have to come out in the first place? The answer, if you asked most people, is because the manual that comes with the program (well, came. These days if you're lucky enough to get a manual, it's a PDF one sitting on the program CD) sucks.

It's not the fault of the technical writers. They're trying. But when you understand a program's ins and outs, it's very hard to tell people who don't understand them how to use it. You lack a common frame of reference, and 'downsampling' your knowledge to match a new user's is extremely difficult. The For Dummies books have an advantage -- generally the person contracted to write them didn't make the programs, which means they had to learn how to use the programs at some point. That experience becomes a frame of reference they can use to establish the proper use of the program.

David Willis knew his SEMME organization. He knew their opposition. He knew their backstory. He knew the reasons they fought. He knew the reasons the aliens fought back. He knew what the Martians were and how they fit in. He knew what the Cheese was and how it fit in.

And he was not particularly good at letting us know it, in turn. This wasn't so much "mystery surrounding the organization" as a general feeling as a reader that I'd missed something, somewhere along the line. That there was some twenty-strip plotline that fit all the pieces together. Or that two or three setup strips had gotten skipped, somehow. There was always this general sense that you didn't know quite what was going on, and you should.

But it was mostly okay, because the strip was fun. And if there were gaps in how he brought the Story, Willis brought the Funny, and the Funny makes it excusable.

Well, until Willis turned back to the dark.

To his credit, I think he planned the darker elements of It's Walky right from the beginning. He knew exactly what style of story he intended to tell. So I don't think we call this a Cerebus Syndrome attempt. But the results were entirely First and Ten -- intense, often painful drama more for the point of shocking than anything else. It chased away the Funny. Walky had to grow up. Joyce had to confront her demons. Sal ran away and then tried to destroy the world. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And it stopped being fun. It became something of a chore to try and keep up -- always not sure if you were missing something, all the while. Once again, there was death and recrimination and anger (and the specter of alcoholism).

There were triumphant moments through it all. The resolution of Joyce's multiple personalities -- and the multiple sides of her personality -- was handled deftly. Her moment standing in the rain with Walky was transcendent, and I loved every second of it. The eventual consummation of her relationship with Walky was handled with precisely the right tone. (The color strip of the two of them lying on the floor, Walky unable to sleep and Joyce providing the reason for Walky's insomnia, was a perfect denouement to the long standing subplot -- and was ideally designed for the web, requiring most people's monitors to scroll down to reach the joke.) And David Willis's art, while always suitable for his subject, continued to develop and grow. He made something of a production of switching to a slightly more realistic style, he expanded his use of color and the color palette. In his latest plotline, he's experimented with 3D modeling.

And I stuck with It's Walky through it all, because it also did so much right. You folks know my pet peeves by now, and Walky stepped carefully around them. It updated on a rock-solid schedule. It had a cast page. It tried to catch new readers up (though once again, a For Dummies book -- or Cliff's Notes -- would have helped very much.) Willis remained enthusiastic about his strip, and even as he developed other projects he didn't forget who he came to the dance with.

So I stuck with it. And stuck with it. And stuck with it. Increasingly confused with what was going on, and increasingly not caring about what happened next, I continued to keep it in the safari tabs. And complained about it. Finally, the only reason I stuck with it was because the story was winding towards an ending, and I'm a sucker for endings. I think more projects should have a definite, solid, "this is the end of the strip" to them.

Until today's strip. Today, we saw one of the different characters involved with SEMME, who I vaguely remember was the one who dumped the AntiHead Alien off a few strips back, and who was on the ship (the Destiny? Sounds right) that crashed looking for him, and had zombie issues of some kind way back when. I mean, way back. And I don't know her name, or the names of any of her squad, or how she expects to be able to accomplish the mission she declared for herself, or....

...and I realized I didn't care any more. And that there's no reason to spend time on It's Walky now. When it finishes up, I can always go back and read the ending, and even snark about it. But right now WIllis is deep in First and Ten territory, with the added impediment that I'm not at all sure what's going on from strip to strip.

Fans of "It's Walky" have tried to explain it to me. And they've shown how deep their loyalty goes. And I think David Willis deserves it. He is rock solid with a ton of strengths. He deserves to have a massive blowoff. And he deserves every reader he gets.

But it won't include me any more. He had me, and he lost me.

Meh.

I just wrote a long, in depth snark, which I then lost because I made a stupid mistake. I'm a computer professional. I really ought to be able to use the damn things, ought'n I?

Meh,