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February 26, 2005

[weds] Platform Occupation (or, I Will Punch You In the Face)

For reasons best left to your imagination, I found myself wrapped in both endorphins and unsugared blood this evening. I was looking for distraction in the Borders, but, sadly, I found the Laurell Hamilton.

And the fellows. But we shall, shortly, get to the fellows. (RSS readers: I'm being conservative; full article on site.)

There is something fundamentally wrong with this situation: imagine two rows of gothically colourful books, lined appealingly in order, across the midst of the horror section. Pluck out any given volume -- something Anita Whatserface, say, or the other thing -- and crack it open. Fate conspired against you: any line you pick, utterly at random, will pertain to the protagonist's hotness. Panties. Flirtations. More panties. Trouser options. Panties.

I couldn't possibly tell you anything more about the Hamilton oeuvre; my greatest fear is that I will, god help us all, find myself in possession of a volume of Hot Queen Merry Goes to the Mall, and the entire thing will reek of Love Hina. "I was so hot. But the Lord High King of the Vampires was a nebbish, so I beat him up and kicked him out of the hot spring. I had clearly chosen the wrong panties. But I was so hot."

Sorry. That one needed out of the system. Let us proceed.

While dithering over a copy of Michelle Tea's Rent Girl (do I want this? Yes? No?), a pair of ... fellows, yes, that's it; a pair of fellows began some sort of incoherent argument across from my head. I couldn't follow it at all. I got the impression that the one with the greasy hair was attempting to persuade the one with the patchy beardalike that he should pick a style at random and base his masterpiece upon it.

"See, look here," Greasy said to Patchy. "This manga stuff? It's designed to look weird." Whereupon he launched into an explanation of how manga was built, from the ground up, in very recent years, to look as bizarre as possible. Also, apparently, the heavy use of armor is some sort of prerequisite for the term. And stripes. (I took the latter to mean "speed lines" -- hardly a prerequisite, but up there with the default casual observation signifiers like "big eyes" and "panty shots" -- until, no, it started to look like he meant "stripes." I am hoping that I misheard chunks of the conversation, because his concept of manga sounded alarmingly like R. CLAMP Crumb's The Hobbit.)

I attempted a withering gaze at this point, but I think I just looked stoned. Note: Next time, Starbucks first.

After making the rounds and gathering up disorganized Fables trades -- when one's train of thought amounts to "god, I really could use some print comics right about now," this is what one does -- Patchy launched into his own tirade.

"It doesn't matter," he said, presumably after a good half dozen comic art traditions had been misrepresented to him. "It doesn't matter what you do. It's all about connections. You can draw any old crap --" and here, his head bobbed in the direction of the two-for-£10 tankoubon -- "and it's there if you have connections." Then everything became incoherent again. (In large part because of Greasy. But I digress).

I exchanged glaring for looking stoned again. Didn't say a word. This had gone from tiring me to making me angry, and I couldn't put a finger on it. I wanted to reach across the shelves and shake the guy, apart from not really much wanting to touch the guy. I wanted to punch him in the face. And then, I wanted to yell:

"Shut the fuck up and draw something. Shut the fuck up and draw something. Shut. The fuck up. And draw. Something."(*)

I don't know if this was an unreasonable reaction. (I assume it was, since my next desire was to place vanilla syrup in a frappucino. Let me reassure you that I merely continued to look stoned, then asked my partner if I should buy some Tank Girl. He said to get the Fables. So I did. Then I had vanilla syrup placed inside a frappucino.)

I know that I found myself in a place of profound disconnect. I get tired of "who you know" games. I can fathom the need for professional contacts, buzz between creators, that sort of thing. I can't grasp, however, the mindset which says that one should just not draw the bloody thing due to the lack of same, let alone the expectation that napkin doodles would draw publication after the ex nihilo creation of a bond with... some guy. (I don't know who. Someone. Jackson Pollock's secret love child with Interdimensional Sylvia Plath, perhaps. Don't ask me. I just write shit down.)

God. I mean. Seriously. Shut the fuck up and draw something. Put it in the drawer, and the closet, and get weirded out and draw something else, and do it over and over again if you have to.(**) Make something up. Don't get your strange buddy to explain stripes and armor to you. Do pinups and character sketches and hone them like knives if you have to. Be as scared as you want. Keep them away from your friends, if you don't want them to react. Have a month of block here and there if it has to happen, but don't, like, cop out before you started. Don't give me this shit about connections. Don't give Greasy that shit about connections; he doesn't even know what a line is. Guy. Shut up.

Shut up and draw.

(*) Yes, I know. The stage fright is, I assure you, being worked upon.
(**) You should totally see my closet. Or possibly not.

February 25, 2005

Zapruder #5

The Whiteboard, by Doc Nickel has a small poster up in the shop today, selling a rental car with minor damage.

I like these subtle refs, I have to admit.

Zapruder Kestrel #4

Check the alt tag on the photo under the "Biff Comic" in today's Absurd Notions.

If folks see more Zapruder footage or other bits, let me know. I'm truly curious how far this spreads (and how clever they get. Pease, for example, was very clever.)


(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Curse You Milholland! And scroll down a bit -- it's not the day's strip, per se. It's in the News Box for the day.)

Beyond questions of humor, and I grinned, I admit, at Morgan-Mar's strip (and noticed the biscuit reference, naturally), I'm interested in tracking the etymology of what one person has described as the Kestrel Zapruder Film, both in terms of its spread and also in terms of why it's happening.

I mean, when Walky ended, I don't remember seeing Joyce hit by any cars. When Wigu ended, there wasn't this kind of thing. Same with Flint. Or Avalon (though Avalon didn't end so much as... well, coast to a stop). So why is this a watershed moment? I mean, Comixpedia tracked this as a news item, for Christ's sake.

I think the answer is, simply, "energy."

Aeire's ending of Queen of Wands was fraught with emotional investment. She very carefully set up the ending, resolving necessary plotlines (like Angela and Kestrel's overall friendship and its implications, the birthing of the child -- itself tense with Shannon's medical problems, with Felix's transformation, with the quiet acknowledgement of the Seamus angle, and so on and so forth) while keeping a very balanced, realistic core to it all. And it ended about perfectly. The core cast, the completed circle, the ride into the sunset, the flat tire. It was beautifully done.

And it was wistful, but also built up tremendous emotional energy on the part of Aeire's audience. They were invested. And they were feeling this as a loss, and a beautiful story, and a beautiful ending. That's huge energy, building up (to use the lightning path reference one last time) as static in the clouds.

Randy Milholland's tribute strip plunked a giant-ass lightning rod down. Just like the "Dark Knight Returns" style lightning path in the background, that monumental tension crashed down, with the vast majority of people bursting into shocked, hysterical laughter. It was absolutely perfect timing, a perfect counterpoint, commemorating Aeire's ending exactly the way Something Positive should, and sending shockwaves through the webcomics community.

The Checkerboard Nightmare strip hit just about as perfectly, because it managed to take that same energy and flare it up one last time, and get another round of laughter bordering on hysteria, this time more in commemoration (and a certain degree of bandwagoning) of the Something Positive strip than of Queen of Wands itself. Irregular Webcomics, though not producing that same level of shocked laugher (to maintain the electrical metaphor, as we jump from post to post there's less and less energy in the arcing) manages to bring it back to Milholland's work -- and to Aeire's for that matter.

In a way, the "laughing our livers out" reaction was in part our way of dealing with a kind of grief. We're not going to see Kestrel again any time soon. Not the real Kestrel that Aeire writes, anyhow. (And no, I don't think of her as 'dead,' no matter how much blood we saw in Something Positive or how the purple clad-lego girl reacts in Irregular Webcomics). This was what it was, and nothing more.

I suspect we're going to see a rash of alternate views of the hit, or references, or news stories, or what have yous over the next few days. And they won't seem as brilliant or hysterical to us, because in a lot of ways, Milholland helped us cope with Queen of Wands ending, so we don't have that reservoir of unresolved emotion. What we do have is continued wistfulness and reaction for Queen of Wands itself. And we have a legend now. And a standard for a finale and aftermath that will take some doing to exceed.

Through all of this, I feel for Aeire. It can't be easy to see the character you invested so much time and energy into become memetic on the bumper of a car. But it's a testament to how well she did... well, the whole of her series that such a thing can be a watershed in webcomics. And I'm going to be following with interest and, yes, good humor through it all.

It takes some doing to be noticed. It takes more doing to be imitated. And it takes something really special to have your imitators imitated.

Now. Someone needs to compose a ballad. Preferably in the style of Gordon Lightfoot.

February 24, 2005

If only there was a "lightning path" reference!

(From Checkerboard Nightmare! Click on the the thumbnail for full sized horrific tragedy part two!)

I admit it. Straub absolutely fucking nailed me between the eyes. I mean, Milholland is Godlike, and his strip has caused a tidal wave of reactions almost as much fun to read, but Straub came out of nowhere with this.

Right down to the "whump" sound effect. And the fact that we can't see her face clearly.

I swear to fucking Christ, if she shows up in tomorrow's GPF being treated by that Doctor, I'll start reading it again.

Tasty, tasty biscuit, M. Straub. That's two for the same car accident, so far. It's a biscuit explosion.

[weds] The Tricky Biscuit Dilemma.

Okay. You see, I live in the United Kingdom. (You know where London is? Well, you get on a train and then you're where I am. Not a tube train. The tube doesn't go there, so you have to change at Waterloo.)

We have biscuits.

He's in New England. They don't really have biscuits, notwithstanding import shops.

Meanwhile, despite an abortive attempt to repackage the Wotsit over here (and an unusual permutation of the brand in France), we don't really have Cheetos. And that's what I have people ship over when they're feeling like they have to send food: Cheetos. I miss Cheetos. (And Kraft Dinner, but you don't need to know about my neuroses.)

I don't intend to actually, you know, produce Cheetos as a reward, at least much, but it's tempting. We might have to locate a generic.


So, you may have noticed, in as much she told you, that I've given the Imperial Wednesday White the keys to the Snarkmobile. This was not, as she might lead you to believe, purely because she caught me when I was stunned at having been invoked as part of a comic book publisher's efforts to get comic store owners to stock a worthy comic, and therefore vulnerable to her virtual wiles.

(As for the reference itself? Holy fuck.)

However, I decided a long time ago that if I let anyone through the gates, it'd be Wednesday. She and I don't have 100% the same tastes or range in webcomics or any of the other blatherings I do around here, but we're darn compatible. More to the point, I trust her opinions and judgment. For one thing, she's smarter than I am. For another, she writes better.

No, we're not dating. And no, I'm not trying to date her. Jesus, can't you think of anything else?

So, while I suspect the vast majority of blatherings will still be mine, I've invited Wednesday to blather whenever she wishes on whatever topic she wishes, because I figure you the readers will enjoy it, and I will too.

She's not going to be on a 'schedule' or 'clock' or 'anything else in single quotes.' But if something comes up where she wants a venue? I'm her hookup.

(Technically, she's the second person I've given the login to. The first person is a close friend who, should I get hit by a bus, will tell all of you where to send stuffed animals.)

Of course, this means I really should pick up the damn place....

Edit: To avoid confusion -- especially on RSS feeds, since it's not set up to say who posts things, when Weds posts, she'll put a [weds] tag in the title. Work for everyone? Cool.

[weds] Well Merited Catatonia! (or, Dude.)

Okay, so the thing is, there wasn't a lot going on this afternoon until Eric got metaphorically tapped on the shoulder. Apparently, there's a big old ad in the current Previews for Penny and Aggie, which... you know... it's Penny and Aggie, it's about to be in print, it's a grandness.

That wasn't the point.

The point was that the ad proclaims, hugely: "Winner of the 2004 Shortbread Award for Down-to-Earth Humor!"

The solicitation then goes on to quote the explanation why.

So he's been all, well...

eab: By the way? Holy *fuck.*
eab: I mean, *Dude.*
eab: Dude.
eab: Holy fuck.

for, like, ages, at least if IM's any indication, and I suspect he's sort of gently rocking back and forth over there from the dude and the holy fuck. Especially the dude part.

Well, and also especially the holy fuck part. I think he's a little awed.

So, I'm like, "You know, I could co-opt your blog and say something about this." And he somehow managed to not make my login "dude" or my password "holy fuck." Which is good. Because, you know, then you'd know what it was.

So, basically: Hey. The Shortbreads? Mentioned in a Previews solicitation. Eric? Mentioned by name. So, everyone?


Eric? Wake up, Eric. Dude.

Now that's BIG AIR!

You know, it's hard to properly discuss and contextualize today's Something Positive. (No, it's not thumbnailed. It's just not.)

It's hard, that is, because it's hard to discuss anything electronically when you're laughing so hard your liver comes out of your mouth and lands on your keyboard, getting... well, I'm going to call it 'liver juice' all over your keyboard.

Tasty, tasty biscuit, Mr. Milholland. Tasty, tasty biscuit.

February 23, 2005

Somewhere, out there, a Queen of Wands fan is pissed that Wannabe Wiccan Girl didn't show up today.

qowend.pngFrom Queen of Wands.

It was easier when Flint ended.

That's sad to say, because I liked Flint a lot, but let's be honest here. John Troutman has three other webcomics currently updating on a regular basis, and two of those webcomics involve the same "world." And, we know come April something new's coming from him, and it sounds like it'll involve that world too.

But Aeire's leaving us. And though we know she'll be back, there's every likelihood it'll be with something entirely new. And so there's a real sense that... well, this is goodbye.

It was easier when Flint left us, and Wigu too, because we didn't have nearly as long a buildup to the ending. I've been able to turn over and over in my head what I would write today for months -- a piquant tang of wistfulness worked into my daily comics trawl. Both Wigu and Flint just came out one day and said "hey, in a week or two that's it. Thanks." But this time? It's an event long anticipated and dreaded alike. Both methods have their charms.

But, let's put the official stamp on it. The last new Queen of Wands strip came out today. Last night, really, a hint before midnight on the East Coast.

It was a good ending. Extra long -- the lightning path twisting and forking and leading us through a collage of goodbyes and last moments. And it felt like a real life goodbye. We saw Kestrel and Angela make up in an earlier strip, but she wasn't there today. That made sense, both realistically and thematically. Realistically, Angela probably wouldn't schlep out of bed at five in the morning to help load up a truck and wave goodbye. Thematically, we end the strip as we started it, with Kestrel, Shannon and Felix.

The lightning path in the backdrop was one of evolution and dialogue, and today we saw both. While it was our three leads we saw, we also saw the two additions to the household -- baby Adrienne and drugged out drooling Zot. We had echoes of where we came from -- Kestrel bursting into Felix and Shannon's bedroom way too early in the morning to wake them up, for one (though you'll notice that where once they would have sat bolt-upright, Shannon wanting to know what was wrong and Felix mumbling something incoherent, now they barely move. They have a baby now. Early morning wakeups are just part of the fun), a breast joke, baby talk, and even the doll that Linda gave her. And even personal signs of evolution, like Felix's short, blond hair.

Queen of Wands was about a lot of things, from jokes to pain. It did something of a Cerebus Syndrome, and flirted with First and Ten, but ultimately stayed absolutely true to itself. This was a strip about learning, and growing up. Kestrel, who hated all children and got annoyed when they'd crowd around her while she was sitting in the children's section of the library or reading Highlights in the doctor's office, loved little Adrienne enough to joke when she started to cry. Kestrel, who just kind of existed, striving to have fun instead of go anywhere, is going somewhere drastic, now, heading out for a real, grown-up job in a strange city where the only person left she knows at all used to sell her stolen panties on eBay.

I suppose I should make mention of the Something Positive connection. It's been a long standing theory among the Queen of Wands and Something Positive fanbases that Kestrel will become a recurring character in Something Positive. I can't say if that will happen or not, but one thing is absolutely certain -- if she does show up, it won't be as the Queen of Wands. Milholland does a very different strip, with a very different style of humor.

And, more to the point, she'd be a minor character at the most. Anyone excitedly waiting for the adventures of Davan, Aubrey, Peejee, Jason and Kestrel better have packed a snack, because it'll be a long, long wait. If we're lucky, she'll take to drinking at the Saint James Pub, and we can have a little smile of familiarity when we see her. But I seriously doubt she'll become a major player over there. That's my theory, anyway.

There's a funny thing, though. The lightning path -- my favorite infinite canvas trick to date, because it serves to stitch together snapshots in time while dialogue (or in this case, narration) floats between -- doesn't come to an end on the last panel. It trails off, just like it has in every other strip where it's been used. Which makes sense, because the narrator (Kestrel? Aeire? Adrienne eighteen years from now? Who knows?) tells us right from the start of today's strip that things end, and new things "start all over again." We're not going to be privileged enough to follow Kestrel as she follows that path any more, but it's still going on. And that says something about life, too. When our friends move out of our immediate sphere, their stories don't end. We just stop following them.

And Aeire ended on the perfect note. A punchline. Kestrel annoyed. Life giving our red haired heroine the shaft one more time for old time's sake. A moment of sarcasm, and cynicism, right at the end of sentimentality.

That's life in a nutshell. You feel all poignant and choked up, and then something happens to hit you upside the head with the clue stick. You move on.

Next week, Aeire starts rerunning the strips with a director's commentary, seven days a week. I'm looking forward to it -- to seeing this trip from beginning to end with the perspective of having seen it once, and getting her perspective in the bargain. But as for today, Salut.

And now I've got to spend the next four hours rebuilding an XServe. See? Sentimentality, then thwacked by a cluestick.

Thanks, Aeire.

February 22, 2005

She seriously didn't ask you to go "Sha" at her.

You'll recall my disappointment that the return of ClanBOB didn't also include a return of the Life of Riley webcomic -- not so much because they "owed" us (which they didn't) but because we had no warning.

Well, we now have a warning. There's a teaser video on their site (I'd direct link it, but hey, go to the site and it's there, right?) that promises new Life of Riley starting March 4. And that has me happy and should have all of you happy too.

Not familiar with Life of Riley? Well, their archives start here. They do the Cerebus thing over the course of them, but they do it okay -- mostly because they kind of move the humor to 'element style' humor instead of trying to alternate between Funny and Story.

Anyway... um... yeah. There you go.

I used to be able to end these more smoothly.

February 21, 2005


For those wondering about Gossamer Commons, we have the first teaser pic for you all. This is Sonata, as drawn by partner in crime Greg Holkan.

Greg's putting the finishing touches on the first two weeks of strips. Our goal is to have a four week buffer, as I've said so many times you're sick of it. I asked Greg to say a few words, and he did. But of course, you didn't hear him. So I quote:

Gossamer Commons is probably the most ambitious project I've been involved with so far, with a really small private scope that pulls from a very wide mythological base. Things are going to get interesting for me as the story develops and things get wonky. I'm going to get the chance to use some techniques I haven't had a reason to touch yet, and I'm excited.

[Gossamer Commons] looks to be really interesting. The issues we're dealing with regarding identity and behavior are really fun. The artwork gets a chance to reflect that somewhat in that I get a chance to spend more time on the inkwork, and I can use more techniques than I get a chance to use with Nemesis.

This will really test me as an artist, because it's set in a real place I've never visited, and to which I have limited access. Thank goodness Eric seems to have someone out there snagging the occasional reference photo for me.

I just want to point out that Greg uses "wonky" in casual conversation. As I do the same thing, I take this to mean this partnership's going to work.

More teasers as we go along!

Something to look forward to!

Aeire has announced that this Wednesday will be the last new Queen of Wands strip -- which has me sad, of course. However, she did announce an exciting project beyond it. Starting the following Monday, Queen of Wands is rerunning its entire run, in order, seven days a week, with commentary on the strips. In a lot of ways, this is like getting a DvD commentary run. This will give Aeire a good amount of time to get her next strip ready while giving fans like me something to do with our time.

So, I'm looking forward to that, at least.

A slight clarification of policy.

I had a number of people write to me to discuss the current General Protection Fault storyline. Now, I wasn't reading it, because it's on the "You had me, and you lost me" list. But, naturally enough, I checked it out and I've engaged in a number of formal and informal discussions with people about it. Or as discussion as I get when I'm barely answering my e-mail, anyhow.

But an increasing number of the letters wanted to know when I'd discuss the plotline here on Websnark -- give my official opinions on what Darlington is doing.

Well, I've indicated this in a number of responses I made to people, but let me state it for the record, out here.

When you go onto the "You Had Me, and You Lost Me" list, you officially become exempt from critical commentary on this website. I just don't do it.

Yeah, if I find out someone who went on that list did something amazing or significant, I'll mention it. There's nothing keeping me from saying something nice about a strip I've decided to drop. But for general commentary, particularly on contentious issues, I don't think it's fair for me to make a big deal about walking away and then keep going as if nothing had happened.

So, while I might make offhanded general remarks about GPF or Megatokyo or It's Walky, I'm not going to snark them, or harp on them, or point out their foibles or highlight their triumphs, unless a foible is so catastrophic that it would be disingenuous not to speak, or a triumph so phenomenal I can't help but speak.

GPF isn't in either category right now. Some people really like what he's doing. Some don't. And it'd be dirty pool for me to say how I feel on this forum. If you're curious about whether or not he's doing well or poorly, have a glance at it yourself. It's free, after all.

Or check some of the other commentary sites. It's not like people aren't talking about it....

On the other hand, Flint should have at least thought about Andie's offer. I mean, dude.

flint.pngFrom Basil Flint.

Things steadily improve. The biochemical stew I enjoyed (and I use the term "enjoyed" in its loosest possible definition) over the past several days had and have me mood swinging like a prop comic off his meds. But, some of the best people and readers in the world helped keep me (more or less) on an even keel, and really helped pull me out of the worst of it. And so we're going to give this a try. As there's a certain investment you need to put into a decent essay, I'm going to keep myself on the Snark Disabled List for the moment, but I'll get done what I can get done over the next few days.

I listed out a laundry list of stuff in my last post. I can't speak to Queen of Wands just yet, as it's still ongoing (though the end seems so very near). Hunter S. Thompson I actually wrote about in a Livejournal post. Be warned, there's an undeniable whiff of fanfic about it.

Which leaves Flint ending.

So. Flint ended.

We knew it was coming. Even before the announcement, which came with very little chance for fanfare, you could sense that Troutman was moving on in his head. The changes in style, the dropping of color (and then ink), the shift of writing, the extended break... all these contrast with the energy he brings to Sporkman, the enthusiasm he writes about Felicity Flint, the collaboration of Vigilante, Ho!

You can tell when someone hits the end of the line.

He did some great ways of tying the series up My favorite was, not long after Flint and Amanda kiss, Andie looks out at the hurricane and sees Arthur Fonzerelli (how do you spell that) cheerfully being over a grring shark. He recognizes the Moonlighting problem and deals with it by ending the series with the moment that the tension is resolved.

And he brought back a fedora. Which I was glad to see. Flint needs a hat, damn it.

And so, I'm feeling wistful but not upset. I really liked Flint, even though I came to it late, but I could sense that he had moved on in his head. In "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter," Lazarus Long says he follows the wild geese. As his wife lays near death, she mentions she can hear them overhead, despite the fact that there are no geese on the world where Lazarus and Dora live. It was just time for Lazarus to move on and find something new.

Troutman heard the geese. And it was loud enough that we heard them too. And so Flint had to end. He's dropped hints that his new strip will bring back the most... um... bodacious of his cast members. (Though I bet the new strip is closer to Sporkman's chibi style, leaving the more comic bookish style to Felicity Flint.) And whatever it is, I'll be reading it.

But I'll stop and nod to the hard drinking sarcastic detective. I'll bemoan the fact that Flint won't ever cross over with Lost and Found Investigations. I'll acknowledge the good times, and I'll look ahead.

February 20, 2005

In review:

I had a medical thing that -- among other things -- had me mood swinging like a madman, and which still goes on to a degree.

Flint ended.

Queen of Wands looks to be very close to ending.

Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. Which, admittedly, is pretty much how we expected him to go, but still.

I got nothing. Maybe tomorrow.

February 19, 2005

Something to spend a little of your money on

If you've been following along for a while, you know I'm besotted with Hitherby Dragons. Rebecca Borgstrom -- one of the most brilliant RPG writers and designers... well, ever (her Nobilis brings a level of brilliance to the field of Roleplaying that I don't think has been equalled since) and a woman who channels a kind of brilliant insanity -- has created a truly remarkable collection of vignettes and short stories -- a form she has so redefined that I refer to stories of that length and kind as 'hitherbys' now.

Well, today Borgstrom announced Hitherby Dragons over at Lulu.com, which is the most writer-friendly of the Print on Demand self-publishers. I've been curious about the quality of Lulu's work, and I know the quality of Borgstrom's work, so I've ordered. I'll let you know about the quality of the book when I get it.

As for the stories? I recommend them wholeheartedly. Go give Borgstrom some money. She deserves it.

February 18, 2005

For those playing along at home...

...my blood pressure is back into the normal range, and we're thinking maybe things have settled back down. And I get to eat bread again.

But no biscuits.

I spent a good amount of the evening doing some beta work in prep for the Websnark move. It's going well, but there's a lot of t crossing and i dotting. Fortunately, my current hosting isn't going anywhere as we do it. And there was an idiosyncrasy in Mac OS X server that meant I had to change groups on all our students, followed by shifting their primary group to the new one. Only there's... well, no way to batch process it.

So, several hundred students, and I had to open each record, drag the group to the primary group blank, then save the record. One at a time.

Did I mention that because my diet's been highly restricted, my blood sugar is below 'low.' So I've been kind of... surly today.

Anyway, I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow, I will snark. About many things.

Like Flint.

Sigh... Flint....

February 17, 2005

Short phrases convey long meanings, sometimes.

I love Boing Boing. Their links are interesting and fun and exciting and funny. And Mark Frauenfelder is one of my favorites -- the stuff he's interested in tends to be the stuff I'm interested in. (Which isn't to say I'm not interested in Cory Doctrow or Xeni Jardin. The former's one of my favorite writers -- I have an essay on Wuffie as it applies to Slashdot's moderation system I'd like to get around to writing one day -- and the second is brilliant and gorgeous. I like brilliant women. Gorgeous is just an addon.) Frauenfelder just has a perspective that seems right to me.

Well, he managed in a throwaway comment to encapsulate the significant problem I have with Flash in webcomics in one throwaway comment in A link to a "Famous cartoonists now and then" site:

Here's a fun "now and then" gallery of famous cartoonist's work as adults and when they were kids. The fun is only slightly diminished by the use of a Flash interface.

I read that and thought exactly!!!!! He gets it!

Some people do innovative and exciting things with Flash. Patrick Farley's Apocamon leaps to mind. But most Flash interfaces, either in exhibits or comics themselves, are clumsy and simply take the simple task of navigating from one bit to the next and make it needlessly more difficult. It's to the point that when i see the "Flash Loading" bar appear on a comic, I'm instantly predisposed against it. And that's not fair to the people who really are doing innovative Flash work.

So please please please. If you think it would be neat and cool to do your comic in Flash because then you can have a "click next" arrow and a few cheap stock sound effects on your comic strip... do us all a favor. Export the strips to pngs, throw them onto a web page, and put a simple, cheap HTML "next" link at the bottom.

For me. Eric. Your friend.

You know, I think I've seen those sensitivity training videos...

(From Narbonic! Click on the thumbnail for full sized tolerance!)

Sometimes, I can go on for hours about the subtextual relationships we find in stories. Sometimes, I can burble on about symbolism or meaning, or the underpinnings of comedy in webcomics. Sometimes, I can babble on and on about incredible nuances of meaning.


And sometimes I read a given comic strip and just laugh my ass off, because it's that damn funny.

Over to my side, you'll see my ass, over on the floor, because of Shaenon Garrity.

And so Garrity? Gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

February 16, 2005

A day.

It was a busy day at work. It was a busy day of recovery and internalizing the medical issues I found out about yesterday (the less said about the better). The evening I've spent deep in Gossamer, Sekret Projekt J, and conversations with the smartest human being on the planet. Midway through all of this, I got e-mail from the composer of I'm Just a Bill. E-mail referring me to his publishing company regarding some quoting I want to do in Gossamer Commons, and perfunctory, but dude -- Dave Frishberg sent me e-mail. How bad could it be?

Pretty bad, actually. Both the health issues and things I had to do, plus some monetary things that needed doing. Plus some chores. Including getting new Renter's Insurance, because it's been an interesting enough year that I want to be sure things are okay in case of disaster.

All of which is why I haven't written anything here today. But I still like you.

February 15, 2005

Man, I'm fixated.

So, the checkup didn't go as well as one might hope. We're taking some steps to change that.

It's a sign that I'm completely obsessed, however, that I actually thought "damn... now I can't have biscuits any more."

I'm off to see the wizard!

Well, I have a checkup up at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital this afternoon, which is a couple of hours away, so I'm leaving in about 5-10 minutes and won't be doing much on here until this evening. For those who haven't seen Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital (which... well, I assume is all of you), it's astounding. It's huge and mostly made of green glass. It looks like the Emerald City had a baby the Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse, New York.

To give you some idea... this is a hospital with a food court. Not a cafeteria. A food court. Last time I was there, they had Sbarro's, Au Bon Pan, a bank, a branch of the Dartmouth Bookstore, a convenience store, a florist's, a gift shop and a clothing store.

In the hospital.

Walking into the hospital, there's a person playing light piano jazz in the lobby. Mostly standards.

In the hospital.

These are the people who did aftermarket modifications to my abdomen last March. And now they're going to take me out for a test drive and check my antifreeze.

I'll see you tonight.

February 14, 2005

Multiple blasts from the past, and other cliches.

As for today? I don't want to talk about it.

However, having had some issues with my old revived Essay Journal -- which I had started writing in for a few months before the arrival of Websnark, which then overwhelmed it -- I finally got around to exporting those eight posts from it and importing them here into Websnark proper.

So, if you want to read something of mine you probably haven't seen, and would rather it not have anything to do with "Infinite Canvases" or the like, have a look at this group of essays. They cover coffee makes and musical tastes and the excitement and fear before major surgery and even a crappy 'meme.'

I'm going to bed.

Hello, My friend, won't you tell me your name?
Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal
Confessions of a Liberal Heinlein Fan: Worldbuilding and Utopia
The Alchemy of the Slow Cooker
Good Night, Captain
Six Days
On Names and Innovation
Recycling the Meme: On Writing

Moving Day, one of these days...

Sometime in the next week to week and a half... we're going to be moving. Pair.com's been mostly good (though with some weird troubles here and there), but at this stage it's costing a little too much to continue as we're going. I'm shifting over to the Talk About Comics Hosting package.

Why? Huge huge huge savings, and a certain symmetry. It just makes sense to me to be hosted at a Comics oriented company.

(Note -- this doesn't mean Websnark's becoming affiliated with Modern Tales or any other of Joey Manley's official sites. It's not that I'd be against being identified with those sites -- they're among my favorites -- but given I do critical commentary, it's best folks know for certain that editorial and creative control for the 'snark isn't changing.)

February 13, 2005

It's that time of the month, again!

No. Not that time of the month.

My latest edition of Feeding Snarky is online at Comixpedia! Go forth and read it!

This one might get me some interesting comments.

Also in this weeks' offerings is the latest of T Campbell's groundbreaking History of Online Comics columns. It seems less about history and more an informative current affairs piece now, but by God it's insightful, and you should read it.

Sadly, I haven't noticed anything by the Invisible Wednesday White yet this month. But I'll keep you posted.


(From Skinny Panda. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Cheeto Assault!)

Since close to the beginning of Websnark, I've had people e-mailing me to talk about Skinny Panda. It has a huge number of fans, all of whom thought I should read the strip, because they wanted it snarked and -- more to the point -- they thought I would like it. Many people who e-mailed me were somewhat chastened, however, because it seemed Skinny Panda had gone away, having suffered a year-long hiatus, followed by a brief flurry of strips, and then another seemingly endless disappearance.

So, I didn't ever get around to reading it. This wasn't because I thought they were wrong -- far from it. I assumed this strip must be something special to inspire such devotion despite not currently updating. However, with the massive number of strips I have in my backlog that are currently updating, I made the decision that strips that weren't updating would go on a back burner.

Well, David Wright of Todd and Penguin let me know that A) I should read this thing right now, and B) it was updating again, which killed that argument. So, having had an odd morning (I'd discovered that Questionable Content was having server troubles, which led me to figure out where the archives were and start reading them, which turned into rereading the whole of them. I didn't expect it, but there it was) anyhow, and seeing the archives for Skinny Panda weren't that long, I started reading.

Skinny Panda is the brainchild of Phil Cho. (No relation that I know of to Frank "I know Scott Kurtz" Cho.) It started back in 1999, which is to say it started back in the Golden Age of Webcartooning. And it was brilliant. Extraordinarily well drawn, with evocative characters, simple to understand but sophisticated storytelling, a clear understanding of the medium and a willingness to go a little nuts. Every so often, the main strip -- which tells the story of the morose Skinny Panda, his angry friend Gopher, their daisy-like potted friend Flower, and the cybernetic and oddly emotive Robokitty -- would be interrupted to tell the story of Penelope, an intelligent young girl from an upper crust family who seeks to be independent but doesn't really understand how (or why) living like common folks should involve acting like common folks. (Penelope would later run away from home and arrive in the main strip proper).

And then there were the stick figure cartoons. And though I fell in love with the strip proper, the stick figure cartoons really blew me away.

The stick figure cartoons happened on an irregular (and sometimes even regular) basis, and was made up of many many small panels with stick figures drawn in them -- generally there were at least sixteen or twenty panels in each stick figure cartoon, and sometimes considerably more. These panels were small, and as I said the art in them was basic black stick figures without features -- but somehow the stick figures were drawn with tremendous fluidity and flexibility -- rather than being simple art that anyone could do, they were spartan -- the minimum art in the minimum panel size needed to tell sophisticated stories. Objects like rocks that appeared in the stick figure strips still had weight and depth and shading, leading to a sense of solidity. And the stories themselves reminded me of some of the best small-panel storytellers, including Segar's Thimble Theater and -- even moreso -- Carol Lay's Story Minute and Waylay strips.

And I don't lightly compare people to Carol Lay.

You see three -- count them, three -- strips in this snark. These are one of the few Stick Figure sagas with some continuity. These are the story of a young ninja learning focus. That's all. A young stick figure learning focus. And yet, there's Cheetos, and cheese dust, and a brutal murder, and crying. And a denouement that just made me happy to be alive.

And reading through this, I realized that Phil Cho gets the medium. He gets it incredibly well. He knows how to take the most basic drawings -- though the art remains pretty, even in stick figure form -- and turn them into powerful and funny stories. He knows how to strip away all the dross and come up with a pure essence of cartooning.

And that's just for the stick figure comics. When you look at the regular strips, you see someone who's an absolute master at crosshatching and inking and the black and white strip form. There's no computer tricks at all -- he doesn't even cut and paste panels as near as I can tell. The writing is first rate, the art matches it perfectly....

He even conveys ennui well. And in the middle of the archive he suddenly does a Winnie the Pooh parody that captures the essence of A.A. Milne vastly better than the Walt Disney Corporation has done in many, many years. This really is worth anyone's time to go through and read from the beginning. And it won't disappoint you.

So, all those people who wrote to me? You were right.

I have to admit, I would probably surrender.

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

A sprite comic?

A sprite comic?

Pete Abrams needed a filler day because his daughter was sick, and so he threw out an X-Com parody sprite comic?

I love it.

Honestly. The very first week I was snarking on here, I wrote an essay in defense of filler art. In that essay, I wrote the following:

Filler art is exactly what it sounds like. It fills in the space, giving the reader a happy taste of what they come to the strip for in the first place. It may not continue the story, and it may not have quite the same funny as the strip would have, but by God there's something there other than the last strip in the series. It's only one step up from not doing a strip at all, admittedly, but it is a step up, and shows some measure of concern for the reader.

The best filler art may be killer fast, but still fulfills the essential strip requirements. The Something Positive Filler Art, both for today (the deeply offensive and damn funny explanation of what happened to Monette's baby) and yesterday (the evolution of Pepito, the sex midget, which you'll have to go to his site to see, damn it!) hits the top mark. He just had to draw one panel's worth of stuff today, and that pretty simple stuff to boot, and fill the rest with expository text and things that would make the Baby Jesus cry. It's exactly what we go to Something Positive for, damn it, so we've hardly been cheated.

Well, that's exactly what Abrams did today. He did incredibly fast work that brought a quick bit of Funny and made the faithful happy when they came to have a look. That counts big in my book.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that if Abrams had a buffer, he wouldn't need filler art today. But not all artists can work a buffer into their daily effort. Abrams throwing up a sprite comic runs a good second. (A second tied with Randy Milholland's drive to make up strips he missed -- yeah, it means sometimes he has no comic and sometimes he has two, but I still give him credit for that.)

For the record, even though we're working on a buffer, Greg's already asked me about the possibility of putting up filler art or the like on the days when we don't update (Gossamer Commons is scheduled to be a Monday/Wednesday/Friday comic). I know he's doing tons of drawing right now. Not to mention working on Nemesis. The man is some kind of artistic machine.

February 12, 2005

Oddly, it is a good grief, even after all this time.

(From Peanuts, January 3rd, 2000.)

Five years ago, on February 12, 2000, Charles Schultz's last Peanuts strip was being printed for the Sunday funnies, even as Charles Schultz himself passed on into that good night, once and for all. It was perhaps the best sense of timing in comic strip history.

A lot of people will claim that Schultz's best years were long behind him -- I know more than a few who were bitching then that Peanuts was taking up a slot that their strip some more recent comic could fill.

I remember being so angry at those people.

Actually angry. Peanuts wasn't a 'multigenerational' comic. Every last strip was drawn by Schultz. Every last joke came from his pen. And maybe they didn't like it any more, but I liked it. I'm glad he could essentially do the work he loved for his entire life. I'm glad he got a chance to know how much we all loved him. And I miss him. I miss him on the comics page, even if there are reruns there now. I miss reading stories of cartoonists meeting "Sparky" and being stunned at how accessible and friendly and supportive he was. I miss knowing that in a world of rock and pop he managed to get piano jazz on his television shows and specials because he liked piano jazz. I miss the references to skaters I'd never heard of. I miss the words "Sopwith Camel."

Fantagraphics is publishing the finest public service I know -- the complete Peanuts, in sequential order, one book at a time. I have the first two books, from back at the beginning of the 50's. I'm stunned at how good they are. How clean, how well produced, how cheerful. I'm stunned at how much energy there is and how much evolution the comic needed to have. Those early days... I don't know how better to put it... read like a webcomic. Frenetic, trying out anything, too intelligent for the intended audience. This was an age where Charlie Brown was sometimes a troublemaker. This was an age where the three leads were Charlie Brown, Shermie and Violet.

Charlie Brown... Shermie... and Violet.

By the end of the second volume, most of the gang has shown up. Schroeder is playing Beethoven (something I still hear as "beeth" "oven" in my head because I first learned that word from Peanuts, and I didn't know how to pronounce it), though he went through a sequence where he absolutely stunned everyone because he could play complicated music on a toy piano. (The black keys didn't even exist -- they were just painted on.) We saw Lucy as a baby, growing slowly into a fussbudget. By the end of the second volume Linus and his blanket are there, but he isn't talking yet. Snoopy is a puppy, and acts exclusively like a dog. Pig Pen has just shown up.

I'm going to own every last one of these volumes. When we hit the Sixties, we'll meet Five, Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Shermie will finish his disappearance into the background. Freida with the naturally curly hair will show up. Woodstock will show up. Rerun will be born.

And thousands of jokes we're all used to a million times over will appear. And I'll read them and cherish them. We'll see the World War One Flying Ace, and Joe Cool, and the Head Beagle. We'll meet Spike and the rest of Snoopy's extended family from the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. We'll hear Peppermint Patty call Charlie Brown Chuck. We'll meet Sally and learn how selfish she could be, while still smiling. We'll see the opening of Lucy's psychiatry stand. We'll....

Well, I could go on for hours. It's a treasury waiting for us to enrich ourselves. I hope you all do so.

As for me, I'm going to remember that five years ago, Charlie Brown officially never kicked the football, and never would. And there was a purity in that I've never seen anyone else be brave enough to try.

Hey, Aquaman had a great self image!

(From Wapsi Square. Click on the thumbnail for full sized shower ruminations.)

The power is back on, and with it the heat. Which is nice, you get right down to it.

Katherine, in this strip, is feeling isolated and shy, but also comfortable there in the water. She's been thinking about fishbowls a lot. But seeing this particular strip makes me consider water. And showers and the rest.

I love water. I've always loved water. I used to go swimming for six or seven hours at a time, just playing and sporting in the water because I loved it. I actually used to pretend I was Aquaman. In my defense, I was six at the time. But the idea of being able to breathe under water while I was swimming, to be able to spend all my time at the bottom... it just seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

It's worth noting I never pretended I was fighting crime as Aquaman. My imagination only went so far.

Today, I rarely swim. I'm not exactly comfortable showing my skin off these days, because I'm as shallow as the next person. But I do love taking showers for hours at a time, just enjoying the sensations. I'm the sort of person who can use up all the hot water with a full tank. It just feels good.

So I can see where Katherine's coming from, here. When you're feeling like the world is too much with you, at that moment of supreme solitude it's easy to wish it would go on forever.

Anyway, it's better than saying OMG TEH BREASTS! Right?

February 11, 2005

Power is not our friend, today

As with so many other people, I was at ground zero in the blizzard yesterday. The power went out in the evening and stayed out through the night. Right now it's coming on and off sporadically, but nothing's very happy right now.

I'm hopeful that it'll come back and stay back, but for the moment, you probably shouldn't expect to see all that much from me, today. I'll only disappoint you, I'm afraid.

February 10, 2005

Good guys win! Yay!

(From Order of the Stick. Click on the thumbnail for full sized kitty solutions!)

When people ask me to back up my contention that consistently well written and funny comic strips can get away without having gorgeous art, I point to a couple of well known examples. One is Daily Dinosaur Comics, which isn't bad art, so much as it is... well, the same art every day, but still. Another is White Ninja Comics, where the art can generously be described as 'idiosyncratic,' and the strip itself can conservatively be described as "Jesus Christ, read this comic! NOW!"

And then there's Order of the Stick. Which is somewhere between a stick figure comic (thus the name) and a Paintbrush comic, and is wonderful. It has the best cast page I've ever seen, it has funny plots, it has good solid story skills, it brings the Funny, and even on a purely visual gag like the one I'm snarking it just plain works.

Well, Rich Burlew, who is a fellow member of the unofficial fraternity of Role Playing Game Designers (though I've never "met" him, mind) and who seems pretty cool in general announced today that they had passed 2,000 preorders for his Order of the Stick compilation, and therefore he was leaving his day job to work on OotS full time.

In other words, he didn't do a fundraising drive. He sold merchandise based on his strip and received enough money to be able to work on the strip and nothing but.

That's a dedicated fanbase, kids. And it's because it's a damn good comic strip. I don't care if the art is based on stick figures or not. It's a damn good comic strip. The fact that they've got 2,000 preorders for their book says that better than anything I could say myself.

Oh, and sometimes people get badgers thrown on their faces. I mean, dude!

A call for artists that has nothing to do with either me or Gossamer Commons. Hey, it could happen!

By now you should know that I'm a big fan of Todd and Penguin. It's a really neat comic strip, which I think has near universal appeal. (My sister has started reading it, which to me is indicative.)

Well, David Wright, it's webcartoonist, is popular. He's on Comics Sherpa, which is considered a stepping stone to syndication (or so I'm told -- I know little about it, other than the fact that I like the word "Sherpa"). And he's looking to start a second strip, though this one he'd just write. And he's looking for an artist to work with.

If I could... you know, draw... at all... And not have it look like a developmentally disabled vole did it... I'd be jumping at this. David's got a wonderful sense of dialogue and voice, a sense of wonder and a sense of the dramatic. In other words, I likes me the Todd and Penguin. So, if you're an artist reading these words (and I know there's a lot of you out there, because you were sending stuff to me not long ago), hie ye hither to his website, find his contact info, and... er... contact him.

noe websnark WELL BE GONE TO THE AMERICANS!!!!!!!

(From Filthy Lies! Click on the thumbnail for full sized kill skuls!)

The word "meme" has been desperately abused in the last couple of years. People announce that they're following the hot new Livejournal Meme, which is inevitably some asstard quiz or some kind of randomizer that shuffles a smattering of your Friends List across different categories, ultimately claiming that WilWheaton is your Pimp, Gaimanblog is your best ho, and CNN_Feed is your best John.

The original intent, however, are ideas, concepts, and (oh yes) catchphrases that spread through the populace without any coordinated campaign shepherding them. They're more about the nature of human interaction than anything else.

What "Enigma" (I never know how to refer to the officially anonymous webcartoonists -- especially those who aren't that anonymous) is doing here says more about the nature of legitimate memes than the somewhat pathetic forum post some person made or the asshole who screws other players. For a brief moment, "Jerk Hacker" and "Kill Skuls" and "GONE TO THE AMERICANS!!!!!" are an argot -- a moment of recognition between people on City of Heroes. It's shared, and so even though it's... well, stupid, we find it funny.

And a month from now we'll roll our eyes and make fun of people who still quote it. Or we'll quote it (here's that word again) ironically. Or we'll compare it to "All your base are belong to us," or whatever.

And that's what Enigma's pulling up here. Not the meme itself, but the ancillary aspects of the meme -- the people who quote the phrases to be part of that shared sense of community even though they don't have the slightest idea what 'skuls' are or why you should Go. Hunt. them. They can see other people think that and "Jerk Hacker" are hysterical and cool, and damn it, they want in.

So, I likes me the second order humor here. Enigma...

Holy crap, has it been this long since I gave one of these out? Damn. These are stale. Well, what the Hell. No one actually eats them anyway.

Enigma gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty... well, stale, but hey -- they're graham cracker based and that handles staleness well -- biscuit.

February 09, 2005

A Formal Announcement

There are huge numbers of massively talented people in this world. A disproportionate number of them responded to my call for artists for my webcomics doings. This has been an exciting time for me, and I've been humbled at the skill, talent and enthusiasm I've gotten to see.

There are several artists who could have easily been selected, and I'm actually working on a couple of other projects now based on my interactions with some of them. But in the end, a collaborator and partner has been chosen, and I'm excited as anything to announce it here.

His name is Gregory T. Holkan, and his portfolio, art projects and own online comics can be found over at Seppuku Online. In particular, he's got an ongoing comic called Nemesis that's pretty dang spiffy. This new project's highlighting his black and white/pen and ink skills, which are tremendous.

He's also enthusiastic and intelligent, and has already had lots of great suggestions and thoughts, from the thematic to the artistic to the name of the strip -- its working title had been "The State Street Shuffle," but I didn't like it. Greg and I bounced thoughts around and came up with a new title.

So, now we have several weeks of drawing and writing and bouncing stuff off each other and web design ahead of us. We're going to get a buffer and we're going to show what we get to people who have more experience than we do, and most of all we're going to have fun.

And sometime this spring, you're going to get a chance to read Gossamer Commons.

So, I'm pretty psyched.


I'm a couple of days late for this, but Brendan Adkins's Anacrusis for 2005 February 7, titled "Keisha", is another excellent example of the Anacrusis form. For those who came in late, Anacrusis is a unique forced writing experiment where Adkins writes precisely 101 words of story, making each piece essentially self-contained, five days a week.

"Keisha" is a great example of the form -- fiction, but with a poetic feel. And it hit a great point about the second coming of Jesus, done in few words but very focused.

On the Mac, we got something that looked identical to the Banana Jr. instead of Clippy. I always felt a little superior because of that.

(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized assistance, Skipper!)

People know that I can get... tired... of clichÈs and pop culture references and jokes that go past their expiration date. The archetype for this is people making jokes about Alanis Morissette not knowing the definition of the word irony, and the fact that that itself is ironic. This is a joke that got played out in 1995, when the actual song came out. It got desperately overplayed out in 1996. Current retreads of the joke just make the Baby Jesus cry and makes VH-1 retrospectives about the 90's 15 minutes longer, on average. (And frighteningly, somewhere in the last 10 years I actually started liking the song. But that's neither here nor there.)

But sometimes, a joke that becomes a clichÈ and even overtired regenerates. It becomes a part of our shared culture. It becomes a shorthand for a thousand other jokes. I don't particularly want to get into significator theory, but what the Hell, we're here -- it becomes the sign that represents something far more, and brings instant recognition and understanding.

Somewhere along the line, Clippy crossed over into that category. Even though current generations of Microsoft Word have improved their little helpful sprites immeasurably, Clippy is instantly recognizable as a symbol of worthless feature bloat. It's not just that Clippy is paternalism incarnate -- it's that the 'helpful tasks' he pops up to help you with are nothing of the kind. "Would you like help writing a letter?" No, Clippy. I've been writing letters since I was 3. I think I've worked out the intricacies of writing the date at the top. Where the Hell were you when I was putting together a three source massmailing to be printed to PDF, followed by labels?

And so, Clippy showing up in a comic strip gets a grin out of me. Even though it's not functionally possible to hear a new Clippy joke, and even though Clippy humor has, if anything, been more overplayed than jokes about "Ironic," Clippy still works in humor. When he shows up, we have an instant introduction of all of Microsoft's worst traits in a cheerful cartoon sprite, and that can be used effectively and with humor.

Help Desk is of course the king of this, but Morgan-Mar shows Clippy's use to distinction here. Good show as always, sir.

February 08, 2005

The limitations of the Snarkish form

(From The Jaded. Click on the thumbnail to see today's adventurous entry!)

So earlier today, it was brought to my attention that the only snark I've given Fans was when I didn't care for the inclusion of Helen Narbon. And that got me to thinking... because I read Fans, and I like Fans, and it's just plain wrong that it hasn't gotten some pleasantness from me. And so I've been thinking about why that is.

And to a degree, it's the problem with high-story stories. It's one thing when I've been snarking a high-story comic a lot -- then, I'm moderately sure that the audience will know what's going on, or can at least figure it out from context. But it's progressively harder for me to talk about the resonance I felt when I read Guthrie's song to Cassandra, and how and why it pissed her off, and the assumptions people make about genius, because I know it involves explaining the devices involved in a way that makes sense without overexplaining it. And that raises specters on how few words I've devoted to Nahast or Ascent, both of which I read every week, but which have the same issues. Or more to the point, I have the same issues over, since they don't really have issues at all..

And that brings me to The Jaded, which is frankly good stuff, done by Ping Teo, who I adore. And which I don't think I've ever said anything about.

I'm snarking this entry because of the use of chalk on black (I think). It creates an incredibly evocative picture. And when I saw it, I latched onto it, because it's something you don't see nearly enough of in webcomics, even though it's not hugely difficult. It creates a sense of mood, of power, of texture and tone, and Teo handles it well.

And as I set to upload the thumbnail, it really struck me that I haven't talked about the tightness of Teo's story, or the elements of her characterization. Or how it resonated with me that she's including a character who smokes, even though Teo doesn't smoke and is allergic, and how I've done the same thing in fiction even though I don't smoke and am allergic. And her sense of darkness and her sense of dialogue.

But all of that takes context, and context is hard to do.

There's always more that is good than I have the words to say why, and that bothers me sometimes. I think Teo, and Campbell, Waltrip, Melchor, and Migdal and many others all deserve better from me.

I'll work on it.

I'm going to have Joan Osborne in my head for the rest of the day.

(From Overcompensating. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Action Comics!)

You know, if Superman were real, there'd reach a point where he would finally just get pissed off. I mean, he was raised in America, right? And we're trained by movies, television, stories (and yes, comic books) to grit our teeth and bear adversity until the day when the bad guy goes Too Far, and then you go in and start punching and punching and punching.

Of course, the rest of us can't light our breath on fire with rays from our eyes, but he's Superman. He can.

Rowland also declared an end, more or less, to WIGU-TV and the launching of Magical Adventures In Space the series. I'm a big fan of Topato and company, but I'm not as sure about this as I was about WIGU-TV. WIGU-TV gave Rowland tremendous freedom. I'm also not sure why we didn't just flip the channel to watch some MAIS for a while, and then go back to American Platypus when he tired of the MAIS plot.

Anyway, it almost doesn't matter. I'm going to be here through it all, and I always liked Princess Dongle as a character. So, I'm all good with the switch. And also, there's Superman. Dude, he's Superman.

Of course, Cheney's powered by a Kryptonite Heart, so this won't end well any way we look at it.

Acknowledging Professional Best Practices, or BREAD GOOD!

You know me. One of my pet peeves are people who make their comic strip their job -- which is to say, the wellspring of their income, be it through syndication, subscription, donation (the Public Radio model), advertising or merchandising -- and then treat it like a hobby. You know the ones most guilty of this -- the people who sometimes post recriminations but go three or four days without posting... or even longer. The people who are dismissive of their audience. The fucking "Shirt Guy Whothefuckever" stick figure strips you sometimes still see, years after "Shirt Guy Tom" got retired as lame.

I don't count people like Randy Milholland or Scott Kurtz in this, by the by. I did, sort of, back when I started Websnark, on the theory that Kurtz should update at a consistent time of day. Well, I was wrong, and boneheaded. There's a difference between your strip being a priority, and your readership being a pack of anal fucks. That day, I was an anal fuck, and I admit it. The fact that there's always a PvP strip (and 99% of the time always a Something Positive) shows that threshold. So, understand who pisses me off and who doesn't.

Because that can annoy me, the people who are rock steady on updating don't get the love from me they deserve. Superosity, Nukees, Narbonic, Scary-go-Round, Wigu... these folks are just always there, every day. You can set your watch to them. They deserve recognition for that. And dozens more I didn't mention here but who still deserve to be noted -- I'm sure my faithful readers will pile in comments on all the people who just get it right, and good for them.

But this snark, while acknowledging the people who bring the professionalism, is actually meant to celebrate something more: Best Practices.

Professional Best Practices are, in a nutshell, the practices that consistently can be shown to be most effective in a given field. Run amok, they can be a scourge on any endeavor, as the practice becomes more important than the product, but used appropriately and in moderation, they stand as a hallmark -- the methodology that gets things done. Our school is a Best Practices teaching school, and since adopting those Best Practices, found through research and rigorously tested, our indicators have all shot up. Say what you like, but when the same population of students ups their average SAT scores by close to a hundred points, you're doing something better.

Well, I've begun to identify Best Practices in cartooning, and today I'd like to talk about the king of Best Practices. His name is Howard Tayler, and he writes Schlock Mercenary.

Schlock Mercenary updates on time, each and every day. I mean, he nails updates. But it's no big deal for Tayler to nail updates, because he works with a buffer. A sizable buffer. I think his preferred buffer is fourteen strips. That's fourteen days worth of completed comics, plus an equal number of completed scripts. He generally has a block of completed inked drawings, a slightly smaller block of completed colored scripts, and a block of scripts and penciled strips.

What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that when he had a commercial project come up last week, his strip was uninterrupted. He could do the freelance work, give it the time and attention he felt it was due, and not have any worries that Schlock Mercenary would appear each and every day.

That's respect for his audience and respect for his strip, right there, in a nutshell.

This isn't a practice, however. This is a policy. He set a policy of having a buffer of X size.

The practice in question is a scrupulous adherence to deadlines in the everyday, and a scrupulous reclaiming of buffer in situations where it's needed. Tayler doesn't treat his strip like something he doesn't need to do in a timely fashion because he has a backlog. He knows he needs seven strips a week, period, even if it's another two or more weeks before those strips appear on the web. He has a quota and he meets it, just the same as if he had no buffer at all, and any day he missed a strip would be a day with no Schlock Mercenary. When a commercial project comes up and he has to set aside the strip while he works on it, he does, confident he won't lose anything... but then he busts his hump the following week to get caught up, the same as if he were running on the edge of deadline.

Not all artists can do this, and I don't mean to denigrate those who can't. You don't need three weeks of strips in the can to be a professional. But this practice works astoundingly well at promoting consistency and a reputation for being solid, and Tayler deserves to have that acknowledged publicly.

I'm taking lessons from this, by the by. As the search for an artist continues for my own strip (we've narrowed the field down considerably at this stage -- we're very, very close to an announcement), I've been very up front with expectations. Before we even put this strip on the web in any form, I want twelve completed inked strips in the can, so we start with a solid buffer. (It's going to be a 3-day a week strip, generally between 6 and 8 panels per day, so we're talking about a month-long buffer.) When we get to that point, I intend to have at least another 12 strips scripted and in the artist's hands, giving him or her the chance to comment, edit, complain, suggest, or what have you. So, a month of strips ready for publication, plus a month of scripts ready to be drawn, on day one, which will be a Monday.

Then, each week, both I and the artist would be responsible for three strips. We'd both have until the following Sunday to do them, but the idea would always be that we have three strips worth of work to do each and every week. That way, if there's a major problem, or a commercial project, or just the point where we separate ways professionally, the strip can go on without trouble while we unsnarl things.

The artists so far have been cool with this -- after all, it's exactly the same amount of work a week as if we were running with no buffer at all, so it's not unreasonable. (I also don't expect the 12 strips to be done a week after announcement. We have time to do this right.) We also have an advantage in that this strip is going to be story with humor, as opposed to gag-a-day. It's also not going to be topical, per se, so we can work with a nice, healthy lag time.

Why go to all this trouble? Because I've seen the continuum of comics producers -- the guys who update incredibly steadily, the guys who run at the edge but always get the strip out, the guys who swing and miss but are constantly trying to keep up, and... well, Piro -- and I've seen what produces the most solid result while generally keeping the creators unstressed.

And it's Howard Tayler who's at the forefront of it. Good show, sir. Good, good show.

Oh, his strip's funny too.

February 07, 2005

Ways I've Cursed Myself

In plotting out the evolution of the comic strip, I keep thinking oh crap -- this strip will appear and I'll get twenty e-mails saying "hah hah! You went for Cerberus and you landed in First and Ten!"

He who lives by the Snark, dies by the Snark.

Weird Database issue

We had a database hiccup, which was blocking comments (or me updating Websnark) for a little bit. It seems fixed now, but I'm going to keep an eye on it for a little while.

Despite the fact that I prefer Foxtrot, you realize Jason's *never* going to actually grow up in that strip, don't you?

(From... I can't believe I'm typing this... Cathy. Click on the thumbnail for full sized nuptials.)

So, Cathy got married this weekend.

I don't like Cathy.

I don't like the strip. At all. I think it's not... well... funny. I think it peaked a long time ago. I think it's one of those strips that's found a dedicated slot on the Comics Page, so it's not going anywhere. I think there are a dozen strips I'd rather see get its slot, that do more as humor strips, as womens' strips, as any kind of strips. I'd kill to see Narbonic as a gag-a-day strip about empowered women in place of Cathy and her bathing suit and "acking."

So let's give it up for Motherfucking Cathy. She got married.

I'm serious.

Look, part of the reason we despise so many strips on the comics page is because not only aren't they funny, they're not trying anything new. Ever. I have a perverse love for Beetle Bailey, but I know Beetle is exactly the same person he was in 1969. I know Hagar is the same person he was in 1979. I know Andy Capp remains the same lovable wife beating drunk.

But the core premise of Cathy is "a single woman trying to cope with life's issues, including dating and a mother who is desperate to get her married."

Cathy got married. The entire premise of the strip has changed. In an corporate culture where change is feared and editors are a cowardly, superstitious lot, Cathy Guisewite has completely twisted the entire core of her comic strip.

That takes guts, kids. Especially when you consider she could simply have done another ten solid years of strips exactly like she did before. I'm not saying the new strips will be any funnier. But they're not going to be exactly the same. And she might well lose some fans who liked the old way better.

That deserves recognition. Jim Davis won't marry Jon and the Vet any time soon. Beetle Bailey won't get promoted or cashiered any time soon. (Or losing a leg or getting shipped to the Gulf, for that matter.) The kids in The Boondocks won't be growing up any time soon.

But Cathy got married.

Good show, Ms. Guisewite. Good show.

Now make it funny.

February 06, 2005

On the other hand, I was into the attractive jumpsuit science babe from the prologue. But then, I'm just like that.

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

Folks know I was a fan of the That Which Redeems arc over on Sluggy Freelance. Folks also know I'm a fan of pirates. And, like many people, I've been missing Bun Bun.

Welp, we got Sluggy, we got Bun Bun, and we got pirates.


I'm sorry, this sequence is literally doing nothing at all for me. Now, Abrams has admitted he's having some trouble with writer's block. And honestly, I can see evidence of that. This all feels... forced, somehow. Like he's doing it because he has to do it, not because he's feeling it.

Maybe it's the fact that Bun Bun's been gone a long time, and when we see him again, he's once again at the top of the heap, this time on a Pirate Ship. I know the joke is Bun Bun's unstoppable and deadly and all, but there's no sense that he so much as underwent a setback when he was divested of Holidays and lost his bid for power. This feels like a retread.

I don't know. Maybe Abrams will surprise me and I'll end up enjoying Oceans Unmoving. But for right now, I'm sticking with 'meh.'

February 05, 2005

It's like this when I catch a story, too.

I'm now six weeks into my scriptwriting. By the time I actually have an artist selected, I'll probably have a cool 3 months of scripts written. Now, bear in mind, said artist will have a chance to say what he or she thinks of the scripts and the story -- this is going to be collaborative, not dictatorial -- and so all of it might change along the way. But still, this is a heady brew. I think right at the moment I know how T. Campbell feels.

In a way, it's frustrating as Hell, because I can see this in my mind's eye so clearly. I know exactly how I would draw it, if I could draw. Which I cannot. And I know that no artist can draw what's in my brain. I have my Big Friend Frank taking perspective shots of the Ithaca Commons, so that the artist can at least see what the real life locations look like, but the art won't end up looking a thing like those shots. Nor should it, in the end.

In the end, the results will be better than I could do on my own even if I could draw. I honestly believe that. But I wish... you know?

And yeah, I know. If I wished that much, I should be practicing and actually developing these skills I claim to want.

Part of me wonders if these posts are of any interest. I realize I should be snarking about other peoples' comics, but my brain is so... focused right now. I get this way with stories, too. Everything seems to relate back to them, and they become what I'm mostly focused on during that point.

On the other side of it, I've got lots of good jazz to listen to now. My mother clearly doesn't know what she's talking about, when it comes to Jazz Clarinet.

February 04, 2005

Scribbling in the night, listening to jazz clarinet

I'm listening to a Buddy DeFanco AAC I got off of iTunes, from a birthday gift certificate scored from my friend Bruce that I'm slowly depleting. It's pretty fucking cool -- riffs off of "I'm Glad There Is You" and "There's No You," which if you think about it are two songs that were made to be mashed together by a sextet. I'm writing scripts for my comic strip sekret projekt, which features a jazz clarinetist.

I made her a clarinetist because my mother is a clarinetist. She's not a jazz musician, mind, but I felt a certain kinship to the clarinet based on... well, her existence. So I started doing research on clarinetists... but all the research seemed to tap out around 1945 or 1950. So I called my folks. My Dad mentioned Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and Pete Fountain. And of course we have to mention Woody Allen, who plays Dixieland Jazz on Monday nights in New York, when he's available. It's why he perpetually missed the Oscars in the 70's and 80's. I mean, sure -- he could have accepted his Academy Award for Annie Hall in person, but damn it, he had a gig. And jazz gigs are hard to come by.

He then gave the phone to my mother. The very person who I decided to make the character a clarinetist for.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," I said. "Tell me about Jazz Clarinet."

"It sucks," she said.

I kind of blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Jazz clarinet sucks. Oh, Dixieland is okay. The same way Jazz Banjo is okay in Dixieland. And maybe some Swing."

"I hate Dixieland Jazz," I said.

"There you go," she said. "You want a good Jazz instrument? The kind of thing you'd hear Dave Brubeck put his piano talents with? Go with flute."

"Nah," I said. "I never cared for flute."


"She's a street musician. Keyboards would be a pain in the ass. And don't say saxophone. Talk about clichÈ..."

"All right. Go with Trumpet. Or flugel. Or cornet. Those are good jazz instruments."

"Yeah. Definitely. Still... that's so common. This character's kind of weird anyway."

My mother laughed. "Then make her a clarinetist who's at the forefront of a new jazz movement. It's a comic strip, Eric. If you tell the audience she sounds good, she officially sounds good. No one's going to say she doesn't."

My mother's a smart woman.

Besides, since then I found Buddy DeFranco. And that's good enough for me.

February 03, 2005

This is really coming together. I mean, *wow.*

So, I've got several people interested in the Sekret Project Comic Strip so far. I've gotten tons of character sketches from folks, and people who are deeply interested. I'm getting comments and bits of art and suggestions. It's really amazing.

Now, after I see some character sketches, I'm sending along a sample script for a comic strip to folks, to see how well they can take what I wrote and transmute it into something we *both* did. And I got my first one of those back tonight.

Amazing. Astounding.

This is going to be so cool.

Also, I have the first two weeks of strips written.

February 02, 2005

Snarky, know thyself.

It seems to work like this:

If I've had enough sleep, my snarks tend to be positive.

If I haven't had enough sleep, my snarks are more likely to be negative.

I try my best to express my true opinions regardless, but I'm getting to know what kind of stuff I put out in different situations.

If they'd been Wombat Zombies, Campbell could have worked a Digger reference in too.

(From Fans. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Hot Cootchie Momma!)

I like Fans. I like T. Campbell. I like the evolution of this his endgame. I like where he's going with the story.

I like Narbonic. I like Helen and her gang. And I like Dr. Helen Narbon -- she of the "heh heh heh." I like them all.

And yet... I read this, like I've read the other Narbon cameos in this plotline... and... well, 'meh.' It's kind of bothered me throughout. And I finally figured out why with this particular mention.

See, the late Robert Reed once made reference to 'Batman in the Operating Room.' He was talking about an episode of Brady Bunch that had pulled out a pointlessly slapstick premise that simply didn't fit with the established comedic tone of Brady Bunch. Now, the fact that no one gave a fuck about the "established comedic tone" of the Bradys except for Robert Reed didn't matter. He gave a fuck, and he explained why it was a problem. It was, in his words, like having an episode of M*A*S*H, funny as always in its cerebral way, featuring Hawkeye and the gang quipping in the O.R. Suddenly, the camp version of Batman bursts in, on the pursuit of some nefarious criminal, operating in his comedic theme.

At this point, the scene cannot work, period. M*A*S*H and Batman were both comedies, but they were entirely different in tone, in pacing and in execution. One could make a credible M*A*S*H plot about a shellshocked soldier who got a Batman costume and was delusional, or one could make a credible Batman plot where he ends up at a battlefield hospital chock full of cameos from M*A*S*H, playing off the camp, but you couldn't do both at once. Suspension of disbelief wouldn't support it.

Well, Narbonic is a funny, funny strip. There is essentially always the setup and execution of humor. Always. I can only think of one strip in the last several years that didn't have a joke in it, and even that strip was paced like a gag. That it has clear Story doesn't change that fact. It is gloriously, wonderously absurd.

Fans isn't. There is always a satirical element to the strip, but the strip is itself paced seriously within that. Its humor tends to be black, or even nonexistent. And it always -- always -- takes itself seriously in the heart of the absurd.

To have Doctor Helen Narbon hurling people into Badger Zombie pits in the midst of that is at best jarring. You don't know if you should apply Narbonic rules or Fans rules. It distracts. it cracks the facade of Suspension of Disbelief.

In short, it's Batman in the Operating Room, and even the brilliant writing of T. Campbell and art of Jason Waltrip -- and Waltrip does one Hell of a Doctor Narbon, artistically speaking -- isn't enough to overcome it.

Blacklist seems to be turning the tide

For the record, MT-Blacklist has blocked 167 trackback spams. If any of them had gone through, of course, the Nofollow tag would have made them worthless to the spamming company, so with luck I'll get on a list as too much trouble for my worth.

Which is the story of my life, really.

Update on the day

I remember when sleep came easily. Last evening it came too easily, really. I fell asleep at seven, woke up at one in the morning, and then I was up. I ended up washing dishes and doing crap like that. This evening I'm tired as Hell, but forcing myself to stay awake by traveling down to a cafe and writing.

Mostly, I'm working on the comic strip. I've had some good interest from artists and some kickass character sketches. I think this could work astoundingly well. At the same time... part of me wonders if somehow this would become... I don't know. Like a reverse selling out or something. Do I lose my license to snark as a disinterested party if suddenly I have a strip on the web? Especially if it sucks?

For the record, this is a Story comic, with some Funny thrown in. It's not a Funny comic with Story. Though the In Nomine strip is a Funny comic with Story thrown against the wall to see what sticks, so I'm trying a little of everything. So no, by definition, I won't be going for a Cerberus Syndrome because it'll be opening that way. As for First and Ten... well, that's for other people to say.

Ah well, if it sucks, it sucks. I want to do this. Is there ever a better reason?

This is more babble than snark, philosophical or otherwise. So, from somewhere in central New Hampshire, I remain ever your servant....

February 01, 2005

Get your hands off me, you damn, dirty spammers!

So, woke up this morning, rolled over, and opened up the powerbook to suck down the morning mail. Hey, you have your traditions and I have mine.

Boom. 60 new messages to Websnark. Now... sixty new mail messages to my websnark accounts is no big deal, but this was sixty new comments. That meant either someone was royally pissed off over my post about Shortpacked, and we had a flamewar in progress (maybe someone doesn't like action figures?) or someone had found a way to spam me.

Yup. It was "B." I had 60 new trackback pings inviting all of you to check out Poker Online. I'd have had more, but the throttling had kicked in (which also meant people were having trouble making legitimate comments).

So, it was finally time to install MT-Blacklist. Which I have now done. We'll see.

Among other things, it means older entries will auto-moderate, which isn't a bad thing, but might mean some delay if you want to, oh, comment on the Megatokyo post or something.

Secondly... it might mean to some that hey -- we don't need Typekey any more. I mean, if I'm going to put in the magic Blacklister, why should we have the largely broken authentication service?

The answer to that is actually simple: Blacklist isn't anywhere near 100%. Right now... as annoying as it is to post through Typekey (especially if you're on Internet Explorer, which just doesn't work with it), there is no comment spam at all. The last time I used MT-Blacklist with a blog, lots of comment spam got through.

Now... it might be a good idea to set all entries to moderate, and then set it so Typekey entries are automatically approved, which can be done with this version of MT-Blacklist. That means that anyone who doesn't do a Typekey thing would need to have their comments approved by me before they appear. The problem there is... well, I have something of a life, and so comments might sit, unapproved, for a very, very long time.

Of course, I could designate some other approvers. But hand in hand with that comes... well, other writers here on Websnark. Which people have been mentioning to me for a long time now, and which I admit might not be a bad idea. Only it is an official Step.

I dunno. What do people think? How best do we repel the boarders, keep me sane, keep me from having to do websnark stuff for hours a day beyond the actual writing, and make everyone happy?