Monthly Archives: January 2009

Captain Nihilist Asks: Why do negative reviews?

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From the desk of El Santo, a.k.a. Captain Nihilist:

Since the Webcomic Overlook is primarily a review site, I don’t usually engage in essays on criticism or reviewing. However, the subject of what makes a good critique is something that I don’t mind touching upon from time to time. Previous posts attracted the attention of my fellow webcomic critics, and there’s nothing I like more than hanging around with our snarky little Knitting Circle. We’re sort of an exclusive club, we critics of everything: in some respects, proliferating exponentially with the debut of the internet; in other respects, disappearing quietly into the night.

So if you’re someone who comes here to read up on my reviews, you might want to skip this post. This one’s for the critics. It’s probably going to be pretty boring for everyone else. So if you’re in the latter crowd, I humbly direct you to my delightful “Vikings Are Totally Lame” post on the parent site.

Sahi likes it.

For those of you staying, I’m also going to be quoting a lot of Roger Ebert. Not because I have a raging man-crush on him, or because I have a framed picture of him giving the thumbs up on my office desk. I think he’s written some of the most essential words on the subject … just from a film critic’s point-of-view.
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Brian Clevinger on the only option for independent comics

Brian Clevinger, of 8-Bit Theater (reviewed here) and the Eisner-nominated miniseries Atomic Robo, recently posted his opinions on the changes in Diamond’s shipping policy (Diamond Comics Distributors being the largest comic distributor in North America):

If you follow print comics at all, then you probably already know about Diamond’s Big News. The short version is that they’re increasing the minimum amount a title must earn in order for Diamond to continue carrying it. This makes good economic sense for Diamond, but it’s unquestionably going to destroy independent comics publishing as we know it. The first third of this article goes into a little more depth on the issue, but basically when the monopolistic distribution system makes it mathematically impossible for the majority of independent publishers (and all yet-to-be-founded independent publishers) to be distributed, that’s it. Game over.

Let me put it plainly. The basic model of getting new independent comics into shops is dead.

Oh, it’ll do fine for Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, and maybe one or two others. But everyone else? Everyone out there working on a new project for publication right now? The old model no longer applies.

What’s the solution for independent publishers, then? A business model that we’re all familiar with:

I’d been wondering when comics would go digital since around 2002. That’s when 8BT officially became my job. I started going to conventions and the difference between webcomic money and small press money was so obscene it made me feel bad. Seriously. I was making more money by giving away my comic online than everyone I ever saw who self-published their comics or who went through smaller independent publishers and Diamond. It’s a basic question of overhead. If you print, you have to pay to print the comics; to ship the comics; to store the comics; to ship the comics again to Diamond, or the retailer, or the customer. And that cover price? I know the customer feels like $2.99 is a bit much for one issue (nevermind the $3.99 that will become the standard price later this year), but that’s got to go toward paying the printer, the shipping, the storage, the shipping again, Diamond, and the retailer. What pittance is left over is then split between the creative team and the publisher. That’s a lot of ways to slice $3 especially since the retailer alone keeps $1.50. And mind you, this is if you get a sale. Print comics customers are not merely inclined to not buy things they don’t already buy, they actively fight it. Good luck out there!

Let’s compare that to the cost of distributing a webcomic. You pay about $20/year for a domain name and then a monthly fee for bandwidth, the cost of which will range from negligible to obscene. If you don’t have much traffic, then chances are you can afford to swallow bandwidth costs through your own disposable income. That alone is a huge advantage over producing a print run that barely sells (no matter how small the print run) — you’re still out all those printing, shipping, and storage costs that don’t exist for a webcomic. If your traffic starts to increase, then yeah, your bandwidth costs will go up. But it’ll always be a cost you can make disappear by selling sketches, original pages, and/or advertising space. Any revenue beyond covering those costs (plus art supplies where needed) goes straight to the creative team. No retailer. No Diamond. No publisher. And this doesn’t even get into the revenue you can generate through merchandising or print collections once you have an established pre-order-hungry audience. It’s just insane.

Basically: there was no reason to go into print. The only difference is that it’s now official Diamond policy to laugh at you for trying.

There’s more on his post here, including why he decided to put Atomic Robo in print and the parallels between what’s currently happening in comics and the mp3 revolution.

Who Are You?: An Interview with Neil Kleid (Action, Ohio)

whoareyouWhat if superheroes, created by analogues of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were real and based on actual people with powers? What if they were hidden away in a sleepy town since the 1950’s? And if there are superheroes, are there supervillains?

Action, Ohio, written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Paul Salvi, was originally one of the hopeful competitors trying to win a contract with Zuda Comics. The comic follows heroine Andi Bruce, a Detroit detective with a sad past, who is compelled to solve a brutal murder. Her investigation gradually leads her to learn about the existence of superheroes in a town on the Michigan-Ohio border. Eventually, she must decide between solving her case or protecting the heroes’ freedoms by keeping things quiet.

Neil Kleid (right) with Tony Lee and Dean Haspeil.  (Photo courtesy of PW Beat.)

Neil Kleid (right) with Tony Lee and Dean Haspiel. (Photo courtesy of PW Beat.)

I first encountered Action, Ohio, when Jack, Anthony, The Doctor, Delos, and I did a round of reviews at Comic Fencing. I heard about the comic again when Neil sent out a press release that the comic had moved to Shadowline, an Image Comics affiliate that begun publishing webcomics in October 2008. I did some quick research, and it quickly dawned on me that Neil Kleid was prolific. Winner of a Xeric Award (for Ninety Candles), writer for several print comics published by NBM to Slave Labor to Image, art director for Comedy Central and Miramax campaigns, creator of several webcomics…. Good God, y’all.

A large sample of his work can be found at his Rant Comics site.

I contacted Neil if he’d like to do an e-mail interview, and he graciously accepted. Neil had already conducted two excellent interviews with Newsrama and io9. I wanted to touch on subjects that hadn’t yet been covered at the other sites: what it was like working for Zuda and Shadowline, what common themes were within his body of work, and … why Ohio?

WCO: Action, Ohio, has been hosted on Zuda Comics (an affiliate of DC), and Shadowline (an affiliate of Image). Some independent webcomic artists, like Spike from Templar, AZ, insist that the benefits of self-publishing are more rewarding. You’ve seen both sides of the story, having worked on the Late Night Block and Todt Hill at The Chemistry Set. What are the advantages with working at Zuda or Shadowline?

Neil: Well, right off the bat there’s the same advantage of self-publishing versus working with a place like Oni, Dark Horse, Vertigo, etc — the fact that you don’t need to deal with the administrative end of things. Don’t have to worry about hosting fees, don’t have to deal with maintaining the site and so forth. More importantly, though, you get NAME CACHE. See, name cache is important — especially when you’re trying to focus eyes on a new product by new talent. In the sea of self publishing, out in the deep waters of the back half of the Diamond Distributor catalog, trying to get a new comic book noticed is nigh impossible unless you’ve got NAME CACHE — i.e., there’s a name talent on the book or you’re connected to another book or publisher that has a name. New Avatar titles use “from the publisher of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, etc.” and Oni books get a bit of reflective shine from SCOTT PILGRIM. It’s a itme honored tradition and it works, especially when you get right down to it and realize that the Diamond catalog ain’t all that big.

The internet, however, is freaking infinite. Scoring hits to your webcomic, when coasting the void on your own, is a trial. You need to be creator, editor, publisher, advertiser, marketer and PR guy all in one. Many can handle it — you got your Jeph Jacques, your Scott Kurtz, your Gabe and Tycho, R. Stevens and more. When your comic is hosted on a publisher-connected hub, though, you can focus on THE WORK and let the name cache bring viewers in. A webcomic on the Shadowline hub has the advantage of being connected to a) Image Comics b) Jim Valentino c) excellent cartoonists like Carla McNeil, Trudy Cooper and others. Getting in with the Zuda crowd means that you’re part of the Warner Bros/DC Comics media machine and surrounded by well known webcomics like HIGH MOON, BAYOU, NITE OWLS and more. Plus, you know, you get paid.

And at the end of the day, should your webcomic flourish at either site, odds are pretty good on a print collection.

Now, sure — you can do all that on your own if you’ve got the moxie and business sense. Personally, I’m not a businessman nor a marketing machine. I like to write comics. I like creating them within nurturing, friendly studio environments which is why I’m with Shadowline. For me, being able to be on the hub is happiness enough. Everything else is gravy.

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WCO: Have you seen any big differences between how Zuda and Shadowline run things, from the standpoint of corporate culture, editorial influence, etc.?

Neil: Besides the fact that Zuda pays a rate and Shadowline is all back end, if anything?

Yeah… there’s a lot more freedom at Shadowline. Jim and Kris Simon tend to be pretty hands off when it comes to editorial influence vis a vis the webcomics. As long as the comic is awesome, go with god. They see something in each webcomic they add to the site and trust in the creators to shepherd the strip to its potential awesomeness.
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The Webcomic Overlook #66: Femmegasm

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When you assemble a list of the worst names for musical artists, names like Bubba Sparxxx and the Goo Goo Dolls rise to the forefront. Bad names, both, but I think I’ve got one better. It’s hard to have a worst name than the hip-hop group that goes by the rather colorful name of Cunninlynguists.

That noise you hear is you letting out a disgruntled groan.

Nathan Rabin’s review at AV Club praises the Cunninlynguists: they have “a moody sound that puts a dark, Southern-gothic twist on the soul-sample-based hyper-soul of Just Blaze and Kanye West, while the group’s lyrics explore sensuality, spirituality, and politics with smarts and conviction.” I downloaded two of their songs, “Lynguistics” and “Love Ain’t,” and I admit that they’re quite good. Still, do you want to be the guy that has a band named “Cunninlynguists” on their iPod? Do you ever want to tell anyone you’re a fan of Cunninlynguists?

Why do I bring up Cunninlyguists in this review? Maybe today is Kentucky Hip-Hop Appreciation Day at The Webcomic Overlook. Or maybe because today I’m reviewing a comic by Pembroke W. Korgi (real name, Robbie Allen) named Femmegasm.

Trust me. This comic … it’s not what you’re thinking about.

Like the aforementioned Cunninlynguists — who, I am to understand, have “stunning English” — the comic may turn out to be pretty good. Hell, if The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo (reviewed here) taught me anything, you can’t judge a book — or webcomic — by its title.

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Er… ignore that sample panel. Femmegasm still isn’t what you’re thinking about.
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Another peaceful transition

  • Today, I’m still celebrating the glorious aftermath of another peaceful transition. A glorious day where even those who tolerate how things were done in the previous years greet the new day with a tentative optimism and a full measure of devotion. Time will tell if it will be a success or a dud, but one thing is for certain: nothing will be the same again.

    I am talking, of course, about the change from Starslip Crisis to just Starslip.

    Over at webcomics.com, creator Kris Straub posted a great entry regarding his thought process on how he rebranded his comic. It covers everything from making the comic better for entry-level readers to character redesign to the joy of logo development. It’s required reading for everyone, especially those who believe they’ve written themselves into a corner.

    Go ahead, embrace change.

  • Also, I’d like to forward this press release sent to me by Larry Latham:

    LOVECRAFT IS MISSING, BOOK 2: THE OBSCURE WORLD STARTS JANUARY 14, 2009

    The first pages of ‘Lovecraft is Missing, Book 2′ go up Wednesday,
    January 14, at www.lovecraftismissing.com. The webcomic, written and
    illustrated by Larry Latham, weaves together events and characters
    from the life and fiction of H.P. Lovecraft with an original story
    that produces its own special take on pulp adventure.

    But it’s not your standard Mythos wannabe: there is no such place as
    Arkham, cultists are not Conan clones, and every third person does
    NOT have a copy of the Necronomicon in their hip pocket. There are
    enough surprising twists and turns to keep even the most ardent
    Lovecraft fans guessing.

    New pages are posted every Wednesday. The complete series will
    consist of six issues. Book 1: Innumerable Instances of a Vague
    Nature, began Oct.1, 2008, and is now available in the archives at
    http://www.lovecraftismissing.com.

    Larry Latham is a long-time animation veteran and pulp fan. “Lovecraft
    is Missing” is his comic book debut.

    I flipped through the first few pages, and the art is quite attractive. Plus, stuff about H.P. Lovecraft? Nifty!

Change You Can Believe In

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Happy Inauguration Day!

And don’t forget to check out Dan Goldman’s webcomic predicting Barack Obama’s bold presidential vision for the year 2012 over at sci-fi site Tor.com.

The Webcomic Overlook #65: Thingpart

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Humor is like a pizza. Every has a different idea about what’s great and what’s terrible, and no two people will ever come up with the same recipe.

I was at a dinner party with relatives last night, and we decided to catch Mad Money on HBO. Everyone’s laughing uproariously at the delightful antics of Queen Latifah and friends … except me. I sat on the sofa with a dumpy, annoyed look on my face. I tricked my brain into a trance by chanting “this is not funny, this movie makes no sense, they’re just pandering to blue collar fantasies” over and over under my breath, just to take my mind off of how much I hated the Diane Keaton character and to hide my disappointment that she never gets her comeuppance. (Oh yeah… spoiler alert.) As you can imagine, I was the life of the party.

Meanwhile, I do realize that my own tastes in humor are rather unconventional. I don’t mean to say that I’m one of those people who think that Freddie Got Fingered was a misunderstood work of genius, though I assure you such people exist. (To bring this back to the pizza analogy, it’s the anchovy pizza.) I won’t, though, ever foist my MST3K DVDs on anyone until after I’ve conducted an indepth assessment based on 29 personality traits. I made that mistake once of watching the show with my wife, and all I got was an awkward two hours where she really was doing everything she could to show that nothing on the screen was interesting at all. That’s the bane of seeing humor you don’t find funny: it’s one of the most painful experiences on earth.

Eventually, to keep the peace, you and your cohorts must agree on a region that neither party finds uproariously funny, but are just funny enough so that everyone has a good time, at least until someone cracks open the case of Smirnoff’s.

I name that region “Adam Sandler.”

Which brings us to today’s webcomic review: Thingpart, by Joey Allison Sayers. To me, this comic is COMEDY GOLD. But I also laugh at obscure references to The Mothers of Invention, Lysistrata, and Monty Python’s “It’s” Man, so mileage may vary.

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Le Webcomic Potpourri

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Ah, monsieur! Please sample le following webcomic stories, oui?

  • Best part about the post-Starslip Starslip: necks! Huzzah! Incidentally, Cutter looks a lot more like Sawyer from Lost … which is a good thing! Mr. Straub, you need to have a little talk with Joe Quesada on how to remake long-running comics.
  • Incidentally the 2008 Weblog Awards are over. To no one’s surprise, the winner for Best Comic Strips is xkcd. Yay. Hey, does it matter, really? Everyone had fun, the popular guys won, Comics Curmudgeon defied the haters in the Humor Category, and the always affable Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: Next Generation got to feel good about himself, winning the Best Celebrity Blog and all. (Eventhough I did publically endorse Kanye West….) Besides, it’s not like it’s a real award… unlike the Xeric Awards, whose winners were also announced this week (hat tip from the Comics Reporter).
  • And now, to tie the first two items together

    20080509

  • In case you missed it, Jackson Ferrell of This Week in Webcomics posted his two-part interview with Tony Piro, creator of Calamities of Nature (a Weblog Award finalist). The negative reviews from my old stomping grounds at Comic Fencing get brought up — of which I was not a part of, by the way. Mr. Piro seems to be quite an engaging fellow, so be sure to check it out!
  • Drew from Toothpaste For Dinner relives the early days of the internet with Andrew Zimmern Ate My Balls. I laughed at it more than I should have. Also, I came to the realization that I am now pretty frikkin’ old. According to Wikipedia, the whole Ate My Balls thing started in 1996.
  • Webster’s Dictionary defines a “neck” as: “1 a (1): the part of an animal that connects the head with the body (2): the siphon of a bivalve mollusk (as a clam) b: the part of a garment that covers or is next to the neck.” Every single one of those sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Especially the clam one (which somehow warrants a higher definition usage than the one pertaining to clothes).
  • I got this press release from Neil Kleid via e-mail:

    As comic book fans around the world usher in a brand new year, the creators of Image Comics/Shadowline’s offbeat webcomic, ACTION, OHIO, invites you to spend time in a little town hiding a very big secret;

    http://www.shadowlinecomics.com/webcomics/#/actionohio/

    Action, Ohio – written by Xeric Award winning author Neil Kleid and illustrated by Paul Salvi – asks what might happen if the Silver Age of comic book was created to hide the existence of real-life superhumans living in the heart of Ohio?

    Running one page per week at Image Comics/Shadowline’s webcomics hub, the story explores detective Andrea Bruce’s private dilemma and the sacrifices she must make in order to save an isolated community struggling to contain its secrets. Choosing between solving a murder and opening a Pandora’s Box of evil or putting aside her vendetta to help a group of heroes contain their existence and freedoms, Andrea unfolds the mysteries of a sleepy little town that inspired the Silver Age of comic books and races to find a killer before he forces its inhabitants to reveal themselves and destroy the world.

    And I was, like, “Holy crap! Image has a webcomic front now?” Anyway, I gave Action, Ohio, a fairly good review at Comics Fencing back when it was competing for a Zuda contract in May, so I may just have to revisit it to see where the story ended up going.

  • Bengo, don’t you know what kind of incredible power you have? Don’t abuse it. Use it … for good.
  • Do you hate Pokemon? Not as much as Atticus from Mokepon, I’ll wager. Yeah… it’s basically a Pokemon fanfiction. But the art is pretty solid, and the story had me hooked for the 19 pages published. If you want to see a fella get pissed off about Charmander, this is your comic.
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