Monthly Archives: January 2010

Webcomic creators say “Meh” to the iPad

So what’s the word on the street on the new iPad? What, didn’t you read the title to this blog post?

Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Rowland, Randall Munroe, Ryan North, and Chris Onstad give their initial impressions on this interview at Comics Alliance.

The much ballyhooed announcement of the Apple tablet finally arrived this Wednesday, along with the slightly unfortunate name “iPad” and details on what will essentially be a giant iPhone, but with no phone. There’s been a lot of speculation about what this will mean for the digital distribution of comics, much of which was rounded up at CBR and later at Newsarama, while Rich Johnston trumpeted iPads as our “new overlords” and Comixology almost immediately envisioned their own iPad app.

But if the iPad is going to revolutionize the way we read comics — and that’s still an “if” — what will it mean for webcomics, which have been native in the digital world since day one? We asked some of the biggest creators in webcomics for their thoughts.

Randall Munroe, the creator of “xkcd,” replied that “while it’s a nice device — I’ve been frustrated by the lack of ultraportable computers which aren’t just underpowered netbooks — I don’t think it will have any more impact on webcomics than the iPhone did.”

So… yeah. They say, “Meh.”

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Joy of Webcomics 2010

Wrapping up Friday with some tidbits from around the World Wide Web:

  • I’d heard of Axe Cop, the webcomic based on a 5-year-old’s stories, but I hadn’t realized that it was part of an interesting phenomenon where the comic was passed, word of mouth through Twitter. The synopsis provided by Robot 6 sounds fascinating:

    One look at its genuinely childlike imagination, action and sense of humor — my favorite bit is when a guitar-wielding supervillain called Bad Santa is defeated when another character gains his powers and becomes Good Bad Santa — seems to have been all it took for the twitterati to get hooked, no doubt recalling all their own afternoons spent making up stories and playing hero in backyards and basements. Indeed, the site has been fairly groaning under the collective interest of the Internet; it was completely down last night, and the strip’s image loading has slowed to a crawl as of this writing.

  • In some more Robot 6 news (and boy are they full of webcomic news today), a new charcoal-drawn webcomics comes to life courtesy of Mark Siegel, the editorial director of First Second Books. It’s called Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson.

    “It is 1887,” Siegel told Publishers Weekly, “and the depths of the Hudson River hold the unfathomable secrets of two men: the owner of a steamboat, who throws a bottled message overboard each morning, and the boat’s captain, who saves a wounded mermaid. Into this comes a famous writer whose love for one of them will keep both men from taking their secrets to a watery grave.”

  • Something’s bugging Fizz over at The Cranky Old Gnome. And it’s webcomic fans who are too critical, and webcomic fans who can’t stand criticism. And its sounds like something I might say:

    The ‘hyper-critics’ spent all their time criticizing every aspect of the comic, from it’s art and writing, to the author’s broken promises and lack of commitment. Nothing the author did was good enough for them. Most of the time they complained about the lack of updates, but then even when there were new comics, they called the art hackneyed and the writing trite.

    The ’super-fanboys’ on the other hand blindly defended everything the artist did no matter what. The artist was above reproach. No-one had a right to complain that the comic never got updated because it was free content. Nobody could call the art or writing bad because they aren’t artists–they can’t create anything so they don’t know how hard it is.

    To be honest both sides ended up sounding foolish and childish. All their arguments, even the most intelligent ones, eventually devolved into bitter name calling.

    Anyway, Fizz makes a plea that while it’s wrong to be negative all the time, it’s equally wrong to think art is above criticism, even if it is free.

  • The Washington Post is trying to figure out: what’s the best webcomic of the decade? I thought this was going to be a shoe-in for xkcd (again), but surprisingly it’s a dead heat between Penny Arcade and Perry Bible Fellowship. My own list (where Gunnerkrigg Court tops all) can be found here.

The Webcomic Overlook #106: Raine Dog

D. C. Simpson is probably one of the most successful webcomic creators today. Her first published comic strip, Ozy & Millie, won an impressive number of awards: the 1999 College Media Advisers Award for Best Strip Cartoon, the Ursa Major Award in 2002, 2006, and 2007, and the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards in 2002. (Remember those?) She also struck gold last year when her comic strip, Girl, won Amazon.com’s Comic Strip Superstar contest and was awarded a publishing contract from Andrews McMeel Universal.

So I don’t doubt that D. C. Simpson has talent. But, then again, so did the people behind Dreamcatcher, which was a terrible movie but had a two-time Oscar winner writing the screenplay and Morgan Freeman on screen. Talented people make bad mistakes. And sometimes the worst missteps happen on the most personal, autobiographical projects.

In D. C. Simpson’s case, it’s Raine Dog, the comic she hosts on Keenspot. It’s a webcomic responsible for spawning a minor internet meme, and for good reason: it contains quite possibly some of the most baffling and ludicrous scenes I’ve ever encountered in webcomics.


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The iPad cometh

A couple of interesting comic-related news stories coming out today:

Apparently, the big news is the iPad. I know this because last night, I couldn’t friggin’ stop talking about it and how this is Apple’s sneaky endgame — which started with the iPod — to steal market share away from Microsoft by focusing on computer items that are not traditionally lumped under the “computer” category. And now they’ve developed something that is kinda a laptop but kinda not. Folks: this is why Steve Jobs is an evil genius.

Brigid Alverson has done an incredible job of collecting several iPad-related articles over at Paperless Comics. I advise you to check them all out, especially NPR’s grand proclamation that the iPad is going to save comics.

In unrelated news, The Beat is going to soon be leaving the Publisher’s Weekly umbrella. Remember to update your links to this excellent comic book news resource.

Quick and dirty tips for not getting banned in China

So you face a dilemma.

You’re a fine, up-and-coming webcomic creator and you want to get as many eyeballs as you can. You don’t totally approve of this firewall that China has up on ethical grounds, what with you being a devoted net neutrality advocate and all (whatever that means). But hey, you barely get 30 regular viewers, and even an infinitesimal fraction of China’s market of a billion potential readers would be considered a success.

Would it really hurt to get some additional viewers, even if they don’t totally get your language and/or Westernized humor?

And how about those Westerners working in China? Should you deny transfer students your awesome brand of sequential art whimsy?

Is selling your soul to Satan really as bad as everyone makes it out to be?

Think about it.

Fortunately, our agents at Webcomic Overlook (i.e., me and the Google search engine) have scoured the web looking for handy tips on how not to get banned in China… freely given, by the way, unlike some other sites. (Wink, wink.)

  1. Stay away from posting your webcomic on social networking sites.

    From The Guardian:

    Broadly speaking, most of the big social websites – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – are all blocked. Many familiar sites, such as Wikipedia, remain but with entire sections or contentious pages disappeared by The Great Firewall. Porn is pretty much outlawed.

    Here’s a partial list of more banned sites. I have no idea if popular webcomic-related sites like LiveJournal, Blogspot, and WordPress are included. I assume those are on a case-by-case basis.

    As for that last bannable offense, that probably means Oglaf, Sexy Losers, and Menage a 3 are outlawed. On the plus side, it’s very likely that Jack is also outlawed.

    Those lucky SOB’s.

  2. This image... probably bannable in China.

  3. Be aware of certain words that will likely get you banned.

    ConceptDoppler.org has a pretty nice list of bannable terms here. So, if you made up your webcomic name using a random name generator, and it spit out something ridiculous like “Oriental Red Space Time,” be wary: you WILL be banned in China.

    Or if you deign to make in a cerebral reference to Greek mythological hero Polynices, you WILL be banned in China. (Holy crap, I’m turning into the political version of Jeff Foxworthy.)

    Interestingly, “Chinese Democracy” isn’t specifically called out, so feel free to make as many Guns N’ Roses jokes as you want! (Also not banned: “The Spaghetti Incident?” Though it totally should.)

    All these bannable terms, by the way, do make for an attractive work of art.

  4. You probably shouldn’t be posting pictures of Tang Wei.

    The Chinese actress apparently has been blacklisted from getting an acting job in China. (Though I think she’s still OK in Hong Kong, China’s Sin City.) It’s probably robably because, in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, she strips to her birthday suit and engages in some steamy rated NC-17 sex scenes.

    Sooooo…. posting pictures of her is probably a big no no. Not that you should ever be posting pictures of attractive ladies on your website to get some cheap hits.

    No-sir-ee.

  5. If you’re writing a furry webcomic, never, under any circumstances, create a silly, bombastic dictator named “Chairman Meow.”

    I mean… obviously.
  6. Like this.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s already too late for me. The Webcomic Overlook is banned, banned, banned, and now I only have the wonderful Canadians (who astonishingly make up a whopping 63% of readers) to keep me going.

But I see this as a good thing.

Envision this scenario, if you will. Three years from now, China will probably develop a rather transparent Penny Arcade knock-off. (Just like every other webcomic creator in the Western world has done.) We’ll be laughing at first, like we laughed about the Chinese iPhone. But then Chinese engineers will reverse engineer the elements that make webcomics successful and will suddenly corner the webcomic market with a superior yet easy to manufacture product. And this will end up killing Western webcomics as we know it. Soon, we will just unquestioningly assume that the highest quality webcomics all come from China … until the put out a webcomic that has faulty accelerator pedals or something, and that won’t happen until 30 years down the line.

Meanwhile, they won’t have a superior webcomic review product because they have no baseline to work from. “What is this Webcomic Overlook?” they will ask, totally unfamiliar. They WOULD have known, if they could access it.

Thus The Webcomic Overlook will thrive in the post-Chinese-dominated world. Oh, sure, I’m going to have to make some token recognition about the glories of the Cultural Revolution — but who doesn’t these days, eh?

And then I shall laugh. Triumphantly. For the glory of Chairman Meow.

Er, Mao.

The Webcomic Overlook #105: Order of Tales

High fantasy is probably the only literary genre in existence where the author has to essentially write two stories. The first is what’s happening now: hero goes on an adventure, fights a dragon, yadda yadda yadda. However, the author also has to write a second story. He has to write a detailed and epic history of the lands and people going back to, say, 1000 years before the hero of the story was even born. The hero’s tale cannot exist in a vaccuum, and his raison d’etre is deeply embedded in the tales that go before him. So, quite amusingly, it’s essential in high fantasy to include stories of a glorious, long lost past in a tale that is itself a fantastic approximation of humanity’s glorious, long lost past.

It’s probably all Tolkien’s fault. The brutha not only inserted poems about elven lovers that were only tangentially related to the narrative of Lord of the Rings itself, he also wrote a library’s worth of back notes (of which the Silmarillon was only but a small piece of the puzzle) to flesh out the myths and beliefs of Middle Earth. It’s kind of understandable in his case. The guy was a professor, and those guys are up to their wazoos in textbooks. Besides, he pulled off the faux-textbook atmosphere so well that to this day people enjoy reading and studying Tolkien as if it were a minor college elective.

The fantasy novelists the follow Tolkien reiterated the superficial aspects. Most fail to come up with anything compelling. One of the best recent efforts is Susanna Clarke’s Hugo-Award winning Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, who fills you in on the history of the Raven King John Uskglass through some of the most ridiculously detailed footnotes you’ll find in fantasy literature today. (It also made me very happy that I sprung for the hardcover. I imagine squinting to read the footnotes in paperback form would be a headache and a half.)

Storytelling is also a key component of Evan Dahm’s fantasy webcomic Order of Tales. Here, Mr. Dahm fills us in on the past through a nifty device: his hero is a plucky little storyteller whose greatest weapon is knowledge — specifically, the legends, myths, and history encompassing his fantasy world.


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El Santo reads some e-mail

I got an interesting e-mail from reader Cody Caltharp. Apparently, The Webcomic Overlook is on the bad side of the Chinese government. OK, probably overdramatic… though I am banned in China.

I’ll skip the cookies and go right for the cream- your reviews are the best in webcomicdom. So good in fact, that, like all sites worth seeing, your website has been blocked in China. This is particularly annoying for me, as I currently live in China. What was so absolutely necessary for me to need a vpn around the Great Firewall for? Facebook? Youtube? Greatbig Granny Butts? Nope. The Webcomic Overlook.

Oh, China. Was it because I only posted hotties from India and none from China? If so, I plan to rectify that matter soon. Consider this picture of actress Maggie Cheung to be my first attempt at penance.

Also, John Lustig of Last Kiss Comics sent me a press release of a contest he’s running on his site:

Seattle, WA — Jan. 24, 2010 — Last Kiss Inc. (http://www.lastkisscomics.com/), GoComics (http://www.gocomics.com/lastkiss) and Hugo-award-winning writer Orson Scott Card (http://www.hatrack.com/) have teamed up for the best comics writing contest of all time!

“Modesty prevents me from boasting more,” said Last Kiss creator John Lustig. “But really–how often do you get a chance to write a comic with a celebrated author, win cool prizes and get your brilliant dialog admired by millions?”

How the Contest Works: Orson Scott Card wrote a fun (and suitably bizarre) caption for a panel of Lustig’s Last Kiss art. The challenge for readers is to create some funny dialog that fits with Card’s wild caption and the art.

Submissions: Accepted until Feb. 5 at 11:59 p.m. CST. On Feb. 8, seven of the “best” submissions will be selected by Lustig and the winner be determined by an online poll Feb. 8-13. The winner will be announced Feb. 15.

More details at lastkisscomics.com.

The Webcomic Overlook #104: Lily of the Valley

It can’t be easy writing a story from the perspective of a serial killer. They come from a frightening world view, where other humans are disposable meat. HBO struck gold with Dexter, true, but the show incorporated a story element that seems like a bit of a cop-out: the title character satisfies his bloody urges by killing other serial killers. It sets up the question of whether Dexter is truly redeemed. His kills aren’t altruistic when you boil down to it, but that plot point is a safety net, since … hey, it’s only bad guys he’s killing, right? He’s making the world a better place. A serial killer you can love!

But what if you took that safety net away? Would the story still be compelling, opening the door dark possibilities not often explored? Or is it something that’s ultimately despicable and painfully unreadable — darkness for the sake of darkness?

Adam Atherton and Luiza Dragonescu’s Lily of the Valley is, thus far, off to a strong start. After missing out on a contract with Bleed, they regrouped and won the Zuda contract by scoring first place with Lily of the Valley, their second entry. The comic also seems to be a hit with horror fans. The comic came in second to fellow Zuda-mate and digital comic juggernaut High Moon for the Best Horror Comic of 2009 by horror comic fan site ComicMonsters.com. Pretty impressive for a comic that isn’t even 30 pages long yet!

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