Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Webcomic Overlook #192: 2D Goggles

Through its relatively short lifespan as a genre, webcomics have proved they can do things just as good as any other form of media can. They can make you laugh. They can make you cry. They can make you poo your pants when you get a surprise animation of a creepy anime zombie girl. They can make you find the goodness in humanity through the flooded streets of New Orleans, and they can make you feel the frustration of trying to find a loved one in Iran.

And, yes, webcomics can teach. Moreso, I suspect, than conventional print comics can. There are a lot of webcomic creators out there — such as Kate Beaton and Randall Munroe — that actually respect the intelligence of their readers. They’ll give you a set up using an obscure historical figure or an advanced calculus mathematical equation and trust that you’ll laugh even if you don’t get it at first, and that you’ll do more research if the subject piqued your interest.

Take, for example, Sydney Padua’s 2D Goggles (subtitled The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage), a webcomic about two historical characters that I hadn’t thought about since my high school BASIC programming class.

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Random Quickies: Sarah and the Seed

Ryan Andrews tells the story of an elderly couple and an onimous plant in the short 5-part webcomic, Sarah and the Seed. Why does Aaron have dreams of eldritch horrors? Why does Sarah have a strange demeanor of preternatural blissfulness? Read the comic and find out, heroes!

Know Thy History: Prince Valiant

There must be something in the waters of Nova Scotia that makes its residents really embrace history. Kate Beaton, one of the most prominent names in webcomics currently, made it big by sticking modern slang in the mouths of respected figureheads of history.

She’s not the only one, though. Once upon a time, a resident of Halifax became a staff artist for the venerable retailer, Hudson’s Bay Company, in Winnipeg, where he drew ads for ladies’ corests. Later, he would move to comic strips. His first job was illustrating the adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. However, being a true artist, what he really wanted to do was work on something that was his own creation.

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst loved this man’s pitch so much that he offered him ownership of the strip, a rarity for the earlier work-for-hire era in comics. Incidentally, this is the third time Hearst factors into this feature. It’s kinda uplifting to know that one of the world’s biggest media tycoons was deep down inside a huge comic nerd.

That cartoonist went on to pen the adventures of a knight in King Arthur’s Court, someone whose adventures are still featured in newspapers to this day. His name was Hal Foster, and that comic strip is Prince Valiant.

(Incidentally, this piece is going to lack the usual links, mainly because my main reference site for newspaper comics — the I Love Comix Archive — went down because the hosts got spooked by SOPA. Sigh.)

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Can online comics save manga?

Jason Thompson has one thing to say, “Manga publishing is dying.”

Well… more than one thing. The other part of that is that manga is alive and well… in digital format. His article on io9 zeroes in to the main ailments plaguing the modern manga industry, and it’s potential salvation in the digital world. A few excerpts:

Manga sales in America have dropped 43% since 2007, an even bigger drop than domestically produced comics and graphic novels, suggesting that more than the bad economy is to blame. A few doomsayers like Toren Smith had claimed for years that the market was headed for a bust since publishers were glutting the market with too much junk.

But the problem isn’t just about fickle Americans — the Japanese manga market is hurting too. Sales of manga magazines, the traditional delivery medium for manga in Japan, peaked in 1995, and have been falling ever since. Graphic novel sales remained steady longer, but have also declined.

Manga is hurting the way that all print media is hurting — but in some ways it’s worse, because manga is ill-equipped to adapt to New Media. Like American comic books, manga started out as cheap entertainment for kids, but while American comics faced their dwindling readership by turning into an adult collector’s item with color, thicker paper and higher production values, manga magazines (and to a lesser extent, graphic novel collections) still use cheap ink and cheap paper to cram in as much pages-per-yen value possible.

This makes them an anachronism in an era where newspapers, phonebooks and pretty much any disposable printed media seem inconvenient at best, and environmentally irresponsible at worst. No matter how cheap you make it, you can’t get people excited about grimy newsprint anymore: in 2007 the Japanese company Digima founded the first free weekly manga magazine, Comic Gumbo, which they hoped would be funded by advertising, product placement and graphic novel sales. But like free weekly newspapers everywhere, they discovered it was hard even getting readers to pick them up, and both company and magazine went out of business after 48 issues.

And yet, manga is still popular: it’s just all being pirated online. A Google search for “manga” returns seven “scanlation” aggregators and zero manga publishers in the top ten, while searches for “comics,” “books” and “graphic novels” turn up stores and publisher sites, and even a search for “anime” turns up mostly legitimate sites, apparently thanks to FUNimation’s aggressive use of DMCA Cease & Decist notices.

The truth they don’t want you to know, perhaps, is that publishers are unnecessary; Japanese self-publishing is booming. The traditional model of manga success, as promoted in Bakuman, is all about getting picked up by a big publisher and enduring harsh hazing and having your manga ripped up by your editor in front of you to teach you humility and so on. (What do you expect a manga in Shonen Jump to say?)

But the Japanese market for dojinshi (self-published manga) has grown massively over the last 20 years, even while the mainstream has stagnated, and although most dojinshi is porn, there are also big original hits like Onani Master Kurosawa, which started out as a not-quite-Death Note parody with lots of (off-panel) masturbation, but became so popular it’s been adapted into a voice drama.

And self-published online comics are starting to become hits and get turned into anime, such as Kyo no Nekomura-san, Boku Otaryman, Tonari no 801-chan, and of course the most successful of them all, the megahit Hetalia.

Some digital artists have even produced their own international editions, such as Yoshitoshi Abe’s iPhone and Kindle manga and the digital manga magazines/collectives Gen Manga and Comic Loud.

Though of course time spent self-promoting and talking to readers is time away from the drawing board, artists who publish their own stuff are probably going to have more street cred and have less problems with piracy, as opposed to the traditional big-publisher model of secretive artists guarded by their publishers and working in isolation from their fans.

As digital media inevitably takes over, the two big questions are (1) whether the big publishers will survive, and (2) what essential “manga-ness” will survive in manga itself. Perhaps the expectation of free content online will mean that publishers spend even more time courting licensing opportunities, like with Broken Blade, an anime based on a manga from Flex Comix’s online magazine Comic Blood.

But digitization definitely empowers individual creators, even as the digital format pressures changes to the detailed B&W artwork and long-running melodramatic narratives that produced manga’s Golden Age. Still, maybe the future won’t be so different after all; the dominance of scanlations does show that there’s a huge audience for poorly scanned, low-res JPEGs of B&W art designed for print. The manga market is still much bigger than the American comic and graphic novel market, so don’t count it out yet. While One Piece, Bleach and Naruto stagger along on their creaky geriatric legs, new manga are waiting to step out of their shadows.

Gina Biggs to bring love in the blood

Greg Carter, author of vampire webcomic Love Is In The Blood (formerly Abandon: First Vampire), wrote to me that the comic is bringin on a new artist, who will be picking up where previous artist Elliot Dombo left off. That would be Gina Biggs, famously of Red String. It should be an interesting change in styles. Mr. Dombo’s art was geared more towards action, while Ms. Biggs’ style is softer and slightly more delicate.

Great lucha libre moments in webcomics presents…

From Dr. McNinja:

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time in webcomics a doctor has also been a luchador, as Awesome Hospital had Chris Hastings beat by a year. Still, it is a good time to be a luchador doctor, as fireman carries and hurricanranas has finally shaken off the stigma associated with alternative medicine.

One Punch Reviews #55: The Trenches

I am something of a fan of stories about he software industry. It probably has something to do with taking the driest subject matter possible (programming) and turning it into a story that’s dramatic or epic. One of my favorite biographies is Masters of Doom, the story about the creators behind the revolutionary first person shooter, Doom. It starts off with hard times with the creators being forced the work around the clock in a dank room and ends with a truly remarkable fortunes for its two principle characters: John Carmack went on to become so rich that he amassed enough money to build his own space ship, while John Romero had a momumental rise and fall, going from the rockstar to the laughingstock of the video game industry.

And you can bet that I am totally on board with seeing Man On A Mission, the documentary about Ultima creator and longtime cosplayer Richard “Lord British” Garriott, who also amassed so much money he eventually fulfilled his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut.

The creators of The Trenches, Scott Kurtz, Mike Krahulik, and Jerry Holkins, also achieved some pretty amazing — albeit less galactic — milestones. Between them, they’ve established one the premiere game expo franchises in the world, emceed the Harvey Awards, were named as Time’s most influential people, and are regarded as the founding fathers of webcomics. Still, I don’t expect this partially autobiographical webcomic about life in the software development industry to arrive at something quite so mind-shattering.

Maybe if one of those lazy bums should get off their butts and build an actual space ship, huh?

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Metapost: SOPA Protest Blacks Out The Internet

So apparently a whole bunch of sites are going dark tomorrow as a protest to the SOPA anti-piracy bill being floated around in the US Senate. What is SOPA? That would be the Stop Online Anti-Piracy Act, which is set to come down HARD on anyone using copyrighted material.

So, tomorrow, little known sites like Reddit and Wikipedia are among the sites participating in an online protest that envisions a world with … NO SPRINGS!

Want to view cat photos with misspelled captions in Impact font?

NO SPRINGS!

Or use the world’s largest online encyclopedia to complete your term paper?

NO SPRINGS!

Wait. Did I say “springs”? I meant “no internet.” Why did I think of “springs“?

A Softer World is in on the protest, so if you’re looking for photographs with tenuously related captions on ‘em… no dice, my friend. Meanwhile, David Rees of Get Your War On has put together a special Get Your Censor On to show how internet censorship will lead to more Yellow Pages.

WordPress users can apparently join in using a plug-in. The Webcomic Overlook will be open though, partly do to laziness, partly through a fear of plug-ins.

I know, I know. I probably should be more concerned since I reprint webcomic images for my reviews and I use what is quite possibly a copyrighted image on a famous luchador as my avatar. But, well, I prefer to soldier on and adapt to different rules and regulations as time wears on. Man, I’m still suffering combat fatigue from the Napster Wars.

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