Monthly Archives: February 2012

Know Thy History: Skippy

Have you ever had a Skippy Peanut Butter?

If you were a child growing up in the United States, you probably have. They come in varieties like Creamy, Super Chunk, and Natural Creamy with Honey. You can use Skippy in many things like Asian Spinach Salad, Big E. Quesadillas, and Peanut Butter & Honey Sushi. One serving size of the Creamy Skippy (roughly 2 tablespoons) provides with with 190 calories, 150 mg of sodium, 16 g of fat, and 20% of your daily requirement of Niacin. Skippy Peanut Butter was the primary sponsor for the Dennis the Menace TV show, and had ads illustrated by Norman Rockwell.

Skippy is also the current owner of the no-doubt much coveted web address of peanutbutter.com. But why is it called “Skippy”? The history on the official site does not touch upon it, going instead for the rather vague “Rosefield Packing Company obtains trademark registration for Skippy peanut butter in all 48 states and Hawaii.”

That’s because Skippy was named after a cartoon character. The history about how the company picked up that brand name is a sordid tale of tax evasion, copyright infringement, and charges of insanity.


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The Webcomic Overlook #194: Mystic Revolution

No one really talks about RPG/MMORPG webcomics, even though I’ve encountered, literally, a poo-pile of them. 8-Bit Theater. Darths & Droids. Order of the Stick. Erfworld. The Noob. Ding!

Maybe it’s because the source material is not easily categorized. I mean, there’s debate going on whether MMORPGs (or, as Yahtzee Croshaw calls ‘em, “muhmorpergers”) are even games, since they’re really more about tedious grinding and chat room socializing. So it feels really weird to call an MMORPG webcomic a “gaming comic.”

Then there’s the whole dual nature of RPGs where characters often are two characters. There’s the character of the person in the game, which is usually a fantasy race like an elf, a dwarf, an orc, or a bard. And then there’s the flipside… the character in real life. Can the writer reconcile the fictional fantasy life with the real world? It’s not impossible. South Park‘s World of Warcraft episode, I think, did a good job portraying the stakes on both sides.

Many comics choose to ignore the duality. Not Jen Brazas’ Mystic Revolution, where the role-playping aspect is called out continually. Does it work as a webcomic? Let’s find out.


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Random Quickies: Skullkickers

Skullkickers, written by Jim Zubkavich (a.k.a. “Jim Zub”) and illustrated by Chris Stevens, Edwin Huang and a team of artists has been getting quite a bit of press lately. Robot 6 had a recent piece on how it swiftly reached 500k page views (or 38,000 unique readers) in the span of a month. Skullkickers already had debuted in print, but it seems to be gaining an online following after back issues were posted on Keenspot for free.

Our two amoral leads — a bald dude and a dwarf — fight monsters for money and get in trouble with the local law when they do so. The lovely art has a painterly Heavy Metal feel to it: colorful and keenly detailed at the same time. Skullkickers is also light on plot, aiming instead for action sequences and slapstick humor. Which is fine, because Jim Zub and his team do action and comedy really well. It’s a fun comic for folks who just want to see dudes punch out another dude. But really, would you expect anything less from a comic called Skullkickers?

Metapost: Thank you

Earlier today, I did a presentation about webcomics (and a little comics history) for Scott King’s class on cartooning. (Mr. King is the creator behind Holiday Wars) ebcomics (and a little bit of comics history). I just wanted to say thanks for inviting me and letting me drone on and stuff. :) It was fun.

Random Quickie: Ouija: A PanelPlay

Tommie Kelly wrote me about his recent short webcomic entitled Ouija. It’s a fairly simple horror story. It’s presented through Panelplay… a Flash-type interface that’s low on the glitz… and that’s alright by me. What it does is focus on single panels that don’t vary much in the way of composition. The basically click-though limited animation gives the reader a slight sense of movement, something that adds to the dreamy, ominous atmopshere.

One Punch Reviews #58: Nerd Rage

Man, if nerds are known for one thing it’s … not … being … able … to shut … the hell … up. Seriously, man, check out some of the comments posted this AV Club review of the game Borderlands. You’d think that, by not liking a video game, someone just insulted their religion. I’m sure pretty much the rest of you can come up with your own examples… including, um, several reviews posted on this very site.

Heh.

So it’s time to channel that apoplectic manchild within, because today we take a look at a comic about nerds, rage, and the consequences thereof. It’s Andy Kluthe’s webcomic, Nerd Rage, where nerds are more ragin’ than Cajuns.

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Forbes takes a look at what makes the OotS Kickstarter successful

Rich Burlew crossed the $1.2 million mark on his Kickstarter campaign for his Order of the Stick books. Forbes asked the question that we already knew the answer to: what makes Burlew’s Kickstarter campaign so successful?

So sceptics should put aside their cynicism: Kickstarter, and sites like it, are now incontrovertibly capable of funding a diverse array of creative projects at very high levels. As an author, it’s exciting to see Kickstarter raising money at a level that competes with some of the biggest advances that you’ll see on offer from traditional publishing. Those advances are usually reserved for celebrities or established best-sellers, but Kickstarter now brings that sort of funding within reach of almost everyone.

The devil is in the details, however, and Burlew’s project provides some interesting insight into where the challenges lie for anyone wanting to replicate his success.

The most important thing, I would argue, is that Burlew has a huge fanbase. He’s drawn the Order of the Stick (OOTS) comic strip for the last nine years, producing over 800 strips in the process. He’s already got a number of books in his back catalogue that he wants to get back into print, and his fans very clearly want that too. He has lot of people who are not just willing to stump up their own money, they are also very happy to spread the word outside of their own community.

In short, Burlew has reach.

Looking at the fiction section of Kickstarter, few ask for those kinds of sums. In fact, when I looked at a selection of the most recent successful fiction projects, the average requested was $3,000, and the average raised was $3,600. Modest, yes. And doable, certainly. But not ambitious.

I think that’s because authors and small publishers don’t have communities big enough to support more substantial book publication projects. I know I don’t. My next Kickstarter project is likely to ask for $5,000 with the hope that I overfund a bit. If my success rate is 1 percent (equivalent to a direct mail campaign), and let’s say I need 150 backers, then I need to reach 15,000 people, which is about doable given my network.

Social media, of course, makes reaching that many people technically simpler but it certainly doesn’t make it quick or easy. Indeed, when I look at my author friends on Twitter, I’m struck by how few followers many of them have, even the ones with critically acclaimed books on the shelves. The few exceptions are already best sellers and their fans simply migrate to wherever they can gain access to their favourite writers.

But to really explore the opportunities that authors have in this online, networked, social world of ours, we have to rethink the very basic. It’s not enough to write good stories. You need to manage a mailing list of fans, be on Twitter and/or Facebook, have a blog, and be willing to put in the hard graft required to build an audience. Only then can you take advantage of the opportunities provided by revolutionary new business models like Kickstarter.

Penny Arcade launches The PA Report

The big news today is that Penny Arcade grows even more beyond its webcomic origins and launches “The PA Report,” a sort of news magazine devoted to taking a more serious look at video games. You’ll get things like an interview with Gabe Newell and a tour of the Valve offices.

Now normally I guess I wouldn’t count this as webcomic news, but there are two things to consider:

  1. Video game news reporting is in a really sad shape these days. (Mike Krahulik seems to agree, which was probably the inspiration of the PA Report.) The joke about reviewing — which is probably true — is that the major games are being paid off by people who pony up the most advertising money. And anything about games seem to be stuck in a permanently adolescent male mindset, despite everyone crowing about female gamers and older gamers. So it’s nice to see a site take a more mature view on the gaming industry.
  2. It’s pretty interesting to see what can be accomplished when you use webcomics as your starting point. Seriously, if anyone had started reading Penny Arcade back in 1998, did anyone thing that a charity, a gaming expo, and a serious video game news site would come out of it?

It reminds me a little of something I did in college. I’d started a college comic, but it got rebuffed due to offensive material. So, kinda shamed — and also kinda miffed that all the school paper ever seemed to focus on was what the frats and sororities were up to lately — I decided to break off an start an underground paper. All of the sudden, I had four or five writers putting together articles and distributing papers in the school hallways. It lasted five issues, but man, it was kind of a rush. And it all started with a little comic I did in the school paper.

So I salute Jerry and Mike on their new phase of Penny Arcade, an empire that, let’s not forget, started with a comic about two guys playing video games.

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