Most webcomics are written by nerds for nerds. It’s a fact of life. People who draw webcomics have a certain passion for comics and an acuity in computers. That spells N-E-R-D-S.
As a strange result, webcomic settings are not only the same, they’re typically squeaky clean. Take your typical slice-of-life webcomic. They’re usually either set in college, or at high school, or in the comforting embraces of suburbia. The closest you get are stories about jobless post-college slackers who sit on their couch and complain about having no money. But how poor can they possibly be if, in every other scene, we usually see them tapping way at their XBox controllers?
Thus, it’s rather unique when I encounter a webcomic set in the more unconventional world of the inner city. It’s the world popularized, mythologized, exaggerated, and romanticized by gangsta rappers and filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton. It’s where the windows of crumbling brick buildings are barricaded by black iron grates. Where drug dealers are a fact of life. And where you’re always under the thumb of The Man.
But, hey, it’s life, and you get by. Especially if you’re protected by a bear. A Party Bear.
Dean Haspiel, visionary and co-founder of the New York based Act-I-Vate webcomics collective (whose webcomics are more upscale and adult-oriented than your typical fare), recently won himself an Emmy for the main title design of HBO’s Bored To Death.
Let’s not forget, the Emmy is the first step to the elusive EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). I’m guessing Mr. Haspiel, though, would probably be closer to acquiring an Eisner (which he’s been nominated twice for, including “Best Webcomic”) and a Pulitzer first.
Haspiel had also signed on to do a comic for Zuda Comics. He shared his idea for what he expects Zuda to represent now that it is no longer providing free comics online:
A tough racket this comics making business. But, if there’s one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s good to be different. And, if Vertigo, my bread and butter publisher the last few years, has been dubbed “the HBO of comics,” then I posit that Zuda is “the IFC of comics,” where, like ACT-I-VATE, alternative concepts are refined online with the distinct intent to expose and develop fresh voices that could otherwise be lost in the gutters.
“The HBO of comics” and “The IFC of comics,” huh? That sounds like highfalutin Emmy winner talk to me. Still comics are now more closely tied to the Hollywood entertainment industry than ever before, and Mr. Haspiel has shown that webcomics and webcomic creators are coming to the party, too.
Way back when the Fellowship of the Ring movie was coming out (and boy does that seem like a long time ago), Peter Jackson was all the rage. Unashamed fanboys and fangirls of the hobbit-y looking director began singing his praises all over internet message boards. Films that no one but the most obsessive horror movie buffs knew about began crawling out of the cracks. The most recommended movie? You guessed it: Meet the Feebles.
I was intrigued by the premise. It was a dark, grim version of the Muppet Show. I enjoy parodies on Jim Henson’s creations, being perhaps one of the few people in the world who enjoyed Greg the Bunny. So I went down to the local video store and rented out a copy on tape.
I hated every single minute of it. For me, Meet the Feebles crossed the line from a dark yet whimsical parody — like, say, American McGee’s Alice — to mean-spirited splatter porn. I don’t mean that Peter Jackson is himself a joyless curmudgeon; all accounts are that he’s a friendly fellow to be around. It’s just that for this particular movie he seems to be actively despising the characters and, unforgivably, Jim Henson’s original premise.
I was reminded of Meet the Feebles when I decided to check out the subject of today’s review. It’s a black-and-white webcomic called Glam, written by Pedro Camargo and hosted on the Act-I-Vate website. To sum it up, it’s Care Bears meets Fall-Out and all the shenanigans that implies.
I wasn’t going to do another review this week, but, what the heck, Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Go on and rail how we’re being pawns of the Greeting Card industry or how it’s totally unfair to single people. The Webcomic Overlook enjoys all the holidays, real or manufactured. Behind the menacing luchadore facade, El Santo is a big old softie who gets calorie busting treats for his lady on the Holy Holiday celebrating a brutally murdered saint.
So, to celebrate, let’s take a trip back to our friends at Act-I-Vate and take a looksee at a cute little comic called Sam & Lilah, written by Jim Dougan and illustrated by Hyeondo Park.
I mean, look at the picture below. Doesn’t that have Valentine’s written all over it? Seriously, these guys should look into doing limited edition Valentine’s Day cards.
What’s there to love in the world of webcomics? I can probably recite a whole list of things. Today, though, I’d like to express my deep love for the Act-I-Vate collective. I love, love, love their “Comix” section. Every time I pull up the page, I feel like I’ve been immediately transported to a comic book shop and I’m looking at the indie comics rack. I mean, look at all these covers and all these oddball genres! As an added plus, every single one of the titles look like they were done by established comic professionals, the sort of folks who are blase about having Eric Larsen’s or Dan Didio’s name in their rolodex.
So for Webcomic Overlook #68, I thought it would be great to do a review on one of the comics featured in Act-I-Vate. Which one did I choose? Was it one of Dean Haspiel’s highly acclaimed Billy Dogma comics? Was it the quirky indie romance of Bee? The visually stunning former Zuda contender, Sam & Lilah? Or the intriguingly titled Party Bear?
Nope. I selected the comic whose cover features costumed characters, namely a fetching young lass in the arms of an albino elf. So know you know the terrible secret of The Webcomic Overlook: El Santo is as predictable as any typical comic book fanboy, especially when it comes to promo art that approaches geek nirvana. (Immutable geek theorem: everything’s better with pointy ears.)
Still, it’s only appropriate that, on the week before Valentine’s Day, I review a comic named Loviathan, which comes with the cheeky tagline: “Love is the End of the World.” It’s written and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.
Dean Haspiel recently was interviewed for an article in the New York Times. He talks about how he ended up founding the Act-I-Vate collective, building a loyal fanbase, and the misconception that just because you’re willing to give something for free online, no one will ever pay for your stuff later. I’m copying and pasting the article here. (I have no idea if this is falling under the curtain of the New York Times subscription service at a later date.)
It’s always heartwarming, by the way, to see a highly reputable newspaper like the New York Times cover webcomics. Can an economic analysis of digital comics from rival Wall Street Journal be far off in the future?
DEAN HASPIEL, a 41-year-old resident of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is not your stereotypical comic book eccentric. He is charming and funny, and he enjoys bringing people together, whether to talk about comic books or knock back a sociable Scotch.
Mr. Haspiel’s credits include illustrating “The Quitter,” the autobiographical tale of his fellow comic book maven Harvey Pekar, and Jonathan Ames’s graphic novel “The Alcoholic,” about life under the influence. His art is defined by bold lines and figure work reminiscent of the legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby.
A native New Yorker with dark hair and a scruffy beard, Mr. Haspiel has lately become something of a champion of Web comics. His work can be found online in “Billy Dogma,” a noirish tale of love and redemption; at Act-I-Vate.com, an online cartoonist collective that he founded three years ago; and at “Street Code,” his semiautobiographical anecdotes of city life, at zudacomics.com.
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