I Beat the Blerch Holiday Fun Run

There are several fun runs going on during the Christmas Season. Just this weekend there was an Ugly Sweater Run and the Chase the Grinch Out of Town Run pretty close by to where I live. But I travel the extra distance because there’s only on Christmas Run that’s webcomic themed: the Oatmeal‘s Beat the Blerch Holiday Run around Seattle’s Green Lake.

The run is held just as the sun sets and it gets pitch black, which mean you gotta take extra care not to step into puddles or wipe yourself out when making a wrong step. (One runner related to me that she tripped when she hit the drop off beyond the pavement.) There’s one spot where the path narrows, and I remember in daylight that on the left side you run right into the lake if you stay off the path. So running in the dark is not without its perils.

The appeal, though, are the dress-up opportunities. Everyone’s encouraged to dress up in Christmas lights. We look like a Disney electric light parade making its way in a circle around the barely perceptible waves in between us. Of course, there are plenty of ugly sweaters — quite a few had done the Ugly Sweater run earlier that day — but there’s quite a lot of creativity on display. One team I ran into earlier were dressed up as toy soldiers. Then there was one guy who looked a little like a reindeer, but he had way more arms than was socially acceptible. So I asked him what the heck he was supposed to be, and he said, “I’m a Humbug.”

Mat Inman was there at his table with his “Exploding Kittens” card game and wearing a turkey hat. It still remains a bizarre amalgamation of interests… but it attracted over a thousand people to dress up and run around in the dark with lights awkwardly dangling from their heavy sweaters.

If there’s anything amazing about webcomics, its how they have this magic of keeping things from getting too serious. Penny Arcade sorta brought the fun back in video game conventions.  The Oatmeal?  The connections may be tenuous except for the Blerch prominently displayed on the participant’s medal.  But they whole idea is that running should be fun, and the trappings of a humorous webcomic makes all of that possible.

The Candy Crush of webcomics: 15 years of gettin’ mad over micropayments

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It’s an incident that still spoken in hushed tones around … um … webcomic parts. In 2001, Scott McCloud, he of Understanding Comics, wrote a series of essays about webcomics. It reiterated a series of items that he had introduced in his Reinventing Comics book. Things like the infinite canvas, for example. Basically he was a huge booster of this brave new online world unencumbered by the limitations of print.

So of course he got massive backlash over his segment on micropayments.

If I told you right now that the next installment of ICST was going to be $2.50 and you had to give me your credit card number and fill out a form, you’d be out of here so fast it’d make my little cartoon head spin! On the other hand, if the price was 25 cents and it only took a click or two to pay, the answer might be somewhat different! Making suck small payments practical, with low transaction fees for the vendor, and a secure transparent interface for the user, has been at the heart of the idea known as “micropayments” for several years.

The response was merciless and brutal, with everyone from Jon Rosenberg to Scott Kurtz weighing in. (“You’re only telling us what we already know. You’re no guru; you just get better press than the rest of us,” says Kurtz.)  One of the more civil responses came from the Penny Arcade guys… and it’s plenty salty.

I consider myself to be, at my core, an idealist – are you surprised? But this guy’s take on human nature is spun from pure fancy. He imagines that other people – in fact, that everyone – would gladly pay for things if given the chance to do so. That is demonstrably, empirically false – most especially so on the Internet, and most damningly so where content is concerned. But the final strike against his assertions is the most telling: that for all his pirouette, for all his flash and show, the very foundation of his argument – namely, the sub-dollar transactions called micropayments – do not exist. They are not real.

— Jerry Holkins, Penny Arcade, 2001

Perhaps this was right back in 2001, before the iPhone stormed the market. Ultimately though, was Scott McCloud actually right?

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Goodbye, Wasted Talent


Angela Melick’s Wasted Talent, which I reviewed many a years ago (and gave 4 stars!) is coming to an end after 12 years. I mey Jam last year at ECCC, and I was kinda surprised that she remembered my review.  In any case, I always saw in her a kindred spirit as we were both engineers who work in the Pacific Northwest. (Some of my favorite recent ones are where she cycles around Stanley Park.  I felt I knew that place before my first visit to Vancouver.)

The comic ends on December 5 of this year.  Good luck on whatever the future holds for ya, Jam!

 Popular Webcomic Wasted Talent Announces Ending, Final Two Books 

VANCOUVER, CANADA. Nov. 7th, 2016 — Wasted Talent creator Angela ‘Jam’ Melick announced today that she would be concluding her groundbreaking autobiographical comic series. She will also be releasing two final collected volumes in conjunction with the comic’s last online installment.

Over the last twelve years, Melick has shared the intimate and often hilarious details of her career as an high-tech engineer using the decidedly low-tech medium of watercolor cartoons. Melick’s work has been featured in Reader’s Digest, the National Post, and the Toronto Star. 

While Wasted Talent gives readers an unprecedented view into Melick’s adventures in a male-dominated STEM field, it also shares stories from her personal life. Her quirky marriage to a mountain-bike-crazy programmer shares space with the natural beauty (and human diversity) of British Columbia. 

Professionally Awesome, the fourth volume in the series, follows Angela as she tackles a new career risk. “Growing up, I’d always been told that the key to success was the corporate track,” Melick explains, “but it was obvious to me that what worked for my parents wouldn’t work for me.” Angela ditches the safe job to become employee #3 at a tech startup, and chaos ensues. 

The final collection, Redesigned, focuses on her current job at ‘NorthWind Engineering’ — the young team of engineers out to solve the world’s toughest problems. “Picture a graphic novel version of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’,” Melick explains, “…except it’s all true!”

Melick will release the final Wasted Talent update on December 5th, 2016. A crowdfunding campaign to fund the printing of the final two collections has launched today on Kickstarter and will conclude at the same time: bit.ly/WTalent 

 The ending of the comic is bittersweet for Melick. “I’m really excited that I’m able to conclude this comic by releasing the final two collections,” she says, “The project has defined such a large part of my life, it’s important for me to end it on a high note.”

WCO.244: Saphie: the One-Eyed Cat

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So I’ve undertaken quite possibly the most foolish endeavor in my life.  I am currently trying to finish reading Homestuck before the end of the year.  I picked up at Act 6, Intermission 5, which pretty much induced a headache in about 15 minutes.  Who’s this Davesprite guy?  Why is the juggalo troll at the birth of the cherub character?  Do I really have to read all this page-long exposition where all the “b”‘s are replaced with “8”‘s?  What’s this deal about twelve planets and a single dead planet that has to be reborn?  Where are my pants?

These unique tribulations would cause most to either a.) drink heavily, or b.) put on gray make-up and head to the local comic con to hang out with the Undertale cosplayers.  Fortunately, there is a far less self-destructive solution available: find a cheery webcomic to momentarily take your mind off of your troubles.  The internet is not at a loss for charming comics that can put a smile on your face.  For my money, there are few more adorable than Joho’s webcomic about her cats entitled Saphie: The One-Eyed Cat.

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Know Thy History: Diabolik

Sometime last week, I was at a spy-themed party. Most everyone decided to go the sunglasses with a shirt and tie. I decide to go as something flashier. After all, when you own a black balaclava, you got a ton of options. So I dressed in all black and had only my eyes showing.

So someone went, “Hey, are you going as a ninja?” I said, “I was trying to get a Diabolik thing going.”

I came to the realization I had no idea what I was saying. I had never, ever picked up a Diabolik comic.  I would be rather remarkable if I did, since very few were ever translated into English and hardly any of those even made it stateside.  (A search on Amazon will yield you the movie, a TV series, some comic called Satanik and an anime called “Diabolik Lovers.”)

The basic idea, though, is easy to pick up through osmosis.  If you love the series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and I do — in fact, the origin of my online handle comes from one of the episode), you’ll remember that the very final episode riffed on the movie adaptation called Danger: Diabolik.  X-Men readers remember a character created by Grant Morrison called Fantomex, a dude who totally dressed like Diabolik only he was clad head to toe in white.  And, of course, there’s the Beastie Boys video for “Body Movin'”, a direct parody that all people who write about Diabolik are legally obligated to post.

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Beat the Blerch Holiday Fun Run!

So for those of you running inclined and preferably living in the Seattle area, Matt Inman and The Oatmeal are doing another race this year.  This time, it’s a 5K/10K around Green Lake on December 3.  It’s way more newbie friendly than the vanilla race, which starts you off at 10k.  Probably colder though, so wear mittens.

Wearing of Christmas lights is encouraged, what with it getting as dark as sin around these parts at 4:30 now!  I plan on being there, decked to the nines like a Christmas ham.  

Check out the Beat the Blerch site for more details.

What Reddit finds funny 

There are many fractured communities on the internet.  One such is the great boogeyman known as Reddit.  Hiding behind that friendly smiling alien are clusters of scientists and villainy that would make Nancy Reagan blush.  It’s also become the go-to place for a lot of folks to check out webcomics.

So what makes people laugh on Reddit?  Given its generally ephemeral nature, the comics most likely to succeed are gag strips that don’t require much of a commitment beyond the ten seconds it takes to make you laugh.  Sorry, Girl Genius!  You’re just going to have to cry yourself to sleep with all those googly-eyed Hugo Awards.

What else? Well, we don’t have to speculate.  Let’s take a tour of the Best of Reddit!


The “hottest” webcomic coming out of Reddit is this piece from College Humor… and frankly, given the reputation of both College Humor and Reddit, this comes off as really tame.  They’re talking about food, the guy is being passive aggressive, no one has a nose… for serious, this could easily pass as a Cathy strip.  Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!  AAAACCCKKK! And yet… it’s got a staggering 1,826 upvotes.


The second comes from Derek Achoy’s stick figure comic Smiling Ribs.  First off, I didn’t realize people were still into this style.  I guess the lesson here is the more primitive a comic looks, the more successful it will be.  Eat it, Lackadaisy Cats! Secondly, this totally upends what I thought the typical Reddit reader looked like.  I thought Reddit was primarily Millenials.  But that fact that this got 1,103 upvotes made me realize that Reddit readers are all eligible for AARP.  It… actually explains a lot of things.


Finally, we get something closer to what I expect from Reddit with Robospunk.  The site is apparently on a Tumblr platform… and maybe it’s just me but Tumblr and Reddit sounds like an unholy marriage.  Anyway, the punchline is something callled Eternally Bleeding Skeleton, which is very webcomics.  Put that jazz on a t-shirt, yo.

WCO.243: Parallax

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Back in the 80’s, I was a nerdy preteen who got heavily into computer programming.  None of this complex JavaScript, C++, or assembly language stuff.  Just BASIC, which is basically computer programming for babies.  Eventually I’d get good enough at it that I’d create my own simple Super Mario-inspired platformer.

One of the earliest games I’d programmed, though, was some code available in a library book.  It was a text based adventure game.  I’ve never played Zork, but through cultural osmosis I can tell you it’s something like that.  You could type things like “Go West” and get stunning replies like “You can’t go west.”  I suppose I have no one to blame for these geographical limitations since I’m the guy who technically programmed them in.

Anyway, this particular game went something like this.  Your Uncle Simon has just passed away.  One day, you receive a mysterious letter in the mail.  After doing some fetch-quest things, you end up activating a portal to another, fantastical world.

Mysterious packages seem de rigeur im adventure settings.  It’s a somewhat humble way to receive a ticket to adventure without necessarily having the ambition to follow the hero’s path.  Greatness is basically thrust upon you wrapped neatly in brown paper.  It’s a gift that drives the hero of Falke’s webcomic, the superhero adventure Parallax.


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