Monthly Archives: February 2010
I once got into a talk with a guy at work about some items that I’d seen at a museum. I mentioned how derelict a lot of the Roman and Greek exhibits look. “You got it to hand it to the Koreans,” I said to my friend (a Korean), “they know how to preserve historical artifacts. I saw a 5,000 year old pottery that looked like it was made yesterday.”
“5,000 years isn’t really that long,” he said. I don’t think he was showing any false modesty or pulling my leg, because he added, “China’s history is longer.”
And he’s right. China’s got a fantastically long history that most Westerners aren’t familiar with. And that includes me. I’m not going to pretend that I know my Qin Dynasty from my Xin Dynasty from my Qing Dynasty. The small taste of Chinese culture from the Summer Olympics two years ago thrilled — and sometimes frightened — the entire world with China’s grandeur and historical scope. With such a rich history, then, it’s a shame that few Westerners use China as a setting.
One of the few is Ben Costa, creator of the Xeric Award winning Shi Long Pang, the Wandering Shaolin Monk. The story takes place at the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, which was “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history” by the University of Calgary but which we remember mainly for the nice vases. And when the most stable government in the world falls, you probably don’t want to be around to witness the aftershocks.
Back when I was in grad school, I knew a guy who work at ESPN.com. Right now I have half a mind to call him up, and, after some friendly conversation, ask, “Who was the guy responsible for getting Girls & Sports on Page 2? Because, dear God, he needs to be be fired… AND savagely beaten.” Because not only do I absolutely hate Girls & Sports with the burning strength of a thousand suns (by Justin Borus and Andrew Fienstein), the very existence of the comic on ESPN.com’s Page 2 (where it’s been featured almost every day since January 25th) unleashed a latent hatred of ESPN.com.
Flash seems to be a favorite format for the big companies (Marvel Online, Zuda Comics, Shadowline, Dark Horse), but not so big with independent webcomic creators … unless they want to play around with animation. But what do you, dear reader, think about Flash? Is it a godsend… or a travesty?
Click here to check out previous Overlook Polls.
When I put together a list of the webcomics I’d planned on reviewing for February, I had no idea that two of them had something in common. It wasn’t apparent immediately. One was about a haunted house, the other was about a shaolin monk living at the end of the Ming Dynasty. However, when scanning the press releases, I came to a surprising discovery: both were awarded a Xeric grant. It’s wacky ka-winky-dinks like this that lead to this site’s impromptu theme weeks/months (see also: Zombie Week). Thus, by the power vested in me, The Webcomic Overlook hereby declare this week to be Xeric Week! Cue fireworks!
But wait, what is a Xeric grant? And what is this so called “Xeric Foundation” that’s running it? Judging by the name alone, shouldn’t they be bad guys in a Marvel comic, sworn enemies of the Starjammers and the Shi’ar Empire? No, actually they’re a charitable organization, founded by Peter Laird (who you should know was one of the guys behind a little thing known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). While involved in several charitable organizations, the Xeric Foundation is best known for donating money to support independent comic book artists. I’ve talked about them before on this blog, mainly in my review of Joe Chiapetta’s Silly Daddy. (Silly Daddy itself is not itself a Xeric winner, but Chiapetta is a grant winner for a previous work, A Death in the Family.)
According to Wikipedia, “The Foundation tends to support work of an alternative or non-‘mainstream’ nature, reasoning that if a comic has strong commercial appeal, it would be picked up by one of the major publishers. Therefore, it is an extremely valuable supporter of ‘art for art’s sake’ comics, and has helped launch the careers of a number of ‘literary’ cartoonists.” In other words, indie comics. The kind with unsettling art and embarrassing personal confessions. This criteria isn’t explicitly stated on the official Xeric site; they only say that “Among the qualities that we will be looking for are: originality, literary and artistic merit, and a sense of commitment to the work.” However, a glance through the supremely unconventional Silly Daddy will have you convinced that the Wikipedia description is right on the money.
Or are they? Your honor, I would like to present to you Joshua Smeaton’s Haunted, one of the 5 grant winners in May 2009. The most surprising thing about this indie comic is that Haunted looks — both in terms of aesthetics and content — like it’s got the chops to win mainstream approval.
A desolate post-apocalyptic world. One grim warrior with cybernetic parts patrols the lawless wasteland with only his dog Snoop by his side. He’s bald except for a small wisp of hair growing out the front. He wears a shirt with a familiar zig-zag pattern. He’s called Weapon Brown, but some people know him as Chuck … wait a minute. Are you telling me that Weapon Brown is some sort of parody?
Warning, by the way: this webcomic is for adults only, and several panels are not safe for work.
Sometimes a concept is so off-the-wall that it’s impossible to ignore. How can you read the title Cleopatra in Spaaaace! and not immediately fall in love? (Number of “a”‘s in Space is negotiable.) Cow & Buffalo‘s Mike Maihack brings us a webcomic about a space-faring teenage girl (Cleopatra VII) who just happens to be the future Queen of the Universe and her talking cat, Khensu the Space Kitty. As you can imagine, it’s simultaneously cute and action-packed. Also, despite the similar premises, it probably shouldn’t be confused with Cleopatra 2525.
You tend to remember some of the strangest things your teachers tell you. Back when I was a younger El Santo and attending a Catholic school in Detroit, my teacher, who was a bit of a hippie, mentioned in history class that “American people have no cultural identity.” And, so as not to leave out our neighbors across the river, he added, “Canada has even less of an identity.”
It was a baffling statement to hear in the 8th grade. Now that I’m older, I can sort of see what he was talking about, especially in relation to history. The two neighboring North American countries don’t have the 10,000 year history of China or the 5,000 year history of Korea. Europeans, namely excitable message board trolls who have this need to snark on all things American, wonder what in the world is being taught in our history classes. I mean, what is there to learn over the span of 200-300 years of history?
However, the more I travel this country, the more I think that 8th grade teacher of mine was wrong. It’s a mistake, I think, to relate national character to longevity and to isolate a national experience from the continual progress of all humanity. You’ll notice that in most history books, the focus is on wars, one of the most cataclysmic events to occur to a nation. The US and Canada don’t have quite as impressive an inventory as other nations (though the US arguably wins this category).
But maybe the true measure of a national character, not reflected in any traditional history books, should not be measured on how many wars you wage but on how honorable your people behave. A Canadian history buff once said, “Our history is the march of thousands of people across a continent trying to make a life for themselves. How can it be boring?” That person is, of course, webcomic artist Kate Beaton.
So now, with Canada currently making global news thanks to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the time is ripe to revisit one of the most unapologetically Canadian webcomics of all time, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant.