Category Archives: webcomics

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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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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So dark the Con of Man: webcomics and comic cons


If you’re doing webcomics, is it worth having a table at a comic convention?   It’s something I was thinking about when  I recently went to a small Comic Con.  How small?  Well, it only cost $10 at the door ($7 if you order online!), the “convention center” was a tiny building in the middle of farmlands, and the facilities could only accommodate three aisles of vendors, which were mostly local comic shops.  There was also a short row of comic professionals at the artist’s alley.

It saddens me to say that I didn’t visit a single one of these comic writers and artists.  And it looked like no one else was, either.  From what I could see, the invitees were stretching and staring bored into space while convention goers filed past, sorta avoiding eye contact.

This was a little uncomfortable for me.  I’ve been to larger cons that have invited more well known comic people.  I’ve visited everyone from Dave Kellett to James Robinson.  I’ve commissioned artwork from Sam Logan.  I’ve had Don Rosa sing a “Mr. Terrific” theme song to me.

I also know I’m an anomaly.  I do run a webcomic blog, after all.  It’s more or less my duty to know these creators and what they’ve worked on.  In the larger context of things, these artists — even highly regarded ones like Kurt Busiek — are sorta forgotten when everyone’s here to see Nathan Fillion.  You can’t compete with a person who’s been in TV shows and movies and whose fans number in the tens of millions.  I had to wait roughly two hours in line to meet the man behind Richard Castle.  I only had to walk right up to the table at artist’s alley with no lines to speak of to chat with Kurt Busiek.

Even then… I know about these guys.  I’m not stopping at tables of people for whom I have no familiarity.  You might have the prettiest display with giant life-sized stands of your characters.  I am probably not going to check it out.   I’ve passed the table of the folks behind O Human Star at two different comic cons without stopping.  They have a nice display.  An yet, it would’ve been really awkward approaching folks whose work I have no familiarity with.

I’m reminded of a time I once had an awkward experience at a Borders. (Which was a bookstore, for all you young people.  I know… books sold in a store?!?!  One that was bigger than a Forever 21?  A weird concept.  I blame the 90’s.)  One of the employees approached me about an author they’d invited for a book signing.  No one showed up, because no one knew who this guy was.  The employee pushed me to go say hi to the guy because they felt sorry for him, and I was all, “But… what am I going to talk about?”  I felt sorry for him too… but there’s gotta be a better solution than a pity visit.

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Robots, Evolution, and the Future of the Human Race: What Webcomics Have to Say About Transhumanism

There was a time I thought listening to talk radio was for old people.  I do a lot of carpools, and typically someone will have the radio turned to either the news or boring old NPR.  This would annoy me tremendously.  Why are you listening to someone drone on when you could be blasting some Major Lazer, dude?

Perhaps it’s a sign of my age, or perhaps it is my diminishing tolerance for tunes that have lyrics in them, but I found that I’ve been listening to a lot of talk radio myself lately.  Only, not in the form of actual radio waves captured by the car antenna.  I’m talking podcasts.  Whether it’s the McElroy Boys playing Dungeons & Dragons in The Adventure Zone or Dan, Elliott, and Stuart jawing about movies on The Flophouse Podcast, my days are spent with people I can pretend are my much smarter imaginary friends having scintillating conversations.  Is that the true appeal of talk radio?

One such podcast, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, recently veered off into a topic I hadn’t expected.  I tune into a podcast with that name for paranoid conspiracy theories, dammit!  Instead, the hosts began speculating about transhumanism.  It’s a topic that seems to have been brewing in the background of several previous shows.  One episode talked about how technology has basically given us psychic powers: what is social media, after all, but a form of telepathy, where your privy to the innermost thoughts of your friends online?  Shoot, you out there on the internet somehow know all my thoughts about webcomics at this very moment!  The acceleration of technology has connected us closer than ever before, to the point where online marketers know exactly what they need to sell to you with only a few points of data.

Which brings us to transhumanism, i.e. the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations.  One podcast episode began discussing, at length, about the potential for space travel.  As you do.  The consensus with the hosts was that any form of travel beyond our solar system was physically impossible.  However, one host began talking about what composes the human body.  We are just a bunch of tiny living organisms — cells — that come together to form a thinking, living being.  Our tiny cells probably go about their day, eating and reproducing, without any notion that they are part of a larger organism.

Nothing new, incidentally.  I had to read a book in high school, The Lives of a Cell, that makes the same observations, and it was first published in 1974. Being a small organism caught up in the collected consciousness of a larger creation was a part of 1969’s Galactic Pot Healer as well (written by sci-fi legend, Philip K. Dick).

So here’s the big question: what if we’re not the final stage in evolution?  What if, as the host coined, we’re just the midwife to an organism that can, in fact, traverse the stars?  And what if that organism is the collective intelligence of all humanity, bringing things to the next level that we tiny cells will never see?  The Lives of a Cell theorized that the bigger organism would be the planet itself… but a planet isn’t mobile.  What if that organism is a robot, one that can travel the stars and move beyond our fleshy confines?  Should we be terrified?  Or should we rejoice?

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Celebrate the Holidays: help Kickstart Split Lip

So there was this one time — in the Before Times — I reviewed horror anthology Split Lip on this very website.  (4 stars!)  Well, creator/writer Sam Costello is now kicking off a Kickstarter on the webcomics’ 10th anniversary. Here’s the press release:

2016 is the 10th anniversary of Split Lip, my award-winning horror comics anthology. Over those 10 years, we’ve published 45 stories, 6 books, 8 comics, and over 550 pages. To celebrate the anniversary, I’m releasing a deluxe, limited edition hardcover via Kickstarter. The Kickstarter is live now at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/samcostello/split-lip-horror-comics-anthology-10th-anniversary

The anniversary book—called What Lies Inside—is a 350-page hardcover packed with 13 of the best Split Lip stories, featuring work by artists including Kyle Strahm (Spread, Image), Sami Makkonen (Deadworld, IDW), and John Bivens (Dark Engine, Image). It’s also got over 50 pages of new material, such as commentary on every story by me, art excerpts, interviews with artists, and essays by Sean T. Collins and Lauren Davis. Only 500 copies will ever be printed. Rewards include extra books and PDFs, sketches, and original art.

Well, boys and ghouls, Halloween is coming up. Why not put a Split Lip anthology in the bag of one of your trick or treaters? Why not three?

That creepy clown lurking in the woods outside your house sure could use some reading material, don’t you think?

Split Lip… it’s the reason for the season!

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