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?
The AV Club website has been running a weekend piece called the Comics Page. On a periodic basis, new artists are brought in to write a comic that features pop culture commentary. A recent piece by Luke Meeken caught my eye, and I wrote in saying it was a shame that he didn’t do webcomics more often.
He replied back with a link to a previous project he’d worked on, currently archived at his website, Gilded Green. The series, entitled “A. V. Dreamzzz”, are stream-of-consciousness musings about how you process pop culture as you drift off to sleep. For example, leaving your headphones on and mixing up all the different podcasts you have on queue. Meeken heightens the dreamlike state by mixing in animated gifs to great effect. Most other webcomics use these gifs to elicit humor or horror. Here, the effect recalls how you cede control to the dream world in your subconscious.
Animation is one of those tools that are rarely used, likely due to the time commitment in creation and implementation. However, it’s also one of those things that only webcomics can do, and it can never be effectively translated to paper.
People, let me make a stark confession here. I have no idea what’s cool, especially with regards to webcomics. I am a total poser. I pretend like a cool person with some semblance of authority, but the reality is that I am a fraud. I crave the desire to have people look up to me, despite knowing zilch about how to make webcomics or how to judge them by their quality.
These characteristics place me on roughly the same level as Lucy of Never Satisfied. Apparently it’s got quite a few fans. One such is Comics Alliance, which awarded this title as the Best New Webcomic of 2015. “A delightful webcomic by Taylor Robin, with sharp artwork, artful storytelling, and a colorful, diverse cast of characters” raves the revered comic website. Shamefully, I’d never heard of this comic before, but, you know, I’ve already explained my poser credentials.
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!
So since I started blogging about webcomics, I’ve been massively curious about the entire “webtoons” thing. That’s one of the benefits of taking two years off. When you’re blogging consistently, change never seems to happen. It’s mainly because you’re observing things on a constant basis, making actual changes seem static. But the moment you step back, you’re forced to catch up. Every change over the last two years are compressed, and revolutionary events start to shift more into focus.
And webtoons, to me were the most exciting new thing to pop up in quite sometime.
But wait… what are webtoons even? Are they like motion comics or Flash comics or whatever new fad that claims they’re going to replace webcomics? Not exactly. Webtoons are webcomics. Or rather, they’re a term interchangeable with manhwa, which are South Korean webcomics. While similar, webtoons evolved in a path that seemed to favor mobile devices over desktops and laptops. Which is to say: the panels are layed out vertically.
Apparently, quite a few of these became huge successes. Early webtoon Ragnarok became the MMORPG Ragnarok Online. Others have made inroads in TV and movies. Orange Marmalade, a romance webtoon about a vampire girl, ended up getting a live action TV series in 2015.
I’m assuming that there may have been some followers in the West through fan translations. (Hmmmm…. I wonder if manhwa was subject to an entire “subs vs. dubs” debate?) A Google Trends query, though, kinda shows that the term itself didn’t gain much traction until about two years ago. Most of this is probably attributable when publisher Naver launched an English service (snagging the all important webtoons.com domain) in July 2014.
It’s a great looking site, though it’s at the same time daunting and overwhelming. The design reminds me of an iTunes or app store. There are all sorts of different icons representing different comics, and each comes with a mouse-over description and a star rating. Curiously, only a few of them appear to be of the manga-style variety. As part of their branching out into new markets, Naver seems to be adding artists with more Western sensibilities. The one that resembles a traditional webomic the most is Shen’s Bluechair, a slice of life comedy strip.
Sarah’s Scribbles is speedy fantastic strip about young adulthood. It’s kind of the modern version of Cathy, and I mean that in a good way. As in, this is a strip that compares Jackson Pollock paintings to having a period. Oh, Sarah… will you ever win?
Then I ran into this strip:
Consider this, though: you could easily have made this strip 20 years ago. The guy with the face could’ve been “Baby Boomers,” and he could have been saying, “Typical lazy Gen-X’er!” It actually shocked me more that the Gen-X guy is perceived as a super-successful dude. Seriously… I thought everyone saw us as slackers.
I mean, that’s how Generation X got its name, right? I know, the “X” made it look cooler than it really is, like we all have mutant powers or something. The “X” stood for a lack of identity. That it was a generation of lazy bums who had no idea what to do with their lives. Growing up, we were inundated by editorial cartoons and media telling everyone that we were the “lost” generation.
Maybe our choice of music wasn’t helping. “Did you hear that song they’re listening to? It says, ‘I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me’! There’s no way they’re going to amount to anything.”
(Incidentally, one of my most vivid memories of my dad? Him plopping down a magazine article in front of me that was titled: “The ballad of the lazy teenager.”)
For the most part we all still feel that sense of inadequacy. Here’s a fairly recent strip by fellow Gen X’er Ted Rall:
Curiously, you get the view from the other side… you know, the guy with the GEN X face in the first strip… and it’s almost the exact same story.
So here’s what I think is happening:
- Every generation feels inadequate. Millennials feel inferior to the Gen-X’ers, Gen-X’ers feel inferior to the Baby Boomers, the Boomers feel inferior to their WWII-vet parents, etc. The natural outgrowth of parenting means that mom and dad are usually held to an unrealistic high standard, meaning that no matter what you do you will always feel second place. You rationalize hard why you feel that way. For Sarah Andersen it’s crippling debt. For Ted Rall it’s the lack of any respect.
- Every generation has its successes. Not everyone is a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg. But if the successful people crow, it’s because it’s a sense of relief that the destiny threatened by their elders — that of utmost failure — did not come true.
So why do we even have this generational divide? We’re all i the same boat, feeling like everyone is literally against us.
Then again, maybe it’s good to be antagonistic Otherwise you get self-congratulatory garbage like this:
… which can screw right the hell off.
EditGarfield may literally be the only character that doesn’t need a Know Thy History, because the guy never went away. Who doesn’t know all the comics’ beats? He hates Mondays and he loves lasagna. When I when to Abu Dhabi some time ago, I was a little disappointed Nermal wasn’t there. There’s plushies stuck on car windows. Roger Ebert once pretended he was him. And one webcomic speculated a world without him… a scenario that is fantastical for Garfield is always with us. He will never forsake us.
And, perhaps unfairly, Garfield gets tagged with being ultimately lazy. (I mean, the strip. There’s no doubt the cat is lazy.). It is, after all, a strip that seems to be recycling the same gags ad infinitum. The Lasagna Cat video series reenacted Garfield strips, pointing out how utterly square the comic is by pairing the accurate delivery with a bonkers music video. Slate posted the following answer to “Is Garfield supposed to be funny?”:
Garfield was never intended to be humorous. The joke’s always the same because it follows a bland humor formula well-known to anyone in advertising: enough to put a smile on someone’s face, but take care never to offend. And if the humor has to suffer for it, fine.
The precipitous drop of Cyanide & Happiness readership seems at first to be alarming. Its contemporaries have managed to hold on to its readership over the years. Cyanide & Happiness seems to be shedding them. Why? Is it because the webcomic, at its core, is really juvenile, and as readers grow up they stop reading stuff where the punchline is generally someone exposing their buttocks? It’s like Jim Henson’s rule that a Muppet Show segment must end one of two ways, only it’s butts.
I think that my theory may still be sound, since Cyanide & Happiness did the smart thing and followed their audience. In other words, they went to YouTube. As Dave McElfatrick mentioned in The Observer: “Right now, our comics are no longer our primary income stream. They used to be for many years, but since then our business has had to change and adapt to the shifting tides of the Internet—it’s been a difficult transition at times, but we’re still able to do what we love doing, which is the ultimate blessing, really.”
The strategy seems to be paying off. Their channel is approaching 7 million subscribers, and the cartoons are of generally high quality. This isn’t Blind Ferret’s CAD toons… or even (sigh) Blind Ferret’s Tiny Dick Briefs. It’s got good voice acting and decent animation.
Check out this Bear Grylls parody, which as of this writing has 11 million views.
Yeah, it basically boils down to some guy exposing his naked buttocks. But, God help me, I laughed.