Monthly Archives: October 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.