Category Archives: Webcomics

Toronto Tonight: Achewood’s Chris Onstad @ The Beguiling

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THE GREAT OUTDOOR FIGHT SIGNING!
Feat. Chris Onstad, creator of Achewood
@ The Beguiling, 601 Markham Street
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. 7pm
FREE

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=30518973349

The Beguiling will be welcoming Chris Onstad, creator of the online comic strip Achewood (http://achewood.com), to his exclusive Toronto tour stop in support of his new book The Great Outdoor Fight.

More at: http://www.beguiling.com/2008/09/announce-achewood-creator-chris-onstad.html

– Chris

Mister Wonderful, That’s You!

mrwonderful.jpgOh there’s much more I could say
But the words keep slipping away
And I’m left with one point of view
Mister Wonderful, that’s you

– Peggy Lee, Mister Wonderful

Dan Clowes wrapped up his run on The New York Times’ Funny Pages this week, with his 20 page story Mister Wonderful. It has a really surprising tone compared to some of his other work, and I thought the ending had a real humanity to it that I have to admit, I found surprising. Can a Dan Clowes strip have a happy ending? Depends on what your definition of “happy” is I suppose, but if you’ve somehow missed every single strip to date, you can check them all out at http://www.nytimes.com/ref/magazine/funnypages.html.

– Chris

ButternutSquash Guest Strip

butternut-slice.jpgThis link came in just a little too late to make the last post, but I didn’t want it to go… unobserved. Toronto’s Ramon Perez and Rob Coughler have taken a little hiatus from their popular webcomic, ButternutSquash (http://butternutsquash.net/) and asked their friends and associates to help them out by submitting fill-in strips while they’re away. So far we’ve seen lovely guest strips from fellow webcomickers and studio-mates, and there’s even been a little bit of ‘gentle ribbing’ from the friends of the dynamic cartooning duo.

Enter: Chip Zdarsky. If there’s one thing that Internet Provocateur Chip Zdarsky loves, it’s an opening. A moist, warm opening. He got his opening today, in a ‘guest strip’. If you’ve read Chipper’s stuff before you might have the barest inkling of what you’re in for, but even still, prepare to be… amazed!

– Christopher

SVETLANA CHMAKOVA vs. FAITH ERIN HICKS: THE PICTURES!

So due to the Christmas rush, I never really got to report back from The Beguiling’s signing with Svetlana Chmakova, creator of Dramacon, and Faith Erin Hicks, creator of Zombies Calling. It was held on Wednesday December 19th from 4pm-6pm, and it went great! The event marked a Toronto home-coming for Faith, and so friends from across her school and professional career came out to say hi (and apologise for pulling her pigtails in school), but a number of eager fans came by to get their complete runs of Dramacon signed as well. In this battle, I’d have to say that it was a double-K.O.! Both cartoonists are wonderful and incredibly talented, and it was a busy (and fun) day at the store.

And there are pictures!

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The Sunday before the signing, Toronto was buried under a pretty impressive snowfall. In the window that’s an original painting from Jeff Lemire’s Tales From Essex County: Ghost Stories. I was a bit worried about the roads and the parking for our out-of-town guests, but everyone ended up arriving safe and sound.
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The signing was really well attended, with maybe 40 people filing through over the course of 2 hours or so. Here Faith inscribes a copy of her book for a fan, and Svetlana checks out the newest volume of her work.

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Svetlana signs and sketches for a young dude who loves The Dramacon.

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So much talent sits at this table…

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After the signing, we invited Svetlana and Faith out for a bite to eat and a meet-and-greet with some local Toronto creators and friends. Svetlana got Shanghaied on the way in and ended up doing a 30 minute interview for a documentary on comics airing on The Independent Film Channel next year, so we had to start drinking without her. Here we see one of Faith’s very tired friends, Faith Erin Hicks, Eric Kim (Love As A Foreign Language), and Beguiling employee Derek.

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Svetlana finally made her entrance, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

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Several martinis later the gang gets together for a group shot before heading home. In addition to our previous photos are Ray Fawkes (Apocalipstix, Mnemovore), Jim Zubkavich (Makeshift Miracle), Kayla from The Beguiling, and Svet’s friend K.

Thanks again to the totally-awesome Svetlana Chmakova and Faith Erin Hicks for doing a signing at the store! We had a great time, sold a ton of books, and made it very difficult for folks to do their Christmas shopping for a few hours, which is kind of hilarious. You can check out another report on the signing at Jason Truong’s Blog.

You can buy Dramacon Vol 1-3 and Zombies Calling from The Beguiling’s website, as well as better book and comic stores everywhere, and check out Faith’s Homepage and Svetlana’s Homepage, as well as the Slave Labor Graphics and Tokyopop websites.

– Christopher

Zuda: 24 Hours For The Other Shoe To Drop

longo-screenshot.jpgI didn’t write about the Zuda launch because I was (and am) still very sick, but it’s also been analyzed to the Nth degree already, I didn’t have much to add.

Today though, I found out that the first Zuda creator to be pissed-off and disillusioned came to light… at the launch party. Yeah, that’s right. Apparently J. Longo, creator of ‘This American Strife’ had his strip edited, and then had a page omitted, without his being told by the ‘higher-ups’ at the company. He found out when he noticed his comics playing on the TV screens at the launch party. From an entry by Mr. Longo entitled “non disclosure diss-agreement“:

“Now, in Zudas tiniest defense, when I orginally pitched the J & Jesus screens for ‘This American Strife,’ I was told to modify certain things to make it kosher enough to have it public. However, I changed these ‘questionables‘ and re-drew every panel in accordance to their requests. But to have weeks go by and then release ‘This American Strife’ with such a crucial, non-disclosed edit is lame.” – J. Longo, Creator of This American Strife for Zuda.com

How long did it take for the other shoe to drop? 24 hours. At least it took most of the Tokyopop crew a full year to become disillusioned with their terrible contracts.

Edit: J. Longo has responded to this article in my comments section, and over at his blog. I encourage you to check it out.
– Christopher

I really don’t know what to do about this Zuda thing.

actioncomics1.jpgDC’s online comics initiative, Zuda, have posted their creator contracts online. Following along with Joey Manley, I will at least congratulate them for being transparent, though much of that transparency probably came because of the yelling and screaming that went on… they kind of allude to that in the second paragraph on the site there, actually.

So I’ve gone through the contracts to the best of my ability, and looked at all of the stuff that’s been written about them–both publically and privately–and I’m kind of at a loss what to say here. Most importantly, it’s a contract that I would never personally sign, I’ll say that much at least. But I don’t really know what else I can say to communicate that this… really isn’t very good… without coming off like a nut, or a ‘hater’, or whatever.

“[The] thing that jumps out at me is that if you’re still up in the air about whether this company’s offers matches your own standards in terms of basic rights and obligations, you may be better off thinking about things in greater detail — and discussing it with that lawyer — than reading about it. There’s not likely to be easy consensus anywhere you look. Further, creators rights issues in comics are a close second to retail issues in comics when it comes to inspiring demented rhetoric. Discussion gets strident and defensive really, really quickly. You’re going to run into everything from angry jeremiads about big companies being unable to [not] screw anyone with whom they come into contact to exhortations that it’s okay to subject yourself to a crappy deal because you can always think up new stuff (after all, Jerry Siegel co-created Superman and Doris Evans), or, as it’s usually put, if you can’t think of more than one idea, you have no business being a creator. Stuff like that. So be careful.”
– Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter.

I don’t particularly want to get into the middle of another ‘thing’ about this, but… yeah. I don’t understand why someone who is smart and talented enough to create an idea from whole cloth, an idea that will be decreed as ‘good’ by both a large publisher AND the public at large, and not have the faith in it to see it through, wait for the ‘big money’ that could be down the line. It’s nice to be paid a page-rate for your work and all, but that $14,000 salary cap ($1000 purchase price plus 52 weeks @ $250/strip) seems to be pretty limiting, in terms of the potential revenue that could be generated off of a successful webcomic. It’s not bad money I guess, but here’s the thing… It’s less than the money you would make doing a half-page of comics art at DC or Veritgo even, and it also involves selling off the intellectual property for your work for an unlimited amount of time (seriously, at $500 a year, Time Warner could quite easily afford to pay you that fuck-off money forever). The idea that you should fully own what you fully create? It’s a good one, and one that I feel should be taken seriously. I also personally feel that every time someone takes a very bad deal like this, it makes it that much easier for publishers to OFFER very bad deals.

The one thing that everyone agrees with, even Zuda, is get a lawyer to look at the contract before you sign it. Hell, before you submit anything. The deal–to me–has a very “Siegel and Shuster 2.0” kind of a vibe, where those fellas sold the idea for Superman for a weekly paycheck and a pat-on-the-back. Except this time I don’t see the industry rallying around you to be properly credited for the work, whether you “own the Copyright” (but not the Trademark or have any real power) or not.

Would you sell off Superman for $14,000?

– Christopher

Trains Of Thought COLLIDE!

Here’s some things!

man-wearing-barrel.jpgITEM! So this Zuda thing, it’s just another way for a multinational corporation to separate you from your Intellectual Property without them paying you what that’s worth. Right? I mean, I’m not missing something? Other than the always-entertaining arguments that a) I can do whatever I want and you don’t know better than me, grandpa! or b) I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING AND I CAN ALWAYS COME UP WITH NEW IDEAS EVEN AFTER I GIVE THESE ONES AWAY. and my favourite c) You’re A Douche. I mean, sure, submit to the will of AOL/Time-Warner if you want to, I guess, but it’s not like the road to webcomics stardom is particularly hidden, or difficult to travel, or without lots of clear guideposts along the way.

sin-titulo.jpgITEM! Speaking of the road to webcomics stardom, a bunch of my friends and associates here in Toronto launched their own webcomics community a few weeks ago. One of their members, Cameron Stewart, finally got around to asking why I hadn’t mentioned that yet on the blog, which is fair, because I really should have as soon as they launched. Honestly, it’s because when I got the “WE’VE LAUNCHED” e-mail the site wasn’t ready yet… Nothing updated, some broken code, all that stuff. I figured I’d wait until they told me to talk about it. I’m every PR-man-or-woman’s dream! So let me introduce TRANSMISSION-X.

“Enjoy new comics every week with Ragni on Mondays and Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher on Wednesdays, followed by Andy B’s Raising Hell on Fridays, along with Scott Hepburn’s The Port and Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo Rounding out the weekend on Saturdays and Sundays respectively.”

I can see why Cameron poked me today, the site’s looking great and all of the currently-updating features have at least a couple of pages ready to read, if not significantly more. Everything there is looking sharp, and, dare I say it? Commercial. I know that commerciality is the enemy of art and all that, but there’s no feeling reading the site that any of these guys–or these comics–aren’t ready for prime time. Let that be today’s lesson: Professional quality comics on the web don’t need to involve AOL/Time-Warner.

Oh, and as I’ve already mentioned a couple of ways in which I’m biased regarding this issue, I’ll add one more to the pile: The next two comics in the TRANSMISSION-X stable are going to launch at The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, August 18th and 19th. Get ready for Arthur Dela Cruz’s KISSING CHAOS and Ramon Perez’ KUKUBURI too. Yay TCAF! Yay Toronto cartoonists!

Comics Festival 2007 - Mal CoverITEM! Uh, speaking of The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, heh, uh, I’ve been doing a lot of work on that. It’s getting to be the exciting time, and we’ve been adding guests to the show left-right-and-centre. A great mix of locals and international guests, guys and gals, print comics, web-comix, and self-published work. Since the last time I mentioned it, check out some of the folks we’ve added:

From The Internet: Danielle “Girls With Slingshots” Corsetto, Chris “Dr. McNinja” Hastings, Jason “BlogTO” Kieffer, and Roxanne “Torontoist.com” Bielskis.
From Toronto: Clayton Hamner, Dave Lapp, Peter Thompson, Steve Wilson, and Tara Tallan.
From Art-Comix: Kevin Huizenga, Brian Chippendale, Frank Santoro, James Sturm, and Matthew Thurber.
From “The Mainstream”: Mike Huddleston and Adrian Alphona.
Publishers and Speakers too!: Peter (Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays) Maresca, Dan (PictureBox) Nadel, and Jason (Shonen Jump, MANGA: THE COMPLETE GUIDE) Thompson.

I’m pretty excited about all of this, I think it’s gonna be a great show (but then you’ve heard me mention that already), and there are more… many more… plans on the way. You should book some plane tickets.

– Chris

Some of the content WAS pretty questionable, actually…

(Warning: Rambly)

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An Appreciation of Questionable Content

Do you know what I did Saturday? If you do, that’s actually a little creepy. But I’ll tell you anyway: I read all 900+ pages of the webcomic Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques, freely available online at http://questionablecontent.net/. It’s a four-panel “gag” comic with a heavy daily continuity, making the each strip essential for hardcore fans, but making the comic as a whole fairly accessible for folks just jumping in, espescially if they ‘get’ that days’ joke.

I’m bad at webcomics, only reading (with a few small exceptions) the strips that my friends do. Luckily, I’m friends with R. Stevens of Diesel Sweeties, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, and Ramon and Rob over at Butternut Squash, so I’ve got most of the best and most popular webcomics covered. But every once in a while, I’ll be introduced to like, Jeffrey Rowland (of WIGU and OVERCOMPENSATING), or Jonathan Rosenberg (of GOATS) or my dear sweet Dr. McNinja Chris hastings, and I’ll be all “Oh, you do a webcomic? Really? I’ve never heard of it…” and make a total asshole of myself.

So at the Paradise show a few weekends back when I picked up a bunch of the shirts from QC, I figured that maybe I could avoid making an ass of myself IN FUTURE by… you know… reading the comics. Plus I think Mal told me that I should at one point. Anyway, it’s all a very good idea, and a time-consuming one, but what better use for 7 hours could I possibly have had?

Right off the bat: If I didn’t have a vested interest in finishing this series, I would have given up in both anger and frustration about half way through. The sexual politics of the first few hundred strips are, to put it bluntly, completely fucked up, and so aggressively wrong-headed that I actually considered stopping at strip 400 to write this post with a WHAT DO PEOPLE SEE IN THIS? HOW IS EVERYONE NOT KILLING THEMSELVES? sort of a vibe going on, which probably wouldn’t have been the best or most productive review. Thankfully at strip 500 the author decides that enough is enough and that a beloved lead character really oughtta stop emotionally and physically abusing the rest of the cast, and does, and that character has been working to redeem themselves ever since. Since this thread of emotional and physical abuse is kind-of the emotional core of the entire comic and the springboard for much of the plot, that it is so completely fucked up will likely turn off… many? Most? of the people I would normally send over to read it, if I didn’t specifically qualify the early strips with: Don’t worry, it’ll turn out okay in the end. The horrible attitudes towards sex and intimacy disappear about half way through, and from then on the strip really blossoms into something excellent. So, yeah. Either start at strip #500, or just grit your teeth like I did.

The strip is excellent though. Even through the occasionally torturous first half, there’s a humour, levity, and real heart to the series. Questionable Content is about a group of young adults in their early-to-mid 20s, working crappy jobs and hanging out and commenting on popular culture. Relationship-oriented drama and humour, through a Pitchfork Media sort of lense (but ironically). It’s a sitcomic… kind of like a gritty, lo-fi Friends with concessions to genuine whimsy and innovation vis-a-vis the occasional talking robot, magical creature, and wrong-headed superhero. Man, if ragging on the sexual politics didn’t piss people off, comparing this to Friends probably will… But seriously, millions of people watched Friends, what’s the big deal? It was a popular show that made you laugh once! Admit it!

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(Look! They’ve even got a couch!)

Anyway… As I was mentioning I did really enjoy my experience, and have made visiting the site to see the newest strips part of my daily routine as of Monday morning. I guess what I really liked about it, especially reading it all at once, is seeing where the author’s eye tends to land, and seeing how the strip is shaped because of it. The afformentioned popular culture references usually take the form of band and music genre references, and it’s interesting to me because from 2003-2007, the time that the strip has been running, the authors musical interests have taken a similar path to my own musical interests and experiences. Music has a huge role in the strip, with characters being defined by the music they listen to, their romantic compatibility presaged by their musical compatibility. Sayeth the character Marten in regards to a potential relationship: “Man I hope that doesn’t become an issue with Dora. What if she can’t stand my musical taste? I mean, I know she likes the Flaming Lips, but we don’t really have a lot in common musically.” It’s just one of the many moments where music defines the various characters and situations, and it really works to give the strip a cohesion that a lot of comics lack.

But the real payoff is in seeing the characters that are introduced and ‘don’t make it’. What if everyone decided that they didn’t like Joey after the first season, and they made Mark and Carol permanent cast members instead? Wouldn’t that be weird? Heh. I love seeing the author’s process and development on the page (and just an aside here: the art undergoes a fairly substantial upgrade from start-to-finish as well, with the most recent strips looking fairly slick and cartoony, and the early strips… Well, there’s a charm to them for sure, but…) and seeing the realisation that the uptight coffee barista wasn’t going to work out, or that the first iteration of a character was a bit… shallow… and needed to be overhauled. It’s great. Author Jeph Jaques even manages to do that rare thing in almost any kind of long-form serialised comics: have the characters grow and change, and have it feel natural. The plot develops out of the characters’ attitudes and behaviour, it’s what good storytelling in this genre of comics is all about.

qc-2.jpgActually, one of the things I was going back and forth on with this series was the constant external thought process of all the characters. I can’t tell if I find it refreshing or annoying. No one seems to have an inner monologue, or a thought that doesn’t go unspoken. It might be why I found the early going so difficult as well, because the behaviour of some of the characters was really aggrivating, but hearing their constant justifications for that behaviour was just waaaay too much. It does work really well for the humour though, and even seeing characters fumble through social interaction and dating is fun when they can’t stop babbling to themselves. But if one more character utters “I have issues!” unselfconciously… I dunno. It will probably spark The Rapture or something. Not the band The Rapture either, but the Jimmy Swaggart Rapture. The Charleton Heston Rapture. (Both of those would be good band names).

Anyhow, if you’re looking for another enjoyable, subtantial comic strip to add to your webcomics browsing, I can definitely recommend Questionable Content. Even their shirts are very good. I mean, She Blinded Me With Library Science? That’s gold, Jerry, gold! Wait, that’s a Seinfeld reference, not a Friends reference. So much for my strong closing remark. Ah well.

Sorry.

– Christopher