Zine Me Up

Hey Internet, does anyone know of a place where I can just send some money and get back a mixed selection of zines and/or minicomics? I’m interested in sampling some of each but starting from scratch title by title seems like an exhausting proposition.

Rude Dude

In the department of “who knew?” I just happened to stumble across the documentary Rude Dude: The Steve Rude Story. It is free for viewing via Amazon Prime. I have never heard of this before but now I have it downloaded for offline viewing. I have a plane trip next week with 3 different legs and 3 rounds of waiting in airports. Somewhere in there, this is getting watched. I will report back.

From Coffee and Cider

From the Coffee and Cider podcast episode entitled “Criterion Velocity“:

Rich Stevens: “I feel that my role in our community as a moderately tall white male is to find the creeps and make them creeped out. If I know you are a creep and you are a dude and there are women in this general area, I’m going to make you feel really uncomfortable. Not because the women necessarily need it, but because it is the one thing I can do.”

Two Projects to Support

Here are a few interesting projects in the fundosphere (emphasis on “fun”.) I talked about the first on the podcast I released today and played a song by the band, but Cats Laughing – a Minneapolis based SF/fantasy supergroup – has a Kickstarter to fund their reunion show at Minicon 50. I have long loved this band and am excited to see this happen. The project is already funded and is now reaching for the stretch goals. Adam Stemple, Emma Bull, Steven Brust and Lojo Russo. There is a lot of good music and fiction produced by this crowd, and you can be part of this. This Kickstarter closes January 18th.

The currently running Humble Bundle for books is a set of digital graphic novels from Image Comics. This is truly a treasure trove. The highest level is $18, and if you pay that it will unlock the East of West special, the first 18 issues of Saga and the first 48 of The Walking Dead. That is a complete steal. Even just Saga by itself is a good deal. Considering you get hundreds of other issues in addition is phenomenal.

This includes the first collection of one of my current favorite series, Velvet. Also, Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, The Manhattan Projects, The Fuse. These are all things I buy in paper at full price, I don’t think you can go wrong here.

In fact, here are series in the bundles that I have reviewed for Pull Box Picks:

Of every Humble Bundle I’ve ever seen, this might be the best value. I can attest to about half of the issues contained in here that they are well worth reading. If you support it, there is no reason to not go straight to $18. Unless, like me, you already own everything in that tier. The Humble Bundle closes January 20th.

I highly recommend both of these projects. Go, money! Fly and be free!

Top Shelf Comix $3 Sale for 2014

Top Shelf $3 sale 2014

Every fall, Top Shelf Comics has a massive blowout sale on their inventory. It works out that these comics are enjoyed by not only me but Punkin as well. It is fortuitous that the same company puts out From Hell, The Essex County trilogy but also Owly, Korgi and Johnny Boo. It is literally fun for the whole family.

Until Friday September 26th a lot of their books are on sale for $3. Some are as low as $1 and even the high end stuff is 50% off. This is a great time to go impulse buy some stuff, either for the adults in the house or the kids. Just make sure you know which books are for whom.

Stripped Documentary on Sale until September 19 2014

Stripped Documentary

I was a Kickstarter backer of the documentary Stripped about the history and future of the comic strip and the business behind it. I backed it because as a listener of the then active Webcomics Weekly podcast and reader of the Sheldon webcomic, I wanted to support Dave Kellett. Having seen the movie, I will state that it is fantastic. I think Kellett and Fred Schroeder did a good job being fair to all sides of the issues even though they have a serious horse in the race coming from the webcomics world.

For a short time, the mega-package is on sale. This gets you all the movie stuff I got from my Kickstarter package as well as access to 26 hours of raw interview footage for $40. I will state unequivocally that if you are interested in the comic strip world, this is a steal. The sale only lasts a short time, so you need to act soon if you want it. Don’t be like I usually am, when I dawdle and then forget to pull the trigger. This is the real deal.

Also, this is Kickstarter is the reference I give to people that get huffy about delays in their projects. It took a full three years past the originally projected delivery date. I waited patiently and what I got was fantastic. Chill people, sometimes making actual projects in the real world takes extra time. If you can’t stand the risk of that, don’t commit your Kickstarter money.

Zen Ties

Sometimes Punkin comes home from the library with stacks of books. A lot of times lately these are either repeats or another entry from familiar franchises like Pinkalicious. A while back, maybe as long as a year ago, she had this odd book about a panda who teaches philosophical lessons to the neighborhood kids. The first time I read it with her, something seemed oddly familiar. Then we got to one specific page and I thought “Is this book painted by Jon J. Muth?” Turns out the answer was yes.

zen-ties-page

The book was Zen Ties. We have since checked out his work in other series as well as others in the Zen series. In 1984 I was reading the comic book he did with J. M. DeMatteis, Moonshadow. What I didn’t realize at the time is that he isn’t that much older than me. He’s 7 years older but looking at those paintings from back then – when I was 17 and he was 24 – I would have assumed he was much older. The polish and craftsmanship he brings now isn’t radically different from what those comic pages looked like 30 years ago.

Nowadays it is pretty commonplace to see fully painted comic books. Back then it was completely novel. Moonshadow is the very first one I ever experienced. Every time we read a Stillwater book to Punkin, I have all of this in the back of my mind.

More on Comic Rocket

I’ve been using Comic Rocket as a webcomics reader for a week now, since my earlier post on it. It’s an interesting experiment and I think I’ll keep going with it. All the regular webcomics I read, I am completely caught up on. Because when I look at the “My Comics” view it sorts on the number of unread entries , from low to high, I always see these at the top. Since I am near current, I have at most a few issues.

I’ve felt free to subscribe to other comics from my recommended list or that I just see referenced around. In some cases, they are strips like Schlock Mercenary or Girl Genius that I have an interest in but have never gone back to the beginning to search out. These comics sort to the bottom, because generally there are at least 1000 unread issues. In some cases, like Kevin and Kell, there are over 5700 of them (this was one of the very first webcomics and also done by an ATL guy I’ve known as an acquaintance for a very very long time.)

Added up, the whole unread queue is now over 35,000 individual comic strip entries. If I read 100 strips a day beyond the new ones, it would take me about a year to get current. Even though that seems kind of ridiculous, I’m OK with it. I’m just reading what is there from the top to the bottom every time I want some diversion. I caught up on a few comics with a hundred or so strips and now I’m in to ones that have a few hundred. I’m in no hurry and I feel no pressure. All I want is to have fun stuff to put my attention towards when I have a little time to devote to that, and I have it in spades for a very long time. All is well.

An Even Better Webcomics Reader

After my post on my IFTTT Webcomics hack, I got an email from Jamey Sharp of Comic Rocket. In it, he points me at his site and says they built it out of similar frustrations to mine and with similar design goals. In the case of Comic Rocket, the reading of the site is actually done via a small navigation bar at the top but you are loading each page of the webcomic’s site individually. If there are ads or page views that somehow turn into money for them, by using this method you are not depriving them of anything. I like it.

The site indexes webcomics, and then keeps track of what the next installment is. They don’t use RSS for this but the actual site itself, so it works whether or not the webcomic has any type of feed. As long as the page has navigation (and what comic wouldn’t?) this will work. A side effect of that is there is a catalog of 10,000 comics already at Comic Rocket. So far, every one from my subscription list I’ve looked for is there.

I like it a lot so far, but there are two feature I’d like to see added:

1) [UPDATE – looks like this is already there and I missed it ] Some sort of collaborative filtering based on the subscription list. Look at other users, and for the people subscribed to all the comics I’m reading, what are the most common other comics not on my list? Adding in discoverability that way would even give webcomics creators an incentive to use the site, or to recommend their readers to use it.

2) The ability to subscribe to a group of comics all at once via OPML.

I’ve been playing with it for a few days and I don’t see anything but upside for comics creators here. Well done, Comic Rocket! Also, it’s Portland OR based (and why wouldn’t it be?) PDX represent!

My Current Webcomics Reader

Some time ago on Google Plus I cast a net for an idea of a new sort of webcomics reader. Because my reading is in fits and starts and often can go weeks between sessions, Google Reader is no longer a reasonable way to read the feeds. If there are up to 20 strips of each comic, all in reverse chronological order, it requires me to scroll all the way down and then read from the bottom up as a number of my strips have some kind of continuity.

I have arrived at a solution that seems to be working for me. It is truly a hack of hacks, but like the best hacks is effectively solving a problem for me. Unfortunately, also like hacks it might not be very robust or transferrable to other people. I achieved my goal with a custom IFTTT rule:

http://ifttt.com/recipes/45673

This has prerequisites. You need an IFTTT account, a linked Dropbox account and a linked Google Reader account. You also need to have the RSS feeds for all webcomics you subscribe to in a single folder or with a consistent tag. In my rule, it is a folder named “Webcomics” but it can be named anything, it just has to match the rule you have. If you are interested in using it, you can go to the above link and clone the rule to your own account and modify it from there.

Here’s how it works. Every feed in my Google Reader’s “Webcomics” folder gets written to a file in my Dropbox. When I have time for webcomics, I open the file in my browser and then delete it. The next time I look, the top of the page will be the oldest strips I haven’t yet read. There is a quirk of the IFTTT -> Dropbox integration, in that the action to append to a text file forces it to have a .txt extension even though the content of what I’m appending is HTML. This was orignally a bug to me, but now I think of it as a feature. Because the file can get so big that I don’t read it in a single setting, effectively when I change the extension from webcomics.html.txt to webcomics.html is the point at which I freeze the file. I can read it until I finish, even if it takes a few days or weeks. Meanwhile, it will create a new webcomics.html.txt file and be happily appending that whole time period.

This is not a perfect solution. It requires that you have an internet connection as nothing is saving the comic strips to any local machine, it’s a little fugly in the page generated and has none of the management features of even the most rudimentary RSS reader. It’s on you to know what you have read, and if you have to close your browser in the middle there is no way to return to the previous point.

On the upside, all of the features I wanted in my original post are there. It preserves all the links from the original post, so if there are ads in the feed or store links or any other monetization, those are preserved in the file I read. I’ve never wanted to cheat the cartoonists out of their monetization.

I’ve been using this system since July. In that time, some of the strips I orignally followed have ended, like Kris Straub’s Starslip Crisis, and others like Scott Kurtz’ PVP have switched to not including images in the feed. Those were two of the strips that were the original impetus because both had storylines that required reading them forwards. Que sera, things live and die and change.

I’m curious if this system will be effective for anyone else that is not me. Try it out and let me know your experiences, positive or negative.

Steve Bissette and Dave Sim Chat

Yesterday I got my Steve Bissette Captain Beefheart sketch from the post office and also read the purportedly last entry of the exchange between Steve and Dave Sim about self-publishing, comics in general and many other topics. That’s kind of a shame. I’d like to see the two of these guys go on long enough that there is a book that can be published out of the exchange. Illustrated by both, of course. That would rock.

My fallouts as a reader of this exchange include buying the above sketch, becoming a regular viewer of Cerebus TV, and buying from ComiXpress all the issues of Cerebus Archive published since the title was dropped by Diamond. I was already a regular purchaser of Sim’s glamourpuss comic, which is hard to describe but is one of my favorite things being published today.

Sim had a quote in one of the missives that I love so much for a variety of reasons. The context he used it in was self-publishing and giving up on things preemptively. I find it applicable broadly and think it gets even better if you strip the context away:

Never commit suicide – always make them kill you
Dave Sim

Amen. Truer words were never spoken.

You’re the Goofa Man Now, Dog

I’ve been lucky enough to know Mike Fisher since I was a teenager in Augusta GA. I’ve blogged about him before, how cool it was when I saw Chris Gore on Attack of the Show pumping the Goofman Productions DVD collection of his CGI animated films. I’m enough of a spaz to have jumped up and said “Hey, I know that guy!”

Mike recently emailed me to let me know about some of his recent animations up on YouTube. He’s possibly the most committed fan of Star Trek: The Original Series I’ve ever met, and I spend a lot of time with SF fans of all stripes. Even back when we all lived in Augusta, he did a lot of cartoons about Kirk and Spock for Starlog.

I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s 3-D Pete character. There was a stretch of time in the 1980’s where he did topical strips about the comic industry every week for The Comics Buyer’s Guide. At a one day con in Columbia SC I got Keith Giffen to pencil a sketch of 3-D Pete and Ambush Bug together, and Mike inked it. Fun times and he could say he inked Giffen. Win-win!

It was an exciting time back then in Augusta comic book fandom. I worked in the comic book shop, local artist Tom Lyle was just beginning to work regularly at pro gigs and Mike was doing 3-D Pete in the comic industry’s weekly paper of record.

I see from his web page that he was at Dragon*Con last year. That makes it an even greater bummer that I couldn’t make it. I think the last time I saw him in person was in maybe 1991 or 1992 when I stayed with him and his wife Margi outside of Charlotte and we went to HeroesCon together for that weekend. Good gravy time flies.

Mike has been doing computer graphics for just about as long as I’ve known him. He did both eras of the computer generated logo for Reality Break, the radio version and also the updated podcast era logo. If you want graphics or animation done, check him out. He’s a great cartoonist and a great animator.

Dealing With the Post-Scarcity Digital World

When I write a long post that gets any sort of traction in the blogosphere, invariably some drive-by commentor will refer to it as “rambling.” Generally they do this on posts where I try to tie together multiple different stories into a larger meta-story. This will be one of those. Don’t bother bitching about this post rambling, you have been warned.

About six weeks ago I along with the whole online comics world read the post that Colleen Doran made about online piracy. I’m old enough that when I was a teenager I bought a complete run of the black and white magazine sized A Distant Soil published by WaRP Graphics. I’ve purchased sporadic issues of her more recent issues of that series, both when it was self-published and via Image Comics. I’ve got about as much affection for her and her work as any comics fan. Even so, I found her piece full of assertions as fact that just didn’t seem to hold water to me. She lost me in the second sentence of the piece:

Like many artists, I’ve seen my sales figures chipped away as the print market shrinks due, in no small part, to rampant online piracy.

I agree with a lot of her sentiment and desire to control her own work. It is her work, she should be able to make the decisions. However, I think laying sales woes on online file trading is probably incorrect but definitely unproductive. Here is my take on Colleen Doran’s sales woes. I mentioned above that I’ve been buying her work on and off for 27 years. Between 1993 and 2008 I was not buying comic books regularly. I’d pop in to a shop every 6 months, buy what looked interesting and leave. However, since 2008 I’ve been pre-ordering them, going through Previews each month and going into my local shop almost every week. After two solid years of comic shop trips and perusing the catalog closely each month, I had no idea Collen Doran was still in the comics business. I hadn’t noticed any work of hers, I hadn’t read any news stories about her. I had no idea that she was publishing a webcomic version of A Distant Soil. I’m friendly to her work and willing to buy it, but didn’t even know any of it was being published. It wasn’t online piracy keeping me from paying her, it was having no idea she had purchasable work. I’d say when people like me are so far outside, that’s Colleen Doran’s true problem and it is a systematic, catastrophic, long-term one.

Update 1: After publishing this post, I went back and reread some more Colleen Doran writings. The more I read, the less I understand her position. She’s putting most of the series online herself. It’s out there both published by her and in bootleg versions put online by others. Other than a loss of control I don’t really see an effective difference either way. Anyone who wants can get it either way. This just doesn’t seem to be worth the mental energy she puts into it. She also makes much of “getting depressed” when she saw 145 different sites sharing it. Out of curiosity, I googled for “a distant soil bittorrent”, opened up the torrent for the top hit. It’s been sitting there for 15 minutes and there are no seeders for it. Is it possible that of her 145 sites none of them have any active seeders and so the entire thing is a phantom issue? Seems possible to me. End Update 1

Update 2: As an experiment after the above, I tried to find an active torrent or download of A Distant Soil. in 15 minutes I couldn’t find one that worked. I found bogus links and bullshit sites and torrents with no seeders but no successful downloads. So why does she care so much if there are 145 different sites with dead torrents or if some of her webcomic traffic comes from those looking for torrents. Take your traffic where you can find it. The more I dig into this, it just seems churlish to declare a feud against those people who care enough about your work to search for it or who know your name and care to look for it. That seems like a rare enough occurrence to be something to be enjoyed rather than hating them for having the wrong intentions. Most people don’t care about any cartoonist at all of any stripe. End Update 2

Not long after reading her piece, I saw this interview with Mark Waid about his current views on digital comics. He has basically the opposite take as Ms. Doran. He’s a lot more like J. A. Konrath is on the topic of Kindle sales. Rather than fighting the future, he’s trying to find a way to get in front of it and use the ease of digital publication along with the ubiquity of devices that can read comics as a way to make money and rekindle the waning reader base.

Waid also cited in that interview the case of Steve Lieber engaging with 4chan community when his series Underground was being bootlegged on the site. As a result of his constructive engagement, sales on the series went way up. This is the part that feels to me like a missed opportunity over and over in these types of exchanges. Teachable moments are allowed to pass over and over, so good on Lieber for actually turning this into something positive.

Last Balticon I was on a panel that dealt with a topic sort of like this. (You can download the audio here.) There was a question from the audience about how to deal with it when you put art online and someone else takes it without authorization and sells unauthorized merchandise. My answer was that they are making the merchandise and either making money or losing money. If they lose money, that’s what the bastard deserved. If they are making money, then they are taking value that is rightfully yours. However, if you were not previously filling that market with authorized merchandise, this was a problem and you probably should. As much as it sucks to have others fooling with your creative property, they also demonstrated to you the market exists and you need to be in it. If you do have legitimate merchandise out there and the bootleggers can outcompete you with your own fans, you need to understand what has gone wrong there and fix it, post haste.

In the time since I began writing this post (24 hours and counting), I listened to Webcomics Weekly episode #71. In it, they mention Doran by name as having an approach that they find as counter-productive. Scott Kurtz described his ideal approach – not necessarily what he is doing but what he hopes to do in 2011 – as “giving away the infinite and charging for the scarce.” This show contained much discussion about that topic and how to find the scarce to charge for. The working principle is that when this is achieved, all the infinite that you give away serves as free advertising for the scarce. As an example from another participant on that show, Dave Kellett’s Sheldon webcomic has a link under every single comic that allows you to buy the original art. The strips that gain some virality tend to get snapped up, but without being precious Kellett has a built in income stream directly from the art and independent of any other merchandise or advertising. He charges $125 for daily strips and $155 for color Sunday strips. Obviously they don’t all sell, but this means that he has an income stream that could be as much as $45K a year just from original art if he actually sold all the pieces. In this way, Kellett has an incentive to get as many people excited about the strip as possible because then he has potential customers for his art, the books and all other merchandise. The daily strip, the infinite, is given away. The scarce he charges for.

One time comic book artist and now teacher and rabble rouser Stephen R. Bissette blogs at least once a day, sometimes many times. He also puts up for sale a sketch every week. Judging from the prices he probably nets around $5K a year just from these sketches. I’m not solely flapping my gums (or fingers) on this topic. I’m a long-time fine of Bissette’s since he did Swamp Thing in the 1980s. Last week his sale sketch was one of Captain Beefheart and I liked it, so I bought it. I do actually support artists and try to give them my money especially when I can get something cool for it.

Bissette has been going through a long slow exchange with Cerebus creator Dave Sim about the responsibilities of creators and particularly collaborative teams. I watched Sim’s odd but fascinating Cerebus TV episode about Bissette where he discussed these issues and how creators should strongly lean towards self-publishing and not trusting companies or other creators to manage their interests for them. As Sim stated in the episode “Creators should take care of their own business because it is their business to take care of.” His context was more about co-creators such as Alan Moore deferring from decision making but it is equally applicable in the context I’m discussing. I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic watch the episode. It appears that after one episode rolls off there is no way to see it again so time is of the essence, friends.

Bissette is also responding to Sim via his blog. Because Sim has no computer and has never used email, this correspondence is taking the form of Bissette replying by blog to missives that Sim types up and faxes him. It’s downright adorable. SRB’s end of the conversation includes Sim’s faxes so it is easy to follow along with the thread and I eagerly await each new entry.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Back to where we started, with Colleen Doran blaming widespread digital piracy for lowered sales figures. That’s an assertion that fails the test of Occam’s Razor. The comic book industry, from publishers through distributors and on to retailers, is a systematically screwed up and dysfunctional affair that has spent 20 years slowly driving the customer base into spending its money in other places. Via Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter (the only comics blog I follow regularly), I see directly or via Tom’s links much discussion of the long slow crisis of making money in comic books. One recent example was this extensive interview with commentator David Brothers. It included a what Brothers sees as a prescription for fixing the ailing market:

Publishers need to start thinking long-term. Marvel publishes too many comics. DC publishes too many comics. At one point this year there was what, 19 separate Batman-related titles? How many series are out right now that star Thor? I would slash and burn their lines.

In that two years since I came back to comic book buying as a regular customer, I’ve grown unbelievably weary of the market saturation, the ridiculous company wide “events”, that last for a few months or a year and are immediately followed by another event. Marvel Comics goes from Secret Invasion to Civil War to Dark Reign to Siege. I can see how this presents an impediment for new customers jumping onboard. I’m a 35+ year reader of Marvel Comics and it presents an impediment to me. DC is just as bad with Blackest Night/Brightest Day. I just don’t care. I hate these things and I think these publishers are killing their own companies and industry with them.

Comics retailing is also it’s own weird world with logic that nowhere else would you hear. For example, practically anytime I’ve gone to any comic store and asked for a series I didn’t see on the shelf – my regular store or any that I visit – I will hear “We don’t carry that because no one buys it.” It’s like clockwork. This item that I want to buy, for which I have money in my wallet and a desire to purchase isn’t stocked and it isn’t stocked because no one buys it. That’s why I can’t buy it right now with the money in my hand, because no one buys it. This makes sense in comic book world, mainly because there are so many titles published by the big guys that no shop can afford to sink in the capital to stock everything.

Personally I think every comic shop should always buy at least one issue of every comic that comes out so they never have to turn away customers because “no one buys that.” Most grown up retailers in normal businesses have tight enough inventory controls to know when they have sold out of an item that has become popular and the ability to get more in. How can you grow your customer base if you don’t carry what new customers want? How can you get your current customers buying new and different products if you don’t have them in? This, Ms. Doran, I think is a far worse threat to the sales figures of A Distant Soil than any amount of digital piracy could ever be. It’s that stores won’t stock your comic even if and when it comes out because “no one buys that.” I would be willing to buy it, except if I don’t pre-order it specially I’ll never see it.

Just for historical fun, I dug out my copy of Ultra Klutz #6 from 1987. Jeff Nicholson printed the circulation figure in each issue of the run. I picked one far enough in that any first issue effects were gone so it would be a more typical result. Issue #6 had a circulation of just under 10,000. This was a weirdo, oddball self-published comic and 23 years ago it sold just barely under 5 figures. A print run that size today would outsell almost all indie comics and some of the offerings from Marvel and DC. The market has shed enough size in one generation that the previous era’s outlier would be today’s solid performer.

Let me close this off with the story of the one and only time I have illegally downloaded online comics. In October, the Walking Dead television show was getting ready to debut on the air. I’ve had people recommending the Walking Dead comic book as one of the best (or the very best) ongoing series. I never doubted any of the recommendation, but the comic was a long-running series already in the 70s. From all accounts, it was a series with meaningful deaths and ongoing spoilers such that I wouldn’t want to read it any other way than starting at the beginning and reading all the way through. There are collections of the series available but the first volume wasn’t in stock anywhere convenient to me. I wanted to read some of the series before watching the show, so I ended up looking for (and finding) a bittorrent of the scans of the first 76 issues. Within 20 minutes of finding the torrent I was reading the first issue. By the time I had read the first 10 issues, I was hooked and the next time I went into my regular comic shop I added it to my pull list. I watched the TV series and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m now involved in the franchise in all media.

I had several options for getting involved in the series but all of them presented barriers to entry of price or convenience or both. Once I tried the frictionless no-risk proposition, I got immediately hooked and flipped to a customer. More than practically any other product, comic book fans are completists and spazmos. Although I have digital versions of the first 76 issues, in the long run that won’t satisfy me. I’m buying the series from here forward and either via collections or single issues I’ll end up owning the whole run one day. Yes, I violated Robert Kirkman’s copyright with the download and I suppose he could be angry about it, possibly sue me or even bring legal action. The other option would be to shrug, say “F it” and be happy that in a world absolutely awash in ways to spend my discretionary income and leisure time he managed to capture any of it by any method.

That’s where I’m going to end this long and discursive entry. I did wrong with my download and those who share Ms. Doran’s work are doing wrong. However, this tale of sin has the possibility of redemption and if she desires it and is willing to deal with the present reality I think she can still make money and still be happy in this new world that is a mix of digital and corporeal. It requires dialing down the umbrage, dialing up the pragmatism, putting out product that is available for the fans you nurture and engage. Give them a better experience buying the legitimate from you and they will. Give away the infinite and sell the scarce. May Colleen Doran and Steve Bissette and Dave Sim and Dave Kellett and Steve Lieber and Scott Kurtz and Alec Longstreth and Jon Chad and every other cartoonist who spends their precious days at a drawing board or computer make the living they desire and get the happiness they deserve. Amen.

Drop Target Zine Review

I’m a fan of cartoonist Alec Longstreth. I read his blog, buy his comics, have met him at Heroescon several times and even interviewed him once. I was pleased a few months ago when I saw him blog a reference that he was working with fellow cartoonist Jon Chad on a good old fashioned paper zine devoted to pinball called Drop Target. It combines three of my interests in a nice package – comics, pinball and zine culture. I’ve referenced multiple times on this blog my desire to be more involved with reading and making paper zines as an antidote to the ephemerality of internet culture. This seemed like a great beachhead from which to start that campaign.

I ordered issue #1 from their online store, paid via Paypal and received my copy about a week later. It is a nice package with multiple text features and a long memoir comic about hunting for and playing pinball machines. The text includes some basics of the parts and mechanics of a pinball machine, an interview with the former editors of Multiball magazine, reviews of specific machines and venues with machines. All told, it was a fun and diverting way to spend an hour or so and a great melding of several of my interests. If you like comics, the memoir is satisfying as comics. If you enjoy pinball, the pinball content is informative and enjoyable on that level. If handmade zines are your thing, this is a very good example of that form.

I like zines for the same reason I’ve been a proponent of podcasting and blogging. It rewrites the economic equation by making it so cheap to publish that one can tackle a niche topic and really go for it. This is a great example of that ethos. The second issue is listed as coming in Spring 2011 and I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to pursue trying to interview one or both of these guys for my podcast and I’d even be happy to contribute to their zine. This is exactly the sort of thing that has been making me happy of late. Even as I pull back from social media and the always connected digital world, I’m reconnecting with the tangible artifacts of our real world.

XCon 2010 – Myrtle Beach’s Comic Book Convention

Starting tomorrow and running through Sunday Oct 24, the 3rd annual XCon comic book convention will be held at Springmaid Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach. The con was the cover story of this week’s Weekly Surge, so hopefully that will help bring some locals in. I did like the cover with it’s Marvel style cover including Steve and Robin as superheroes launching off of Springmaid Pier.

I’ve been to all of them so far and am looking forward to this one as well. It’s a no brainer, occurring in my area as it is. I tend to focus on filling in my wishlist from the cheap comic boxes. Last year there were several vendors with 3/$1 boxes and I’d be delighted to see some more of them this year. I’m also planning on getting a lot of stuff signed by area comics creator Jonathan Hickman. I met him at the first XCon and bought everything he had published at the time, which was mostly his Image work. Since then, he’s come on strong as a hot ticket writer for Marvel Comics. I just recently bought and enjoyed his Ultimate Thor so I’ll be getting that signed and chatting with him about it for sure.

One of the nice things about this con is that its the opposite of Dragon*Con or Heroes Con. It’s growing but still a pretty small regional con. You have plenty of time and room to shop, and lots of chances to talk to and interact with creators. As much as I enjoy those larger cons, they exhaust me with the bustle and size of them. I don’t mind having one at the opposite end of the spectrum in my year as well. Hope I see you there!

Daytripper is a Classic of the Comic Form

I’ve been reading Daytripper from Vertigo Comics since it began. It’s a project of Brazilian twins who are artist-writers, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. Having just read the last issue of the series, I’m declaring this work to be a masterpiece. It is Contract with God good. It is Death of Speedy Ortiz good. The stories are simple and each story is self-contained but added together they make up a mosaic that is so much effective and important than the sum of its parts.

Like the recent works of Michael Moorcock or the Aeon Flux cartoons, each issue has much the same cast of characters but the stories all end up at different places. I find this examination of characters through many different circumstances to be a satisfying way to tell a story. It’s like shining a light through a crystal from many different angles to see what it illuminates.

Multiple issues in this series, including #10 the final issue, made me weep openly. That’s a pretty good trick for a comic series to get the readers that emotionally involved, but I am. Practically any mention of this series will take about how the main character Bras dies over and over. Having read the full series, it is about life. Death exists to add urgency to why we should live today, and love those around us and make something of the time we have.

The series will be collected soon in trade paperback and I give this my highest recommendation. The art is beautiful, the writing emotional and effective and reaction I have upon reading it is to enjoy my life more. What more can you ask from a comic book than it make you a better person for having read it?

RIP, Harvey Pekar

Yesterday I heard the sad news that Harvey Pekar has died at the age of 70. I’ve been a fan of Harvey since I was 18 years old and I happened across an issue of American Splendor in a comic book shop. At the time I was getting in to Love and Rockets so I wondered what this similarly magazine sized black and white comic was all about. I was blown away and bought all of the rest of the series as it came out. In fact, earlier this year I had just completed my run of the original series by getting issues 1, 2 and 3 on eBay for the freaky low price of $25. I followed Harvey when he was on David Letterman but unlike most folks I was actually versed in his work when we was on.

There is one story of his that I particularly love and think about often. As I was bagging the collection recently I ran back across it in issue #13. The title escapes me and I’m away from my collection but it is the story where Harvey goes in to work on a snowy day and because of the blizzard work is very slow so he reads I. J. Singer’s The Brothers Ashkenazi and muses on differences between the Singer brothers. I used to work rotating shifts as quality control in a chemical factory and during the holidays my work was very much like that. Just enough work we had to come in but lots of time to read and relax while still getting paid. In some ways, that’s the most magical moments a bookish working stiff can ever achieve. In this one story, I felt as close to Harvey as I ever have.

Recently at Heroes Con in Charlotte I chatted with Ed Piskor and Chris Samnee. With both of them, all I talked about was their work with Pekar. I bought a copy of The Beats: A Graphic History from Ed’s table. My deepest Pekar regret is that years ago he was at Dragon*Con as a guest. There was a point where I walked near his table. He had no one around him and I wanted to go tell him how much I appreciated his work but something about the look on his face scared me off and I just never did it. I know the lessons of the Butthole Surfers: “It’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t done” but I failed anyway. I always wish I had, even just to tell him that his work meant something to me. Take these chances when they arrive kids, because they often won’t arrive again.

A lot of things I see about Harvey refer to him as a curmudgeon or a misanthrope. The one thing that I take away from his work – and I’m talking about lots of it over the last 35 years – is that Harvey loved people. Note how many American Splendor stories are in fact someone else relating their story. Harvey talked to that person, asked them about themselves, cared enough to remember and then write it up. That’s not a thing you do from a hatred of humanity, that’s an act of love. If anything, although many stories are about Harvey being cranky at circumstance or failing at the little things it always seemed like most of the anger was at himself. People he loved.

I will miss this guy very much. I’m glad he achieved a level of success over his career. He still remains one of my creative idols, for a guy in 1976 who wanted to put out a comic and couldn’t see any reason not to so he did it. These are the people who informed my feelings about podcasting and new media – people like Harvey who did what they wanted to on their plan when it was very difficult. I’m glad that he got a little time of retirement from his day job and was able to just write for a few years. I loved and love his work, and eventually will own and read every bit of it. He was one of the true heroes of American letters and thankfully some of that adulation came while Harvey was still around to appreciate it.

I’m trying not to be sad about Harvey dying in 2010 but happy that he didn’t die of cancer in 1990. He had a gift of 20 years given to him, and he used those 20 years well. May we all do as well with the gifts we are given. Goodbye Harvey. Rest in peace.