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April 08, 2014

All The Nothing


Comic strips are like little windows outside of time in which events, conversations and jokes unfold in a rhythm untroubled by the pressures of our daily lives. Whether we're reading them at breakfast just before school or work, on our phones while hunched on the bus, or while sitting lazily on the couch, comics momentarily alter the way we experience time. An action sequence or dialogue that might take just a few minutes in real life feels natural stretched out over 6 or 7 days in the funny pages. We enjoy existing in that world a little bit at a time, as if we are distant yet nosy friends of the characters themselves.

So it's especially fun to read comics on a mellow Saturday morning, when there really isn't much else that needs to be done.  I especially liked the above "Heart of the City," which pays tribute to weekend inertia. My activities this past Saturday a.m.  — drinking coffee, playing with our daughter and basically doing a whole lot of nothing — matched up almost perfectly with the strip itself. (Though I did succeed in watching the entire 1987 classic "Can't Buy Me Love" on ABC Family, a film I imagine Heart would enjoy as well).

Even aside from those similarities, I thought Heart's words in the last panel contained an important message to make the most of the moments when the ordinary pressures of life aren't weighing you down. Do-nothing Saturday mornings are a special time, and we can often make the most of them by (somewhat parodoxically) doing nothing.

And when it comes to finding a little bit of escape during the rest of the week, we can always read the comics.


April 02, 2014

"Stripped," pre-visited

I'm excited to see the new documentary, "Stripped," and will probably purchase it on iTunes unless I can wait until the showing at the Kansas City Film Festival next week. I can tell just by looking at the trailer that the film is going to prompt some interesting discussion.

Take, for example, the remark by Chris Hastings that "it's actually about independent artists vs. artists working for a corporation."

(Hastings draws the enormously popular and original Dr. McNinja, which combines the visual impact of a classic action comic book with the offbeat humor and quirky sensibility of a webcomic. I have a signed copy of "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Vol. 1" and am a big fan.)

Chris's statement places cartoonists into two camps, print/syndication vs. web/self-syndication, and hints at a struggle between old and new; aka the little guy vs. the "big corporation." A rousing and familiar narrative, to be sure, but is it really that cut and dry? Do all newspaper cartoonists sit in an office building and slave away at their comics while smug guys in suits siphen away the proceeds, while on the other side of town hip, young dudes and ladies kick back in a loft space, draw their strip whenever they please, upload to the web and watch the money roll in?

Not exactly...

In both cases, the artists operate as individuals, working from home, a studio, or on the road, and keeping their own schedule. The difference between a syndicated cartoonist and a web cartoonist is that the syndicated cartoonist makes a business arrangement with the syndicate, hiring them to create sales kits and marketing materials, personally present it to newspaper editors and publishers with whom they have relationships, bill clients for their costs, promote the strip, negotiate book and calendar deals, identify licensing possibilities, handle permissions queries, introduce the strip to international clients/partners, handle processing and distribution of the files themselves, and answer client questions, sales queries, media requests, etc.


The cartoonist, meanwhile, is (ideally) able to focus on writing and drawing the strip itself, though of course they do have input and awareness of the other aspects as well.

Web cartoonists, on the other hand, are responsible for all aspects of their property, including writing/illustrating/publishing the strip, marketing and promoting it, and creating products such as books, prints, t-shirts or other merch to create revenue. While it sounds like a wonderfully simple and direct model of doing business, any successful web cartoonist will tell you that it's not as easy as it looks. You have to invent a unique, entertaining, successful feature to attract an audience, create a system for creating, selling and shipping merchandise, be your own communications rep / brand ambassador / director of marketing, and probably lots of other important things that I'm leaving out.

People like Chris Hastings, the creators of PvP, Questionable Content, Penny Arcade, Hark! A Vagrant and other successful webcomics demonstrate a crazy amount of discipline and hard-work, wearing many different hats in order to run what amount to successful, multi-faceted businesses. But not every cartoonist is interested in or capable of running that kind of an operation, especially when they've got daily deadlines to meet.

When I talked with former Universal Uclick president Lee Salem, editor of Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes and others, about how cartooning has changed in his career, he said he believed gatekeepers still have a role to play. The Web is wide open to anyone with a unique voice and a specific concept, but when it comes to identifying the kinds of features that might resonate with a wide audience, syndicates are in an extraordinarily good position to help the cartoonist reach those audiences. If Calvin was just starting out today, Salem said, he believes Bill Watterson would still work with a syndicate.

As for what the future holds for cartooning, I certainly don't have any more answers than the next guy. Newspapers look like they'll be around for a while yet, yet it's undeniable that most of the new, interesting, fun stuff to read is found exclusively on the web — free of the language, content and space restrictions of traditional newspaper strips.

Our flagship site, GoComics, manages to merge the best of both worlds, with syndicated strips running alongside independent creators who benefit from GoComics' visiblity and reach in order to develop their own voices, audiences and brands. It's a great starting point (and daily destination) for someone who wants to get started exploring comics on the web. But of course there's an abundance of comics worth exploring all over the web.

So, that's a bit of initial rhapsodizing heading into my first viewing of "Stripped" ... The only thing I know for sure is that syndicates wouldn't be here if it weren't for the incredible gifts and talents of our cartoonists. I also believe that truly unique writing paired with original art will always manage to find an audience, whether online or in print. Beyond that, it's anybody's guess what the future of cartooning holds.


I commend the directors of "Stripped" for their efforts in presenting such a well-researched conversation about the comics biz, and I look forward to hearing others' experiences and ideas as well.


 — Lucas

(More an informative preview of the film and its content, check out this write-up on boingboing)

March 11, 2014



Believe it or not, despite reading several hundred comics in any given week, I rarely "LOL" at the funnies. Why? I suppose because my job is to make sure cartoonists turn things in on time, have their ducks in a row grammatically and deliver the joke or tell the story as effectively as possible, I'm more likely to quietly applaud a well-executed gag than I am to guffaw (with plenty of exceptions, especially "Frank and Ernest" dailies). But something about today's Alley Oop set me to laughing — out loud, no less.


A mere two panels, and a mere two words. That's all it took. A simple "Swoosh!!" followed by an "Ouch!" (true fact: Kierkegaard's "Either/Or" was originally titled "Swoosh/Ouch" before his editor urged him to change it.) Yet in the arc of Oop's ill-fated swing on the vine, we see the entire arc of human ambition: Headstrong optimism takes flight, only to be followed by a sudden, unexpected fall to earth after smacking into a tree. If only a third panel showed a close-up of Alley's bruised head, complete with orbiting birdies and the word Mondays!, I'm quite confident it would sell a lot of t-shirts.


Still, Jack and Carole Bender accomplish a lot with these two panels, and even if I could, I wouldn't change a thing. It's a nice aside in the current storyline, which involves a suddenly free-spirited Ooola hitching a pterodactyl-back flight into the vaguely hostile neighborhing land of Lem. Lord only knows what kind of struggles Alley and Ooola will face in their quest to reunite and escape back safely t'Moo. But I look forward to finding out, even if there are a few minor setbacks — and serious headaches — along the way.


February 21, 2014

Not cool runnings, man

Some of you (maybe just one or two of you) may have noticed that I haven't blog-posted in two weeks. Well that's because I've been in Sochi, Russia, enjoying the Olympic Games. (Virtually, at least, if not in any corporeal sense).


After reading fellow "Laugh Tracks" writer Jaymie's post from a few days ago which compiled Olympics-themed strips, I thought I'd reach back into the archives and share this great winter-games-related Brevity panel that conveniently doubles as an urgent public-service message. Behold...





In order to properly discuss this complex comic panel, a brief Q&A:


Q: Where is the fourth bobsledder?

A: He either didn't heed the warning in this comic, or — if you prefer the happier version — he took the above picture with his cell phone.


Q: Bobsleds don't contain fuel tanks or anything combustible. How is it that this one caught on fire?

A: Because it's funnier that way.


Q: Is the proper term "bobsled" or "bobsleigh"?

A: I have no idea.


Q: Who is Udo Gurgel?

A: The East German sports engineer who designed all of the modern bobsled tracks, including the one in Sochi. Udo has strongly come out against texting while bobsledding, at least according to my own admittedly spotty translations of his past interview transcripts.


Q: Is it true that the Grateful Dead song, "Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)" was written after keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan was found by bandmates drunkenly napping on a luge course during a 1972 tour stop in Oberhof?

A: No. The Grateful Dead were nowhere near the Schmalkalden-Meiningen region on their famed Europe '72 tour. Also, this Q&A has gone on long enough. 


Q: Fine. One last question: Who takes the Gold Medal in delivering amazingly hilarious, insightful and visually stunning comics, by the hundreds, every single day?

A: GoComics, of course! Read more Brevity panels here. And above all else, never text and sled!


— Lucas

February 05, 2014

Honk if you're (not) paying attention



It's no secret we're big fans of F Minus here at GoComics HQ. But even I was caught off guard at the ingenuity of this recent panel by Tony Carrillo. If you look at the comments (and around at your fellow drivers), you'll see how effectively this strip appears to have tapped into the zeitgeist. I can't help but wonder if they might need a larger horn, though. Even at relatively low volumes, that "All Things Considered" theme music can be deafening.

January 28, 2014

A Flurry of Adventure



I just wanted to call your attention to a couple of adventurous extended storylines taking place in the comics pages right now, in the middle of a blizzard.


The first is taking place in Heart of the City, starting with the (above) 1/13 strip and continuing through the next couple of weeks. I got a sneak peak at some of the later strips in the series, and found it to be one of the more moving storylines I've seen in "Heart" or any other daily comic in quite some time.


The other is happening right now in Pooch Cafe, and also started with the 1/13 strip, though where and when it winds up is anybody's guess. Guess you'll just have to keep reading to find out.




Take care, and stay warm!



January 15, 2014

The eye of the Pac



Here at the Laugh Tracks blog, we like to give readers insight into the behind-the-scenes discussions that are part of the editorial process. In the above WuMo Sunday, from Jan. 12, a massive Pac Man is seen ravaging an unspecified metropolis. I thought the strip was hilarious, and I love the ambiguity about the intentions of the boy operating the joystick. Is the mass destruction part of an elaborate game hack that he's been engineering for years, or did he just wake up one day, fire up his Apple IIGS and look out the window to discover he's playing an apacalypitc version of Ender's Game? I tend to read it as the latter, but that's certainly up for debate.


The debate we had in editorial, however, was whether Pac Man should have an eyeball or not. My co-editor, Ryan Rice, argued that Pac Man absolutely does not have an eye. "But I don't expect kids these days to know or care about that," he added with a note of resignation — and perhaps a tiny amount of bitterness. Now I've spent many, many, many hours at a Pac Man cocktail table, but had to vote in favor of the eyeball. The reasons being: A) It's how the strip's illustrator, Anders Morgenthaler, originally drew it. And B) It looked funnier that way.


In the end, we received no complaints, and when I opened up the Sunday Kansas City Star and saw the strip in full color, I felt like we'd made the right decision. And that, my friends, illustrates yet another lesson about the role and function of editors: We often do absolutely nothing, but even then we put a whole lot of thought into it.


Read more WuMo comics right here.

January 07, 2014

Incidental Poetry


Ultra-imaginative illustrator Grant Snider encourages us to take a look at our nation's poetry beaucracy in this fantastic schematic. Though poetry is a somewhat marginalized, often shied-away from art form, I was thinking earlier today just how much an impact it has on other kinds of writing, including sequential art.


Although they seldom write in formal verse, cartoonists make use of the same lyricism and economy of language used in poetry. In other words, poetry is to other forms of writing what ballet is to football. Does that make sense? If not, I have a feeling the bureau in the ground-floor of this illustration might revoke my poetic license. Again.


Read more Incidental Comics over at GoComics. And if you like Grant's work, be sure to order something from the Incidental Comics poster shop.



January 02, 2014

'Jump Start' your new year



If you happened to see yesterday's Jump Start, you probably marveled at seeing how many people populated the 1/1/14 strip. What's even more remarkable is that every single one of them plays a role in Robb Armstrong's ensemble strip, which runs in papers across the nation and is viewable daily on GoComics. Robb kindly shared a character sheet detailing just which characters are which, as well as a couple of pages of Jump Start trivia that illuminate the strip's backstory for new and old readers alike. Check it out below! And happy 25th anniversary to Robb and the entire Jump Start family.

JS Forty Character Outline[1]

JS trivia

MORE JS trivia

December 24, 2013

The Last Word on the Duck Dynasty scandal goes to...



As usual, nobody does it like Bad Reporter. Of course, this is not technically about Duck Dynasty on the surface, but we all know what the lead story is alluding to. For another take, check out this freshly minted op/ed toon from Matt Bors.



Visit R.C. Harvey's Blog


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