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July 23, 2014

stretching the comics canvas

If you've been reading GoComics for a few years, you've likely noticed an explosion in new offerings on our A to Z listing. While single-panel toons and three- or four-panel funnies have long made up the traditional core of our content, some of the more recent additions require some serious scrolling and a bit of in-depth reading. While there will always be lame-o's who type "TLDNR" on anything over 140 characters, many others (like me) are delighted to see artists stretch the form to include literature, inspirational quotes, history and storytelling.

 

Today I'd like to spotlight three examples of GoComics cartoonists who work on a wide canvas, but I'd welcome any other suggestions in the comments. Let's start with a peek at Zen Pencils, by Australian artist Gavin Aung Than.

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There you have it... a scarily honest yet wonderfully poignant sentiment by Sylvia Plath captured in artwork. I love the arrangement of the words beside the falling figs. It's like a bit of concrete poetry in a graphic novel. Zen Pencils is as remarkable for its diversity of artistic styles as it is the wide range of source material. It's consistently inspirational and always fun to read.

 

If you're headed to San Diego Comic Con this weekend, stop by the Andrews McMeel Publishing/GoComics booth (#1503) on Friday 3.30-4.30pm and on Sunday 12.30-1.30pm to meet Gavin and see some examples of his upcoming book.

 

 

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Peter Mann, the artist and writer of The Quixote Syndrome, teaches in the Humanities program at Stanford University, where he occasionally uses these comics as teaching materials. The above illustration from last week presents a Franz Kafka parable in its entirety, with artwork that drives home the disorientation and reminds us how "Kafkaesque" came into the commen lexicon. You'll need to enlarge it to keep from squinting, but its well worth your while. Catch more Quixote Syndrome here.

 

 

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Eleri Mai Harris, of Eleri Mai Harris Cartoons, has been doing a great series about American history and civic identity, including this strip from earlier in the year depicting the Solidarity Singers of Madison, Wisconsin. I visited Madison over the weekend, and though I didn't make it into the State House in time to hear the 11:00 a.m. singing protest, I did hear a couple of the Solidarity Singers sharing their message outside the State House at the weekly farmer's market. Check out more of her recent large-format cartoons on GoComics.

July 01, 2014

Ripley's: Sometimes you have to see it to believe

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Ripley's Believe it Or Not, an illustrated feature that runs daily on GoComics, presents so many interesting facts, historical trivia and fascinating people that you almost have to remind yourself that they're real (although technically the title does give one the option of doubt, the fact-checkers dept. hasn't found any spurious claims yet).

 

One aspect of the feature that makes the informational tidbits really stand out is the artwork, which are pencil and ink drawings based on a variety of sources including historical photos, news reports, medical and biology textbooks — just about anything you can think of. Many of the images are of ordinary people with extraordinary stories, such as Miss Mena the fire eater. Last week, after North Carolina-based photographer Lisa D. Johnson recognized one of her subjects in the Jan. 4 Ripley's panel above, we asked her to share her original photo of Miss Mena so we could give readers a window into Ripley's rendering process and highlight Lisa's photography work.

 

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To see more of Lisa's images, visit her website. To read more Ripley's, head on over to GoComics and add it to your daily reads.

June 24, 2014

Adam @ 30

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Like so many others, I've grown up with Adam@Home. When I first read it in the Kansas City Star in the '80s, I was a kid who enjoyed Clayton and Katy's sense of mischief and Adam's interest in computers (we had a spiffy Apple IIGS at the time). These days, as a sleep-deprived parent with perpetually disheveled hair and an ever-present mug of coffee in front of his MacBook, I can identify much better with Adam himself. Hard-working Laura's skepticism and dry sense of humor keeps the rest of the family in check, while baby Nick makes everyone smile without needing to say a word.

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While the artwork and color in Adam@Home has always bounced right off the page, it's really Brian Basset's (and now Rob Harrell's) writing that sets it apart from other family strips. Adam@Home is full of goofy ideas and little details, seamlessly incorporating over-the-top humor into everyday settings. Even better, the characters seem to genuinely like each other, giving the strip a warmth and charm that you won't find on television or even many other places on the funny pages.

 

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Recently I've found myself going back through the archives on GoComics (available from 1995 on) and appreciating how much humor and weirdness Bassett was able to wring from what looks on the surface like a very ordinary suburban life. The settings in Adam@Home were always fairly normative (manicured lawns, stucco houses, streets and drive-thrus lined with minivans), but the characters' wry observations and overactive imaginations made it clear that these neighborhoods were actually made up of quirky, whimsical individuals like the Newtons. It's a strip that promotes individuality by gently lampooning the universal.

 

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While as a younger person I mostly read Adam as a good-natured spoof of the middle-class family life, I now view it as a healthy way of retaining one's sense of humor in the face of growing older. The beauty of this (and other) comics is that they all mean different things to different people, and without a doubt Adam@Home has left — and continues to leave — a lasting impression on many thousands of readers each day.

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So before you dive into your favorite Adam@Home book collection or dig into the GoComics archives, please join me in raising a hefty mug of hot coffee in a birthday salute to one of the funny pages' true originals. Happy 30th, Adam!

 

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Subscribe to Adam@Home here!

June 17, 2014

Ice Cream, Gingerbread & Comics

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As the inimitable Wallace Stevens once wrote, "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." Lio came close to attaining this majestic title in a strip from earlier in the month. I like that instead of just devouring the sundae, he decided to enjoy it a little bit with a Winter Olympics-worthy slalom.

Equally amusing was today's WuMo (below) in which an anthropomorphized Gingerbread Man shares his secrets to success.

 

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You really have to love the delicious (sur)reality of the comics page, especially in the summer time.

 

As a scrumptious bonus, here are links to a couple of amazing ice cream recipes from Germany which I've been working tirelessly to perfect and introduce to the domestic market: The "Eiskaffee" (ice cream coffee float) and the even more exotic "Spaghettieis." Guaranteed to make your summer 73% cooler. 

May 30, 2014

Todd Clark's "Ice Cream Kid" hits shelves next week

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The San Francisco Gate ran a cool feature on Lola creator Todd Clark last week, including some interesting backstory of the strip and the process of creating it. Also discussed in the article is the AMP for Kids title The Ice Cream Kid: Brain Freeze!which comes out next week.

 

From the article:

 

"Years and years ago, I had this thought 'Well, what if something happened when you got a brain freeze?' So I thought about like temporary powers or something. So the Ice Cream Kid is a fourth-grade boy whose name is Irwin Snackcracker. And he finds one day, when he bites into an ice cream, that he gets these temporary superpowers. Each ice cream gets him a different one, a different little power."

 

Some of Irwin's powers include super speed and the ability to talk to animals, which come in handy when he has to battle a villainous lunch lady.

 

"I'm very excited about it," Clark said. "And hopefully there'll be more. We've already had talks about the next book and the next."

May 13, 2014

Oscar and Arthur, circa 1882

Here in Kansas City, home of GoComics HQ, everyone knows that barbecue is a big deal. So big, in fact, that there are an estimated 715 accepted spellings of the word (barbecue, bar-b-q, barbeque, etc). One fact that isn't widely known about Kansas City, however, is that author Oscar Wilde visited on a speaking tour back in 1882.

 

Illustrator Peter Gordon Mann (whose new feature, The Quixote Syndrome, is a recent addition to GoComics) playfully combines these two facts in an imaginative work of speculation about what that visit to Kansas City might have been like for Mr. Wilde. Check out part I here and follow the link below to reach the second installment.

 

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Read part II of "The Wilde Days of Kansas City" here.

May 07, 2014

WuMo retraction

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Although I generally don't apologize for our comics, once in a great while we'll spot something that we wish we could do over (or, in this case, not do at all). Such was the case with Wednesday's WuMo. While on the surface an innocuous joke about how people with fair skin might be camofluaged in the snow, several people have pointed out that this visual gag essentially picks on people for their skin color — "no different than calling someone a derogatory racial term," as one caller told me.

 

As the editor of this feature, I should have been more sensitive to the fact that albinism is a condition that affects 1 in every 17,000 people worldwide. I'm sure most of them don't appreciate anyone cracking wise at their expense, and I apologize for not better taking their feelings into account. Good humor tends to walk a fine line between tasteful and insensitive, and we don't always get it right.

 

To those of you who reached out, thanks for sharing your perspective and know that we'll be doing our best to make sure our features don't unfairly single people out for how they look.

 

sincerely,

 

your friendly comics editor, Lucas Wetzel

Hog Heaven

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I've seen this Brevity panel racing around the funny webs, and I've just got to say — well done. Sure, it's one of the dumbest jokes I've seen in a while. But what a glorious image.

I'm also curious how other readers interpreted the woman's reaction. To me, she seems taken aback but not necessarily displeased that she's seated on a bounding magic swine rather than half a ton of chrome and steel.

One thing I know is the next time I get cut off by a cavalcade of large leather-clad men on "hogs" — whether here in Kansas City, in the Black Hills or on some small-town stretch of Arkansas — I'll only have to think of this panel to adopt a more sympathetic, slightly humorous view of bikers.

April 16, 2014

Armed, dangerous, helpless

In recent years, the Tyrant Lizard has met its comeuppance — at least in the comics pages. I'm not sure exactly when the "look at the dangerous dinosaur with the funny little arms!" meme started, but I've seen some doozies. Most of them have been on the Web, with the T-Rex facing difficulty with everything from push-ups to self-gratification. GoComics has seen some winners as well, like this Brevity from 2011

 

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Mark Parisi of "Off The Mark" had a pretty good one here back in 2010. More recently, the opening week of WuMo (in syndicated form — the strip itself has been thriving for a decade online) saw T-Rex in one of his most pathetic poses yet. 

 

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To me, this was really the gold standard of "T-Rex with tiny arms" gags, far surpassing any of the indie-t-shirt offerings that sprout like weeds on the sidebars of the junk news sites I visit each day. It requires no words, and the expression on his face and the motion blur of his little left arm make us feel sorry for him even as we laugh at his plight. It could have easily been the last word in the conversation, but for good measure, Comics Sherpa standout "Rogue Symmetry" recently dealt the meme another blow (while simultaneously scoring laughs) in this now-viral panel

 

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Good stuff. And a good point. But I somehow doubt we've seen the last of the simultaneously fearsome and helpless tiny-armed dino. Why? Not just because it's funny, but because of what the fearsome T-Rex with the pitiful arms symbolizes: 

 

Humankind. 

 

Humans can erect huge cities, fly all over the earth and into space, harness the power of the atom and instantaneously connect to people all over the globe. But when it comes to halting or reversing the effects of climate change, removing harmful chemicals from our food supply, or achieving peace between nations (or on our own streets), human beings are as helpless as a T-Rex reaching for a roll of toilet paper. 


Does that sound a little overly cynical? Perhaps. Surely there is plenty of laugh at about humanity that will eventually be parodied in hilarious detail by whatever life forms inherit the planet after it's done with us. But since that might take another 65 million years, I'll just keep on enjoying these T-Rex comics while we have them. 

April 08, 2014

All The Nothing

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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.

 


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