By Sean Kleefeld
Frank Page has been a staple of the webcomics scene for nearly a decade, having launched Bob the Squirrel in early 2002. Though it superficially has a similar set-up to Garfield (a guy, a sarcastic talking animal, and their friends and family) Page distinguished his strip by putting every bit of himself in it, tackling the real-world problems he deals with. Through his strip, Page has shared both the highs and the lows of his life with readers. In a recent strip, Page announced that he was giving serious consideration to ending the strip, much to the surprise of his fans. I had a chance to chat with Page in the midst of his decision-making and tried to get some insights into what types of issues he’s weighing right now.
MTV Geek: I'd like to start with some history, Frank. I know you went for your undergraduate degree in illustration, so you clearly had an early interest and talent for drawing. What were some of your early influences as a teenager? Were you looking at comics specifically back then, or were you more interested in art generally?
Frank Page: I know this sounds very cliche, but I was almost-literally born with a pencil in my hand. I was an only child raised by a very hardworking single mother... drawing was always there for me. I realized, without really knowing I realized, that the possibilities in that simple number 2 pencil and paper were boundless. I was a very good student, honor roll and all that... but I also had this itch to draw. Of course I had a thing for comic books... Superman and Spider-Man mostly. But, the comic strip is what spoke to me more... all the biggies: Watterson, Schulz, Peters, MacNelly. A comic book came once every few weeks... comic strips were there everyday... that alone appealed to me. Eventually, I did comic strips for the high school newspaper in my junior and senior years.
By Sean Kleefeld
Regardless of your religion (or lack thereof!) it’s hard to escape the onset of the holiday season. At least here in the United States, there are any number of large corporations who are more than willing to remind you of that at every opportunity. You can’t even buy groceries without getting hammered with aisles of gift wrap and outdoor decorations while listening to carols being piped in over the speakers.
If the Occupy movement has done anything, it has brought attention on the growing disparity between the wealthy and everyone else. But the semi-obligatory tradition of gift-giving needn’t be an exercise in contributing to multi-million dollar CEO bonuses. I’ve noted in this column before how creators often try to earn money by selling items related to their free webcomics, so why don’t we look at some of the places where you can obtain great gifts for your friends and family, help out individual webcomic creators, and avoid giving money to the 1% who really don’t need it.
A lot of webcomic sites will have a Shopping section listed somewhere in their navigation. Many times, this actually links to a third party site that produces and/or distributes their wares for them. Generally, these are fairly small companies started almost exclusively to help independent creators get custom products out to their fans. Read More...
The most surprising thing about writer Nate Cosby and artist Chris Eliopoulos’ new webcomic/graphic novel Cow Boy isn’t that it’s funny, or well written, or extremely well drawn. Nope, it’s how durn sad the whole thing is.
The set up – which you can get pretty easily from the title and any shot of the main, ten year old hero Boyd Linney – is that he’s like a Clint Eastwood style gunslinger, but really little and young. Could this be played for laughs? Sure, and it sometimes is, like when you get a look at what his gun can really do, or he tries to sit in a rocking chair all by himself. But Cosby instead mines Boyd for the heartache and pathos of being a kid. Read More...
By Danica Davidson
Gentlemen’s Quarterly is currently featuring the webcomic “For God and Country: An Illustrated Account of the Raid on Osama bin Laden,” penned by Casanova writer Matt Fraction and illustrated by Nathan Fox.
Some of it is based on fact, while some of it is admittedly conjecture. In several pages, it shows the SEAL raid on bin Laden’s compound. “The original editorial directive was to tell the story from OBL’s perspective but, aside from not caring to get inside the man’s head, the more I researched that night, the more in awe I became of the DEVGRU/Seal operators who performed the raid — and the more I decided their story demanded telling, too,” said Fraction in an annotated section of the webcomic you can access by scrolling over icons spread throughout the work. Read More...
The latest project from MTV Comics, Divination, debuts today on MTV Geek -- and we chatted with creators Val Staples and Gina Iorio about the manga-inspired comic!
MTV Geek: Could you guys tell us a little about the main character of the piece—she’s convinced capital “D” Death is after her, right?
Gina Iorio: She's right.
Val Staples: So, it's that simple, huh? Scaring away our readers already?
Iorio: Okay, I want to change my answer. Our main character Ana is surrounded by death and dying. But she doesn't say “I see dead people.”
Staples: We also can't exactly say that Death itself is after her. It's way more complicated than that. But I don't want to give anything away. Death is a theme. And a lot of the characters and associations deal with supernatural elements rooted in themes centered [on] life and death. Demons, angels, zombies, ghosts, reapers...
Staples: No, there's no aliens.
Iorio: There should be.
Staples: I'm considering ignoring Gina at this point.
Iorio: I only said that because you said “zombies.” I hate zombies.
Staples: I should clarify, our zombie isn't a flesh eater. I'm a bit worn out on flesh eaters. We're going back to the pre-Romero age of the zombie. We won't have any rotting corpses that crave brains (sorry, Romero zombie fans). It will all become clear as the story goes on. It's all tied together in a nice package. Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
Rina Piccolo is perhaps best known for her newspaper strip, Tina’s Groove, which has been in syndication since 2002. More recently, however, Piccolo has taken a dive into webcomics and has been concurrently working on Velia, Dear since 2010. We caught up with Piccolo to talk about working both in newspapers and online.
MTV Geek: It's been noted in several places (including on your own site) that your first published comic was in 1989. But your "big break" was about a decade later when you took up the Wednesday slot for Six Chix. I understand that, in the past, you've noted that decade was filled with "trillions of rejections" but how did the strip come about? Was that something you and the others took to King Features yourselves after doing a lot of individual submissions, or did the idea come from one of the editors there, or...?
Rina Piccolo: Six Chix was Jay Kennedy's idea. Jay was the comics editor at King Features Syndicate and he was well known as a promoter of women's comics. He saw that the newspaper comics page was lacking humor from a woman's perspective, and decided to increase the percentage of women cartoonists on the page in one shot. He had a pretty good idea from the beginning who he'd choose to be in the strip, and I was one of the names on his list. Like any good editor, he had his finger on the pulse of the cartoon industry, and so it wasn't too difficult for him to find us. Read More...
Thirteen years after starting the Penny Arcade webcomic, writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik have more successes than anyone could have expected. Multi-million dollar charity? Check. Two of the largest gaming conventions in the world? Check.
The list continues, but these satirical critics of the game industry have never had much success making games of their own. Their video game series had a lukewarm reception and the original Fantasy Flight-published card game was a mediocre offering at best. That was then and this is now, though. Cryptozoic Entertainment holds the license and is taking another stab at making a PA-themed card game. Will it put previous offerings in its shadow? Read on for the full review. Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
Comics and marketing go back quite a ways. Even if you take a very narrow approach to how you define “comics”, the combination of the two easily goes back a hundred years. For example, the Brown Shoe Company has used Buster Brown as its mascot since he was introduced as such at the 1904 World’s Fair. Buster Brown was actually created as a stand-alone comic strip two years earlier by Richard Outcault, the same man who created the famous Yellow Kid. The Buster Brown comic strip continued on until 1911, and Outcault continued a nameless version of the same character in another strip until 1921. Buster Brown came back in comic book form in the 1940s and 50s, still being used as spokesman for the shoes bearing the character’s name.
Although comics were historically thought of as children’s reading material, there were plenty of reasons to market specifically to children. Topps incorporated Bazooka Joe comic strips into their bubble gum wrappers in 1953 to try make their product stand out more for kids. The Big Boy restaurant chain was trying to showcase themselves as family-friendly, and began a comic giveaway for their younger customers in 1956. Both of those examples continue to this day. But of course, as comics on the whole became more diverse and was increasingly seen as a viable medium in its own right, a wider swath of companies started using comics as a means of promoting their wares. Perhaps the most successful, though cynical, examples are the G.I.Joe and Secret Wars comics from the 1980s, which were originally designed as marketing vehicles for the toys they represented. To Marvel’s credit in both of those cases, the quality of those books made them laudable comics in their own rights. Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
Many, if not most, of us who grew up reading comics can easily point to instances where the comics were part of our education. Maybe they introduced us to new words. Maybe we were shown new ideas and concepts that allowed us to see the world a little differently. Maybe were encouraged to study art by trying to copy the characters we saw. It may not have been intentional on the part of the creators -- in fact, it almost certainly wasn’t -- but comics use of both art and the written word in combination provides an excellent opportunity to engage readers, making education that much easier... and fun!
One of the inherent qualities of the internet, of course, is interactivity. We’ve looked at various ways in which webcomic creators can communicate with their readers. But it’s also possible to use that same interactivity to educate people by giving them the tools to create their own webcomics. Enter sites like Bill Zimmerman’s MakeBeliefComix.com...
Comic strips provide a perfect vehicle for learning and practicing language. Each strip's three or four panels provide a finite, accessible world in which funny, interesting looking characters live and go about their lives. And children with limited reading skills are not as overwhelmed in dealing with the size of a comic strip as they may be with a book of many pages. Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
One of the easy benefits one can tout about webcomics is that they’re more environmentally friendly than regular comics. After all, there are no trees being cut down, no inks being processed, no physical comics to truck around... How could that not be better for the environment? Well, skeptics can be quick to jump in, citing the decidedly non-environmentally-friendly materials used to make the computer/laptop/tablet/phone that you’re using, and the fact that you’re probably using some fossil-fuel derived energy to power said device. Those certainly aren’t helping the environment any. But let’s take a closer look at both sides of the issue. Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
Thanks in no small part to the enormous success of the Batman television show in the 1960s, media articles about comics have a penchant for including Pow! or Zap! in them as a shorthand means of communicating some of the effects that tend to be used in comics more than other forms of media. I know many comic fans, myself included, who got quite sick of the trope back in the 1980s when The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen seemed to be the subject of any number of articles talking about the “maturity” of contemporary comics. These days, even saying that “Wham! Comics Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore!” is an overused title is in itself tiresome.
Although specific demographic data is hard to come by, a recent study of 1.2 million self-identified comic fans found that 63% were between 18 and 30 years old. Another 23% were older than that. Which leaves a mere 14% under the age of 18, just under half of which are in high school. This speaks to what the industry as whole anecdotally “knows” -- that their primary audience is not the historical 8-12 year old kid that 1950’s parents feared saw too much gore in Tales from the Crypt, but an adult population that is at least reasonably well-educated. (28% reported having a college degree, and another 12% cited being in college.)
So the complaint often lodged against comic publishers these days isn’t so much that some of their books might be inappropriate for young children, but rather than NONE of their books are appropriate for young children. A reasonable claim, since the publishers tend to cater to their largest (adult) audience. Read More...
The Maxx creator Sam Kieth's When The Chickens Revolt "should read like poetry"
You probably know who Sam Kieth is, from his work on The Maxx and Zero Girl. You may even know who Jonathan Wayshak is from his work as a freelance illustrator based in California. But you probably don’t know, the way out there project the two are collaborating on, When The Chickens Revolt. The stream of consciousness web comic is painted, watercolored, and inked rather than done digitally – and not only that, the two are creating the whole thing on the front cover of brown ledger books. Then putting the new pieces online, one every Monday.
To find out more about this fascinating project – and where it’s going (hint: anywhere it wants) – we chatted with Kieth and Wayshak:
MTV Geek: I was reading through the process of how you guys are putting this together, and nearly every part seems to be purposely working against the speed and efficiency of webcomics (and I mean this in a nice way)… Could you talk about how you decided to approach the project the way you have; and is this, kind of, the anti-web-comic web-comic?
Sam Kieth: I guess that's true if digital is supposed to be speedier, but is it? It seems the erosion of print means there really are no rules anymore, just whatever suits each artist. I can't speak for Jon but while we both tend towards hand painted work, there's really no agenda of digital vs. hand painted… Just two idiots trying to goof around.
Jonathan Wayshak: Really, there's nothing purposeful about it. We draw and paint. This is how we normally do things and there's nothing premeditated about it. If by speed and efficiency you mean digital media, that's a mistruth. It is not typically faster to do things digitally. I think a lot of people who believe this to be true are not very proficient with ink and paint.
I don't really think of our project as an "anti-webcomic." There is no such thing as "webcomics," they're all just comics, and that's what we do and love. It might be a little different or somewhat agitated or more frenetic than the typical thing you'll see in the digital world, but it's still a comic strip. We're just not interested in doing anything "common." Read More...
Even if you aren't necessarily sure what The Oatmeal is, I can almost guarantee that it is a webcomic you've read. The sardonic humor and observations on life found inside have posts regularly blowing up on social media and news aggregation sites, quickly elevating the comic to web phenom since its inception in 2009. I caught up with creator Matthew Inman on the show floor at New York Comic Con and picked his brain to find out what's behind his webcomic success.
MTV Geek: Tell us a bit about what caused you to start The Oatmeal, your origin story if you will.
Matthew Inman: I actually used to build websites for a living, and I did that for a long time but got tired of working for people. I decided to build a website which was autonomous, which could make me a living without actually going to work. So I started a dating site, but I didn't know anything about marketing, so in order to get people to actually come to the website, I started making funny things: comics, quizzes, and illustrated stories about dating just to draw people in.
By Sean Kleefeld
It only takes the briefest amount of passing interest to see that a lot of mass media these days have a ratings system of some sort; a shorthand set of abbreviations to let the potential audience know how mature the content is in advance. Movies use perhaps one of the most widely recognized set of ratings, but you can find similar labels on television shows, video games, music and even comic books. (Look closely near the UPC symbol of the latest Marvel or DC comics if you haven’t seen one lately.)
Now, whether these ratings are actually useful is up for debate, but at the very least, they serve as a modest public relations bone thrown to a small, vocal group of parent activists. The degree to which they work at all is predicated on a good percentage of the products in that industry undergoing the same categorization. If, for example, NBC used a numeric rating system, but CBS used an alphabetic system, and ABC used a set of graphics, and Fox used a series of audio cues... well, it would likely just confuse audiences and prove utterly worthless. It’s only when the major networks get together to agree on a common system that the ratings have any appreciable significance.
If you look at the web, you’ll quickly see that there is no real organization to which webcomics belong. There are some webcomic collectives out there, of course, but the overwhelming majority of webcomics are independently published by individual creators, which means that it’s insanely difficult--if not impossible--to get a good chunk of webcomic creators to get behind a single, unifying ratings system.
The Penny Arcade Expo may be long over, but one of its marquee events has just been posted online for your viewing pleasure. Fans of the Penny Arcade webcomic need no introduction, but for the uninitiated, know that its creators like to occasionally play a little Dungeons & Dragons. Sometimes, thousands of fans gather in person to watch them do so live on stage. The end result is a group of gamers giving you more laughs over a game of D&D than even a prime-time sitcom can deliver.