By Sean Kleefeld
For comics that have been running for years or even decades, the notion of retroactive continuity has been one that’s frequently been embraced as a means to keep characters relevant with the times. For example, Iron Man’s original debut in 1963 was decisively tied to the Vietnam War but almost four decades later, much of his audience is too young to have any real knowledge, let alone appreciation, of that conflict, so the character’s origin was updated to take place during the Gulf War of the early 1990s and then again to Afghanistan. Those are more contemporary references and, at least in theory, more relateable to 21st century audiences.
Generally, this type of update is handled with a “retcon.” It’s usually a simple retelling of the original sequence with some of the details changed. In some cases, it might just be a simple re-wording, in others, there might be inherent design alterations. But whatever the changes, they have to be put out in a new document. Which means that there have been a number of different comics published that tell different origins of Iron Man. Depending on which one a person happens to read, they might come away with a very different perception of how Tony Stark first created his armor.
Webcomics have an advantage in this regard. The art pages are stored on the creator’s own website, and are not (usually) saved by the individual reader. Which means that if someone -- anyone -- wants to go back to read the initial installments, they’re all going to refer to the exact same piece of art stored online. But that piece of art is controlled by the creator, and can be changed.
Sean T. Collins and Matt Wiegle started Destructor towards the tail end of last year. The story was progressing along smoothly when, with their last update in June, Collins noted that the previous two pages had been altered to better coincide with the latest page. Going back through the comic, of course, simply yielded the modified pages; had Collins not said anything, it’s unlikely many people would have noticed. Intrigued, and armed with some wicked Google-Fu skilz, I was able to uncover what had been altered.
By Sean Kleefeld
Webcomics are like any medium in that they can tackle just about any subject or genre. Including, of course, history. Although the subject is one that many students dread, that is often the result of a less-than-ideal presentment. When given lots of dates along with the names of people and places that no longer even exist, it’s little wonder when students learn to eschew learning about what happened in the past. But when history is presented in the form of stories with clever plots and engaging characters, people can be mesmerized by the drama. Getting so caught up in the story, they miss the fact that what’s being presented is, in fact, history and they wind up remembering those very same facts and figures that rote memorization failed to embed.
One the more successful webcomics based on history -- indeed, one of the more successful webcomics, period -- is Lora Innes’ The Dreamer. Though the story starts in contemporary high school cafeteria, Beatrice Whaley finds herself dreaming every night about the Revolutionary War. More than that, she seems to be living a second life in the past with each night’s dream picking up not long after where the previous one left off. She’s running around with the likes of Nathan Hale and Thomas Knowlton, and is captured by the British General William Howe.
By Sean Kleefeld
This past Veterans’ Day, there was a joke in Garfield that suggested that day should be called “National Stupid Day.” It was a complete coincidence, of course, and creator Jim Davis issued an apology very quickly. What struck me as interesting was that Davis pointed out that particular strip was written an entire year earlier. Working that far in advance is by far not the norm, but it highlights an element of comics that are run in newspapers: namely, that they’re generally written far enough in advance of the day’s news that it’s almost impossible to keep current.
Lalo Alcaraz’s La Cucaracha strip sometimes tries to pick up on current events, but they wind up sometimes being decidedly behind the news curve. For example, this week’s strips are themed around Sarah Palin’s misinterpretation of Paul Revere’s ride -- a news item that was running in headlines at the beginning of the month. Today’s headlines about her, though, are focused on her changing travel plans. The Revere jokes are old news.
Webcomic creators, though, are able to move faster than that. They can publish their comics as soon as they’re done working on them, giving them a much more contemporary flavor. Here’s Ryan Dow’s Introspective Comics from earlier this week with a brief review of the Green Lantern movie that was just released.
By Sean Kleefeld
A few weeks back, I took a look at guest strips in webcomics, where other creators chip in to help provide a little break for the regular creator. In those cases, though, there is a regular creator whose tone and style are a large draw for the strip. Viewers come back, in part at least, because they appreciate what the original creator is trying to do; while the side trips with guest creators are fun, readers know that the strip will return to what they expect in short order. But is it possible to do a webcomic where readers don’t know what to expect with regards to creators?
I first stumbled across Flashback Universe back in 2008. The overall idea was ambitious, even in its deliberately scaled down form: to create a new comics universe with the same sense of wonder that folks had when they were first discovering Marvel and DC comics back in the 1960s and ‘70s. There was a world out there with dozens of superfolks, and they all interacted with one another whether in cameo appearances in each others’ books or when they joined forces in the JLA or Avengers. Part of the fun, as a reader, was exploring those worlds for the first time. They wanted to recreate some semblance of that.
How does a staunch punk rationalist with a Charles Darwin tattoo deal with a Lovecraftian tar-like horror from the depths of hell? Well, maybe her unique interests are why she's the right girl for the job. In Aaron Alexovich and Drew Rausch's webcomic ELDRITCH!, said Darwin-fan Anya is put at odds with her demonically-possessed folklore-loving brother, all against the backdrop of generic suburban sprawl.
ELDTRITCH! is emblematic of the struggle between "believers" (in this case, believers in "The Old Ones" of yore), and those who embrace a more rational, scientific approach. This is symbolized by the first page of Darwin heading down into the watery depths in his bathysphere. Rationalist Anya is being plunged into the dark world of the occult and unknown -- can she fight something she doesn't even really believe in? Or will the seemingly-disparate worlds of Science and Magic find a common ground?
By Sean Kleefeld
So what do you do when you’re reading a webcomic and have a question about it? Well, you ask, obviously. In an earlier column, I noted that webcomic creators are generally very approachable, so it makes sense that if you’re interested in what they might think about a particular topic, you can go ahead away. What’s really cool, though, is that there are any number of ways they can respond.
One of the most obvious ways of asking a question is right in the comments section of the comic itself. Not only are you pretty well guaranteed the creators will see it, but they’ll immediately know exactly what you’re referring to since the actual comic art is on the very same page. In this exchange, we learn the main source of inspiration for one of Eddie Pittman’s spaceship designs in Red’s Planet...
By Sean Kleefeld
A few weeks back, I noted that all forms of art evolve, including webcomics. But another interesting angle on the same idea is that artists themselves evolve as well! Any artist worth his weight in salt is going to be perpetually looking at how they’re working and how that might be improved. Artists, as a rule, don’t like getting bored with their work and they often try exploring different approaches to see what other styles and techniques work for them. So it should come as no surprise that many long-running webcomics don’t look the same now as they used to.
Let’s start with an easy, popular example: Least I Could Do. Here’s a strip from 2003...
And here’s another from just a few months later...
The same characters, but wildly different looking. Now this case, though, astute readers will note that two different creators are listed in the comics’ credits. Trevor Adams helped launch the strip with Ryan Sohmer but only worked on it for about six months before Chad Porter took over on art duties. But two years later, Lar deSouza took up the reins from Porter and each artist brought their own approach to the characters.
But look at what happened as deSouza worked on the series. Here are strips from 2006, 2008 and 2009 still featuring the characters Rayne and John...
Perhaps most noticeable, the characters become more stylized and streamlined. But they also become more internally consistent. The specific contours of the characters’ faces become more regular as deSouza gets more accustomed to drawing the characters on a daily basis. He’s figured out ways to make creating his art better (a subjective measure, of course, but I think it’s safe to presume that deSouza isn’t trying to make his art worse!) and making his creation process smoother. Read More...
Comics legend Stan Lee recently helped comic collective ACT-I-VATE close out their Panels for Primates charity webcomic with his collaboration with Emmy-winning artist Dean Haspiel, "Even Gorillas Have Pride!"
Here's the deets on Panels for Primates -- then read the webcomic! Read More...
By Sean Kleefeld
When I was in seventh grade, several of us took an extra-curricular class at the local community college for a semester. This particular class was on sign language, and we spent the term learning the basics of American Sign Language (ASL). I’ve never had any practical use for it, but I do remember a little, in part because the instructional book we were given was a comic. Not just a “comic” in that broad McCloudian sense of the word, but there was a legitimate, illustrated story broken down into panels over the course of 30 or 40 pages. It was about a deaf kid who starts at a new school, and how he’s able to make friends by teaching them sign language. It wasn’t a particularly good story, but it included any number of sequences in which the hand signals were drawn out in a decidedly explanatory fashion.
I know I held on to that comic for years, but I seemed to lose track of it sometime around college. At this point, I couldn’t even tell you the name of the book, much less who wrote and/or drew it. But I was pleased to recently discover a new webcomic called That Deaf Guy, a comic about a regular guy who happens to be deaf, and how he deals with a world around him which, for the most part, can hear perfectly fine.
By Sean Kleefeld
Back in 1997, Universal Press Syndicate convinced many of the cartoonists they represent to switch strips as a somewhat meta-textual April Fool’s Day joke. Shoe was by Mort Walker. For Better or For Worse was by Mike Peters. Luann was by Dan Pirarro. You could immediately tell that the characters all looked different; they weren’t in the style of their usual creators. More interestingly, though, these “new” creators didn’t always stick to the usual formula of the strip; they would apply their own sense of humor.
But it was essentially a one-off event. The Great Comic Strip Switcheroo, they called it. The cartoonists held on to their strips, often not letting anyone else play with them until they were well and completely done for good. And even then, they were most often only passed along to relatives. Tom Wilson passed Ziggy along to his son in 1987, and Dik Browne gave Hagar the Horrible to his son a little over a year later. The Family Circus, Hi & Lois, Beetle Bailey, The Wizard of Id and B.C. were also kept in the family after their respective originators left, though the transitions were more gradual. Read More...
What do you get when you mix the creative talents behind such properties as Invader Zim, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Disney's Haunted Mansion, and the cult gothic comic Sullengrey -- plus a hearty helping of Cthulhu mythos?
You can find out now by reading the first nine pages of Aaron Alexovich's and Drew Rausch's Zuda-winning digital comic Eldritch! -- download a PDF of it here for free!
"ANYA SOBCZEK is a snarling science major with an arm full of Darwin tattoos. Her brother OWEN is a sensitive young thing in a coven of teenage occultists. The Sobczek sibs have always been brutally competitive, but now that Owen’s blood has started BUBBLING with ancient tentacled abominations, their rivalry’s about to enter a vast new dimension of cosmic terror…"
Then, starting June 15th, 2011, Eldritch! will be released in six 24-page installments every sixth week to every digital device known to God, Man, and Shoggoth alike, including your desktop, iPad/iPod/iPhone, Android, Nook, Kindle, and eNecronomicon (pending). You'll be able to get it at comixology and Graphic.ly, and the issues will be priced at a reasonable $0.99 each. Read More...
A "modern-day mythological romance," Sam and Lilah blends a timeless tale of romance with manga-styled technicolor flair. Written by Jim Dougan and Hyeondo Park, ACT-I-VATE's webcomic makes its debut today on MTV GEEK!
"It's a story of two young lovers who find that their destinies are affected by an ages-old gypsy curse," Dougan told MTV GEEK in a video interview during this year's NYC's MoCCA Fest. "And it's about what they do to fight through that and learn to grow and love one another."
By Sean Kleefeld
Back in the early days of American comic strips, creators were lauded on high pedestals that most people didn’t even dream about ascending. Name like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond were said in reverence. Guys like George Herriman palled around with Hollywood big shots on the famous Roach Studios lots. Milton Caniff was featured on the cover of Time magazine. They were considered unapproachable celebrities in much the same way actors and rock stars are. You don’t just “hang out” with Lady Gaga and comic strip creators were viewed as just as removed from the general public, despite showing a deep understanding of popular sentiment in their comics.
When I was 12 or 13, I wrote a fan letter to Reg Smythe, creator of Andy Capp. This was, of course, prior to the web so information was a little harder to come by. Part of why I chose to write to him was to find out something... anything about him. In fact, I didn’t at the time even know if “Reg” was short for “Reginald” or “Regina” and I recall trying to be very careful to avoid personal pronouns in my letter! But the other aspect to not having information easily available was that I had nowhere to send the letter to! Even with my parents’ help, the only physical address we could find was the local paper in which Andy Capp ran.
So I sent my letter off to “Reg Smythe c/o The Plain Dealer.” They then had to forward it on to his syndicate (at the time, I believe it was Publishers-Hall). They had to forward that on to The Daily Mirror, who had to pass it along to Smythe himself. Amazingly, the letter indeed got to Smythe and he wrote back a short note on Mirror stationery charmingly answering my questions. But that response letter arrived in my mailbox several months after I had first written.
Despite his cordial response, there were couple of things going on in that simple letter that enforced that barrier between creator and fan. First, and through no fault of Smythe himself, the lag time in getting letters across the Atlantic Ocean meant that timely communication was out of the question. If I dashed off a letter praising a particular strip he had done, it wouldn’t arrive until at least a month or two after he drew it. Second, that he responded with a typed letter on Mirror stationery suggested a more formal exchange. Unlike his main character, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy you could just meet for drinks at the local pub. Read More...
Graphic designer and illustrator Omar Angulo's impressive resume includes designing album cover art and posters for such musical artists as Against All Authority, Alice Cooper, Bad Brains, Beyonce, The Cool Kids, Danzig, Dethklok, Gogol Bordello, The Melvins, The Misfits, and Q-Tip:
Now, in collaboration with webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE, he's created the one-shot comics story "Hurricane Wilma" -- which you can read now for free! Check out this funny and touching story of how a bunch of disconnected neighbors come together in the face of a natural disaster right here, only at ACT-I-VATE!
Video Interview: MTV Geek Launches ACT-I-VATE's All-Ages Fantasy 'Farseeker'
ACT-I-VATE's 'Revolution Will Be Televised'
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By Sean Kleefeld
All art forms evolve over time. Sometimes a new technology becomes available; sometimes a new technique is applied to an existing technology. I expect it was considered revolutionary among the earliest hominid cave painters when someone first realized that pigments could applied on the wall where one’s hand was, leaving a negative image instead of the usual positive one achieved by simply brushing the rudimentary paints on the rocks. So it should come as no surprise that webcomics evolve as well.
Take a look at the home page of Argon Zark! as it looked in 1996...