Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics takes a wry look at the vagaries of life in academia, mostly from the point of view of a handful of long-suffering graduate students. He also has a feature, “Two Minute Thesis,” in which he summarizes real research in a comic or video; it’s sort of the comics equivalent of a TED Talk. It has built quite a following over the years (as a former grad student, and the wife, daughter and sister of college professors, I find it irresistible), so it’s big news that Cham is bringing PhD Comics to the webcomics site Tapastic. Or, part of it: PhD Comics will continue to run on its regular schedule on its original site, and Tapastic will carry a curated selection of Cham’s strips. I talked to Cham about PhD Comics, and the Tapastic move, and he drew a special cartoon just for us as well!
Robot 6: How long have you been drawing PhD Comics, and how did you get started with it?
Jorge Cham: I’ve been drawing PhD now for almost 16 years (!). It started as a hobby at first, as a way to procrastinate from my studies. I saw an ad in the student newspaper at Stanford University, where I was going for grad school, calling for submissions for their comics page. My brother suggested there should be a comic about grad school because they are usually ignored on campus, so on a lark I sent in some samples. At the time, I had a full course load and was working two jobs teaching and doing research, but it really seemed like something that needed to be done. Grad school had been a really intense, often bizarre, ego-crushing experience for me, and I had found it really useful to learn that others were going through the same thing, so it seemed important to record it and share it with the world.
Inspired by R. Sikoryak and Art Spiegleman’s Narrative Corpse, The Unsinkable Walker Bean creator Aaron Renier started The Infinite Corpse, a “chain” webcomic in which various creators tell the story of a skeleton’s crazy adventures by building off the three panels of the cartoonist who preceded them. The chains aren’t exactly linear, with the final website being more of a “choose your own adventure” story with branches going off in different directions.
“Each additional artist became a branch off of the original group … until it just became a fog of story lines a gigantic 205 artists were included when the website went live,” Renier explained on his blog. “And now, only a few months later we have over a hundred new artists sending in art. It’s open to submissions, just like the dry erase comic. It’s open to everyone who wants to do it. And open to all of those who already have gone before.”
Shiftylook, Namco Bandai’s webcomics venture, has inked a deal with Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie to create a dating-sim game, Namco High, that will allow players to mix and match characters from the different Namco Bandai games in a high-school environment.
There’s a pleasing symmetry to this alliance: Homestuck is a webcomic designed to look like an old computer game, complete with a cheesy home page that would be right at home on Geocities, and Shiftylook is a webcomics site that commissions writer-artist teams to make webcomics about characters from vintage Namco Bandai games from the 1980s and 1990s. I talked to the Shiftylook brass about their strategy at New York Comic Con; basically the idea is to build up a following for the characters and then bring them into other media, such as games and music.
As it did last year, Shiftylook set up shop across the street from the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con and offered an arcade where visitors could play Namco Bandai games for free. There was also an Adventure Time booth, selling merchandise from the popular animated and comics series, and a Homestuck booth, where Hussie himself made an appearance to sign autographs.
Oliver Twist meets Occupy Wall Street. That’s the most succinct way to describe the burgeoning comic series Bowery Boys by Ian Bertram and Cory Levine, and after years of it being hinted at online it’s now found a soapbox to tell its story: online for free.
Last week, the duo announced it will serialize the Bowery Boys graphic novel with three pages a week online at BoweryBoysComic.com beginning July 4. Described as “A New York Story,” Bowey Boys is set in 1850s Manhattan, where a group of young men try to reach the brass ring of the American Dream but face obstacles such as political corruption, street gangs, labor unions and rampant racism. At the center of this is Nikolaus McGovern, the only son for a God-fearing union leader who’s in deep over laborer’s rights, and the paths he crosses with politicians, businessmen and entrepreneurs. But in addition to that story, a big draw here is the art by Ian Bertram, a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Here’s a four-page sample of Bowery Boys:
Megatokyo blasted into the manga/webcomics scene in 2000 and quickly became established as one of the first successful non-Japanese manga — so successful that it was translated and published in Japan. The story of two clueless American otaku who go to Tokyo on a whim and have a series of increasingly absurd encounters with the locals, the webcomic picked up a following during the manga boom and apparently never lost it: Creator Fred Gallagher’s Kickstarter to make a visual novel version of Megatokyo has raised more than $130,000 (at this writing, it is at an evil 666 percent of the original $20,000 goal) in less than a week.
And in the Kickstarter pitch, Gallagher has another bit of news for Megatokyo fans: Dark Horse will publish an omnibus edition of the first three volumes later this year.
Do we need to start worrying about Cameron Stewart? Sure, he’s young, good-looking and incredibly talented, but he’s posted some autobiographical comics that suggest he’s heading rapidly toward a quarter-life crisis. They’re getting a lot of reblogs on Tumblr: predictably enough, the home of the “selfie” is going mad for a strip taking the mick out of the phenomena. As Stewart has drolly noted in his Twitter feed, “… so rewarding when the thing you draw mindlessly in 10 minutes is 1000 times more popular than anything you sweated over.”
Stewart will be at this weekend’s 2D Festival in Derry, Northern Ireland: Perhaps everybody there should give him a reassuring pat on the back, buy him a drink, and tell him it’s all going to be all right. Meanwhile, check out more of Stewart’s recent autobiographical comics binge below.
As part of its upfront presentations Monday in New York City, Fox screened a new trailer for Axe Cop, an adaptation of the hit webcomic by brothers Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle premiering July 27 as part of the network’s new late-night animated programming block.
If you’ve read the source material, or watched any of the previous teasers, you pretty much know what you’re in for with Axe Cop, although this trailer features Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman offering some wisdom for the ages: “I want you to listen very carefully: There is something even better than friends — killing the guy who killed your friends.”
Part of Animation Domination High-Def, Axe Cop also features the voice talents of Megan Mullally, Patton Oswalt, Ken Marino and Peter Serafinowicz. ADHD premieres Saturday, July 27 at 11 p.m. ET/PT.
For nearly two years, Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett the high-flying adventures of Lady Seneca Sabre in their twice-weekly webcomic, and now they’re looking to bring their special blend of steampunk, magic and the Wild West to print. To that end, the duo has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish the first five chapters of Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether in a 192-page hardcover collection.
Mere hours into the drive and they’re nearly halfway toward the $27,500 they need to pay for their initial 2,000-copy print run, plus shipping, Kickstarter fees, etc. So odds are, this project is going to get funded. Their pledge tiers a pretty reasonable, too, which may help to explain the campaign’s speedy progress; for instance, $30 gets you a copy of the book. Additional incentives include keychains, bookplates, an inscription from Brian Michael Bendis, and dinner at HeroesCon with the creators.
There’s a lot more information on the Kickstarter page. The campaign ends June 5.
I’ve seen this linked in the last couple of days at David Hine’s blog and Shaky Kane’s Facebook page: The Endless Coffin, wherein the blogger Inigo Saenz de Viguera takes the contents of Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 (the experiment in Burroughsian cut-up techniques that gained a certain notoriety in fanboy circles after this publicity stunt), and turns it into a genuinely disturbing psychedelic experience.
Who said the daily comic strip is dying? Whoever it was apparently didn’t tell The Shutterbug Follies cartoonist Jason Little, who recently launched his third serialized strip Borb.
In this new project, Little has dispensed with his titular photographer Bee from his previous two strips in favor of a mangy but lovable vagrant and a scratchy, black-and-white art style. Launched on March 18, new installments of Borb are released Monday through Saturday, with each week a story of its own.
Quietly launched on his blog BeeComix, Borb looks to be a mightily raucous piece of cartooning in both story and in style.
Tapastic is a new digital-comics platform that allows users to upload their comics to the Internet. That isn’t a new idea, and when Nina Kester, whom I first met when she was working with Archie, contacted me about it, my first question (asked and answered below) was “How is this different from SmackJeeves or Drunk Duck?” Well, I was a bit more polite than that.
One way to look at it is that Tapastic is webcomics sites 2.0. It’s sleeker, more polished, and it has venture capital funding, so someone is planning to make money from it. I asked Nina to explain what Tapastic is up to, talk about the plans for WonderCon, and recommend a couple of her favorite comics from the site.
ROBOT 6: What sets Tapastic apart from other webcomics sites?
Nina Kester: The first thing everyone notices about Tapastic in contrast with other comic websites is our design. Our CPO Daron Akira Hall’s minimalistic aesthetic for the site and Tapastic’s apps and his design of the user experience always tend to be the first “wow” because it makes the content look so attractive. In his own words, “the main focus for the overall design UI from my perspective has been to keep it simple and flat, not too colorful … in order to let the content shine through, keeping the focus on the art, etc.”
If you’ve been a comics fan for any significant amount of time, you’ll know that the people who work at and frequent comic shops are sometimes just as interesting as the titles you’re there to buy. With that in mind, cartoonist Jayson Kretzer has been doing a webcomic called Wannabe Heroes based on the exploits of a group of comic shop friends who find themselves with powers of their own. Oh, yeah, and a ninja bear.
Kretzer’s Wannabe Heroes has been running as a webcomic for several years, switching between humor about the unique subculture that is comic fandom and action-oriented exploits that include the aforementioned ninja bear. And now this month, Krezter is looking to take his creation to a new level — with some help from you. Kretzer has launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to raise $3,200 to publish a full-color first issue of a conceived four-issue Wannabe Heroes series containing all-new material. He’s already halfway to his goal.
Wannabe Heroes‘ webcomics are online now, and the first issue of Wannabe Heroes is set to be released in May.
Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of Nicholas Gurewitch as he is creating The Perry Bible Fellowship, or Andrew Hussie when he works on Homestuck? Check out the short (7:39) video The Rise of Webcomics, part of PBS’s “Off Book” series, that features interviews with Gurewitch, Hussie, Christina Xu (Breadpig), Sam Brown (Exploding Dog) and Lucy Knisley (Stop Paying Attention), along with snippets from lots of other webcomics.
It’s fast-paced and entertaining, and there are some interesting insights from the creators as well as some webcomics you may not have seen before.
Comics scholar Will Brooker (he’s a top expert on Batman) has taken a step over to the other side and started writing a superhero comic that veers pretty far from Gotham City. As he tells Alison Flood in an interview at The Guardian, his new comic My So-Called Secret Identity takes a “feminist approach from the ground up, in terms of story, character, artwork and production.”
That’s a nice idea but not much of a selling point. How about this: It’s a good story. The lead character is interesting, and the first issue draws you into her world, and then brings in a dramatic twist to hold your interest. Brooker’s writing is witty, and the art, by Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, is attractive and easy to “read” visually, something that is not always the case with superhero comics.
Lord knows, as a reader who rolls her eyes at most superheroines (and superheroes for that matter), I like the idea of what Brooker is doing, but Comics With Agendas seldom turn out well. Good comics are all about good stories, and good stories seldom fit neatly into ideological niches. This has the makings of a good story, and I would hate for the “feminist” selling point to be a turn-off for potential readers. I’d prefer see this comic presented as something new, rather than a pushback at a tired genre.
Admittedly, My So-Called Secret Identity uses many of the storytelling conventions of superhero comics—the paneling and the way the character is narrating the story from inside her head, for instance. There’s even a grim edge to Cat’s point of view, as she opines that in her city, if you’re not a celebrity or a superhero, you’re “little people.” But then on the next page she’s thinking about the scent of warm muffins and her favorite bookstore. I’ll go out on a limb here (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) and say that no one in Gotham City thinks about muffins.
Achewood cartoonist Chris Onstad is ready to take the next step with his insanely popular webcomic — clear to Hollywood. To that end, he’s debuted a 19-second clip showing Ray, Roast Beef and the others in animated form, the first step in what he hopes is the path to television.
“I’ve been working with a team of artists, engineers, and producers to bring Achewood to life,” Onstad wrote Sunday on his blog. “To give it the voices, richness, and opportunities it never had as a comic strip. [...] I’m flying to Los Angeles today to begin a week of network pitch meetings. If things go well, we’ll find a home for our show. Please cross your fingers for us, send us your good energy. And please, share this clip with your world. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”