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Comic strip fans, rejoice! Universal Uclick’s GoComics has debuted a free app that enables you to read comics on your mobile phone or tablet. While Doonesbury, Peanuts, Pearls Before Swine and The Boondocks are among the offerings, it’s Calvin and Hobbes that undoubtedly will generate the most excitement.
Slate.com‘s Will Oremus notes that it appears to be the first time Bill Watterson’s beloved strip has appeared (legally) on mobile devices; presumably it’s with the cartoonist’s blessing. However, while Gary Larson’s Far Side would seem perfect for phones, he’s yet to make the leap to digital.
I’m not going to mince words, the comedy that fuels Cyanide & Happiness is not for everyone. The webcomic which launched in 2004, is effectively characterized in the opening paragraph of Brigid Alverson’s recent Unbound review: “The Cyanide & Happiness formula is pretty simple: Stick men (and women) do shocking things to one another. There are four different artists, but the style and humor are fairly uniform; a situation is set up in the first panel and resolved, by stabbing, boob-grabbing, or shouting ‘You have cancer! LOL!’ in the last. My kids love this comic, because it’s what teenagers are all about: Working your way through every possible taboo, in public. So in C&H we have Seizure-Man falling down and frothing at the mouth, bungee-jumping childbirth, and lots and lots of stabbing.”
If that description gives you pause, I would advise you skip this interview. But if it doesn’t give you pause, jump on ahead. Last month, It Books released a collection that “highlights 150 of the best comics, including 30 brand-new strips, each packed with inappropriate jokes, irreverent characters, and deviant behavior, guaranteed to leave you laughing despite the gnawing guilt.” The strips are created by four different writers/illustrators who “live all over the world — Kris Wilson in Fort Bridger, Wyoming; Matt Melvin in San Diego, California; Rob DenBleyker in Dallas, Texas; and Dave McElfatrick in Belfast, Northern Ireland”. I was able to interview Dave, Kris and Matt via email. Before jumping in, though, I have to apologize to our female readership and the creators for my ignorant assumption (in one question) that the audience for this work was predominantly male.
Tim O’Shea: How do you develop a sense for when the shock value of the joke outweighs or obscures the comedy of the strip?
Dave: You don’t, really. You just kinda go with what you think is funny, and if that involves either something shocking or something incredibly tame, you go for it. We don’t focus on shock value, we just go with what makes us laugh.
Kris: The humor has to come first. It’s not as if we’re trying to offend people. More often than not, people just get offended at what’s funny.
Over the past few months, I’ve been introducing my son to the wonder of Calvin and Hobbes, the nationally syndicated comic strip that ran from 1985 to 1995. So creator Bill Watterson was already on my mind, when I gained access to a preview of Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. The book aims to trace “the life and career of the extraordinary, influential, and intensely private man behind Calvin and Hobbes”. In this new email interview, Martell and I get a chance to discuss the ground he covers in the book and the folks he got to interview in his pursuit.
Tim O’Shea: You did some advanced marketing of the book a few months back by releasing the first chapter of the book for free upon request. Did you find that helped generate buzz for the project?
Nevin Martell: The free chapter giveaway turned into an insane bonanza of buzz, which, frankly, I was totally unprepared for. My publishers told me that super successful versions of this kind of promotion in the past had garnered a couple of hundred requests. But then the offer got written up by BoingBoing and NPR, not to mention a slew of comic-related blogs and the Twittersphere, so suddenly I had hundreds of requests pouring in. Since I was initially answering all these requests individually, it turned into three days of hitting reply, attaching a file, writing a quick note, and then repeating. Ultimately over 4,000 people requested the chapter, which just blew my mind. Actually, my mind is still blown.