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.
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.”