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Revisiting Fleischer Studios’ monumental ‘Mechanical Monsters’

superman-mechanical monsters

I recently had the pleasure of rewatching The Mechanical Monsters, the 1941 animated Superman short from Fleischer Studios. I viewed it once before in the early ’90s on a cheap video tape that virtually disintegrated after just three uses. However, we’re in the new millennium now, and thanks to the dual magic of public domain and YouTube, the Fleischer cartoons are easily accessible for free in the comfort of your own home.

Do remember the “Beware the Gray Ghost” episode of Batman: The Animated Series? Bruce Wayne watches an old serial starring his childhood hero Simon Trent (voiced, in a stroke of genius, by none other than Adam West).  He’s suddenly transformed into a little kid again, with all the cynicism of adulthood melting away. That was me watching the Fleischer Superman cartoons. I’d searched for these videos for analytical purposes, but instead I walked away with words like “Wow!” and “Gee whiz!” popping into my head.

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‘Lackadaisy': Aged like fine bootleg moonshine

1203881945One of the oldest and most highly acclaimed funny animal webcomics is Tracy J. Butler’s Lackadaisy. With origins dating as far back as 1994, when Butler created characters Rocky and Mitzi while still in high school, Lackadaisy took to the Internet in 2006, and has gone on to win several awards, including the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards and the Ursa Major awards. It was also nominated in 2011 for an Eisner for Best Digital Comic.

Lackadaisy also has one of the slowest update schedules. As with many creators, the webcomic is not the artist’s primary occupation. She’s a digital artist who works on video games, and she updates as often as she can. How often? Well, the last page was updated in April, and the current rate seems to be three to four pages a year.

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Comics A.M. | Warner Bros. plans buyouts, possible layoffs

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Business | DC Entertainment parent company Warner Bros. is expected to offer buyouts to an unspecified number of employees as part of an effort to increase profits following a disappointing summer at the box office. The cuts are thought to be spread across the film, television and home entertainment units; if not enough workers accept buyouts, unnamed sources contend the studio may resort to layoffs. Warner Bros. wouldn’t comment on the report. [Bloomberg]

Legal | Hirofumi Watanabe has filed an appeal in Tokyo District Court, seeking to overturn his conviction on charges of sending threatening letters to venues and retailers linked to the Kuroko’s Basketball manga and anime series. Watanabe admitted to all the charges on his first day in court, and after he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, he said, “I’m glad to accept the ruling so I can live over four years in prison,” so this is a reversal for him. [Anime News Network]

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‘Let’s Speak English': One cartoonist’s adventures in teaching

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 8.38.45 PMIf you’ve heard of Mary Cagle, it’s probably because of her webcomic Kiwi Blitz. It draws influences from a lot of anime — rather old-school ones, in fact. Some characters look as if they’ve stepped out of one of Leiji Matsumoto’s space operas. Others are more familiar: The main character Steffi looks a little like a young Nurse Joy from Pokemon, with pink hair that curls into tidy cinnamon buns at the shoulders.

In a way, Kiwi Blitz is sort of ahead of the current obsession with Americanized Japanese mecha. (Eat your heart out, Big Hero 6!) It’s had cheerful teenagers piloting robots to protect a futuristic New York City since 2009. I haven’t read this webcomic yet; the archives are a little daunting (although I do plan to wade in at some point). However, what I’ve seen looks delightful.

Cagle’s affection for Japanese pop culture extends beyond the typical otaku obsessions, however. The native Texan is also an English teacher at an elementary school in Kurihara, Japan, and in November 2013, she began illustrating her experiences living and teaching overseas. She has since collected these slice-of-life snippets in her autobiographical webcomic Let’s Speak English.

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Comics A.M. | A look at the diversity of the Batman family

Batwoman #32

Batwoman #32

Comics | Writing for The Advocate, Jase Peeples takes note of the diversity of DC Comics’ extended Batman family — from Batwoman to Batwing to Barbara Gordon’s roommate Alysia Yeoh — and talks with writers Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, Marc Andreyko, Tom Taylor and Chip Kidd. “I would like to think that people can pick up books like Batman Incorporated or The Multiversity and see their own lives reflected,” Morrison says. “But I’d always caveat that with the need for us to see more diverse writers and artists, because that’s when I think the walls will really come down. As a straight [white guy from Scotland] I can only do so much, and I find even sometimes when you do this, you do get accused of tokenism or pandering. I don’t mind it. I can put up with that, but I’d rather see a genuine spread of writers and artists creating this material.” [Advocate.com]

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‘Manly Men': I gotta be a macho

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As we get deeper into the new millennium, it becomes more apparent that the traditional concept of manliness is a bit of a joke. Consider, if you please, the mustache: The great status symbol of distinguished manhood can now be found as an adorable print on Band-Aids stocked in the same aisle as the Hello Kittys. Consider, too, that PBS once aired a special that unironically asked, “Are bronies changing the definition of masculinity?” We’ve come to the point where once-popular portrayals of manly men like Paul Bunyan and John Wayne come off as buffoonish and comical.

Manly Men Doing Many Things is fill with many manly things.  There are pecs, chest hairs, bulging biceps, bold jawlines, strong brows, slicked-back hairstyles, six-pack abs, disdaining sneers, bugged-out eyes, and a general air of brute force. There’s plenty of flexing, grunting and lumberjacking, too. Their faces are scarred and severe, as if they were chainsaw sculptures brought to life by black magic (the manliest of magic).  You expect them to be chewing tobacco … or a toothpick, at least.

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Webcomics, sports and fandom

The Draw Play, by Dave Rappoccio

The Draw Play, by Dave Rappoccio

While sports aren’t foreign to webcomics, they are a rarity. Usually when the subject is raised, it’s as some made-up game invented for absurdity — like, I don’t know, using a frog as a ball or something.

The most successful sports comics, including those depicted in manga and in the webcomic Hoopfighter, tend to ramp up the action to levels that aren’t actually seen in the sport itself. Have you ever wanted to see Shaquille O’Neal knee a dude in a face during a basketball game? Well, it’s possible in comics!

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‘Camp Weedonwantcha’ and the horrors of summer camp

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Veteran animator Katie Rice walked away the winner of last year’s Strip Search online reality show. Her reward: a plum spot on the front page of the highly trafficked Penny Arcade site.

It’s a curious fit, as Penny Arcade is known for video games: It has a popular gaming comic, a highly attended gaming expo and a charity that gifts video games to kids in hospitals. Camp Weedonwantcha, on the other hand, is about summer camp. Can there be a bigger contrast?

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Adventure awaits in ‘Latchkey Kingdom’

16b578303U6qoWebcomic creator Nick Daniel established the sprawling world of Lagend in 70 Seas. The fantasy world was a mishmash of European, Middle Eastern and Asian influences and populated by furry characters that were closer to the Sonic the Hedgehog end of the spectrum: big eyes, cartoony features, and fur with the consistency of unwashed carpet. They were also quite active, zipping across the page with a spirit of bravado and derring-do.

70 Seas ended in August 2013, but Daniel returns to Lagend with a new webcomic, Latchkey Kingdom. While that world was never meant to be taken all that seriously, Latchkey Kingdom ramps up the goofiness to the next level. It should become pretty obvious with its initial story arc, “Jinx.” That title, by the way, rhymes with a famous pop-culture icon. Want to take a guess? I’ll give you one paragraph.

The main character of Latchkey Kingdom is a resourceful adventurer named Willa Dragonfly. We see her wandering dark dungeon corridors in search of treasure. Her costume is quite notable, as she’s dressed in a familiar green jerkin with a shield adorned with the symbol of a bisected triangle. (Have you caught on to the reference yet?) We watch her as she’s annoyed by a glowing being who chirps “Listen!” all the time, and she does a dramatic pose when acquiring new stuff, while a dialogue box hovers nearby. (Still guessing?) And if that’s not enough of a tip-off, there’s the familiar retro logo of Latchkey Kingdom itself, which looks like it belongs on a shiny gold box.

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Comics A.M. | Man accused in Tokyo store theft turns himself in

"Tetsujin-28 go" figure

“Tetsujin-28 go” figure

Crime | Kazutoshi Iwama, the 50-year-old man accused of shoplifting a Tetsujin-28 go figure worth more than $2,400 from a Mandarake store in Tokyo, has turned himself in to police. The theft became a matter of high public interest when Mandarake posted a security-camera photo of the man, with his face pixelated, and threatened to show his face if he didn’t return the figure by Aug. 12. The stunt attracted scores of journalists to the store, but Iwama reportedly told police he wasn’t aware of the threat until after he sold the figure to a secondhand store … for about $623. [Anime News Network, The Japan Times]

Publishing | Alex Segura, senior vice president of publicity and marketing for Archie Comics and editor of the newly renamed Dark Circle superhero line, talks about where the comics are coming from, what to expect — and his new dual role at Archie: “Usually, I’m the PR guy collecting the information from editorial and deciding how to announce it. Now, I was the editor getting the details together for the PR guy to announce and basically having conversations with myself. I’m exaggerating slightly.” [13th Dimension]

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‘Agents of the Realm': She is the one named Sailor Norah

Screenshot 2014-08-17 19.23.26The Americanization of Japanese properties isn’t a new thing — in fact, it’s a time-honored tradition. Ever since Raymond Burr was inserted into the original Godzilla, there’s a history of cultural sharing on both sides of the Pacific.

Perhaps someone’s mixing the Japanese series Super Sentai to form a popular new show about teenagers with attitude on American shores. Or maybe there’s a North American company somewhere that used the familiar visuals of cyberpunk anime like Ghost in the Shell for its third-person action game. The style and high-octane action of anime and manga are alluring. However, few created in the Western world manage to gain any traction … although that never stops the passionate fans from trying to recapture the magic with their own works.

Mildred Louis’ Agents of the Realm doesn’t, at a glance, look like it was inspired by manga. Her style bears more similarity to the Hernandez brothers than to the dewy-eyed teens who populate most shoujo titles. The characters don’t look like elegant models, but rather like harried, exhausted college students. Also, none seems Caucasian. Our main character, Norah Tanner, is of African heritage, and a role call of the class reveals that most everyone, aside from some vaguely drawn background characters, is non-white. That’s not only a departure for the magical girl subgenre, but for comics in general.

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Randall Munroe’s ‘Time’ wins Hugo Award

xkcd

Randall Munroe’s xkcd epic “Time” won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, presented Sunday in London as part of Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention.

Presented annually since 1955 by the World Science Fiction Society, the Hugo is among science fiction’s most prestigious awards.

Author Cory Doctorow accepted on the award on Munroe’s behalf, and donned a cape and goggles at the cartoonist’s request. According to io9.com, Munroe’s speech indicated he’d asked Doctorow to read it as one word per hour, reflecting the pace of the animated comic, which updated initially ever half-hour and then every hour over the course of 123 days. (The story has its own Wikipedia entry.)

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Cunningham delivers a message of hope after unexpected tragedy

Suicide-bridge-tease

[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

The unexpected death of Robin Williams was shocking enough, but the news that it was suicide was a punch to the gut.

For better or for worse (and it can work both ways), we look for redemption in tragedies. As soon as the news got out, people started sharing information about suicide help lines on Twitter and Facebook, and as the week went on, many people used the moment to reflect publicly on their own struggles with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

In that context, I really appreciated “You Might as Well Live,” the little cartoon Darryl Cunningham posted this week: He depicts a man who realizes, in the split second after jumping off a bridge, that he has made a terrible mistake: “All the actions he had taken in his life were fixable, he realised, except for the action he’d just taken.”

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‘Alice and the Nightmare': Follow the brown rabbit

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It seems like alternate versions of Alice in Wonderland will be created until the heat death of the universe. Ever since Lewis Carroll wrote the story of a little girl who follows a jittery white rabbit down a hole, it seems as if everybody wants to put their unique stamp on her sometimes-haunting adventures.

Director Tim Burton, for example, turned Wonderland — sorry, Underland — into an epic battlefield where rival queens commanded armies as vast as the ones found in The Lord of the Rings. The Jabberwocky, originally just a character in a nonsense poem (and imaginatively illustrated by John Tenniel), is upgraded to boss battle status that must be defeated with the legendary vorpal blade. Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars novels (which had spun off a comic called Hatter M) sees Alice — I’m sorry, Alyss — as a princess of Wonderland who’s a fierce warrior in combat. Alice has been upgraded from wide-eyed little girl to a vengeful Valkyrie.

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‘Tove': Get ready for adventure

1401522593-tove_cp001_pg001This webcomic probably sold me on the giant dog. Severin Piehl’s Tove is a kid-friendly adventure story that looks like it should be airing on Nickelodeon. There are two bratty kids, an explorer father and, of course, a giant fluffy dog. The cover of Tove is already tantalizing enough, with the dog, named Cranberry, carrying a heavy load like a pack mule while the two kids, Tove and Dag, dance on his back. It’s super-charming.

This is shaping up to be Tove’s story (she’s the title character, after all), Both kids are active and ready for adventure, but Tove is the one with the super-strength, as she’s been carrying Cranberry since he was a pup. She’s also the more mature one. Her brother Dag isn’t quite as blessed when it comes to abilities. He is, however, highly competitive, and not at all happy when he has to play second fiddle to his more capable sister.

Their dad is sort of a Dr. Benton Quest type, a hands-on scientist who’s sometimes too wrapped up in his work to see what shenanigans his kids are engaged in. He brings them with him to a remote jungle to do some research on an exotic flower. The kids, however, discover something even cooler: After horsing around, Tove and Dag stumble across an alien spaceship. Among her other abilities, Tove is also something of a gearhead, so the discovery of a potentially working engine makes her excited. Dag, on the other hand, is immediately bored. He wants to see guns and gadgets, so he finds it all very thrilling when they come across the corpse of a saurian alien skeleton.

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