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Goodbye, Black Brick Road

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What’s with all these Wizard of Oz adaptations these days? I can’t have been the only one who was taken for surprise when ads for an animated feature began popping up this year. Didn’t a Disney movie just come out that took visual cues from the 1939 classic?  Oz seems to be experiencing a Renaissance lately… though, really, it’s never gone out of style. It’s the American fairy tale, full of characters unique to the heart and soul of U.S. culture. Dorothy Gale even hails from Kansas, located smack dab in the middle of the country. Its main exports include wheat and heroes.

One of the latest attempts to reexamine the story is The Black Brick Road of O.Z. by Daria (who hails from Russia, pretty much the opposite side of the world as Dorothy’s Kansas). I know what you’re thinking: “The Black Brick Road of O.Z.? Sounds like yet another emo retelling of the Wizard of Oz story. How original. Do you collect those Todd McFarlane action figures too?”

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Derf ends his comic strip ‘The City’ after 24 years

The final installment of "The City"

The final installment of “The City”

Derf Backderf, creator of the acclaimed memoir My Friend Dahmer, has ended his weekly comic strip The City after 24 years.

“I’m ending the strip so I can concentrate full-time on graphic novels,” he announced today on his blog. “It’s all good. I’m not slinking away from a failed endeavor as a washed-up has-been. I’m leaving it behind in a blaze of glory, as a newly minted, internationally-best-selling comix creator. The past couple years have been the best of my career. After 30 years of toil as a (at best) cult favorite to suddenly find success? I’m loving every fucking minute of it! I simply no longer have the time, nor, quite frankly, the desire, to devote to The City. Typically, it takes almost two full workdays to write and draw one strip. That’s time better devoted to other projects.”

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Jeff Smith’s ‘Tüki’ will be published in full color

tukiOriginally solicited as black and white, the print edition of Jeff Smith’s Tüki: Save the Humans will instead be released in full color at the same $3.99 cover price.

According to the cartoonist, readers of the webcomic, which features gorgeous colors by Tom Gaadt, have been lobbying for the same treatment in print. “That’s what I hear over and over while I’m on the road at comic shows,” Smith said in a statement. “To which I say: It’s on!”

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‘The Guns of Shadow Valley’: Superheroes of the Wild West

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I’ve always loved the Wild West setting. It’s a world of arid landscapes with rocky canyons and flat horizons, where small communities composed of a few people are isolated from the comforts of an urban society. Interaction with fellow humans runs through the barest lines of transportation and communication, and they’re easily severed by bandits and the unforgiving forces of nature. The lack of electricity means pitch-black nights sometimes illuminated by the flickering glow of a campfire. The atmosphere is dominated by a sense of loneliness.

And despite how it’s typically depicted in old Hollywood movies, its population is also quite diverse. The native population still maintained a presence, settlers with European backgrounds are newly arrived to the area, resulting in a mix of people with Hispanic, African and Caucasian heritages. Chinese laborers have been brought in to lay down railroad tracks.

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Will there ever be another great sprite comic?

8-Bit Theater

8-Bit Theater

If you’ve ever done a random browse of webcomics over the past decade, chances are you ran into a sprite comic.

The sprite comic uses aesthetics from the early generations of video games, an era spanning the rise of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to the video game crash of 1983 to the rebirth under Mario and Mega Man once Nintendo came to dominate the market. The aesthetic itself has evolved and flourished in a variety of media. A lot of it is deeply rooted in nostalgia, as when Community aired an episode in which the characters are sprites in an ’80s-style RPG.

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‘Magical Game Time’: Video games are good

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Gamers have waged an ages-long battle against public perception that video games are detrimental to the world’s youth: They’re time wasters that promote anti-social habits and glorify violence. Gamers respond to that pressure in a variety of ways, with some  lashing out against their critics. That was true of several webcomics in the mid-2000s, which unleashed their invective anger on popular political targets. “Don’t f*** with us,” said one popular webcomic. Others reacted by calmly suggesting aspects that could be improved in gaming. The crew behind the Extra Credits series, for example, often examines positive aspects of gaming that can help elevate the form from its sometimes adolescent levels.

And then there’s Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time. If I were to divine a thesis from its comics, it would be “video games are good.”

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‘Gronk’: Moms raising monsters

2014-05-02There’s no better time than this weekend to remember your mom. (You … did remember it’s Mother’s Day, right? Don’t be an ungrateful punk. Pick of the phone and call her.) It’s a good time to recall all the things she’s done for you, like patching up your boo-boos, cleaning up after your messes, and all the other stuff chronicled on the pressed cardboard pulp of Hallmark cards.

It’s a tough and often thankless job … but it could be worse: Take, for instance, Katie Cook’s Gronk, which follows the adventures of a young mother whose child is a monster. A literal monster.

Dale is a young woman who lives in an isolated cabin deep in the woods of British Columbia. She loves her nerdy pursuits, and she works from home, but from what we can see she doesn’t socialize much. Everything changes when she encounters a young runaway chasing a kitten.

Gronk is a tiny green-skinned monster with blonde hair who doesn’t fit in with her kind: She’s too sweet and polite, and she’s terrible at being scary. She does, however, have a big imagination. After a monster rips up her beloved plushie, Gronk runs off … to the magical, far-off land of Canada.

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Check out Gerard Way’s webcomic ‘Twitter’

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While it’s not All Ages — or at least I don’t think it is — former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way has written and drawn another comic, and it stars anthropomorphized cats.

Created by the Umbrella Academy writer for The Talkhouse, “Twitter” is about, well, Twitter, featuring a cat who invites a stranger into his home, only to immediately regret the decision. It’s not a complicated allegory.

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‘Battlepug’: Big animals, bigger action … and a pug who battles

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DC Comics is said to have discovered in the late 1950s that placing a gorilla on the cover, no matter in what context increased sales. I propose an addendum for the digital age: If your comic features an animal that’s larger than it’s supposed to be, it’s going to win awards.

Granted, I only have one point of reference for this highly scientific observation: Mike Norton’s Battlepug. In 2012, Battlepug took home the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic; a year later, it won the Harvey Award for Best Online Work.

Not bad for characters that started life as a T-shirt that Norton designed for iFanboy.com.

The story of Battlepug is told by Moll, a naked, tattooed woman who lounges around a lot, to a pair of talking tiny dogs. While the combination of the seductive and adorable panders a little, a nagging feeling starts to gnaw on you as the story progresses. Questions fill your mind. Why are these three in a tall tower? Why are there no doors? How is food mysteriously appearing here? Why is Moll even telling this story? I know it’s basically a framing device, but as the story progresses you get a feeling that this tale is eventually going to intersect with the one about the oversized dog and the shirtless, sword-wielding barbarian on his back.

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‘JL8′: Kiddie Justice League, grown-up friendships

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Comic book romances can be downright embarrassing. In the Silver Age, Lois Lane spent all her time scheming to get married to Superman while sniping at her rival Lana Lang. During the Claremont years, the soap opera-caliber drama in Uncanny X-Men generated as much angst as the mutant-prejudice angle. It works because the audiences were, respectively, small children and teenagers. The potential embarrassment of rejection and the alien nature of girls or boys really is all you know about love at that age. As an adult, however, it’s hard not to read these comics and go, “Why are these adult characters all acting like a bunch of 8-year-olds?”

You know when it’s not quite so embarrassing? When the characters themselves are 8 years old. Yale Stewart’s JL8 (formerly known as Little League) envisions the members of the Justice League as little kids. I don’t know how he gets away with it, as DC Comics already has its own “superheroes as little kids” concept with Tiny Titans (the publisher doesn’t appear to mind, though, as the webcomic seems to have led to a deal for a Superman book). The characters of JL8 look less abstract, though, resembling characters in an ’80s Saturday morning cartoon. (Justice League Babies?) Or, perhaps even more appropriately, they all seem to have leaped off the same character sheet as Art Adams’ X-Babies.

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‘Unsounded’: Fantasy rebooted

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.19.53 PMMost of the time, high fantasy is set in a world based in historical Europe. There are some wonderful backdrops there — beautiful castles, scenic farmlands and thick forests; there’s also a big challenge to the setting, however: To retain the authenticity of its historical roots, most of the characters are typically depicted as Caucasian. You can perhaps create diversity by using standard Tolkien races (dwarves, elves, orcs and such), but usually the common, everyday people often look like the same kinds encountered in Arthurian legend or a Robin Hood story.

One of the most remarkable things about Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is how she twists the formula of the typical fantasy setting. Most of the characters, for example, seem to be of African descent. How do the people of Cresce look like when dressed in Renaissance-fair garb? Pretty darned cool, it turns out. Their hairstyles are a little modern, but that’s been a problem with a lot of high fantasy.

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‘Savage Chickens’: Office humor on office supplies

chickenweekendAh, Post-it notes. Legend says they was created by accident: Spenser Silver was tasked by 3M to create a super-strong adhesive, and in a folly that would rock the office world to the core, he created the exact opposite, a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive. That invention would go on to grace the backs of small scraps of paper all over the world.

Post-it notes come in all sizes and colors these days; on my desk are blue, green, orange and hot pink Post-it notes ranging in sizes from as small as 2 inches by 2 inches to as large as 4 inches by 6 inches … although I’m told even bigger sizes exist. Still, the color and size immediately recalled when you hear “Post-it note” is the standard, pale yellow 3-inch square.

Post-it notes serve a variety of purposes: You can fold them into a paper airplane, you can paper them on your window as a tribute to Super Mario Bros., and sometimes you can take notes on them. What Doug Savage does, however, is turn them into a long-running webcomic, Savage Chickens.

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‘Saga,’ ‘xkcd’ among 2014 Hugo Awards finalists

saga-v2The finalists were announced today for the 2014 Hugo Awards, which recognize the best in science fiction and fantasy.

Presented annually since 1955 by the World Science Fiction Society, the Hugo is among science fiction’s most prestigious awards. The winners will be presented Aug. 17 in London during Loncon 3. The nominees for best graphic story are:

Girl Genius, Vol. 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, by Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio and Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
•  “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who,” by Paul Cornell and  Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW Publishing)
The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
Saga, Vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics )
“Time,” Randall Munroe (xkcd)

In addition, Staples and Daniel Dos Santos, whose work includes covers for Fables, Serenity: Leaves in the Wind and Tomb Raider, were nominated for best professional artist.

The first volume of Saga won the best graphic story category last year.

Natalie Nourigat makes a good case for global travel

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If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad but were afraid something bad might happen, A Boy & A Girl artist Natalie Nourigat makes the case for just going for it in her webcomic Home Is Where The Internet Is.

Over the past year Nourigat has shared both comic strips and blog posts about her travels through Europe, but this latest strip stands out as less of a travelogue and more of a motivational speech.

“For most of my life, my everyday choices were based on the assumption that I could not trust other people,” she wrote. “I thought it was my job to foresee and prevent all harms from befalling me.” As she got older, though, she said she accepted two simple facts: everybody dies, and “I would like to live a little first.”

It’s a great strip, and if you’ve ever thought twice about international travel, it might make you think a third time.

Webcomics are for the children

Camp WheedonwantchaThe comic strip/webcomic documentary Stripped opens with an idyllic scene straight out of the Hallmark Channel. A little girl runs into the kitchen and sits on her father’s lap; he opens a newspaper, and together, they flip to the Sunday funnies, a well-remembered moment of childhood made possible by the magic of comic strips. It’s a scene that rings true, because many viewers have had similar experiences. Maybe you weren’t sitting on your father’s lap; maybe you just ripped through the paper, trying to separate the cartoons from the classifieds. Anything to get at those comic strips.

It’s a scene that may accidentally have put a chink into the “webcomics are the future of the newspaper comic strip” argument.

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