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Halloween seems like a particularly appropriate day to write about Sam Costello’s Split Lip, not only because the webcomics he writes are horror works of the most uncanny sort, but also because the website itself has just risen from the dead.
Costello decided to shut down Split Lip two and a half years ago, citing financial and creative reasons. He wrote about the grim financial picture even before that, but he’s always been one to not only talk about his mistakes but also learn from them. When I ran into him in August at Boston Comic Con, he told me he was relaunching the site and had reprinted the graphic novels as well with a new approach. The relaunch happened this week, just in time for Halloween, and I took the opportunity to ask him what happened during his hiatus — and what has changed since 2012.
Emily Carroll, who chilled us with such haunting webcomics as “His Face All Red,” “Margot’s Room,” “Out of Skin” and “The Hole the Fox Did Make,” is back with some Halloween thrills with “When the Darkness Presses.” She explains it as a comic “about being haunted,” so we’ll just leave it at that.
Premiering in August, King Maul centers on a savage warrior (named King Maul, of course) who burst out of a portal in space with ominous narrative boxes dubbing him a conqueror, destroyer and creator of an empire. His first battle, with an unnamed green-skinned alien, is less Conan the Barbarian and more WWE Raw — in a good way. In early episodes, fighting is briefly delayed when Maul is offered to smoke a mysterious substance, only to be renewed with his newly established battle cry of “Baaaaaaaaaaallllllssss.”
“Thank you all for coming this far with me!” the cartoonist wrote on her website. “It’s been amazing journey. You’ve all been truly spectacular. I couldn’t have asked for better readers.”
Long, long ago there was a little movie called Star Wars, and it and its two sequels became the highest-grossing movies of all time. Yet, there was a time the interstellar saga wasn’t quite as mighty a pop culture juggernaut as it is today. Some time between President Reagan’s “Star Wars” SDI initiative and Lucas’ CG retooling of his cinematic babies, Star Wars existed primarily in the books, comics and video games that made up the Expanded Universe. Star Wars was a nerdier pursuit, when the true fans followed the adventures of Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn.
Since the prequel trilogy, Star Wars has barreled back into the mainstream like a hungry Rancor. Merchandise depicting Darth Vader, Yoda and newcomers named Asajj Ventress and Savage Oppress peek from the shelves of every Toys R Us, Walmart and FYE.
If there’s something Star Wars fans love to do, however, it’s laugh at themselves: For example, Jeffrey Brown has released three books that play around with the idea of Darth Vader as a doting father. Darths & Droids, meanwhile, has turned screenshots of the Star Wars saga into a long role-playing game.
After four years and an Eisner nomination, Ben Towles’ Oyster War is coming to an end. The webomic is based on an obscure chapter in American history, in which oyster pirates and legal fishermen fought over the rights to the harvest in Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. (Apparently, oysters used to be much larger and way cheaper before overfishing devastated the entire industry.) Don’t expect a straight history lesson, however: Towles’ version is visually more cartoon; he also embellishes his story with some fantastical elements, like a witch who turns into a seal, and a sea monster.
The old-school aesthetic of Oyster War recalls a style popular during the early 20th century, and the seaside town of Blood’s Haven, with its narrow corridors and piers that stretch past the shore, resembles Thimble Theatre‘s Sweethaven. While backgrounds are simple and minimalistic, close-ups are lovingly textured. The characters are simple cartoony designs: bulbous noses, brush-like mustaches, block-shaped heads and stocky bodies.
Legal | A conference has been scheduled for Oct. 27 in San Diego to discuss a possible settlement in the trademark dispute between Comic-Con International and Salt Lake Comic Con regarding the latter’s use of “Comic Con.” Comic-Con International filed lawsuit last month, claiming Salt Lake organizers are attempting to “confuse and deceive” fans and exhibitors with their use of the term. Salt Lake Comic Con formally responded on Monday, denying those accusations and asking a federal court to find Comic-Con International’s trademarks invalid. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
Banned Books Week | Reporter Sydney Gillette gets the local angle on Banned Books Week, talking with a local comics retailer and a librarian. While Missoula, Montana, has very few book challenges, the most recent one at the public library involved a graphic novel, The Furry Trap, by Josh Simmons. Neither the public libraries nor the schools in the area have ever removed a book in response to a challenge. [Montana Kaimin]
The influence behind Sean Lindsay’s Spinnerette should be pretty obvious — after all, the webcomic is about a young superhero with spider-based superpowers. Another dead giveaway is her original costume, which looks like something nicked from Julia Carpenter’s wardrobe. (In story, it’s because she bought some Venom costumes.) Lindsay has a bit of a laugh about that, as he includes a sequence in which Spinnerette receives a cease-and-desist letter from Marvel.
An accident with an experimental laser gives Heather Brown incredible muscle tone, two extra sets of arms and web-shooting abilities. Inconveniently, the latter is anatomically correct and webbing comes right out of her butt. The extra arms are a bit of a problem, too, as they certainly prove problematic to her secret identity. To hide her arms, she must wear a fat suit.
Superhero webcomics have generally been tongue-in-cheek, following less in the footsteps of Jack Kirby and more in the superhero-parody vein of Ben Edlund. Spinnerette is no exception; it’s unapologetically up to its ears in cheesecake. If male gaze is a sticking point for you, then you’ll probably find a lot to complain about. However, it almost becomes a joke in itself. There is, for example, one supervillain whose main characteristic is being ridiculously stacked (and given that this is Spinnerette we’re talking about, that’s saying something).
Once upon a time, during the imaginatively fertile period known as the Monday Night Wars, my sister described pro wrestling to me as superheroes … except in real life! Truly, she knew where my passions lay.
Yet, I was skeptical. What was the appeal of a sport that everyone already knew was (SPOILER ALERT!) totally fake. I decided to take her up on her ostentatious claim and caught an episode of WCW Thunder. While I can’t say she was 100 percent correct, she got me hooked on wrestling for life. There was a lot of elements that did cross over: the colorful costumes, the larger-than-life gimmicks, and the bombastic hero and villain speeches. Comics may have gravitated away from the era in which every speech bubble ended in an exclamation point, but wrestling never grew up.
Historically, the backstage realities (called “shoots”) and the scripted stories (called “kayfabe”) have been kept separate, with the former only made known through sketchy publications nicknamed “dirtsheets.” You’d think that, with the rise of the Internet and the availability of information, wrestling would become a relic of the past. Instead, it remains popular. It may actually be a better fit in this decade, as almost all of reality television now treads the same blurry line between “fact” and fiction. When Lina approaches the Rana King on NBC’s The Quest, for example, is it a shoot or a kayfabe? Even more insidiously, wrestling has found a way to fake viewer participation, aka the kayfabe of the digital age.
The winners of the 10th annual Joe Shuster Awards were announced Saturday in Toronto. Named in honor of Toronto-born artist Joe Shuster, co-creator Superman, the awards recognize the best of the Canadian comics world.
In addition to the traditional awards, this year’s event included the introduction of the T.M. Maple Award, which honors “someone (living or deceased) selected from the Canadian comics community for achievements made outside of the creative and retail categories who have had a positive impact on the community.” The first recipients were the late Jim Burke, aka T.M. Maple, who wrote more than 3,000 letters to comic book letter columns between 1977 and 1994, and the late Debra Jane Shelly, longtime volunteer at Toronto conventions and comics events.
The winners are listed in bold below. The Beat has photos and audio from the ceremony, held at Back Space Toronto.
There’s a theory that the American obsession with the apocalypse stems from Manifest Destiny: As settlers pushed west, they encountered things that would strain the threads tying them to civilization. Storms rolling across the flat plains could be seen from man miles away, and they posed a considerable threat to the livelihoods of entire communities. During the pitch-black night, there would be ominous noises — frightening howls, thunderclaps, maybe even the unexpected sound of a human voice.
There would be precious few things you can do in a world where law is stretched thin, except keep a well-stocked cellar and a loaded shotgun.
That may explain why a lot of North American post-apocalyptic fiction tends to look like the Wild West. While we may think we’re too cool for cowboys and Indians, it may have just morphed to satisfy the primal survival instincts of modern thrill-seekers. After all, aren’t armored, nomadic warlords just bandits and desperadoes with a shiny new coat of paint? It’s probably no accident that The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes dressed a lot like a frontier sheriff, or why the women in Katniss Everdeen’s district look as if they stepped out of a little house on the prairie.
Creators | Cartoonist Roz Chast talks about her memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? landing on the 2014 longlist for 2014 National Book Award. It’s the first time a graphic novel has been nominated in that category, and Chast is the only woman on this year’s list. When The Wall Street Journal noted that, between this nomination and Alison Bechdel’s MacArthur “genius grant,” “it’s a good day to be a female cartoonist,” Chast replied, “I totally agree. Actually my first thought was just it’s good for cartoons, for the graphic form.” [Speakeasy]
Creators | Alex de Campi talks about her pioneering digital comic Valentine, widely regarded as the first long-form comic to make extensive use of digital techniques. She doesn’t think the medium has come too far since then: “We’re all still in the shallow end, congratulating each other for getting our feet wet. There’s been no significant innovation since us. The DC and Marvel stuff is still based on half-page increments so it can go to print. The Madefire stuff I have seen (not a lot, maybe it’s gotten better) is just embarrassing motion comics. It pisses me off because there is so much more to be done. And I want to do it. But it would take an investor, or a very daring multi-media entertainment company. And big entertainment companies are many things, but daring is not one of them.” [Digital Spy]
A group of Jewish activists is threatening to boycott and protest outside stores in the London borough of Camden that sell Hipster Hitler, a collection of the webcomic that satirizes hipster culture and the Third Reich.
If that doesn’t work, the Hampstead & Highgate Express reports, members of London Stands With Israel plan to buy and shred all copies of the comic, which some say is “sick” and “anti-Semitic.” They’re specifically targeting Mega City Comics, a Jewish-owned store in Camden Town.
Created in 2010 by James Carr and Archana Kumar, the webcomic stars an Adolf Hitler who wears trendy glasses, skinny jeans, thrift-store sweaters and shirts bearing slogans like “Eastside Westside Genocide,” “I (Heart) Juice” and “Death Camp For Cutie.” It also features characters like Broseph Stalin, a sendup of the Soviet leader. Hipster Hitler quickly drew attention on Reddit, inspiring an Internet meme, T-shirts and homemade Halloween costumes.
After years of working on anthologies and as a concept artist, Nicholas Kole is looking to make a name for himself … with jelly.
The Rhode Island artist recently launched Jellybots, a webcomic about a boy named Sam who’s enrolled by his family in a prestigious school called the Frontier Academy. Not much else is known about the series, given that it’s just six pages into its run, but the concept material and pin-up art show Sam interacting with supernatural, whimsical and fluid jellyfish.
The female heroes of Kate Ashwin’s Widdershins share a lot of personality traits. Harriet “Harry” Barber, for example, is a cool, collected bounty hunter of the pre-Victorian era who’s often shown pondering a mystery while puffing smoke from her pipe. She’s also a bit of a loner; her face is frequently twisted in a tired scowl, and there’s a slight bags under her eyes. There’s a little bit of Rorschach in her, too, as interesting clues are greeted with a “hrm.” She’s definitely the smartest person in the room, but she’s also proud. Her reluctance to accept any help is driven, partially, by her need to prove that she and she alone solved the case.