Episode 34: Do Toy with My Affections with Erika Moen

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Erika Moen has been drawing comics since she was a teenager, and found online success with DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary while working full-time jobs. Fortunately, she was laid off, and moved into new chapters of her life, which included an appearance on the Web reality show Strip Search (from Penny Arcade) and the launch this year of Oh Joy Sex Toy, a regularly appearing comic that reviews and recommends adult paraphernalia. We talk about her career and how the Oh Joy project has consumed all of her time and some of her husband's. (This episode contains frank discussions of sex toys and sexuality, a few obscenities, and is marked explicit on iTunes.)

On Twitter, find Erika at @ErikaMoen and her comic at @OhJoySexToy.

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Show Notes

Erika remembers The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, which is out of print, but used copies are available. Her first "adult" comic, past Archie and the gang, was Bone, which is an extensive series of interrelated stories by Jeff Smith.

Erika likes Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto, reads PvP by Scott R. Kurtz every day, follows the adventures of Family Man by Dylan Meconis, and enjoys Cardigan Weather by Amy T. Falcone. (Dylan also collaborates with Kurtz on PvP.) Kurtz and Penny Arcade co-produce The Trenches.

When Erika launches a Kickstarter, she is determined to not offer tons of tchotchkes. In Episode 25, Jonathan Coulton and Greg Pak discuss how they tried to limit the quantity of physical rewards, but still misjudged. And Matt Bors described, in Episode 29, how much effort it was to get all the stuff out the door for his successful Kickstarter.

DAR ran its course and finished up in late 2009 with what Erika calls the most self-revelatory installment of the series. She released two books that comprise the entire run. After DAR, she worked on Bucko with Jeff Parker, which is now available as a book, too. Oh Joy Sex Toy occupies all of her time currently.

One reason Erika wanted on Strip Search was to meet impresario Robert Khoo, who is widely considered to be a business genius. He approached the two fellows behind the Penny Arcade comic, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, to build their strip into what's become an empire of conventions, a charity, Web reality TV shows, and a gaming news site, among other things. Erika drew a strip about being eliminated from the show and meeting Khoo.

Erika is part of a loose collective of comic artists called Periscope Studio, in which everyone does their own thing, but also can turn into a colonial organism for projects. Max Temkin discussed in Episode 27 how he forms a new company for every project he engages in, as it always involves a different group of people.

Sarah Mirk is coming out with a book, Sex from Scratch, that looks at the baroqueness of relationships. She and the previously mentioned Matt Bors (both of whom, also live in Portland know Erika) worked together on an excerpt for Symbolia magazine.

Episode 29: Matt Bors: The Pen Is Mightier

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Matt Bors is an independent political cartoonist. He's never had a staff job, and he's never drawn a banker holding bags of money where the banker is labeled "banker" in capital letters and the bags of money have giant dollar signs on them. You've certainly seen Matt's work before, but you may not have known that he created it. You'll recognize his style when you visit his site. Matt joins me from Portland, Oregon, to talk about his whole career with a special focus on the last year and a half.

Find him on Twitter @mattbors.

Show Notes

Herbert Block (Herblock) was a subversive and unrestrained political cartoonist active from 1929 to 2001! He coined the term McCarthyism. He funded a foundation that awards $15,000 to an awardee and $5,000 to a finalist (and pays for the taxes, too, so that's a net amount).

Comic strips were traditionally and still largely are distributed by syndicates that contract a large number of cartoonists and sell the strips to newspapers. United Media is now called Univeral Uclick. Matt mentioned Rich Stevens ("Diesel Sweeties") and Keith Knight ("K Chronicles", "Knight Life"), who had come on board along with him due to Ted Rall, an acquisitions editor at the time.

Zach Weinersmith is a successful webcomics artist who appeared in Episode #15, "Serial Artistry." The Times of India has the largest circulation of any English-language newspaper in the world. For all the complaints about declining circulation, tens of millions of people read a newspaper every day in America.

Matt's Steve Jobs cartoon parodied the pearly gates notion of heaven, reminded us Jobs was a Buddhist, made fun of other obituary cartoons, and critiqued Apple's outsourced Chinese manufacturing labor. Glenn took photos of the Apple Store near his house after Jobs had passed away: people created a makeshift memorial.

The Onion's editorial cartoonist, Stan Kelly, is a parody of every tired trope of editorial cartooning. The person who actually draws Stan Kelly is…a secret. But examine some popular cartoonists' styles. The Webby Awards charges a high rate to enter, gets thousands of submissions, and grosses $3 million. I covered Matt receiving the Herblock Prize for BoingBoing.

Matt illustrated Scott McNulty's article for The Magazine, "Roll for Initiative," about how Dungeons & Dragons helped him work through some aspects of his introversion. We publish our pay rate. NSFWCorp is a subscription online and print publication that pays contributors well, too. Matt is creating regular work for them. NSWFCorp tried and shut down its porous paywall, which let people read a few articles a month.

The Order of the Stick raised nearly $1.3 million for its print editions and add-ons. Tom Tomorrow released a plush Sparky via Topatoco. BuzzFeed is becoming a real news organization.

Matt has an $18-per-year subscriber newsletter that has a few hundred members who get advance cartoons and other extras. His Kickstarter last October let him print thousand of books using the funds raised, and every one he sells now is gravy. I answered the question at the Economist, "Is it unfair for famous people to use Kickstarter?"

Episode 25: Save the Kickstarter, Save the World! Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton

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It started as Twitter banter and turned into a blockbuster Kickstarter. The Internet's Jonathan Coulton and the comic world's Greg Pak have known each other since college. And when Greg put the bug in Jonathan's ear about creating a series of comic books based on heroes and villains in Jonathan's songs, they began a-plotting.

A few months later, Code Monkey Saves World launched as a crowdfunding campaign, blew through its goal, and kept stretching and stretching in a way that might strain even Mr Fantastic or Plasticman — or even an everyday code monkey. Jonathan and Greg join me to talk about how they planned, executed, and extended their project.

On Twitter: Jonathan Coulton, Grek Pak, Code Monkey project

Show notes

Jamal Igle had a successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2012 for his comic Molly Danger. I talked to Greg and Jonathan at the launch of their Code Monkey Saves World project for BoingBoing.

I'm not joking about Burl Ives. You may remember him as a buffoonish singer of treacly Christmas songs. But he had a wonderful career singing funny and heartbreaking songs before that. Listen to "The Golden Vanity," and you'll forget all about "Silver and Gold."

Jonathan's life is very straightforward. He records music, he performs concerts, he launches Kickstarters, he has a 700-person annual cruise, he is the musical host on an NPR show...

Greg made a movie called Robot Stories before becoming one of the best known independent comic-book writers. A couple of years ago, he created Vision Machine, a near-future look at the consequence of ubiquitous glasses-based computing — and nearly all of it has already manifested itself in some ways. Lajos Egri wrote the Art of Dramatic Writing, a standard screenwriting text.

I managed to conflate the parable of the blind men and the elephant and the old story of the "bony-plated rhinoceros," in which early explorers returned an inaccurate description of the rhino that was perpetuated for centuries before first-hand observation outweighed conventional wisdom. Apologies.

The song "Skullcrusher Mountain" is part of the basis for the Code Monkey comic books. Craig Newmark is the lead customer service manager for Craigslist. Seriously.

Comixology dominates mobile comics reading and rightly so due to the quality of their apps and ecosystem. Monkey Brain Comics helps artists manage getting their stuff into Comixology and other distribution systems.

Episode 21: With a Little Help from Their Friends with Holly Rowland

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Topato Corporation, known as Topatoco for short, has spent nearly a decade fulfilling artists' dreams. Started by Jeffrey Rowland to ship out merchandise related to his own Webcomics, he expanded in 2007 to take on making and delivering books, T-shirts, and related goods for other cartoonists. Our guest, Holly Rowland, has been working with Jeffrey for seven years, and is in charge of a new effort called Make That Thing!, currently in beta testing, to help run crowdfunding projects.

On Twitter: Topatoco and Holly Rowland

Show notes

Zach Weinersmith, the creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, appeared on this podcast in Episode #15, Serial Artistry. Rich Stevens, the guy behind Diesel Sweeties, gave a neat talk about his career and work at the XOXO Festival. Many cartoonists work with Andrews McMeel Publishing, which is part of the same firm as the Universal Uclick cartoon syndicate. Penny Arcade is now a Death Star-sized operation with conventions, multiple Web TV series, and a charity, as well as the capability to destroy entire planets.

Topatoco handles fulfillment for Jeph Jacques, Questionable Content; David Malki of Wondermark; Dinosaur Comics; and many others.

Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) of This Modern World just won the 2013 Herblock Prize for outstanding editorial cartooning, and is one of the key figures in the alternative editorial cartooning movement. Topatoco produced his latest book and offers a Sparky plushie. Topatoco shipped him books to sign and UPS let themselves into his garage, left the boxes, and didn't tell him, he recounts on Twitter.

Outside of webcomics, Topatoco also offers stuff from or related to Gaslamp Games, Jonathan Coulton (interviewed in Episode #16, "Baby Got Back Catalog"), Brandan Bird, Maximum Fun, and MetaFilter. Maximum Fun produces MaxFunCon, a gathering of supercool people who do supercool stuff together that is fun. I wrote a blog entry at the Newdisrupt.org site recently relating Kevin Kelly's "1,000 True Fans" essay to crowdfunding.

Between about 1998 and 2002, I wrote several articles for the New York Times about the transition that cartooning and cartoonists were going through. This included a general article on the topic, a piece on the (even then) famous "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon, the New York digitizing its older cartoons, and cartoon characters that started to blog. Machine of Death was a blog that turned into a book that turned into a campaign to get a #1 ranking on Amazon.com when it was released in 2010 — and they succeeded! The book is available as a free, Creative Commons-licensed download as well as in print. The book was turned into a game, which raised $560,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that ended in March 2013!

In a recent Craig Mod podcast (Episode #17, "Everything in Moderation"), we talked about the reduction in cost for printing short runs of high-quality books. Topatoco works with Soft Stuff Creations to produce plush toys. Keith Knight's Kickstarter, "I Was a Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator," stated clearly that it would take him about two years to fulfill. Scott McCloud is the preeminent thinker about the way in which comics communicate, a great speaker, and a terrific cartoonist himself. He wrote Reinventing Comics, among other titles. Penny Arcade's crowdfunding campaign removed ads from its site for a year, but also offered terrifically appropriate rewards, and funded the Strip Search reality show.

Tom Standage, my long-time editor at the Economist and its digital editor, has written Writing on the Wall: Social Media — the First 2,000 Years. It's about the long history of social media that stretches back far before digital technology. Dave Kellett, a cartoonist, is making the movie Stripped with his friend and cinematographer Fred Schroeder.

Canadians cannot start projects on Kickstarter: only U.S. and U.K. citizens may at the moment. The Glif tripod adapter makers hand-assembled the 3D-printed rewards for their campaign, shown in this time-lapse video.

Code Monkey Kickstarter

Jonathan Coulton and Greg Pak have combined their Internet and real-world superhero abilities into the most amazing thing: a comic book written by Pak based on characters from Coulton's song. They're using crowdfunding to make it all happen and, just a few hours in, have nearly reached their goal; see their Kickstarter campaign. They have stretch targets to come. I spoke with Jonathan a few weeks ago for the podcast: Episode #16: Baby Got Back Catalog.

I wrote up the launch for BoingBoing, where you can see some of the great early artwork that will go into the comic as well.

 Greg Pak, comics god. (Photo by  pinguino .)

Greg Pak, comics god. (Photo by pinguino.)

 The Internet's Jonathan Coulton

The Internet's Jonathan Coulton

Episode 15: Serial Artistry with Zach Weinersmith

Click above to listen in your browser or download the podcast directly (MP3, 34 MB, 71 minutes). Subscribe to the show's podcast feed to get every episode automatically.

Zach Weinersmith, the artist behind Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, takes nerdy Web comics to their logical extreme, and has developed a huge following among science geeks. We talk about his career, the popularity of Web comics, and fulfilling big Kickstarter campaigns in this podcast.

Find him on Twitter as @zachweiner; his SMBC comics feed is @smbccomics.

Show notes

Remember that peak Superman will one day occur. Randall Munroe creates xkcd. Harvey Pekar wrote and storyboarded pieces of his life that comic-book artists illustrated.

My love for Futurama knows few bounds. David Cohen solved a pancake-sorting problem. Zach loved discovering Polish hand magic. The Harlem Globetrotters in Futurama show a real formula in the Prisoner of Benda.

Bob Thaves created Frank & Earnest, and I interviewed him in the late 1990s. Matthew Inman creates The Oatmeal, and his mother’s town’s postmistress hates her. Rich Stevens is the evil robot behind Diesel Sweeties. Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins) won the Herblock Prize this year for excellence in editorial cartooning. Breadpig publishes books and handles merchandise for folks like xkcd and SMBC.

I spoke with Adam and Tonya Engst about 20-plus years of electronic publishing in Episode #8 (January 30, 2013). Zach’s Kickstarter for “Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543” was a rousing success. SMBC Theater is a cool side project. Newsradio featured an episode about Dilbert; Scott Adams is the guy in line behind Joe Rogan.

Kelly Wienersmith, Zach’s wife, is a parasitologist. Ewwwwww. Well, it’s cool stuff. But, ewwwwww. She’s been involved with SciFund, crowdfunding dollars for science. Zach mentioned his friends’ work on Gaymer X, an all-inclusive gaming/lifestyle event focused on LGBTQ culture.

Andrew Sullivan left the Daily Beast to pursue a “leaky paywall” model of funding himself and his writers and editors. At last count, they’ve grossed nearly $650,000 in a matter of weeks towards a goal for the entire year of $900,000. The Magazine went porous (one article per month for free) in February.

Amanda Palmer told a TED audience and the world that asking for things isn’t the same as begging or coercing people (1.5 million views so far).

Zach’s latest project is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAH) at MIT on April 20, 2013. It’s somewhere between the Darwin Awards and the Ig Nobel Prizes.