See You in the Funny Webpages with Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder (Episode 68)

Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder created the movie Stripped about the past, present, and future of comic strips and their creators. Dave is the creator and cartoonist of two webcomics titles, Sheldon and Drive, and the co-author of How To Make Webcomics. He is one of a small but growing group of webcomics artists who are self-sufficient. Fred is a veteran cinemographer, nominated for Best Cinematography at Sundance for his work on Four Sheets to the Wind. He has been shooting commercials for much of his career.

Together, they matched Fred's filmmaking skills with Dave's personal knowledge of the field and his contacts to create the first feature-length documentary on the topic, funded in part through two Kickstarter campaigns. They don't pull punches about the difficulties of being a comic-strip artist, but they show all the joy and love that goes into the work along with many potential bright lights already illuminating parts of the field and shining on the horizon.

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Show Notes

You can watch a short preview of Stripped on YouTube.

Bill Watterson created the poster for the movie! He's interviewed by audio (as we discuss).

We mentioned Topataco, a company that helps fulfill webcomics' artists books and other material. I spoke to Topatoco's Holly Rowland a year ago.

Fair use is an incredibly fraught topic because there's no simple and inexpensive way to determine in advance whether a creator's use of copyrighted stuff would be covered by the legal principles! I wrote about Stripped and its second Kickstarter for clearance-rights funds for the Economist.

We also talked about errors and omission (E&O) insurance that movie theatres require in order to let your film be shown in their venues. The Documentary Film Program at Stanford University provides advice about fair use to filmmakers as well as helping them obtain insurance plus find pro bono or reduced-rate legal assistance.

David Malki and his chums took Machine of Death to the top rank among books sold at Amazon.com as part of a concerted effort among their fans. They beat out Glenn Beck, who was not happy about it at all. I talked to David about this, his comic strip, and the second book in the Machine series last August.

VHX is the DRM-free streaming/download service that helped Indie Game: The Movie deliver to its backers and later buyers, and did and is doing the same for Stripped. The makers of Indie Game were among my first guests, and I checked in with them last December to talk about the aftermath of the film's release and the production of their deluxe edition.

However, if you're a regular iTunes user, you can help boost Stripped to No. 1 in the iTunes movie or documentary rankings by pre-ordering a copy by April 1!

Code Monkey Comixology Crazy

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The first installment in the Code Monkey Saves World  comic-book series based on Jonathan Coulton's songs and written by Greg Pak is available to the public today via ComiXology.

I talked to Jonathan and Greg in May about their blockbuster Kickstarter, and as a backer, I had the first issue in my hot little hands already several days ago. Very enjoyable and sets the stage for the next three issues!

Episode 36: Machine of Breadth with David Malki

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David Malki's biography would take five minutes to read out. You may know him best as the perpetrator of the cartoon Wondermark, but he's also a filmmaker, a movie trailer editor, an author, an entrepreneur, and the Supreme Commander of Publicity & Promotions at TopatoCo, a firm that handles merchandise primarily for webcomics. He's available for weddings and bar mitzvahs. We talk about making films, making cartoons, and making books, and having a great time at all of it.

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 Show notes

David Lynch's peculiar cartoon strip, The Angriest Dog in the World. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular Web comics. Zach Weinersmith's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal dates back to that era (we talked in Episode 15), as does Diesel Sweeties by Rich Stevens.

I received a copy of Chris Ware's Building Stories from my wife for Christmas, but his work makes me realize the keenness of life too fiercely. Or something. Dinosaur Comics is produced by David's friend Ryan North. It has the same drawing every day; the dialog is all that changes. Jeff and Holly Rowland run TopatoCo. Holly was my guest on Episode #21, in which we talked about Make That Thing! New England Web Comics Weekend took place in 2009 and again in 2010 and was hosted by TopatoCo.

Machine of Death was inspired by this episode of Dinosaur Comics. Futurama had a "death clock" in an episode in 1999, but David points out the death-predition thing is as old as the Greeks. David Pogue tried an experiment in removing DRM from an ebook in 2009; sold a lot more books. But he didn't like the outcome.

Machine of Death spawned a game funded on Kickstarter and a second collection of stories just out called This Is How You Die.

You can find David at GenCon in Indianapolis this weekend (August 15–18), and at PAX in Seattle August 30–September 2.

Photo by Joshin Yamada. 

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

Click above to listen in your browser or download the podcast directly (MP3, 28 MB, 58 minutes). Subscribe to the show's podcast feed to get every episode automatically.

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