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Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Ongoing Side Hustles

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Don’t Be a Dick

Jack Kirby Collector: Incidental Iconography

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Multiple Publishers IP

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Validity

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Haawiyat

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Toes?

I was lamenting last night that I couldn't think of a topic for today's post, and Carol Tilley replied with a question/prompt: "Why don't we ever see toes in comics?" Strictly speaking, we do see toes in comics, but certainly not often and usually with some caveats. So why not often and what are those caveats?

Caveat #1 is that most of the toes we do see are on animals' feet. We frequently see the toes of Snoopy, Garfield, Hobbes, Marmaduke, Healthcliff, Fred Basset, and many other fur-covered friends. With many of them walking at least some of the time on all fours, this means that it's hard not to draw their feet if you're showing their head and don't want to fill an entire panel with just that. Plus, as animals, they typically don't wear shoes. So we wind up seeing their feet and, accordingly, their toes.

Caveat #2 is that, often when we do see toes, they're more of a suggestion than individually drawn digits. Take this B.C. from Wednesday...
As the whole concept of the strip revolves around pre-footwear cavemen, the characters almost never wear anything to cover their bare feet. However, their toes are indicated as merely a couple of curved slashes on their feet. It's more of a suggestion of toes than actual ones. Visually, we see enough to gather that they're walking around barefoot, but the lack of distinction among them means we just read it as a detail of the overall foot, and not individual parts.

I think this is not far removed from how we actually think of our own feet, by and large. We use our hands a great deal, and our fingers supply an immense amount of individual dexterity and fine motor control. We can tie our shoelaces or type or play guitar. Most people don't develop that kind of skill with their toes/feet. Most people will opt to bend down and use their hands to pick a sock up off the floor, rather than try clasping it with their toes and raising that to a more convenient height. Toes are just an extension of our feet, and are only used in the same manner as feet more broadly. (Balance, directional control, and so on.) So that a cartoonist merely suggesting toes in their illustrations simply follows the thinking most people follow in real life already.

But, the big reason we don't see toes is that we don't see feet! Creators and fans have both lamented the ever-shrinking space given to comic strips in the newspaper. Complaints of strips having shrunk down to "the size of a postage stamp" are not uncommon. And what this has meant, among other things, is that cartoonists have less room to include detailed artwork. It's partially what killed the adventure strips -- there simply wasn't much room to draw adventures with enough complexity and detail. So comic strips, writ large, migrated more towards gag strips that can get away with less detailed, more iconic images. But it became difficult for them to sustain as much detail as they'd like, and a lot of strips have devolved into sequences of talking heads. Doonesbury is one of the more detailed strips still being published, and yet here's yesterday's strip...
In order to get both figures in each frame, there's simply not enough space to show more than their heads and shoulders. The sizes comics are run at, there just isn't room for feet! So of course you're not going to see their toes either!
Comics for Youth Refugees Incorporated Collective (CYRIC) is a not-for-profit group that is trying to help fill a hole in the lives of refugee children. Other groups are working on getting basic survival items like food and shelter but, as you might guess from their name, CYRIC is focused on getting comic books in the hands of these kids.

You might ask, "Why?" After all, comics aren't exactly a necessity when you're displaced from your home country, likely because of violence. People are naturally going to concentrate on survival. To quote from their mission statement...
In conjunction with mental health professionals and on-site experts, the tales are adapted for their potential healing content. Supported by the principles of art therapy and the use of comics’ unique visual-verbal hybrid for therapeutic use, we aim to encourage children not only to reconnect with their homes but also to express themselves through the medium as well.
CYRIC's first comic is fairly simple; they're calling it a proof-of-concept. Eight pages, black and white, all of the work for the stories was donated. The stories aren't long or complex; they're adapted from Syrian folklore and basically all promote the idea of being good. But geared as they for 6-12 year olds, there's no need to get into lots of grey moral areas or convoluted storytelling. A mother sacrifices her own food to feed her children, and her children in turn sacrifice some of their food so that the mother can eat. A jeweler is hired to fix an earring for the princess, but his evil brother "loses" it, only to have the earring turn up again before the King's return. A miller is tricked into an impossible task by an evil djinn, but a good djinn recognizes the miller's character and helps. Nothing complicated; just something to provide refugee kids for free so their lives aren't completely horrible.

So how did this proof-of-concept go over?
Our partners at NuDay Syria have generously provided us with images of the kids receiving and reading their copies of Haawiyat. Says one of our contacts there, "The kids were super excited to read over the stories, and in some cases distracted me from photographing since they were eager to read to me!"
CYRIC is trying to keep the ball rolling with more via a crowd-funding campaign. "For phase one, all production and services were donated or volunteered," explained project leader A. David Lewis. "In phase two, we hope the expanded incarnation of the title will have more stories, be in full color, AND go out to many more deserving children!"

They're currently fund-raising via Razoo here. Please do what you can to help make kids like these feel normal and happy again.
Random question of the the day... what comic has been published by the most number of publishers? As in, what property has been run by the widest variety of publishers discounting foreign editions? (I should probably also discount individual works that are repeatedly re-adapted over and over -- like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.)

A couple of examples spring to mind. ElfQuest started basically as a self-publishing venture. (WaRP Graphics literally stands for Wendy and Richard Pini.) Marvel published it for a while in the 1980s and DC has picked up some rights. Currently, Dark Horse is printing collected editions. Apple Comics and StarBlaze both had the title for a bit in the '80s as well. That's six US publishers who've run the series.

Another that I can think of is Groo. The character debuted under Pacific Comics, and soon after went over to Eclipse. Marvel had the title for a decade, and Image ran with it for a year. Graphitti Designs ran a special, and Dark Horse has been running them most recently. That's also six. Plus, IDW had an Artist's Edition version -- arguably, that might not count, but it could be a potential tie-breaker.

Interestingly, Star Wars does not have many comics publishers to deal with, despite a more robust publishing history. There's Marvel and Dark Horse, naturally. Blackthorne did a 3-D version in 1987, and Tokyopop did a manga version a couple decades later, but I think that's it.

Star Trek has actually been passed around more. It started at Western Publishing, but later hit Marvel and DC. Malibu had it for a short while in the mid-1990s, and Tokyopop has done manga versions of it as well. It's currently published by IDW.

Tarzan might be a good candidate, just based on the character's longevity. A lot of the major comic publishers have taken turns on the series: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse. Both Dell and Western took their turns. Malibu's and Blackthorn's names pop up again. NBM did some collected editions, and Williams Publishing based some books off Burne Hogarth's newspaper strips. Although technically illegal, Charlton did a short run in the mid-1960s too. That's ten publishers, for those of you keeping score.

What about The Shadow, another long-lived property? Here again we see Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. Archie Comics also took a stab at the character briefly in the 1960s. Dynamite is the current publisher. Only five, it appears.

I'm drawing a blank on who else to check. I know several that have had two or three publishers like Airboy and Bone. There are a few more than float in the five-to-seven-ish range -- a lot of the bigger Disney titles and Conan, for examples. There are some, like Judge Dredd and Tintin, that I wouldn't even count since they didn't originate in the US -- America's versions would be the foreign editions.

So, Tarzan then? Tarzan's had the most publishers of any comic? Am I missing anything?
Way back in 2011, I talked about how we all should be trying to set up ongoing, multiple income streams like webcomikers. "Multiple income streams" basically meaning that you set up several "long tail" projects that might have decreasing revenue over time, but it's income that still continues. For example, writing a book that remains perpetually available (via print-on-demand or electronically or some other means) and you keep getting money from each sale years or even decades into the future. And while you might not get a lot of sales of that book ten years from now, if you do that with enough different projects, you always have a decent collective revenue stream coming in all the time.

(I should take a minute to plug my books: Comic Book Fanthropology and Edward Lear & the Snargetted Flartlethants of Nonsense. Go buy them!)

At the time, I couched most of my argument in terms of employers forcing more and more people to go from full-time employees to freelancers, and thus it made sense to use the long tail to provide some level of stability.
The reality is that we live in an economy that does not want you to become a success. The whole system is catered towards keeping a wall between you and rich folks. I'm not going to try banging my head against that wall trying to knock it down, or wasting my breath shouting at it. I'm okay with not being among the super-rich, so long as I've got enough to be comfortable. What I'm trying to do -- and what I'm recommending to everyone reading this -- is to set things up now so that I can be a little more comfortable in the coming economy.
Now, with that in mind, there have been an increasing number of articles over the past month or three pointing to how many people are getting involved in the gig economy. More to the point, how the gig economy is being sold as a positive development by corporations when in reality, it was meant to fill the gap from people who were being left behind. From a recent piece on The Ringer...
It’s not a coincidence that it [the phrase 'side hustle'] originated in black newspapers while Jim Crow still existed, as the concept was rooted in the idea of looking for other routes to financial stability because the “main” hustle was unavailable in a literal sense. In this way, the “side hustle” was originally an act of economic defiance. Now, the phrase has been bastardized into an advertisement for the gig economy, a way to make discounted, disposable labor seem hip.
We can see all of this play out in comics in multiple forms. Creators work on their personal passion projects to have work in constant circulation, coupled with startup funds from Kickstarter. Then, if they're able, the book gets picked up by a big publisher and they're able to get wider distribution. (Although much of the promotion still falls on their shoulders.) And then they might get tapped by Marvel or DC, which they'll often happily do for the steady paycheck, but you'll find they don't turn over many of their bigger ideas and properties over to the publisher because they wouldn't get ongoing revenue from the characters' use.

This kind of perpetual hustle is often looked highly upon, but should it be? From the same Ringer article...
Performing whatever paid work is available is sometimes a necessary step to literally surviving, and working on a passion project in one’s free time can help launch a new career. Neither situation is aspirational. Both belie an economic system that is not designed to lift masses out of poverty, but rather one that both creates and maintains poverty.
How many comic creators are still tabling at local conventions, even with a string of Marvel or DC credits to their name? Frankly, I see this situation as getting worse. It's certainly been exasperated since I wrote that previous piece, and I don't know that I see any signs of that changing any time soon. (Try asking any politician about "universal basic income"!)

I'll finish up with the same conclusion I wrote back in 2011...
The reality is that we live in an economy that does not want you to become a success. The whole system is catered towards keeping a wall between you and rich folks. I'm not going to try banging my head against that wall trying to knock it down, or wasting my breath shouting at it. I'm okay with not being among the super-rich, so long as I've got enough to be comfortable. What I'm trying to do -- and what I'm recommending to everyone reading this -- is to set things up now so that I can be a little more comfortable in the coming economy.

I'm no more a soothsayer than the next guy with a blog. But I see zero indication that things are going to get better any time soon. So I suggest you pay attention to what webcomic creators are doing now, because I think their business model is what's going to save your tuchus in the next decade or so.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Marvel Credit Card

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Dolenz Comic Debut

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Middlemen

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Did Low Sales Really Kill The Crew?

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: GE Theater