Latest Posts

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

FreakSugar: Interview: Sean Kleefeld on his New Book Webcomics

Kleefeld on Comics: Not Exactly a Review of Professor Marston & the Wonder Women

Kleefeld on Comics: A Links Post

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Resources, Part 8  

Kleefeld on Comics: Reading Webcomics: Full Circle 😠

Kleefeld on Comics: Love Ain't

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Resources, Part 9  

Kleefeld on Comics: My Life At Transylvania Polygnostic Redux

I originally posted this over a decade ago, referring to documents that were themselves close to a decade old. I'm disappointed that A) Phil and Kaja Foglio don't still support this (I'm sure it got untenable as the Girl Genius fanbase grew) and B) I can't find any other comic creators doing this type of thing. I still think it was a brilliant marketing strategy!

I stumbled across these two pages, documenting some of my time at Transylvania Polygnostic University, and thought I'd share...
If you're not able to discern as much from the contents of the first letter, this was during the time when Girl Genius was only a printed pamphlet comic and hadn't been migrated to an online one. Sadly, the TPU website is no longer online; I never heard exactly what happened but I suspect it had something to do with the increased funding that had been given to the Department of Death-Ray Physics.
Love Is... was created in the 1960s by cartoonist Kim Casali. The one panel cartoons usually featured two nude children expressing love in a quaint, innocent manner. It's basically a romantic riff on Charles Schulz's earlier Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. The series even started as books before getting a syndication deal in the 1970s. Casali stopped working on the strip in 1975 due to her husband's illness, and it was continued by Bill Asprey under her name. Asprey continues the strip to this day.

But this is what ran in the LA Times on Tuesday...
Love is...
While it's unusual for the couple to be clothed, it's not unheard of. The overt political statement, however, is highly unusual and led a number of people to question whether or not the strip was real or it had been altered by an unscrupulous third party.

The official Love Is... website doesn't host the daily cartoons, but the syndicate does. And they're showing...
Love Is...
... the exact same comic.

The strip has always had something of a right-leaning direction, with it's saccharine sentimentality and heavy doses of nostalgia for an era that never existed. But the use of "fake news" -- a favorite phrase of the political right used accusingly at everything they dislike -- seems to swing to an extreme. While arguably, the phrase itself doesn't necessarily point to a political opinion and can be applied to news of any political bent, it's not really a phrase that is used by the political left, even when talking about false reports from right-leaning "news" outlets (i.e Fox).

So my initial thought is that, for whatever reason, Asprey has decided to show his political viewpoint in the comic. Which is totally his right, don't misunderstand! But it seems unusual to make such a bold statement in an otherwise innocuous comics that he's been drawing for 45 years now. But when I looked up his own site to see if he said anything about this particular strip or his politics more broadly, I didn't find anything speaking to either of those, but I did note that A) he replicates the same strip there, meaning that it wasn't tampered with by the syndicate and B) his autobiography proudly notes that he's also drawn for Playboy. Which seems a bit at odds with the general theme of Love Is...

So honestly, I'm at something of a loss as to where this came from. But it is does indeed to appear authentic, despite not really fitting with the tone the strip has had for the past half century.
When I first discovered webcomics in the late '90s, I had two "problems" with them. First, I wasn't finding any that I particularly enjoyed. That's not a slag on any creators working back then or what they were creating, I just had trouble finding webcomics that struck my particular interests at that time. At least as far as being interested enough to try to continue reading long-term. Which actually leads to the second problem I had: reading them long-term.

At the time, the only real option most webcomics had was... well, you had to just go to their site every day. (Or week, or whatever their update schedule was.) This was a problem because few webcomics even had their own domain names at that point -- they'd be hosted on GeoCities or other similar free hosting services, which meant they had long, arcane URLs. And while those could be bookmarked, you would have to return to the same browser on the same computer in order to use those bookmarks. You couldn't "carry" the bookmarks from your home computer to your work computer or the ones at the library. Furthermore, few (if any) webcomics had gotten to the now-standard practice of putting the latest comic on their home page. So once you got to the site, you had to remember which installment was the last one you read and click through to the one after that.

All of that was certainly doable -- and there were indeed some work-arounds to make that whole process a little easier -- but that was still a fair amount of effort if you weren't particularly excited about any of the webcomics you found in the first place! Think if you had to jump through all those hoops just to read, say, Beetle Bailey. Do you really like Beetle Bailey that much to go through that on a daily basis?

When I came back to webcomics around 2003, there had been a couple significant improvements that had been made. First, webcomics were starting to regularly get their own domains, making them easier to remember. Second, they also got the message that putting the latest installment on the home page was generally a good practice. Third -- and most importantly for me -- was that many of them had begun adopting RSS. This allowed a single reader application to get notified whenever the comic had updated and, depending on how it was configured, even deliver the comic itself! I could now go to a single location to read whichever webcomics I wanted, and I was even told which installments I had/hadn't read!

iGoogleI was reading so much that I spent a fair amount of time studying and developing an "optimal" (for me) setup for reading all my favorite comics. I had several blog posts back in the day talking about various aspects of this, but my "final" version was using the iGoogle portal with Google Reader embedded in one of the tabs, and several gadgets that I custom-coded myself. That was a really enjoyable setup for me.

But then Google Reader was shut down in 2013, and iGoogle was killed only a few months later. There have been alternatives to both since then, but I've never come across anything as smooth and integrateable as those two platforms. I've got The Old Reader that can pull in and display RSS feeds from comics pretty well, but there's nothing available for some of those other comics that don't have RSS feeds. And NetVibes is a serviceable portal platform, but they don't have a way to integrate my Old Reader setup into it. Further, neither work well on a phone, nor do they have apps available. (There is a third-party app that somehow bootleg-pulls-in your Old Reader account, but it's definitely not supported by The Old Reader, and the interface is a bit clunky.)

So what do I do now?

I sit down at my computer in the morning, and I type in the URLs of the webcomics I want to read. Just like I had to do back in the late '90s. And necessarily because I have to remember to do that every morning I want to read some webcomics, I'm not currently reading nearly as many I used to. I think I stopped counting how many webcomics I was reading when my title list in The Old Reader got north of 300. But now, I check two websites regularly. Two. And then there's about a dozen or so more that I read through more sporadically -- mainly through following the creators on social media and happening across one of their "I just updated the comic" notices every week or three. But then I have to go back and figure out where I left off, and all that. It's a decidedly less-than-ideal system.

How annoying is it that, for as many advancements as have been made in webcomics, and for as many more cool, well-done webcomics there are out there now, there's still not a good system for just sitting down and reading them?
I'm running late right now, so I'm just going to share a few links today...
  1. First, Michael Dean over at The Comics Journal posted an incredible piece about misconduct at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. What makes it incredible is the depth of the problems he uncovers. What we heard last week about Brownstein that led to his resignation is only the tip of the iceberg! This is very damning for pretty much EVERYONE at the CBLDF!
  2. I was recently interviewed about my book on Webcomics over at FreakSugar! Jed had some great questions, and I think the piece gives some insight into how the book itself reads!
  3. Like just about every comics convention and festival this year, the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) cancelled its original in-person venue. However, founder Bob Corby just posted a schedule of programming for an online SPACE show over the same weekend. It includes a lot of the same types of presentations as the in-person show normally would, and it looks as if there will be retail component as well! If I'm reading into this right, it looks like many of the local small press comics folks in/around the Columbus area will be able to sell their books through a special Laughing Ogre "table." More details to come, I'm sure!
  4. What if one of Dr. Doom's famous Doombots broke ranks and set out to carve its own place in the universe? What if that place turned out to be a gas station in rural Illinois? Matt Geuther decided to depict how he thought that might happen in a short fan film called "Doombo."
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women movie poster
I recently watched Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the "biographical drama film" about William Moulton Marston and how he created the character Wonder Woman. In particular, it follows the story of how Marston and his wife Elizabeth met Olive Byrne, and how the three of them became lovers in a consensual polyamorous relationship, which in conjunction with Marston's psychological theories, led to Wonder Woman's creation.

Going in, I harbored no illusions about this being a strictly factual account of Marston or anyone else depicted in the film. It's pretty much par for the course that even documentaries will skip segments or skew perceptions somewhat to provide a succinct story, and "based on a true story" films are generally even more reckless in that regard. I didn't recall any specifics, but I knew that some of Marston's still-living relatives took exception to some of the depictions in the film. And while I'm certainly no expert on Wonder Woman, I knew enough going in that I could readily pick out at least some of the inaccuracies the movie offered up.

But I've also found that strictly factual accounts, as a rule, tend to be less engaging and I walk away not absorbing much of the material.

One challenging thing about trying to adhere exclusively to facts is that we never have the full story. Even biographers working directly with their still-living subjects and having access to all of their documents are often going to be missing huge chunks of information. From minutia like simply not capturing the precise wording of what might've been said to broader elements that were mis-remembered or even forgotten from decades earlier. Often, those people trying to hew most closely with factual, objective reality see these types of issues and simply skip over them. They'll avoid using quotes or dialogue unless there's an actual record of it, or maybe they'll ignore significant episodes because they don't have enough conclusive detail to depict it. But, while being more accurate, strictly speaking, it becomes more antiseptic. Less memorable. Less engaging. It reads like your old history textbook when you're asked to rote memorize a series of dates, at the expense of actually understanding any context around them.

Regardless of historical accuracy, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is a good story. Well written, acted, and directed. But what I liked most about it is that it I felt it gave a good sense of context. How did a married college professor, in the early part of the 20th century, come to be in polyamorous relationship in the first place and how did that lead to creating one of the most iconic comic book character of all time? Not the facts of how all that happened, but what was the cultural and emotional journey that led him there?

I did some reading after watching the movie, and saw that one of Marston's granddaughters denied that Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne were lovers as is depicted in the film. However, given that William and Elizabeth formally adopted Olive's children -- one of whom Olive named after Elizabeth -- while Olive raised both her own children and William and Elizabeth's natural born kids; that Olive "married" both William and Elizabeth in 1929; that after William's death, both women lived together for another four decades until Olive's passing... well, I'm sure the specific sexual acts shown/suggested between Elizabeth and Olive were invented for the movie (since there's no known record of what they might have done) I do find it more credible than not that they did have a lovers' relationship. Exploring how the relationship among the three of them began and evolved, particularly in a climate that absolutely did not tolerate anything remotely close to that, is what seems like the critical piece the movie was trying to convey.

I can look up that Elizabeth was more actively supportive of the idea of Wonder Woman than shown in the movie, allegedly even demanding that the superhero William was developing be a woman. I can look up that it was Max Gaines who originally approached William, having seen an interview with him published in The Family Circle... a magazine that Olive occasionally wrote for. I can look up that H.G. Peter -- who is almost absent from the film entirely -- contributed more than a fair amount to the success of Wonder Woman through his designs and overall visuals.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women doesn't represent what actually happened back then, but it's not trying to. It's providing an emotional connection to three people. To make them feel like actual people and not just some arcane part of history, another set of names and dates that sit in the abstract and don't really mean anything to most people. Frankly, I think we need a lot more stories about comic book creators like this. How much do you feel about Winsor McCay? Or Lee Falk? Or Matt Baker? Or Curt Swan? Or Ben Oda? Even if you do know some of the facts and details about their lives, how much do you get the sense of who they were as people? Even from the little I do know, how incredible would the stories of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson be? Or Jim Steranko? Or Larry Hama? Hell, those guys could have blockbusters made about them! But they don't have to be on a huge scale. They don't even have to be movies. Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is an interpersonal drama and, while the "high concept" angle makes it an easier sell in Hollywood, every creator has a story that should be told. Whether that's movies, TV, comics... I'd love to see more of that. Wow, can you imagine the tortured drama pieces you might get with stories about guys like Jack Cole, Joe Maneely, Alex Raymond, Seth Fisher...?

In any event, I enjoyed Professor Marston & the Wonder Women and would like more stories like that.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Gary Larson circa 1986

Kleefeld on Comics: Searching for Mr. Larson Review

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Resources, Part 6

Kleefeld on Comics: Artificial vs Natural Culture

Kleefeld on Comics: Comics Subjects I STILL Don't Know Enough About

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Resources, Part 7