Category Archives: Comics

Start small


Every once in a while, I’ll think about this xkcd comic strip. It’s a reminder to me that great things can start small, unambitious. I never would’ve guessed that a web comic artist starting so plainly would later produce a single strip that’s so incredible.

Maybe we should all find our app’s version of stick figures, good jokes, and consistency. Then work long enough and hard enough and suddenly a couple years later, it feels within reach to build something amazing, something beautiful. Something big.

Stan Sakai

The 5th annual “STAPLE! indie comics expo”: is coming up in 2 months, and I’m happy to say that one of my favorite comics artists growing up will be headlining the show: Stan Sakai of “Usagi Yojimbo”: fame. If you are in Austin in March, please plan to attend. (And say hi if you see me. I’m usually helping sell t-shirts or milling around somewhere.)

There’s also a “new short Usagi story”: on MySpace’s Dark Horse page.

STAPLE! in Austin today (year 4)

Like independent comics and art? “STAPLE! is in Austin today”: at the Monarch Event Center, off I-35 and 2222. I’ve been on the STAPLE! planning committee for four years now and have enjoyed watching our little show grow from its humble beginnings, but it’s still a completely non-profit, volunteer-led endeavor and we need your support to make it a success. Come join us anytime between 11am and 7pm (or “check the schedule”: for our featured session times), and then come back downtown later tonight for the after-party and live-art show at Red’s Scoot Inn (“flyer”:

STAPLE! 2006

It’s not often that I get out of the house early on a Saturday, but STAPLE! The Independent Media Expo is today. If you are anywhere in the central Texas area, check out the web site for the schedule and location info. This week’s Austin Chronicle also ran a story on the show. Last night’s pre-party at Austin Books was great, but it’s still difficult to tell how many people will show up today. It’s one day only, so if you love comics or just want to support independent artists, please stop by.


For comics fans in Texas, the Staple! Expo will be held in Austin this Saturday. The Austin Chronicle has a story on it. Congratulations to Chris Nicholas for organizing the event since mid-2004. It should be a fun time.

John Rubio did a fantastic job on the logo, and I tweaked the web site design and handled the HTML and programming maintenance. The news weblog in particular seemed to work out very well, because it allowed Chris to keep the information on the web site current.

I’ve discussed artist-driven businesses before on this site, especially as it relates to the comics and animation industries. I think conferences like Staple have an important role to play in that.

Comic Book Idol

I can’t say that I’m a big comic book person anymore, at least not the way I was as a kid, eagerly awaiting the weekly shipment of comics to the local shop. Recently I’ve read books like Understanding Comics that helped awaken my appreciation for the form. There are some good things happening in the comics world, too, especially from independent artists. The Internet is changing distribution and how artists connect with readers, of course.

My friend John Rubio is one of 10 finalists in the Comic Book Idol competition. His first submission was knocked out in just a few days, but it’s a quality, finished piece. Voting is once a week (starting now) for 24 hours only. Go read some free 3-page comics, then register and vote.

Watterson and the New Year’s Eve blog post

The way I blog, I gather bits of news stories or other blog posts and write up an opinion on them for later blogging. Then when I feel like posting something, I go through the queue of things I’ve written and pick one out, or take several related stories and put them together. I used to use BBEdit for this. Then I started using NetNewsWire’s notepad. Lately I’ve been trying out VoodooPad. The interesting thing about this approach is that I end up writing about a lot of things that never get published. After a certain period of time they are no longer relevant or interesting.

For this last post of 2003, I went through the queue of a dozen or more recent things I could blog about. This thoughtful article about Calvin and Hobbes and creator Bill Watterson stood out:

“The pressure on Watterson must have been enormous, but he steadfastly refused to sell out, even a little bit. ‘I look at cartoons as an art, as a form of personal expression. That’s why I don’t hire assistants . . . and why I refuse to dilute or corrupt the strip’s message with merchandising,’ he said in his Festival of Cartoon Art speech. ‘Characters lose their believability as they start endorsing major companies and lend their faces to bedsheets and boxer shorts.'”

So I guess maybe the advice for the new year is to stay true to what you are doing. Focus on the real problem and don’t compromise your vision for the wrong reasons.

Happy new year.

Independent comics

I’ve been digging back into comics lately, hence some of the comic-related posts. One of the things that fascinates me is the abundance of great web comics out there. Tons of artists who haven’t quite found the right business model, but are producing incredible stuff anyway.

Chad Townsend pointed me to Kazu’s work at His latest there is a quality monthly one-page comic called Copper.

I went shopping in the real world the other day, and came back with the Adventures of Mia, by Pixar story Enrico Casorosa; The Red Star, colored by Animation Nation member Snakebite; and a few issues of Bone, the award-winner from Jeff Smith.

What will the future hold for independent comic artists? Who knows. Here’s a semi-related excerpt from a Dave Sim speech from 1993:

“The critical difference with Spawn is that Todd McFarlane recognized that he is hot NOW, while he was working on Spider-man. He recognized that he was making an enormous amount of money for Marvel Comics and that the percentage of that money that he was being paid was minuscule. He recognized that there was a window of opportunity NOW to make his future financially secure and to take control of his career. He recognized that at Marvel, his career was out of his control. A change of editor, of editorial policy, of company ownership, any number of things could throw him out in the street at a moment’s notice. If Marvel could throw Chris Claremont away after fifteen years, refusing even to let him write a farewell note on the letters page of the book he had made into the industry standard, what security is there? Todd McFarlane recognized that there is no security. There never has been and there never will be.”

Over a decade ago I bought most of Todd McFarlane’s Spidey comics, as well as the first few issues of Spawn. Fast-forward to today: Spawn is drawn by someone else and McFarlane is a millionaire. And Dave Sim is a few months shy of wrapping up the entire 300 issue run of his independent comic, Cerebus. (He started 26 years ago.)

Peppercoin and web comics

It’s been a few years since Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics was published. In that time, a couple digital cash companies have probably closed their doors, and thousands of web comics have been created by artists with little expectation of even covering their costs.

Peppercoin is the latest company trying to solve this problem (not just for web comics, but for any small purchase, such as music downloads). An article on Technology Review covers the details, and I have to admit it’s a pretty clever idea:

“One transaction out of a hundred, selected at random, is sent to Peppercoin. After Peppercoin pays the seller 100 times the value of that transaction, it bills the customer for all of her outstanding purchases from all sites that use Peppercoin. Since about one out of a hundred purchases is processed, her last bill will have come, on average, a hundred purchases ago. That’s the trick: by paying the seller and charging the customer in lump sums every 100 purchases or so, Peppercoin avoids paying the fees charged by credit card — roughly 25 cents per transaction — on the other 99 purchases.”

But it still requires the user to install new software. The content will have to be extremely compelling for people to install new software they’ve never heard of just to access it. Even BitPass, a competing service just getting started, is completely browser based. As is PayPal, for that matter.

Meanwhile, we recently resubscribed to the local paper. (You know, the physical one that shows up on our driveway every morning.) Imagine my surprise that the comics section is now a full one-and-a-half pages, not just the one page when I was growing up. Now that’s progress.

Understanding Comics

For Christmas I received a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I was familiar with his work only from his web comics (the I Can’t Stop Thinking series is particularly good), but never read his books. Turns out, it’s excellent. Probably best enjoyed if you’ve read comics, but I think there’s some good stuff in there for everyone.

6 Steps as an appleMcCloud’s “6 steps” (Idea/Purpose, Form, Idiom, Structure, Craft, and Surface) can be applied to many pursuits outside comics. To master the artform you need to progress through each of those steps, but often a comics fan decides he wants to “be a comic book artist.” He starts copying the surface qualities of the work (“look, I can draw Superman”), but rarely does he delve into it enough to go back to the other foundation steps: having a unique idea or purpose for the work, and understanding the form and structure of the medium enough to produce something great.

Building software is not all that unlike creating a traditional work of art. (Odd that I’m including comics in “traditional” art, but there you go.) Crafting the user interface, thinking through the design, layering one piece on top of another. And above all, keeping in mind the problem being solved. It can be creative work, if you approach it that way.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why Cocoa is so successful. By putting the emphasis on up-front user interface design while simplifying some of the coding with a mature object-oriented framework, it opens up application design and implementation to more people. In a sense, allowing people to jump directly to Scott McCloud’s step number 6 (“Surface”, in this case Aqua goodness), and then work their way backwards as they mature as software developers — if they choose to.

What a difference two years made to Brent Simmons:

Oct 2000: “So much of my work is UI work. The command line is a vacation.”
Oct 2002: “I love UI programming.”

Joel likes Tintin comics.