Archive for March, 2008

Trend to encourage: indie comics apparel!

As previously discussed, lots of webcartoonists sell t-shirts — it would be hard to find a successful comic that doesn’t. It’s pretty endemic to the whole notion of webcomics. Yet for some reason, it’s considerably less common among artists whose primary work is in print form.

(maybe webcartoonists have more committed fans in general? the regularity of updates means that fans get a little daily dose of the artist on a regular basis — even, with RSS, delivered straight to them. Not to mention the community fostered via message boards & comment threads. That makes it much easier to gauge the demand for any particular merch item — John Allison can talk to every single one of his fans at once by simply adding a sentence to that day’s update, whereas a great number of Adrian Tomine’s fans are people who just bought his book somewhere, making it very difficult for Tomine or his publisher to keep track of them.)

Ad for John Allison’s Scary-Go-Round merch

(Of course, it makes sense that people like John Romita aren’t whipping up T-shirts to sell — their reputation and fanbase is based on drawing characters they don’t own, and I’m sure Marvel and DC have labyrinthine corporate arrangements regulating the production of merchandise. But the contracts of “indie” publishers are rooted in creator ownership, so the process is much simpler. And self-publishers can of course do whatever they want!)

The available “clothing” items in stock at the Drawn + Quarterly webstore.

Not to pick on D+Q — it’s not like Random House has John Grisham shirts available on its web site. Fantagraphics seems to have exactly one (XL and XXL still in stock!). Top Shelf at least has our Owly shirts, which are pretty rad. The most T-shirty of indie publishers, Oni Press, clock in with two. Overall, it seems like a lot of missed opportunity.

But this is a post about Trend to encourage, not Absence that I wish would become a trend! There is, to quote Ryan North, a lot of sexy exciting merchandise for you! It’s largely cartoonists operating independently of their publishers. A lot of the reasons why there haven’t been more indie comics shirts — namely the time, labor, cost, and expertise required to produce and sell decent shirts — are being mitigated with the arrival of sites like Threadless, Design By Humans, and Shirt.Woot, which accept design submissions from artists, and handle all the production & sales for designs that do well enough in user rankings. I hear that even good old CafePress doesn’t suck anymore.

I wear my Paul Hornschemeier “OH WELL” shirt proudly on a regular basis.

I would already have thrown down cash for Corey Lewis’s Mecha Naga Buddha shirt if not for the unfortunate fact that redheads can almost never pull off wearing red.

Also throwing some designs at Design by Humans: the totally rad Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos (also known as “Not That Chris Eliopoulos!”), whom you’ll be hearing quite a lot about, very soon…

Then there’s Paul Pope for DKNY and James Jean for Prada, which is just another matter entirely.


“embedded .wav files of coins rattling in a paper cup”

Achewood (The Best Comic on the Internet) just announced The Achewood Donation and Patronage Program, making Chris Onstad the latest webcartoonist to shift into a more explicit system of distributed patronage. The best other example I know of is Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots, who moved to full-time cartooning purely on the basis of a successful online donation drive. Onstad has, for some years now, been supporting the Achewood family purely through merchandise sales (the traditional model for full-time webcartooning is a combination of merchandise and advertising… do we call this the Khoo model?), but apparently he’s decided to take it to another level. Maybe money was getting tight. Considering that the internet is chock-full of people who would cut off their thumbs to keep Achewood in their lives — and I’m no exception — it sounds like a pretty good idea.

Appropriately enough, the original alt text for this 2002 strip was “Roast Beef tshirts available NOW. Contact with ORDERS.”

It’s also really interesting that this move takes place just as the news breaks about Dark Horse’s publication of an Achewood collection. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but there it is. Just coincidence, I guess.

~ ~ ~

There’s been a lot of discussion about digital arts economics lately — primarily focused on the music business, since it’s the most visible example of an industry flailing around in search of a new business model. Everybody wants digital music, lots of people are ready to admit that artists need to be paid, and quite a few bright people are looking at serious strategies for making that happen.

  • Seth Godin gives a rapid-fire “for God’s sake, try something new; here are some ideas” speech to a room full of record executives.
  • Kevin Kelly presents a cogent summary of one very popular strategy: make almost everything available for free, which creates a few die-hard fans who will spend big money on exclusives, thereby subsidizing everything else.

As both of those articles insist, a key factor to this new model is creating a personal connection, so that fans are able to trust that their money is going to the right place. What’s happening is that the per-unit cost of a piece of art is being eliminated — not just becoming zero, it’s ceasing to even be a concept. Instead, fans are being asked to pay for the whole experience of receiving stuff from an artist. But in order for that to work, it needs to be a sustained, thriving experience rather than a cut-and-dry transaction. To draw upon a bit of anthropological theory, it’s the transition between a market economy (in which the item is a commodity, i.e. its value is completely irrespective of its source) and a gift economy (in which a large amount of the item’s value derives from the relationship in which the exchange takes place). Seth Goodin wants to give lots of money to his favorite musician, Ricky Lee Jones — he admits he’s already spent a fortune acquiring every recording she’s ever made — but he wants to hear from her in exchange. If you want a less touchy-feely example: I joined Netflix, and my estimation of the value of an individual DVD immediately plummeted. But I was (and am) extremely happy to pay Netflix a monthly fee for the ability to have the world of film at my fingertips, see all the movies I’d always wanted to see, discover great obscure works, interact with my friends’ movie tastes, and generally be a member of the Netflix community. If they were to launch a new feature where filmmakers contact me (respectfully and tastefully) based on my previous viewing habits and request funding for new projects using a portion of my Netflix subscriber fee, I’d be happy to do it.

An interesting question (and rather pertinent to my situation!): what happens to the middlemen? What new directions can, say, a publisher be exploring, so that they can continue to follow their mission of helping creators and fans reach each other, and continue to make a living? Considering that artists are often too busy creating to handle editing/production/marketing/distribution/programming/accounting, I don’t think there’s any chance of us becoming obsolete. Also, Top Shelf artists in particular tend to have a shared sensibility that fans respond to loyally (at the very least, they’re unified by the fact that Chris and Brett like them, so so there’s naturally a lot of crossover appeal). There will always be a need for ancillary staff to handle the things that artists aren’t good at or don’t have time for, and there will always be a need for trusted voices that help readers sift through the overwhelming amount of culture available to them. But I suspect that both of those roles will continue to change as the digital economy continues to grow.

We live in interesting times!

Excellence in advertising: Canadian Club

Parts of the blogosphere caught this months ago. I care not. Excellence abides by no schedule!


Here‘s the press release. “A new advertising campaign from Canadian Club (CC) Whisky is urging men to reclaim their masculinity after years of being subjected to trendy, martini-style fruity cocktails.”

about those Watchmen costumes…

or: How Smart Is Zack Snyder?

A) really dumb?

We’ve approached each character individually regarding the design of their costume. In most cases, we have remained very close to the graphic novel. Although in some cases, we’ve made adjustments. I think Nite Owl and Silk Spectre have probably been changed the most from the original designs. We felt these changes were necessary because we live in a comic-book cinema world where costumes have been fetishized to a huge degree. The costumes, as they’re drawn, might not be accessible to many of today’s audiences. I also felt that audiences might not appreciate the naiveté of the original costumes. So, there has been some effort to give them a slightly more… I would say modern look — and not modern in the sense of 2007, but modern in terms of the superhero aesthetic. It was also important to me that they appealed to my own taste as a moviegoer.


or B) kind of clever?

Lastly and possibly most important, I wanted to be sure that they comment directly on many of today’s modern masked vigilantes — who shall remain nameless…


I think that for me, it’s about adapting that great work into a movie, but it’s also certainly about making a film that does hopefully to the cinematic superhero genre, what the book did to the comic book world. It’s my hope and my intent to shine a light on the current state of superhero movies and what they mean to pop culture, and what they mean to people who enjoy them, and comic book fans.


As in most contemporary superhero movies, the costumes are grotesque fetish objects — more or less suits of sex armor — which combine a ten-year-old boy’s ideas about both sex and industrial design, then turn everything up to 11. Do they make me want to vomit? Yes. Is it the appropriate look for a film adaptation of Watchmen — which is fundamentally be an act of deconstruction and cultural commentary?


This gets at a bigger question: how can anyone possibly make a film of Watchmen when the entirety of geek pop culture has been killing itself trying to be Watchmen for twenty years? Comics, television, and movies have been relentlessly pursuing the decadent, cartoonish (and frankly idiotic) “realism” that [they thought] they found in late-80s comics (Watchmen, Dark Knight, Miracleman) ever since. Some segments of superhero comics are still stuck in the 90s, but quite a lot of them have finally shoved off and found a new aesthetic to play in.

Unfortunately, just as comics are starting to finish digesting 1986 and escape from the era of X-treme,* the rest of the world is playing catch-up. Frank Miller and Zack Snyder have brought the world of pop culture back into Miller’s brain circa 1995, and if you liked it the first time, you’ll LOVE it now that your co-workers can quote Sin City at you!

*[of course, the most interesting recent work in comics was never influenced by 1986 to begin with.]

I think Snyder is a really smart guy who knows what he’s doing. I think a lot of viewers will pick up on the metatextual nature of Watchmen (both film and comic). But I worry that, like Fight Club before it, the Watchmen phenomenon (and it will be a phenomenon) will simultaneously celebrate that which it criticizes, and a lot of dudes are going to come out of the theater totally pumped about what they just saw, brah. A mass-market version of comic fans’ response to Watchmen the comic.

And we’ll be in for a whole ‘nother plague of copycats. Except this outbreak won’t be limited to the world of superhero comics. You thought Pointy Batman was bad? Wait till we get Chain-Smoking Wife-Beating Indiana Jones and Lion-O‘s Stress-Induced Erectile Dysfunction.

EDIT: How appropriate that these should come out the same week as Michael Chabon’s essay about the impossibility of reproducing a hand-drawn costume in the real world.

Herr Charlie Starr

In lieu of content:

This is the best thing I’ve seen so far today:

charlie starr

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.