Category — Book Reviews
So the Humble Indie Bundle, famous for giving away indie games for whatever price appeases you, is now doing something totally different. Namely, an eBook bundle with some literature I frankly barely heard about — well, Cory Doctorow is somewhat famous… I think — and I signed in because, eh, new books for about $15 6 pieces? Heck, count me in! I’m sure I’ll read them… sometime. Yes. Of course. That’s not the point, though.
Point is, today we’ve had awesomer news, that they are now adding 5 webcomic books to the list! Oh boy, webcomic collections in my iPad, I wonder what awesome underrated independent comics they’ll–
xkcd, Penny Arcade and SMBC.
My enthusiasm couldn’t be more dampened now, believe me. I mean, it’s not just the deep contempt I hold for xkcd, or how faint my enthusiasm is about Penny Arcade and SMBC, which I enjoy but not to that extent. No, not really.
It’s because, this being the Humble Indie Bundle, I expected something more… indie, I guess? Like, more underrated authors that aren’t obviously not struggling to launch their books and make a living in webcomics. At least two authors of not amazingly-famous comics instead of two extra books of PA and SMBC! Maybe even my own Webcomics United Collection #1, that you can download right here in CBR or CBZ format! A PDF release is planned for the first actual book, but that’s way ahead. Yes, I’m shamelessly self-promoting myself.
But you get me: more space for people who aren’t apparently just giving away unwanted stock. As much as digital downloads constitute “stock” that can occupy space in any way. It’s a metaphor, you know.
Eh, might as well do something useful with those downloads I unknowingly bought in advance anyway. Remember we have a “Book Reviews” category in this blog? Let’s revive it!
October 16, 2012 3 Comments
You read the title, let’s just get on through this. Slowly. For there are huge amounts of pointlessness at the end…
August 2, 2011 7 Comments
I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Rowland’s surreal diary comic Overcompensating. It took me a while to read through the archives when I first started, but I thought it was worth it, especially since I think it’s gotten better as it goes along. Like Achewood, I think Overcompensating has a wonderful way of using language – even if most of the time it’s Weedmaster P calling someone a dick ass in a new and fun way. Rowland is able to write dialect in a way that still feels authentic – that’s really difficult to do. But when you read the characters in Overcompensating, they sound like real people.
I also like the fact that his characters will be wearing shirts that change text randomly or they will all be wearing costumes, and no one will comment on this.
None of that is particularly relevant here, I just want to establish that I like Overcompensating a lot, and have high hopes for Mr. Rowland’s future both with his comic and with the TopatoCo empire he has forged with his own robot arms.
Point being, when I heard he was making an Overcompensating book, I was very excited. Then I thought to myself, “why did this take so long? he has about 6 years of archives – he could have released a book years ago.” Then I went back to being excited.
August 31, 2010 1 Comment
I dearly love Kate Beaton’s History Comics (or, as the comic is now known, “Hark! A Vagrant”) and was more than happy to help support her comicking. She has a way of making little sketches off-handedly which nevertheless amuse me (and I assume amuse others, since she tends to post them often). For example. In any case, the point is that I eagerly awaited her book being released.
Alas, I was disappointed. First, by the sheer brevity of it – only 68 pages, most with only one comic. There’s absolutely no new drawings in the book, and most of the short notes after the comics are the same as the ones on the website (some adapted for the book format rather than a web format). There’s no introduction (besides a two sentence “about this book” and a three sentence “about the author”) and no real context for the book. There isn’t even a title page or a copyright page – the whole thing has the feel of something thrown together as fast as possible.
That’s not to say it looks haphazard; the comics are printed fine and there is no real problem with what is there, only with how much is not there. I think for her next book, Ms. Beaton should print at least twice as many comics as in this one, so it can feel more substantial. I’d also love to see more commentary – including more on the history. Most readers aren’t going to have more than a passing familiarity – at best – with her subject matter. I certainly don’t. Telling us more about some of these people and events would be nice. Some extra sketches would be great – perhaps practices for certain comics, or experiments with different ways of doing certain panels.
I strongly believe that a book of webcomics needs to give the reader something more than what they can get online – otherwise why buy it, besides supporting the author? [Achewood has been setting the bar on this count, incidentally] I’d like to think of this book as a subpar first draft from a comic that can do better, and I hope Kate Beaton and TopatoCo learn from Never Learn Anything from History.
June 23, 2010 1 Comment
But then he started writing a third story, Problem Sleuth, and he used a little more discretion in deciding which suggestions he would use to advance the plot. The story exploded into a year-long epic and MSPA has been going strong ever since. The plot follows a detective, Problem Sleuth (really his title but functionally his name) and his two compatriots, Ace Dick and Pickle Inspector, as they attempt to leave their office building. Jumping in and out of “reality,” acquiring new weapons and skills, duplicating themselves, dying, going back and forward in time, and dealing with all sorts of Weird Puzzle Shit, the story is complex, to say the least. It takes the form of a text-based adventure game, with a command for a character at the bottom of each panel. Online, the reader clicks the command and the next page shows the consequence of that action, with a new command underneath that. Repeat 1700 times.
There are, of course, two ways to read the story online: In real time, a panel or two a day, stretched over a year, or all at once. The two are quite different, as I am realizing – I personally jumped on the MSPA bandwagon after PS was over, and I’ve been reading the current story, Homestuck, more or less in real time for the last year. PS, though, I went back and read all at once.
The main difference, I think, is that these stories are full of incredible detail. If you are reading a particularly long scene, for example, it may stretch over several weeks (remember that the final boss fight of PS is the entire second half of the story). If reading the story is something that you do a few minutes a day for months, you are liable to forget some of the details as large chunks of the rest of your life happen in between installments. Reading all at once, with only a few breaks, that’s less likely to happen. Hundreds of panels ago may only be an hour or so back.
May 20, 2010 2 Comments
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Dinosaur Comics. So when a twist of fate forced me to buy a book online, I chose the only Dinosaur Comics book yet published, “Your Whole Family is Made Out of Meat: The Best of Dinosaur Comics 2003-2005 AD.” Unfortunately, the book is little more than a printout of some of the comics online.
So what’s in this book? First of all, the TopatoCo description claims that this book contains all the comics from 2003, when Dinosaur Comics started, through 2005. That’s just completely false. I wish it did, but that would be something like 600 or 700 comics, and this book contains only about 250. The title even says it’s “the best of” so really to suggest anything else is just dumb.
It has an introduction – a short, very short introduction – by Joey Comeau, and that’s about it. Nothing from Ryan North besides a single line of dedication. A few strange photos from Found Magazine and precious little else is new in the book. Alt-texts are included under the comic, but only one – as you may know, Dinosaur Comics each have 3 alt texts. Hope you only enjoyed the rollover one, because that’s all you are going to get in this book!
Part of (perhaps most of?) the trick with books of webcomics is figuring out the balance between new and old material. Obviously, a good comic is successful because of its old content, that’s what people know and what gained it its fame. But all its old content is (usually) still available online, so people need some additional reason to buy the book. The xkcd book solved this problem in a perfectly fine way; it had an substantial introduction, doodles and comments, and of course, those absurd puzzles (which are, of course, pretty great for the mind of your average xkcd fan). The Achewood book, created as it was by a man obsessed with writing about his characters, had commentary, and introduction, and dozen or so pages of text backstory. The Dinosaur Comics book…not so much.
So the bulk of the book is the comics. And the comics are great, but you expected me to say that. I love them. Obviously. They’re clever and sarcastic and energetic and thoughtful but that’s all true online as well. Heck, at least online they are in color. Turning T-Rex and pals into black and white, as they are here, takes away something from the comic: It’s lower energy, and seeing the same 6 shades-of-gray panels over and over gets monotonous faster than the color-filled ones online.
And there are ads in the back. What kind of book has ads in the back? And not cool ads, just lame ads for the publisher.
Dinosaur Comics is one of the more popular comics online – one of the few able to be self-sustaining – and it’s odd that its one attempt at publishing would be such a failure. I hope Mr. North and people he works with now can figure out what they did wrong (maybe by reading this post!) and try again – maybe the audience is big enough now that with a good approach, they could start over. Maybe release all the comics in yearly volumes? It would still be about 250-300 comics per book, but have a sense of completeness to it for obsessives like me. Dinosaur Comics is too great a thing to give up on.
December 19, 2009 3 Comments
Achewood’s characters are unlike anything else in the world of webcomics. Not only does he revel in having them interact with each other, seeing just how their own personalities and speech patterns work with each other and in different situations. For example, when Lyle gives adorable five-year-old Phillipe his copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook, Phillipe does exactly the “right” thing for his character. You read it and you go yes! that is exactly what Phillipe would do!
Chris Onstad is basically obsessed with the world of Achewood. He freakin wrote blogs for all the characters for years. He managed 12 blogs. TWELVE. And they were filled with just more and more conversations between the characters. Here’s a Thanksgiving one from a few years back. Here’s another, non-thanksgiving one. He wrote a cookbook in the voice of all his characters, and when that wasn’t enough, he wrote another one.
All of this is to say that when the second official Achewood book came out (but in many ways the first one doesn’t count, so this new one is the first one) no one should be surprised that it is chock full of character stories.
The comics themselves are things we’ve all seen before – starting with the first comic and taking us up through this one – though not every comic from the period is included. Unlike the Great Outdoor Fight book, it does include alt-texts [as an aside, the alt-texts are included in small type underneath each comic, leading me again to wonder why the xkcd book needed to stick its alt texts in random places and at random angles between panels. Also, the title of each comic is included, something I thought xkcd should have done to help organization].
Note: color comics have been rendered in black and white. It isn’t a big deal – there are only, by my count, six color comics in this period, and you can’t notice that anything is missing if you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like – but when the titles are things like Color Monday! it does make it pretty obvious.
Most comics have comments below them, some of which are rather trivial but many of which are pretty interesting for Achewood obsessives like me (and, as I said in the beginning, nearly every Achewood fan is an Achewood obsessive). In addition, this map is reproduced on the title page, and these two are inside the front and back covers. They look damn classy there.
But of course, for those of us who have read all these early comics so many times, the real excitement is the new writing. There are no new comics, but there’s a Prologue, featuring a regular day’s conversation between Onstad, Ray, and Roast Beef, and there’s “A History Of Achewood,” explaining just how it is that Phillipe, Cornelius Bear, Téodor, and Lyle ended up living with Onstad. So committed to his world is Onstad, and so aware of this fact are his readers, that we don’t think twice when the introduction is missing all the usual introductory stuff – “So here’s how I started this comic, then I got famous, now I got a book, thanks for buying it” – but just goes head on into how these stuffed animals came into his life. And it feels right.
What’s a little different – but by no means problematic – is that Onstad takes a much more active role in their stories than he usually does in the comic. We know that those characters live in his house, and he made occasional appearances in the early comics, but for the most part, he’s faded away. Perhaps it is because these are early comics, but it doesn’t feel wrong to have him take this role. In any case, what we all read for is the animals, and we get plenty of that (for example, here’s Téodor: “I’m just trying to keep blood out of the food. It imparts an iron taste”).
Lastly, a note on organization: The comics are not quite presented in order. Instead, it cuts the 8 month series in half, and reverses the two halves. This actually makes a great deal of sense. The very early comics are a bit random and strange, and take a while to get used to. There are no recurring stories, and the characters aren’t really very consistent yet. In fact, Ray and Roast Beef aren’t even around. It’s fitting, then, that the book puts those first comics at the end (under the title “Before we were Achewood”) and starts with the comic that introduced the cats. The “History” segment is also split up, starting at the beginning of the book, continuing between “Achewood” and “Pre-Achewood,” and then putting the last installment at the end. It’s a clever way to make the book feel like it has more content.
It takes a while for people to get into Achewood (it took me three tries before I realized how much I loved this comic), and many of them may have an easier time with both the print format and the fact that it starts out past all the strange early comics. And of course, Achewood fans will love the book, and will likely take a very long time to get tired of these comics, no matter how often you read them. But then again, Achewood fans already knew that.
Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar: Achewood Volume II is 136 pages, hardcover, and $15.95. Note: xkcd: volume 0 was paperback and costs $18 ($35 for the signed copy!)
November 21, 2009 No Comments
First off, I want to start this by expressing deep and sincere thanks to Alexis Ohanian at Breadpig for sending me a copy of the xkcd book. The quick backstory is this: I wanted to do a review of the book; I didn’t want to pay for it; I wanted free things. So on a whim I e-mailed Alexis (who, in addition to being a founder of reddit and breadpig, is the guy interviewing Randall in the Reddit Interview). He said yes, and I was excited, but also skeptical that it would actually work out (I mean, getting my mailing address is probably a good way to play a wonderful prank on me). So that’s why I didn’t mention it too much on the blog – I wanted it in my hands first. Doubleplus thanks to Alexis because not only did he send me a copy of the book, he sent me a second copy when I told him -truthfully, don’t worry- that the first hadn’t arrived.
So let’s talk about the details. The book is about 112 pages long (the page numbers, as discussed below, are mostly useless). Some larger comics (442, 556, 475) are split up on multiple pages; some pages get multiple smaller comics (page “10001,” for example, has four one-panel comics – 179, 191, 210, and 200, in that order). Of course, some pages fit exactly one comic. This is just a necessary effect of how xkcd uses vastly differing sizes for its comics, but the result is a little jarring – the images and text on page, say, “page 111″ are huge while the comics on “page 12000″ have tiny little words and pictures. Stick figures that look about the same when you read xkcd on screen grow and shrink as you read on paper.
Yes, there are annotations and little drawings and stories included in the book, but not many. Perhaps 1/3 of the pages have them drawn in (in bright red). A few pissed me off (usually of the “if you don’t get this joke, here is what it is referencing” or “lots of people love this comic” variety), but a few were interesting. Particularly those where he mentions that he made an error in the original comic and had to go back and change it – not something he usually admits. What I was not expecting was the codes. There are lots of different codes all over the place – series of letters, braille, dancing stick figures, numbers, puzzle poems, etc. The page numbers, which appear to be in ternary, are also apparently part of the code. While that might be fun for some readers, for most it will just make the book unpaginated for all intents and purposes. I personally don’t care about the codes – to me, they are just annoying distractions that I won’t be able to or care to solve. I guess I’ll just look up the answers online sometime and see how clever they are.
That said, I am generally pleased with which comics Randall chose to put in the book. Only one of my “most hated” comics – 513 – made it to the book, but a few that I really like – 284, 285, 290, 487, to choose some at random – are there as well. Some choices are inexplicable – for example, Journal 1 and 2 are there [next to each other, unlike online] but none of the rest of that story. Why have the beginning but not the rest?
Now here is where we are going to get to one of the stranger aspects of the book, something I think is a fault, and I can’t think of why they did this: Though Randall is careful to mention in the book’s description that every comic’s alt-text is included (“discreetly,” though i don’t see why that is necessary), neither the title nor the date of the comics are included. The Penny Arcade and A Softer World parodies aren’t labeled as such, so if you don’t know those comics, you are just going to be confused. And then there are some – ok actually we’re going to do this differently.
Read this comic. I’ve deliberately taken the title, date, and alt-text away. Now, if you happen to remember that key context, this next question isn’t for you. But otherwise: did you think it was funny? Why? Just because it was a nerd playing a nerdy game?
The point I’m getting at is that this comic came out right after Gary Gygax died, and that’s him in the comic (the alt-text is “RIP, Gary”). But without that information – which is not present in the book – how is a reader supposed to know that? (The same problem exists, to a lesser extent, with comic 500. did you get it?) update: the alt-text for the Gygax comic is in fact included, as are all the alt-texts. But even with that, the context is still hard to get.
That is enough criticism for now, I think. The book is nicely printed, with the few comics that are in color looking pretty good. The “copyright” page is nice, though the introduction won’t tell you much new beyond the “How I got Started Writing XKCD” stuff. And I do really like the back cover.
In short, it’s a book that an xkcd fan – or even someone who used to be a fan – will like, but if you are expecting much more than what you can find online, you’ll be disappointed.
(update: Hey, look which book review is on twitter. if you said “this one” well yeah, that was obvious)
October 15, 2009 3 Comments