Here is the very exciting “Masters of Webcomics” panel I hosted at the 2016 Silicon Valley Comic Con. The panel took place on Sunday, March 20th, in Room 2 at 12:00 noon.
Four of the panelists were guests on the first season of my “Masters of Webcomics” podcast, which you can find on iTunes and at MastersOfWebcomics.com. They are: Shaenon Garrity (shaenon.com), Amber Greenlee (panel2panel.com), Jonathan Lemon (lemonworld.com), Jason Thompson (mockman.com), Jason Shiga (shigabooks.com) and special mystery guest… Andy Weir, author of “The Martian” and a former webcomicer.
This being Silicon Valley, I attempted a live digital ‘satellite linkup’ with my co-host, Adam Prosser (phantasmictales.com). My good pal Dinosaur Don Howe (linkedin.com/in/donhowe) was also going to record the whole thing for playback in Virtual Reality, but that didn’t quite happen Sorry future people.
I had the idea of doing “Masters of Webcomics” one day after chatting with my Pewfell co-writer, Adam Prosser on the phone. I had been listening to a lot of podcasts, which were just becoming popular at the time. I particularly enjoy, and was inspired by “Geeks Guide to the Galaxy” (https://geeksguideshow.com) and “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” (http://www.gilbertpodcast.com).
Also Kevin Smith (http://www.smodcast.com) was urging his listeners to make podcasts. He went on about how special it is just to have a recording of one’s voice to pass on down the generations. Because voices get lost, and it can be magical to hear them again after a long time. So I wanted to set something down on the record for posterity. Something about myself, and the people I met and the friends I made at one particular time and place on this planet we call Earth.
Anyway, I was chatting with Adam, and I suddenly thought that our conversation would make a good podcast. So I made some notes, and jotted down some lofty ideals, a bunch of different thoughts I’d had about things, and an overall vision for the show.
The idea of talking out loud intrigued me. I do not like public speaking, but probably no more so than most people and I’m not particularly averse to it. On the whole, I prefer to think of myself as a writer (and cartoonist). But once I get going I usually don’t mind it. On the whole, though, when public speaking, I prefer to deliver the scripted word, rather than the impromptu aside – though sometimes I fancy that I am OK at those too.
I wanted to say a lot about cartooning and the world of webcomics, in particular one of my more lofty goals was to elevate webcomics as an art form. However, I also wanted to say something about myself, my disability and who I am as an artist. I was born with Spina Bifida, and it’s a condition that gradually degenerates with age. I was pretty much OK for most of my youth, but as I get older my mobility is deteriorating, along with and in spite of everything. Generally-speaking I am a positive person and can take this in stride. However, I’m also quite social, and it can be hard for me to get out a lot, so calling people up for podcasts seemed like a good way to spend my time.
Or maybe it was the desire to resist, to fight against something. To not go quietly into that good night. Was that what ultimately drove me on?!?! lolz IDK. Anyway I figured it would be easy enough so WTF.
Of course, knowing nothing is a good way to enter into a project, the less you know the easier it is to do something. I recorded a show with Adam on a Sunday morning in my pajamas, tracked down the awesome “Web Cartoonists Song” by Owen Dunn which I had heard once many years ago, stole the He-Man Theme Tune from the internet (I am happy to split the royalties!) and banged it all together with a couple of nails.
Well, it was probably a piece of shit in technical terms, but I was pretty pleased with it. I listened to it over a couple of times and after editing it, still didn’t totally hate myself. It was easy, and we were away.
I had a list of people I wanted to contact, prioritizing friends I had made back in my early webcomicing days. Top of my list was my pal A.P. Furtado, who was probably the fellow cartoonist I was was closest to on the Internet without ever having met them. We had exchanged many long emails and blog posts over the years, and had had a lot of fun cheering each other on to make the kind of ridiculous, old-school, Heavy Metal-style fantasy comics that no-one wants to read anymore. Ha ha, well, we enjoyed each other’s work and had a lot of the same influences. I knew he was a cool guy, and I had some idea of what he looked like by now thanks to Facebook, but for many years he was pretty secretive with his identity and public persona, and I just really wanted to chat with him.
Anyway Adam & I called him and we got into it right away and it was an awesome time. Yes, it was a great first, real show and I felt very good about it.
Around that time there was an event at the Cartoon Art Museum called “Night of 1000 Sketches”. I was attending in my capacity as a Cartoonist to draw sketches for paying customers at this big fundraiser. The Cartoon Art Museum is fantastic. It is an instrumental and fundamental part of this story. So much of what happened around the Comics Scene in San Francisco happened there. But, not for the first time in their history, they were being forced to move. San Francisco is like that. Cartooning and comics may not be seen as much of an art in the current culture, but I am a true believer in their magical power and capacity as an art form. We have only just begun to explore what comics can do. By the Power of Alan Moore’s Beard, I do declare it!!!
So, yes, promoting webcomics as an art form was one of my loftiest goals. To turn the world topsy-turvy is my ultimate aim. Back then, webcomics were probably regarded as the absolute lowest form of art. Of course. There is no barrier to entry. That is but one of the many reasons why they are the greatest art form of all.
These days they are all over it. All the young artists want to jump on board, and they are marking some amazing things that completely blow you out of the water. And that’s how it should be.
Anyway, I was at this do, which was fun, but very sad because it meant the end of an era, and I rant into Shaenon Garritty, Jason Thompson and Jonathan Lemon, and asked them to come on the show. Jason & Shaenon were two of the local cartoonists I knew the best as they were both part of ModernTales.com.
ModernTales is another big part of this story. It was a pioneering professional webcomics collective set up by the late Joey Manley in the early 2000s. Joey died of pneumonia in 2013, at age 48. Joey brought together a fantastic group of the best young, independent comic artists of the time. The real seeds of the current webcomics world. The Yin to the Keenspot Yang, or whatever. Cartoonists like the super Gene Yang, the stellar Derek Kirk Kim, and the Incredible Jason Shiga, were three other locals who participated, and whose names you should know… but there were others from all over the States and the rest of the world. It just all really felt like… something.
Webcomics at that time and in this place (San Francisco Bay Area), truly rode the crest of the wave that was the internet. From the earliest days when we had struggled over slow modem connections to upload and download JPGs that took forever. We had coders amongst us and we were always at the forefront of the digital revolution. Figuring out our own HTML as we went. At the time of ModernTales there was an intense debate about micro-payments and how you could get paid doing work on the internet. ModernTales was to be a subscription-based service.
It went swimmingly for a good while, but gradually, over time, the business model failed. It was too hard to attract new subscribers. That was the lesson, as you needed free access to the material to generate the new readers. Well, it’s an ongoing debate but perhaps becoming obsolete.
Anyway, at the time, ModernTales was setting out where no-one had gone before. And it carried with it a whole bunch of excellent and amazingly talented artists. It sailed out of port and off across the ocean blue, on the clearest of sunny days. It sailed happily on, through many adventures, and pirate battles, until gradually it let in too much water and sank beneath the waves, it’s crew clinging to whatever life-rafts or floatation devices they could cling onto, and were carried off to many strange destinations.
Cap’n Joey moved out of Marin and off to Kentucky, to live the life of a gay colonel with his partner Joe, and I never saw him again. But Joey believed in us, and he got us all going, and invested his own money, which he’d gotten from an internet deal just before the first dot-com bubble burst. By coincidence, this windfall occurred from the sale of a company he worked for that was run by a couple of guys who were friends of a friend of mine back in old England.
Another thing that connects this podcast with Joey (and this shows how he was ahead of his time), was that the ModernTales project evolved from a short series of recorded interviews, just like this one, that he called “TalkAboutComics.com”. I think those are lost now, but I’d like to think of this series as a companion piece to them.
So, yes, another goal for this podcast was to pay tribute to Joey Manley, and follow up on some of the people who I had met at conventions and had shared a connection with back in those days. To tell our story and set it in its proper historical context. Because, as I believe I mentioned, I believe in the power of comics. By the Power of Alan Moore’s Beard!!!
At this point, I should just say something about Adam Prosser. He is the R2 D2 to my C3 P0. If you’ve even seen the more recent episodes (and movie) of the British “Alan Partridge” show with Steve Coogan, then it is more exactly like that arrangement. With me like Alan, prattling on idiotically and thinking about myself and what I want to say, and with Adam (like Alan’s Sidekick Simon) actually listening to the guests, and making some truly excellent off-the-cuff gags, which I only caught when I listened back to the shows afterwards. Great Job Dude.
Ok, where was I? Oh, yes. The interview train was rattling along, calling at all the stops. Sure, the more I did the podcast, the more I began to realize how bad I was at it. But it was still fun and was very easy to do.
Then I had a brainwave.
I was going to be exhibiting at the new Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose, and I saw that Andy Weir, the author of the popular book (which was made into a movie), “The Martian”, was going to be there. Somehow, perhaps due to a podcast I’d listened to, I knew that Andy Weir used to do a webcomic. So I emailed him, and asked him if he wanted to be on a webcomics panel hosted by me at the convention. He emailed back right away and agreed, which was awesome! He was so cool about it, and even though I didn’t have any prior connection with him, he very gamely came on the panel. He was an absolute star about it the whole time, and it was recorded, and this here is the result.
The whole panel went off fantastically well. Thank you to everyone who attended. I wish I had a shot of the audience, but you were a great bunch and it was a very fun thing to do. Once Andy had agreed to be there, I quickly managed to put a panel together that included Jonathan Lemon, Jason Thompson and Shaenon Garrity. I also really wanted to squeeze one more person on there, and that was Jason Shiga. I am a huge fan of Shiga’s work. He really is a mestro, and I just admire everything about him. I had been on a panel with him once before, and I had seen a great stunt he had pulled at the Eisner Awards at the San Diego Comic Con, where he won best new talent or some-such. Instead of appearing himself, he sent a caucasian friend to collect the award on his behalf and who read out a speech Jason had written about his parents immigrating from Korea. I’m not sure how well it was received, but, knowing Jason, I thought it was awesome. Anyway, I knew Jason was just concluding his latest masterpiece, the epic “Demon”, and I figured he’d just be the perfect person to round out the panel.
Since then Jason has just now departed for a year in Angouleme, the comics capital of France. He has been selected to be paid to live and write comics there for a year (so I think that should just about tell you how f-ing good he is).
Note: I did also have Amber Greenlee originally scheduled to appear, but she unfortunately had to drop out.
Anyway, all my guests were magnificent, and it went fantastically well. Listen to the previous podcast if you want to hear more of a post-mortem on the whole show. This here is the audio of the event. There is also a video you watch on YouTube here:
The video is edited to include slides and this audio track is taken straight from it.
Anyway, since then, I’ve kind of wound down on the podcast. We did the Ryan North interview (episode 8) after the SVCC panel, and I was really starting to feel that my technical skills were way too lacking for such a prestigious guest.
I had emailed Scott Kurtz to ask his permission to use his photo in the credits to the panel video, and he said he would like to come on the show. Unfortunately we had two last minute scheduling conflicts and it never happened… which was a shame because I had make a joke at the outset that I was perhaps traveling down the river into my own Heart of Darkness to meet with Col. Scott Kurtz at the end. So that would have wrapped things up nicely. But you know, there are still many other people on my hit list that I would really love to talk to, so maybe the time is yet to come…
If I was going to continue the series, I would like to explore some issues surrounding disability in webcomics. I would love to do a show with Rob “Hell on Wheels” McCarthy (http://www.howcomics.com), and this is another comics project I find very worthwhile: https://www.departmentofability.com
Oh well, I guess that’s it for now. I hope these shows will stand the test of time. Creating something that can do that is always a goal of mine. Whoever you are who are reading this, thank you. You have now reached the end. Goodnight.