The Comic-Con Alternative: The Non Con

The Non Con

(Logo by Ryan Fisher)

Not everyone could be at Comic-Con this past weekend. But through the magic of the intertubes, a group of web-comics creators were able to quickly set up a virtual convention for all the people not at Comic-Con. Conceived and spearheaded by Ryan Fisher of Gin and Comics, The Non Con served as a place for fans and creators to interact through live chats that simultaneously resemble Comic-Con’s panels and artists alley but with none of the traveling costs and long lines. Response was very positive, so Fisher plans to hold more non-conventions at TheNonCon.com, probably starting as soon as the first weekend of September.

The site is officially in public beta, as the site was built within 2 days before Comic-Con when Fisher got the idea. There is a slideshow currently showing off some of the artwork created by artists that attended the inaugural event. Creators and retailers can also register to participate in future Non Cons.

The live chat is particularly ingenious due to the inclusion of live video feeds integrated into the chat room. When I spent some time in there, I was able to watch two artists creating artwork for their own web-comics. It was really cool to watch. We could ask them questions and interact in a way that would be difficult on a loud convention floor. Visitors can chat either through the old fashioned keyboard or by using a microphone and/or webcam, which creates a really interesting dynamic of some people talking to silent/typed questions or comments. If you don’t want to sign up with the WordPress system they’re using (and the registration process isn’t quite the smoothest), there’s also integration with Facebook chat.

Ryan Fisher has big plans for The Non Con. There will be a few each year, with over 150-200 creators attending each one. There will be an art feed to see what is being created, as well as a schedule of panels done via chat and podcasts. There will also be a store for attending creators and retailers to sell directly to fans.

Comic-Con is a fun adventure but not anyone can travel across the country (or the world) to attend. This brings the experience of comic book conventions straight to fans, with an unprecedented level of interaction and creativity happening all at once. Sure, similar things are happening on Twitter all the time, but they’re unstructured, spontaneous, and requires people search out and follow the people they like. This preserves the crucial element of discovery that can happen at comic book conventions, where you seek out artists you know and love, and also end up finding new artists.

As big as Comic-Con has become, this has even bigger potential, as the attendance limitations are only confined to how much the site’s servers can handle. We’ll check in again come September to see how the first full blown Non Con goes.

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.

Webcomic A Life In The Clouds uses Twitter to mix story into our modern world

A Life in the Clouds by Mike Vennard and Shawn Decker

A new webcomic debuted last week with a unique twist on incorporating the environment within which webcomics exist: the internet, specifically social media in the form of Twitter.

A Life in the Clouds by writer/letterer Mike Vennard, artist Shawn Decker and colorist Omaik debuted on May 31 and is updating nearly daily. Looking reminiscent of autobiographical comics from the 1970s and ’80s like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, the strip chronicles one man’s struggles with unemployment.

But perhaps more significantly, it also utilizes a very modern device, both in and outside of the story. Each page’s narrative caption is not just a snippet of the main character’s inner thoughts, they double as what he is posting to Twitter. And post them, he does. You can follow @DavidMawyer, where each of his captions are tweeted to the world, along with links to each page as they go live. This obviously doubles as a smart marketing tool, but the character and comic are truly products of the social media age, using hashtags, memes and tech geek references as part of the character’s language to add a touch of dry humor to what looks to be an otherwise sad and lonely journey to which all too many people can probably relate.

It doesn’t always work flawlessly (the friend request reference on page 3 doesn’t quite work since it’s not like there’s a sexual partner request for people to use as an alternative) but it’s an interesting way to incorporate elements of the modern world and a compelling experiment. This kind of integration and live participation is a definite strength of webcomics that should be explored more. I assume this isn’t the first. Are there other webcomics out there similar to this? Post them in the comments below so we can check them out.

Web-Comics About Comics

I have long wanted to start a web-comics hub where creators could talk about the issues of the wild and wacky world of comics using the language of comics. I’ve always thought that was the most obvious and natural method to tackle the oddities and challenges of the industry, whether it be behind-the-scenes politics, reactions to comics of the day, op/ed pieces on the business, interviews, whatever. All of it in the compelling and powerful language of sequential arts, the very language at which these creators excel. Why have boring text articles when talking about comics? Heck, I’ve even got the domain name ready to go. I just need… oh you know, money, time, resources, creators/contributors. Silly little things like that.

In the meantime, there are other comics online that are doing similar work on their own. I love that they exist, so in case you don’t know about them or forgot the link, here are the ones I know about. You should check them out! If I’ve missed any, I’d love to hear about it. Add it in the comments section or email me and I’ll add it in.

The Rack, 2007-present

The Rack by Kevin Church and Benjamin Birdie

While other web-comics had commented on comics, like PvP by Scott Kurtz, Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner (and plenty of one-off online comics too), to my knowledge, The Rack was the first web-comic series strictly about comics.

The comic launched February 2, 2007, as part of Kevin’s Agreeable Comics network of web-comics. (He’s got to be one of the most prolific web-comics creators.) The strip tells the story of the eclectic staff of a comic book store. The focus is more on the characters in the store with occasional reactions to what’s going on in comics, but it definitely has a retailer perspective.

Comic Critics!, 2008-present

Comic Critics! by Sean Whitmore and Brandon Hanvey

Debuting June 18, 2008, the strip follows fanboy Josh Sands and indie snob Marissa Goldman and their circle of friends as they obsess about, deride, and generally laugh at and with the shenanigans of the world of comic book publishing. A lot of the focus is on superhero comics of Marvel and DC but it also looks at other aspects of the industry. Unlike most web-comics, the strip is formatted for vertical scrolling and doesn’t limit itself to the newspaper tradition of 3-4 panels, which allows them to pack their strips with multiple comedic beats and really build to punchlines. Some of the strips might be a bit too steeped in the inside headlines and scuttlebutt, and they don’t provide links or any commentary on what they’re riffing on, but there’s still plenty of good material to chew on for those with a more general pop culture awareness.

Comic Critics is probably my favorite, partly because I found out about it before The Rack (thanks to Brian Cronin’s Comics Should Be Good blog, which also runs the strip) but also because it does what it does really well.

Let's Be Friends Again, 2008-present

Let’s Be Friends Again by Curt Franklin and Chris Haley

Following only a few months later, LBFA is about two friends (essentially, themselves) who really like comics. Some of the strips aren’t directly talking about comics but they are definitely immersed in the geek culture associated with most comics. The strip will also step into realities parodying current events, like Captain America falling for email forwards and Hawkman getting incensed on Bill O’Reilly over Superman renouncing his US citizenship. The strip mostly follows the more traditional 3-panel format with what is now the standard website layout for web-comics with an easy navigator to previous strips and a brief comment from the creators and a comments section.

Franklin and Haley also contribute Comics, Everybody!, an intermittent web-series of “funny because they’re true” recaps of the ridiculously convoluted histories of most superheroes for Comics Alliance, as well as other extra material. Talented guys, clearly.

Gin and Comics, 2010-present

Gin and Comics by Ryan Fisher

Starting in early 2010, Fisher’s Gin and Comics follows three roommates (two guys, and a girl added recently) attempting to be adults while surrounded by comic books and pop culture. The comic itself is a bit rough around the edges, but the experience is enhanced by the site’s coverage of the material it is satirizing, essentially doubling as a comics news site and web-comic. Moreso than the other two, this strip focuses more on the relationships of the characters and their reactions to comics news.

Like LBFA, the strip uses a familiar navigator and 4-panel layout. Fisher accompanies each strip with commentary to give some context on any references made.

Our Valued Customers, 2010-present

Our Valued Customers by MRTIM

Not exactly a web-comic, but definitely funny and definitely a great source of humor and spot-on observations. Begun March 1, 2010, this is a series of single-panel sketches of actual customers that frequent a comic book store that for obvious reasons has been left unrevealed. Heck, maybe it’s your store! Even if it isn’t, you’ve probably met some of these people.

Our Valued Customers is a parade of unique characters that a comics retailer probably sees on a daily basis. The people represented here are definitely not shining examples of the world of comics. Instead, the cartoons serve as a reminder that there’s still a lot of room for improvement in how a vocal section of fans conduct themselves and represent comics.

The Gutters, 2010-present

The Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The newest addition, debuting June 12, 2010, is a unique strip with a different approach to making web-comics. To my knowledge, this is the only strip that uses a different artist for each day’s page or strip. They have a rotating stable from which they pull and they also bring in other artists to contribute one-off entries, all coordinated by art director deSouza. They’re always on the look-out for new artists, whether it be in person at comic book conventions or through their submissions page on their website. Because there isn’t a consistent writer/artist team building a chemistry in their work, the strip can be hit-and-miss, but the unconventional format keeps the strip fresh and vibrant.

Each page is self-contained and parodies an aspect of the industry, usually focusing on Marvel, DC and other high profile publishers and events of the faithful weekly readers. Each page also includes commentary from Sohmer and links for more information on the topic(s) of the day (although the layout of the site makes it easy to completely miss the links). There’s also a pretty active comments section.

13% of comics made by women

There are likely more women making comics in North America today than ever in the history of the industry. Never has there been a greater variety of creative voices and material. It’s a great time to discover comic books.

But just because it’s better than ever…

Comics material produced by women creators only makes up 13.2% of comics released to retailers and book stores in November so far, according to Ladies Making Comics. This excludes manga imported to North America and web-comics, which would no doubt boost that number significantly.

The comic book world is still very much a boys’ club. The industry was started by men, most of the material was created to appeal to boys and men, most of the businesses have been run by men. Of course there have been exceptions, but they were just that: exceptions to the rule. So the fact that the percentage is in the double digits should be celebrated. Just 10 years ago, I suspect that number would be half that number.

And more of the good news is that more and more female creators are no doubt inspiring new female creators that are growing up on some excellent material, so a mushrooming effect will take place. It’s frustratingly slow and there are still a lot of maddening obstacles, but I believe it’s happening. Nowhere more so than with web-comics, it seems. This is an amazingly fertile ground for fostering imaginative talents and they don’t have to break into a male dominated corporate structure to be seen. They just have to be good, produce material on a regular basis, and have some savviness with social media. And then you get things like Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto, Stop Paying Attention by Lucy Knisley, Fart Party by Julia Wertz, Templar, Arizona by Spike, Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran, KinokoFry: A Collection of Comics by Rebecca Clements, DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Diary by Erika Moen (which has sadly come to an end but is still a fantastic read), and many more. Have any favorites?