Review ~OF~ Unshelved Vol. 6: Frequently Asked Questions

This begins my look at various comics around the web that I discovered during this year’s NEWW (also known as Webcomics Weekend for those who may have already forgotten). First up is Unshelved, the hugely popular library humor comic from writer Gene Ambaum and artist Bill Barnes. Now given my experiences with both creators at the event, I figured their sixth volume, titled, Frequently Asked Questions, would beunshelvedvol6 full of pithy dialogue and smart moments that invoked deep thought and intriguing questions.

What I found after reading the nearly 90 pages of strips (collected from Feb. 07 to Feb. 08), followed by several editions of the Unshelved Book Club, a Sunday-running addition where the cast takes a look at the hottest books in a review/synopsis format), was an exact opposite of that expectation. The humor is dry and very accessible, featuring common punchlines and simple storylines that don’t bother with weaving in and out of continuity in lieu of uncomplicated setups and characters that forgo development and depth for simplicity and accessability.

First, I found this difference to be off-putting. After meeting both men, especially the ukelele-strumming, biting-comment-throwing Mr. Barnes, I was not ready for a strip that was rudimentarily drawn and simplistically written. As I picked up the book, however, he informed me that all volumes should be instantly accessible due to simple storylines and shallow, if not fun, characters. The more I thought about my underwhelmed reaction, the more the premise started to really shine through for me.

Unshelved is a librarian’s strip made for librarians to enjoy and share. Bill and Gene regularly attend library conventions (rousing shin-digs that THOSE must be) and do incredible business with that crowd. You have to figure that they, being greater in number than the typical webcomics fans, are the target audience for the strip and probably don’t care as much about plot, character development, or continuity. This is not to dumb down the readers of Unshelved, it just shows that the creators know their audience and plan accordingly.


Buddy the Book Beaver: easily one of the creepiest webcomics characters EVER

With all that said, Unshelved follows a regular cast as they bumble their way through running a library. There’s main lead, Dewey, who usually fuels the humorous situations with unnecessary comments; branch manager Mel, who does her best to keep things level-headed but occasionally slips into the innanity around the workplace;  Tamara, who exists somewhere in-betweeen productivity and Dewey’s world of do-as-little-as-possible; Colleen, who always seems to have a cause or policy to support/invoke; and Buddy the Book Beaver, a reading-is-fun mascot who exists merely to creep everyone out. Everyone plays their parts well and pop in simply to spout lines based on their occupation/purpose and move on. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s quick, perfectly suited for the audience and the  gag-a-day format the comic follows.

Ultimately, I see that I went into Unshelved with the wrong mindset. I expected to find something deep and thought-provoking and instead found a casual strip made by two guys are deep and thought-provoking and thus know how to work their skills to produce the most entertaining and effective product for their audience. These days, it really all seems to boil down to finding your audience and efficiently catering to them. If that’s a criteria for success, then both Barnes and Ambaum have it down to an art form.


The last, and most decisive, strip of the Unshelved vs. Sheldon steel cage match

If you’re looking for either a quality gag-a-day to add to your RSS feeds or a good strip collection to add to your library, Unshelved does a great job of making a mundane occupation entertaining and Vol. 6 includes a recap of the contextual war the Unshelved guys waged with Dave Kellett’s Sheldon , The Great Plastic Coffee Cup Lid Comic Strip Challenge (narrated by head Fleener, Gary Tyrrell) as well as the engaging, informative, and humorous Book Club shorts that might just introduce you to a writer or genre you haven’t given a chance yet. And on top of everything else, if these guys can get you to try a book you otherwise would have passed up, I’d say they’re doing both webcomics and librarians proud.


Digital Strips 161 – Horizons Watch: Tiny Kitten Teeth and Lovecraft is Missing

Digital Strips 161

Two new strips for you lucky people to check out and I don’t think they could possibly be much more different. From the bright and flashy Tiny Kitten Teeth to the dark and mysterious Lovecraft is Missing, all in one show. Plus throw in all the usual tomfoolery that comes to town when Brigid isn’t around and you’ve got a heck of a show.

Such a heck of a show, that we get into the actual nature of Web comics and what makes them so freakin’ cool. If you think Web comics are cool, than this show is for you.


Tight Race For First Place In Zuda ~BUT~ No ZudaWatch This Month Means You Have To Make Up Your OWN Mind

Every month, you expect the same great review crew to take a look at the current month’s crop of ten in ZudaWatch and every month we deliver. Well, not this month. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties in the recording and translating process, we won’t be able to bring you our detailed and thorough analysis this month.

We can, however, note that it is still a very, VERY tight race for first in this month’s competition, between Ryan Estrada’s The Kind You Don’t Bring Home To Mother in first place and Axel Medellin Machain’s Earthbuilders in second (many other creative hands on this one, check the site for the list). The momentum just shifted back in Estrada’s favor, so this looks to be another race that is just too close to call!

Right behind them is a continuation of the webcomic series, Intergalactic Law by Lisa Fary and John Dallaire, subtitled Grey Squad. All three, I can assure you, were approved by all of us at ZudaWatch so this is a race that is a joy for us to watch. And it’s not too late to make your voice heard! Jump in there, get registered, and make your vote count!


Marooned Celebrates First Milestone ~AT~ 100 Strips

Hopefully some of you know the strip’s name because you already follow it, but others might recall Marooned, Tom Dell’Aringa’s cute sci-fi outer space epic, from last year’s Webcomic Idol competition. Regardless, the milestone cannot be ignored as Tom, Captain John, Asimov, Ugo, and all the others celebrate their 100th strip today.

Stop by to wish Tom a happy 100th and stay to read the archives. I’ll be posting a review of Marooned sometime in the near future, so go catch up on the comic so you can contribute to the lively debate that’s sure to follow!


Left to our own devices

The Independent writes about the popularity of cell phone (ketai) novels and manga in Japan, including a fashion tale called Catwalk Beat:

More than seven million people downloaded the mobile manga, and the fashions from Catwalk Beat have been produced for real and are available to buy online. And while this may eventually be published as a traditional comic book, it is more enjoyable on the mobile as the phone vibrates whenever there’s a tense moment.

(Via Anime Vice.)

At Robot 6, Park Cooper provides an interesting glimpse into the process of getting his new iPhone comic, Gun Street Girl, accepted for iTunes and adapted to the format. Plans are in the works to put the story up on the web in PDF form as well.

zesty1Yaoi Press just announced that it will put almost all of its manga on iTunes. Yaoi Press publishes non-Japanese yaoi (male-male romances) of various levels of explicitness. Here’s their description of the new service:

Young adult titles will be presented in their entirety. Mature readers titles will be modified as little as possible to adhere to ITune’s content policies.

A 120 page manga is turned into a 500+ page ap for the IPhone. Each page is one or two panels so there isn’t the need for excessive scrolling.

Launch titles include the young-adult manga Zesty.

Xavier Xerxes reports that Clickwheel has relaunched and revamped their interface, which is good because the last time I looked it contained zero information for anyone who wanted to read their comics.

UClick and Digital Manga Publishing have announced their latest manga app for the iPhone: Vampire Hunter D. The first volume is available now for 99 cents for each of its six chapters.


Links: Cutting out the middleman

It’s still big news when a webcomic attracts the attention of the New York Times, and this article, pondering the significance of Randall Munroe’s decision to self-publish the print version of xkcd, is certainly getting a lot of attention. Oddly, they seem to regard the notion of a creator self-publishing a print comic as some sort of novelty. The article drew a bemused reaction from Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter but evoked some vitriol from commenters at The Beat.

Van Jensen reads the Platinum Studios Annual Report, and the numbers aren’t pretty. Also, the Platinum folks took exception to an unflattering article Jensen wrote about the company for Publishers Weekly, and when he contacted them for a followup, they threatened him. In print. That’s just… dumb. (Full disclosure: I am also a freelancer for PW, although I have never met Jensen.) Also, this description of a lawsuit filed by DoubleClick has a hapless ring to it:

The contract at issue was a three-year agreement to provide ad serving services, requiring a minimum $3,500/month payment with no termination clause. The employee who executed the agreement without having counsel review it is no longer with the Company. Between February and June 2008, the Company attempted to negotiate an “out” without luck.

(Emphasis mine.) Oh, and they can’t pay their rent.

Related, but only tangentially: The Webcomic Beacon folks devote their latest podcast to a discussion of the Drunk Duck webcomics community.

Matthew Loux has started a Salt Water Taffy webcomic using the characters from his kid-friendly graphic novels of the same name.

Xaviar Xerxes muses about a way to sell webcomics before they go on the web.

Joey Manley has a very calm post on why webcomics people are so cranky (or at least, why they seem to be.)

Spike walks away with the Stumptown Awards for Templar, Arizona, and Ellie Connelly creator Indigo Kelleigh got a mystery award as well.


Digital Japan

The big news for manga readers this week is that Rumiko Takahashi ‘s new manga, Rin-ne, will be simultaneously published in the U.S. and Japan—and the English version will be published online for free. Viz, Takahashi’s U.S. publisher, has set up a special website,, for the manga. New installments will be released weekly. At Talk About Comics, Joey Manley applauds Viz’s choice to go with a free online comic, rather than trying to charge for the comic itself, although he’s waiting to see just how it is implemented.

Takahashi’s previous manga (InuYasha, Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku) have a big following, and Viz is probably trying to get ahead of the inevitable scanlations. The manga may be free, but the site also sells books and other Takahashi merch—just like a real webcomics site!

Until recently, Japanese publishers have not been very interested in digital rights. The advent of cell phone manga plus tough times in the publishing world have changed that. Over in Japan, creator Shuho Sato recently announced that he will post his manga, New Say Hello to Black Jack, online one month after it appears in print. Viewers must pay a fee to read it. Sato claims that he actually loses money on his manga when it is published in a magazine, so he is hoping to suppement his income with webcomics. Another Japanese creator, Kazuo Koike, is also going the digital route with his most recent Lone Wolf and Cub series, which is now being published in eBook Japan’s web magazine Katana.


Links: Farewell to webcomics, return to webcomics

J.J. McCullough is shutting down his political webcomic Filibuster, and his explanation is worth a look:

My reasons are multiple, but the simplest explanation may also be the most blunt — the site is simply not popular enough.

A lot of folks would regard 2,000 daily visitors as pretty good traffic. This comes at an interesting time, though, when a lot of editorial cartoonists are losing their jobs at print newspapers, and some lively discussions are going on about the print/webcomics model for that genre. Xavier Xerxes reacts to McCullough’s decision at ComixTalk; the headline alone is worth a click.

On the other hand, Lea Hernandez is relaunching her webcomic Rumble Girls: Runaway Lightning Ohmry, on a subscription model. Sort of a modified subscription model, actually: You can read the comic online for free, but subscribers get earlier updates and a bouquet of other perks.

The nominees have been announced for the Stumptown Comics Fest trophy. Here are the webcomics contenders:

jason janicki, Wayfarer’s Moon
Shaenon K. Garrity and Jeffrey C. Wells, Skin Horse
terrytoledo, Sid Love
Craig Schwartz,
Daniele, The Cide

At The Savage Critic, Jeff Lester wraps up his three-part interview with Adam Knave, creator of Legend of the Burrito Blade. (Part 1 and part 2 focus on Knave’s print work.)

John Freeman has a brief chat with the creators of Spy6Teen, one of the new Zuda entries, at the Down the Tubes Mobile Comics blog.

Xaviar Xerxes talks to Box Brown, creator of Bellen!, at ComixTalk.


Digital Strips 160 – Review Wasted Talent

I’ll be honest, if there’s one thing I think there are too many of on this Internet it pictures of cats saying grammatically impossible things. If I could pick a second thing though I’d go with journal comics. They’re worst than video game comics in the range between the good and the bad.

Today we take a look at one of these comics, Wasted Talent my Angela Melick. Does she soar with the Penny Arcades or suck like the many comics who’s names I can’t even remember? Take a listen to find out.


Links: Dispatches from the front lines

Matthew Braga of Blog T.O. reports on the “Talking Webcomics” event in Toronto, which featured Kate Beaton, Willow Dawson, Emily Horne, Brian McLachlan, and Ryan North.

The Halfpixel crew has a video of their recent panel from Emerald City Comic Con up at Also new at the site: A quickie tutorial in Comic Life Magiq, a “photo comic creation tool.”

William Jones of the Graphic Novel Reporter interviews Mitch Clem, creator of Nothing Nice to Say (now out in print from Dark Horse) and the very funny My Stupid Life.

At ICv2, comics retailer Steve Bennett reflects on the real advantage of digital comics: They have no physical existence.

At Publishers Weekly Comics Week, Ada Price has a nice piece on Zuda’s first print comic, Jeremy Love’s Bayou.

Open-source webcomic: Someone has gone to the trouble of translating Ubunchu, a Japanese manga about the Ubuntu operating system, and putting it online. Because this is manga, the OS is presented in the context of an after-school club, and there are battles. Sort of. One thing that’s kind of cool is that the creator and the blogger have made sources and rough translations available and invited their readers to improve the comic if they like.