Review ~OF~ The Superfogeys by Brock Heasley

If there’s one thing this webcomic denizen loves more than anything else in his stories, it’s superheroes. Fantastic and iconic, these figures of American lore make us want to be more than we are, they inspire us to be better, and they live their lives to make our world a safer place.

How shocked was I, then, to find someone has decided to depict these dooers-of-good well past their prime. Brock Heasley is (to my knowledge) the first creator to base an entire comic series out of a retirement home (here appropriately named Valhalla) for superheroes. With his strip, The Superfogeys, we are offered a glimpse into the life of those fantastic adventurers once their spirits and/or flesh have been made weak. What this entails is great fun, good laughs, and a cast of characters that are at once ridiculous and pitiable, extraordinary and plain, and full of life in their own particular ways.


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Digital Strips 162 – Zuda Watch May 2009

Digital Strips 162

May was an interesting month for Zuda, but an even more interesting month for Zuda Watch. We don’t have Brigid around to keep us in line so right out of line we go as we battle for our favorites, jeer those we hate and say bad things about each other moms.

Good times, good times.


Review ~OF~ Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection

Piled Higher and Deeper, Vol. 1 by Jorge Cham

Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection
Writer and artist: Jorge Cham
Piled Higher and Deeper Publishing, 2002
ISBN: 978-0972169509
$12.00, 176 pp.

Jorge Cham’s is another name I was less familiar with before the first Webcomics Weekend. While I knew his name and the name of his strip (Piled Higher and Deeper, a comedic look at the lives of graduate students), I had never put the two together. By the end of the weekend, however, his casual and friendly ways had snookered me into buying the first volume of the comic. And even though Bill Barnes had previously suggested I buy the latest volume of any collected work in order to get the best work, I chose to pick up Cham’s first offering.

As an artist, I can appreciate the process behind the creation of a body of work and what it takes to get from one style, which might be rough and untested, to another that employs both experience and experimentation. For this reason I like to take in entire bodies of work rather than a sampling of the best stuff and webcomics really offer the best venue to witness this transformation firsthand. With that in mind, I started the book at the point where most webcomics begin their tales; joining a creator who has an idea to convey and at least a bit of talent with which to cultivate it.

PHD (clever title, eh?) is the tale of Cham (at least I think it’s Cham, but we’ll come back to that) and his cohorts as they struggle through grad school, more specifically Stanford University. This premise is nothing original and the first hundred or so strips are nothing too remarkable, simple sequential comedy to give his fellow students at Stanford something to chuckle about from day to day (the strip was originally published in the student paper, the Stanford Daily Newspaper).

Staying true to the journal comic code, PHD, at least in it’s formative years, was written and drawn for the Stanford crowd and contains jokes that might miss the mark for anyone else (subtle digs at rival school, Berkeley, for example, see below). True, there are bits of common amusement that play on the geek guy to gal ratio as well as riffs about the life of a grad student set to the tune of The Little Mermaid hit, “Part Of That World”, but overall this collection is full of stories that are geared towards Stanford students who attended from 1997 to 2002.

Tajel finds her liberal roots in an early strip

Around 1999, however, Cham began to work on the story structure and crafted stories about the characters and started to explore them from viewpoints not tied to university-specific incidents like qualifying exams (called quals in the grad world, apparently). Pop-culture runs like takes on Star Wars: Episode I, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Matrix offer a different setting for at least a few strips and stories focused on grad students in general, not just at Stanford, became more the norm from that point on. It’s also this point where the art took a leap from crude to more refined, featuring thicker lines and more detail that help to really differentiate one character from the next.

There are really only four characters to speak of: the nameless main character, presumably Cham himself if you go with the journal comic setting; Cecilia, a deceptively normal girl who finds it hard to admit her geek roots; Mike Slackenery, a self-professed slacker who is perfectly comfortable staying in the grad program for the rest of his life (see below); and Tajel, a more liberal grad student who takes on nearly every cause to cross her path. It’s only towards the end of this collection that any of the characters, save the easy-to-slot Slackenery, break out of any mold to have personalities of their own. However, given that this is merely the end of one volume and not an entire series, I’d say this in acceptable, especially given that all show some promise by the time the volume wraps up.

phdstrip2Slackenery might have finally found his impetus to finish the grad school he so desperately clings to

Of course, it’s impossible to judge a dead tree edition of anything related to webcomics without talking about extra content, and PHD contains a few tidbits to entice readers past the typical strips. An afterword written by one of Cham’s professors at Stanford (who is featured in several strips, though usually in an off-panel manner) and a few sketches are joined by choice notes about some strips which Cham felt the need to expound upon (the sparse, dialogue-free September 11th strip is made much more poignant with the commentary). Nothing too spectacular, but enough to say at least someone tried.

Overall, PHD: Vol 1 was an enjoyable read that started off predicatably and ended up in a much better position by the time the fifth year came to a close. While I am inclined to get that first volume of a strip to get a feel for the journey the creator(s) and I are embarking upon together, it does take something special to get me to pick up the second. Luckily, Cham learns the ropes pretty quickly and decides to invest in his characters which will eventually become the backbone of the strip.

Most webcomics do start with an idea and a bit of talent. But it’s the successful creators that are able to take that initial idea and really push it, transform it, and turn it into something special. And for this effort, I applaud him and can’t wait to pick up the second volume. Look for that review sometime in the future, and in the meantime, pick up a copy of the first volume of Piled Higher and Deeper to begin a journey with one of the friendliest and talented creators around.


Links: Old, new, and in between

Jeremy Love pretty much swept this year’s Glyph Awards, which honor black comics creators; Love’s Bayou, which was one of the first Zuda comics, took top honors for Story of the Year, Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Comic Strip, and Best Female Character. Elsewhere, Sean Kleefeld reviews the print edition of Bayou, paying special attention to the way the horizontal-format comic translates to the printed page.

And here’s more good news: Digital Strips favorite Good Ship Chronicles is back, after being on hiatus for… well, a while anyway, because I think it was on break when we reviewed it last June.

New comic that’s worth a click: Odori Park, a cute family gag strip with a bicultural twist: Mom is Japanese, Dad is American. (Found via ComixTalk.)

At Robot 6, Tim O’Shea talks to Nick Bertozzi about Iraq War Stories, an anthology of stories by the students in class at the School of Visual Arts. Nick is also posting the students’ work at Act-I-Vate, so go take a look.

Chris Andersen, creator of The Ego and the Squid, will do an original piece of art for anyone who donates $10 toward Erin and Noah’s Zero Gravity Wedding. (Disclaimer: Erin and Noah are friends of mine, but I actually found this link on Fleen.)

Also noted at Fleen: Tom Mason interviews Miles Grover, creator of Thinkin’ Lincoln.

Last but not least: Christopher Butcher strongly recommends you read this story arc in Achewood, and he cements the deal with a crafty webcomics analogy.


Links: Pimp your webcomic, or find some new ones

Warren Ellis has issued one of his periodic calls to webcomics creators to come forth and show their work at Whitechapel. If you’re a creator, seize the moment; if you’re a reader, check out the thread for some new comics. (Via Robot 6.)

PWCW’s Ada Smith looks at Smith Magazine, which is home to some of the best webcomics on the internet, including AD: After the Deluge and Shooting War.

Ryan Estrada did some spring cleaning at his website and then posted his contribution to the Flight 4 anthology, Mystical Monkey.

Here’s an interesting hybrid: Jim Munroe is publishing the first issue of Sword of My Mouth, his post-rapture story, as a print comic, but issues 2-6 are digital only and available by paid subscription. When it’s all done, he’ll collect the whole set as a print graphic novel. He offers several purchase options, and it will be interesting to see if this model succeeds. (Via Robot 6.)

Joey Manley is rather coy in the intro to this press release about educational computer games, but it involves E-Line Ventures, the parent company of ComicSpace, and it seems like there may be some comics on the way as well.

Johanna Draper Carlson talks to writer Kevin Church and artist Max Riffner about their newly launched webcomic, Lydia, subtitled “A comic strip about corporate culture.”

Shaun Manning interviews two new talents whose work will be debuting on MySpace Dark Horse Presents: Alec Longstreth (R.J. Jr., The Dragon’s Librarian) and Carolyn Main (A Day at the Zoo).

Dark Horse has a Star Wars: The Old Republic webcomic, which helps set the scene for a planned MMORPG set before the opening of the movies.

Recent reviews:

Larry Cruz on Glam (The Webcomic Overlook)
Delos on The Horrible Pirates (ComixTalk)


Left to our own devices: Where’s Archie?

Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson talked to ICv2 about his company’s mobile comics strategy. Dark Horse released four of its existing comics for the iPhone last week, using an app they designed themselves. Richardson noted that the company is still tinkering and mentioned Umbrella Academy as a title he’d like to see go mobile. As for putting up their whole catalog, Richardson said, “Someday all of our library will be available in electronic delivery systems, but it may not be all on one system.”

Johanna Draper Carlson reads the press release about the new Archie iPhone comic, but she can’t find the app.

Scott McCloud’s post about how the Kindle is vertical but our eyes are horizontal is brief, but things heat up in the comments section.

The historical drama Tenchijin is being adapted into a yaoi manga for mobile phones. This raises a chicken-and-egg question, as a large proportion of the manga sold for mobile phones is yaoi (male-male romances)—so did they decide to go mobile, and then to bring the boys-love angle in, or vice versa?

Not strictly comics, but related and interesting to boot: Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly reports in from the Digital Book 2009 conference, and three key points emerge: The e-book audience is largely female, romances are hot, and DRM sucks. Good stuff.


Late Night Twitter Exclusivity ~WITH~ Ryan Estrada

Let this be a lesson, kids! Your parents don’t want you to stay up until all hours of the night because then you get to do all the cool stuff you miss when you go to bed on time. 

Case in point? On Monday night, just when I was about to shut down and call it a night, my Tweetdeck updated with a Tweet from Ryan Estrada, who was in a giving mood. He stated:

The first 5 people to tell me what to draw get their drawings drawed!

I seized the opportunity and shot a quick reply. With no immediate reply as to approval/denial of the request, I resumed my shut down protocol and hit the hay. What a grand surprise to wake up to this, the very first fan art for the new Digital Strips Adventures! And before it’s even launched! That’s got to set a precedent, right?


Iconic, no? The Digital Strips Adventures crew, courtesy of Ryan Estrada

Mucho thanks to Estrada for whipping up this image for us and stay tuned for the launch of the comic itself very soon!


Links: Joe Infurnari, Gina Biggs, Alexander Danner!

Alexander Danner is back! After being away from the internets for a while, he announced at the ComicSpace blog yesterday that he has restored his archives and has two ongoing series, Gingerbread Houses and Simpleton: A Writer’s Sketchbook.

Christopher Irving talks to Joe Infurnari, whose webcomic The Process was nominated for an Eisner last year.

Johanna Draper Carlson talks to Gina Biggs, creator of the long-running manga-style webcomic Red String. Although Dark Horse dropped the print volumes due to low sales, Gina is self-publishing volume 4 and says she makes as much from the comic as she did working retail (and probably enjoys it a lot more).

Congratulations to Kate Beaton, who won the Douglas Wright award for Best Emerging Talent for her History Comics.

Free on the web: The Midpoint Press blog is posting a page a day from the manga The Obama Story.

Here’s a nice local-paper profile of Zuda artist Adam Atherton. has a slew of nuts-and-bolts articles about the more mundane aspects of making money via webcomics: Copyright and trademark issues, joining a collective, shipping your work, preparing a media kit, and optimizing your Project Wonderful ads.

Les McClane’s Johnny Crossbones is shifting to a daily schedule. (Via Robot 6.)

Recent reviews:

Larry Cruz on Part 1Bodyworld and Finder (The Webcomic Overlook)
Marc Alan Fishman on Full Frontal Nerdity! (ComicMix)
Larry Cruz on The Lady’s Murder, Speak No Evil, andVs. (The Webcomic Overlook)
Xaviar Xerxes on
Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales (ComixTalk)
Xaviar Xerxes on Pax Avalon Diana Kingston-Gabai on Skin Horse (The Savage Critics)


Left to our own devices: IDW goes iDigital

IDW, the third-largest publisher of print comics, has created a new position, director of e-publishing, and hired Jim Webber away from uClick to fill it. That’s the news hook in this PWCW article by Heidi MacDonald, but there’s plenty of food for thought in there, including the fact that IDW expects to sell as many of its Star Trek comics via iTunes as via print—and the print run on their first issue was 15,000. Also, it looks like Apple is moving on a ratings system that would allow more adult content in the iTunes store, so this sort of thing won’t be happening so much.

Bookmark this: ICv2 lists all the comics available on iPhone/iPods. They plan to keep adding and updating, which should make it a useful tool.

Dark Horse joins the growing list of publishers making their comics available on the iPhone with the release of the four-issue series Terminator: Death Valley. Shaun Manning of Comic Book Resources talks to Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson about the hows and whys.

Alterna Comics is jumping on the mobile bandwagon as well, with plans to bring their catalogue, which includes Mr. Scootles, Jesus Hates Zombies, and American Terror: Birth of a Human Smart Bomb, to the Android, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

At PC Magazine, Sascha Segan discusses Apple’s rumored Kindle killer (dubbed the iPad) and why it might not be such a bad thing for Amazon.

Technology watch: BoingBoing has a post about colored ink for e-readers, a necessity if comics are ever to migrate to that platform. (Via ComixTalk.) However, Engadget catches a rumor that PVI, which makes the display for the Kindle as well as the Sony e-reader, is having problems with its colored e-ink technology.


Brock Heasley ~INTERVIEWED~ At Newsarama

After an appearance via his comics on CBS’ Big Bang Theory and a growing recognition of his work, Brock Heasley is taking his webcomic, Superfogeys, nowhere but up. This interview at comics megasite, Newsarama, about the success thus far of Superfogeys and Heasley’s participation in this year’s Free Comic Book Day, is only further evidence of this rising star.

Scope the interview to serve as an appetizer for my review of Superfogeys, which be posted soon!