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Comics Review: The Sculptor – by Scott McCloud
by Jason Shiga | April 28, 2015, 11:10 pm

The Sculptor is the latest work from Scott McCloud (Destroy, New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln). And I’m not gonna lie. As square as this makes me sound, I thought the book was a fuckin’ ride. I loved it; I can’t remember the last time I read a 500 page graphic novel that was actually fun and enjoyable. I feel most graphic novels that size can be a bit of a slog due to the burden of proving the literary potential of the medium. Sometimes I just want a engine that’ll pull me through 500 pages, maybe slip in a big idea or two and get out.

The big idea in the case of The Sculptor is something I think a lot of cartoonists can relate to. It’s a question I ponder every year, walking around APE and thinking about all these people following their stupid dreams. Namely, why are we doing this!!!??? Why are we all throwing away our lives, our youth and vitality all for some pile of shitty comics!!??? This is crazy!!!

The story begins when a sculptor decides to make a bargain with death. He will die in 200 days in exchange for the ability to sculpt anything. Did I mention this book has a really simple premise? Anyway, he goes around trying to get noticed in the art world. When that doesn’t work out, he takes it to the street, and eventually works his way to transforming a skyscraper into giant statue of his dead girlfriend. I was moved but I dunno. I woulda taken a day or two to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. I guess I’m a sucker for well executed action in comics, but for me, the scenes of the character molding giant blocks of granite like it was silly putty was a highlight of the book. It reminded me of 90’s comics when cartoonists were just figuring out that the medium could be about anything but still hadn’t quite figured out how to shed their work of all the superhero influences yet. I’ve heard criticism that the sculptures were banal. But seriously, dude? If you walked out your front door and saw a giant 50 story tall sculpture of a woman holding a baby, you wouldn’t be impressed!? Well I hope you’re happy, ’cause they’re probably gonna get the city to label it seismically unsafe, knock it down and build some condos for some billionaires.

As much as I enjoyed all the sculpting, the best parts of the book in my opinion were the ones where the main character dealt with his girlfriend’s depression. I guess I’ve heard readers complaining that she should have taken her meds. But as she explains, her medication dulls her experience of the world. Maybe it causes constipation or something too. I’ve known mentally ill people in my life and it’s so frustrating; I feel like I’m being sucked into a vortex. All I want to do is end the relationship and move on with my life and breathe fresh air again. The book really captured that relationship in a way I’ve never seen before. It rang so true and honest, it was almost embarrassing to read. I also found it really moving how the main character sticks it out with her. I can say I really wanted this couple to make it. This, despite the main character being something of an douchebag.

I said it. I won’t beat around the bush any longer. The main character is petulant, bratty and follows all these stupid rules he’s set out for himself. I guess I can see why he’d be a turn off to some folks, but being an artist myself and knowing other artists, I can also see how completely unflinchingly realistic this guy is. I knew an artist once who had a rule that he would be a virgin forever. It was funny when he was a teenager. But when he was in his 20’s and he’d be bragging about this fact to women on first dates, it just got weird. I too once filled my life with stupid rules. I used to have a rule that I would never eat fast food. Then I got stranded in Wyoming with no money and a stranger bought me a apple pie from McDonald’s and I told him I couldn’t accept it and he basically had to toss it into my lap and then I started crying while eating it.

So I’ll defend this character to the bitter end. And the fact that despite his flaws, I was still rooting for him was a pretty neat trick. If I did have one criticism of the book, it’s that I don’t understand why anyone would make that deal with death in the first place. Even at my youngest and stupidest, I probably would have given 30 years of my life for some awesome power to create art. But what kind of maniac would agree to die in 200 days!? I’m not a sculptor but if I apply it to comics, that power would basically translate to the power to create comics at infinite speed or maybe having a studio of assistants who could all draw like me. I calculated recently that over the rest of my life I’ll spend about 7 years sitting at my drawing desk so I guess 7 years seems like a good lower bound to trade for being Jim Davis. But yeah, all but 200 days is way too much.

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Big News Coming Soon
by Jason Shiga | April 16, 2015, 12:52 pm

Hey folks! Just wanted to let you know real quick that I’ve got some very exciting news concerning Demon. I can’t say too much more right now other than it’s big. Do stick around though and I’ll let you all know what it is as soon as I can. Sorry to be so cryptic but I promise when you hear what’s in the works, it will blow your mind!!!

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Ask Shiga: Original Art and A Naming Coincidence
by Jason Shiga | April 2, 2015, 10:01 am

Q: My son introduced me to Demon last month and we’ve both been following it obsessively ever since. He likes it even more than Meanwhile which was his introduction to your work. He turns 13 next week and is an aspiring cartoonist, and I think he’d love a page from Demon as a gift. Do you sell original pages and if so, for how much?
-Mark

A: Ah, what every 13 year old dreams of… A drawing of Jimmy and a camel hanging on his bedroom wall. But seriously, thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad to hear you and your son are both enjoying Demon.

I’ve been selling original art directly from my website for $300, but just this week I decided to set up a patreon level that includes original art as one of its rewards! I set the price at $20/mo and I’ve bundled it with a complete Demon subscription so it’s way more affordable than buying individual issues and art separately. Pages 007, 031, 98, 149, 153, 154, 244, 245 and 313 have already been sold, but incredibly, winking Hitler, extradited Thai midget, train explosion and Sweetpea reveal pages are still available!!! But there’s only 10 only 6 of these reward levels left and the first to sign up gets first pick. Anyway, if you go to www.patreon.com/shiga you’ll see it.

Q: how did jimmy decided to call himsel “a demon” and the rest of the oss also thought about calling the whole ordeal “demonism”? he knew nothin’ about the proyect… OR DID HE?
-Ridrigo

A: There’s a ton of examples of bodily possession from mythology and pop culture. So you’re right that it’s a bit coincidental that they would both independently settle on the idea of Demons to frame the phenomenon. But in my opinion it might be preferable to a scene of Jimmy at the police station yelling “I’m Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap!”

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Ask Shiga: Light Yagami vs. Jimmy Yee
by Jason Shiga | March 28, 2015, 9:22 pm

Q: Can you kill a Demon’s host body with a Death Note?
-Carl

A: This one is tricky. Deathnote assumes the existence of the supernatural whereas Demon is very materialist in its world view. So I’m not even sure how these two characters could even exist in the same universe. I suppose it comes down to whom the deathnote is actually killing, Jimmy or his current host’s body. Personally, I would feel that the deathnote acts upon one’s body, not their flastical or “soul”. For example, if the cause of death is not specified, the deathnote gives its victim a heart-attack. But as Jimmy’s heart already stopped beating 10 issues ago, I’m not sure writing the name “Jimmy Yee” would actually do anything. Writing “Lee Marsh” while Jimmy is possessing him might work to stop Lee Marsh’s heart but then Jimmy would just transfer on to his next host. All this is to say if Light Yagami and Jimmy Yee got into a fight, I think Jimmy would win.

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Ask Shiga: Deleted Scenes, Dualism and Demon’s Final Page Count
by Jason Shiga | March 17, 2015, 12:04 pm

Q: Are there any interesting ‘cutting room floor’ ideas you can share with us about Demon? Characters who would have been in the comic already, but didn’t make the cut?
-Matty

A: Chapter 11 was originally about 25% longer. Most of it featured Hunter and his lab tech demonstrating the one way to kill a demon. Of course this entailed about 8 extra pages of rats being smushed and running around mazes. Real exciting stuff, right? Personally, my favorite part of any hard sci-fi story is when they take a break from the narrative and explain how some engine works for 15 pages. But for Demon, I realize chapter 11 had too much exposition as it was and readers probably want to get to get on with the story already.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on dualism and monism? I think that’s an interesting subtext to Demon, especially in light of recent pages – applying an analytic approach to dualism’s psuedo-supernatural ‘soul,’ and I’ve been really fascinated with how pervasive the idea of an external ethereal self is to even non-religious pop culture writing (the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness,’ which generally strikes me as the last vestige of spirituality in this age of reason, but is used to great results in Demon).
-Morgan

A: This is a tough one for me. The thought of some array of matter arranged in such a way as to produce consciousness, free will or much less the memory of how my Kindergarten class smelled seems really silly. But it’s hard to imagine any alternate explanation being satisfying either. I’ve seen folks trying to tie it together using quantum mechanics or Godel’s theorem but that seems kinda silly too. If you talked to an actual neurologist it’s not like quantum electro dynamics plays an integral part in how neurons function. It doesn’t seem like humanity has made any progress on this one in the past couple thousand years so it’s tempting to just throw up my hands and say, one of life’s mysteries. But that strikes me as anti-intellectual and rubs me the wrong way too.

All that said, I thought the idea of a “flastical” would be a funny way to combine both viewpoints although I wouldn’t take it too seriously as a philosophical proposition.

Q: By the percentage bar on the comic, do you already have a layout/storyboard of how many pages is it going to be or how is that determined?
-Victor

A: At this point, I’ve penciled out the entire story and am inking, coloring and printing as I go along. My aim was originally 673 pages so that it would be one page longer than Habibi. But every time I ink a chapter I keep thinking of ways to add more pages. At the current rate I’m slipping in content, the story will end up totaling about 750 pages by the end!

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Anyone Still Here?
by Jason Shiga | March 12, 2015, 11:14 am

So it’s been a while since I last posted something up here. What can I say? Demon’s new daily schedule has turned out to be a little more time (and life) consuming than I thought it would be. As much as I enjoy sharing my opinions about the world, sitting down and taking the time to write a thoughtful piece about the latest movie I saw or ranting about the New Yorker cartoons turned out to be be the first thing I had to cut from my schedule. Once I’ve rebuilt my buffer, I’m hoping to write some longer blog posts about such pressing topics as the new ABC sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat” or those Caucasian webcartoonists who were bullied into dropping their comic due to crooked kanji. But for now, I’m basically in survival mode. Until this passes, I’m going to experiment with something new here…

Instead of longer posts, I’m going to try and use this space here to answer reader questions. And that’s where YOU come in, my loyal readers! If you’ve got any burning questions, please please please send them to me at jasonshiga@gmail.com or just leave them in the comments section below. I’ll try and answer them all, but who knows. Depending on how many I get, this could end up taking even more time. I won’t give away any Demon spoilers but aside from that I’m more or less game for anything. Is Jimmy Yee the same character from Meanwhile? How do I find an agent? What do I use to draw with? Dating advice? Pretty much anything is on the table.

Anyway, thanks as always, fans of Demon, for your continued support both financial and psychic. I’ve said it before but YOU are the reason Demon exists. Looking forward to hearing from and interacting with you!

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Je Suis Charlie
by Jason Shiga | January 13, 2015, 11:01 am

It seems like every other week, we’re reading about another terrorist bombing. But I’ve gotta say this most recent one really hit home for me. For those who don’t know, last Tuesday, the offices of the humor publication Charlie Hebdo were attacked by three gunmen. They killed 12 people, including several cartoonists, and wounded 11 more, in retaliation for blasphemous comics that were being printed there. I know a lot of my readers here are cartoonists or publishers themselves or have close friends in the industry. I’ve never visited the Charlie Hebdo offices myself but a lot of us have walked into newspaper or comic book offices to drop off work, meet with editors or just have lunch with a friend. This is the world we live in. This most recent news story is just as bad as a lot of the terrorist massacres we read about but this one just seems so much more personal.

I was going to tweet “Je suis Charlie” the other day as a show of solidarity. But everything I’ve read about this magazine really puts into sharp relief the ways in which I am not Charlie. I like to do a lot of bragging in this blog about how depraved Demon is, and how brave I am for sticking to my guns and self publishing rather than change one panel. But the truth is, the folks at Charlie Hebdo were a completely different breed of cartoonist. It wasn’t just fringe radicals that were trying to shut them down. At one point the French government actually stepped in and told them that they needed to obey the terrorists and stop printing their comics. And they weren’t just dealing with threats either. They dealt with actual attacks. In 2011, their offices were bombed due to a blasphemous cartoon they had printed. Instead of fleeing for their lives like normal people, the next week, they doubled doubled down and printed up a special issue with a cartoon on the cover featuring Charlie Hebdo making out with Mohammad and a caption that read “Make Love, Not War”.

Not exactly a knee slapper in my opinion. Maybe something was lost in the translation. But what the hell!? These guys are on another level. I’m not Charlie. I wouldn’t ever draw a cartoon of Mohammad and it’s not because I have a deep respect for all the religions of the world. I’m not Charlie because I’m freakin’ scaredy cat. I don’t know if there was some dude in Paris who heard the gunshots, peed in his pants and started running for his life? If so, je suis that guy.

Another guy I’m not is Ahmed Merabet. I was reading that when this dude heard the gunfire, he actually ran towards the massacre to help. Ahmed Merabet was one of the two policemen who was shot and killed, a french Muslim man who literally died defending cartoonists right to satirize his religion. This dude has been conspicuously absent from a lot of the media coverage, I’m guessing because he doesn’t fit cleanly into the standard West vs. Islam narrative that people are making this to be about. For me, it’s hard for me to think of a human who so embodies Voltaire’s famous quote, “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Although often quoted, few actually put this into practice, not even Voltaire himself who probably died from syphilis or something.

It’s an inspiring standard of free speech so freakin’ high in the stratosphere, it’s almost incomprehensible to me. But in the end, I do believe that freedom of speech means freedom of all speech, not just the speech I like. We don’t get to pick and choose our first amendment test cases so of course it’s going to be end up being something weird like Larry Flynt and not something mainstream like Prairie Home Companion. But I’m happy to live in a world where they can both exist side by side in the marketplace of ideas even though one’s a nauseating stain on humanity and the other is Hustler. So when I hear criticisms that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were tasteless and not funny, it just seems like a bit of a non sequitur. Also if you’re that much against stupid tasteless cartoons that aren’t funny, where were you when Family Guy got renewed for a 20th season!? Spray tans offend my aesthetic sensibility, but if the entire cast of Jersey shore was killed by a tragic bridge collapse I’d have to be kind’ve a douche bag to shout, “That’s really sad folks but it’s also wrong to get spray tanned.”

Ultimately though, I can’t even get too worked up over this issue. I’d want the freedom to criticize Charlie Hebdo defended as well. My overwhelming emotion this week has been sadness. It’s hard enough trying to make it in this world as a cartoonist without the fear that what we draw could get us killed. But seeing the reaction, the marches and the support from cartoonists and non-cartoonists alike has also made me hopeful. I like to imagine a day in the future when my son, Kazuo tells his granddaughter about this attack and she just looks at him incredulously and, after asking what a comic is, just sits dumbfounded, imagining how completely the world has transformed within her grandfather’s lifetime.

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$1,700 Patreon Goal Reached (for a few hours)!
by Jason Shiga | January 5, 2015, 4:48 pm

Welp, it happened. Yesterday at 5:24p, a patron (and cartoonist) by the name of Drew Weing upped his pledge from $1.00 to $1.30 to bring my total monthly patronage to $1,700.03!!! For followers of my patreon campaign, this is the level where I quit my day job, tell my boss to go to hell, do a little jig on my desk before skipping out of the office. Sadly, 7 hours later as I was buying my dancing shoes, a different patron lowered his pledge level bringing me back down to $1,640. This kicked off a chain of patrons lowering their pledge levels. As of now I’m back down to $1,593.

Let’s just say it was a very brief victory. But the good news for YOU, my loyal Demon readers, is I’m chalking this one up as a win. That means, starting today, I’ll be updating Demon seven days a week!

Although it was the most fleeting of triumphs, I want to truly thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for their generosity and support. All my patrons who put up with my overly complicated pledge levels, all my commenters who came and left the most thoughtful and gracious posts, my readers who’ve been spreading the word tweeting demon links to their tumblr mashups or whatever it is you do. A million thank yous from me. I like to tell folks that I have the best commenters, patrons and readers on the internet and Demon isn’t just a better comic because of you. It exists because of you. You’ve allowed me to turn this passion project into something resembling a career. A short career that has spanned 7 hours. But hey, it’s a start.

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This Month Only, $9.99 For a Full Subscription to Demon!!!
by Jason Shiga | January 1, 2015, 10:46 am

Happy New Years everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful year! 2014 has been a wild ride for me. It was exactly one year ago today that I decided to publish Demon on my own. It took about a month to build up my buffer and construct my website before launching on February 1 of 2014.

For those that have been here through the highs and lows, thank you so much for sticking it out with me. It’s been wonderfully disorienting, getting back to the self publishing world after spending years away. Coming of age in the 90’s, the field is almost unrecognizable in its current form and half the fun of getting back in has been trying to familiarize myself with this new terrain. I’ve spent the past year reading too many webcomics to name and I still don’t have a good sense of the size and shape of it all.

Creating Demon has been an absolute thrill. Every aspect of it has been so completely inspiring and rejuvenating from the drawing to the printing to all the amazing feedback I’ve been getting from my readers. Even the business side of things like tweaking all the patreon levels has been pretty fun.

Speaking of which, for me the most exciting news of the new year is that I’m introducing a new pledge level on my patreon campaign: $9.99/mo for a complete subscription!!! That means I’ll send you all 11 back issues the first month and then a new issue every 38 days. This was actually a pricing model I was considering when I first started but figured I’d get too many cancellations. Instead I went with this weird system whereby patrons sign up at $50 for the first month and then drop back down to $5 after they get their back issues. This turned out to be all for naught as my cancellation rate as of today is exactly 0%.

You’re probably wondering what’s to stop someone from ordering the complete subscription and then cancelling after the first month and selling all their back issues on ebay for $5 each. I suppose I should be worried, especially since that sounds like something I would do. But if this past year has done anything, it’s restored my faith in humanity’s inherent laziness.

Hope you all had Happy New Year everyone and can’t wait to get out more Demon to you in 2015!

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My Thoughts On James Sturm’s New Sexist and Racist Comic
by Jason Shiga | December 5, 2014, 1:19 pm

I know this is old news already but I thought I’d weigh in James Strum’s newest comic that everyone’s been talking about.

To give a little back story, James Sturm posted this comic about an old mentor advising a younger cartoonist on how to deal with jealousy. Who is this person he’s jealous of? A young woman cartoonist who’s fucking killing it. She’s got a D+Q publishing deal, a profile in the Times, book signings with lines out the door. At the end, we find out she’s also successfully launched a $350,000 kickstarter campaign at which point the mentor cuts the meeting short and ends up calling his own mentor. Pretty funny stuff, right?

Colleen Frakes didn’t think so. She tweeted “…I have a lot of respect for James, but all I see here are two white dudes complaining about a woman in comics.” (there was actually a lot of talk amongst cartoonists about this comic but this tweet was the one that summed up the controversy most succinctly and launched the most discussion).

I’m not sure I follow her complaint about the guys being white. As an Asian guy and speaking for all Asian guys in the world, who freakin’ cares if there’s no minorities in this comic? It’s a thinly veiled parody about a CCS teacher talking with a student. Of course there aren’t any Asian people in it because they’ve got the good sense to go to Cal Arts. Also the joke isn’t dependent upon the races of the characters. I don’t even think it’s about gender specifically.

I don’t have a lot of direct experience with sexism in the industry but of course you see little things here and there. I remember buying a comic from a woman a APE and some loudmouth at the table next to her started grumbling, “Man, if I were a girl, I’d be selling hella comics.” The dude had not been doing well at the convention and when I looked at his table it was easy to see why. Let’s just say it probably had less to do with being an oppressed white dude and more to do with his comics being crappy. I walked away feeling sorry for this woman who had to sit next to him for 2 more days.

Another time, when I was just getting my start in minicomics, I met this guy who was convinced that the reason Gabrielle Bell was successful and he wasn’t was because he was male. He told me he was going to do a little experiment. His would release his next minicomic under a girl’s name and then sit back and watch the sales roll in. A few months later, I saw him and he reported his results back to me. His new minicomic was indeed published under a woman’s name. It was an “autobio” comic about some woman who loved masturbating, taking her shirt off and giving detailed accounts of her various lesbian threesomes. “I was right all along!” he said ” The industry is unfairly biased against men. I usually only sell 11 or 12 minicomics but under a woman’s name I sold 17!!!”

Anyway, I don’t have any personal experience with sexism, but as an Asian guy I can tell you it’s not one individual thing but the persistent, continuous nature of racial crap that can wear you down. If I saw Jeremy Lin flavored ice cream by itself, who the hell cares. But after a lifetime of wondering things like why did that publisher jokingly call me inscrutable? Why did that guy on Greyhound ask me what country I’m from? Why are those 5 dudes on the bus bench yelling “ching chong!!” Please don’t kill me. Why did that homeless guy call me a cheap Chinese bastard. Why did that Asian girl I was interested in tell me she prefers white dudes? That’s jacked up. My Dad got T-boned by some guy in Alameda and everyone thinks he’s the one at fault. And oooh, how come there’s no Asian people on HBO except that one Asian character on Girls who’s stealing Leena Dunham’s job? What, Ben and Jerry’s made a Jeremy Lin flavored ice cream with fortune cookies sprinkled in it!? Fuck them!!!!

The idea that every successful woman cartoonist unfairly traded on their sex appeal is really widespread and pernicious. So who knows what sort of shit Colleen Frakes had to put up with in life to bring her to the point where her first thought after reading that comic is “ugh, guys complaining about the success of women cartoonists.” I’m guessing she hasn’t found the comics community to be very supportive of women, which is a real bummer. And even though I disagree, I’m not going to say Colleen Frakes’ interpretation of the strip is wrong. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the world’s leading authority on how that comic made her feel.

All that being said, let me offer my own, more correct, interpretation of the comic. Which is that I don’t see sexism really being the point of it or the young woman being the target of the satire. And maybe this is an even more controversial thing to say, but man in my mind if something’s funny and it makes you laugh, ALL is forgiven. Laughter I feel is the body’s uncontrollable response to hearing a not commonly acknowledged truth. James Sturm has created a dark and brutally honest satire, the target of which was pretty clearly the older veteran in the strip. Here’s a professor who’s devoted his life to pep talks and hand holding insecure little weenies, suddenly realizing that he’s wasted his life and wondering what the hell he was thinking when he founded CCS.

That fictional girl’s kickstarter probably earned more than that older veteran did in 10 years of teaching or whatever he does. And in the last panel we’re left with the image of this sad sack who’s world has come crashing down, looking at the ruins of his life, a wasteland of shattered dreams, disappointment and bitterness. Or as I like to call it, hilarity. It’s funny because I think we can all relate. This field is freakin’ brutal. I’ve lost count the number of times I’m the sad sack who’d realized that my work is irrelevant, no one cares, and I look in the mirror and all I see is F Murray Abraham’s face from Amadeus. James Sturm’s comic is funny because it’s true. And the recasting of the Mozart character as a woman makes it funnier and truer.

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With Your Help, Demon Can Update 7 Days a Week!!
by Jason Shiga | November 18, 2014, 3:22 pm

Greetings everyone! Hope you’re enjoying this month’s Demon. Just wanted to take a sec and let you know about a milestone goal I just threw up on my patreon page. In the past, I’ve always felt reluctant about contributing to these types of campaigns myself. I come pretty close to being the idealized homo economicus and collective action type pleas like these never seemed to garner any traction in my Spock-like mind. I remember I once found my wife listening to a PBS pledge drive. She told me she felt bad about not donating so the least she could do was listen to an hour of mind numbing pledge breaks. All I could say was, “highly illogical” before turning off the radio. These days, however, I love donating to people’s Patreon and Kickstarter campaigns. It’s almost like a form of voting, except instead of politicians, I’m voting units of pop culture or art into existence. Unlike most of the things I spend money on, pop culture and art are a huge and important part of my life. I spend so much of my day immersed in one narrative structure or another, it just feels really good to support the fabric of my own reality when I can. Which I guess brings me to the topic of this post…

I’ve worked out the numbers pretty thoroughly at this point and if I can get my patreon campaign up to $1,700 I should be able to turn down future contract work, focus full time on Demon and begin updating 7 days a week.

This could potentially be a win for everyone. For me, it means doing what I love full time. And I can tell you being able to work full time on Demon would be a dream come true for me. For you, turning Demon into my full time job means updates 7 days a week. No longer do you have to curse the weekends, waiting with bated anticipation for Monday to arrive.

According to my stats, I’ve got about 1000 regular daily readers and I’m getting more every week. This is great, but the flip side of all these readers is higher bandwidth charges for me. I’ve never put ads on this comic and never will. Unfortunately, that means it actually costs me money to bring Demon to every one of my readers. Demon is free and always will be. But not for me.

Fortunately, catastrophic financial ruin can be flipped into a dream career and a thriving webcomic on a dime. Literally. If my regular readers were to donate just 50 cents, that should be more than enough to get us to our $1700 goal. That’s 2 quarters peoples! Maybe you paid $8 to see Big Hero 6 last weekend and you think Demon has brought you 1/16th as much entertainment. Maybe you’re already donating at the $5 level and you think the value of the booklets is considerably more, so you up your pledge to $5.50 or $6. I know a lot of my readers are students or teenagers and can’t afford $1, so maybe instead you’d like to support the comics you like by tweeting or telling your facebook friends about Demon. Maybe you’re just a self interested homo economicus like me and want to be able to read Demon 7 days a week. Then may I suggest you multiply the amount of joy reading Demon 7 days a week would bring you by the probability that your $1 would bring us to our goal. Then compare this value to the marginal gain your $1 would have brought you spent on a differing form of entertainment.

Even if you can’t do any of these, I really do appreciate you reading Demon and reading this far into the post. Maybe you’re like my wife and show your support by slogging through a mind numbing essay about why I want your money. Although it would serve me right, I’m hoping your husband doesn’t close your browser on me.

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Movie Review: John Wick
by Jason Shiga | October 30, 2014, 1:33 pm

I’ve always wondered about movies that have the character’s name as the title. Not only is the entire movie going to be about them, but there’s the implication that this character is going to be really awesome and interesting. I feel it’s a lot of pressure to put on Forrest Gump or Harry Potter or Mr. GI Joe.

Well, I’m happy to report that John Wick lives up to it’s name. The titular John is played by Keanu Reeves. And while I know a lot of Keanu haters say he can’t act, I think that’s missing the point. I like to think of Keanu Reeve’s face as a sledgehammer. Probably not great for tapping in finishing nails into a birdhouse but when it comes to punching holes in sheetrock, please hand me that face of his. I remember hearing once that the Warchoskis wanted him as lead for the Matrix because they’d just read Understanding comics and felt his blank facial features and general lack of expression would make him super easy for people to identify with. And it worked!

Who is John Wick? Aparently he’s some dude who drives around in donuts at an abandoned airstrip for a living. The story begins when John’s dead wife sends him a cute puppy in the mail. How? Maybe there’s some puppy delivery app she accessed from her hospital bed. I don’t know. It’s not that important to the story. What is important is some Russian mobsters break into his house, kill the puppy and steal his car. There’s a lot of build up as the entire crime underworld starts losing their shit. Lots of people yelling at this mobster, “What did you do!!??” “Do you know who John Wick is?” “He once killed 10 guys with a paper clip!”. These scenes are intercut with Keanu assembling his machine guns, strapping on his Kevlar vest, sharpening his bowie knife. It’s a really old trope by now, but when done well one of my favorites.

What follows is one of the most insanely violent massacres ever filmed as John Wick proceeds to find and execute the mobsters who killed his dog and everyone standing in his way. This includes walking into a church and shooting a priest in the knees, jabbing a knife in some dude’s chin, wrapping a pillowcase around a woman’s face before punching it 20 times, doing donuts in his car around a dude while shooting at him from 360 degrees out of the driver’s seat window, and bending one guy’s arm backwards with one hand while shooting multiple guys in the face with the other, then shooting the first guy in the face. By the way, did I mention a friend of mine didn’t want to see this movie because they heard there’s a scene where a puppy gets killed?

The amazing action and stuntwork is of course the main reason to see this movie. It was a real throwback to the Hong Kong style of martial arts and gun play mixed in with the needless violence and high body count of an 80’s action movie. Apparently the movie was directed by Keanu Reeve’s stuntman on the matrix and it shows. We actually get to see John Wick firing a gun and someone’s head exploding without an edit in between. Best of all, contrary to the modern style of action movie, we get to see the whole actor’s body and what they’re doing in long continuous takes.

Just before the climax, Keanu Reeves gives a monologue to the mob boss about how much he loved his puppy. But because of the combination of the ridiculousness of this set up and also Keanu Reeve’s inability to emote, the crowd I was watching this with found it pretty funny. This is a weird comparison, but the movie reminded me a lot of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in that the plot it really just a humorously simple skeleton to hang the amazing set pieces. It’s like this director read “Save The Cat” and took it very literally.

The movie ends happily when John Wick breaks into a pound and gets a new puppy. Although I felt if he’d just done that from the get go, hundreds of murders could have been prevented. Hopefully he’s got all the killing out of his system. If not, I hope he goes to a used car lot and a bar next.

I remember talking with Dylan Williams once about film noir. His theory was that those movies were essentially made for veterans suffering from PTSD. Furthermore, Rambo, Commando, and the slew of 80’s hyperviolent action movies were made for Vietnam vets. I’m not sure I buy it, but I guess I can see how watching Arnold chasing Predator around the jungle might be cathartic. If that theory is true, I wonder if John Wick marks one of the first in a new crop of movies made for Iraq War veterans. If so, I’m looking forward to more although I’m not sure what they could do for a sequel. Maybe his mobsters kill his hamster or goldfish?

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Demon Patreon Campaign Reaches $1000/month
by Jason Shiga | October 16, 2014, 12:38 pm

At 9:59pm last night, some reader named Rika Takahashi bought a complete subscription to Demon via patreon, tipping my campaign over the $1000/month mark. Upon hearing the news, I pulled a chord releasing 1000 balloons from the ceiling as a brass band played “Do doo do do doo do do dooooo”. Not really, but I’ll tell you, it was a pretty big deal.

For those who don’t know how Patreon works, it’s basically like Kickstarter. One important difference is that the people who give money are rebranded as “patrons” rather than investors. For those who have ever thrown up a Paypal donate button on your website, I’m sure you’ve been touched by the heartwarming generosity of the donations you received. But the month after, that button just becomes another design element like the logo of Jimmy in the upper left hand corner that everyone ignores. The evil genius of Patreon is that they figured out a way to harness people’s generosity but then like some crazy jiujitsu master, redirect their inherent laziness against them. When you sign up to give someone $1/month on patreon, you’re basically letting them surreptitiously take that amount of money from your account every month until the day you take 30 seconds to cancel it. This sounds straightforward to the point of being tautological. But this banking practice is so powerful, it’s actually illegal is most other countries. Thankfully for me, the banking lobby here in the States is pretty powerful.

I realize describing patreon in this way may cause me to drop below $1000 again, which would break my heart. I know it’s an arbitrary number, but the $1000 mark is significant for a couple reasons. First, it amounts to the opportunity cost of not going with a larger publisher for this project. Second, someone could theoretically live on $1000. They’d have to be childless, live in a hovel in Detroit with 4 other dudes eating beans and rice 3 times a day. But man, if you were to describe that life to my 20 year old self, I’d tell you that sounds pretty nice. I know a lot of my readers here are cartoonists so maybe you can relate to that feeling of knowing so clearly in your bones that you were meant to do this one thing. But then there you are screwing in widgets all day, waiting for that whistle to blow so you can bike home and draw again. When I started out making comics, I didn’t want to be rich or famous. I just wanted to make more comics. I still do.

I started posting Demon online with a basic price discrimination model: give away the comic online for free, sell booklets and PDFs subscriptions via patreon and back issues and original art via paypal. I figured teenagers will probably read Demon online for free, 27 year olds who can afford to spend $1 might prefer to read Demon as a PDF and old fogeys like me who need to read Demon off of paper will get the booklets. As I’m typing this up, I realize it’s hardly original. It’s a minor tweak on the dominant business model which is to give away the comic online for free and sell ads, merchandise and collections. No judgements, but for most people the amount of promotion and merchandising takes up so much time I got to wonder if they’re just better off screwing in widgets again.

I know I’ve had some low moments myself but I think now that I’ve reached the $1000 mark, I can officially declare the Demon webcomic a financial “success”. Of course all this begs the question of how much of this model can be replicated by other cartoonists. Having recently come off of APE and SPX, my dream would be to contribute to a model that could be turned into some sort of pill form that I could just toss at the kids like candy. There’s some things that can’t be replicated by a cartoonist just starting out of course. I have a 15 year career, a popular children’s book, something of a fanbase that would follow me from my interactive books and graphic novels to an online comic. Then again, that really didn’t amount to very much in the end.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying my 15 year career and dozen or so award winning graphic novels and interactive comics accounted for nothing. I’m just saying it accounted for exactly 8% as much as one review in io9. I guess this is good news and bad news for new cartoonists. The good news is I feel there really is no seniority in comics. It’s the work you make, not how well you can socialize or promote your name. Your name could be Jaime Hernandez, people will read or not read your comics based on its merits and whether they connect with it. The bad news is you really need an io9 review.

And I do, suckas! And with it comes $1000!!!! Thank you Rika Takahashi wherever you are. But most of all I want to thank YOOOUUUUUU, my readers who have been supporting me financially and emotionally. Signing up to be a patron, sending me the nicest emails, letting their facebook friends know about the project and leaving insightful hilarious comments. Thanks for everything!!!

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SPX 2014 Report
by Jason Shiga | September 23, 2014, 4:21 pm

For many cartoonists I know, SPX is the biggest convention of the year. Bigger than MocCA, Comic-Con, APE, TCAF, etc. I’d always been a little skeptical but now I believe. I’d been skeptical because it’s in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. When I think of vibrant comics communities, the suburbs of Bethesda aren’t really the first place that leaps to mind. However, from the moment the doors opened until they closed it was a non stop horde of masses, asking me questions, flipping through Demon, buying books and offering to trade. At the end of it all, I can honestly say, that this year’s SPX was one of the greatest convention experiences I’ve had.

I should disclose here and now that I’m an Oakland boy to the bone, so part of me is always going to root for APE over SPX just because it’s my home town convention. In fact I didn’t even want to apply for a table this year. The process seemed jacked up and set up against me from the get go. Namely, half the spots are reserved for legacy cartoonists who have tabled previous years while the other half are chosen by lottery. That means if Don Rosa wanted to table at SPX, it would all come down to the luck of the draw. That’s madness!!! I can see why someone would do it this way, you want to grandfather in your base and divvy up the remainder in the an unbiased way. But man, I don’t know. I think quality should count for something even if it’s just 10% of the tables. As luck would have it though, some friends of mine had accidentally bought too much table space and offered to sublet it to me. I’m just glad my friends didn’t hold their own lottery.

It had been 12 years since I had last tabled at SPX and it’s roughly doubled in size since then. In those years, the organizers have streamlined the show down to a well oiled machine, trimming out all the tables that aren’t comics, distributing signage in the shape of balloons, creating special badges and stickers for Ignatz winners, keeping the ATMs well stocked and most impressively providing a row of chocolate fondue fountains at the afterparty.

The Ignatz awards were a blast as well. I haven’t won a comics award since Fleep in 2004 so it was nice to feel somewhat relevant, which can be difficult to feel when the majority of the convention tablers and attendees are a good generation younger than me. Although I’ve heard some people criticize the Ignatz award for being East Coast biased I guess that didn’t apply to Demon. I do have to admit, the optics of it looked funny especially when the two hosts of the Ignatzes were James Sturm and a former CCS student, the presenter of the award category was also a CCS teacher who was giving the award to a CCS student who proceeded to thank her teachers at CCS. As an Oaklander attending the awards, it’s hard not to feel like an outsider to the culture. And while I guess that criticism of a bias in the Ignatzes has some merit in general, my rebuttal to that would be to look at the individual winners. Can you honestly say Chuck Forsman or Joseph Lambert or Sophie Goldstein don’t deserve to have an Ignatz award?

All in all, I’d say SPX was a great comics convention that has stayed true to its indy roots. As someone who got my start in indy comics it’s been pretty fun to see how my peers have developed over the years and what surprises the new generation has in store. Hopefully it won’t be another 12 years before I return.

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Demon… Ignatz Winner!!!
by Jason Shiga | September 16, 2014, 11:37 am

Just got back from SPX today. I’ve got a convention report for you coming soon, but I just wanted to drop in and let everyone know that Demon won the Ignatz award for Best Outstanding Series.

It was an amazing honor and I just wanted to thank everyone here, and at the convention who helped to make that happen. Also wanted to quickly thank the organizers, the judges and also my fellow nominees, Ellen Lindner, Keiler Roberts, Sacha Mardou and Kat Verhoeven some of whom I met at SPX and were all incredibly gracious and amazingly nice people. I didn’t get to say this in my acceptance speech because I spent 80% of it plugging my patreon campaign, but I wanted to add that as trite as it sounds, being nominated is the real prize.

I talked about it previously but the Ignatz award is like no other comics award. 5 judges every single one of them a fellow comics creator, combed through literally thousands of comics to select the 5 nominees. From those 5, the final Ignatz winner can come down to random crap like who has the most friends at the convention, who’s been doing it the longest, whose name everyone recognizes, who’s book most people read, etc. I know it can suck to come so far and get so close and leave brickless but an Ignatz nomination is something to be really freakin’ proud of and to me anyways is worth more than most of the other awards put together. Thanks again, fellow nominees and for the other 80% of you reading this that aren’t, I’d encourage you all to take the time to check out their work!

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Demon: More Shameless Cliffhangers to Come
by Jason Shiga | September 8, 2014, 11:43 am

I guess there’s no point in being coy any more. If you’ve read this far in Demon, then you’ve got a pretty good idea what it’s about. When people have asked me, I’ve been telling them it’s science fiction or just launch into a recap of the first 40 pages until their eyes glaze over. Well, as your reward for making it through chapter 5, I will reveal to you the horrible truth… Demon is my stab at a superhero comic!

I’ve talked before about how much I love genre. To summarize, I basically see genre as cuisine. Unless you’re some pretentious cook inventing some new fangled molecular creation out of whole cloth, you probably want to start off learning how to make aloo gobi or something. There’s literally billions of man-hours spread out over millions of people that have been put into the R+D of this dish, gradually over hundreds of years making little variants or flourishes, getting the proportion of spices and ingredients just right to make a yummy meal out of potatoes and cauliflower the two cheapest blandest foods on the planet. And it’s sitting there right in the public domain for you to take and use freely. A gift from humanity to you. How arrogant do you have to be to squeeze out a tube of flaxseed oil into a pile of organic figs and open a restaurant. I’m talking to you Austin English!*

As much as I love genre, I know people don’t always share my opinion. To be honest, I’ve been a little cagey about Demon because I want people to take it seriously. And it worked! As The Comics Journal review for Demon said, “Shiga is perhaps is less a mathematician than he is a phenomenologist. By phenomenology I mean simply a method of description that involves observing the object apart from its environment and our everyday understanding of the object. This forces the observer to abandon societal shortcuts in understanding an object or person…” I’m still not sure what that means, but I think that’s positive. The point is, there’s a superhero comic up for 2 Ignatz awards this weekend, suckers. Not since I tricked Asian Week into printing a comic with Jimmy drinking his own urine have I been so proud of an accomplishment.

As a disclaimer, I should confess I’m actually not a big superhero person by any means. I didn’t grow up reading them and it always frustrates me slightly when I see my favorite cartoonists like Jaime Hernandez, Scott McCloud, Chris Ware or Dan Clowes waste their time with doing some superhero comic. I just want to yell, “Get over it already!!! You know how you can subvert the superhero genre? By not making a superhero story you fools!” It is something I see as a generational issue; if you’re of a certain age, superheroes are such a part of you, you just need to get it out of your system before you can move on. So I’m pretty sensitive to it as a reader and it’s something I’m not trying to do myself. Getting back to the food analogy, I’m not trying to deconstruct a hamburger or make a commentary on hamburgers in the form of a hamburger. I just want to make a hamburger that doesn’t have mayonnaise in it! What is this mayonnaise I speak of?

One interesting trend which I think has been around since the 80’s has been to take superheroes into the real world, the Dark Knight and Kickass movies being 2 recent examples. Except, they took the stupidest part which is the costumes and the crime fighting and left out the best part which is the superpowers. I’d think in reality if any of us could be invisible, we’d just sneak into movie theaters and bank vaults. If we did fight crime, it probably wouldn’t even be on the local level. I’m reminded of that scene in Superman where he flies above earth to see where he’s most needed and then flies down to Metropolis and stops a bank robbery. I don’t know. How about assassinating Kim Jong Un and then smushing all the mosquitoes in Africa? As for the costumes, my theory is that Joe Shuster dropped out of art school after he took anatomy but before he took drapery and now because of that one historical accident we’ll all have to look at Ben Affleck wearing spandex.

Anyway, getting back to me, a simple superpower thoroughly explored along with shameless and ridiculous cliffhangers are the two big genre powerchords you’re going to see running through Demon. You’ve probably figured this out by now but I just thought I’d make it official here.

*PS: I like to make fun, but Austin English’s figs are pretty tasty.

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Why New Yorker Cartoons Make no Sense
by Jason Shiga | August 28, 2014, 6:34 pm

I know many of my readers enjoy watching 60 Minutes every Sunday evening. But for those of you who missed it last week, they did a light segment on the New Yorker cartoons and the process by which they are chosen. It was fun seeing cartoonists on TV. It was fun seeing them vying for a spot in the magazine. And it was fun seeing them get in. For a lot of cartoonists, the pages of the New Yorker represent the top of the top, the highest you can go in comics. To use a food analogy, they’d be like the Michelin stars of the comics world. Personally, it’s something I often fantasized about when I was starting out. The thought of me, an Oakland boy being represented in the magazine whose name is synonymous with culture and sophistication would be a dream come true. But after watching last weeks segment, I have to say, fuck them!

To recap the segment, The New Yorker chooses it’s cartoons in a really weird freakin’ way. Basically, they’re all submitted in person at the New Yorker office, so that the cartoonists can kowtow to this one dude. Who is this dude? Well that was what the segment was mostly about. He’s the cartoon editor for the New Yorker and suffice it to say, it all comes down to this one senile old man and his bizarre taste in comics. During the interview, he started recalling his favorite cartoon about a couple vacationing in Tuscany and being impressed with the quality of the wifi at the Hilton. Something we can all relate to!

The funniest part of the segment was when they showed one cartoon featuring a cat playing cat’s cradle with some yarn coming out of a mouse hole. The caption said, “Have you no shame?” A real knee slapper, right? Except nobody knew what the hell it meant. Not Morely Safer, not the editor, probably not the cartoonist either. As I learned, the a cartoonist will submit 700 comics over the course of a year and they’re lucky if 20 are chosen. Roz Chast said at one point, “The cartoons where I think I hit it out of the park never get picked.”

To me, this is pretty much the definition of a gatekeeper. I’m sure this editor is a nice dude. But here’s why this is a horrible process for choosing comics. First, you’re limiting yourself to people in the New York area. I know you want to see the person explain their cartoon to you in person, but not everyone reading the magazine will have that option. Furthermore, let’s just say it’s not the most representative sample of the New York population, so you’re limiting yourself even further. And thirdly, you have really bad taste in cartoons!

Now, I’ve talked before about the frictionless meritocracy of comics. It’s not perfect, but I do feel a good comic book will eventually find its audience. Unlike a lot of other industries, you don’t need connections or money or a degree. It doesn’t matter where you live or who you are. Really all you need is about $5 in raw materials and you’re good to go. By contrast, I’ve heard stories of actors, moving to LA and after months of unemployment trying out for a 10 second part in a sitcom as a Chinese waiter with a thick accent, only to have the part go to one of the 40 other people at the audition.

I don’t feel there’s any royal road to comics. If there was, you’d think Shia Labeouf would have a contract with Drawn and Quarterly by now. The fact is, Craig Thompson has a book called Blankets with his name on it because he drew every page of that book himself. I know webcomics have their problems too. But at least Tim Berners Lee isn’t individually telling us what comics we can and can’t print on the web.

CORRECTION: September 5, 2014
Some readers have taken me to task for incorrectly describing the cartoon editor of the New Yorker as a senile old man who only accepts submissions in person and also has horrible taste in comics. In fact he’s only 70 years old, and he accepts submissions via email and post as well.

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Demon, Nominated for 2 Ignatz Awards
by Jason Shiga | August 18, 2014, 1:04 pm

Exciting news today for fans of Demon. The Ignatz committee has just announced their nominations for 2014 and Demon has been nominated for 2 Ignatz awards!!! The categories are “Outstanding Series” and (most exciting for me), “Outstanding Online Comic”. I’ve mentioned before that when I was a judge myself, this category was the most inspirational and played a major role in me deciding to release Demon independently as a webcomic. To have it come 360 degrees for me and see Demon on the nomination list itself is an amazing and incredible honor.

Of course, the timing is great too. As my readers know, Demon has started to descend into the most depraved and tasteless section of the story. I love the idea of some librarian reading about this year’s Ignatz nominations on The Beat, clicking on the link and being treated to a naked Jimmy slurping up his own vomit while his testicles dangle over the reference desk of Denver Public Library. I can’t imagine a better introduction to Jimmy than a one month long sequence of him trying to escape from a box via increasingly desperate and disgusting methods slowly building to an insane, filthy climax. SPOILER literally.

The Ignatz has always been my favorite comics award. It captures for me what is great about the medium. Namely, anyone can make a comic. You don’t need to own the license to Batman. You don’t need business connections, marketing teams, agents or even a publisher. You can literally walk into an Office Max and for $5 buy the raw materials it takes to make an Ignatz Award winning comic. And it’s great to see so many of those types of comics on the list this year. Plus, on a purely selfish level, the Ignatz nominees are a great starting point. There’s so many comics being made today it’s hard for me to get a good handhold into what is good or where to start especially when it comes to the younger generation.

Another great aspect about the Ignatz aesthetic is it really leans towards the idiosyncratic. Unlike the Eisner judges who are populated by librarians, retialers and critics, the Ignatz judges are comprised solely of other cartoonists. This gives it a wonderfully weird slant. I do feel there is such a thing as a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Things that look hard can be easy. Things that look easy can be hard. For example the Mark Kalesniko book, Freeway is a graphic novel set in a traffic jam. I think most readers would consider that a pretty boring setting. Every cartoonist I know who’s seen that book pees in their pants just a little. Additionally because of the way the judging is done, I feel the personality of the judges can really show up in the nominations. If there’s one judge on the Ignatz committee who likes weird comics about melty faces morphing into open wounds, then you see a bunch of weird comics about melty faces morphing into open wounds on the list. Not really the best type of comics in my opinion but so much more interesting than seeing House of Sand in 9 different Eisner categories.

Anyway, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone vote for me this year, at least not without checking out the other nominees as well. I haven’t read all of them myself, but the nominees in my categories I have read are amazing. And again, it’s the webcomic category that I find the most inspiring. Aside from Evan Dahm, I hadn’t even heard of any of them. It’s been great going through their work and hopefully you get a chance to as well.

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Role of Criticism in Comics
by Jason Shiga | August 8, 2014, 2:10 pm

People often ask me of all the books I’ve made, which one is my favorite. This is like asking who your favorite child is. For those who aren’t parents, the correct answer is, it’s the malformed, mentally diminished, cripple whom everybody picks on, or in my case Empire State. I won’t try to convince you of its greatness right now. It’s a weird little outlier; if this were Sesame Street, it would very clearly be in the quadrant labelled, “not like the others.” It’s also my most personal which makes it particularly hurtful when someone says the main character in Empire State is pathetic. It feels like they’re calling ME pathetic!

I’m thinking a lot about this now because I recently got an order for Demon from a comics critic who did not like Empire State. Upon seeing his order in my inbox, my immediate reaction was, “Ooooh. I hope he likes Demon!” By contrast, when my publisher, agent and editor tell me there’s something they don’t like about Demon, my immediate reaction is to say, “Screw you all, mother F’ers! I’m publishing this myself!!!” I guess when it comes down to it, I actually care a lot about what my readers think. Part of it is I feel that there’s so little monetary compensation, reader reactions are really all I have at the end of the day. I know this isn’t the healthiest attitude to have, especially when taken to the extreme. For example, I remember I got an email once from someone quibbling with the math in Fleep. I spent a few hours composing a hella long email shooting down every one of his points. The next day, he sent me another email pointing out rebuttals to every one of my points. This went on for several more days before I screamed, “YOU WIN!!!” into the air and then crumpled into a sobbing pile of flesh.

I like writing the occasional review myself (see last week’s review of The Shadow Hero). And I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who writes a lot of them. I think one of the interesting things about the artist/critic relationship is that in some sense we’re working at complete cross purposes. To a critic, a book is a thing to be evaluated on its own terms. But to the creator, a book can be so much more. It’s a form of self expression. It’s also a way to make money. It’s a recon mission to find out what techniques work and don’t work. It’s a stepping stone to the next book. It’s often 2 or 3 years worth of work, and it can represent the sacrificing of a career and a social life for those years. For Craig Thompson, it was over a decade of work! All so that some teenager on twitter can complain about how unrealistic it is that Zam SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER castrates himself to prove that he doesn’t want to rape his sister. Screw that! If that’s how Craig Thompson sees the world, I’ll accept it. END SPOILER.

These days, I try not to read reviews of my own comics if I can help it (Comics Journal reviews aside). I’ve been doing this long enough to know who I am and what I can do. And ultimately, I do think comics criticism could be better. There’s only so many variations of “This comic shows potential and I look forward to what this person does in the future” that I can take. How good you think their inking is, who you think their influences are, whether or not you thought it was well written, all these things can be summed up in one or two panels from their comic. A picture is literally worth a thousand words in this case. What I want to know most is how it made you feel, followed by a bit of analysis. Nothing fancy even. Just say that Black Hole was about the fear of herpes and call it a review.

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Comic Book Review: The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew
by Jason Shiga | July 29, 2014, 3:40 pm

Another Comic-Con has come and gone. It seems like everyone is yammering about the new Mad Max trailer or Ironman’s new suit. I guess that’s exciting and all. But for me the most exciting comics news this week is that Gene Yang has taken a stab at the genre and released his first superhero comic.

The Shadow Hero, written by Gene Yang and drawn by Sonny Liew, tells the story of a wimpy kid named Hank, growing up in Chinatown. When his Dad is killed by a local crime boss. Hank is contacted by his Dad’s spirit animal who proceeds to grant him any wish. Hank wishes to never be shot by a bullet. That’s his superpower! Personally, I would have added swords, fists, clubs, baseball bats and missiles to the list. But I guess he was thinking about the specific way his Dad was killed. Without giving too much away, Hank becomes a superhero called The Green Turtle who uses his power of not getting shot to take down the local tong to avenge his father and also so that business at his family shop can pick up again.

Pretty standard superhero fare so far… except for one thing. He’s Asian!!! Not only is he an Asian American superhero, Yang makes a plausible case that he may be the first Asian American superhero. What about Jubilee, or Psylocke? Well The Green Turtle predates them all! The Green Turtle was originally created by in the 40’s by Chu Hing, one of the first Asian American cartoonists. According to Gene, Chu Hing might have kept The Green Turtle’s face hidden because the publisher had forbidden him from drawing an Asian main character. You’d think the pink skin would be a give away that maybe he wasn’t Asian, but Gene has an explanation for that too. In The Shadow Hero, Hank’s skin changes color when it gets wet (a side effect of being exposed to a toxic waste spill earlier in the story). I guess we’ll never know for sure if the Green Turtle was Asian. Maybe the color of his nipples might be a clue but I couldn’t find any panels in the original comic where his nipples were exposed. It reminded of the first (and only) Asian American porn star, a man whose identity will never be known because he kept a paper bag over his head during all his movies. Maybe that’s who Gene Yang was thinking of too.

As much fun as it is seeing Gene write a story backwards, with this weird Green Turtle character as his end goal, for me the most impressive aspect of the comic was the way he used the standard tropes and power chords of the superhero genre to tell a nuanced story about the Asian American experience. It’s like painting the Mona Lisa with a mop and five buckets of paint. The real juicy center of the story was less about the physical action and more just watching Hank navigating his Mom and Dad’s expectations of him and balancing that with his own ambitions in life, while simultaneously trying to navigate an outside world of well meaning but casually racist detectives surrounding a 1940’s Chinatown overrun with its own complex institutions.

Also I’m not gonna beat around the bush any longer. On the most base level, it’s freakin’ great to see an Asian American superhero. As a kid, my heroes were never Asian. I was super into Encyclopedia Brown and when I was a little older it was all about MacGuyver. But here’s the jacked up thing. When I was a kid pretending to be James Bond or whomever, I’ll confess, I was also thinking, “Oooh wouldn’t it be the shit if I was white!? I could just walk into a club order a martini and women would be all over that.” You may ask, why wasn’t I into Bruce Lee? I’ll admit it was cool to see him take on 40 henchmen with a pair of nunchucks but really I’m a pacifist! I think there are ways to peacefully resolve our differences and if you are going to use action over negotiation at least use your intelligence and resourcefulness like MacGuyver. If I wanted to limit myself to having a hero the same race as me, my choices were Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee.

By contrast, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for Asian American kids growing up today. Kids today have everyone from Jerry Yang to Jeremy Lin to look up to and idolize. Some white friends of mine didn’t understand what the big deal was when “Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle” hit the theaters. They couldn’t understand why I was jumping out of my seat and pumping my fists into the air at the end when John Cho made out with that girl. Maybe it’s because until that point, the only Hollywood movie in the history of cinema to feature an Asian American male protagonist was “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” you privileged motherfuckers! You don’t ever have to think about it. Your porn stars don’t even cover their heads with paper bags.

In conclusion, I’d highly recommend The Shadow Hero. It works on so many different levels. It’s a great children’s comic, but also a great story about Asian American identity and the immigrant experience and it works as a commentary on the superhero genre itself.

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