Boing Boing 

Human condition, with email

Hidden in the tooltip for today's XKCD, a piece of important existential philosophy:

A human is a system for converting dust billions of years ago into dust billions of years from now via a roundabout process which involves checking email a lot.

Steroids

Webcomics in The Economist

A Dec 22 article in the Economist looks at the thriving world of webcomics and suggests that they have broken the awful cycle of mediocre newspaper comics -- a cycle that Bill Watterson decried when he gave up on Calvin and Hobbes. It's a great piece:

Many of these comics are expanding outwards into little media empires of their own. “XKCD”, probably the most innovative, now features a separate blog called “What If?”, on which Mr Munroe answers questions sent in by readers. One recent post asked “if every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?” (The answer is no, unless you can borrow 6 billion one-megawatt lasers from the Pentagon.) “SMBC” and “Ctrl Alt Del” have both experimented with sketch shows and animated comics. “Penny Arcade” has become a sprawling video-games industry phenomenon, hosting games conventions and fund-raising campaigns.

One thing they have in common is how they make their money. The typical audience for one of the leading web comics is between 1m and 10m unique browser visits per month, comparable to a medium-sized newspaper website (the website of the Daily Mail, the best-read newspaper on the web, gets 100m per month). But unlike on newspaper websites, where advertising is the main source of revenue, the audience on web comics are not just readers—they are also customers. Most artists sell T-shirts, books, mouse mats, posters and other paraphernalia. The most successful at monetising content is said to be Mr Inman: his site, “The Oatmeal” made $500,000 in 2011 from its audience of around 7m unique visitors per month.

Amplified by social media—Mr Inman has some 700,000 Facebook followers—this audience can be powerful. One extremely long and exceptionally geeky comic last summer on “The Oatmeal”, extolling the virtues of the inventor Nikola Tesla and attacking his better-known rival, Thomas Edison, somehow snowballed into a campaign to save one of Tesla’s labs on the outskirts of New York. By leveraging his immense traffic to attract donations and to sell T-shirts and other gear, Mr Inman raised $1m in nine days—enough, with matching funding from New York State, to buy the building.

Triumph of the nerds (Thanks, Martin!)

XKCD on New Year's resolutions


Today's XKCD is holds wise advice for those of us contemplating New Year's resolutions. Be sure to click through for the tool-tip bonus punchline.

Resolution

Great comic on creative work in the Internet age


The Oatmeal's "Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web" really captures a lot of the joys and sorrows of working in a creative field in the age of the Internet, especially the toxicity of spending too much time reading nasty comments, and the difficulty of maintaining self discipline. My one quibble -- and it's a major one -- is the business about "inspiration."

For me the major turning point in my working life was when I figured out that the work I produced when I felt inspired wasn't any different from the work I produced when I felt uninspired -- at least a few months later. I think that "inspiration" has to do with your own confidence in your ideas, your blood sugar, the external pressures in your life, and a million other factors only tangentially related to the actual quality of the work. If creative work makes you sane and happy (and if it supports you financially), it's terrible to harness it to something you can't control, like "inspiration" -- it sucks to only be happy when something you can't control occurs.

Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web (via Neatorama)

Solving Laugh Out Loud Cats #2100


Apelad sez, "I posted the 2100th Laugh-Out-Loud Cats comic last night. My kids had me print it out so they could cut out each panel to try and recreate the tunnel route. It's not easy!"

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #2100

Five more books join the Humble Ebook Bundle!


We've hit the halfway mark on the Humble Ebook Bundle, a name-your-price, support-for-charity, DRM-free ebook promotion. With one week to go, we've added in FIVE more books: XKCD Volume 0; Zach Weiner's Save Yourself, Mammal and The Most Dangerous Game; Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots; and Penny Arcade: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings.

If you've already bought the bundle and paid more than the average, these are unlocked and ready for you to download. If you're new to the bundle, you have seven days to buy these ones. Don't miss out!

Update: Derp -- misunderstood who got the new titles! If you've paid, they're yours.

Humble Ebook Bundle

Toothpaste for Dinner needs your business

Complexin writes, "Drew, of daily webcomic 'Toothpaste for Dinner' and 'Married to the Sea,' among other sites, seems in danger of going offline. He's offering special discounts on t-shirts, a book, and original music in hopes of generating enough revenue to keep it going. According to his Twitter stream he's not interested in donations... but if you enjoy the comics consider purchasing some of the associated items from the Sharing Machine store. I own a few of the t-shirts, and they are well-made, sized correctly for women, AND bitingly hilarious. Bonus: comes in men's styles, too."

I don't own any of Drew's tees, but I do own, cherish and highly recommend his book.

Toothpaste For Dinner: Daily comics by Drew (Thanks, Complexin)



Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong: YA webcomic "full of teenagers building homemade robots in their basement"


Comics awesomecreator Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling, Friends With Boys) is serializing a new comic online called "Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong," adapted from a Prudence Shen YA novel. When the serialization is done, the whole thing will be published between covers by the marvellous FirstSecond books. FirstSecond's Gina Gagliano describes it as "full of teenagers building homemade robots in their basement." Sounds like my kind of thing!

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (Thanks, Gina!)

Wormwood webcomic merch -- a Kickstarter


Back in 2011, Mark blogged about the Wormworld Saga, a free, beautiful, multilingual webcomic created by Daniel Lieske. Now, Lieske has produced a world of beautiful merchandise for people who want to support his project, show off their fandom, and look stylin'. He's structured the merch production as a Kickstarter -- back it at different levels to get different items.

At the core of the Wormworld Saga are its fans. They support the project in many ways including donations, fan artwork and translations. The fans made the development of the Wormworld Saga App possible and the fans are the ones that spread the word about the Wormworld Saga on the internet so that over a million people have already become aware of it.

Funding an independent project like the Wormworld Saga is a huge challenge. And although we've already made huge steps, the financial future of the project is still not secure over the long run. With this kickstarter campaign we want to turn our focus on an aspect that we've largely neglected up to this point: there are virtually no fan items available for the fans of the Wormworld Saga! And we finally want to change that.

The Wormworld Saga Treasure Chest by Daniel Lieske — Kickstarter (Thanks, Dave!)

XKCD's 14-foot-wide CLICK AND DRAG map


Today's XKCD, "Click and Drag," is a triumph. It's a tribute to House of Leaves, and it treats the punchline as a window to a ginormous, explorable world that you can see by clicking and dragging. Dan Catt puts the artwork at 46 feet wide, assuming it is printed at 300dpi. It's full of Munrovian sly humor and sight gags, and has its own underground civilization. It's not like any other thing I've seen.

If you want to mouse around in a zoomable version of the map, see this mashup. If (when) Randall offers this for sale as a poster, I may have to throw away some furniture to make room for it.

Click and Drag (via Kottke)

Facebook to New Yorker: no nipples in your cartoons!


Facebook forced The New Yorker to remove a cartoon depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden because the cartoonist drew in two dots representing Eve's nipples, which is a Facebook no-no.

Nipplegate (via JWZ)

Kickstarting a fun card-battling game

Darren sez, "Obsidian Abnormal is the creator of Commissioned, a madcap webcomic with zombies, gnomes, ninjas, cats and nerds. So Obsidian and I made a card game that pits them against each other - 3v3: Commissioned. It's a unique spin on deck-building. While every card has the normal attack values, defense values and special abilities on it, you can only use a third of three different cards to cobble together a hand."

Premiums for this Kickstarter include a ride in an airship! Darren's also the guy who did Monster Alphabet, another great Kickstarter project.

3v3 is a unique battling card game. Every hand you draw three cards. Each card has an attack, a defense and a special ability, but you have to pick which card is your attack, which is your defense and which is your ability. Then you play your three cards against your opponent's three cards.

You can score up to three points in a hand, and the first one to 10 points wins the round. But every time your opponent scores a point, you have to remove a card from your deck. This creates a fast-paced and fun gaming environment, with quick thinking needed to pick which cards to send to the scoreboard.

3v3: The Commissioned Comic Card Game

XKCD with a very boingy punchline


Daww, that was nice of him: Randall Monroe's made me the punchline of another XKCD!

Update: Hey, this is from 2008! I missed it then. No matter -- it was funny then, it's funny now.

Starwatching

Patrick Farley reboots Cloverfield


The great (and maddeningly erratic) Patrick Farley has a typically awesome new comic up: "Cloverfield Rebooted," in which the monster's true nature is revealed.

Cloverfield Rebooted (via JWZ)

Music industry, in sum

In three four short panels, the Oatmeal does a fine job of capturing the problem and promise of the music industry in the 21st century.

The state of the music industry - The Oatmeal (via Reddit)

Trying to hack the rules of wishing


Today's XKCD, the "Eyelash Wish Log," is a bit of design fiction that implies the story of a too-clever-for-his-own-good protagonist who tries to hack the rules and regulations of wishing. It reminded me of Stephen Gould's excellent YA novel Jumper, which rigorously and thoroughly maps out the possibilities of teleportation (which was adapted into a movie that, unfortunately, omitted most of its charm).

Eyelash Wish Log

XKCD reveals your visual perception quirks


Today's XKCD, "Visual Field," is a terrific mind-bender: a series of optical experiments to try with your computer's screen and a rolled-up piece of paper that demonstrate the quirks of your visual field: your blind-spots, your ability to perceive detail, night vision, the ability to perceive polarization, sprites and floaters, color perception and so on.

Visual Field

FunnyJunk's lawyer sues American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Federation

Charles Carreon, the lawyer who sent a legal threat to The Oatmeal on behalf of FunnyJunk (FunnyJunk was upset that The Oatmeal had complained about the undisputed fact that its users routinely post Oatmeal comics to the site and threatened a libel suit unless they got $20,000 from The Oatmeal), has made good on his threat to comb the statute books until he could find something to sue Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman over.

But Mr Carreon has gone much, much farther. He has not only named Inman to the suit, but is also suing IndieGoGo (Inman launched an IndieGoGo fundraiser for a cancer charity and the National Wildlife Federation, and raised over $100,000 for them, with a promise that he would photograph himself standing astride the money and send it as a taunt to Carreon prior to remitting it to the charity). He is also suing the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.

Ken at Popehat and Kevin from Lowering the Bar are offering pro bono counsel to the defendants in the suit, and looking for other First Amendment attorneys to volunteer their time to fight Carreon's lawsuit. Here's Ken's summary of the Courthouse News Service summary of Carreon's suit:

1. The lawsuit is captioned Charles Carreon v. Matthew Inman; IndieGogo Inc.; National Wildlife Federation; American Cancer Society; and Does [Does are as-of-yet-unnamed defendants], Case No. 4:12 cv 3112 DMR.

2. Charles Carreon appears as "attorney pro se," meaning "I am attorney but am representing only myself" and "I will continue to wreak havoc until forcibly medicated."

3. CNS included the following description of the case, which is most likely drafted by CNS upon review of the complaint: "Trademark infringement and incitement to cyber-vandalism. Defendants Inman and IndieGogo are commercial fundraisers that failed to file disclosures or annual reports. Inman launched a Bear Love campaign, which purports to raise money for defendant charitable organizations, but was really designed to revile plaintiff and his client, Funnyjunk.com, and to initiate a campaign of "trolling" and cybervandalism against them, which has caused people to hack Inman's computer and falsely impersonate him. The campaign included obscenities, an obscene comics and a false accusation that FunnyJunk "stole a bunch of my comics and hosted them." Inman runs the comedy website The Oatmeal."

As Ken points out, if the CNS summary is true, then Carreon's suit is especially frivolous:

Now, that summary, most likely written by CNS, may be flawed; thorough analysis must await getting a copy of the complaint. But to the extent the summary is accurate, it suggests a number of patent defects in the complaint. First of all, Carreon — appearing pro se — doesn't have standing to sue for false statements against FunnyJunk, or for trademark violations against FunnyJunk. Second, if the "trademark infringement" is premised on the notion that The Oatmeal violated Charles Carreon's trademark in his own name by criticizing him, it is knowingly frivolous for the reasons set forth in the excellent letter Mr. Inman's attorney sent. Inman's discussion of Charles Carreon was self-evidently on its face classic nominative fair use, because it named him to shame him and not to make commercial use of his name. Similarly, I can say that Charles Carreon remains a petulant, amoral, censorious douchebag without violating his trademark because that's nominative, not commercial.

Ken's post is (as always) full of great analysis, and he recommends that if you want to help fight Mr Carreon's douchebaggery that you donate to the Oatmeal's charity fundraiser (currently standing at $178K and rising) and tell your friends (he also asks that you not send angry emails or calls to Mr Carreon).

Update: Lowering the Bar has the complaint

The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk, Part IV: Charles Carreon Sues Everybody

XKCD wedding cake


Mike sez, "Photographed a wedding reception in upstate NY this weekend -- the cake was awesome! The couple are both geeks and have three geeky teenaged daughters who helped design it.... Take a look at the cell phone video!"

Cameraphone MP4 video
(Thanks, Mike!)

India's net-censorship law - webcomic edition


The Indian webcomic "Crocodile in Water Tiger On Land" has some trenchant commentary on India's Information Technologies Act 2011, a pro-censorship, pro-surveillance Internet regulation.

Information Technologies Act 2011

Webcomic: Face-Skull, a graphic designer with a disembodied, crime-fighting alter-ego


Pat Dorian sez, "Cory blogged about my t-shirts he saw at NYC Comic Con 2011. I took one of my characters from my t-shirts and made a web comic based on him. I thought you might dig it."

The Face-Skull (Thanks, Pat!)

Utilitarianism's darkly comical pitfalls

A characteristically great Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal installment explores the hidden pitfalls of extreme utilitarianism. I just re-read Starship Troopers and was once again struck by Heinlein's strange idea of a scientifically provable "moral philosophy" that puts every human situation to the test of being expressed in symbolic logic to weigh its validity.

We created a utilitarian ethics computer to replace government (Thanks, Jamie!)

Mathematical approximations and how wrong they are

A great XKCD today: "Approximations: A Slightly Wrong Table of Equations and Identities Useful for Approximations and/or Trolling Teachers."

Approximations

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisinal Craft of Pencil Sharpening

On the surface, David Rees’s How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants is just a protracted mockery of the mania for “authenticity” and “artisanship” — poking fun at the pretense of snobbish reworking of everyday objects and tasks into extremely precise and expensive amusements for the bourgeoise (ultimate milkshakes, high-priced hand-roasted coffee beans, small cask liquor).

Read the rest

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats "Constellations" tee at w00t!


Ape Lad writes, "Woot is selling a poster of one of my recent Laugh-Out-Loud Cats comics for a limited time. It shows an inaccurate depiction of the constellations."

Connect the Dots Poster (Thanks, Ape Lad)

Hark! A Vagrant: the book

Somehow, I missed last year’s publication of the long-overdue Hark! A Vagrant collection, which puts Kate Beaton’s fantastic webcomic between covers.

Read the rest

Interview with Order of the Stick creator about his record-breaking $1.2M Kickstarter campaign


On Singularity Hub, Aaron Saenz interviews Rich Burlew, creator of the D&D-oriented webcomic Order of the Stick, whose record-breaking Kickstarter project raised more than $1.2 million.

SH: Has this fundraiser altered your business model or were pre-orders for the books (through the reward system) so dominant that you’re in the same model, just on a larger scale?

RB: Definitely the latter. The fundraiser has been incredibly successful in generating sales (as well as wider interest in the comic) but ultimately, I can’t run one of these every few months and expect to get another million dollars each time. The likelihood of me ever getting anything close to this response again is very low, so I’m treating it as a one-time opportunity. That’s the main reason why I’m trying to use as much of the excess funding to make permanent improvements to my business—buying new equipment, upgrading the server, and so on. That way, when the attention dies down and I’m back to doing things the way I’ve always done them, there will be concrete long-term benefits to me and the readers.

SH: What was the secret to your success on Kickstarter, and how much do you think can be repeated by other projects in the future?

RB: The most obvious secret is to already have an audience to sell to. The best way to get that audience is to put out a product of reliable quality over a long enough period of time that potential backers have no doubts about your ability to pull off whatever it is you’re promising to pull off. I’ve been drawing The Order of the Stick for almost nine years, and I’ve already printed and delivered seven books in that time. While some of them have had the sort of production delays you would expect from a small business, the fact is that I had a pretty good track record when it comes to self-publishing. So when I went out and said, “Hey, I need some funds up front if you want to get more books,” no one thought that I wasn’t capable of actually turning those funds into books. And because I’ve drawn well over a thousand pages of comics, most of them viewable for free, they also knew the exact quality level to expect for any additional stories that I threw in to sweeten the deal. That level of confidence is essential if you want a lot of people to give you money for something that doesn’t exist yet.

Beyond that, if you start a Kickstarter project, tend to it constantly. I see a lot of projects that put up their initial pitch and then never touch it again until it closes—and then they wonder why it wasn’t funded. Stay involved in your project: post frequent updates, respond to comments, and engage with your backers. Make your pledge drive an event that people want to be part of instead of just a purchase. When you sell a book, you’re competing with every other book out there. When you sell an experience, it’s always one-of-a-kind.

One of the things that gets missed when we talk about the evolution of "business models" for creative labor is that the pre-Internet system made virtually no money for nearly everyone who tried it ("don't quit your day job"), returned something like a living for a small minority, and handed out lottery-ticket winnings to a statistically insignificant few. The Web's business models for creative endeavor make virtually no money for nearly everyone who tries them, return a precarious living to a small minority, and, as we see, deliver lottery-ticket dividends to a statistically insignificant few.

This is not to take away from Burlew's remarkable achievement, his preserverence, or his skill. But Burlew (and Amanda Hocking, and others) are no more proof that the Web "works" than all those people who grossed $1.08 on eight years' worth of Google AdSense are proof that it fails. As cool and awesome as Burlew's story is, it's the wrong metric for measuring the success of the Web as a creative medium.

Instead, we should ask ourself how many people got to try it out, how many audiences were served, how many creators reached audiences, and how diverse the gatekeepers between audiences and artists have become, so that one tastemaker's prejudices don't end up warping discourse and markets. I think on all of these metrics, the Web is doing very well by creators.

And yeah, it's handing out some lotto jackpots, too, and that's awesome.

The Crowd-Funding Phenomenon Continues – Comic Raises $1.2M on Kickstarter (+Q&A with Creator Rich Burlew)!

Friends With Boys: graphic novel about fitting in at high school, seeing ghosts

Faith Erin Hicks’s new graphic novel Friends With Boys launches today. It’s the story of Maggie, who is about to follow her three older brothers to the town high-school after a lifetime of home-schooling.

Read the rest

Kickstarter success for DRM-free webcomics, reader-funded long-form journalism

Some heartwarming news on the Kickstarter front: fans of the Diesel Sweeties webcomic have oversubscribed R. Stevens's DRM-free ebook, for which he was hoping to raise $3,000, and brought the total up to nearly $40K. Meanwhile, Matter, the startup that wants to fund long-form journalism online, blew past its $50K target in two days, and is now sitting at 81K.

Goats webcomic book IV: the Kickstarter edition

Jon Rosenberg, creator of the entirely demented Goats webcomic sez, "Just wanted to let you know that it looks like I'm going to be able to do a fourth Goats book, and I'm doing it without a publisher -- this one is going to be wholly funded by the readers themselves. The Goats Book IV Kickstarter met its fundraising goal only eighteen hours after it launched, which has made me a bit giddy. The money is nice, but the ability to do projects without big companies backing them is superb." (Thanks, Jon!)