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Eric: Duck V. Top Hat: two very different style strips, two very different style print collections.

Occasionally, I have stuff back up on me. Specifically, stuff I really need to write about, like, here. For example, sitting on my desk I have three -- count them, three -- print compilations of webcomics that I haven't discussed. Two of them come from the exceptional Jin Wicked, and represent Volume I and Volume II of Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break. The third comes via the cheerful Dave Kellett, representing the first print collection of Sheldon.

I cannot imagine two more different strips, it's worth noting. One is a standard four panel gag-a-day comic, very traditionally designed and laid out and targeting a newspaper/syndicate market. (And doing a very good job, I would add -- Sheldon is a fun strip.) The other is a quasi-journal/quasi-surreal strip in a solid webcomics tradition that reflects the highly idiosyncratic and artistic style of Ms. Wicked, who is as much a personality on her site as her art (and who is a character in her strip -- which also does a very good job, I should add.) It seems inconceivable that I'd actually try and discuss these print collections in the same Snark. It's more than Apples and Oranges here -- it's Oranges and Coffee.

So! Let's get started!

The print collections, in one way, absolutely represent the intentions of the authors. Dave Kellett, as I said above, is working in the tradition of the four panel newspaper strip. He's working in a grand tradition -- each strip needs to stand on its own, setting up and executing a punchline. At the same time, he doesn't eschew running continuities from day to day or even week to week.

His print collection -- Pure Ducky Goodness -- reflects that fact -- it's 8.5" x 9" (not quite square), optimized for showing four panels horizontally as if it were in a newspaper. It was offset printed (in CANADA, as it proudly claims in several places) and clearly lives in the Starline Media offices waiting to be shipped out. It would look perfectly at home among the mutant book sizes and shapes that make up the "humor" section of Barnes and Noble where the newspaper comic strip collections live.

And, given that we get a certain sense of expectation as a result, the collection solidly works. The strips included fully establish the premise by page two, and subsequent strips deliver. It's a picaresque more than a heavily 'story' based comic. The premise is simple -- and almost quaint, this many years after the bursting of the dot com bubble. Sheldon is a kid who was also a software prodigy. In the halcyon days of Tech Stocks soaring, he managed to become a billionaire. Unlike most dot coms and software companies from that era, Sheldonsoft managed to retain its billions.

At the same time, Sheldon remains... well, a kid. A somewhat nerdy kid at that. He still goes to school, his grandfather raises him the best he knows how (we do not know what, if anything, has happened to his parents -- they're simply a non-factor. I like to think Bill Gates rubbed them out), which means public schools and restraining Sheldon's sometimes insane spending (hey, give a ten year old many billions of dollars and see what happens). One of his insane projects gave a duck the gift of speech, which gives us Arthur the Wonder Duck, which is the requisite sarcastic animal. (I said Sheldon was good. I didn't say it was innovative.) It's fun stuff, and since United Media/United Features already acts as Sheldon's web distributor, I'm a little surprised they haven't tried to move it into newspapers. It's certainly a good fit.

And no, that's not an insult. Yeesh. Webcartoonists.

The collection is a good solid read -- you end up flying through the strips because you're having a good time. And, because I'm special, Kellett drew Arthur saying hi to me on the front page. I mean, dude.

Jump over to the Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break editions (cleverly named Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break Vol. 1 and Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break Vol. 2) on the other hand, and you see an entirely different philosophy and aesthetic at work. Wicked's strip is a semi-journal -- more a conversation between her and her audience (albeit a funny one) than a studio strip. Comparing Sheldon's Comics.com home with Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break's almost blog-layout feel shows a completely different set of priorities. And the print editions reflect that as much as Pure Ducky Goodness reflected Kellett's intentions and priorities. The books are a standard sized 6.6" x 10", designed to fit easily in a bookshelf instead of the oversized comic collection shelves. They're produced via Lulu.com's Print on Demand service, rather than in volume through offset printing. (As an aside, the reproduction of Wicked's often subtle shading and linework is excellent, though heavily antialiased stuff can look a hair fuzzy in print here and there.) And even as the original strips also had blog entries/livejournal stuff going for them, the reprints do one strip per page along with full commentary underneath. It becomes a heavily value-added buy: you're getting an entirely different experience from the print collections than you do from the website, and that seems like one of the best reasons to go to print I've seen.

And, of course, the strips are excellent. Funny, as I said, but also a joy to look at, with lush lines and hatching. Wicked knows her craft.

As a side note, while she did sign the books for me, Ms. Wicked did not draw me a picture of a duck. Nor even of a rat. I'm just saying. On the other hand, there is a specific section in the back of the books for Wicked to draw or doodle on if you meet her at a convention, and she also includes question and answer sections where she answers questions her readers pose to her. Once again, the byword is conversation, and Wicked is a good conversationalist.

Which highlights yet another dichotomy between the two styles. With Sheldon, the personality of Dave Kellett is expressed (where it is expressed) in the humor of the strips -- you don't get a sense of Kellett himself as you read them. In Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break, Jin Wicked isn't just a character in her strip, the strip itself is a reflection of Jin Wicked, and her personality is explicit and overt in what she does. Neither approach is superior to the other, it's simply very different.

Am I recommending (either or both) volumes of Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break over Pure Ducky Goodness? Or vice versa? No, actually. I think both comics translate to print really well, and I think they both absolutely meet the goals they set for themselves. Sheldon, in the end, feels like a commercial strip and its collection is perfectly balanced to those needs. If you love your old Bloom County or Foxtrot collections (beyond simply loving the strips) and you like Sheldon, you'll love that. Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break feels more like an artistic expression and a conversation, and its collection is perfectly balanced to those needs -- reading the collection gives new new insight into the artistic view and world of Jin Wicked.

The best thing I can do is recommend you look at Sheldon and Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break online. If you enjoy one of those strips, the collection associated with it won't disappoint you in the least.

And, weirdly enough, I think Jin Wicked would enjoy Pure Ducky Goodness and Dave Kellett would enjoy Crap I Drew On My Lunch Break. But don't quote me on that. I've been wrong before.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at September 19, 2005 11:07 AM


Comment from: Brendan posted at September 19, 2005 11:39 AM

Actually, oranges and coffee require similar growing conditions.

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at September 19, 2005 5:14 PM

A lot of the "noise" in the printing (especially inside the comic boxes) is actually smeared pencil from when I was drawing the original, that the scanner picked up. You notice it more in the earlier comics. There's not really an easy or good way to get it out digitally without messing up the rest of the art since some of my hatching gets so fine.

There were also a few comics in Vol One (most noticably the two Photoshopped ones) that I didn't have high enough resolution images for and had to use a special program to try to blow up. Now when I draw comics I keep the printing in mind more so obviously the newer ones look better.

So, yeah. I do what I can. =/

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at September 19, 2005 5:36 PM

When I went online in 1995, having been burned by Amiga ownership over the previous decade, I adopted a policy of consciously defaulting to the industry standards in all computer usage, which policy I maintain to this day. I compose for Usenet in the text editor for perfect control of presentation. I browse with IE (except here). I still telnet into my MUD. I still telnet into my email when I can. I handcode both my cartoon sites with HTML most of which I'd already learned by 1996 and the rest of which must have already existed by then, so if something goes wrong I know I did it and I know I can fix it.

The single regret I have about applying this policy to Arthur, King of Time and Space is that cartoons created in MSPaint will probably appear pretty pixilated if ever printed.*

*Master of unintentional alliteration!

Comment from: gwalla posted at September 21, 2005 4:56 PM

I wouldn't call MS Paint "industry standard". More like "lowest common denominator". Photoshop is the industry standard and has been for a long time.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at September 21, 2005 7:58 PM

Perhaps I should have said "default" rather than "standard". I usually do in discussing this subject. But I want to be able to sit with my USB drive at almost any computer in the world and do all the same things I can do on my computer, or at least all the same things I do for my webcomic, like update on time. Photoshop doesn't come standard on computers. None of mine has it.

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