Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category.

BOOKWAR continues

i am the night

Just 2 things, Ryan…

1. You don’t have to say “fiction novel.” The fiction part is implied by the word “novel”.

2. Why is this book in the Port Authority bathroom

UPDATE: I have learned that it is in every Port Authority bathroom, so I suppose that answers #2, while also raising new questions

I keep finding terrible book after terrible book that Ryan North wrote! And he, incensed, keeps making up completely untrue Photoshopped lies about me!!

oh no

[ BOOKWAR.TUMBLR.COM ]

Video: Building a DIY TelePrompTer for $0.00

I’ve been making a bunch of videos for Machine of Death Kickstarter updates, and I love watching the particular brand of YouTube channel about making low-cost DIY camera equipment, whether it’s a camera stabilizer or a slider or a TelePrompTer (so capitalized because it’s a trademark).

The stabilizer and the slider I can approximate with some scrap wood and a skateboard, but I got to watching a few of the prompter videos and realized that, while I didn’t have all the stuff mentioned in the videos, I did have some other, similar stuff and could probably figure out how build my own. I was fascinated by how simple the key element is — literally just a piece of glass — and thought I’d give it a try.

So here’s my DIY video, “Building a DIY TelePrompTer for $0.00, Using Just The Stuff I Already Have Lying Around.”

I assume you have all the same stuff, so go ahead and follow along.

Improving the Fork: A Patent Trawl

I went to lunch today at a new market-slash-sandwich place that just opened in my neighborhood. It was really good!

The market (and neighborhood) is the type to offer fancy organic cold-pressed juice for eleven dollars and artisanal almond milk that comes in something that looks like baby food jars, so when I got this fork to eat my side salad with, at first I wasn’t sure if it was something exotic and fancy:

I used the strange fork to eat my salad and was pleased to find that it worked really well! The tiny serrations on the tip helped spear the individual salad leaves very securely. “Aha,” I thought, “someone has improved upon the simple fork!”

I went up and asked the guy behind the counter if all his forks were like this, and he laughed and assured me they were not. It was just a manufacturing defect!

I went back to work with my head spinning. Could this ACCIDENTAL IMPROVEMENT made to the fork be put to DELIBERATE use?

Had I been struck by the sort of coincidental circumstance that led to the invention of Post-Its, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and representative democracy??

I began to search the patent records. Soon I lost all interest in developing and marketing my new, improved fork. But I did really enjoy my trawl through the patent records for improved forks, because the language in a patent application has this very formal, stilted tone that nonetheless often features dashes of irrepressible personality bursting through the seams. Here are a few of my favorite finds and excerpts (bold is my own emphasis).

mom's spaghetti

REVOLVING SPAGHETTI FORK, Patent US2602996 A, 1952

The objects of the invention are…to eliminate the awkwardness of securing a portion of spaghetti around the prongs of the fork; to add to the pleasure of eating spaghetti; to construct a revolving spaghetti fork consisting of few and simple parts, easy and inexpensive to manufacture; and generally to provide a revolving spaghetti fork that is easily and simply operated for use and that is sufficient for its purpose.

can i frame this drawing

SERRATED FORK, Patent Application US20130152403 A1, 2011

My serrated fork will cut thru pastries, cakes, eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, fish, fruit and other edibles with more ease than a regular fork. Step 1, I placed a regular fork tightly onto a vise. Step 2, I used a hacksaw with a junior hacksaw blade and I made some small notches on the outer tong of the fork. Step 3, I used a mini-grinder set to smoothen the edges. Lastly, I washed the fork to remove any tiny metal flakes. I made a fork for a right-handed person, another for left-handed user. I used a small fork to model both serrated sides…

The serrated fork offers an opportunity to restaurants and homes everywhere, worldwide to keep up with innovation and the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. When the “sphork” [sic] was created long ago, no one thought of marrying the butter knife and the fork. [Editor's note: Combination knife and fork designs go back to at least 1881.]

The serrated fork brings these two together, the butter knife and the fork. I have seen children and adults alike licking a butter knife; this serrated fork will need the help of those skilled in the art to craft a perfect unity between the butter knife and the fork to create a masterful vision of the serrated fork which can be lick able. I can envision a serrated fork in every home! I can picture us cutting easily into a thick piece of Cod with just a wiggle of the wrist as we handle the serrated fork…

The more important feature of the invention, in order for the detailed description herein to be understood and appreciated by those of masterful skill in the art, are the notches given to the outside tongs. The notches are a skillful design between a butter-knife and a dull steak knife. The features are to be apparent and obvious to one skilled in the art.

spoon it

COMBINED KNIFE, FORK, AND SPOON, Patent US147119 A, 1874

Look at that thing. Just look at it.

chop it up

COMBINED FORK AND CHOPSTICK ASSEMBLY, Patent Application US20090165307 A1, 2007

While forks are generally intuitive and easy to use, chopsticks require a great deal of skill and practice to be used effectively when eating. In a variety of restaurants, patrons might request chopsticks if they are proficient with the techniques and proper handling of chopsticks, while other patrons may request a fork if they are unable to efficiently handle their food with chopsticks. In still other cases, a patron may wish to try using chopsticks, and then later change his or her mind and wish to use a fork to continue eating.

Heretofore, the restaurant has been required to provide both forks and chopsticks separately to provide patrons with a utensil of their choice. This creates additional cost and takes up valuable storage space. Also, patrons have had to choose between using a fork or a pair of chopsticks and had to utilize two utensils if they changed their mind, creating additional waste.

While forks and chopsticks have long been known, there has been a longfelt need, for a combined chopstick and fork assembly that combines the elements and features of a fork and a chopstick, that can be used by a variety of patrons as a fork, a pair of chopsticks or both, at the discretion of the patron.

“a longfelt need”

an invention whose time has come

FORK WITH TIMER, Patent US5421089 A, 1994

The use of forks is known in the prior art. More specifically, forks heretofore devised and utilized for the purpose of eating are known to consist basically of familiar, expected and obvious structural configurations, notwithstanding the myriad of designs encompassed by the crowded prior art which have been developed for the fulfillment of countless objectives and requirements…

While these devices fulfill their respective, particular objective and requirements, the aforementioned patents do not describe a fork with timer that provides a cue to a user after an elapsed period of time for indicating that another bite of food using the fork may be taken

Therefore, it can be appreciated that there exists a continuing need for new and improved fork with timer which can be used for providing a cue to a user after an elapsed period of time for indicating that another bite of food using the fork may be taken.

I love this logic: “There does not already exist a fork with a built-in timer. Therefore, there is a need for a fork with a timer.” Go for it, N.M. Dubus and S. Springfield. That’s the spirit of invention.

Also: “It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a new and improved fork with timer which has all the advantages of the prior art forks and none of the disadvantages.”

screw this, man

TWISTING PASTA FORK, Patent US5005293 A, 1989

A spring element forcibly urges the shaft out of the sleeve and a spiral mechanism twists the shaft and fork end as the shaft exits the sleeve. The mechanism includes a ratchet, ball and socket or other devices for retaining the shaft in the sleeve during an eating procedure when food is captured on the fork end…

Although some attempts may be been made to employ an automatic twisting arrangement for the fork tines, problems and difficulties are oftentimes encountered which stem largely from the fact that the fork tines may only be turned or twisted to gather food wherein the turning or twisting is then restricted while the user raises the implement to his mouth to consume the collected food.

Obviously, once the twist has been made, the food must be retained on the fork tines and no twisting or turning or rotational movement may be tolerated while the implement is being raised to the mouth of the user. Otherwise, the collected food will be dislodged causing embarrassment to the user…

Therefore, a long standing need has existed to provide an economical and convenient means for collecting pasta or other food commodities which rotates to gather the pasta, and which releasably locks in this position preparatory to eating…

Another object of the present invention is to provide an economic and convenient means for automatically gathering food onto the tines of a fork whereby the food may be readily consumed during a conventional culinary procedure.

I never knew that twirling pasta was SO HARD. Also, “conventional culinary procedure” is my new favorite way of saying “eating”

‘STRIPPED’ comic strip documentary is out today!

no, clothed
Stripped co-director Dave Kellett, left, with my wife Nikki and me!

Four things about the comics documentary Stripped, which is available on iTunes today!

• Dave and Fred, the film’s directors, are trying to replicate what we did in 2010 with Machine of Death: become a #1 bestseller for just one day. We did it on Amazon; they’re trying to do it on iTunes. Machine of Death’s success opened a lot of doors for us and that book — of which there are now over 30,000 copies in print; it’s been translated into eight languages; you can get it from any bookstore; we put out a sequel with the second-largest publisher in the world. If you’re interested in this movie, and think you might get it anyway, getting it today helps Dave and Fred the most.

• I’ve never made a documentary or a feature film (though I have done shorts), but I know how hard filmmaking can be. Watching Dave and Fred work on this for four years, and then finally getting to see the finished product on a big screen in Hollywood, has been so gratifying — even vicariously! Lots of projects are conceptualized; some are labored over; few are ever finished; fewer still are actually any good. What they have done is a stunning accomplishment, and moreso when you realize they’re doing this completely independently: there is no studio, no distributor. They have made this thing exist by sheer force of will. (I know the feeling.) I hope hope hope hope hope that they will get to reap some rewards for their efforts.

• Oh hey also the DVD is on sale too, if you don’t want to get it through iTunes! It’ll be on other streaming services soon as well.

• Ryan Fisher from the comic strip “Sometime After” tweeted me the other day:


I then happened across his recent blog post about Stripped:

…As a cartoonist, if you can watch that thing and not come away jazzed over what you do, it may be time to ask yourself some hard questions. That being said, I have ANOTHER reason to LOVE the documentary… STA’s in it!!!!

SERIOUSLY, RUPERT, TWITCH AND COMPANY ARE IN STRIPPED!!!! Now it may be for about a second, and you have to be paying attention to see it, but damn if it isn’t there. When David Malki is talking about building a webcomic audience and the camera shows the “Wondermark” website, an STA ad banner is sitting front and center under the comic. Now I know that for most people this is kinda like a “so?” thing, and I totally get that. But here’s why I nearly wet myself last night during my happy dance/Kermit flail hybrid that ensued after I saw it.

“STRIPPED” is a beautifully done documentary and much like things like “Draw Comics the Marvel Way” are still referenced decades later, so will this documentary. Whenever anyone wants to learn about the transition of comics from newspaper to the web/whatever medium it evolves into in the future, this movie will be referenced. And in my own small, SMALL way, I am a part of that. I will be able to sit my kids down one day, freeze that frame and explain that this is what dad was up to in college. That is incredible for me to say.

Small things we don’t even realize can reach people we don’t know and might never meet. Small acts, like buying an ad on a whim, or sending a kind email, or picking up an unfamiliar book, might have consequences we could never predict. That ad on Wondermark might not make Ryan rich and famous, but the unexpected repercussions gave him, as an artist, a jolt of encouragement. I love seeing things like that happen.

I just got back from the Emerald City Comicon this weekend! I had a really great time, better than the last few years, and have come home really optimistic and excited about everything I and my peers are doing. It’s so great to be in that environment — of creativity, of relationships, of socializing, of inspiration. That isn’t always the case at every convention! But this one, this year, was pretty great.

In 2005, I attended the San Diego Comic-Con and saw a panel on webcomics. I think it may have been the first time I heard the term “webcomics”, although I’d already been making Wondermark for over two years — I knew of Penny Arcade and Sinfest and PVP, but I didn’t really know much about the world of webcomics as a “thing” that was beginning to grow and develop.

One of the panelists, back at that convention in 2005, was Scott Kurtz of PVP. Scott and I have since gotten to know each other and become friends, or professional acquaintances, or whatever it’s called when you respect someone’s work and like talking with them but don’t always see eye-to-eye. Anyway, on this occasion, Scott was leaving the panel, and I stopped him in the hallway to ask a question about website layout. He very kindly paused and gave me some advice, which I took.

Now fast-forward nine years, to last weekend. I was the one on stage at a panel, this one about independent publishing. It’s never an ideal situation, trying to give information in a panel — you have to talk in generalities, and you can’t go into a ton of detail in the time allotted, and everyone’s experience will be different and not everything you say will be relevant. But a few people told me they got some good info out of it, which I’m happy about.

On my way out of the panel, two ladies who had been in the audience stopped me in the hallway to ask me a question. I’m glad that they were bold enough to do so, and I offered what I hope was helpful advice.

As I walked back to my booth, I recalled that moment with Scott years ago, and I was briefly struck by how seamlessly the circle had closed. Being on the other side of that interaction reminded me how much has changed in the last nine years and how far I’ve come. And it was a moment also charged with the possibility of the future: of the wonders we have yet to see and discover and create, and the artists we have yet to meet, who are going to be up there giving advice nine years from now.

I felt I had to go find Scott at his own booth and tell him what had happened, and I did so. I’m sure he didn’t remember our initial encounter from 2005, or if even he did, had never connected it to me. I kinda surprised myself by getting a tiny bit choked up as I talked with him! But I was glad for that encounter: it felt like an indication, in that moment, that I was doing okay.

Little moments. Little moments mean a lot. Little moments add up to lifetimes. You never know what little thing will mean the world to someone else.

The ladies I spoke with were Alisa Bishop and Aimee Zhou, both amazing artists (to judge from their sites). I hope we’ll see work from them and a million other artists in this amazing Renaissance of comics that we’re in the middle of right now. The film Stripped will be an important part of the canon of this time, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.

Stripped is available on iTunes and on DVD now.

Emerald City Comicon! PANELS AHOY

I’m in Seattle this weekend for the Emerald City Comicon! I’ll have my usual complement of fine wares at the TopatoCo booth (this year, occupying one full side of the SKYBRIDGE, right across from BOOM! Studios). I’ll also be moderating or participating in the following EXTREME PANELS:

Machine of Death Draw-and-Guess: “Join cartoonists playing a non-trademarked version of Pictionary, using clues issued from a Machine of Death. The Machine, of course, can tell you exactly how you are going to die in just a few cryptic words!” This panel will be hosted by me and Ryan North, and feature FAMOUS ARTISTS Aaron Diaz, Dylan Meconis, Becky Dreistadt, and Kris Straub! Always a hilarious time.
Friday, March 28, 4:10pm, Hall B

How To Sell Merchandise Without Feeling Like You’re Selling Out: “As a creator you might be or be thinking about selling merch online but you don’t feel like t-shirts are really your ‘thing’. Join TopatoCo creators David Malki, Chris Yates, & Dante Shepherd for our talk about creative merch & beyond the ubiquitous T-shirt.” I hope by the time the panel rolls around, I will have formulated a clever answer to the question in the panel’s title.
Saturday, March 29, 3:00pm, Room TCC 302

Urban Dictionary – The Game Show: “What do those terms in Urban Dictionary even mean? Has anybody ever used them before, for realsies?? In this GAME SHOW, our group of panelists attempts to define the weirdest, grossest terms the website has to offer. Mostly they will get it wrong!!” This DEFINITELY 18+ panel will be hosted by me and feature contestants Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky, Erika Moen, and Kate Leth!
Saturday, March 29, 6:10pm, Hall B

Professional Tools for Self-Publishers: “Join a pair of independent publishing professionals for a discussion of avenues to self-publishing and tools for bridging the gap between D.I.Y. and traditional publishing models; followed by a Q&A and troubleshooting session for self-publishers.” Hosted by Rachel Edidin of Wired, and featuring me as well! I’m the other half of the pair!! And there will be a third person too: George Rohac!
Sunday, March 30, 11:00am, ROOM 2B

This is my first of only a very few conventions this year. If I don’t see you in Seattle this weekend, I hope to see you in Toronto, San Francisco, San Diego, or Indianapolis in the coming months!

If I don’t see you any of those times, we can still be friends, but only provisionally