I’m pleased to announce that starting this week, Wondermark will be running three times a week at GoComics.com, online home of a bajillion newspaper and newspaper-style comic strips.
Nothing will change here — I’ll still be posting new content like usual. The GoComics version of Wondermark will be a TIME MACHINE, starting with the very first Wondermark strip (originally published on this website back in 2003) and marching forward at a steady pace from there, slightly faster than real time.
I think whis will be interesting for several reasons!
Firstly, there is a decent amount of topical humor buried in the ol’ archive that might end up unearthed and reheated. It’s one thing to read, say, a MySpace joke in a book collection, or on an archive page on a site, where its original context is clear. (In my books, I include a “Topical Reference Explanatory Index” as an aid to any reader from a future beyond our own.)
I recognize, though, that that hypothetical MySpace comic may read differently to someone encountering that strip as a “new” post on GoComics! MY GENIUS SOLUTION FOR THIS PROBLEM IS: Not to actually worry about it, or alternately, to find it hilarious.
Secondly, and maybe more interestingly, I made the earliest Wondermark comics OVER THIRTEEN YEARS AGO. I was much younger then, and maybe not as good a writer (opinions differ), and definitely not as experienced a visual designer.
I don’t mind the material being rough-edged in its youth — that’s part of the charm, after all — but I am enough of a nitpicky perfectionist to want to spend a couple minutes brushing off the dustiest bits and straightening a lapel or two.
The most obvious of these little touch-ups is fixing lettering errors:
In this panel from Wondermark’s second episode ever, the original version (at left) has the word balloon cutting off the nightstick for no reason, and it also uses the wrong “I”. (In comic lettering, the pronoun “I” should be rendered with crossbars; other instances of the capital letter I are not.)
I didn’t get that right in all the early comics, and while I don’t know that I’ll go back and obsessively fix everything that strikes my now-wizened eyes as wrong, I did feel compelled to spit-shine at least the first handful of strips. You can see in this one that I also added a suggestion of a shadow/horizon, and increased the contrast a bit for a sharper, more handsome image. I also went on to give the character an elaborate backstory that no one will ever know but me, and I’m quite satisfied to have done so.
What’s dumb, though, is that I already re-lettered that strip, in 2005, for my very first book The Annotated Wondermark (now out of print). My very first (2003) versions of the first hundred strips or so were done at web resolution, using Comic Sans. I know!!!
In order to be able to make that book, I had to go back and recreate all those comics from scratch, using new higher-resolution scans and a better typeface. But looking back now, a decade later, I notice how in some of the cobwebby corners where no one ever looks, the workmanship is a B+ job.
I tried my best, but then I got better than that.
The first comics I made are very unsophisticated. I made the first twenty in an afternoon, just trying to feel out the format. All through the first couple of years, I would just write anything, because why not, nobody was reading anyway.
But now, in looking back at the earliest comics with the realization that, for some people, those early strips will be their first exposure at all to Wondermark, I found myself reliving a little of the silliness and glee with which I first began banging images against each other to see what kinds of sounds they made.
For this new venture, I am allowing myself the luxury of editing dialogue that I find just too cringeworthy to stand behind anymore: for example, episode one’s “genital warts” has become, on GoComics at least, “private pox”, which may not be much of an improvement but does at least represent taking a half second to consider the tone I prefer the strip to take as a whole.
I also replaced dialogue in episode four (appearing on GoComics on Monday) that related to a private in-joke I no longer recall the meaning of, which didn’t make sense to anyone then, hasn’t made sense to anyone over the last 13 years, and wouldn’t make sense to a new reader now. There’s all kinds of weird little wrinkles like that in the archive — I can tease out little references to jobs I had at the time, or people that I no longer know; and I also sigh, just a bit, reading snark that a younger version of me wrote and published, snide takes hot off a 22-year-old dome that don’t hold up under much scrutiny.
It’s hard for me not to fixate on wanting to go back and perfect everything. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with revisiting one’s work in this way — the eternal question of George Lucas aside — but I do think falling into the well of doing so can become a time sink, in return for not much added value.
It’s fine to think your early stuff isn’t that great, because how else can you be sure you’ve grown since then? There are some jokes in the early years (and in the middle years, and in the later years) that I wouldn’t make again today.
But there were also others that leveled me up, unlocked things in the development of my voice, conceptual islands that couldn’t have been arrived at without laying stepping stones down first. Whatever else I may have managed over 1200+ episodes, I’ve tried to avoid letting it get too easy.
I think it’ll be fun to replay that evolution again, this time at 150% speed with perhaps a few of the worst clunkers chiseled off, as a new set of people watches it start from something coarse and refine into something with a distinct sensibility. I might even be able to tell what folks end up thinking about it, because unlike the comic entries on this site, GoComics has a comment section. Which, full disclosure, I have seen get cuckoo bananas on some other strips.
If you’d like to stroll down Wondermark Lane with me and the cuckoo-bananas crew, check out gocomics.com/wondermark, where we’ll be posting classic episodes from the vault every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the sun burns out and abandons us all to a lonely, shivering doom. Or until I run out of material! Whichever comes first.