Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

An Alphabet Question

(Letters by Stack)

When I was a kid learning the alphabet I believed that certain letters were “weird letters.” In the same way that letters could be divided into consonants or vowels, or single-syllable and multi-syllable (everything else vs. W), I believed that letters could be divided into regular letters and weird letters.

I don’t know what the criterion for labeling letters “weird” was. It might have had something to do with rarity — my weird letters are mostly the ones with high Scrabble points.

I didn’t think much of it until one day when I visited my cousins. I was probably around eight or nine, and my cousin made an offhand reference to J as a “weird letter.” In that instant I thought: Is this common knowledge? Are the weird letters an actual thing that everybody knows about?

Since then I’ve never heard a reference to any canonical set of weird letters, nor have I kept the torch alive. But for the record, my weird letters were:

Weird: J K Q V X Z
Kind of weird: G W Y

So here are my questions for you:

1. Does this make any sense? Is there a logic to it that my child brain sensed that I can’t make heads or tails of now?

2. Did anybody else think anything remotely similar?

3. What’s a weird way that you made sense of the world as a child?

Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Nine Years of Wondermark

Those of you with Wondermark Calendars may have noted that earlier this week marked the ninth birthday of Wondermark. Huzzah!

Nine years ago, in 2003, I was working the night shift at an advertising agency. One day, after reading Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics (and having consumed a fair amount of “Get Your War On” and “Red Meat”), I sat down in the apartment I shared with my girlfriend, opened a book of clip-art, and thought “I wonder if you could make comics out of these?” (I think I made ten the first day, and twenty in the first week.)

Nine years later, the girlfriend is now my wife, the clip-art book has led to a collection of 50+ volumes of Victorian newspapers and magazines, I’ve published seven books, and I have a studio dedicated to this nonsense. I guess the central question — “is this possible?” — has become rhetorical by this point as well. But I hope I never lose that curiosity — constantly asking myself “What could this become?”

Thanks for hanging out with me! I’ll be around for a while yet — I’m always the last to go home.


– David !

Verb Day 2012

Saturday I mean Sunday was March 4th, or as we know it, Verb Day! On one of the only dates that’s also an imperative, usually families and communities get together to make up new verbs. The official U.S. national verb this year was “scraddling,” defined by a ceremonial Act of Congress as:

scraddle (v): to rub a part of the body against an object in such a way as to scratch an itch

You probably saw the Chancellor of the National Verb Council make her speech calling for parents to begin using the word with their children “so that a new generation will grow up never knowing a world without the joy of scraddling,” and of course President Obama released a statement urging “Americans of every race, color, and creed to come together, scraddle against the obstacles before us, and keep America strong.”

I’m happy with scraddling — I’ll take whatever new verbs I can get, in this economy — but I’d also like to draw your attention to a verb I myself coined in 2004, when Wondermark was still pretty new:

Our research department took an informal survey of 10,032 Americans and Western Europeans, asking them a variety of questions including their emotional reaction to this news item. The survey also included “dummy” questions designed to disguise the true nature of the survey, so as to weed out “prampters”, or respondents who concoct bogus answers for sport (“prampting”).

The dummy questions included such irrelevant gems as “What criteria do you use when deciding which brand of mung beans to purchase?” and “Did ‘moral values’ play a role in deciding who you would vote for in the Presidential election?”

You may recall that ‘moral values’ was the media-cycled phrase of the hour in the Bush/Kerry election, the way ‘hope and change’ was in 2008 and ‘create jobs’ is today. So this bit was surely very funny at the time. But the point is: prampting, or to prampt.

A portmanteau of prompt and prank (and with a meaning along the lines of to prank when prompted), I’ve always liked ‘prampting’ and think it should come into wider use. I don’t know how common the actual practice of prampting is in the world, but when I consider it, I’m reminded of something that happened to me back in high school.

My two best friends and I had a nonsense sort of club or secret society, and although it didn’t do anything or serve any purpose at all besides having an elaborate, 100-move secret handshake, I loved concocting the trappings of a legitimate entity — things like business cards, letterhead, company memos and so on. We had nothing to say in the memos, but we had the letterhead if ever we needed it.

In eleventh grade we decided to pass out applications to some of our other friends, to officially initiate them into the club. It was a very elaborate application, four or five pages long as I recall, and we insisted that people fill it out fully (and then return it to one of us charter members, who would have to initial each page in colored ink to prevent forgery). It was all quite serious, and probably a bit rude because we only passed out applications to the people we liked, but whatever, it was high school.

Anyway, as we started to get applications back, I began to realize that some of the people filled out the application as a joke, putting funny answers instead of real ones. I remember, in particular, an answer given by one person whom we were keen on making an official member of the club:

Q: What do you typically eat for lunch?
A: Nothing. I am sustained by sex alone.

Not only was this answer vaguely scandalous to us dorks, we also had to deal with the issue of the application not being taken seriously. We’d gone to all this trouble to write up and pass out elaborate applications for our fake club that didn’t do anything and was all a joke, and these people didn’t stay deadpan with us. They cracked and called it out as a joke.

This sparked long, fevered internal discussions about whether we should accept this applicant into the club after this flagrant disrespect for our wholly invented and irrelevant process. Eventually, the reasoned response seemed to be to ask the applicant to redo her application, and in retrospect, this made us look even more like the biggest dorks possible. That is the power of prampting.

Have you any tales of prampting? Or, did your family make up any verbs of your own this weekend? Tell us in the comments!

Holiday Comics from Years Past

Happy holidays! Whether you celebrate Lightingmas, Double-Christmas, The Festival of Matzoh, Champion’s Pride, The Twelve Days of Solstice, Lord Kronog’s Bane, The Great All-Powerful Nothing at All or even something fake, I hope you spend the season happy, warm, and in the company of those you love.

Here are some of my favorite Wondermark holiday comics from years past:

#474; In which you better Watch Out
#582; In which George gets a Lute
#683; In which a Line of Questioning is halted
#476; In which Suffering was a Waste
#686; The Taylors leave a Shadow
#466; In which Everyone loves the Freak
#687; In which Santa appears at last
#363; In which Joy is mandated
#093; In which a Fortress is breached
#357; In which Mall Parking sucks
#141; In which the Son of God stands in queue
#081; In which a Confrontation occurs
#260; In which a Plan ends poorly
#069; In which the Canucks get a Pretty Good Idea
#475; In which Trouble is both avoided, and provoked

Calendars: SOLD OUT. Engineering: STILL LOUD.

All copies of the 2012 Wondermark Calendar have been spoken for. Thanks so much! We’re busily printing all this week, and if all continues to go well I expect we will be mailing them out starting this Saturday.

I also noticed that TopatoCo is currently sold out of Engineering shirts in most guy sizes, and I do not expect them to restock before Christmas. Just to cover the gap, I’ve put a few up in my own store for the time being, just whatever I have on hand.

A few people have written to tell me that they saw a shirt with this same slogan in the Signals catalog, or on their website. They are right to think that it was done without my knowledge or approval — I’d never let a design this ugly go out:

This is a tricky situation — legally, you cannot copyright a short phrase or slogan. (That’s why you can see stupid slogans like “FBI: Female Body Inspector” on fifty million different T-shirts in fifty million different tourist shops.) A design is copyrightable, but in this case they only used the words. You can trademark a slogan, but that costs a fair amount of money, and I hadn’t done that. (Maybe I should.)

Anyway, Signals and similar catalog shops are in the business of being everything to all people. There is no philosophy; there is no creative point of view. There’s just “Ah! Someone might identify with this. Let’s put it on a shirt and see if we can sell a bunch.” Apparently someone thought that my shirt design was just another free-floating slogan ripe for appropriation.

So I wrote them an email. The reason I’m sharing this story — when I usually don’t bother to bring up situations like this, and give attention to entities that deserve to die in obscurity — is because I thought my approach might be instructive.

The knee-jerk response is “Cease and desist! Sue! Call a lawyer!” This implies that (a) the issue cannot be solved through more amicable means, and (b) I have a lot of time and money to throw at this kind of problem. The latter is not true, and I like to at least allow for the chance that the former isn’t either. There’s a lot of double negatives in that sequence, so I’ll restate: Being aggressive puts people on the defensive. Being friendly gets people to help you.

Also, always give the party in the wrong the ability to back off gracefully.

Learning this is one of the biggest things that has helped me in life: avoid putting people on the defensive. Sometimes it is necessary to be firm, or to express dissatisfaction, or to press for remedy of a situation. But I have never found yelling and shouting to be the easiest way to that end — at least, not as an opener.

Here’s the email I wrote, in part:

Hello! I was referred to this email address by Signals customer support. Please let me know if I have the right place!

I’m the creator of the comic strip “Wondermark” and the originator of the slogan: “Engineering: Like Math, But Louder.” I first published it in a comic strip in June 2010:

I also sell a T-shirt with the slogan:

A reader brought your “Engineering T-Shirt” to my attention: [link]. And I see you also sell a similar sweatshirt.

I double-checked with my licensing department and we have no record of any paperwork or payment from Signals for use of the slogan on a T-shirt. If this is an oversight, I would be pleased to send an invoice for the licensing. Otherwise, I must insist that your shirt be removed from sale.

I’m sure it was an honest mistake and I’m happy to assist in setting things right. Thanks very much, and please contact me with any questions! I look forward to hearing from you by October 28.


David Malki !
[email address, phone number]

I was forwarded up the chain to somebody with authority. This person eventually said, in essence, “We’re within our rights to make our version. But you know what? Yours is a much better design. We’d like to license yours instead.”

Always leave them a graceful out. So, the spring Signals catalog will feature my version of the Engineering design.

Should you all rush out and buy the shirt when it becomes available? No, absolutely not. Their royalties are horrible — like, beyond horrible and into the realm of insulting. But considering that all I wanted was for them to stop selling the ugly version, any royalty at all is a nice bonus. And considering that someone may have submitted that slogan to them and thus stood to earn their own royalties on sales of the knockoffs…that’s not right.

I’m pleased that this situation ended (more or less) amicably. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I am living proof that it is possible to assert your rights without being rude or making enemies.

ALSO: Thank you very much for bringing this sort of thing to my attention. You are my eyes and ears. A quick email or tweet whenever you see something like this is very appreciated. I will reward you…with e-smiles