Coming Monday: Two for No

Some years ago Neil Cohn posted an essay exploring the idea of visual poetry: rules-based comics built on formalized structures. It’s an idea very suited to  my way of thinking, and a creative exercise I’ve wanted to dabble in ever since.

For at least as long, I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to collaborate with Tymothi Godek, whose formalist works have long delighted me, especially his Xeric-award-winning !.

Starting Monday, both will be happening! Look for Two for No at, beginning in just three days.

Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later.


Things are Happening

Okay, I know it’s been a very long time since I last posted to this blog, and even longer since I last posted new comics. But good news! That’s all about to change!

For the past couple of years, I’ve been wrapped up in a book project, a comics history textbook co-authored with Dan Mazur. Along with teaching and parenting, my time has been pretty well spoken for. But just today, I turned in the last major chunk of text to the publisher; aside from a few loose ends, the textbook is done! Hooray! It should be out from Thames & Hudson sometime next year. I’ll let you know when that happens.

And I am thrilled to now be turning my attention back to creative work! There’s even a series already to start up. Over the past year, I’ve been noodling on some ideas with Tym Godek, an artist I’ve been wanting to work with for years. And guess what: it’s happening! We have 9 pages done and ready to go already, so you can expect to see it soon. I’ll tell you more about it next week, but for now, keep an eye out for “Two for No.”

I have several other projects in early stages as well, and would love to say more about them, but it’s definitely too soon. But the rest of my summer is going to be dedicated to making creative work happen, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Ryan Estrada’s The Whole Story

Conflict of Interest Notes: The following review is based on complimentary press copies. Plus, I’m friendly with Ryan Estrada. Also, I hope to submit work of my own to future iterations. That said, I wouldn’t want to contribute my own work if I didn’t honestly think what Ryan is doing is pretty great.

Ryan Estrada has launched a fascinating new publishing venture. “The Whole Story” deals entirely in self-contained e-books (nothing serialized), sold on a model inspired by the The Humble Indie Bundle video game sales. Briefly: a varied group of titles are packaged together and sold on a “pay what you want” system, but with additional rewards unlocked by choosing to pay at a higher rate. The bundle will only be available for a limited time, so if you want it, you need to grab it now.

I’m fascinated by this packaging method, as it seems like a great way to get readers familiar with one creator interested in the work of lesser-known creators packaged with them. Not to mention that web distribution as a whole is still struggling to find a good model for publishing longform narrative comics, which just don’t lend themselves to succeeding on the same model as humor strips. This is the first iteration of this model that Estrada is running, and I’ll be waiting eagerly to hear his report on how successful it was. I’m very hopeful that it will do well enough to justify further such attempts in the future.

The base package, for which you can pay as little as one dollar, includes three books: Estrada’s own “The Kind,” Box Brown’s “A Heart of Stone Work,” and the collaborative experiment anthology Fusion Elementary. As you go up the pay ladder, the books that get added in include a second collaboration experiment (which I’ll explain in a bit) “Fusion Future,” two more Box Brown Titles “Walk Like a Sumerian” and “The Great Dissapointment,” and the “You Can Do It Dong Gu,” the US debut of Korean artist Nam Dong Yoon. Additional rewards include audio commentaries, original art, and additional gift downloads for friends.

The core books of the set are Estrada’s and Brown’s, especially as the latter fills out just shy of half the books available. Estrada’s The Kind is a sweetly horrifying story of new love and inadvertent violence, about a smitten couple, one of whom happens to turn into a bloodthirsty monster every time the moon is full. The awkward romance comprises the bulk of the story, slowly building up to the hilarious grievous bodily harm of the action-filled climax. It’s light hearted and fun, with Estrada’s usual odd humor. If you’ve like Estrada’s comics in the past, you’ll probably like this one to.

Box Brown’s books were more revelatory for me, especially as I hadn’t quite understood the appeal his work seems to hold for so many people prior to reading these three books in a row. I think I’d read the wrong pieces before—most of what I’d seen were journal comics, and were fine as journal comics go, but it’s a form I’m pretty done with. The stories in these books, though, show Brown working out a set of concerns vitally important to him, though mixed fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography. They all relate to faith, documenting Brown’s own journey to comfortable atheism, but also his fascination with various mythological traditions, from the beliefs of ancient Sumerians, to spiritual philosophies of Buddhism, to the bizarre hucksterism of rapture cults. “The Great Disappointment” was the standout of Brown’s books for me, and possibly my favorite of the whole package, and I especially liked the books conceit of bookending the content with quick pictorial summaries of all the major world religion’s creation myths (“Alpha”) and Armageddon myths (“Omega”). The piece detailing Brown’s desired funerary rites in particular has stayed with me, for the intimacy and strange calm that it possessed.

You Can Do it Dong Gu documents several weeks in the life of a six-year-old, and authentically captures the intensity of a child’s equally compelling need to master trivial and impossible tasks.

The most unusual books in the set are Fusion Elementary and Fusion Future, both of which follow the reverse collaboration model of providing writers with completed art, and asking them to make up text to fit. (I was a fan of, and contributor to, Ryan North’s similar Whispered Apologies experiment, so this grabbed my interest right away.) Both exclusively feature the art of Nam Dong Yoon, which is fine, as his art is vibrant and fun. The major difference between the two is that Fusion Elementary gave each creator a standalone short story to work with, while Fusion Future attempts to string all of the pieces written by different creators together into a cohesive story. And it does ultimately create a comprehensible plot, but the need to do so left a number of the pieces along the way less satisfying than they might have been. There are certainly enjoyable bits in there (Shaenon Garrity wrote one of them, after all), but it’s the ones that do the best job of standing alone that are most memorable. As a result, Fusion Elementary, which allows all of the pieces to simply stand on their own, is the more successful of the two books.

For interested readers on a budget, I the sweet spot is the $25 pay level, which gets you all of the books except for You Can Do It Dong Gu. The latter book is enjoyable, but not enough to justify the jump to the $50 pay level, unless you’re really into the audio commentary file also packaged with that level. Six full-length books for $25 dollars is an excellent bargain, though, and well worth the cost.

If you’re not on a budget, then go right ahead and pony up the 50 bucks to get the fun Korean book too. That works out to just a smidgeon over $7/book, which is still a pretty sweet deal.

Update: Ryan adds “And if people post a review after paying any amount, I will upgrade them to the $50 bundle. So you can get ‘em all for a buck, if you want!”

Essays and Articles Reorganized

I’ve just finished reorganizing the pages for my the Essays and Articles category of my publications. Rather than browsing full blog archives, you’ll now find succinct links with representative quotes to make it much easier to find an article you’re interested in.

Most of these are old pieces, but some continue to be perennially relevant, particularly those in the On Writing category. And I hope the creator Interviews remain interesting, even if the works they refer to aren’t all current anymore.

Publications Archive

I’ve added an archive page for my fiction and poetry publication. Not that I write much poetry anymore, but might as well make what’s out there more accessible. I do hope to see the list of fiction publications growing in the coming months.

The Essays and Articles archive has been rolled into the broader Publications archive. Now I just need to give that section better organization.

Public Reading, June 21

On June 21 from 6pm-8pm, The Writers’ Room of Boston will be holding its anual reading at the Bill Bordy theater at Emerson College. I’ll be taking part this year, presenting my latest prose fiction, “The Fathers of Dead Children.” You are welcome to come! Fair warning: my story is every bit the downer it sounds like.

The event is open to the public, but Emerson security has asked that attendees RSVP–it’s not absolutely required, but you’ll get in faster if you let me know if you’re definitely coming, so that I can put your name on the list.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read my writing publicly, so I hope to see some familiar faces in the audience!

New Story: Civil Disobedience OR George Enjoys Billiards, Apparently

I just posted a story that I haven’t previously published online: Civil Disobedience OR George Enjoys Billiards, Apparently, illustrated by Dan Mazur. We did the story a couple of years ago for the anthology Show and Tell: A Collection of Comics About Teaching and Learning, which was sold at the New England Comic Arts in the Classroom Conference. It’s the only openly autobio comic I’ve ever published, based on events from my first year of teaching.

Go read!

Creative Directions

It’s been a long time since I was actively producing webcomics, and I don’t expect I’ll ever be the sort to post on a routine schedule on a constant basis. But I do want to get back to producing webcomics on an at least occasional basis.

I have a couple of small pieces that have appeared in print, but have never been online. Those will be going onto the site this week. I may also go back to creating the occasional piece for my old Simpleton sketchbook, though I won’t be aiming for a consistent schedule there. Most of what I made there originally was junk, which is fine, since that’s part of the process of experimentation. The few that I thought were more successful have been “graduated” to more prominent placement among my other stories. Maybe there will be more of these.

A potentially more interesting project, I’m also working on a modest experimental series with Tym Godek, based on formal ideas proposed by Neil Cohn. More on that soon.

A more dramatic difference will be a focus on new forms. I’ve been writing significantly more fiction lately, and I hope to use this site to promote that work a bit more. I won’t be posting many full stories here, as I’m trying to place them with paying markets (with some small successes), but I will be sharing some excerpts from pieces in progress, both here and on my Facebook/Twitter feeds.

I also hope to keep the blog itself better updated with information and essays inspired by my creative experiences. But I’ve said that before, so we’ll see what happens.

Renewed Site/New Feed

Update your feeds! TwentySevenLetters has been fully redesigned, including bringing all my comics from both and all on the one site. I’ve removed a couple of older stories.

Two of my old favorites (The Discovery of Spoons and Five Ways to Love a Cockroach) aren’t up yet, as won’t let me upload Flash files, but I’m working on a solution.

The RSS feed has changed, so please make sure to update your feed readers.