Tag Archives: internet culture

My awesome influence map

There was a brief white-hot meme on deviantART recently where artists whipped up graphic representations of their greatest influences. Defined by instigator “fox-orian,” the Influence Map is meant to remind you of what makes you who you are:

If you run into a major block and cannot create new work, chances are you’re forgetting what inspires you and you need a refresher. … Refer to it as a kind of map in the future in case you get lost.

Most of the meme-keteers who participated were artists of a more graphical nature. I first encountered this through cartoonist Kate Beaton’s blog; as a big, big fan of her stuff, I was intrigued by discovering things like Hergé and Jamie Hewlett as tributaries of the River Beaton. “Neat!” I thought. “I could do that!” And so I have.

As dedicated readers might remember, I have a thing for lists that define me, particularly when considering 40 years of musical influence. When it comes to the art that inspires me, I confined myself to storytellers and their stories that most make me want to be a better writer. It’s big list, that, but when I considered the stories that best move me, and my pen, I arrived at this colorful lot rather quickly:

1. “Toy Story” — More than a great movie, more than a technological first-of-its-kind marvel. This is a masterpiece of story, from tip to toe: introducing its characters, building them out, and (best of all) putting them in an increasingly wondrous series of jeopardies that outdo each other one after another. You remember that moment when Woody discovers that he has a match that will light the rocket that will FINALLY propel them to the escaping moving van? And then, Woody lights the match … just as a car whooshes past and extinguishes it?  I can still recall the shiver that ran down my spine, that dual sensation of despair (How will they get out of this NOW?) and glee (I can’t WAIT to find out how they get out of this now!)  The No. 10 entrant on this list had a hand in the writing of this script, but “Toy Story” stands on its own as a master class in storytelling.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien — It began with a gift from my brother and his wife when I was in fifth grade with a set of magical books that looked exactly like this:

I remember with vivid clarity sitting in bed reading “Return of the King,” as my mother called me for dinner, and I refused to come, because the Witch King was taunting Eowyn, and Theoden lay dying, and my mother was growing impatient, and I couldn’t stand to put down the book, and then little, insignificant Merry stabbed that undead bastard in the leg, and I pumped my fist in the air and yelled, “WAHOO!” I practically floated at the dinner table that night until I could get back and read more.

By the time I was done with this series — and as a young reader, it took years — I was spoiled on fantasy fiction forever. To this day, I can barely read any sword-and-sorcery; most of it feels like a pale and desperate copy of the guy who perfected the genre even as he invented it.

3. The Three Investigators — Most people remember the Hardy Boys, but when I was growing up, those guys were so ’50s. My boys the Investigators were straight-up ’70s hardcore! Created by Robert Arthur Jr., this band of three enterprising boys captured my attention because:

a.) their patron was Alfred Hitchcock. No kidding! He became a crotchety benefactor of the gang after they conned their way into an audience with him at his studio.

b.) their headquarters was an abandoned mobile home. Hidden. Inside a junkyard. Oh yes!

c.) they had the eternal use of a chauffeured limo. Jupiter Jones won it in a contest, using brains.

Every book in the series has a special place with me, but No. 22, “Mystery of the Dead Man’s Riddle” (by William Arden) gets a Hall of Fame plaque. It blew my mind with a riddle-filled treasure hunt in a dead man’s will, written in rhyming Cockney slang. It captured every little bit of my over-active imagination, and if you wonder whether something so seemingly slight could really be an influence on me, I say to you there is a direct, solid line between “Dead Man’s Riddle” and this:

… being a book co-written by me. About a treasure hunt. Based on rhyming riddles. Found in a dead man’s will. (But the similarities end there. “Nod’s Limbs” quite unequivocally has its own peculiarities that make it a beast all its own.) Still: Long live mystery. Especially when it rhymes.

4. Tom Wolfe — Well, of course. I read “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” in high school, and found out for the first time what was possible with words. The opening of EKAAT had a vivid description that I remember all these years later; it hooked me on Wolfe forevermore:

That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze. Cool Breeze is a kid with three or four days’ beard sitting next to me on the stamped metal bottom of the open back part of a pickup truck. Bouncing along. Dipping and rising and rolling on these rotten springs like a boat. Out the back of the truck the city of San Francisco is bouncing down the hill, all those endless staggers of bay windows, slums with a view, bouncing and streaming down the hill. One after another, electric signs with neon martini glasses lit up on them, the San Francisco symbol for “bar” — thousands of neon magenta martini glasses bouncing and streaming down the hill, and beneath them hundreds, thousands of people wheeling around to look at this freaking crazed truck we’re in, their white faces erupting from their lapels like marshmallows — streaming and bouncing down the hill — and God knows they have plenty to look at.

No one sings like Wolfe.

5. Dungeons and Dragons — D&D isn’t technically a story, though it has story elements (villains and settings and such) that have remained cohesive over the years. What D&D is, instead, is an invitation to the reader to tell the story himself, through a game that invites its players to come up with what happens after the sword is strapped to the hip. Want to build a dungeon? A kingdom? A continent? Nothing’s stopping you. This collaborative game was my first introduction to telling my own stories for the enjoyment of others, and it remains a powerful come-thither finger that compels young storytellers (or older) to spin their own yarns and make their own heroes.

6. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — This is the book that finally — finally — convinced me that comics had something for me as an adult. Alan Moore’s adventure story that brings together the heroes and villains of classic pulp fiction is itself a classic pulp tale, and it’s smarter than most works of prose. Moore commands an unrivaled knowledge of literature, from classic works and obscure fiction to penny dreadfuls and cheap potboilers. Even better, he knows how to thread all this ponderous knowledge through a zippy pulp tale that is every bit the equal of the greatest genre fic it borrows from. (He even knows how to mimic the ads of a turn-of-the-century newspaper with dead-on accuracy. In fact, there’s not a style Moore can’t mimic.) This novel is a marvel on many levels, and I reread it when I need to be reminded how to wow.

7. William Shakespeare — Clearly. I would have come to the font of Will eventually, but I thank Mr. Edmonds in 9th grade for getting the ball rolling early on. I groaned with everybody else when forced to wade through impenetrable Elizabethan language. But then I learned how Marc Anthony used the power of language to manipulate the angry masses at Caesar’s funeral: “I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him,” he begins, before pouring on the praise and turning the mob against the dastardly Brutus and his conspirators. Mr. Edmonds made sure we understood how and why the words worked the way they did — and they only worked because of the bard behind them. Oh, Will,  you had me at “lend me your ears.”

8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — I had never conceived of “wire fu” before this movie, and when I heard about sword fights on the tips of bamboo stalks, I knew I was the target demo. I was surprised to find later that a crazy-action slugfest kung fu flick could move with such depth of character and heart. This taught me that great stories come from everywhere, and that genres aren’t mutually exclusive.

9. Monty Python — Pretty much their entire body of work has had a major bearing on me since I first glimpsed “Holy Grail” on PBS when I was still in the single digits. To quote a single influential joke or sketch would be futile; they are all magic seeds of random thought. Who knows where an idea will sprout when planted in a soil fertilized by dead parrots and rabbit victims and confused cats. I will say only this: when I mentioned to my 8-year-old that I needed to take his bike to the repair shop before he could ride it again, he said in his best Terry Jones voice, “Bicycle Repaaair Maaan!” The torch of lunacy has been passed.

10. Joss Whedon — This guy writes dialogue so good it could charm the rats out of Hamelin. I admit I am not much of a scholar of his greatest creation, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but that’s because I arrived at the moving train too late. By the time my learned friends had told me how great this show was, I had missed all the tasty character foundation and bonding that I enjoy at the beginning of a true literary journey. But I am well at home with “Firefly,” his space-Western saga. Here are character archetypes that embrace their genre cliches and add something fresh to the arrangement. Here is dialog that pops and crackles like a Tesla experiment. Here is cleverness that begs for the repeat viewing of entire episodes. (If you’ve never seen an episode of “Firefly” you can’t ask for an easier commitment: It was only 13 installments long before Fox mucked it all up.)

11. Kurt Vonnegut — I never took the class in high school that wold have introduced me to him properly, but I noticed a lot of people carrying around “Cat’s Cradle” in the halls, so I took a shot.

This is where the dialog goes on the first page:

Listen:

When I was a younger man — two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago…

When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called The Day the World Ended.

The book was to be factual.

The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.

I am a Bokonist now.

Listen: This is some compelling stuff, and not because Vonnegut is a master of eloquence like Wolfe or Michael Chabon. Vonnegut is the weird man’s Hemmingway, dazzling with an economy of words carefully chosen and doled out in short, declarative sentences that drip curiosity and ooze clues. He’s the opposite of Wolfe in this way, but no less masterful in spinning a tale, distilling the absurdities of life, and flat-out outweirding the competition with idea after idea.

When I despair that I’ll never match the complexity and erudition of a Chabon-penned sentence, I will often ping-pong off the opposite wall, where I know I cannot hope to do so much with so little, like Vonnegut.

But I keep trying.

12. Who else? As  maps go, this one has a pretty limited field of view. I’ve left out many, many other creators I deeply respect: Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Hunter S. Thompson, David Byrne, Christopher Nolan, Neal Stephenson, Tim Burton, Spike Jonze, Edward Gorey, countless mad-genius comics writers like Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, Bill Willingham, Jeff Parker, Fred van Lente, and even the bizarre one-off-wonders A.C. Weisbecker and John Kennedy Toole, authors of “Cosmic Banditos” and “Confederacy of Dunces” respectively.

But that’s making my Influence Map sound more like a Facebook profile. I think I’ll just hang my 11-city map in my writer’s cave and stick to this handful of destinations as I drive my brain into off-road adventures yet to be dreamt of in any philosophy, Horatio.

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The new hipster sport: Poking fun at other hipsters

I’ve been a fan of the site Unhappy Hipsters for about a year. It’s a  smug little site that pokes fun at people who seem a little smug themselves, but that’s permissible use of the snarky arts. Besides, it’s all pretty gentle.

The premise is that the anonymous authors copy photos from hip architectural magazines, particularly one called Dwell. Then they write whole new captions that lampoon the sometimes austere, frequently inexplicable and often off-putting decor of these most modern of homes:

Unhappy Hipsters isn’t alone; mocking the kooky randomness of haute decor is a new sport thanks to sites like Catalog Living, which imagines the people who live in the rooms featured in catalogs, and explains why they decorate in such idiosyncratic ways. But what I like about Unhappy Hipsters is that sometimes, we readers are invited to give it a try ourselves.

A recent contest in March asked readers to craft captions for a particularly odd picture…

… and each of the selected winners was funnier than the next one.

Sadly my entry did not make the cut, though you tell me, loyal Retort reader, if it had what it took to survive:

The Gundersons believed at first that the satellite TV was necessary to fill the lonely hours of their retirement, but then they noticed Carl had raised the shades again. They canceled their service the next day.

See, I think I took it in a whole new direction, something a little fresh and inventive and … bah, enough defensiveness. A new contest is upon us with a chance to redeem myself. And this time, the current photo…

… brings me right back to my inner unhappy hipster:

EUREKA, CALIF. — Plainclothes detective Valerie Cuthbert questions Hillary “Halfpint” Halliday, the alleged Toilet Paper Tube Killer, at the scene of the most recent TPTK murder. Prosecutors suspected Halliday would crack under the pressure of revisiting the crime scene, but were disappointed at her only scoffed communication: “Even the towels are white?”

Try it yourself before end of day Aug. 9, 2010. Blown the deadline? Post your much-better-than-mine caption here.

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What’s better than Scrabble? Here’s my two QINTARS worth

You know: a QINTAR, that Albanian unit of currency, 1/100th of a lek … and one of the few Scrabble words that uses Q without a U.

Anyway, I like Scrabble well enough. As word guy, I kind of have to. Haven’t played in forever, but I recently enjoyed a viewing of “Word Wars,” the 2004 documentary about competitive Scrabble. This is great way to spend 80 minutes.

Like “The King of Kong,” the 2007 movie about video game addicts striving for the world’s best Donkey Kong score, “Word Wars” follows four Scrabble masters on the tournament circuit, documenting all the egoists, nutjobs and neurotics who devote themselves wholly to the pursuit of something that doesn’t pay very well.

It’s both a little inspiring and a little depressing. Are these the luckiest guys in the world because they excel at a game they love to play? Or are they driven by demons to pursue unattainable perfection?

Is passion a blessing, or is it a curse?

Well, either way, I know that many people who might otherwise enjoy a word game think of Scrabble like this:

"Well, This Just Really Sucks," T-Shirt from Threadless.com

For those people, I have an amazing solution: Clockwords, the world’s most awesome online word game. It’s more fun to play than read about, so I’ll make this quick.

Clockwords is Scrabble plus Space Invaders. Like Scrabble, you’re given a few letters to work with, but you can type any word using any letters. Use the letters you’ve been given, and you get bonuses. In the game, the words you type empower a machine that runs on language. Once you give it words, that machine fires upon little clockwork spiders that are invading your lab and stealing your stuff. Simple, right?

OK, but there’s an extra element that appeals to the tinkerer, the futzer, the optimizer in all of us. Because as you play, you earn the individual letters that appear randomly in those chambers next to the gun. To optimize the variety of letters you can use — and to get letters with special damage powers — you have to switch over to “The Boiler,” a steampunk chemistry set for words.

Here’s where the magic is. The field on the left is like the bag of tiles from Scrabble — these are the only letters you’ll be given in the game, and you can mix and match this array any way you like. Like Scrabble, certain letters have more power because they are harder to use. If you want a super-damaging Q or Z, you have to “transmute” sets of lower-power letters (combine them). If I were to transmute that Q and Z up there? They would turn into a low-level letter made of “brass,” like that E and A at the bottom. Brass letters explode and spread the damage. Jade letters (the lime-green L) provide greater oomph per letter.

This bit of tinkering is what makes the game for me. What letters do I want to see in my rack? What can I work with? Am I not getting enough easy letters? Do I have too many Ls or Us? Do I need more power letters, or do I have too many?

You can judge my success for yourself. Note that while I failed level 34, I totally killed with QUANTIFY. Man, 423 points? That’s smokin’. (Can you do better?)

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The Chap: A new favorite thing for the aspiring man of gentility

It never ceases to astound me what variety mankind is capable of; case in point: the wry, sly Chap magazine, dedicated to being a proper fellow.

As a bi-monthly British magazine, The Chap celebrates “that increasingly marginalised and discredited species of Englishman — the gentleman. The Chap believes that a society without courteous behaviour and proper headwear is a society on the brink of moral and sartorial collapse.”

It’s the “proper headwear” that should tell you exactly what kind of monocle through which The Chap views its world. “Chief chap” Gustav Temple refers to their philosophy as “anarcho-dandyism.” Suggesting that if you’re doffing your hat to a lady in 1950, you may be a dandy — but if you do it in 2009, you’re practically an anarchist. What ho indeed.

What makes a chap? Consider a few bullets from the Chap Manifesto:

1. THOU SHALT ALWAYS WEAR TWEED. No other fabric says so defiantly: I am a man of panache, savoir-faire and devil-may-care, and I will not be served Continental lager beer under any circumstances.

2 THOU SHALT NEVER NOT SMOKE. Health and Safety “executives” and jobsworth medical practitioners keep trying to convince us that smoking is bad for the lungs/heart/skin/eyebrows, but we all know that smoking a bent apple billiard full of rich Cavendish tobacco raises one’s general sense of well-being to levels unimaginable by the aforementioned spoilsports.

And consider this saged advice on “de nimes,” or denim as we less chap-like might say:

4 THOU SHALT NEVER, EVER, WEAR PANTALOONS DE NIMES. When you have progressed beyond fondling girls in the back seats of cinemas, you can stop wearing jeans. Wear fabrics appropriate to your age, and, who knows, you might even get a quick fumble in your box at the opera.

Quite so. It’s this sort of pragmatism that led the magazine’s annual sporting event, the Chap Olympiad, to a sponsorship by Hendrick’s gin in 2006 and 2007. A typical Olympiad features events like the Martini Relay (in which teams must concoct the perfect dry martini “with the enormous handicap of having no butler to assist them”) and the Tug of Hair, a tug-of-war enacted on a man’s moustache (proper for its waxing if not its length: 20 feet). The YouTube videos are the modern update of Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year” skit — still, the Olympiad is fact more absurd because it is more realistic.

It isn’t all sport and stiff upper lips for the British gentlemen, by the way. As rule No. 4 of the manifesto suggests, being a gentlemanly chap doesn’t preclude a bit of bawdy business when appropriate. Take for example this ribald photo essay from a recent Chap, “Britches and Hoes”:

"Come along Tiffany, these tobacco plants, juniper berries and truffles won't plant themselves!"

If you were expecting a bit more skin, you may be more of a bloke than a chap, and perhaps you should start your own magazine accordingly.

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District Nine(teen Dollars): Another friend’s design has landed at Threadless

OK, I made a big deal when a person I hardly know got her shirt design in the Threadless gauntlet. But was I there when my friend and colleague C.J. Gammon did the same? I was not.

I refuse to leave a man behind, though. Mr. Gammon has done it again, and dare I say: This shirt may be the most singularly awesome in the history of Internet cotton goods. Hey, Threadless IT guys! Be prepared for a complete server shutdown after the bulk of humanity throngs through your virtual front door for a shot at this shirt. Not just because:

Oh, pfew! The aliens are here and they are nice.… but because:

Oh, crap! No they're not! No they're not!You had me at “Glow,” C.J.

Everyone must now go to Threadless and give him big ups. Vote 5 on the happy-faced aliens!

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The best Web comics: Just cuz they’re free don’t mean they’re cheap

I believe I’ve already sung the praises of that Will-Rogers-esque philosopher showman, the Heath Ledger Joker, for teaching us all in The Dark Night: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

Seemingly wise advice. Yet the Web is full of creatives plying their craft for free (no, blogging doesn’t count; you call this craft?) and some of these artistes are even finding ways to profit from their no-cost generosity.

God bless the Web cartoonists.

These creators are like the garage bands of the art scene, hustling for shows, carrying all their equipment to and from the van, building an audience one gig at a time, and selling CDs at a folding table to fund the dream.

Puppet Homestar: Every bit as funny as Potter Puppet Pals.The very first art entrepreneur I can think of on the Web is the evergreen Homestar Runner, who has been running for almost 1o years with true basement-style Flash animation and voice recording. Early on, I wondered how the creators, Mike and Matt Chapman, could keep up with such regular updates of such high quality without giving up their day jobs. The answer? "Between the milk and the cold ones."The answer, of course, was T-shirts. They kept it up until they had so many fans they could sell merchandise on the side, including posters, patches, DVDs and now a PC game. (The site carries no advertising. And I’ve heard, and Wikipedia confirms, that the “Brothers Chaps,” as they call themselves, have refused multiple offers to make movies or TV shows out of their little Web enterprise. If they can make a comfortable living and keep creative control, I say bully.)

Here’s the great thing about working for free: As Web cartoonists develop deeper and deeper archives of material, they can bundle their strips into book form and charge 20 bucks a pop — yes, they’re charging for material that was free, most of which you may have seen already. But for many fans the cost is worth it; they might even feel compelled to give something back to the creators who have delivered so much for so little for so long.

To that end, here are the Web comic sites in my personal Google Reader queue, all with archive books for sale. Buy someone’s book and help keep those Wacom tablets running, won’t you?:

XKCD

It’s OK to ask for a crib sheet when reading XKCD, the ultimate nerd strip: science, math, computer programming and pop culture all get the most innie in-jokes ever delivered. Half of the time, I need a dose of Wikipedia to straighten me out (and even then, I still may not get it, as is the case with one of XKCD’s most popular posts among computer people.) But when I do get it, I usually bust a gut.

Consider this entry that mocks Stephanie Meyer (author of Twilight) as well as the Web trolls at 4chan.org, the snarkiest site of Internet juvenilia ever:

It even manages to work in a joke about Edward's hair.

Click to biggify.

I can’t even begin to describe how magnificent it is that author Randall Munroe manages to mock Meyer and make her the hero of this strip. This guy is brilliant. Not only does he have the usual T-shirts and posters available, but he’s also just released “Volume 0” of his archived strips. Consider it an $18 college course.


PVP ONLINE

Another nerd comic, this time with special emphasis on video games and role-playing. It’s also a slice-of-life office strip — creator Scott Kurtz realized that as he was making daily jabs at the video game industry, he was developing a compelling cast of characters. These days I’d put the ratio of gaming jokes to interpersonal relationship jokes at 1:3, and that is a very good thing.

Whereas Munroe updates XKCD twice a week, Kurtz posts daily almost religiously. The result is a rich trove of storylines where characters grow and change; of trenchant commentary; of silliness; of mad genius cats and lovable imaginary trolls.

Here’s a strip from 2004, when the TV show “Lost” was still baffling and new. (It’s still baffling, just not new.) The PvP gang gets together for one of their familiar role-playing sessions, summing up my feelings of fascination with the show:

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

Usually the action centers around the narcissistic Macintosh fanboy, Brent, who works at PvP Magazine (“Player versus player,” a video game term), which is run by his childhood friend, Cole. But sometimes, PvP indulges Kurtz’s sudden wacky inspirations, like this strip that introduces one of my favorite off-shoot characters ever: LOLBat. Riffing on Internet slang (and the crew of Web-denizens who gave rise to the LOLCat craze), LOLBat fights crime the Information Age way:

U can has clik to mak bigr.

U can has clik to mak bigr.

You may not be in the market for PvP’s $85 hardcover “Awesomology,” compiling eight years of strips; if not, try the more modest $13 “Dork Ages” collection, which includes the series of strips that got me hooked on this comic: a “Matix” parody called “The Comix.”

THE NON-ADVENTURES OF WONDERELLA

Justin Pierce updates this colorful comic once a week. He parodies not just Wonder Woman, and not just the whole notion of superhero comics, but just about anything that lies in the path of his sarcasm. He’s also wildly absurd, too, which is usually what gets the biggest laugh out of me.

Click for more bigness.

Click for more bigness.

Wonderella has a penchant for speaking in a pastiche of urban street and valley girl, and neither she nor anyone in the cast is all that bright. But Pierce manages to put something ridiculous and subversively funny in nearly every panel, which is a comedic coup. His online store has plenty of merch, including a ubiquitous bobblehead doll, but I have my eye on his first collection of 99 strips, “Everybody Ever Forever.”

THE PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP

Talk about a misleading title. T’aint nothing about bibles, fellowships or anyone named Perry in this strip.

Nicholas Gurewitch doesn’t update here much these days — if at all– but the body of work he’s already amassed at PBF will last the ages. He channels the same zany outlook on life as The Far Side, only with more jokes about sex and violence. Expectations are regularly subverted by Gurewitch, all without a cast of regulars, or even a consistent design or medium; the only thing that matters is that people get what’s coming to them: if you bring home a magical egg from the forest, expect to hatch a bloodthirsty raptor; if you put “spankings” on the list of “things I hate,” then expect to get spanked. Gurewitch always manages a fresh surprise in these super-short gags.

Here’s my very-favorite-for all-time-forever strip:

It's the look on the kid's face that gets me.

You want to see it bigger? Click it, champ.

And I defy you not to laugh yourself sick over this:

I've seen this a hundred times before, and still I laugh until I choke.

Clicky.

Gurewitch may not update his site very often because he is selling a blue jillion of his collected work. He’s just released a bigger, fancier version of his first collection, called “The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack.” Worth every penny.

ADDENDUM

Those of you who are well versed in the buffet of Web comics available now will undoubtedly point out two embarrassing omissions from my brief list: Penny Arcade and Achewood. Both strips are amazingly popular, the former with video gamers and pop culture specialists, and the latter with people who like to mock things. Yes, these are both genuinely funny strips, with loads of fans and book collections available for the purchasing. Quite simply, though, they are just not to my tastes. I can’t say why; it’s inexplicable, but there you go. Do not send me angry letters now, please.

ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM

While not strictly a Web comic, the blog at Shoebox.com has regularly funny material posted to it multiple times a day. Yes, that’s Shoebox, the little greeting card company inside of Hallmark. They generate so much online content, it’s hard to imagine what these people are doing with their work days, but it’s obvious they are spending a lot of time making each other laugh. Quite often, their efforts work on me, too.

My favorite gem to come floating up from their blog:

I doubt we'll ever see this one as a greeting card.

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T-Shirtopia: Clothes-wearers of the world, unite behind Threadless!

An artist I know has a design up for judging at Threadless, and since the design in question is THIS:

Buildings? Yummo!

… I think it’s pretty clear I need to post it here, and all who view it must go and give it a “5” rating over at Threadless. I mean, come on! Li’l Godzilla is baking skyscraper cookies! Vote for it, rate it high, and maybe we can get this thing of beauty a coveted spot in the Threadless inventory.

The artist is Katie Cook, and while I don’t exactly know her personally, she did this nifty sketch for my daughter at the Chicago Wizard World comics convention in 2007, and who doesn’t love Baby Leia? It’s hanging proudly in my girl’s room.

Where'd she get that Chewie Beanie Baby? Aw, Leia, you're too cute.

I had been following Ms. Cook’s work for a while — not all stalker-y, but as an avid comics fan with a graphic novel project ramping up at my employer. Somehow, this piece of art crossed my path:

THACO: to hit Armor Class 0 ... yes, I nerded that one hard.

Click it if you want extra nerdage, but yes, that’s the Incredible Hulk and the Thing playing Dungeons & Dragons circa 1980. With their kitties. I thought this was a pretty rad image, so I made a mental note. When it came time to start the “Edgar & Ellen” graphic novel project at Star Farm, I hunted down Katie at the convention, and later nearly conned her into doing some illustrating for us. But her part of the project got slated for the second volume … and then the company bit the dust. As did all the fun projects.

The best I can do for her now? Pimp her illos at Threadless.

And while I’m doling out the kudos, let me take a moment to admire the juggernaut that is Threadless. The fact that aspiring artists can get their designs into the swankiest forum for hipnorati is a real testament to the power of the Internet Age. Threadless attracts brilliant creative minds who aren’t just making “I’m with stupid” shirts, they’re making art. Sometimes staggeringly beautiful art, sometimes ridiculously funny art.

Some of my favorites (and their all-important titles, which are printed inside at the collar):

He's grinning! That scampi scamp.

"The Loch Ness Imposter"

"The Morning After"

"The Morning After"

"The War Against Work"

"The War Against Work"

It’s such an active community at Threadless that even having a design posted for review can expose an artist to thousands of people, let alone turn the design into a lucrative, all-cotton annuity. If I had had my wits about me earlier, I would have used the bully pulpit of this blog to promote another artist friend’s design when he got his design on the Threadless gauntlet.

Crazy talented Chris Gammon, who I worked with on a certain talking train property, made me shoot the milk out of my nose when I saw his entry:

The one that kills me is the kid sitting on the hood of his car, pointing out stars to his lady.

Had I been thinking, I would have sent my corner of the blogosphere running to this dark comedy of a T-shirt while the polls were still open. Note the unusual layout around the waist, and the way the punchline comes first. It doesn’t get riotously funny until you take the time to circle the T-shirt wearer and savor the individual panels. When you do … stand back for bleating laughter!

BLOGGISH ADDENDUM

Katie Cook’s Godzilla shirt reminds me of one more favorite shirt (not from Threadless), and as long as this seems to be the “funny t-shirts I have seen” post, I’ll add this. I’ve seen it at several conventions and keep promising myself I’ll buy it someday:

Well who doesn't?

Oh, smashy, burninating ‘Zilla. Some day, your cottony wit will be mine.

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