Q&A: Comics for Social Good

Over on Patreon:

When I shared some process images from my voting rights comic for Oregon Humanities over the weekend, Katie left a comment saying “I really want to get into comics as activism, because it’s kind of the only skill I have to offer, but I’m not sure where to start”. I’m sure this is a common concern, especially among folks who are part of Patreon because Patrons tend to be oriented toward both creative practices and social good, which is why you’re some of my favorite people.

The post I wrote in reply to Katie’s questions covers pitching, payment, research, and interviews, plus links to folks doing great work at the intersection of art and activism. Hopefully it’ll be useful to any of you thinking about this stuff.

Also relevant: fellow contributor Sarah Mirk’s comic on how Multnomah County passed universal preschool last November is now live on the Oregon Humanities website! She’s such a wonderful visual reporter. Go give it a read.

A horizontal spread of illustrated people from Sarah Mirk's comic. There's a woman wearing a mask holding a sign that says "Tax the rich, people over profit!" and a man in a yellow shirt that says "Universal Preschool Now!" holding a coffee. He's saying "This is how a democracy has to work. If we have a good idea people are passionate about, the only thing we can do is organize ourselves."

Hourly Comic Day 2021

Hooray hooray it’s Hourly Comic Day! (Or rather, it was on February 1st.)

I feel so relieved to have gotten back on the wagon after kind of falling off last year. This is my tenth year participating, and the completionist in me is slightly miffed that I don’t have a full run to collect and publish, but whatevvvver. It’s the practice that counts! And I’ll do it again next year.

Going into this round, I gave myself permission to work under whatever constraints I needed to in order to finish and still retain some semblance of sanity while packing and prepping to move four days later. That ended up looking like just putting down pencils every hour, and leaving inking and toning for my week of post-arrival quarantine in Ojai. I also logged out of every social media platform on the 1st, because I’ve found that I often spend the day sucked into staring at everyone else’s work and feeling inadequate and I just didn’t have time! It helped a lot, but it also meant not seeing a bunch of people’s work. If you had favorite hourlies, please feel free to tweet them at me. (I have already seen and loved Danielle Corsetto’s, Katie Wheeler’s, Abby Howard’s, Vera Brosgol’s, and Lissa Treiman’s.)

Also, RE: the FOMO bit, I saw someone lamenting that they’d posted theirs a couple days late because it meant fewer people would see them—they’d missed the zeitgeist bandwagon. And I get that frustration! I do! I feel it! But it’s also been helpful for me to consider what (and who) this practice is for. I do this because I love having a time capsule of the same day every year. I also do it to remind myself that I can Make Comics without it being a huge, stressful deal. I already have everything I need. Why not make comics that bring me pleasure? Even though I’m perpetually nagging myself to loosen up and go straight to ink or get more expressive, I still love the way these came out. My Hourlies from the last few years feel like I’m finally hitting my stride.

Anyway, here’s some comics! I am still deeply dissatisfied with my options for posting artwork on my own website! I’m working on it! (Case in point: this gallery plugin doesn’t have an option to include alt text that doesn’t totally eclipse the image by default. If you need alt text with any of these, the versions posted to Twitter and Instagram are, ironically, more accessible.)

You can read previous Hourly Comic Day installments at the following links: 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011.

Smut Peddler: Sordid Past

A few months ago I got an invite to pitch a comic for the latest installment of Smut Peddler, the wildly popular, sex-positive anthology series from Iron Circus Comics. The current volume, Sordid Past, captures sexy escapades from days gone by, making this the first time my track record of drawing comics about both maritime history and sex toys (and also the intersection thereof, sort of) has paid off in the form of a professional opportunity. Never again will I joke that my brand is in tatters; THERE IS ROOM FOR EVERYTHING!

The book is already fully funded on Kickstarter and features a truly stunning lineup of artists. I mean, let’s start with this cover from Yuko Ota:

An illustrated book cover with gold text that says "Smut Peddler Presents" across the top and "Sordid Past" at the bottom in large type. Three people in period clothing seductively embrace on a grassy hillside. There's a tiny silhouette of a tall ship in the background.

DELIGHTFUL. (And I’m not just saying that because it features a Good Boat.) It’s also chock-full of stories set everywhere from a temple in Pharonic Egypt to a 1980s American arcade, all of them sweet and sexy and consent-driven and magical. Truly, something for everyone.

I’ll admit: I was scared to say yes to this gig. I’d never drawn Actual Sexy Comics before and the folks in this anthology are…well, they’re very good. So many skillful artists who’ve been doing this stuff for years, including people whose work I’ve followed since I was in high school.

No pressure.

Because I’m me, I said yes on the condition that I could make a comic about queer lady shipwrights plying their trade under the radar in 1750s England. This is partly because of a long-running gag that I’m some kind of Boat Pervert, but also because it seemed like a story premise I could really get excited about.

A warm-colored three panel selection from a comics page. Two women look at plans for a ship on a large desk. One of them is saying "Ah! This keel line! And the curvature on these headrails! Unf! Nobody draws timber framing like you."

Even with an exciting premise, though, it’s hard to focus on whether or not something is sexy when you’re busy desperately trying to make sure the page layouts are engaging and the anatomy is correct and the dialogue works and the colors look right while also subjecting yourself to scathing perfectionism. But! Contributor Lyndsay McSeveney had made a Discord channel for Smut Peddler artists, and with some wrangling from Harriet Moulton everyone ended up in the same digital space sharing process shots and trading feedback. Seeing all these amazing creators working through their respective anxieties over the course of the project—and cheering each other on—was an invaluable reminder that we all have our demons and hang-ups in doing this work. (You’d think I’d’ve internalized this by now having literally written a book about it but SURPRISE! I have not.)

Anyway, after a lot of self-flagellation (not like that) I managed to turn in a 12-page story I’m very proud of, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book. Sordid Past funded on Kickstarter almost instantly, so this thing is definitely happening—and every $5,000 raised over the initial goal translates into a $5-per-page raise for us artists! This is such a smart move on the part of Iron Circus: limits liability for the publisher, passes Kickstarter success onto the creative team, and generally forms a more symbiotic relationship between everyone involved. I love it.

I’ll be sharing a proper process write-up (including some of the hilarious reference photos I had to come up with) over on Patreon, so join me there if you’d like to learn more.

That’s all! Thanks for reading about this very, very niche thing. I hope you enjoy it.

New Comic: Federated Learning for Google

Hello, blog friends!

I know things have been pretty quiet around here lately, but that’s mostly because I’ve been tied up making this new comic for Google!

A header image titled “Federated Learning: Building better products with on-device data and privacy by default. An online comic from Google AI” A smiling woman and an excited corgi flank a row of smart phones.

Federated Learning is a new field of machine learning research that just hit the big-time at Google’s developer conference this week. I landed a gig working with Scott McCloud and an internal team to translate the basics of the field into an explainer comic.

Most importantly: it’s got a Moby-Dick joke in it.

You can read the whole thing here.

There’s a lot to talk about with this gig, and I’m going to be diving into what I learned from my first major corporate client experience over on Patreon. This job is the most lucrative freelance contract I’ve ever taken, and I want to talk about how that’s felt (Complicated! Emotional! Empowering!) and what other folks can do to pursue similar gigs. I’m really proud of what we produced, and I think it does a good job of explaining something I would’ve never otherwise learned about.

I also took lessons learned from building the accessible edition of 100 Demon Dialogues and made sure we had functional alt-text throughout the comic. If you use a screen reader to browse the web, do let me know how it works for you. I’m still trying to get better at making this site and other projects I work on accessible for folks who traditionally get left out of the digital comic-reading experience.

Hourly Comic Day 2019

It’s here it’s here! My very favorite comics holiday! February 1st AKA Hourly Comic Day is a group activity where creators around the world illustrate the minutiae of their lives in hasty panels and sketches. Head to Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be bound to see some lovely entries under the #hourlycomicday tag.

I participated for the first time in 2011, which makes this my ninth contribution to the series! (I’m going to do a little print collection next year for #10.) In the meantime, you can read on for a brief window into my life right now:

You can check out my previous entries for Hourly Comic Day at the following links: 20182017201620152014201320122011.

Thanks to my stalwart crew on Patreon for making this work possible!

Hourly Comic Day 2018

It’s time for another installment of my favorite comics holiday: Hourly Comic Day! Every year on February 1st, creators around the world draw a panel (or panels) for every hour they’re awake. This is my eighth year participating, and I love it more and more each time around. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on where I’m at in my career, what’s changed in the past year, and how I’m feeling about the future.

(Full disclosure: while I penciled all eight of these pages on February first, I inked and painted about five of them on February second. I always want to watercolor my hourlies and never let myself do it so this year I got indulgent. Worth it.)

These were all drawn on 6×9″ Strathmore mixed media paper with a mix of Kuretake and PITT brush pens, Daniel Smith watercolor, and a 2H pencil.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my previous entries for Hourly Comic Day at the following links: 2017201620152014201320122011.

To Feel Strong

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and strength and power and how we look vs. how we feel and what it means to love yourself, so I distilled all that thinking into a little autobio comic. It’s been a slow, fascinating journey to where I’m at now, and I’m far from finished. It’s just good to feel a change. Enjoy!