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!

 

Rage, Liberation, & the Adventurous Life with Tessa Hulls

I love being on Patreon for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the platform it’s given me to record more conversations with creators I admire. I already keep an extensive archive of panels, talks, and classes on my SoundCloud page, but the support and enthusiasm of my Patrons has allowed me to add candid monthly interviews to the mix. Typically these conversations go up for Patrons first, and then (if the artists are comfortable with it) on the public feed a few weeks later.

Back in September I spoke to Tessa Hulls—a dream interviewee of mine for some time. Tessa’s work defies categorization, but it often encompasses notions of heritage, independence, wilderness, and community—all things I am endlessly fascinated by. She did a staggering number of residencies in 2018, all while juggling enough concurrent projects to make my head spin. I am deeply in awe of her energy and dedication.

In this 90-minute conversation, we discuss merging identities to create powerful new selves, balancing finances as a traveling artist, the transformative power of alternative community gatherings, coming into one’s own as a vulnerable communicator, navigating fine art spaces, “pathological independence,” and the current cultural crucible of female rage. Notes on our conversation below:

If you want to see more of Tessa’s work, I’d highly recommend starting with…

• This essay about bike touring, weddings, and personal freedom

• This glorious series of paper cut paintings

• This comic about rage

• And, really, everything on Tessa’s website and Instagram. Her graphic memoir, Hungry Ghosts, is definitely a project to keep an eye on over the next few years.

If you liked this conversation and want to help support more things like it, you might also like supporting me on Patreon! I am deeply indebted to the folks there for making these talks possible.

Thanks for listening!

100 Demon Dialogues Tour: Leg 2

Hi everyone!

I’m back from a frankly ridiculous month of touring across the Midwest and down the East Coast, which means it’s time to announce the dates for Leg 2 of the 100 Demon Dialogues Tour. But first, some stats about Leg 1:

PRETTY HECKIN’ COOL, RIGHT? I feel very accomplished. Also very tired. Turns out moving house every 1.8 days will do that to you. Check out these lovely smiling faces from the many bookstores, comic shops, and venues I visited in June:

I was especially grateful to how many people participated in my experimental Guest Book idea, where folks filled out name tags about what their demons said to them. Here’s a selection:

Even though the resultant volume is pretty heavy reading, my hope is that people found it helpful to see visual proof that they weren’t alone in their fears. We can get through this together.

If you’re on the West Coast or hanging around the Southwest, I’ve got a slew of stops for the next few months right here (also a bonus visit to the UK and back to the East Coast for a couple comics festivals):

 

Here are those stops with RSVP links, in case you’d like to invite any local friends to tag along:

  • 826 Valencia‘s Pirate Supply Store (with special guests Rose Eveleth, Molly McLeod, and Anxy Magazine) – 6:30-9pm, July 25th, San Francisco, CA
  • Local Color – 6:30pm, July 28th, San Jose, CA (followed by Mighty Mike McGee’s Spelling Bee/r!)
  • Bart’s Books (Hometown Shindig, come meet my adorable parents) – 7-9:30pm, August 3rd, Ojai, CA
  • Other Books – 6-8:30pm, August 12th, Los Angeles, CA
  • [Venue Forthcoming] – August 16th, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Writers, Ink: Generative Demon Workshop – [Event Page Up Soon], August 17th, San Diego, CA
  • BookPeople – August 20th, 7pm, Austin, TX
  • [Colorado: TBA for Boulder/Denver]
  • Thought Bubble Festival – September 22nd & 23rd, Leeds, England
  • MICE – October 20th & 21st, Cambridge, MA

Thanks for keeping up with this wild and crazy endeavor! I’m looking forward to visiting some new places and returning to old haunts over the next few months.

A note on actually PURCHASING copies of 100 Demon Dialogues:

Due to Some Nonsense, the official in-store release date for 100 Demon Dialogues got pushed out to July 19th (although I heard some comic shops got their copies this week). If you’d like to encourage friends and family to buy a copy in the meantime, you can get both soft and hardcover editions (and Demon Plushies, stickers, postcards, and prints) from my own online shop. This is actually the best place to send folks, because more of the profit goes back into supporting my work, but I also want everyone to be able to get the book from their local shops if they so choose. Keep your eyes out next week for wider availability in stores!

Hope to see you on the road,

L

100 Demon Dialogues Hits the Road

Sound the trumpets, y’all. I’m taking my latest collection of comics, 100 Demon Dialogues, on the road for the next two months! This has been a whirlwind season of planning, and I’m so glad to be at the point where I get to share it with all of you.

Here’s the details for Leg 1 of the tour, including the hometown release party TONIGHT:

We’re lining up Leg 2 right now, which will likely take me through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and allllllllll of California a little further into July and August. If you have friends in any of these cities and would be willing to pass event details along to them, I would be forever in your debt. All the tour stops are listed in this handy directory.

Aside from good hangouts and conversations with various creative luminaries, I bought a guest book to fill with these name tags at every tour stop. Also blank sheets for people’s illustrations of their own demons (like the ones we had at the Kickstarter closing party):

I’m really excited to see how this develops over the tour. I think it’s going to be amazing.

Okay, that’s it for me. SEE YOU TONIGHT IN PORTLAND! (And then everywhere else.)

How to Kick Ass at Kickstarter (Video)

Last month I had the good fortune to return to The Animation Workshop in Denmark to teach a week-long course in their Graphic Storytelling department. You might remember the talk I gave two years ago, The View from Aloft, where I distilled my foundational philosophy about social media, online communities, and gratitude economies. This presentation follows up on that framework by talking specifically about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Thanks to the school’s exceptional video rental equipment there’s now a very nice recording up on YouTube:

I get a lot of questions from folks looking to learn more about this weird practice. It can be the most soul-crushing, time-consuming, heart-tormenting process, but also an incredible jolt of energy, affirmation, and community involvement. Between the generous souls who support me monthly on Patreon and the people who launch individual projects of mine via Kickstarter there’s no doubt that my career would look very different without crowdfunding.

Everything that’s made my campaigns work feels like it’s come from watching my friends get smarter and better every time they launch a project, so it’s great to have this recording to pay it forward to more people. I hope some of you find it useful if you ever launch your own projects (and I hope you do).

Good luck out there!

Ocean Sciences Meeting ’18

Hello everybody,

I’ve got an amazing opportunity to exhibit at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting here in Portland this week (AKA the most impressive gathering of marine science folks in the country) and I wanted to invite you all to come along. I’ll be displaying original pages from (and giving away copies of) Mappin’ the Floor, the comic I drew during three weeks at sea aboard R/V Falkor last spring.

Fun fact: I relinquished ownership of the original pages once the gig aboard Falkor was over, so they’ve been touring all over the world without me to various nautical events: a film festival in San Francisco, the America’s Cup race in Bermuda, the Bishop Museum in Hawai’i, a sailing festival in Rhode Island…pretty neat!

Even aside from the comics stuff, the films they’re showing as part of this art evening at OSM sound really cool. One of them deals with the Blaschka collection of glass replicas, which I had the chance to see at Harvard a couple years ago. Here are some examples, all mind-blowingly accurate. If you ever get the chance to go see them in person, FOR THE LOVE OF NEPTUNE: GO.

I’m really looking forward to doing an event that’s ocean-first rather than comics-focused. Gonna meet a lot of other aquatic nerds!

So that’s it! Join me this Thursday, February 15th, in the Oregon Convention Center Portland Ballroom at 6pm. No ticket required.

See you there!
Lucy

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!

Distro for Dummies

Hi readers! This blog has been relegated to acting as an occasional announcement board for the last few years as I’ve focused my attention on other platforms, but I have some educational tidbits I’d love to share somewhere more permanent. So let’s try something new!

I’ve assembled this not-so-brief essay introduction to a couple common methods of comics distribution AKA “Getting Your Stuff Where People Can See It in the Retail World” that I’d love to share with you. I wrote it in response to an email from a comics friend I’d mentored some months ago, which contained the following conundrum:

I tabled at DC Zinefest today (my first fest!) and a couple of people from a comic book store (Big Planet on U st) and a record store approached me about buying some copies to sell in their stores. They threw around words like “wholesale” and “consignment” and I have no idea what any of this means!  Could I ask you some questions about the business end of making/selling comics? I honestly did not expect any of this and I am a little overwhelmed by it all!

When I sat down to answer I accidentally wrote a substantial primer on the subject, so I reproduce it here in the hopes that it will prove useful to some of you down the line!

Eh-HEM.

Section 1: Wholesale vs. Consignment

So when a retailer (like a comic shop or record store) buys stuff to sell, they’re generally buying it in bulk from a distributor (someone who handles sales for a wide variety of titles) at wholesale prices. This can mean a variety of things, but as far as you (an independent creator) are concerned, it’s generally around 50% of the retail or “cover” price on anywhere from two to ten copies of your work. Often a professional distributor (the big one in our industry is called Diamond Comics) is dealing with such a wide variety of stock and such large numbers that the discount is much deeper, but for smaller folks like us 50% is a decent shorthand. A retailer asking to buy from you wholesale is a good thing, because money changes hands up front, your comics get to go somewhere you don’t personally have to sell them, and you don’t have to keep tabs on how many copies you’ve got hanging around the shop on consignment.

There’s that word! What the heck is it. 

Consignment is a slightly different process where a retailer will take some copies of your book for a set period of time (anywhere from a few weeks to six months or more) and see if they sell in the shop. At the end of that time period, they’ll cut you a check for the goods that sold (if any), generally splitting it 60/40 with the greater share going to you. Not every retailer is the same, though! Some have a 70/30 split, others 50/50. They’re basically avoiding the gamble of paying for something up front when they don’t know if it’ll sell.

Now: as you may’ve noticed, consignment leaves a far broader range of opportunities for things to go squirrelly. Retailers can lose track of how many copies you game them. They can forget to follow up with you after the set period of time. I myself recently received a check for a whopping six dollars and eighty cents four years after leaving some copies of my Baggywrinkles minicomics at a comic shop in Chicago. (Their contract technically said that if I hadn’t been in touch after eight months I forfeited ownership of my books, so I actually thought it was pretty big of them to get back in touch and pay me.)

Anyway. Point being: if a store has a wholesale option in place, go for it. It’s a huge pain to keep track of all the moving parts involved in consignment stuff, and I’ve found it way simpler to just know that my comics will be going somewhere new and I’ve got a little money up front.

Section 2: DIY Distribution

What happens if you don’t get approached by retailers at conventions? ASK THEM FIRST! You can go into any comic shop, bookstore, or other neat emporium and ask the person at the register “Hey, do you have a consignment or wholesale program for small press publications? Could I ask about the terms?” A surprising number of shops do! Some places have a specific buyer who will need to take a look at your stuff and see if it’ll be a good fit, other places will just take any old thing from folks who come in.

Full disclosure: consigning my stuff at a comic shop for the first time was easily one of the Top Ten Most Horrifying Moments of My Entire Career Thus Far. I stood in front of this very kind cashier trembling like a leaf while they looked over my itty bitty comics and eventually, after a stretch of silence in which I’d decided I really was garbage and no one in their right mind would ever want to sell my work in any professional capacity, agreed to take six copies for the store. It was purgatory. It was dreadful. It is still dreadful. I’m a published author and I was still almost too shy to offer to sign the copies of my book they had at Powell’s because I didn’t want to make a fuss. THAT IS OKAY. FEAR IS NATURAL. DO IT ANYWAY.

It never hurts to ask a retailer if they’d like to carry your work.And don’t limit yourself to comic shops! If you make work that has a particular audience (horticulturists) check out local shops that cater to that crowd (nurseries).

Section 3: Professional (Indie) Distribution

Diamond Comics aside, there are rare, excellent humans who take it upon themselves to run distro companies specifically for small press people (and take a cut, obviously). The newest is Emerald Comics Distro up in Seattle. Anne Bean, who launched the operation earlier this year, has been doing an incredible job working with a wide variety of creators to get their work into comic shops in the Pacific Northwest. She’s got plans to take her operation national down the line, but for now she’s fine-tuning it in the region and it seems to be going really well. I started selling mini comics with her a couple months ago and it’s been a total pleasure at every turn.

She works with shops that do wholesale and consignment, but here’s the great part: she keeps track of all the fiddly details. With spreadsheets. It’s a thing of goddamn beauty. This is really the only situation in which consignment makes sense for me, because I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on and it’s just nonsensical otherwise.

Section 4: Profit Margins

The downside to all of this from a pricing perspective is that making minicomics is a pretty rough sell if you’re looking to turn any kind of significant profit.

Here are some numbers to demonstrate:

The little 24-page color travelogue minis I make here in Portland cost about $3 a copy to produce. (Note: this is because I am a big ol’ stuffypants about things like paper quality and color fidelity, so I could likely get them for cheaper, but I like making things that really look and feel good.) My rule of thumb for pricing is to triple to production cost. I used to sell them for $10 each, but dropped the price to $8 after they weren’t so new and shiny anymore. If a retailer buys those for $4 (50% of the cover price), I profit $1 per issue. If I make that sale through a distributor who takes a percentage of every sale, I’m looking at more like eighty cents. Sobering, huh?

Contrast that with Baggywrinkles, which (being printed overseas on an offset press where thousands of copies can be made swiftly) cost about $1.12 PER BOOK. It’s mind-boggling. Those copies retail for $20! Of course: when the distributor and the store and everyone else have taken their cut, every copy sold through Amazon or Barnes & Noble only nets me about $5.50, so let’s not get carried away, but still. Copies I sell myself have a much better profit margin.

Basically: it’s always worth crunching the numbers to make sure you know what kind of money you stand to make.

Section 5: Conclusion

So where does that leave us? Personally, I think making and distributing minicomics is a great way to get your work out there and connect with fans, but not a massive money-maker in the long run. And that’s okay! Tabling at conventions for my first few years in comics wasn’t a consistent exercise in turning a profit either, but it demonstrated to my fellow creators (and to the fans I picked up along the way) that I was in it for the long haul, and that I’d keep making new work and sharing it with people. There is a lot to be said for showing up consistently and sharing your work.

Plus: once people are into your minicomics, you can build a fanbase that will support you making a book! And after that, a plush toy! And after that A ROCKET SHIP THAT IS ALSO AN 18TH-CENTURY NAVAL VESSEL.

…if I’m lucky.

Now go make some minis!