Shared posts

15 Jul 20:05

Cyberpunk 2.0: Political economy, energy, and the future US

by Frank Landis

Yeah, totally boring academic title, but there's a point to it. Here in this online community, we tend to err on the side of rational analysis, and I'm going to be a stinker and point out how much politics shapes what passes for rationality. For example, if we were a rational species, there wouldn't be 20 million-odd people in Southern California where I live, because the area's semi-desert at best, and the only way people can live here is to have water pumped in from hundreds of miles away. If history and archaeology are any guide (going back to Mesopotamia), cultures that relied on long-distance irrigation have inevitably fallen when their water systems failed, and there's no reason to think southern California will be any different. So why are there so many people in this evanescent "paradise" that is southern California? Politics. Politics turns rational proposals, such as John Wesley Powell's 19th Century rational proposal to dam some western rivers and irrigate a bit of farmland, into the unsustainable sprawl of pork-barrel dams and water works that is the American West today. That's why I'm talking about political economy, not just economics: this isn't just about money, it's also about political power. That's what makes it more interesting, complex, and yes, irrational.

Speaking of rational proposals for restructuring civilization, there's one out there, by Stanford engineering Professor Mark Jacobson. He proposes that, by 2050, the US can supply its power needs entirely through renewable sources: photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind, waves, and hydroelectric dams (see The Solutions Project, among many others). Here I'm not going to analyze Dr. Jacobson's proposal in much detail, because most of you are more tech savvy than I am, and you're perfectly capable of doing that yourselves. What I'm more interested in is what politics could do to this rational proposal, and what kind of an America would result.

On the good side, if we switch to using 100% renewable electricity globally, we'll have stopped emitting both greenhouse gases and nuclear waste, and this is a very good thing indeed, especially if you want to avoid the 100,000 year-long Altithermal I wrote about in Hot Earth Dreams. Also on the good side, there seems to be no physical reason why we can't do it. On the bad side, well, let's just say that mirror shades will come back into fashion.

At the Solutions Project website, Dr. Jacobson outlines how much each power source would contribute to the energy budget of each US state. He assumes that we'll be able to get by with less energy, mostly because quite a lot of fossil fuel energy is wasted as heat, and that energy won't get wasted by things like solar panels. He also assumes that we'll develop progressively better batteries or energy storage technologies (he goes for hydrogen, I prefer ammonia), so that by 2050 or so we'll power everything from aircraft to bulldozers from sustainable electricity stored in one form or another. While I have no idea whether it's better to electrify a D-6 caterpillar, run it on ammonia, or to start from scratch and design an electric mule-analog moving an updated Fresno scraper, for the sake of this essay, I'm going to assume that Jacobson's ideas are broadly feasible, and that we can get away with switching to running civilization on 100% renewable electricity, possibly with some changes to his formulae.

Since I've already done the calculations for California (link to blog entry), I'll just repeat a table here as an example of the kinds of changes Jacobson proposes. The table below shows the rough difference between how California got its power in 2014 and how Jacobson proposes we can get it in 2050, by percent:

• Coal: -100% (we go off coal completely)
• Natural Gas:-100% (natural gas too)
• Oil: -100% (yup)
• Nuclear: -100% (ditto, because politics)
• Biomass: -100% (putting sequestered carbon back into the air is stupid)
• Hydroelectric (all forms): -61%
• Geothermal: -36%
• Solar (all forms): +627%
• Wind (all forms): +142%
• Wave and Tidal: N/A (grows from zero to one percent)
• Unspecified Sources of Power: -100% (California currently gets some power from "unspecified sources," while Jacobson specifies everything)

Let's unpack the renewables. First off, Jacobson's plan relies a lot less on hydropower from dams, and that's probably a good thing. Basically, all the good dam sites in the US were built on decades ago (per Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert), and there's somewhere north of US$50 billion dollars of maintenance needed for the 84,000-odd dams we already have in the US (source). In my blog, I recently posted about some of the other problems dams have (link). The tl;dr version is that dams have serious issues with sediments and salt, the 50-100 year design life of many of them is ending Any Day Now, although their functional lives can be prolonged by that $50 billion of maintenance we're ignoring. Various sources (cf this New York Times article and its references) don't think that new large dams are cost-effective anywhere in the world. One can hope that the craze for building huge dams ends worldwide. Really, they're just like the pyramids, the end result of older powerful males with bad cases of Edifice Complex.

Geothermal doesn't have such problems so far as I know. It just isn't as big a piece of Jacobson's pie.

Solar power, in Jacobson's model, has four components: residential photovoltaic (PV), commercial and government rooftop PV, commercial PV plants out in the boonies, and boonie-sited concentrated solar thermal plants, like good ol' Ivanpah. Of these, Jacobson's model has rooftop PV supplying 13% of California's power (that's commercial, government, and residential rooftop PV combined), while solar plants provide 26.5% and solar thermal plants provide 15%. Some have argued that this is probably too much for solar thermal, and I happen to agree with them. Still, whatever the mix of technologies, this is a lot of big power plants, all sited outside cities. Where are we going to put them all? To satisfy Jacobson's plan, solar will have to grow by 627%, from supplying less than 4% of California's energy to over half, albeit half of a reduced energy total.

Wind has its own issues, and the number of turbines needs to more than double. Tidal energy is still largely in the design phase, but we'll need to put whatever turns out to work for tidal power generation off our ever-so-scenic coasts.

That's just one state out of 50, and each state has its own mix of power sources. Jacobson's group really did a lot of research and modeling, and he put much of his work online (see The Solutions Project, among many others).

Of course it gets more complicated, because most of the US west of the 100th meridian (aka the West, formerly the Great American Desert) is running out of both rainwater and groundwater. If you want the gory details, go read Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert (actually, read it anyway, it's muckraking journalism at its finest. It puts Chinatown to shame). The bigger point is that there are thousands of dams in the West, irrigating a total acreage about the size of Missouri (per Reisner). East of the 100th meridian, such farmland is largely watered by "godwater" raining from the sky. In the West it's watered by irrigation from dams, often built as pork barrel projects that deliver as few as five cents on every dollar invested in them, but which made voters happy.

Many Western farms also rely on non-renewable groundwater. In the case of the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies farmland from the Dakotas to Texas--the land of the Dust Bowl--that land is being farmed using an aquifer is being managed so that it will be depleted in 50-100 years, with 35 percent of the land going out of production in the next 30 years (reference). California's San Joaquin Valley is probably in as bad shape, but we haven't monitored our groundwater until very recently (reference). Over time, the groundwater will run out, and I strongly suspect that the bigger farms will be replaced with solar plants. This isn't instant famine, because far too much irrigated ag land is growing things like alfalfa and other cattle feed, or export crops like almonds. Still, the Ogallala Aquifer grows about 20% of America's cattle, corn, cotton, and wheat, so its progressive loss means less food for an increasingly crowded world, and less of culturally critical products like beef, bread, and cotton.

But you're trying to figure out what these dry figures have to do with cyberpunk and electricity, I suspect?

Let's start putting it all together. In places like California, the current building trend is to build mixed-use subdivisions of closely packed homes surrounding a mixed-use mall that includes a grocery store and various services. This is all very rational, boring, and anonymous, living spaces separated from shopping spaces, residents required to get in their cars and drive to their jobs, which are typically located in different areas due to all sorts of tedious zoning regulations. As Jacobsonian electrification takes hold, these old subdivisions will get retrofitted with rooftop solar and electric cars, then decay as their design inefficiencies become ever more burdensome (for instance, many burb homes are power hogs that are only livable when you run the air conditioning all day). These older burbclaves will also get (forcibly) wired into smart grids that bring in power from big solar plantations out in the boonies where none of their residents is supposed to go. The newer developments will pack people ever tighter, if you believe the current Visionary Planners, warehousing them in a largely artificial environment where everything from food to water to power to material goods to residents are completely imported, and the light-polluted night sky is the color of a flat screen on standby. Those people who can't work at home will still have to commute, because rational urban planning has the bad habit of separating living and working into different geographic areas, so that you can't live above the shop. Given how Koomey's Law will keep dropping the energy requirements for computing power for probably another few decades, these congested new urban burbclaves will probably be wired from the rooftops to peoples' shorts, assuming our foolish infatuation with Big Data won't go away any time soon (why did nature evolve the ability for brains to forget, I wonder?). Big Brother will be watching, at least when he's not obsessing over all the false positive correlation patterns your life is randomly throwing up.

Where are all those new wind and solar plants going? That's where it gets political. As Gibson once wrote, the street finds its own uses for things, but in this case, we're talking about K Street in Washington DC. Some of the biggest farms in California are already owned by everything from oil companies to insurance companies, so when solar gets more profitable than whatever they're currently subsidized to grow (i.e. when their groundwater runs out), they'll solarize. In other cases, as at Ivanpah, and as I saw in the first solar boom of 2009-2011, plants will get proposed in all sorts of stupid places, with international investors relying on the political pull of their K Street contacts to sweep aside whatever legitimate concerns the environmentalists and local residents throw up. As with all the pork barrel dams that got built between 1940 and 1980, I'm quite sure that, once the US gets religion about solar plants, there will be a profusion of badly designed, stupidly sited solar and wind plants, built to enrich companies and get some politician re-elected on the promise of sustainable growth powered by sustainable electricity. By now it's a fine American tradition, despite Congress's showy attempts to rein in government spending.

That's the Suits side of our cyberpunk future, all very rational, designed, over-simplified, and bureaucratic, from the warehoused humans to the solar plantations to the super-rich megacorps. What about the punks?

Solar has always had its rebellious side. For decades it's been the power of choice for people wanting to unwire themselves and get off the grid, and just because the grid has gone solar, it doesn't mean that people will stop trying to use solar to power their freedom. One of the biggest fears of the current power companies (like my own SDG&E) is that homeowners will simply put up solar panels and unwire themselves, leaving the companies with a grid to maintain and too few customers to maintain it. They're fighting back, predictably, by trying to make going off the grid impossible, and that conflict will doubtless continue for decades.

That's the thing about renewable energy. Unlike legacy energies, like oil, coal, or nuclear, wind and solar can be used on the small scale, by people trying to carve out their own space rather than being wired into The System. The polymorphous nature of renewable energy will play out in a really complex dance, as the Suits struggle to keep people in The System so that it can generate profits, while the "punks" (often well-to-do, but still punks in their self-conception) use the same power to free themselves from the parts of The System they don't like. It's a fight that's happening now, and it will only get more intense as solar and batteries get cheaper and options proliferate.

There's another aspect to the various grids. They need to get smart, to accommodate the increasingly fluctuating power supplies and demands caused by renewable energy being dumped into them by thousands of small suppliers. And that causes a huge problem.

The problem isn't the need to build better batteries and energy storage, because everyone needs better batteries for all those new electric bulldozers and things. People like Elon Musk are trying to get fabulously wealthy building batteries, and some will undoubtedly succeed. There are even other energy storage options, like tiny ammonia synthesizers that produce a few gallons of ammonia off wind power. Ammonia's a lot like natural gas in terms of energy storage, but it doesn't have any carbon in it.

No, the problem is simpler and more dangerous: smart grids are hackable. As we come to depend on them, we make ourselves more vulnerable to anyone with an effective cyberweapon, from a lone wolf hacker to a foreign government. Of course, if we stay with dumb grids, we're condemning ourselves to a much more dangerous future of severe climate change, so either way is dangerous. Still, sustainable electrification changes the face of conflict. Rather than bomb a city and invade, a coercive cyberforce, military or otherwise, can hold utility systems hostage until the enemy politicians give in to their demands. The potential for long term human misery is largely the same as in conventional war, but the weapons are much less lethal, at least in the short run, and therefore more appealing to hawkish politicians. Personally, I don't ever want to be trapped in a city without water, but that might happen one day to get my city to pay ransom or something. Anyway, a smart-grid future is a future of black hats, white hats, red queens, and Wired Wars replacing World Wars. The cyberwarriors won't jack their brains directly into cyberspace, because that's too slow and, anyway, neurosurgery will get more dangerous as multiple antibiotic resistant bacteria become the norm. But that doesn't make cyberwar any less dangerous.

Ready for your mirrorshades yet? This is a 2030s America of decaying suburbs retrofitted for solar, newer, urban burbclaves (crushclaves?) of people warehoused in smart apartment complexes, the spiritual descendants of Roman insulae, with everything and everyone piped into them, housing people stripped of their history in particular places, given the option of living artificial, highly controlled lives, and sometimes rebelling, whether or not there are bread and circuses (or national health care). There will be solar-roofed and often tiny homes all over rural America, while refurbished rural service stations swap batteries rather than pump gas, strange new construction equipment builds (perhaps prints?) new buildings, and planes bumble across the sky on electric engines. If we use ammonia as our renewable fuel, smog will be a common problem (ammonia burns to NOx, a common smog pollutant), and meth will be the cheap street drug of choice (ammonia can be used to make it), but at least their tailpipes won't emit greenhouse gases. The West's currently irrigated, salt-poisoned ag lands will revert piecemeal to desert, and rural Westerners (or their megacorp employers) will follow the Saudi Arabian example of exporting power and importing food and water. We may come to share the Saudi embrace of religious conservatism, too. Some western cities will dry up and blow away (Las Vegas), while others will tough it out (probably the holy city of Salt Lake, the birthplace of Western irrigated agriculture). Still others, like Los Angeles, will continue to reinvent themselves as manufacturing and commercial hubs that import everything from water to power to food to people, at least until the earthquakes hit. After that, who knows? Some Okies will pack their electric jalopies and move north and east to tend godwater farms, while the country struggles to settle millions (but hopefully not hundreds of millions) of climate refugees.

The megacorps will strive to order and simplify our lives, for that is where they get their power, while the hackers try to free themselves, and perhaps us, by making our lives as disorderly and complex as possible. But it's not a question of who wins. It's an ever evolving new landscape, a red queen race with an unknown number of contestants. Sustainability is not static.

Unfortunately, electrification is not necessarily sustainable either, because so much depends on how the End of Oil plays out. Currently, some predict that demand for oil will peak in 2035 (source), and if we're still burning oil by 2050, we're in for severe climate change. Others say that the US, which is sitting on the biggest shale oil deposits in the world, has a crumbling oil industry that is spending more than it is earning and may not recover from its current depression (reference). Currently, Big Oil has tremendous political power, and they're perfectly willing to use it to everybody's detriment. Then again, Big Coal had a huge amount of political power not too long ago, and that industry is collapsing as we speak, due to market forces. Politics and economics are inextricably linked, like it or not.

How will it all play out? No one knows. Still, it's just possible that we'll make it to a brighter, more sustainable future. And if we do somehow make it to this bright and shiny future, we'll definitely need shades.

11 Sep 14:40

Cover Your Nose

by Jason Poland

Looks like Robbie finally earned his STRIPES ;^)

How the Bobby Lost His Stripes.

My friend William Cardini is publishing Voretx, his first graphic novel with Sparkplug Comic Books. It’s about psychedelic cosmic wizard battles. Please check it out & consider pledging to the kickstarter!


14 Jul 15:19

I really like Jesse Moynihan’s Forming. Volume two is out...

by franksantoro

I really like Jesse Moynihan’s Forming. Volume two is out now. You can read the whole thing here. Definitely not one of those times when the webcomic renders the book collection unnecessary. This beautiful book lets you really enjoy the artwork. If you aren’t familiar with Jesse’s work check out this interview and this interview. Follow his Tumblr here. -FS


Frank Santoro: You mentioned to me once—unless I’m misremembering—that you had an offer to do a Forming animated cartoon and turned it down to keep it for yourself - you talked about that Forming was your “space” and no one else’s - and maybe that you may do an animated version yourself - I forget. 

Jesse Moynihan: If I remember, I was just saying that initially Frederator had asked if I wanted to do an adaptation of Forming for their channel. I told them something like, “Only if I have all the rights to it,” and of course they said “no”. I didn’t expect them to say “yes”! No production company would. That’s sort of my impossible ‘deal’ with Forming. If someone wanted to adapt it into another medium - my only way of agreeing to it is if I retained exclusive rights and control over all the content. Forming is my baby, man. It’s a place where I don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s a totally pure, streamlined place. I make up an idea within this world and I draw it. Then I put it on the internet. It’s so easy and simple. So regardless of how the rest of my career goes, I’ll always have that in my pocket, unless I give it up like a bozo!

Santoro: Have you been approaching the website or the way the the comic is seen online serially any different since book one came out? Like I mean, has having the book made you think AT ALL differently about the webcomic version. Nothing major - I just wonder how it feels seeing it as a book instead of a stack of originals and dots on a screen.

Moynihan: Yeah as I was serializing the first volume I had no solid intention to print, so every page was self contained. A lot of the gags and thematic ideas would resolve on the last panel. Once I held a copy of the first book in my hand, I think my consciousness shifted slightly and I started spacing my action and jokes out a bit more. I would let ideas spill out over a few pages and land wherever felt natural. I started to feel less pressure to sell a single page as a self contained thing. I think the second book breathes better because of that; maybe to the detriment of how it reads online. I’m definitely now in the mind mode of, “This will eventually be printed.” so I’m putting in two page spreads and stuff like that. It’s not a super radical change, but I can tell the difference. 

Santoro: I’m happy to see you making comics steadily instead of disappearing down the animation rabbit hole like so many of my other cartoonist friends whose dayjob is animation. You seem protective of Forming - like its your refuge away from work life - like when we were talking it sounded meditative to me - like it was your foundation. 

Moynihan: I can’t imagine calling it quits on my personal work. The reason I didn’t pursue film after film school, was I felt the medium to be too collaborative. I needed a thing that was my vision entirely. Collaborating is a thing I can do, and it’s fun but I gotta have the other thing that’s totally uncompromised. If I don’t have that, I think I’d get really depressed. More depressed than usual haha! The animation thing gives me a lot: The freedom to go nuts in someone else’s sandbox and live a financially stable life. It’s an awesome job and I love the characters/design/story of the show. If I didn’t have a burning desire to plant my flag in the dirt, maybe I would get completely absorbed by the show. At the end of the day though, Adventure Time is Pen Ward’s world. Forming is my world, and my ego requires I have my own world to share with people. I guess it’s my ego. That’s probably what it is. 

Santoro: Can you talk about Forming process pre-animation day job and now - has animation day job made you a better cartoonist somehow cuz you aren’t only speaking one language ?

Moynihan: Before my day job I was working on Forming about 30-40 hours a week. After starting on Adventure Time, it went down to about 15 hours a week. I think working on the show has made me a better cartoonist in some ways. My understanding of volume has improved, as well as my willingness to flesh out and track environments. There was a period of a few months where some of the techniques I was using on A.T. started to seep into Forming and it was making my Forming stuff worse. It took a while to notice that and make sure I stayed conscious of the stylistic differences. I can’t have elbowless, Betty Boop tube arms going on in Forming. But yeah I think my stuff has gotten more energetic looking, after working in animation for 4 years. My posing is a little more extreme. Although that could have more to do with my higher level of Kirby interest in these past few years as well.

28 Jun 03:20


by Brian Nicholson


Technology advances, becomes more affordable, and works it way from its previous perch atop high-rise office buildings down to the consumer population on the ground. Once prohibitively expensive tools proliferate amongst the populace, and eventually reach a point of insidious ubiquity. The very material of the world starts to feel digitized, and those with eyesight damaged by too-frequent staring into screens may feel alienated enough to postulate the mathematical probability that our world could be a computer simulation.

The scale of our entertainment industry changes accordingly, and nowadays it takes a small army to manufacture a blockbuster: Thousands working to render a spectacle of explosions and violence at a scale impressive enough to dwarf a sense of the human, and so satisfy a mass audience’s adjusted-for-inflation sense of what is expected for their ticket price. In times like these, one talented person working with diligence can use tools widely available and create work unimaginable at any point prior in human history. Such work feels subversive just by existing in dialogue with the world. While early Pixar shorts were demonstrations of the software they had available to them, designed to seek investors, Jordan Speer is able to work on his own, and use the smooth plasticine surfaces provided by CGI to critique the corporate culture that maintains its power through computer technology, and fills the world with plastic.


These conflicts between individual and corporation make up the material of the world of this book, and Jordan’s name on the cover is written in bright orange blood while the title QCHQ functions as its own physical object, a corporate logo fallen from a building to crush a car, with its driver exuding authorial ooze.

The interiors largely retain this angle, offering three-quarters perspective on silent vistas of urban landscapes or office interiors. It is a vantage point familiar to players of Sim City 2000, designed to show off shape. Most pages are single-panel tableaus, displaying the future world and telling the story of its world through objective observation, with some exposition revealed through corporate memos displayed on computer screens. Sometimes the camera pulls back or shifts slightly, to play games with the sense of scale we see, and hint that there is always something greater behind the world we see, something sinister.


The book looks exquisite. The art is beautiful, brightly colored, and feels smooth to the eye, with its primary palette based around the bright orange of the Nickelodeon logo and the pinks and turquoises of fluorescent neon gels. Anyone who has been looking for a heir to Paper Rad’s approach to color and settling for Brendan McCarthy comics or Lynn Varley’s work in The Dark Knight Strikes Again can breathe a sigh of relief. Here is a step forward that operates on a level of artistic awareness, rather than just playing with various effects filters. Speer’s work embraces the aesthetic appeal of gloss but seems aware that “rendering” refers not just to the time it takes a computer to create a viewable form of an effects-laden image, but also to the industrial processing of lard.

Objects are anthropomorphized, and trucks drive around with expressive lidded eyeballs, making them function effectively as characters—and commensurately, every character could be a toy. Contained inside all of them is a goo that seeps out when violence occurs, and that goo itself could be a toy, a slime product, the color of Silly Putty or Gak. It’s a post-Singularity vision of a world where everything is for sale. The world of QCHQ is a world that feels, like our own, to be a planet-scale toy set for super-rich man-children. Surveillance cameras are on corners, outfitted with cartoon pupils to humanize the all-seeing eye of the overlord. Meanwhile, the corporation’s client is an Egyptian God, appealingly designed to remind the reader of cartoons’ and comic books’ willingness to utilize longstanding mythology as something merchandisable; but in the context of the story, we are reminded that blood sacrifice is demanded from such figures. The corporation’s violent acts are performed in the name of Pentadrox, the Blood Lord.


QCHQ’s employees are figures outfitted in rubber gloves and large helmets. Their plastic textures sidestep the uncanny valley, and speak to cartoon conventions, but also signify a sterilized existence. Our main character’s gloves resemble Mickey Mouse’s, but he does not go on adventures, nor does he work in surgery, in contact with the multi-colored glops glimpsed elsewhere. He works at a computer terminal and receives corporate memos, written in Comic Sans, the dumb, friendly replacement of the human hand.

Speer makes the argument that the friendly cartoon figures we see are product of a world that makes its money off blood and dehumanization. The perspective designed to highlight shape and form of computer-modeling software is employed to say that this is the world, were we to objectively see it. Sound effects, in chalk-like white, lend their own meaning: their otherness from the aesthetic of the visually concrete world implies a separate sense, the way sound itself strikes a different nerve than light. Within the world we see, there are slight signs of revolt, in graffiti on walls, but this itself is pixelated, hashtagged #cybergang, pointing to its falseness, a sense that it’s already been appropriated by (and is inextricable from) the world’s machinery. The book itself, existing within capitalism, is far from a perfect radical object: It is still printed in China, of course.


Some of the single-page images here function beautifully as the sort of things that travel the web on their own strength, through the social media channels common today. The book framework lends a narrative context, making it feel like something is being explained, that a hidden aspect of the modern world is being revealed, in a way that does not hold when seeing these images on a website that’s one among many.

QCHQ feels like an essential guidebook for life in 2014. If we are going to spend as much time on the internet as we are, this sort of book, viewable on paper, away from the computer but still a product of it, feels not like a warning or a satire but a map of the territory we’re trapped inside. Comparing it to computer-generated comics from another era feels hilarious in a double-edged way; it’s not just that the toolset Speer is working with is far more advanced than what was available in the past, it also that the world we’re living in is far weirder than the past’s attempts at prognostication would have it. This is all to say that QCHQ puts 1989′s Batman: Digital Justice to shame, but it shames far more than that. In the world of modern computing, there are no heroes, not even the artist himself. All are victims, and all are helpless. The book finds joy in its bleak worldview by painting blood in pastel tones and seeing beauty in the material of the small moments and in the sheer majestic grandeur of the world outside our scope.


26 Jun 16:57


16 Jun 15:21

Letter to Meathaus: Mack

by Chris



Mack from SpaceFace sent Meathaus a delightful package with books printed with digital duplicator technology and a postcard that reads:

“Here are some Riso books! ♡ Mack”

Thanks Mack! What we’ve got here is a postcard with Michael DeForge artwork featuring The Boy in Question, Me Nut Nut Nut #2 by Jason Murphy, Misliving Amended by Adam Buttrick, and MS2 Resurrection by Gabriel Corbera. All three books are curiously confusing with interesting action that creates unique reading sensations.


Gabriel Corbera’s weird, balding, action/business-man has to deal with a lot of vampire-zombie-mutants in a world of benches, empty rooms, and drab office buildings.


Adam Buttrick’s pleasurably cartooned characters psychotically maintain their one expression each while judging, processing and executing each other.


Read a lot of Jason Murphy’s work on his site as well as this book and you will enjoy picking up on themes of spiders, spider nightmares, spider eggs, and in this case, maybe spider bites and allergic pustules. Also then some character snorts this kid and his mom’s house into its nose and there are some Spanish speaking creatures there, so brush up on your español, amigos.

Finally, dig into these past packages from the SpaceFace here, here and here!

13 Jun 14:32

TYPHOON 99 – Chapter 6 – by Josh Burggraf

by shanna matuszak














11 Jun 15:06

Careful To Whom You Open Your Cloak

23 May 21:50

kushkomikss: Excerpt from Patrick Kyle's comic in š! #17 ‘Sweet...


Excerpt from Patrick Kyle's comic in š! #17 ‘Sweet Romance’.

Find out more about this issue on our blog and order it here!

23 May 21:43

comicsriot: And this is my favorite thing I’ve ever written...


And this is my favorite thing I’ve ever written about Superman. Happy Miracle Monday!


I want to talk about this moment from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman- the famous page in which the Man of Steel stops a teenager from committing suicide. Along with the eight word origin, it’s one of the most discussed sequences in the book. It happens when Superman is dealing with huge stuff in his own life, and it demonstrates how much he genuinely cares about the people he protects.

But you know all of that. What I want to talk about is the appearance of Regan, the kid he saves. I suppose it would be easy to look at how this character is dressed and see a perpetuation of the old, old stereotype about goths being suicidal, but that’s never how it struck me.

A big part of what I love about this scene is that Regan is so obviously a freak (and please understand, I use that word from a place of solidarity). Regan doubtless gets mocked and bullied at school, treated as an outcast and perhaps even a monster just for being different from everyone else. I acknowledge that there’s no direct evidence for it, but I personally can’t help but read Regan as queer. And if you’ve noticed me avoiding pronouns, it’s because there’s also no evidence on the page of Regan’s gender identity, although Quitely’s dimorphic art style has understandably led most readers to see a girl.

First of all, I love that someone like Regan exists in the retro-world of All-Star Superman. Far too often, the urge to recapture the storytelling magic of a particular earlier era (like, say, Silver Age Superman comics) is accompanied by a tendency to “clean up” the society depicted to resemble an idealized past, eliminating the freaks, punks, queers, and so forth. In fact, even the mainstream DC universe doesn’t have a lot of non-villainous characters running around who look like Regan. But in Morrison Land (and for those of us who’ve read his work for the last twenty years, this is hardly surprising), fantasmical retro-super-science can coexist comfortably with facially pierced teenagers.

More importantly, none of this matters to Superman. He doesn’t care if you’re goth or queer or trans or emotionally unstable. Superman looks at Regan and he sees a human being, and someone who needs his support. And so he helps, because that’s what he does. What Superman says in the panels above is great, but in that moment, and especially afterwards when they embrace, he’s also saying something else through his actions: “I accept you. Who you are isn’t scary or weird to me- you’re a person, and I care about you.” I think that must matter quite a bit to Regan, and I know it matters to me.

I just finished this book today, and yes, this scene made me tear up.

23 May 21:26

inechi: I’ve been asked to sell prints for a long time now and...

by secretprison


I’ve been asked to sell prints for a long time now and I finally got my shit together to do it! These are the pieces I’m making as 8x10 in prints for CAKE. It’s a pretty varied selection,… can you tell they’re from different years? The oldest one is from 2008…

You might recognize some from my stickers, but others will be released exclusively as prints. I will also put them for sale at my webshop after I come back from Chicago! They will be available for $6 each or two for $10.

09 May 14:12

thespithouse: doopliss: prynnette: Listen: I love superhero...




Listen: I love superhero comics. I have loved them for most of my life. My desire for more women in superhero comics—writing them, starring in them, drawing them, whatever—is all-consuming. I love the silliest excesses of the genre. I love its history. I love sound effects and ridiculous origins and the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I have six books on comics history in this room with me alone. I love superhero comics.

But I want to emphasize something that I don’t think is said often enough in the women-in-comics sphere: the endgame is not female superheroes. I mean, I want them. Like, really, really badly, with the kabooms and the day saving and the underwear on the outside. But superhero comics, at their core, are still fundamentally masculine. They’re about victory through force, they’re about saving those you perceive as unable to save themselves—they are, as they have always been, male power fantasies. And that’s not all bad! I love fight scenes and rugged individualism—honestly, I still love Lois Lane swept to safety in Superman’s arms. And I want comics about women that involve and even embrace these values—we need stories about competitive women, violent women, brash women, domineering women, even chauvinist women. 

But honestly? We cannot operate entirely within the arena of superhero comics as they exist now and consider that “winning.” 50/50 gender parity within that slim slice of genre will be wonderful, but if it exists alone, it will be a failure. I want comics—tons of comics, enormous chunks of the industry—devoted to women and female concerns. I want classically feminine values to be celebrated. I want stories about sisters and wet nurses and cleaning ladies. I want Wonder Woman to save the day through empathy and I don’t want it to be seen as the lesser option when compared to victory through force. I want introspective meanderings devoted to a sixteen-year-old girl’s crush on Penny who lives next door. I comics that look nothing like comics do today.

Victory for women in comics means exploding the concept of “superhero comics” as we know it. It means comics like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which look at the genre from a radically different perspective while leaving it intact—but it also means comics like Utena, which burn conventional notions of womanhood and storytelling to the ground. It means “revolutionary,” “transgressive,” and “alternative” comics that feature more than one female character and don’t include a rape scene to up their grit quotient. It means hundreds of pages devoted to Boring Chick Stuff, the type even the most ardent male feminists tend to shy away from. It means hearing about Phoebe Gloeckner just as often as we hear about R. Crumb. It means reimagining what “good” “exciting” and “worthwhile” means. We need to create comics—lots of comics—that maybe don’t appeal to men. We don’t have to have to trash cape-and-cowl fare entirely—but we need to surround it with other stories, other perspectives, and massively different definitions of heroism. Different definitions of story. The rules of the game are rigged. We have to write new ones.

Fuck yes.

“It means hearing about Phoebe Gloeckner just as often as we hear about R. Crumb.”

I love Gloeckner and Crumb alike, and for what it’s worth so do both Gloeckner and Crumb

(I prefer Gloeckner though; one of the two or three best cartoonists alive)

08 May 20:45

andrew-huerta: Heads up, Jinnrise #10 is out! Its the last...


Heads up, Jinnrise #10 is out! Its the last issue of Jinnrise Vol.1 so I made sure the drawings looked pretty. Grab a copy and let me know what you think. I’m always trying to get better.



08 May 20:44

The Snowden leaks; a meta-narrative

by Charlie Stross

I don't need to tell you about the global surveillance disclosures of 2013 to the present—it's no exaggeration to call them the biggest secret intelligence leak in history, a monumental gaffe (from the perspective of the espionage-industrial complex) and a security officer's worst nightmare.

But it occurs to me that it's worth pointing out that the NSA set themselves up for it by preventing the early internet specifications from including transport layer encryption.

At every step in the development of the public internet the NSA systematically lobbied for weaker security, to enhance their own information-gathering capabilities. The trouble is, the success of the internet protocols created a networking monoculture that the NSA themselves came to rely on for their internal infrastructure. The same security holes that the NSA relied on to gain access to your (or Osama bin Laden's) email allowed gangsters to steal passwords and login credentials and credit card numbers. And ultimately these same baked-in security holes allowed Edward Snowden—who, let us remember, is merely one guy: a talented system administrator and programmer, but no Clark Kent—to rampage through their internal information systems.

The moral of the story is clear: be very cautious about poisoning the banquet you serve your guests, lest you end up accidentally ingesting it yourself. And there's an unpalatable (to spooks) corollary: we the public aren't going to get a crime-free secure internet unless we re-engineer it to be NSA-proof. And because of the current idiotic fad for outsourcing key competences from the public to the private sector, the security-industrial contractors who benefit from the 80% of the NSA's budget that is outsourced are good for $60-80Bn a year. That means we can expect a firehose of lobbying slush funds to be directed against attempts to make the internet NSA-proof.

Worse. Even though the pursuit of this obsession with surveillance in the name of security is rendering our critical infrastructure insecure by design, making massive denial of service attacks and infrastructure attacks possible, any such attacks will be interpreted as a rationale to double-down on the very surveillance-friendly policies that make them possible. It's a self-reinforcing failure mode, and the more it fails the worse it will get. Sort of like the war on drugs, if the war on drugs had the capability to overflow and reprogram your next car's autopilot and drive you into a bridge support, or to fry your insulin pump, or empty your bank account, or cause grid blackouts and air traffic control outages. Because that's what the internet of things means: the secret police have installed locks in everything and the criminals are now selling each other skeleton keys.

The only way out of this I can see is to abolish the secret police and build out a new secure internet before the inevitable processes of institutional change generate a new rationale for spying on us. Unfortunately I see no way (at present) to pursue this agenda.

07 May 19:26

Format Fever - more more notes

by Frank Santoro
Here's a list of formats available to the comic book maker in 2014.

The template numbers on the following list are for templates used in my Correspondence Course.
Please email me santoroschoolATgmail for information.

1. comic book
2. mome / new love and rockets
3. french bd album
4. manga
5. trade paperback - think chester brown collections
6. american magazine size
7. standard digest zine
8. magazine ratio digest zine
9. mini-comic
10. tabloid
11. no format - web format - 920 dpi wide scroll - whatthingsdo / ny times ratio
12. movie screen

**The "no format" of webcomics is it's own subject. I am forefronting the WhatThingsDo aesthetic because it jibes closely with the current wide screen tv screen / movie screen aesthetic. I understand that most webcomics are thinner and incorporate headings, sidebars, etc - in that case one would "find the square" and create a system of periodicity for the scroll. See this post about scrolling.


I think the most basic choices however are these three -in order of size:

manga (basically same size as most paperbacks) 5 x 7.5 inches

north american comic book (same ratio as digest zine) 6.5 x 10.25 inches

magazine size (basically the same as French BD) 8.5 x 11 inches - varies slightly

 But lets look at all of them:


1. comic book
2. mome / new love and rockets
3. french bd album
4. manga
5. trade paperback - think chester brown collections
6. american magazine size
7. standard digest zine
8. magazine ratio digest zine
9. mini-comic
10. tabloid
11. no format - web format - 920 dpi wide scroll - whatthingsdo / ny times ratio
12. movie screen

**The "no format" of webcomics is it's own subject. I am forefronting the WhatThingsDo aesthetic because it jibes closely with the current wide screedn tv screen / movie screen aesthetic. I understand that most webcomics are thinner and incorporate headings, sidebars, etc -
07 May 16:05

Rowan Tedge "Garden Glasses 18" made for Comics Workbook

by rowantedge

Rowan Tedge

"Garden Glasses 18"

made for Comics Workbook

07 May 14:52

TYPHOON 99 – Chapter 4 – by Josh Burggraf

by shanna matuszak








05 May 15:58

"ON COMICS - If you woke me from a sound sleep in the dead of night and asked me what we needed more..."

“ON COMICS - If you woke me from a sound sleep in the dead of night and asked me what we needed more of in comics, my bleary-eyed answer would probably be along the lines of “Kamandi, girl gangs, and a Saturday morning cartoon based on ABBA.” Those are the things I am dedicated to.
That’s why I’m glad that Katie Skelly makes art. In addition to her own projects, she’s knocking out pretty fantastic art featuring some of my favorite things, including a mashup of Death Race 2000 and Speed Racer, something I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it. Check out a few favorites from her portfolio below!
Continue reading…

- Katie Skelly’s Art Brings You The Girl Gangs And ABBA Cartoons You Need In Your Life (via 600poundgorilla)
05 May 13:57

Aidan Koch configurations II “intimate longing” made...

by aidankoch

Aidan Koch

configurations II “intimate longing”

made for comicsworkbook

05 May 13:57


by John Seven


Alec Longstreth’s Basewood takes the simple question we all ask ourselves – “Who am I?” – and examines the complexities behind the three-word sentence in the form of a fable. Longstreth’s story is of someone wiped clean and intent on finding himself, though contrasted with someone whose past weighs heavy on his present. Do either of the characters actually know who they are? Or are they prisoner to their circumstances?


Basewood opens with a man lying unconscious in the forest, the rain beginning to wash away the pool of blood that haloes his head. He has no idea where he’s been or what brought him there, but a chance encounter with a dog gives him the opportunity to figure out where he is going. Once he gets there, Argus enters the story, a hardy hermit in the woods, the dog’s owner, and the amnesiac’s savior — and a messenger of what might be if the amnesiac doesn’t work to solve his own mysteries.

As Basewood unfolds, the answers to the question don’t manifest in much that is unexpected in plot terms. So many of the pieces are already there, either in the story or in your cultural expectations after years of reading stories of lost people. Each revelation comes with a calm, accepting nod, rather than stunned gaping.

Once the moment arrives for second chances to make the difference, Longstreth shows how the cycle of life and the cycle of tragedy are intertwined, and every player’s actions are key to answering the “Who am I?” question.

Basewood originally ran over the course of five issues of Longstreth’s self-published minicomic, and this hardcover collection is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign to make the Ignatz Award-winning story available in book form. This new version makes the panels larger, more imposing, though not upsetting the quiet intimacy that the book portrays even in its moments of adventure.


The hugeness does allow the reader to appreciate the world that Longstreth has crafted close-up. It almost engulfs you, which is appropriate, as the landscape is as integral a character to the story as any human or animal. It’s a stark, design-infused fantasy world, where lines of trees or falling snow or towering peaks are rendered to their graphical advantage. The landscape functions as much psychologically as actual, an emotional, otherworldly gameboard for the amnesiac to wander and uncover the answers to his own mysteries.


Longstreth allows the reader’s eyes to ponder the world that surrounds his characters through silent sequences. In much of the book, there are no word balloons to crowd out or pigeonhole the actions within the precise pacing, with the exception of two extended monologues allowing character history to unfold in a deliberate and tidy way.

With so many intense levels to the storytelling, the real triumph of Basewood is its simplicity, at least in presentation. Longstreth has fashioned a fable that he doesn’t overburden it with unnecessary details, inserting what is necessary  structurally, and offering the visuals to fill in any gaps emotionally that the casual dialogue might leave. What transpires is a gentle story of two epic tragedies coming together in tragedy to create at least one victory, a parable of partnership and lessons learned.

05 May 03:05

koyamapress: Proof for Patrick Kyle’s new Distance Mover book,...


Proof for Patrick Kyle’s new Distance Mover book, coming this fall!

A real book.

05 May 02:54

Lennard Kok Art

by Chris

Lennard Kok Art

Lennard Kok Art

Lennard Kok Art

Lennard Kok Art

Lennard Kok Art

Check this out, we looked at Lennard Kok’s art last in 2010, and now it looks like this. Website, Tumblr.

05 May 02:46

Special Friend 100 Thank u 2 reader 4 one hundred special...

Special Friend 100

Thank u 2 reader 4 one hundred special friends. You are all Babylon. 

05 May 02:41

Free Comic Book Day!

by milkyboots
Tomorrow is everyone's favorite holiday: Free Comic Book Day!  This year Sparkplug teamed up with Portland publishers Floating World Comics, Snakebomb Comix and Teenage Dinosaur to bring you BARRIO MOTHERS!  With art and stories by Souther Salazar, Nick Norman, Josh Juresko, Sophie Franz, Karissa Sakumoto, Asher Z. Craw, Wally Catton, Andrew Scully and Cameron Hawker, Barrio Mothers is pure delight for zero dollars.  Head to local comic shop tomorrow to pick up your copy!

If you are in an area where Barrio Mothers is not available, don't worry!  Sparkplug will be adding it to our online store next week for the reasonable price of one penny (plus shipping).

In other news, things are chugging along for our next book, The Anthropologists by Whit Taylor.  It should be ready for CAKE at the end of the month!
05 May 02:07

GHOST RIDER: MIAMI for comix gone rogue


for comix gone rogue

02 May 16:54

re: Weiland's 'safe space' policy. GRRM spoke of how scary the web forums have become, with vicious insults and even threats. He mentioned sports as an example, and I thought it was a somewhat veiled reference to fantasy fandoms as well. You recently expressed surprise at the vehemence of response to your last Rolling Stone article. What do you think about 'safe space' and other monitoring/censorship? (P.S. I appreciate Tumblr's Ignore and Xkit's Block.)

It’s possible that “safe space policy” is an overstatement of what Jonah (for whom I’ve worked, and whom I respect a great deal) is really doing, which is a thing I think everyone who runs a conversational space on the internet should do, which is eradicate assholes without mercy. Life is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to allow anonymous jerkoffs to derail discussion with their grotesquely dumb and cruel brainfarts and outbursts, under the misapprehension that the right and ideal of free speech means everyone is obligated to listen to anything anyone’s capable of typing into a box on their browser and hitting “send” on. 

In a past life I moderated a comics message board upon its launch, and from the jump we instituted a no-trolling policy, in which both ad hominem attacks on other posters and the use of abusive language was forbidden under penalty of instabanning. As a result that message board was asshole-free. People disagreed, people argued, but it wasn’t a place where you went to pick fights and say gross shit and be miserable and share that misery with others. It was pleasant. Everyone should try it! I’ve only ever had one troll here and I banned him without the slightest hesitation once I cottoned to his game. I recommend everyone do the same.

So. Jonah faced a dilemma here. Having not pursued that kind of policy of decorum from the start, he had a message-board culture that cradled bigotry, sexism, and general shittiness in the sweaty palm of its hand. So he did the right thing: He owned up to the harm done by his negligence and nuked the whole thing from orbit. Only way to be sure.

The vituperation GRRM’s referring to, and (in the main) the kind of shittalking directed at me at Rolling Stone, is different than the germinative incident at CBR’s boards, in which a woman comics professional wrote an editorial saying “look at this gross drawing of a teenage girl” and got an avalanche of disgusting and assaultive rhetoric directed at her. The abuse men take is not gendered — I will likely die without ever once receiving a rape threat, or a comment on my appearance, while every woman writer I know faces this every time they talk about anything even remotely controversial. And really, most of the negative feedback I get at RS is just nasty, not offensive or abusive. But were it to go that far, the solution for all kinds of internet assholery is the same as the one for the specifically oppressive variety: ban it, ban it, ban it.

So if this really does fall under the safe-space umbrella to which I assigned it, then I guess this is how I feel about safe space policies on the internet. You know, there are always MRA subreddits if you really need to get your tool on. Comment-thread or message-board moderation is not censorship, it’s a vital prerequisite for fruitful discussion and debate.

And to take it to another area of comics, safe-space policies are a MUST at conventions, where on-the-floor harassment is a commonplace, particularly at shows with a heavy superheroes-and-cosplay bent. I would go so far as to encourage people not to attend cons without one, and to encourage the shows they’d like to attend to institute one as soon as possible. 

Now, at comics shows, I think it’s important to separate safe-space policies for behavior and person-to-person language from nominally similar but effectively censorious policies regarding the work being sold. Art is a complex organism that lives in the venn-diagram overlap between the artist’s intention, the art as it exists in the world, and the audience’s reception. I therefore don’t think the adjudication of what constitutes abusive or offensive *art* is even in the ballpark of how comparably easy it is to determine this of direct speech or behavior. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable applying my standards — which I assure you are awfully, AWFULLY stringent with a lot of shit that just gets a pass, while much looser with the kinds of “extreme” material typically targeted — and I’m not comfortable with the idea of having someone else’s applied to me in turn. (Provided you’re not broadcasting, which is a thing you see all too often with lame “sexy” art being visible to every child attending a show within a 50-yard radius of the booth, but that’s sort of a different issue and not much of one at all at the relatively signage-free alternative/art comics shows I typically attend.) I thought Zack Soto and François Vigneult, the organizers of LineworkNW, took a thoughtful position on that issue.

02 May 16:23


by secretprison

02 May 16:21

joshburggraf: all the characters in Typhoon 99 up thru Chapter...


all the characters in Typhoon 99 up thru Chapter 3

01 May 12:54


30 Apr 14:54

Operation Margarine

by Rob Clough

margcovIf Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse represented a young artist stretching her limits in her first major work, then her follow-up book, Operation Margarine, sees Skelly working more in her comfort zone. There were times in Nurse Nurse when it seemed that Skelly wasn’t entirely comfortable drawing certain aspects of her Barbarella-inspired space fantasy. She simply didn’t have the chops to convey some aspects of the story, which led to some whiplash narrative shifts. That said, she still followed through and worked around her limitations as best as she could. Cartooning can be seen as a series of problem-solving exercises, and Skelly presented herself with a high degree of difficulty with her first book.

Operation Margarine resembles Nurse Nurse in the sense that it revives another set of fashion and genre tropes from the 1960s: the mod biker story. It plays to Skelly’s strengths because her real talent lies in the decorative aspects of cartooning, focusing on character poses, fashions and overall body language. The desert provides a minimalist backdrop for much of the series, eliminating more troublesome background drawing details while heightening the actual character designs on each page. At just over a hundred pages, this is a graphic novella that doesn’t outstay its welcome while still providing the completion of the protagonist’s transformation.


The book opens with Margarine (“rich girl runaway”) and Bon-Bon (“trouble tuff girl”) out in front of a desert bar, vultures circling ‘round. Skelly plays up the pulpy and delightfully affected feel of her characters, their interactions and their adventures. From there, Skelly flashes back and forth in time, as we get just information about Margarine and Bon-Bon to get a sense of why each of them wanted to escape their old lives. In Margarine’s case, it was being in and out of mental institutions (anorexia is hinted at). In Bon-Bon’s, she had a tendency to fool around with the wrong kind of guy and had a lot of people very angry at her. Getting the duo out into the desert allows Skelly the opportunity to introduce all sorts of fun, pulpy elements: images of the open road, mysterious guys with scars and stylish women with different-colored eyes who are out to hassle them. There are motorcycle and arms dealers in the middle of the desert and a funny diner scene wherein a long-suffering waitress is entirely unimpressed by the duo, making the reader want to know more about her story.


Skelly loves combining glamor and menace, as Bon-Bon exudes that on every page. The way she draws huge and expressive eyes is a particular draw, especially since they are never cute. Rather, Bon-Bon’s big almond eyes have a vague hint of menace, whereas Margarine’s rounder eyes express a wide variety of emotions but at their core have a glint of madness. She’s the sort of character who’s been broken for so long that she’s looking for someone to put her back together and a chance to reinvent herself. That’s precisely what happens in the brutally visceral climax of the book, one where Margarine is reborn as precisely the kind of bad-ass she always wanted to be, but at great cost.


Skelly’s line and composition is quite assured even as she plays to her strengths: character design, gesture and body language. She minimizes background detail in such a way that it’s not lacking on the page when needed, but doesn’t interfere with the two leads when she wants the reader to zero in on them. The cover of this paperback is simple, with Margarine posing on the front cover smoking a cigarette, giving the reader a smirk. The overall design is deceptively simple, as is everything about the book. It’s an homage to loner biker movies, but one that’s gender-flipped. The male characters in the book are almost entirely incidental and decorative at best. The book can be read as a straightforward action story or as a commentary on the traditional role of women in those sorts of narratives. There are moments of humor, but this book is not a farce: Skelly is deadly serious when it comes to portraying her characters’ fates. The imagery is frequently static, especially in terms of panel-to-panel transitions, because Skelly wants the reader to focus on each individual image qua image as much as she wants the reader to follow the simple narrative. For Skelly, style is substance.