Friday, May 8, 2015

Comicmix March Madness ("March" is used ironically, I guess)

Way back in the day, when I was a total nerd with no social life whatsoever, I used to read about 50 different comic series online.  You might call them comic strips, but the "cool" kids call them webcomics.

I read so many of them it was ridiculous.  I posted in the forums, I had them sorted in my bookmarks by what day they updated, I spent my time in chat rooms meeting admittedly interesting people but never really forming genuine connections with them.  I even, and this is a story that will probably never be told, managed to get myself not one but two cameo appearances in one of the biggest webcomics of the early to mid-2000s.

These days, I read about six.  I'll dabble in a few others now and again to see if someone has an interesting concept, a fresh art style, or is clever at telling jokes I haven't heard a thousand times before, but I usually drift back to the ones that hold my attention.  There needs to be something special about a comic for it to hold my attention.

That's why I'm discussing the ComicMix March Madness April Armageddon They Really Need A Name That Involves May Without Using Mania Because That's Really Overdone.

One of the comics I read is in the finals, and while I could just say "hey, go vote for this comic," I want to actually discuss this championship, and what it means.

In the beginning, there were 128 comics vying to be the number one king championship lord of all comics...comic.  Okay, I'm not really sure what the winning comic gets to be called, but I'm sure it's something impressive.  Eventually this was whittled down to 64, then 32, then 16, then- well, you know how tournaments work.

Many really great webcomics were involved in the contest.  Penny Arcade, xkcd, Manly Men Doing Manly Things, all are comics I still follow, and all are ones that were knocked out along the way.  There were a lot of surprises (Penny Arcade being eliminated being a huge one, those guys are an actual multimedia empire now, so I know they have fans), but there was one webcomic I follow that kept scaling up the ranks.

I've talked about it before, but here we go again.  In the finals is Shotgun Shuffle,  It's a webcomic that I previously talked about and I used phrases like "might rank up with the best I've seen" when it comes to the artwork and it being "one of the highlights of my week."  Has my attitude towards it changed since I first wrote that post back in 2013?  Well, I don't take as much of an active role in the comments sections and while I do chat with the writer/artist Chris Rusche on Facebook sometimes, I don't get at all involved in the chat room any more.

It's partly due to my own schedule being busy, but also because I just don't think I let myself get that deep any more.  There are some bad memories waiting for me if I dive into those waters again.

Now, Chris has faced some seriously tough competition in this contest.  His comic was the one that took down Penny Arcade.  It also faced off against one of the greatest comics of all time, Girl Genius.  I know for a fact that many fans of Shotgun Shuffle even told Chris "man, I love your comic, but I might have to vote for GG instead."  I even told him that there was "no shame in losing to Girl Genius" simply because I think it's become a webcomic institution created by a great storyteller and artist.

But Shotgun Shuffle won.  It now faces a webcomic I've never heard of before called Stand Still Stay Silent, a webcomic that, based off the name, I thought might involve characters facing off against dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.  Sadly, this isn't the case.  What SSSS is, though, is a gorgeous comic with some deeply devoted fans that, as near as I can tell, has an interesting and engaging story.

So, why am I rooting for Shotgun Shuffle?  Well, it's because of Chris, really.  I mean, I'd vote for it anyway because it's the one in the final I actually read, but I'm shilling promoting it and asking for you to help vote for it because...well, listen.

Chris and I don't share a lot of opinions when it comes to politics.  There are a number of things I know he's commented on that I've disagreed with.  But Chris is an amazing person, raising his two children on his own and working to keep ends met.  Since I've started talking to him and started reading his comic, I've seen him struggle with his daughter being in a car accident, ex-wife issues, job issues, and yet he still puts up a comic on a regular basis because he knows he has fans who love them.  I think it might have taken him a while to realize that the fans weren't just there for the comic, the fans were there because they liked him and what he was creating.

I was also there when Chris was debating shutting the whole thing down and giving up on this dream.  Not because he didn't enjoy doing it, but because he didn't think it was fair to his fans that he was falling behind on strips.  Every post for a while seemed to come with an apology for how late things were, or a self-detrimental comment about it being "up before midnight...somewhere" when it was loaded at four in the morning.  He was looking at options to keep it going, but there was a chance Shotgun Shuffle was going to blow off into nothingness.

Then Chris started a Patreon page where fans could donate to help fund his work.  Immediately, money started coming in, and currently he has 432 people donating $1864.28 dollars a month to help him out.  The comics continued, in fact he started providing exclusive stories for the Patreon backers to express his thanks for their (our, technically, since I'm one of those 432 people) support.

But if I had to pin down why I'm supporting Chris, it's a moment from right here.  Rather, a moment from directly underneath the comic I linked to there.

Chris found another artist on Patreon named Ginny, a young woman with a son with special needs who was attempting to make a career as an artist work while also being a caring mom.  Chris decided to support her, and even wanted to get his fans to support her.  She turned him down.  It turned out her tablet broke and she wasn't able to do any more artwork.  She was thinking about shutting the whole thing down and giving up her dream.

It was a position Chris was very familiar with.

So, deciding that he was doing well enough at that time, he decided to take all the support from his fans and pass it on to someone else he thought deserved it.  He bought her a new tablet so she could keep making art.  He not only took the love and support of strangers from the Internet and passed it on to another stranger on the Internet who needed it, he then pushed hard on his site to get his followers to support her as well.

So, in the end, I'm not really pushing for Shotgun Shuffle to win.  It's a fine comic, it's probably earned a lot more fans (and possibly a few enemies because webcomics are SERIOUS BUSINESS, GUYS) and will continue to do well.  In the end, the championship is just a rather empty title, much like "Employee of the Month" or "People's Choice Award."

What I want is for Chris to win this.  I want this to be a reminder for him that a webcomic that, not too long ago, was about to be a lingering remnant of a dream that an artist felt he could no longer make could suddenly be so popular as to be voted (both with money backed votes and regular votes) the best comic of the year in a crowd of excellent comics.  Chris' story is a true underdog story, and through it all he's never let any of the success go to his head.  He still talks directly to his fans.  He keeps a playful sense of humor about what he does, and never gets a swelled head at having people provide payment for his work.  He treats it like a job and does his best to meet the standards laid out by us, the people paying his salary.

So, what I'm trying to say is that even if you don't read webcomics, even if you think this whole thing is silly, click on the link up towards the top and vote for Shotgun Shuffle.  It takes ten seconds of your time, and you'd be doing something nice for a guy who genuinely deserves it.


pat said...

Great post.

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