I Guess It Really Was… A Softer World

I started my comic, Dinosaur Comics, on February 1st, 2003.  Joey Comeau and Emily Horne started A Softer World six days later, and not too long afterwards Joey emailed me.  "What are you going to do with your Nobel Prize for Comics money?“ he asked.  "My name’s Joey. I do a comic too.”

I followed his link and read all the comics there in one sitting.  They were hilarious and sad, sometimes at the same time, and I saw stuff done in comics that I hadn’t seen before.  I remember this one in particular, because it is the one where I mentally recategorized the series from “this is good” to “okay, this is great”:

I wrote him back and asked him what he was going to do with his Pulitzer Prize for Comics money.  

That was 13 years ago.


I have two friends who are marrying each other, only one of them’s an American, and there’s a part of the immigration process they have to convince the Canadian federal government that theirs is a real relationship.  They have been directed to collect essays from people wherein we swear we know them, and to demonstrate our Friendship Credentials we go over our relationship with one or both of them and explain why this friendship is real and important to us.  

What we have to do, in effect, is write an essay - just like in school! - only the subject is why my two friends who are marrying each other are so great.  It’s a friendship love letter, and it was so satisfying to write.  There’s no time in our culture where we are allowed to walk up to our friends and say “Our friendship is so amazing, and so important to me, and I wrote an essay about it.  I hope you enjoy it,” except for this one, created by an immigration bureaucracy.  I think we should change that.


Joey and I emailed back and forth almost daily for several months until one time he was in Halifax while my girlfriend Priya was visiting, and I insisted they meet.  I hadn’t met him in person yet, but I’d already told her all about him.  I told her she had to go meet my internet friend.  They went out for breakfast, and when the bill came, Joey just looked at the bill and smiled wide.  Priya picked up the tab.  Then he got her to push him home on his skateboard.  This story makes sense when you realize how much of a charmer Joey is. Priya said she loved him!  I wasn’t surprised.  "Joey’s so great,“ I said.

I started grad school, which meant moving to Toronto where I didn’t know anyone.  Joey emailed his friends Tim and Ro and got them to invite me to a games night they were having.  Listen: I was young.  I was excited.  I showed up early and rang their doorbell at 6pm for a 8:30pm games night, because I had no idea what I was doing.  

Tim and Ro invited this complete stranger in to join them to dinner that night, and it turned out they were awesome, and now just about everyone I know in Toronto can be traced back to Tim and Ro and those weekly games nights they hosted.  What Joey gave me through Tim and Ro was a friendship starter kit, a way to make moving to a new city easy, and when my books got water damaged during the move, Joey sent me new ones.  All his favourites.

I love him, and we would’ve never met if it weren’t for A Softer World.


Emily and I disagree over how we met in real life, but that’s great because now we have a mystery at the centre of our friendship.  There’s a sequence of events where I say one thing happened and she says "no you’re crazy THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE”, but I can’t even remember what our two different versions are anymore.  Mine is absolutely the right one though.

One of my earliest memories of her is of being at Tim’s housewarming for his new place, and in his kitchen he’d left this seltzer bottle: they’re those giant pressurized water bottles clowns spray each other with, at least in cartoons I guess?  And obviously at some point I sprayed Emily a little, because this is what happens when you leave me in my 20s in a kitchen at a party with a seltzer bottle.  Emily sprayed me back in revenge, but it was more than I’d sprayed her, so obviously I needed to spray her back to make it even.  It went back and forth until Tim burst into his kitchen, (understandably) mad that we’d sprayed water all over his new apartment.  He told us to stop.  We apologized.  And as he was leaving Emily emptied the bottle on me before putting the drained bottle in Tim’s hands.

Reader, I befriended her.  

One time she sent me a physical letter.  A real letter!  Nothing is more classy.  I hung it on my wall.  I bought a used typewriter at a garage sale so I could respond in kind.  She moved to Toronto later on, and we started hanging out all the time.  When Jenn and I got married, she photographed our wedding.

I love her, and we would’ve never met if it weren’t for A Softer World.


One April Fools’ Day I took down Dinosaur Comics and replaced it with what I claimed was my new project now: A Softer World 2: Better Than A Softer World.  This one was a picture of my friend Eric combined with words I lifted from a conversation that Nicholas Gurewitch (The Perry Bible Fellowship) and I were having about The Incredibles.

A reader emailed me, upset that I would end the comic he enjoyed for “what is effectively just a parody of another comic” and urged me to reconsider.


Another time my comic mentioned “truth” and “beauty” and Joey and Emily’s comic that day mentioned “truth and beauty bombs”, so we started a message board for our comics called that.  We don’t post there anymore, but other do.  It’s still running.  People got married because of that message board.  Children exist today from that thing!  There’s a chain of events that leads from today back through our years of comics and friendship, through Joey and Emily and the way our three lives have intertwined, all the way to when we three babies started comics within the same week even though none of us can draw, and Joey emailing me to inquire about my Nobel Prize for Comics money.  Without A Softer World, I never meet Joey, I never meet Emily, and my life is completely different.  Probably worse, too!

It’s almost definitely worse!


There’s a dedication in the first Dinosaur Comics collection.  It reads, “To Emily and Joey: the first friends I ever made in comics, and still the best.”  

I’m sad Emily and Joey’s comic is ending - more than I thought I’d be, I’ve got all these big feelings about it you guys - but I’m glad it was there.  I am here to tell you now, and without hyperbole, that this comic and the two people behind it have shaped my life more than any other work of art.  Take that, the Mona Lisa.

In conclusion, A Softer World was so amazing, and so important to me, and I wrote an essay about it. I hope you enjoyed it.

Ryan North

May 2015


A Softer World ends on Monday, June 1st, five days from now.  The Kickstarter for Anatomy Of Melancholy - their final, best-of collection - ends at the same time.

Working on It—Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little Death

Nicholas Gurewitch’s Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little Death is a darkly illustrated and disarmingly earnest picture book about death, fatherhood, and psychoanalysis. In this recent Project Update, Gurewitch gave backers a peek a the process of ensuring continuity in his work.

When I depict an object or scene in this book, chances are it shows up on more than one page. When I do a redesign to make something look better, it can have a ripple effect throughout multiple pages. [Ensuring continuity is] a time-consuming process that has happened a few times, even in the late stages of the book.

A new page six in progress.

Keep reading


Hey Tumblrfolk. I’m KICKSTARTING a new book! It’s about psychoanalysis, and death, and fatherhood- all in a style inspired by Edward Gorey.


Watch out, here comes Mr. Faeber the Grumpy Neighbor (animation I did with Karl Mort)