mike-holmes

Long Live Octopus Pie

Three cheers!

I check the webpage out of habit, but Meredith Gran’s comic work Octopus Pie is over.  I feel like this is how sports fans feel when a jersey is retired and lifted to the rafters, forever in its untouchable place, time divided between when it was active and whatever comes after.  

That might sound grandiose, but in my mind, nothing tops the ten year run of Octopus Pie.  And in the lifespan of what we call Webcomics, 2007-2017 is a granddaddy of a run, worthy of names like “pioneering,” “influential” and “groundbreaking” because in the space of those years, in this new medium, there was room to be those things without any hyperbole.  The comics landscape of the past decade needed filling out and Meredith carved her space out with precision, showing a polish and drive and a talent from the beginning that set a high standard.  

I’m guessing that I started Hark a Vagrant about six months after Octopus Pie began, but Meredith’s was already a name to be reckoned with, due to the solid reputation of her previous comic Skirting Danger and because she was an honest to god trained animator in a sea of stickmen comics or two-dudes-on-a-couch comics (RIP forever *kisses fingers, holds them to the sky*). I was intimidated by her sheer capability.  But inspired too.  I did not need to be intimidated, she was one of the first people I met in comics, and easily one of the best.

Meredith and I briefly shared an apartment and a studio, and I can tell you, she can draw circles around everyone you know.  I later shared a studio with Mike Holmes, who could also draw circles around everyone, and now the two of them are married in some sort of talent supernova.  I am happy for them, even though I feel like I make grade three crayon pictures next to them.  But the other thing that being friends with Meredith for a long time has shown is the cutting wit, the care for stories done right, the love for a medium that will take you through highs and lows that come with comics, and lately through her job as a comics professor, the nurturing of upcoming talent.  I see all of this in Octopus Pie, a comic where character was paramount, where plots were expertly moved, a fine balance was found between the messiness of people and the fun you can have with stories, where subtle emotional movements where rendered with room to breathe, where I felt like I could reach deep into the hearts and minds of the characters on the page because they had been fleshed out so well over the years that they seemed as real people, people that I loved.

I don’t really like that phrase “comics will break your heart,” commonly attributed to Schultz, or Kirby, it doesn’t really matter.  You see it all the time, mostly when people are reckoning with the fact that they work in an unforgiving medium.  I don’t even know what it is about the saying that I don’t like.  Maybe it’s because we all know that comics are hard work, we all know that you might put your life and blood and heart into something and you might get nothing back.  There are no surprises to be found there - it’s not a bad day you had, it’s a life you’re well aware of living, if you do.  But we love the perserverers in comics.  The people who live the phrase are the ones who inspire us the most.

I’m saying all this, and pardon the segue, because I have seen Octopus Pie, some of the finest story work of my generation, passed for recognition time and again and it confuses the hell out of me, truly.  I don’t want to turn a tribute to a work I hold dear into sour grapes, that’s not the intention here, but lord above, if I can’t point this out now, then when can I?  We all know that there are no guarantees in this life (comics will break your heart) but I’ll say this once and then leave it: this is a comic of quality that was miles ahead of so many of its peers, and it deserved better, industry wise.  To wrap up the earlier point, maybe I don’t like CWBYH because it implies that you should shrug your shoulders and not ask for better every time, that a short end of some kind of stick is expected even.  That’s easy when it’s yourself, but speaking as a fan now, I say to heck with shrugging, I want to put Meredith on my shoulders and parade her around and dump her into a Scrooge McDuck thing full of awards.  

Actually that sounds pointy and bad and the Ignatz awards are bricks to begin with so maybe forget that analogy but you get the idea.

I hope you read Octopus Pie, I hope you buy the books.  I hope the legacy of it is long and full, because it always will be for me.  And I think readers will agree, because I know this devoted fan base pretty well.  I read the comments, I’ve sat next to Mer at comic shows, I’ve listened to some of the emails that touched her.  I know this is a comic that meant a lot, to a lot of us.  In this world of work we put our hearts and souls into to begin with, that is a wonderfully worthy thing.

I do not know what Meredith will do next, but whatever it is, I am here for it, seat pulled close to the stage.  The retired jersey is in the rafters, the game is still being played by the people who dreamed better because it was there.  Aw what can I say, I’m sentimental!

 Thanks, Meredith. <3

@sherlockchallenge - November 2016.

Prompt: smell
___

Amortentia, the most powerful love potion in the world.

[“It’s supposed to smell differently to each of us, according to what attracts us” - 
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince]

Secret Coders

Did you know that computer science isn’t even fuckin offered at most schools in murica?

And you might be all like, so what, who gives a shit, not everybody needs to be a programmer.

and that’s true, I guess. But then again, not everybody needs to be a fucking artist. WE STILL MAKE KIDS TAKE ART CLASSES. WE STILL HAND THEM FINGER PAINTS AND **ENCOURAGE** THEM TO GO NUTS.

Why? BECAUSE IT’S GOOD FOR THEM, and WHAT IF SOME OF THE LITTLE BASTARDS ARE GOOD AT ART, shouldn’t we EXPOSE THEM TO THE POSSIBILITY and then let them take it from there?

We do similar things for math, science, reading, fucking gym… but not computer science.

This results in computer science being relegated to, AT BEST, after school clubs. And you know what happens as a result? The only kids who EVEN FUCKING TRY to investigate computer science are kids who ALREADY SELF-IDENTIFY as computer scientists. In other words, if you only offer computer science as an after-school club, the only kids who show up are relatively privileged white boys.

The second you start COUNTING COMPUTER SCIENCE CLASSES TOWARDS GRADUATION, girls, minorities, and poor kids start showing up. AND THAT’S WHAT WE WANT. WE WANT MORE DIVERSITY.

(I am paradoxically more sober than usualy, but using more upper cases than usual, this is a HOT BUTTON TOPIC FOR ME)

(insert here statistics about computer science jobs being the highest-paying jobs, most in demand, most growing, way of the future, jetpacks, fuckin etc)

So it becomes a little bit more chewy than “get out of here nerd, don’t force kids to take classes they don’t want to”. It’s, fuggin, 

WHAT IF ART WASN’T TAUGHT IN ANY SCHOOLS, at least not officially. You could take after school art club, but that didn’t count towards graduation, and it cost money… so kids who are doing poorly in other subjects DON’T GET TO ART, and kids who can’t afford it DON’T GET TO ART, so the only kids who ARE EVER EXPOSED TO ART are kids who already self-identified as artists

That’d be like, pretty fucked up right?

I’M NOT SAYING THAT EVERYBODY SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO TAKE COMPUTER SCIENCE CLASSES. I’M SAYING THAT EVERYBODY SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIND OUT WHETHER COMPUTER SCIENCE IS SOMETHING THEY’RE INTERESTED IN OR NOT.

Anyway, that’s the fucking social situation this book finds itself in.

SECRET CODERS by GENE LUEN YANG and @therealmikeholmes published by @firstsecondbooks

Thyis is a kid’s book whose main character is an Asian girl, who befriends a black kid, who then get into HIJINKS AND MISADVENTURES by learning about computer science.

And hold on I feel like I’m not doing it justice, so let me make sure you know that I LOVE EVERYTHING IN THAT DESCRIPTION.

It is fucking, fucking awesome that there might be a little girl out in the world somewhere who picks this up from like her school library and is introduced to computer science as something that is FUN and FOR HER. It is fucking awesome that a black kid might do the same.

And I’m, like, I’m not trying to be, uh, thise white dude who thinks that girls and minorities need saved or need my help or whatever. Fuck that. It’s just A GOOD THING that this book is out there in the world for kids who might not have thought about CS, to uh, start thinking about CS.

But the book isn’t obvious or obnoxious or preachy or nerdy. If a kid saw this, they wouldn’t immediately think that it’s a book tricking them into learning (”solve mysteries with math!” fuuuuuck that, says every kid ever). 

THIS ISN’T SOME NERDY TEXTBOOK FAILING TO DISGUISE ITSELF AS “FUNDUCATION” or whatever. THIS IS JUST A COOL BOOK

Like, the main character doesn’t even give a shit about computer science. She’s more interested in basketball:

And do you see the message that’s sending to kids? (usually when people say that they’re complaining) Because this girl who likes basketball HAPPENS TO GET INTO MISADVENTURES that involve learning about programming, the book is teaching kids that COMPUTER SCIENCE ISN’T JUST FOR NERDS, you can love basketball and love programming too, and it works the other way: just because somebody likes basketball doesn’t mean they don’t also enjoy things like programming, like, isn’t that fucking great

So yeah long story short the girl gets into misadventures and she has to solve some problems that involve computer science, but it’s not like we’re sitting around writing C++ here, IT’S INTRODUCED AS FUN PUZZLES, like a fucking fun game, kids are going to be learning computer science and think they’re getting away with doing an activity book (what are those shits with like mazes and shit?) instead of reading, ISN’T THAT PERFECT

HERE IS A PUZZLE THAT LOOKS LIKE A FUN PUZZLE BUT IS ACTUALLY TEACHING KIDS BINARY:

And like, that doesn’t look like fuckin ones and zeroes, does it? GOOD. This book is teaching the ABSTRACT CONCEPT BEHIND binary.

Some kids will read this, think, neat, that’s a fun puzzle, and never think about it again- exactly like they do a hundred times a day. But the kids who DO grow up to get into programming, whenever they get to binary, they will think OH WAIT THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT PUZZLE FROM WHEN I WAS A KID, and binary will be *that much easier* to learn.

But like, that’s not even the point. The point is that this book introduces computer science AND THE IDEA THAT LIKING COMPUTER SCIENCE ISN’T JUST FOR WHITE BOY NERDS, and that’s a fucking GREAT THING FOR EVERYBODY.

If a little girl picks this up and sees that computer science might be for her, fucking A+ right man. If a boy picks this up and sees that girls can like computer science (and be main characters and like basketball and) then yeah dude that’s fuckin great!!!

CONS

Look, I fucking love this book. I love that it exists, and I think it’s doing a fuckin humanitarian necessity that speaks to shit  I care about sober on a weekday. But this would be boring if I never complained, so I gotta find shit to complain about

The point of this book is to introduce computer science and programming to kids in a way that doesn’t feel like learning (at least, not boring school learning). And it fuckin succeeds at that. It gives kids puzzles that are, like, basic computer science stuff but not in a computer-y way (see above binary puzzle), AND THEN ASKS KIDS TO SOLVE THEM

IT ASKS THEM TO SOLVE THE PUZZLE BEFORE TURNING THE PAGE

and that is fuckin AWESOME oh wait I’m supposed to be bitching

THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE PUZZLES, or what do I know, maybe that would make the kids skip over the puzzles, I don’t fuckin know

It’s light on “real” computer science, but that’s probably a good thing. I would have liked to see more stuff with like, variables and stuff, but I mean, they nailed calling functions which is fuckin STEP ONE so again, great fucking job

The one thing I will bitch about is fuck binary. Binary is a thing that non-computer people think computer people use all the time, but most of us never see binary at all. It’s mostly not important, and the interesting stuff (imdo) happens a few levels above binary. So like, the fact that the book spends a good chunk on binary was a little bit ehh, and even if I was going to introduce binary, I’m not sure I’d introduce binary in the same way. BUT THEN AGAIN, if a kid comes out of this thinking “hey I did binary, I know some real computer shit now, I’m a programmer” then like THAT’S BACK TO BING A GOOD THING so fuck me right

BEER PAIRING

Let’s say you consider yourself “not a beer snob”. You like your lite beer, and you think anything other than that is AT BEST “too dark” but more likely a little bit hoighty toighty and froofty. So you go to your local bar, sit down, and realize they’re doing this SPECIAL EVENT where they have like A BEER EDUCATOR and they’re doing like A BEER TASTING where you like LEARN ABOUT BEER and like HOW TO DESCRIBE IT and shit. And you come out of it, like, just a little bit better than you were when you went in. Maybe you aren’t going to start drinking only 13% belgian beers or anything, but you at least realize that maybe “dark beers” aren’t just for fuckboys, and maybe you could try a Sam Adams next time, or maybe the dude drinking an IPA isn’t automatically a box of tools in the bad way

Holy shit I just saw the foreshadowing in that first image, at first I was like “eh I’m an adult, this book doesn’t have very many twists and turns” but HOLY SHIT there it is

youtube

And a wild David Suzuki comes out of nowhere..