Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire, written by Megan Kearney and edited by Hope Nicholson is a delightful collection of comics from across the internet that have gone viral. Presented by Comixology Originals, this collection of comics, starts off with a comic of its own. It depicts Hope Nicholson being contacted to pitch an idea for a new book and she turns to Megan Kearney for support on this book as well as what it means for something to go viral and what it means when something becomes a meme. What I loved about this book is being able to see the story of how these comics came to be, and the artists behind them and their thought process of it all. We all see and know the comics like, “This is fine”, “No Take, Only Throw”, “Cyanide & Happiness” but don’t always see or know the artists behind the comics.
The intro comic of the book gives the same feeling that Understanding Comics does by Scott McCloud in using the medium itself to tell a story about the medium. I love the humour in the introduction comic of all the challenges Hope Nicholson and Megan Kearney (as I’m sure many other people have faced) when putting a collection together of various comics such as getting people to license their stuff.
I had a chance to interview Megan Kearney and one of the artists who works was in the book, Katie Shanahan, about what it was like putting this together, the selection process, and how the artists felt about their works.
Rogues Portal (RP): Did you decide to do an open call for submission or seek out artists about their work first?
Megan Kearney (MK): Hope and I curated a wish list of comics and creators we that we wanted for the book, either because of their prominence in webcomics, their recognition as a meme, or just because they really made us laugh. We each had our own top choices and we compared them to see where we overlapped.
RP: What was the selection process like? Was it more difficult than you thought it would be?
MK: Hope handled acquisitions and correspondence, so she would better be able to speak to this question than I am, but we narrowed our lists down to a top twenty with five or so backups in case we couldn’t get the comics we were hoping for. While most creators we contacted were enthusiastic, we did run into a few roadblocks with agents and pre-existing media deals. Overall, we were able to curate a really stellar lineup of creators we felt good about working with!
RP: What were some of the criteria or qualifications you had when selecting artists and works?
MK: I think our top criteria was recognition. Would our readers see these comics and go “Oh right! I saw that on my feed!”? We definitely wanted to include the heavy hitters of viral comics, the ones everyone has seen but may not have wondered where they came from, but we also wanted some of the more curious cases as well — like Craig Froehle, who is actually a professor and researcher with a PHD, not a cartoonist, but whose equality vs equity graphic that has just taken on a life of its own. There were also some comics that we felt had a real importance in the history of memes and viral comics and would have liked to write about, but that we just couldn’t in good conscience give a platform to. In the end we decided it was more important to showcase good people and good comics than to draw attention to bad ones.
RP: This trend of reposting and using other peoples artwork for merchandise without credit going back to the artist, would you say it is on the incline, plateau, or on the decline?
MK: It’s hard to say! There’s certainly a big push within artist communities to credit and link the creator, but that seems less of a concern in the wider social media landscape. I don’t think it’s malicious, but I suspect people who don’t make things for a living don’t really consider that things must have a source, or that the source might want to be known — they just see something that makes them laugh or think and want to pass it on. One troubling new development is seeing big companies stealing designs from independent creators. We’re even seeing companies that produce merchandise for artists keeping and reselling designs. Bootlegged enamel pins are a big problem right now.
RP: All the works have gone viral, but not all have gone viral in the same way. Some of the works, the comics have just been reposted online, whereas others have been used in physical advertising or merchandise sales. Do you think the outcome of how they have gone viral impacts the reaction to it, either being outraged or happy the work is out there?
MK: I think with the internet there’s a bit of a feeling of “oh, well, what can you do?” when something goes viral. It’s certainly annoying, and you do your best to make sure people know it’s yours, but it does get away from you. When it crosses the barrier from the digital world to the physical world, that’s where things get sticky (I can’t be the only one humming the Digimon theme now, can I?). Suddenly your thing exists in the real world, outside of the original context, and you don’t have any hope of controlling who sees it or what it’s being used for. I think a sense of violation and anger is unavoidable.
RP: What are some ways or things people can do to help artists be recognized for their work?
MK: Well, when you hit reblog, try to reblog from the original post so the trail always leads back to the creator. If you see a comic on its own in the wild, offer context and a link. If you see physical versions, check for copyright information and let the creator know if you suspect it’s been produced without their knowledge. Don’t immediately call out the company, since artists will often have made deals allowing the use of their work, but do check in if you suspect it’s not above board. Some pretty big corporations have been stealing from indie creators for years and show no signs of stopping.
RP: What are some of the messages you are hoping people will get from this book?
MK: Comics are great, people are interesting, don’t be a troll!
Stay tuned for another interview in a few days from Hit Reblog where we talk to artist Katie Shanahan.