Guttergeek: Chickenhare

Posted by on January 13th, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Chris Grine, Chickenhare, Vol. 3: Fish and Grymps (www.chickenhare.com, 2009- )

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First, and quickly: if you haven’t read the first two volumes grab them quickly before they disappear. With Chickenhare‘s future uncertain, there is no telling how long the books will remain in print. And while you don’t need to read the first two volumes to enjoy the 3rd, which Chris Grine is currently rolling out as a free (tips appreciated!) webcomic at www.chickenhare.com, you will have a much happier and healthier life if you do so. Chickenhare is one of those books which you will not believe you lived without for so long and which, upon reading, will cause you to raise your fists to the gods in anger at the thought that it remains trapped–like our motley crew of adventurers themselves–in a perilous limbo. These are rough times for the publishing industry, we all know too well, but that a story that has that rare magical combination of wit and madness, smarts and wonder cannot find a publisher for its 3rd installment after two brilliant volumes points to deeper problems than simply economic woes. Yes, it is a potentially challenging book to market: too edgy and violent, perhaps, for the more squeamish of parents; too whimsical and furry for the highest of brows. But Dark Horse (which published the first two volumes) has had success in marketing other projects with a similar combination of qualities, such as Usagi Yojimbo. And Chickenhare, dare I say it, is even better.

Chickenhare is actually the official definition of how much fun you are allowed to have reading all-ages comics. Which, to be clear, is exactly x*y=fun (where x=chicken and y=hare). Chickenhare is also the definition of why it is so hard to market comics of a certain type. In addition to Stan Sakai, creator of Usagi Yojimbo, the other appreciative blurb at the Chickenhare website is from Jeff Smith, who somehow found a way to sell comics designed equally to appeal to young readers and adult audiences. But Smith (Bone) was creating his masterpiece at a time when publishers for this kind of work simply did not exist, and so he self-published and found his audiences the old-fashioned way: through patience, perseverance and something else that begins with “P” (gawd, I hope it’s not “pluck,” but I fear it is).

Grine’s latest experiment is in a sense an attempt to do in the 21st century what Smith did in the 90s. But whether there is a business model that can emerge from this experiment (as it did for Smith and Cartoon Books) remains to be seen. In 2010, as Grine launches volume 3 of his masterpiece, patience, perseverance and [pluck] will only take him so far. Given the reviews (and the Eisner nomination) for his first volumes, he must have thought his series was guaranteed a long life. But Chickenhare did not find its audience, however, and volume 3 remains unclaimed by the publishers who should be embracing it (and all subsequent volumes). As a result, Grine has decided to publish Volume 3 online in “webcomic” format, with new pages every Tuesday.

I am, officially, counting down the days until next Tuesday. Dark Horse—or some other publisher in a better position to capitalize on this opportunity—is insane to let me and my ilk start to grow accustomed to enjoying the serial pleasures of some of the best stories by our best creators for free. At a certain point, we realize we are just as well off tipping Grine and his peers on the web as we were waiting for twentieth-century publishers to decide whether folks like Grine were worth publishing in the first place.

Yersterday was Tuesday, and Chickenhare fans were given the gift of seeing their old friend, Scabby, for the first time in volume 3. We also have the pleasure of seeing all our friends in color for the first time, and it is a revelation. In truth, given the quality of the presentation on the website, I don’t really want it to go back to black and white at Dark Horse… but I do want Grine to get paid so he can survive and keep making this story. In the meantime, until some publisher steps up and realizes that letting Chickenhare float out in the limbo of the interweb is in the long-run bad policy for their survival, I will be tuning in to find out whether Banjo has survived his brutal battle (of course he did, poor little one-toothed punching-bag), whether Chickenhare really has developed magic powers, and whether Abe is able to resist using his power over Banjo to make him dance around in a dress.

And if no publisher is smart enough to grab this, it only proves that publishers and paper are dead. In which case, long live the interweb.

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3 Responses to “Guttergeek: Chickenhare

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