The Concuspidor 20 years of Concuspidor online

The Concuspidor FAQ

The following answers address those Frequently Asked Questions that have arisen since The Concuspidor was first released. The most common question has been (sadly) How did you make any money out of it?. If you just want the bare essentials, you should be reading the instructions instead.

This is the "original" FAQ. There's also information about the history of the project, written for its ten year anniversary.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why are the graphics so big/small/fuzzy?

These days, everyone is familiar with big graphics on the web, and download times are speedy. When we did Concuspidor, however, the tradeoff between size and download time was a big issue (most readers would have been using a 14400 modem over dial-up). We also worked on the assumption that an image about 500 pixels across would fill a standard PC screen. These days we'd make the images bigger, and use a much higher quality setting in the JPEGs. Some of the blurring you see in the pictures is because we had to be harsh with the compression to make the download bearable.

You may find it worthwhile to fiddle with the brightness knob on your monitor. It took us ages to work out why the pictures seemed so dark, and this was the answer.

How did you make the graphics?

By hand, of course. Here's the process: sketch in pencil (about A4 size), ink-in, photocopy (for water-resistance), colour-in with watercolour and coloured pencils, then scan into the PC. In those days I used Aldus PhotoStyler to add border, blanche out area and add text for rhyming coulpet, and compress as JPEG. These days I'd do it (better) with Adobe PhotoShop. Very occasionally, some details were added digitally too -- for example, I added extra lemons in the hold on the lemon boat because I had painted too few.

What is an instalment?

The Consupidor was originally released in weekly instalments, each containing a few scenes. The places where the story could best be split were decided at the time the whole story was storyboarded. If you read The Concuspidor now, there are no breaks between instalments, so this is an invisible effect which you only notice if you look at the archive. But at the time we were releasing it, everyone was reading it week-by-week, not knowing how many scenes they'd be shown each time. (You can't do that in most other publishing media because you always have to fill a fixed space or time slot.) The most striking effect of this was that the rather sudden ending really did come as something of a surprise, because nobody (except us, of course) knew how many scenes were left.

The whole thing fitted into the six months we ran it for: we wanted to finish before the Christmas (1995) holidays because a lot of our readers were accessing the site from work (or college), and might miss an instalment if we ran over Christmas when they weren't in the office, so to speak.

Why did you do it?

Because we looked at cartoons on the net and noticed this: you waited 60 seconds to download a cartoon which demanded maybe only 10 seconds of your time. There was nothing wrong with the cartoons, but they belonged in a fast-access medium. Strip cartoons have lived successfully in text-rich newspapers because they are quick and easy to read amongst all those grey, printed words. In the web context, this justification does not apply, because the text itself is interactive (and often less verbose than it would be off-line).

For people interested in such historical details, the most well-known cartoons on the web at the time were Dr Fun and Dilbert, neither of which were doing anything which couldn't be done on paper -- except, of course, the manner of distribution. There was nothing wrong with the cartoons -- of course the phenomenal success of Dilbert on paper is witness to that -- but it wasn't doing anything creative with the unique possibilities the web offered.

We wanted to produce a cartoon that wasn't just glanced at, but that actually drew readers in and responded in some way to their curiousity. The reader was encouraged to investigate the cartoon, to interact with it. We wanted to address the download-time problem, which at that time was the predominant drawback of the web when being compared with other media. We did this by changing the use-once "disposable" nature of the image. So, instead of reading and discarding, the reader gets an image that they actually re-use by nosing around in it. This also seems an obvious application of image-maps (linking areas of a story illustration to associated prose) and image-caching (whereby your PC doesn't bother sucking a picture down the line if it realises it's got it already), both of which are the norm on the web now, but we still see very few stories being told in this way.

Did we succeed in what we set out to do? We certainly did, and people seemed to really enjoy it, which was great. However, what we ended up with here is probably stretching the word cartoon a bit far, certainly where comparisons with work like Dilbert are concerned, so cartoon illustration is probably a fairer description.

What's it about?

Well, it's a fairytale with a moral, and a parody on the modern world - especially some of the technology supporting the internet (or the information sewer pipeway as the Grand Wizard of Many Things describes it). But as for what's actually going on, well, that's for you to decide. The more you poke around in the pictures, the more complete your own view of The Concuspidor, the world he lives in and the events that are happening in it will be. Perhaps there are some details which you miss, or some things you don't think are important. So, really, it's best to see for yourself.

What does "Concuspidor" mean?

Nothing. It deliberately sounds like conquistador, which is the sort of bold, adventurous image the Concuspidor would like to project. In fact it's made of con (as in swindle or scam, from "confidence trick") and cuspidor (a spittoon). Those who thought it was a real word and looked in the dictionary found the nearest match was concupiscent, which I was not aware of at the time. Honestly.

Why is Evergreen called Evergreen?

Evergreen's name was a mistake because most of the characters have a punning or significant name. Evergreen was the one in green (to distinguish her simply from other characters) and as deadlines approached nothing sprang to mind. I copied it off one of the container lorries that drove past on its way to the docks (I was living in Bangkok at the time).

Will there ever be another Concuspidor story?

Possibly but probably not, because we have moved on to other things. In fact, before the first story had ended, a prequel story was drafted out, called The Concuspidor & the Jar of Unbecomings. A couple of readers sent us unsolicited suggestions for "explaining" the ending of ...& the Grand Wizard of Many Things differently in order to allow a sequel (if you see what I mean).

You made it up as you went along, didn't you?

No, we didn't. The whole thing was storyboarded in full - every scene sketched - before we started. However, the reality was some of the text was written in the wee hours before releasing the instalment on the Thursdays it used to go out. So actual production was just-in-time (after all, I had a few other things to try to do as well). We did miss one instalment, for which we had to post an apology, because the hard disk crashed repeatedly and we just couldn't rebuild the scanner software in time. In the end I went into London and paid an extortionate fee for a scan (scanners themselves weren't cheap in those days) only to get home and find that the floppy had somehow become unreadable. So we were caught out only once.

How did you make any money out of it?

Obviously we didn't, and we didn't try. It was an altruistic (and vaguely artistic) project. I bought a PC, modem and scanner especially to do this project so I was down on the whole thing. not to mention six months of my time writing and drawing. At the start, we were using a server thanks to the support of the Computer Science department at Royal Holloway University of London, but for purely practical reasons we moved onto a friend's commercial server for free just after the project had started.

Who won the (only) Concuspidor competition?

A certain KL Morse in the USA, who won a Concuspidor T-shirt with this unmistakable scattering of ASCII:

         ( ( )     \
         (.(.)     |
          /         3
         /     .   |
        /__   / \  /
          c__/\ / /
           L_L_/ /
          /     /

Can I have a Concuspidor T-shirt?

No. If you see someone wearing one, then they must be either a Beholder involvee or the only Concuspidor competition winner in the world. Or else they stole it from someone who is.

Blurry picture of two special T-shirt models

Two special involvees modelling Beholder (Concuspidor) shirts

What's the film joke in the twelth instalment?

If we need to tell you, it doesn't really matter. Of course, it's the scene from Terminator 2 in which the shape-changing terminator comes walking purposefully out of the inferno of the exploded lorry. I almost certainly saw that scene before you did unless you too happened to be at SIGGRAPH 91 (Las Vegas) where it featured in the Electronic Theatre, before the T2 film was released.

Am I the only person who ever read it?

Certainly not. We had a regular readership, with quite a significant proportion from academic domains (since the public web was really still quite new). Clearly this is why there are more nerdy and technical references in the story than seem appropriate now. The Concuspidor continues to get a fairly regular but of course smaller stream of new readers.

Some of the reviews of the time from Internet publications:

"As good a web site as we've ever seen... it's a riot"
PC Review

"...does more to sell you on their skills than any sales pitch... Updated weekly, this witty serial is a bold reworking of the comics format specifically for the Net."

"...probably a bit slow for the Pepsi generation, as working out the plot takes a bit of patience, but if you want to know what happens to the Concuspidor and Phlegm the Pelican, look no further."
Internet magazine

"Satire and fantasy piece, although its fantasy is more Swiftian than Tolkeinian. (Cervantes, too.) Interesting take on "interactive comics" - you can click on characters, and it will tell you what they're thinking in text under the image. Kind of like hidden thought balloons; this makes for an interesting effect, especially as it leaves the art uncovered by all the text. The art is nicely done, in color, by hand, by Dave Whiteland."
Alternative Comics: A WWW Guide

(Blimey... "Cervantes" eh?)

Can I copy this stuff willy-nilly?

No. This project is for your enjoyment, and it's free. You're welcome to print off your favourite bits (if there are any) or share it with your friends. But you must remember that The Concuspidor is copyright, so all we're really letting you do is read it. Don't use it. Thanks.
© Beholder Graphics 1995

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