Desktop: The great escape

Maybe you're still living underground, trying to avoid being a direct target of terrorist missiles; or maybe you're getting your shelter ready, on the chance that your town might join the decidedly un-magic circle.

computers 88 (photo credit: )
computers 88
(photo credit: )
Well, it's August, and the dog days are here - when the weather gets all weird and wacky, thanks to the influence of a heavenly pit bull ( That means it's hot, and everyone - not just the kids - are getting itchy. This summer, though, things aren't so simple. Maybe you're still living underground, trying to avoid being a direct target of terrorist missiles; or maybe you're getting your shelter ready, on the chance that your town might join the decidedly un-magic circle. Whatever the case, it's hard to think of traditional summer vacations under current conditions. With the absence of the Galilee as a vacation destination this year, there are far fewer places to go domestically anyway. But war or not, those dogs just keep on coming - every day. And now, with August's arrival, the chimes of the new year - that is, the new school year - are sounding louder, meaning that the kids (and parents) really need a break. Trouble is, the country - and world, for that matter - is so tense, there's no escaping this thing. The news just keeps on coming, and it's none too good. Even TV isn't fun, because every program has a little news ticker running along the bottom of the screen, updating viewers with the latest information, but sort of ruining the escapism people need these days, if only for a few hours. The Internet is always good for a few laughs, but there are only so many games of Geek Quest ( you can play before you pick up your monitor and throw it out the window out of boredom. Now that's what I call entertainment! But alas, it's the kind of fun that's just too expensive to engage in more than once or twice. What you need is a hobby - something you can do for hours at a time without getting bored. Something creative, where you actually have something to show for your efforts. Something that will actually be of positive benefit, i.e. give you skills you can use in the future. Something that will connect you with other like-minded people around the world, who will give you feedback on your project and give you an opportunity to proudly display your success. And of course, something fun that will keep the kids quiet, calm and happy for hours on end. Something like - on-line comic drawing (Bet you didn't see that one coming)! But think about it for a minute: There isn't a kid in the world who doesn't want to be the next Matt Groening ( or at least the next Roger Meyers ( It's fun, cool and potentially enriching, both from a cultural and financial point of view. Proof? The first page everyone runs to when they get their daily or weekend paper is, of course, the comics page (don't deny it!). My Yahoo Comics Widget ( has about 700 syndicated comic strips I can download and read on my PC. Somebody, somewhere is paying these artists for their work, which appears in newspapers and Web sites daily or on weekends. The comic biz is definitely booming - and with [email protected] (, your kids (or you) can join an international community of budding comic creators, create and display their work on-line and learn a skill guaranteed to make them the most popular kid on the block - as well as give them something constructive and fun to do during tough times. [email protected] is a simple site to navigate and create on. To begin, just click on the "Draw a comic strip" button, where there are several unlabeled but intuitive tools for drawing, saving, erasing and even animating your comic. All drawing is done in real time, freehand style (the site depends on Flash to power its tools), but it seems to have a "low overhead" and the response time is excellent, with your sketch appearing immediately on screen and saving almost instantaneously. Once completed, your drawing shows up in the [email protected] gallery, where it can be viewed and rated by other site users. Once saved, your strip appears on your personal account at the site (if you register as a user), and you can delete or edit strips even after they're completed. There's also a chat feature, where you can talk to other users on the site live, as well as an easy link feature, so you can add your comics to a personal Web site or blog. [email protected] is still pretty new, so it still has the feel of an intimate artists' community - which means it'll be easier to get the attention of more experienced cartoonists when your kids seek help for their budding cartoon careers. And even if they don't turn into the second coming of Charles Schultz, [email protected] can bring a little diversion - and fun - to this cruel summer. [email protected]