Monday, December 24, 2007

Dr. Who and the Daleks

Ah, I can't wait for tomorrow. There's going to be a new Doctor Who on! Although I probably won't get to watch it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I can watch the one bit of Doctor Who I haven't seen in some form, the feature films! Some of it is hard to watch since it was made and destroyed before I was born, but reconstructions exist. Those are all listed on the ultimate source of Doctor Who episode information on the web. For some reason the feature films are not. And now I know a little bit of why.

First you rewrite the characters so that the main fellow is, well, human. You can't be having alien characters be central. Who will the humans watching relate to? And give him an actual last name that people may stick after "Dr." to call him. I think he did once introduce himself as "Doctor Who" in the series. It was early on, they were still figuring it out. The first film was done only a couple years after the first of the series and was only using that as the fertile ground from which to spring.

Let both Susan and Barbara call him grandfather and Ian can be Barbara's boyfriend. Let him also be the source of mild slapstick entertainment, too. Then everyone can join up in this "TARDIS" thing the grandfather is showing off to Ian where a bumped lever (ah, more mild slapstick) can launch the merry band into adventure. Everything from here is quite familiar to viewers of the second story from the series, usually referred to as "The Daleks" and sometimes "The Mutants". Yeah, tin pots with plungers have been terrorizing the Doctor that long. Hey, it only took to the 8th Doctor for them to figure out bumps in the road like stairs.

Now, since this story was originally seven episodes in a time of half hour shows, there's a little bit to cut. Not that they did. Instead, they seemed to be ticking off each thing that happened in the original story off a list. Well, there was no alien romance this time, but that had been done fairly quietly and Barbara's already got a boyfriend this time. Meanwhile, the bits that didn't seem well motivated before seem to be positively mechanical in service of performing the story just as it was done before.

It is a wonderful story after all. Start off with the horrors that result from nuclear war, meet up with the side that has decided that one must never fight (although this isn't shown much) and convince them to throw away their values to help retrieve equipment. Then with their help, commit apparent genocide on the side still out to destroy everything. It's alright, they're bad. Well, they are!

Rewritten basic background and adds nothing original beyond that... That must be why it's not listed. My take: watch the episodes, it'll make a little more sense and they do still exist. Meanwhile, there's nothing for it but to watch the second film.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Trenches is another comic by Scott Mills. I may have noted that I didn't like his artwork much previously. I suppose it works a little better for a wartime story, but I still don't much like it.

As might be imagined, this is a WWI story. The story passes though many events, but with very little detail, much like the artwork. It's nice, but unsatisfying for me. It feels too leisurely and almost empty even though much story is covered because of the lack of detail. I seem to prefer detail to the point of clutter.

The characters have distinctive visual traits and there are only a few main characters, but it can still be difficult to figure out who is who. This one also has a character who has been bald since he was a child. I wonder why this is a common factor.

(The image included above is copyright 2002 by Scott Mills.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Heat Guy J

Heat Guy J is a fun anime with a great soundtrack set it what is perhaps a future. It builds up a fairly interesting world as the backdrop for a story that is too complicated to fit all the details into 25 episodes. Also, I don't actually own it (and saw it quite a while ago) so I can't refer back to it as I look at the manga, which is what I've got here.

Whereas most anime is derived from manga source, this one is the other way around. If one didn't already know that, the list of four names on the cover might give a big hint. So as a derivative work, and having seen the original, the question "What does this add?" seems valid. After all there was plenty to try to fill in with the original story and surely many new stories that could have been written. So, what does this add?

Unfortunately, the answer is "absolutely nothing". What you get in the manga is a choppy retelling of 4 early episodes with foreshadowing of the overall story thrown in here and there to try to get the reader hooked into wanting to read more. Clearly there was a plan to continue on and maybe eventually add something but, well, there is a reason this book doesn't have the expected volume number on it. It just doesn't carry. What was dramatic in the anime is not dramatic placed in a single panel, at least not the way this was carried off. However, since the treatment isn't changed any, all the visual elements have to work the same way when they are shown panel by panel as when they are shown animated. It just isn't the same. The result is generally blah.

Also, it's totally missing that great soundtrack.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Finally got around to reading Thud! by Terry Pratchett. Well, actually in May.

Once upon a time there was a guard who didn't really feel like lining up for convenient slashing by the Hero in the book. But now the once-was-city-guard Hero slashes through the guards all lined up with little thought...

And that's all I'm going to say about that. The guards books aren't really my favorite anyway. Well, there's Jingo... and anything with time travel... Er, where's that Johnny Maxwell book that keeps being mentioned?

Friday, November 09, 2007


Apparently there is now a local Tesco, but someone's decided to call it "Fresh & Easy" instead. Maybe, just maybe, they carry a Maya Gold. This would be important to know, especially with Wild Oats closing in favor of a new Whole Foods. Sure the new Whole Foods has fresh doughnuts on the hour, but it isn't within walking distance and the interior portions of a Whole Foods tend to be full of extremely tempting and expensive luxuries. Even the edges have exotic cheeses.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lurking deep in the shadows

A piece at the Savage Critic traces the influences that led to the hero who lurks deep in the shadows best known today, Batman. Of course the Shadow is mentioned, he who knows what evil llllurks in the hearts of men. Zorro is not mentioned, for some reason, even though he was a movie in 1920 and serials before that and also an obvious influence. Mostly the post is given over to telling of the French silent serial Judex, which sounds like an interesting series as does the other work by the same maker described.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that has any of the Judex serials. It has got The Shadow for your listening pleasure and the classic Zorro movie (and some serials).

Maybe it sounds particularly interesting since I've been getting out the old radio serial mp3s and listening to The Shadow and The Third Man and as well as some shows not starring Orson Wells and some new stuff off the BBC for entertainment while knitting.

Speaking of Orson Wells and today being All Hallows' Eve, here's one more thing in the archive for your listening pleasure.

Oh, yeah. 100!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Creator owned is better

One of the actual reasons manga can be better than certain American comics is that it is creator owned.

Once I picked up Death: At Death's Door and asked about it. My comic guy explained how popular Jill Thompson's other efforts with the Endless were and that this was a new story for that audience, etc. "Ah," say I, going on to summarize, "sanctioned fanfic." It has finally percolated through my thick head why the answer to that was pretty much a grumble. Also why this is a particularly ironic title to say that about.

A great part (it's a good store and I couldn't say if this is over or under half) of the content of the store could be summed up as "sanctioned fanfic" or, worse, "solicited fanfic". The characters in so many books are corporate properties written and illustrated by the page by someone who did not originally create the world or the character. All too often by someone who would rather be working on something else.

The stories add on year after year until there is far too much life lived for one character and something happens (cue Superboy!) so that everything can start over again. Besides, the inconsistencies from having so many cooks were probably starting to add up.

Creating something new seems to be anathema. If a new character is needed, often an old character is recycled instead. Pick one off a back shelf and give it a makeover. Or, better yet, find one that is still active enough to have a following so there's a built in audience! There's a laziness about it on both sides. The publisher doesn't have to pay a new creator and the audience doesn't have to go looking for new interesting characters because the stories about the ones they've found already never end.

There can be good stuff to come from this. The Sandman series, from which the book I'd picked up derives, is, I am given to understand, work for hire. A long forgotten character completely reinvented for a pitch and the publisher had the good sense to agree. (That other guy who wrote Good Omens is really a rather good writer whatever he goes after.)

There is plenty of chaff as well. Personally, I find the sudden appearance of a character who just happens to be owned by the same company but doesn't usually seem to be in the same sort of world stomach turning. Your average creator can tell which sets of characters should be interacting and doesn't mix them up, your average company full of corporate owned characters sees a quick buck in giant crossovers between groups and no one can stop them because they own all the trademarks. (I don't know how this gets them the bucks, but apparently people buy it.)

Of course it all ultimately comes down to the writing. A bad writer may have a better chance of it if handed the ready made setting and populous, but there really is no need to coddle bad writers. Meanwhile a good writer can be susceptible to all the world crossing, cameos of favorite characters not involved, and whatever else that is the mark of fanfic and not of good stories.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Longer is not better

Apparently one of the reasons "manga is better" than American comics is because it is longer. How so? Almost all of the manga that makes it to this country is serialized in weekly or monthly anthology magazines. There's only 16-18 pages of story in a weekly magazine and usually less than twice that for a monthly. Then 10 weekly or 5-6 monthly chapters get collected into a book that is usually a little under 200 pages, the form we see it. If people only ever picked up the collections of American comics, they would get a nice long story too. Usually one that is a complete arc, too, rather than an arbitrary collection.

I especially love when someone claiming manga is "longer" goes on to extol the virtues of some weekly Jump title that is selling like hotcakes. For me, these embody why longer is not always better. Quite a lot of these start off with some overall plot to frame the story in, but this quickly becomes merely a frame for a repetitive story by some author who has found it very nice to have a consistent paycheck and will milk it for as many years as possible.

You can get the same thin frame with an American comic. You don't even have to look past the superheros to find it. Is "This is the life of Super-X, to whom life has thrown a curve ball and now s/he wants to do good for the world!" any less substantial than "This is the life of a rubbery boy who, inspired by his pirate hero, is trying to be the pirate king!"? Well, I suppose the second one has a goal and thus an ending is promised. Judging by the talk, that end is even in sight. (But how many times has it been in sight before?) I don't actually know because I never got past the first volume.

And, for the record, manga is full of superheros.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Planet Saturday

There is a most wonderful little webcomic lurking out there going by the name of Planet Saturday. Although I am neither quite old enough nor parental enough to fully appreciate it, I can sometimes notice comic timing perfection when I see it. It's happy; it's poetry captured in the expressions of the wonderful characters (but fear the actual poetry); it helps one remember that the world is beautiful. There's a new one with each new month and it seems like just the way to start of each month right.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mushishi vol. 2

Ah, Mushishi, with the sort of mystical stories, each one a treasure which occasionally start off with a bright splash of well used color. Such is the first chapter of the second volume of Mushishi.
Except you'll have to get hold of the original to see it. For the English copy, they've chosen to render the mountain with a mysterious hole in it in muddy grey instead, which makes it quite hard to see at all. What was clear imagery requires hints from the text to identify.

Again in the forth chapter:
More color that we don't get to see. Surely that rainbow in the upper left that I've cut off would look just as good in grey scale? Though at least this one is not reduced to dark grey on darker grey.

This second image also helps illustrate the second difficulty with these books (that has nothing to do with the quality of the original books, just the translation to English). Japanese has no plural form so you have to just look and count. Is there more than one? I see one jar. Apparently the translator saw two because this is referred to as "jars" in the text. Someone is not being particularly careful.

There are multiple spots where the translation just doesn't quite seem to agree with itself. The reader is tripped up and thrown from the fantasy. I suppose it could be the author's fault, it is her first series. Award winning and best seller, but still her first.

The stories themselves are still wonderful taken overall, but the experience of reading them is not what it could be in the English version.

(The two images included above are taken from the Japanese version of Mushishi vol. 2 and are copyright 2002 by Yuki Urushibara.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My first minis

What a wonderful source who will remain nameless. From that same source as the last post come my very first actual mini comics. "First taste is free," says the source. And what a taste!

Yes, it is a collection from some folk at Partyka, including the fish I was ogling probably around June (there at the bottom, but click the link for a few pages). There's just something fascinating about fish that I like to watch. This one has a little quirk in the way it's drawn and my heart just melts.

The first two there are postcards, not minis. Next along is The Monkey and the Crab by Shawn Cheng and Sara Edward-Corbett. I believe at least one mutual friend would fall in love with it just for the binding. It adapts a folktale of a war between a monkey and a crab and is ever so tragic.

Next along is Your Karate Vacation by Matt Wiegle, which is eight pages of, as advertised, advice about your karate vacation. Fast and fun.

Then at the bottom, Seven More Days of Not Getting Eaten also by Matt Wiegle. A fish tale for every day of the week. Or is that a fishy tale? Also fast paced and packed with fun. That fish sure is a sneaky character.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

On the bandwagon

A source who will remain nameless says "I can't believe you've not heard of Edward Gorey." Hum. Well, Wikipedia says he did the opening sequence for Mystery! on PBS (or this one?), which ranks among the things I have filed under permanently cool no mater how many times I see it. (It's actually the second one I remember.)

He did not actually render the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" into cartoon form, but this is still a lot of fun: The Trouble with Tribbles in the style of Edward Gorey.

There seems to be quite an extravagant number of Gorey things on YouTube, actually.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Warmed over aliens

Ah, TV aliens. Once so much funny clothing but now quite a lot of fancy make up but almost exclusively shaped like humans. Still, I don't think that the new makeup has really improved the aliens.

It's not that apparently only one ethnicity has ever survived on any alien world. That's part of the big background stuff you don't really see on a moment by moment basis. It's not that everything is in a non-alien language. To insist that your aliens speak among themselves in alien languages is just trying to be unnecessarily difficult.

It's the culture of the moment to moment that makes an alien actually alien. The ticks and fidgets that we all display. We tap our fingers, pace, wink, sniffle, and clear our throats. It seems aliens generally do too. They stress the same words and though a wink may be difficult for them to understand, but they're quite happy with the nods that aren't even universal among those of Earth.

There have been a few aliens with alien ticks, but very few. Possibly more quite early on when they did not have the luxury of really good masks. Sure, illustrate it with the back story and the mask, but sell it with the tendency to rub the hands rather than tap the fingers and all the other little things.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Penguins everywhere!

It looks like this Sunday I will learn something about the LA Times, since according to Berkeley Breathed:

Note to Opus readers: The Opus strips for August 26 and September 2 have been withheld from publication by a large number of client newspapers across the country, including Opus' host paper The Washington Post. The strips may be viewed in a large format on their respective dates at

I expect to see it anyway, will they disappoint?

Meanwhile, I'm absolutely giddy to find out that once upon a time, Pat Oliphant had a comic strip. Tom Toles and Mike Peters too, but you probably knew about Mike Peters. I wonder what Tom Toles' was like...

Friday, August 10, 2007

better omens and worse omens

I still would really like to see what Terry Gilliam would make of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens (AKA The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch). Just sayin'.

Meanwhile as Stardust gets teased my flatmate is so filled with the impression that this is a future bomb that she has to say so out loud. She says she's generally up on the new coming movies and this one she knows nothing about except that the trailer gives her this impression.

I, on the other hand, have no idea what movies may be coming soon except there's one called Stardust (seems to be out) and another called Beowulf (coming soon) both of which are related to one Neil Gaiman.

Now I haven't pursued his output quite as much as Pratchett's (for years the only meaning his name had to me was "the other guy on the cover of Good Omens") and Stardust is among the unread. I don't actually know anything about it except I've liked a lot of the other stuff this fellow does. And he has good taste in coauthors for novels. When I see the Stardust trailer I see... well, actually, it does seem a little lame. I'm hoping that a one minute trailer just can't capture the intricacies that is good story telling. It seems like a reasonable hope.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hey, Gerry!

Not sure if you've been gerrymandered out of political relevance? Well, there's an easy way to find out, just take a look at your district. I know I certainly have been.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Making a meal of it

Mine! All mine! I finally have all of King of Bandit Jing. Well, not the OVA. It's just book 5 of the first series animated anyway plus da cool music. And I have devoured it whole already. Could be time to reread the whole thing?

For now back to Abe: Wrong for All the Right Reasons which is pleasant but quite filling so I seem to be reading only a few stories each day. The chapters are former minis after all, they had to pack a lot.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

My flatmate has a weird comic book. She's left something called Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes out for any and all to have a look at so I thought, "Why not?"

Here's something with story elements you've never seen before. Or at least I haven't. I've never read anything by Daniel Clowes before, perhaps that's why.

A guy goes to a movie and seems to recognise someone in the movie. He is suddenly determined to find her. He borrows his friend's car and bizarre stuff that can only be rightly referred to by setting politeness aside and calling it, well, weird shit. And while this weird shit is happening to him, utter randomness that is occasionally related to the plot just suddenly pops up and takes a page or two. A brief interlude of other oddities before commencing back to the weird shit.

I have no idea why in the background the country was taken over by a revolutionary force bent on removing all men but their leader from the planet. Maybe that happens more in one of these other comics by the same author and it helps place the story with those... I will probably not be checking them out to see. It was a bit too much everything that it was and with art that felt flat and stiff to me helping tell the story.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

covered up in bait-and-switch

I know... well, I strongly suspect... that this cover is supposed to be funny and I get the joke. It's just not a funny joke.

The solicited cover may be a little bit flat, but it screams "old school Batgirl". You know that whatever Batgirl was when she started, this was it. Apparently this is the cover for her first appearance, which seems quite fitting for the volume of her first comics.

What the cover it actually got screams is a little bit different. It is more along the lines of "heroine not worth reading about". I'm not certain how that is supposed to sell books.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Museum of Terror

It seems that seinen, or manga for men, isn't selling well, leading to comments about how men aren't buying manga until someome pointed out that josei, or manga for women, isn't selling so well either. Shounen, manga for boys, and shoujo, manga for girls, are both happily making their way onto the USA Today 150 bestsellers list on many weeks. This is something to lament since it's not really the good stuff, but as the readers mature, so will their tastes. It's still very new to a lot of them.

Not exactly in honor of the whole "men aren't buying manga!" dust-up, I picked up the first volume of Museum of Terror (Tomie 1) by Junji Ito. I actually just happen to think there's some good stuff in the seinen section. Well, if the manga was split up into those sections there would be. This is award winning, but not really something that will change the trends.

Museum of Terror is really, well, a bit of a gore fest. It's no Berserk where the artist seems fascinated with the idea of cramming as much intestine onto every page as possible while still allowing some room to tell the story, but it is definitely trying to gross out the reader. It's also not a psychological piece in any way, which seems to be the horror I'm most likely to like. There's no 6th Sense twist coming here.

The book seems a little heavy handed in telling the story of a girl who cannot die. The action is often motivated by the characters' mysterious desires upon meeting her that even they don't know where are coming from, which adds up to unmotivated in my book. Even the bits that are supposed to be shockingly gross just don't have that touch of possible reality that makes things actually gross. They just can't happen. (In the way that two atoms can't occupy the same space, not in the way zombies aren't real.)

To be fair, I did suspect this book would be "too gross for me" when I picked it up, but I found it rather tamer than expected. I also expected it to be a little more than a zombie flick with a gimmick, but that's approximately what it is.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

new expansions

I have replaced the not quite right "read more" links that could only be on the bottom of the post and couldn't be changed to anything else and didn't quite work right anyway. Now my blog is much

much much much
cooler than before.

Here's what I did:

Place into the stylesheet of the template:
.commenthidden {display:none}
.commentshown {display:inline}

Place into the head, not in the stylesheet:

<script type="text/Javascript">
function togglecomments (postid) {
var whichpost = document.getElementById(postid);
if (whichpost.className=="commentshown") {
whichpost.className="commenthidden"; }
else {
whichpost.className="commentshown"; }

And then this into the post template:

<a aiotitle="click to expand" href="javascript:togglecomments('UniqueName')">tease text</a>
<div class="commenthidden" id="UniqueName">hidden stuff goes here</div>

And, yes, "UniqueName" has to actually be a unique name. I little more complicated in the actual post but miles better.

(And this is where I stole it.)

Of course, it probably doesn't work in the RSS feed anyway.

A new ending

Scrolled through my wish list and noticed a "Pre-order" button had turned into an "Add to cart" button unexpectedly. So I clicked on the picture and it said "one left!" implying there might actually have been more than one at some point. So I looked it up on Tokyopop and while I waited for it to actually perform the search I asked, found it in the new books out this month list. Jing, King of Bandits: Twilight Tales vol. 7 is finally out, and only 1.5 years late!

Friday, July 13, 2007


This is a wonderful book, but what to say about it that hasn't already been said? The quote on the back that I most agree with:

"Disarming and often humorous, Persepolis is ultimately shattering."
--Joe Sacco, author of Palestine
Interestingly, I picked up his book at the same time...

But this is about Persepolis the story of a childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Right now the movie is making the film festival rounds. It was huge at Cannes, where the complaints of the Iranian government were ignored. It was to open the Bangkok International Film Festival but there the complaints, and even threats, were listened to and it was replaced.

The autobiographical story tells of moments from 10 to 14 which happened to be a rather historic time for Iran. Her family is upper class, so her childhood is not necessarily a common one. The occasional glimpses of the common classes and their treatment, usually through her family's maid, are telling. But these aren't really the point.

This is the tale of an eccentric child with liberal parents who allow her to think and dream in a time when great political forces are at work. It is at times wild as the strength of the child, the parents, and the society co-mingle and collide. It is, in the end, everything Joe Sacco says in that sentence above, which holds far more than one might expect.

What's a Zuda?

Apparently DC wants to go into webcomics, and they're calling it "Zuda". For some reason the phrase "the YouTube of webcomics" keeps coming up in describing it. Seems to me that was probably KeenSpot and a few others, long before there was a YouTube.

They're holding a contest and eventually one lucky winner will get the opportunity to get paid for writing a webcomic, which usually you don't get. They'll also have to carry the site for the first month until there's a second winner, which seems a bit much. Hopefully the editors will take the opportunity to choose at least one other comic themselves, as they say they will from time to time. After all, DC doesn't actually have a ready built webcomic audience and plenty of their readers don't want anything to do with comics on a screen.

The facts aren't in yet for what the winner (and any chosen player) gives up to have that pay check. Being DC, they'll probably want some sort of control over the future of the creation. It may not be outright ownership of characters and worlds, but there will be control. So if you've only got one idea it probably shouldn't go into the contest. On the other hand, if you're a one-trick-pony, you probably aren't made for an industry that banks on creativity.

Given that there is no average webcomicer, the opportunity to draw something for a year getting paid could be success. For many, success isn't about money but notoriety and page hits.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Mozilla 2.0, may I have a word with you? Tabs were great, wonderful, and once you got over just putting the new ones at the end, even correctly ordered. Why do you want to go and break them?

See, here's the deal. When I click on a tab, that means I want to change to that window. I don't then want the tab to be selected. When I go do the arrow keys, the window is supposed to scroll, not change to the next or previous tab.

When I open up lots and lots of tabs, I want to see all of them. They're supposed to resize, not scroll off the side of the screen. What part of 50 to 250 pixels wide don't you understand? That doesn't mean always 250 pixels wide.

Now I have to go searching the web for how to fix things because I sure didn't find it just going through the settings GUI.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bride and Prejudice

My neighbor hadn't gotten around to watching a movie he checked out from the library, so he brought it over so everyone could fail to watch it together. The flatmate not on vacation said, "Oh! Bride and Prejudice! I wanted to see this one!" Apparently it's done by at least some of the folk who did Bend It Like Beckham, which was an alright movie. And it has award nominations.

Well, if it's so great (and no one else is going to watch it anyway), I thought I might watch it.

To date, no Bollywood movie that I know of has ever tried to claim that it was natural at any stage of Indian life for everyone to get up and start singing dancing in unison, choreographed and in just the right ratio of men and women. This movie would have me believe that one of the dance numbers was natural. Okay, that was probably just trying too hard to deal with people suddenly singing for an audience that doesn't get many new musicals anymore.

The movie itself if about a couple rich friends, one who is Indian and decided to go home so that mom can find him a bride. His friend falls in love with her sister and she with him but neither one will admit it. This is before they've even seen each other close up. Once talking she decides he's boorish while he finds her intelligent and outspoken (which she is sort of presented as, especially outspoken). As he proves that he is boorish, but honestly boorish, she apparently decides he's not so bad and all is right in the end.

Whatever. It is probably banking too much on the viewer believing this is Pride and Prejudice with the details changed. It will follow along to the prescribed ending regardless of how well motivated the characters seem to be along the way and these characters are not motivated at all. In fact, there was plenty of motivation away from the prescribed ending, yet somehow it gets there.

The background story with the friend meeting a woman his mom has found for him with conflict in the form of a boorish American friend who convinces him the woman is being forced by her mother that is eventually resolved is a better motivated story than the main one and it's not much more than a few facts.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Planetary excursions

Google Mars!

A false color (by elevation) Mars including markers for the rovers and various landmarks. Perfect for when exploring Earth seems just a little too close to home. Also excellent for when you are planing your next hike on Mars (scroll to the very bottom).

Mister Blank

Mister Blank Exhaustive Collection by Christopher J. Hicks (who for some reason is only mentioned on the copyright page and on some notes in the back but not on the cover) is a most exceptional comic book. Every time I go back to it, I've forgotten that it's actually only black and white. There is no way someone pulled off that much contrast and character with a few bold lines and a bucket of black, but he does. In short, the art is nothing short of phenomenal.

But art isn't everything, there has to be a story! He delivers there too. A quick introduction to our everyman character Samuel Smith, his dead end job, and the love of his life, then a head first dive into action. Quite literally. Once started, this roller coaster ride keeps on rampaging for another 300+ pages of pure enjoyment.

Everyman Sam Smith has a boring but livable life. He has a great dog and a job that pays the bills but can't quite get to asking out his would-be girlfriend. One day after staying late he spots something that just doesn't seem right. No one else is around so if someone is going to do something about it, it is going to be him. So he does.

With the help of the woman he can't quite ask out, his clone made of secret goo, a mime and a few other great characters, he figures out what exactly is wrong and, well, does something about it. All while worrying if his dog is okay.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

More free stuff

On Free Comic Book Day, my flatmate also got some comics. We didn't coordinate, so we didn't come away with 20 unique books, but there's still a few more to read. So I have.

First up, Last Blood. This book starts off with murky art, but it is underwater so that makes sense. But then when it exists the water, it is still dark and murky even in what should be bright sunlight during a summer day at the beach. The reproduction didn't help any since the art would be sharp on one page and blurry on the next. Maybe if I was part of the "everyone" who likes zombie stories I would love it anyway, but I'm not.

Next Salvador/Hunter's Moon flip book. Some being falls from the sky. It's mysterious, but not quite curious enough. Powerful man gets stuck with his kid for the weekend, but his girlfriend doesn't want to go on his little camping trip anyway so the kid gets stuck with it. He's not excited either. It stops before any conflict that might serve as a hook, though it tries to hint at some with the cover picture.

Then there's Jack the Lantern. This just served to confuse me. There's a bunch of demons running around that may or may not be just inside this guy's head, but they seem to have bad consequences for other people. At the end of the piece the reader meets a demon with a silly bit of training and his grotesquely drawn sister who must be the actual bad guys for the story.

Next Worlds of Aspen 2. This is teasing 4 different books, the third selection is the sequel to the first selection. There's something fundamentally wrong about marketing the books together like this. It's all fluffy fantasy with pretty pictures and bright colors. My flatmate liked this best, particularly Soulfire and particularly not Fathom. Which is too bad because Fathom seems to be on endless sale at Milehigh Comics.

Also Justice League of America. This hops through time, generally in mid-sentence, made confusing by the presence of ads. I'm not exactly used to a comic with ads in it and wasn't sure if they signaled the start of something new or just broke up the story so it wasn't as pleasant to read. When the scene changes drastically because there's been a time jump, this is even less clear. Overall this seemed to be a summary of sorts alluding to a dozen different stories that I felt like I was supposed to know already from having read the hundreds of books that make them up. And Batman was in moments brawn and no brain followed by being asked to be the detective anyway which I just can't abide by.

Finally there's Viper Comics Presents 2. This is decidedly the best in the bunch. The first Sasquatch story seems to know how to just have fun, though they second one has... problems. The rest didn't really capture my attention except for a vague offended feeling for the Underworld Railroad.

The Masterplan

No, not my master plan. Obscurity is still the first defense against plans thwarted, so I won't me mentioning mine. This is the book The Masterplan by Scott Mills which is part of my Top Shelf sale loot.

This is the story of how one man plans to save the universe from its eventual cold death. He will even get to see the results of his plan due to a series of fortuitous events. However, since very little happened beyond the bare bones action, it is difficult to say anything descriptive that isn't a spoiler.

The pacing of this comic is very slow. This could go unnoticed if the art were mesmerising, but it isn't. Whole pages are given over to some magnificent scene or other, but it never exceeds the detail of a thumbnail sketch. And the shapes of the people... when the action calls for running, the people put their best foot forward for a power walk. The expressions they wear are virtually unchanging, but that is all the level of detail and accuracy of line can achieve.

Also, the science is very silly. This isn't often noted in science fiction, but it does claim to be "in the grand tradition of" a list including Stephen Hawking on the back.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Old comic strips in new spaces

Can we please, please, please stop having Peanuts reruns in the newspapers? I know it's all well loved and generally timeless, but these are newspapers. The space should be given over to something that is actually new. Peanuts has already had its time in the sun and every few months is closer to being published in its entirety in book form. Should people want to read Peanuts, they are quite able to do so, start to finish. The space should be used to allow something new to be seen. If it is good, it will stay. If bad, it will once again make room for something new, but at least it hadn't already been published.

I miss Mother Goose and Grimm. I miss Rose is Rose. I miss things that aren't being written anymore like Boondocks and Calvin and Hobbes, but it is right that they no longer have space in the newspaper. But then there is Peanuts. Nothing published in that space cannot be found elsewhere and already dusty, it should also no longer have a space.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stick figures!

It's really quite amazing how much one can do just with stick figures. They can be so full of personality even though they're just a few often dimensionless lines. It's all in where you put the lines.

Joel Priddy's got some brilliant stick figures. He's perfectly capable of something more, but sometimes less is more. And not just as a Unix joke.

xkcd also occasionally shows off something more than stick figures but has so much fun with them there's really no need.

I was trying to draw the panel I wanted for my comics. It seems I still can't draw humans, so in giving up, I started drawing it with cats, which I'm much more practiced with.

Well, okay, the one with the Etch-a-Sketch could use a little help. But then I started doodling the stick figures.

Wow. They sure are fun. A little silly, a little bit of the look of Journey to the End of the World to them, not that that was the attempt. Even with them I tend to fiddle with them after they're done.

I found some new stick figures which are at Not Available Comics. I haven't determined if they stick figures are because he can, like those above, or because he needs to, like me, but they still have a bit of fun.

So that was the point, to tell about the new stick figures I found, but I also really wanted to share how much fun it is to do your own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where's that cuckoo's nest?

You have to watch out for political cartoonists. They took down Boss Tweed and they'll go after any other corruption they might perceive. Obviously, you've got to watch Ted Rall.

Maybe they just had so many phones to tap that they had to send the inept guys off on the ridiculous tasks? And this presumably isn't even part of the warrantless wiretapping since it was by the NYPD rather than anyone at a federal level.

Letters from Iwo Jima

This evening I went to another movie presented for a local history class but open to the community. Tonight they had Letters from Iwo Jima for the class as well as the screenwriter, Iris Yamashita, on hand to introduce it and answer questions afterwards. I have still not seen the movie to which this is the companion film.

The film work is odd. Of course, using color to starkly differentiate one environment from another is one of the first things that was done when color was new (as in the Wizard of Oz), but this is not exactly that sort of thing. It is done more like the manner in which the eye operates in that the color fades away as things become dark, with the bright red of a flag the last to go. At night or in the caves the color almost completely vanishes. Then the battle comes closer and a sudden flash fills the screen with reds and yellows for a moment.

It is an interesting way to treat a film.

This moment of the war finds two leaders, including the general, who have had some experience in the country that they are fighting. At first the film seems to be glorifying their somewhat unstereotypical outlook, or at least making these men who have American influence seem somehow more sensible for it. By the end of the film, though, they have found the same honor as their compatriots and there is most definitely nothing sensible about anything. One man even survives. He is no better or worse for it, this is just so.

We may not understand suicide over fighting a losing battle. I certainly couldn't. It seems to me that if you're going to fight a war, you're just helping out the enemy by this sort of honor. By her comments during the question and answer, the screenwriter also does not agree with this honor. However, the movie she has put together does not truly make the judgement call. In many ways, on this point, you bring from it what you take into it, a very amazing accomplishment.

The point is not who is wrong or right. The point is that with all the differences, they really are all people with the same thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams when you get down to the meat of it. Those on the island all faced death in different ways based on their different influences, but in the end they (nearly) all died. They had jobs and loved ones and even goodness and fears, each one a precious life lost. Lost for what?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pinky & Stinky

I took advantage of a recent sale at Top Shelf and the loot included Stinky & Pinky by James Kochalka.

This is the story of two pigs who will be the first pigs to Pluto! Unfortunately they crash landed on the moon long before they got there. Poor little pigs.

The crash is just their first hardship as they meet the astronauts that work on the moon and the moon men that live below the surface. But because they are cute and brave they are able to win against adversity with a happy conclusion (for now).

This is a darling bit of candy in comic book form. The lines are simple and bold forming into expressive images in navy blue and white. Background and foreground objects are captured without any shading yet are still easily recognized even when the lighting of the environment changes. I am impressed with how easily the simple art captures each scene.

The story is light and fun. Meant only to entertain and it fulfills that purpose beautifully. I enjoyed it from start to finish.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Slowing down

It seems that Mushishi volume 2 is not on store shelves yet even though it should be two weeks old by now. If you click that link you might notice that this is because it is now on a six month schedule instead of a three month schedule...


I suppose it actually comes out every eight to ten months (depending on extras) in Japan but they already have eight volumes of Mushishi goodness and we only have one so it's hard not to be jealous.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bipolar intelligence disorder

I went ahead and clicked on a scans daily link from Journalista today...

I thought I didn't care for the various team things with Superman and Batman because I primarily only like Batman in the first place and probably only a select group of those. Batman is just not a team player so him getting stuck into a team is just conflicting to his character. However, in this outtake of one story we see deeper problems with Batman.

I was about to accept that it might just be conflicting with my idea of the character, a trap all too easy to fall into. Really, it's conflicting to character in general.

The Batman in this series of panels is a brutish thug. He's all about the mindless violence and in an unincluded panel quite randomly hits someone when any need for violence has passed. He is still asked to be the brilliant detective in moments, but it must all come down to instinct because the rest of the time he seems to be a cringing and brutish animal.

I'll stick to stories with a calmer, more centered if still a bit mad, Batman in them. At least his level of intelligence doesn't usually swing wildly to the extremes of the general populace.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Picking through the remains.

Got a couple of the free comics read that Saturday and the rest this Saturday. Probably the longest time they've been allowed to sit before becoming read.

Bongo comics brings the story of Bart learning not to use his imagination while Drawn and Quarterly let's Linda Barry encourage everyone to let their imaginations roam even in the everyday. One of these was much better than the other.

The comic guy was recommending the Dark Horse sampler. Maybe he remembered I'd asked him what sort of science fiction comics there might be ages ago? The three stories seem to be action driven. Maybe the last one is for Mad Max fans, but the second one is a science fiction complete with diner called "Asimov's". It also ends on a fairly grotesque piece of art so the superhero team, the maybe I Robot-ish thing, and the post-apocalyptic violence fest were all a bust.

Picked up Oni Press' Whiteout and an old one I didn't get in 2004 with the same author, Everest, Facing the Goddess. Both stories look like they might be a good read. The other side of the old one, Love Fights, is a bit making fun of superheros and I just can't relate.

Went ahead and got another old one, Free Scott Pilgrim, from Oni Press last year. After all everyone raves about it. I just don't get it. Someone will have to explain it. Remember to use small words.

Unseen Peanuts was Peanuts. It's aimed at the collector who already has a few books to see that there really is a reason to get the books which will eventually be the complete run.

The Train Was Bang On Time seems to take your usually straightforward Western setting and some somewhat straightforward feeling art and toss in shadowy organizations trying to solve an elaborate plot and toss out a few wild suspects to get you started suspecting everyone. Or was it the shadowy organization that did the elaborate plot? Maybe they were just one of the wild suspects, I really wasn't sure. Neither story nor art set easy with me, but it might be an okay read.

Finally the Virgin sampler, which was actually where I started. It starts with a retelling of the Ramayan which seems like a sensible way to plunge the reader into the Indian mythos that Virgin comics draw from. I should read it sometime when I'm less tired, though, as I wasn't ready for the vocabulary lesson. I was awake enough to realize the blue skinned guy was a god, but I'm sure even that would throw a few people. Then there's a fairly cheesy bit of levitation.

After that there's a fairly cheesy piece of, um, co-founder of the Eurythmics imagination? But it might just be my kind of cheese. What's with baloo? Then if finishes off with some skinny woman wearing streams of fire, apparently. The good guys are in red and the bad guys are in blue. Definitely skip that. But I think I will look into Walk In.

BAM! the Lego way.

Lego's got a gun...
Lego's got a gun...
The whole world's come undone...
Because Lego's got a gun.

Actually, that's quite a big gun, isn't it?

I can't say that's a change for the better.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Free Comics!

It's Free Comic Book Day and it's worldwide. Over at the site that tells you all about it, there's information on what could be there (provided your shop, like mine, likes to give you the choice of everything available) and where "there" is if you need help finding a shop in the first place.

Everyone is having events. It'll all be dreadfully crowded. So, go and have fun!

So you want to encrypt your DVD.

When a DVD publisher is preparing a DVD, one question that comes up is whether to encrypt it. This is an expensive process that doesn't add any value to the consumer. While most eventually do decide to encrypt, not all do.

The aim is to stop piracy. Pirates come in a variety of sorts. Unfortunately one of those sorts is organizations who find they can make a lot of money pirating things. They're capable of hiring hackers to find a way around the encryption (if there isn't something already published) and they have enough motivation to make this really a very small barrier.

Pirates also come in small groups or individuals that, for whatever reason, like to provide free movies on the net. They may not have any expertise, but add in one person who thinks it's fun to defeat encryption and they're quickly off to the races.

Encryption also affects consumers. Some consumers who are perfectly capable of watching unencrypted DVDs do not have the means to watch encrypted DVDs everywhere they might like to. This is usually, but not limited to, Linux users who at least sometimes want to watch a movie on their computer. It's a fairly small subset of consumers. Once these users were generally computer savvy enough to find whatever software they needed, even if it was hosted in Scandinavia. However as Linux flavors become very user friendly there are more users who may not be able to figure it out. For these people encryption can be a very large barrier.

Looking at that, I can see why someone would choose not to bother. Providing little to no barrier to the pirates you wish to stop while providing a large barrier to some small subset of consumers doesn't sound like a good idea. So why do the majority go for it?

Incidentally, all this reminds me of the telephone companies trying to charge for tone dialing. They had to put in devices to block people from using tones instead of pulses so they could charge for the faster tone dialing. Without the devices, they could charge for tone dialing but couldn't actually keep anyone not paying for it from using it. When you look at it from the standpoint of what is actually achieved, adding encryption seems a lot like paying to make sure the consumer can't quite do all they could do if nothing were added. Just like the telephone companies were doing. It didn't last long.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Anyone for tennis?

I'm not certain why this is a big story now. There seems to be a game on wherein someone tries to figure out the smallest program required to defeat the encryption DVD makers are putting on their DVDs. Near as I can remember, the one for HD DVD came out the week before the DVDs. Maybe that was a different encryption. Even then it was just one more piece of a very old story.

So someone at Digg started taking down the links to the actual code and users reacted by making sure everything was about a small bit of hex code. In the current round, the users have won over the threatened lawsuits.

And now for the bit of the LA Times story (User rebellion at unearths a can of worms, May 3, 2007) that sets me off:

That stance perplexed movie studio executives, who wondered how Rose could allow the code to be posted but block links to pirated versions of Photoshop.
"What the heck is the difference?" said Alan E. Bell, executive vice president and chief technical officer for Paramount Pictures. "These are the very profound issues that are just as important as the ones the users of voiced in their e-mails."

I really couldn't say how profound those emails were, but I know how profound this isn't. What is the difference? Well, let's say I plop down on the couch to watch a legal (and usually encrypted) DVD on my TV. There doesn't seem to be anything anyone could complain about in that, right?

But you don't see what went into being able to watch that movie. You see, the TV is a computer with an All-in-Wonder card and it runs Linux. Sure, it gets ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, 3 PBS stations, and a UHF station that plays lots of great old series. It has all the hardware and software to play a DVD except for one thing. The encryption.

In order to sit on my couch and watch a DVD on my TV I had to download software from something called the Penguin Liberation Front. They host software that contains yesterday's bad word in this whole discussion, "DeCSS" and they don't do it in the USA. Its uses include pirating DVDs. Its usual use is individual people watching legal DVDs.

So what's the difference? With a link to pirated Photoshop, I can illegally use Photoshop. With a link to encryption circumventing software, I can watch a legal DVD on my TV. One is not fair use, the other is. That's a big difference.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Increadable Shrinking Paper

Ah Sunday. Time to retrieve the great big newspaper from the doorstep.

And it seems to be shrinking. It total, it's about the same, it's just the bits I like the best that keep getting pared down. Two weeks ago it was the Current that shrank and reverted to being called Opinion. The name doesn't matter, but the content reduction does.

I guess it's not an exciting section to some, but it is the section that sits down and thinks about the news rather than just reacting that there was news. If it bleeds, it rarely leads this section no matter how many front pages it covers. Still, it is a very important part and for me a central part of being a newspaper.

My parents didn't get the LA Times, but they always got the local. The section to attract my attention after the comics were those last two pages in the first section. They had silly commentary and serious commentary. They had world commentary and local commentary. Whatever they had, it was thinking people trying to express what they thought and why they thought it. So in high school when I discovered the grand spread that was the comics pages of the LA Times (Wasn't that section D? Why's it C now?), the most natural thing was to pick up the front section and turn it to the back few pages too.

So watching the Sunday section shrink is, for me, a death toll to the paper. Others will be happy so long as they have the sport page. They are welcome to mine. I just don't ever want to lose the pages and section of commentary.

Climbing the walls

For junk you absolutely don't need but sure do want, there seems to be no better place than ThinkGeek. Today I totally want some acrobots. Oh, the things I could make them do while gathering dust!

Not so thrilled with the sonic screwdriver, though. Sure, we don't expect it to be quite the universal screwdriver that it's been since the second Doctor pulled it from his pocket saying, "I think I'll use this." But how about a "nub" that turns a Phillips, at least? I'm fairly certain the "real" thing has never written a secret message in UV ink. Oh well, it probably isn't built strong enough to go twisting off case screws.

linearly speaking

Apparently the form of a western story is a line while the form of an eastern story is a spiral. Perhaps this is what played into Tokyopop's (silly) decision to reorder the stories in Kino no Tabi, Kino's Journey. Originally they didn't start at the beginning as defined by the order of happening. The anime, which did not exist first but was in English first, keeps a non-linear order though has some reordering in the name of rendering the book stories into episodes.

In the original and in the anime, we jump right in and meet the characters as they are and as they will be in most stories. There is Kino and there is Hermes and they are traveling through a world not much unlike our own. This is what is most important for us to know in the setup of the stories so this is what we learn first. Later we find out who the traveler is and how she got there. The requirements of English to place a noun in each sentence does tend to make one part of that less of a surprise while the anime could get away with it.

Someday I'll have to write about how absolutely brilliant Kino no Tabi is, but now my goal is actually the shape of story telling.

Once in English class we were told to write a story in class. It was to be set in the school and when we were done, each story would be handed around the class for our classmates to write comments. Being who I am, absurd and cat crazed, I wrote about a cat abandoned on the north field learning to fend for herself. But that wasn't the important part of the story. The important part was that my character was confused and lost and needing to learn quickly or die so that's what I started with. Around the third paragraph I mentioned she was a cat.

It was a very conscious decision to describe the character's confusion before her species. I wanted my poor captive readers to know what the character was feeling before deciding that, well, actually, they're dog people and just can't relate to a cat or whatever else might hinder just knowing the character.

The class was pretty evenly divided about the story. Half of them hated it. They had no idea what was happening, many of them had missed the sentence starting the third paragraph "To a cat like Marcy...". They didn't know the character was a cat. Some even expressed anger at the way I had chosen to tell my story. The other half thought it was grand and creative and a nice break from the rest of the stories. Though some of those mentioned that I should tell my reader that the character is a cat right at the start.

But that was the whole point. Firmly throw the reader into the shoes, or rather paws, of someone entirely different from themselves. Later I would let them know it, but first just feel it. It may not be linear, but it is what was required. This was the one thing I would not change about the story even though it was the one thing others most thought needed changed.

The linear progression does not always serve the story. The chronological ordering of facts may not reveal them in good story order. Story elements should be ordered in a way that serves the story, not in a way that serves the time line. Tokyopop should not have gone and reordered the stories in Kino no Tabi either. That reordering does not serve the story.

I've forgotten now what my partner/rival in crime did with his story. After I declared I would write mine about a cat he said his would be a dog. It was probably a demon dog romping through our open hallways. This is someone who had tapes of all the songs of some local band whose biggest song was something gruesome about puppies that played very well on Doctor Demento. He also felt road rage shootings should be legal, an assertion that was undaunted by the fact that he'd be one of the first victims. No, he wasn't suicidal, just enjoying high school. High school really was a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pick me! Pick me!

The Eisner nominations are up. There's some good stuff in there, especially The Preposterous Adventures of Ironhide Tom. Apparently it's "relatively unknown". Must have been someone not carrying everything on Free Comic Book Day last year. It certainly topped my list for "must grab", followed by Jean, and didn't take long to get read and foisted under a number of other noses. Still, when confronted with what to recommend based on liking Ironhide Tom, the comics guys were somewhat at a loss.

Poor Tom is up against the Batman/Spirit issue, though. Oh dear, oh dear. I'm still cheering for Tom!

Also up is Moomin, which I still haven't got around to checking out. My poor comics budget is running so low.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Costs of equality

The other thing the LA Times brought to my door last Sunday (April 8th Current, The ERA: still a bad idea) was an old but often repeated argument against the Equal Rights Amendment that I have been vaguely aware of but never actually sat down and read. Apparently one of the problems with the ERA is that in giving greater rights it also gives greater responsibility. Certain unequal protections given to women would be lost in gaining equal opportunity.

Specific examples of these protections were given:

The amendment would require women to be drafted into military combat any time men were conscripted, abolish the presumption that the husband should support his wife and take away Social Security benefits for wives and widows. It would also give federal courts and the federal government enormous new powers to reinterpret every law that makes a distinction based on gender, such as those related to marriage, divorce and alimony.
Oddly this doesn't bother me in the way it is intended to.

Take the draft. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't actually want to be drafted, but neither would my hypothetical brother. The thing is, I am unclear on why I should be protected from it while this brother is not. Either it is okay to draft both or neither. This drafting men only is just sitting on the fence trying not to decide.

I'm not sure where the presumption that a husband should support his wife gets women. Does this hold in a court of law? Can a woman married to a layabout sue him for not supporting the family? If she did, what would that get her in a land of communal property?

On to Social Security benefits for wives and widows. This is where I get bothered. A number of men out there are choosing to forgo career for family by being the ones to stay at home and keep house and kids tidy. Should the breadwinner in these families die, will the same benefits be available to the homemaker left to continue caring for the kids that would be available had that homemaker been female? If not, this seems like a rather drastic fault in the law. Sexual equality shouldn't always mean women getting what the men have. Sometimes the men should get what the women have.

Oh well, maybe the last bit will convince me. It does need some explaining. I can't help with the divorce and alimony part because as far as I know it's been a long time since alimony was automatically paid by the man to the woman. But the marriage part might just throw open the floodgates to gay marriage. Well, wider, anyway. I never figured out why that was worrying.

Of course, the new ERA with the same text and a new name should not be passed on the expired state votes of the old one, especially not on the rescinded votes. Amending the Constitution is a process that must not even have the appearance of impropriety.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Last weekend's LA Times brought news of more states refusing federal funding of sex-ed since it has too many strings attached. This brings a smile to my lips since it is a rejection of the willful ignorance that seems to be running amok. The problem is, you see, that they are not allowed to teach anything but abstinence should they accept these funds. Though the article is now archive only, it can be read here.

I found one quote particularly interesting:

"There are kids who don't want to know how to put on a condom, because they don't want to have sex," said Leslee J. Unruh, founder and president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation's largest network of abstinence educators. "So why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?"

Is this really the shape of the thinking? It's hard to think otherwise, but it seems so muddled.

Now, kids are very good at figuring out they need to know certain things. It is incredibly useful to know how water flows and they'll put hours into the experiments to figure it out. They aren't so good at knowing they need math. Plenty of them will claim they don't. Should we stop teaching them algebra because they don't want to know it? No one has been hurt by knowing algebra and not using it, plenty are hurt by not knowing it and needing it. No one has been hurt by simply knowing how to put on a condom, but should they need the knowledge and not have it the potential for hurt can be far more immediate than lack of algebra.

But let's go on. Why can't kids who want to abstain have equal time? There is nothing "equal time" about teaching abstinence only. It just isn't logically possible.

The article later points to a study by Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute that finds that teen pregnancy rates dropped 24% of which 14% is attributed to teens waiting longer to have sex while the rest is contraception. Perhaps there is some bias in not pointing out that that means 10% (a smaller amount) is attributable to contraception. There is not half so much bias as if someone took this to mean that abstinence only works. Clearly a complete program teaching both works better.

It is right and good to teach kids that abstinence is the only 100% safe way to handle sex. It is right and good to point out that there is nothing wrong with them to take this route. It is right and good to mention that their elders are expecting them to abstain. It is not right and good to suppose that they'll all just take your word for it. It is certainly bad to try to lie to them to try to trick them into doing as their elders desire.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

V for Vendetta

Some have suggested I don't like Moore's Watchmen because I have no appreciation for the subject matter of the satire. The reasoning is sound, they could very well be right. This earlier work has no such baggage.

Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta takes on politics, which should interest everyone because it affects every aspect of life especially the quality of that life.

The nuclear bombs have fallen around the world but have left at least one island of humanity to try to continue. The reasoning for leaving England may be silly (and the creators are quite willing to admit naivete), but it is only the fact that England was spared that is important to the backdrop of the story, why is just window dressing and neither is part of the story itself. In response to the pressures of trying to survive in a world laid waste, a powerful police state has grown up with no checks on itself.

As the story opens, this situation has been allowed to fester for years. We meet a criminal and the police but quickly find out who the real criminals are and that there is no police. And then we meet Guy Fawkes. For the Americans who aren't certain why we should "Remember, remember, the 5th of November," it will be explained. This image of a classic criminal is V out to do what he can to save England from itself. And blow up Parliament.

Thus it starts. As V continues with his vendetta, England's oppressive government will try to cope with this new menace it can't see even though it thinks it can see everything. We find out more about how it got to be the way it is as the saved girl tells her history. This sharply contrasts with only ever finding out the snippets of V's life that others can discover.

Musings on the basic nature of freedom, change, government, and more. It's all covered in here wrapped smartly in an interesting story. Altogether, an amazing read.

Apparently there's a movie too.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


I have made my way through the episodes of the first season of the BBC's Torchwood. The first impression was muddled a bit by the thought that the con man spouting off about the importance of the rules basically for their own sake just doesn't wash. The last was wondering why that particular hand could be valued so highly. Divorced of any knowledge of the new Doctor Who series it spins off from, its an okay series if highly silly. Fun to watch, but nothing to crave.

In between I mostly wondered why "adult" has to mean full of sex (or violence). Why does "mature" mean running about with hormones blazing? Do we grow up to become controlled by the sloshing chemicals? Does the evolutionary urge to procreate become such an all encompassing bit of our lives? I prefer it when "adult" and "mature" mean something more along the lines of "complicated", "sophisticated", maybe even with a little "comment on society".

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crippling Depression

We try not to think too hard about what it says about an institution that the best comic drawn by members of the student body is called Crippling Depression. That PHD guy doesn't count, he was already doing that before he got here.

Now that the web site is back, we can relive every strip. Many of the jokes can be understood by anyone at a tech school with a Ratio. A few more can be understood by those at the right tech school, and a little more if under the right reign. To get almost all the jokes you probably had to be a in their circle of friends going to Caltech under Baltimore's reign. Ultimately the audience was just the three guys doing it, but the rest could get something out of it too.

Now they are graduated and after rotating out one guy, they've gone from working for Arby's coupons to working for free with a new comic called Pass Fail Studios. They've also changed their content to increase their audience. Now instead of making fun of particular professors, classes, TAs, and "traditions" they are making fun of "mainstream" superheros. According to their interview with the California Tech (pg. 5), this means the audience now includes "the three guys working at Comics Factory". That may be so, but the rest will probably get something out of it too.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Jazz Singer

Last night I saw The Jazz Singer for the first time. That's right, the first talkie, at least for the general public and feature length. An interesting movie. Not sure where I'd gotten the impression that they did the "follow the bouncing ball" thing in it. (They don't.) There is blackface, though.

The movie was shown as part of a class but open to general viewing. The professor started off warning about the pacing of silent films since this is still largely in the mode of a silent film except for the singing interludes. I've only seen a few silent films, but somehow I'd never noticed bad pacing in them. It just never bothered me to have to stop and read half the dialog while the other half remained only mimed. Yes, even the 5th time through that movie about how Juliet Gordon Lowe started the Girl Scouts. (It's fun backwards, too.)

The Jazz Singer is more than just the first talkie. It is primarily about the life of a man, the son of immigrants, torn between the traditions he is brought up in and expected to continue and the opportunities that abound in the new world. With a father who refuses to understand the boy's hopes and dreams and a mother who gives what little support she can, the semi-autobiographical film tells a tale of conflicting emotions and responsibilities of old and new worlds that lead to the climax.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

To allow downloads or not to allow downloads?

The whole downloading issue is a tricky question. CBS and Viacom were the same company two years ago, now they come down on somewhat different sides of the issue. CBS wants to use YouTube to gain exposure for its programs, Viacom wants to sue YouTube for the exposure the users insist on giving its programs. Which one is right? It probably depends on where you are standing at the moment and how far into the future you look. My first thought about the whole Viacom suing Google thing is actually that it's scary that between an entertainment giant and a search engine, the first is the underdog.

Anyway, one man asks downloaders to please buy his comic instead. Now I've seen a few of those downloader types since I've been known to hang out in a manga scanlation channel on IRC. There are a lot of different kinds of downloaders. The music business thinks of every downloader as lost revenue but the rest who can look at it more completely notice that there's a give and take.

I see people who download comics because they are very expensive for them. Some of these are people who actually can afford their habit, they just can't quite get their head around what their own priorities are and may actually represent lost revenue. Some of them have a genuine case about the worth of a product and what they actually pay for it. At least one has to face that the peso just isn't that strong against the dollar and shipping just isn't cheap so the real cost of a comic is more like four times what it says on the cover. Apparently there's a whole world out there.

I see people who download because they compulsively collect. They have gigs and gigs of stuff they'll never read but it was there and they grabbed it. This is not lost revenue. But they do read some of it and have been known to buy it when they like it. This is revenue gained.

I see people who want to try it out first. They heard of something new and are interested but want to know more. Some would have brought it to try, but I doubt this is a significant number. Mostly, to get something into these hands it has to be free. And mostly they won't be interested enough to buy it, but sometimes they are. This is more revenue gained.

I see people who think it's their right to be able to download everything under the sun. They like to insult people allowing downloads if they know the provider has something they want but won't give it to them. They don't see a difference between what can be purchased around the corner and what can be purchased from overseas and can't even be read in that form. (Both are illegal to download.) They get kick/banned when they express their "rights". They may or may not be lost revenue.

Mostly I see the guy who downloads because it's in English rather than "scribbles". Just the nature of the beast.

I have been known to download a few things. Even stuff originally in English. It has generally lead to me buying stuff. Ultimately the fact that I buy any comics at all can be traced back to a subbed copy of Tenchi's Universe episode 5 on Usenet. Later viewings of a few dubbed episodes show it was lucky it was subbed because Tenchi is just annoying dubbed. This episode finally got me to look at anime, which was mostly downloaded. Now I buy anime. The anime lead to manga. The manga got licensed, so I went to the shop to buy it too. I went ahead and looked at the Batman on the way past to the manga, an action helped on by seeing (and being quite impressed by) the animated series (watched for the price of seeing ads) and the first movie from the early 1990s. I finally read my sister's Sandman volumes and noticed maybe there's more than Batman on those shelves. There's a fair bit of gained revenue there.

Meanwhile poor Tenchi's Universe, the catalyst, has gotten no love. I've never bought any of it. I actually haven't even seen more than a few episodes.

Most downloads don't lead to anything, especially not as much as that one particular download. But a few do. I have all of Pretear which was originally downloaded. There was some disappointment that the editing by the fans was higher quality than that by the company making money from it. I never actually read my downloaded Monster, the result of reading and loving 20th Century Boys (downloaded), because I found out soon after it was licensed and would be out in October. Which turned out to be February over a year later, but I waited all the same. The list goes on.

Sometimes I've watched the anime but purchased the manga. I don't think it's ever gone the other way. Sometimes the artist or writer will catch my attention more than the actual piece I am reading, so I go searching for (and buy) other things that that artist or writer has done. In these cases someone benefited, but not the people on the exact thing that was downloaded.

There probably is no right answer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Award winning

No, not me. I'm still talking to a vacuum although one or two footsteps have been left to say otherwise. One of those footsteps mentioned I was poo-pooing an award winning series. An Eisner Award winner, in fact, which does seem to be considered the most prestigious one around for comics. Okay, he actually mentioned Hall-of-Fame, but I'm about to go on about awards.

I don't actually put much stock in being "award winning" in that I don't look at it as much higher than just being nominated for the award. The usual lip service is, "It's an honor just to be nominated!" Well, here's why that may actually be true.

Those few times I've taken the time to look at the pool of nominations (and this event has not happened a statistically significant number of times), I have found that about half of them were genuinely interesting to me. The rest I could take or leave. A few I'd even prefer to leave. When the actual award comes around, as often as not it comes from the part of the pool I don't care so much about.

Let's face it, if you're giving an award to a comic (book, movie, pinwheel) and you're looking at a pool of six of which three are fairly evenly matched and universally appealing, those three will get a large number of votes that are split fairly evenly over them. If one of the others is very appealing to some small group, it may well have more votes and win the award.

Winning isn't everything but getting the nomination shows it may be worth looking at. However, tastes differ and it may be worth putting down after looking at it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Batman and The Spirit

I recently found myself in the position to read the recent "floppy" where Batman meets The Spirit. As one ignorant of so much of comics, I can only assume by the tone of this that usually these two live in totally different worlds making their meeting very unusual. So, of course, it's a gimmick. It's out to launch the new series of The Spirit with maybe a little help from newly introduced Batman fans, and there really are a lot of Batman fans. Also Loeb fans since a lot of the Batman fans who read nothing else have read the books by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb.

So as one of the intended audience, I've got to say it's a sensible thing to try to introduce Batman fans to The Spirit. We like Batman because he's only human, but also because he's the Detective. He's thinking about the clues and anticipating. We may like him dark, but we're still not ready for the total antihero and we like the strict moral code as well. He's just sweeping the streets, someone else has to be judge and jury.

As such, The Spirit is also our kind of hero. We see he's out of a detecting tradition as well. He's only human, indeed more of an everyman than the eccentric billionaire. An all around good guy. The issue really makes a lot of effort to point out the parallels between the two heroes. It should be enough to get a few of my fellow only Batman fans to look at more, if we ever get to looking past the books of collected issues to the actual issues, although The Spirit doesn't really get any characterization in this one and the Batman we know, of course, has a lot of character.

It does end on the wrong foot for me, but I think most people aren't maniac anti-superman weirdos like I am. Not even among the only Batman crowd.

Meanwhile Darwyn Cooke's art... the man knows how to draw. I want to see more of that man's work. The man really knows how to draw. Most people probably already knew that since he's been showing off that talent for years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wanted for publishing with intent to be scarce.

Every once in a while I wonder what it would take to own a copy of Project: Telstar, an award winning anthology from AdHouse Books (and including some work by Joel Priddy). Right now it looks like $90 can get you this $17 book, but if that falls through there's a couple more at $400. This just leads me to wonder why AdHouse does these with the intent of only publishing a few. I wonder who it is supposed to benefit. This book isn't expensive at the cover price with nearly 200 pages and fancy inks.

Following Project: Telstar, there has been Project: Superior (sold out) and Project: Romantic (available, for now). So who does it benefit that these are scarce? Near as I can tell, it doesn't benefit the artists who did the work or the publisher who took the chance. As the price of the books goes up, they're getting nothing from it. Only collectors are making money and that just doesn't seem like the people who should be benefiting. But then I buy a book to sit on the couch with it and read it, not to keep it in a special bag for five years when the publisher has decided not to print more and sell it off for as high as some poor buyer might go.

Perhaps it was to drive the collectible status of the later ones? Each comes in a limited edition hardcover version as well (like the paperbacks aren't limited) and the numbers on those have been going up. Only 100 for Telstar, 200 for Superior, 500 for Romantic were printed. And those of us who are too late wanting the robot one are just out of luck.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

300 is out

The Beat would seem to be trying to convince me (not personally, just as part of the audience) to go see 300 for the beefcake. I'm not going to go see 300 just for beefcake. Of which there is a lot. Wow, look at all those leather loin cloth clad fellows just rippling with muscles... Where was I?

Oh, yes. I'm not going to go see a movie just to see beefcake.

Dead at #25

The LA Times had a very nice guest editorial about Captain America on Friday that I want to share. It's a very cool summary of the history of the character and how the history of the country (back when it was the news) has shaped this character.

Is Marvel really saying that the USA has died? Are they right? Maybe, but there's probably still time for us to redeem ourselves and remember that war is not, in fact, peace and far reaching breaches of civil liberties are not the actions of freedom lovers. But read the editorial, it's much better.

LA Times funny pages

The LA Times has, um, enhanced the Kid's Reading Room by cutting it from the Monday-Friday pages and making it Sunday only. But Sunday is expanded! It's enhanced!

Of course, this page used to be the third page with comics, ones that kids (and a few adults) can relate to. Now I didn't have a Kid's Reading Room when I was little, but it did have six of the comics that kids tend to cut their teeth on and it did have something more for when they felt ready to read something longer. The jokes were dreadful, of course. All the same ones that we told on the playground, but they were sent in by kids who had just learned of this glorious new pun and wanted to share it. Sometimes it is fun to remember when the joke wasn't quite so familiar.

Now, in reducing this once fabled comics section just a little bit more, a couple comics had to go. One choice wasn't well made so one has already returned, but the rest would seem to be gone and they weren't really the bottom of the barrel for the most part. Missing: Heathcliff, Mr. Boffo, Mallard Fillmore, Candorville, and the empty space resulting from not shrinking Doonesbury. Returned: La Cucaracha. I'll allow the empty space, but Candorville?

I do have to praise the removal of Mallard Fillmore, though. No longer will I be subjected to, "This bit of conventional wisdom you suspect is true has been shown to be true! (* USA Today article! [A rag of note!]) Now don't you feel stupid, liberal scum?" I'm not sure that I'm the one who should feel stupid for repeatedly trying to challenge liberal world views and failing. But the rest of them it is sad to see go. I often wondered what conservatives (well, Republicans, more like) had done to deserve being represented by this one. At least there was (and still is) the great Prickly City to redeem it a little. Both came on in an effort to balance of the comics page, so even this removal can be questioned.

The comics page should be returned to its former glory when one could spread it out on the table and see nothing but comics and still have more comics to read! It's still a long way to the NY Times' idea of a comics page. Slippery slope and all that. It's getting hard to be a print newspaper.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An Evil Kitty Dream

Where does he find these things? Over on YACB, the list of new books includes one called An Evil Kitty Dream by "Veronica". Being an evil kitty (a tautology, to be sure), I want to know more about it but all Google tells me is that it's a new library acquisition according to YACB.

He's also got hold of Shades of Gray Comics and Stories: Black & White Life by Jimmy Gownley. Which could be good. Many people are willing to say it is and some of them I agree with some of the time. It's a slice of life of teens growing up. So it could be good, or I could have grown too old and cynical which can become a problem when reading slice of (young) life. Not to say that I don't have a lot of room to grow even more old and cynical.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

taste warning

Word of warning about my picks: the company that lives by my taste barely gets by, at best. Apparently my taste is often eccentric. But I'll make picks anyway.

Jing, King of Bandits is still one of the best books Tokyopop has ever picked up. Not that they can be bothered to publish the last one of the second series. See? My tastes are odd.

Free Comic Book Day picks

Did I mention Free Comic Book Day was on May 5th? Okay then.

Well, their site also has summaries and artwork of the various comics. So I gotta look through it and figure out what I think I want to pick up.

Gold level sponsors:

Well, there's Bongo. Can one go wrong with Matt Groening? Perhaps, but I do own a couple Life in Hell collections.

Umbrella Academy/Zero Killer/Pantheon City: Interesting cover art. Sure, it's free.

Other than that, Disney stuff leaves me thinking "blah". I picked up the transformers a couple years back, boring. Tokyopop has always known how to make even stuff I already like sound uninteresting. Maybe the Legion of Super-heros in the 31st Century #1 can trump my dislike for these groups with my like for all things time travel. Besides, not all groups are bad.

Silver level sponsors:

There's no AdHouse offering, so no Priddy this year. I can continue to kick myself for not picking up that book three years ago with the stick figures on it, though.

Although the promise of "FCBD-only" stuff in Pirates vs. Ninjas doesn't sound the least bit attractive, Ape Entertainment's promise of "six new, all-original short stories" does. Why? Self containment. But that doesn't get you hooked on buying the next book like the first is trying to get you to do. If one or two of them is half as good as Priddy (and has a book out!) that won't mater, though. Arcana Studio's offering is also somewhat interesting, but somehow I start to wonder if there's a lot of women drawn for ogling older teen boys with the way they talk about it.

Something about Hunter's Moon/Salvador makes me want to pick it up in spite of the copy on it.

Family Guy/ Hack/Slash? Sure, maybe.

Lynda Berry Extravaganza... I used to read these in the Independent each week in high school and I remember quite liking some of them and kind of liking most. For a few years of college, I didn't flip through the Independent at all so didn't get her thing (or Life in Hell). Then I looked at it again and didn't like it at all.

Unseen Peanuts also leads to mixed feelings. I remember reading this comic first of the ones in the paper. I was five at the time and I also remember slowly learning letters at something like one a week so I'm not sure how I would have read it, but the memory does get hazy that long back. But since then I moved on from Peanuts. Not because it was so important to an English teacher I had in 5th and 6th grade (and couldn't stand) that he'd have a regular "radio show" for class that included reading out the day's Peanuts, although that couldn't have helped, I had already moved on even then. There was Outland to read.

First Second is offering The Train was Bang On Time and I've been hearing so much about how they're such a great publisher that I'm willing to try it out. Even though it's a preview of something bigger and not self contained.

The blurb for Comics Festival! is dropping some names that should be looked at if you haven't and I haven't yet.

Whiteout has been getting a lot of hype but none of it has triggered any of my interest yet.

Amelia Rules, Owly, and Buzzboy have all been around before and I've seen them and they were "blah". Which doesn't keep people from raving about the first two.

Now, Virgin Comics is a rather unique publisher, so their sampler might be quite interesting. And everyone loves Alex Ross cover art, even if he is a self admitted Superman fan.

I would definitely leave off the "how to draw" things. And there's what looks like a dreadful vampire thing. Viper Comics might have something interesting, but I'm not feeling it. Something called Wahoo Morris lists off some good company they'd like to keep, but who knows if they do. And there's various samplers of a page or two from a seemingly endless number of creators that one thinks could be interesting but never are. And still more things... too many.