Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Oeuvre

Way back in the stone age days of blogging - I'm talking spring of 2005 here - I decided to try my hand at a comic strip. It was going to be one of those slice-of-life observation strips of the kind done so well by Karen Ellis in her Planet Karen comics. (And you could spend a few hours very well reading her entire series.) Of course, since my cartooning skills are, shall we say, underdeveloped at best, I used an online program called Strip Generator from out of, I think, Slovenia. It looks like that site has turned into a thriving little community of creators, but when I stumbled upon it, it was a little no-English-spoken web backwater with fairly rudimentary cut-and-paste tools. Still, the work looked lots better than I could have done freehand, so I made some characters based on myself and my cronies and started distilling some social exchanges down to two-panel gags.

I only lasted about a half-dozen entries before something broke the spell/distracted me/discouraged me/whatever. Recently, I came across the original jpegs of the strips while looking through some old files, so, lucky followers, here's the He is a Thark Achive Edition of The League of Public Domain:

(click to embiggen)

There you have it. Perhaps it's just as well that this is all of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

The sermon was based on what he claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, "There's a Chaplain who never visited the front."

Both Joe Kubert and Kurt Vonnegut were veterans.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rebel without a Cos(play)

Nu,  I attended GeekGirl Con recently and have been seeing Halloween displays pop up in stores already, and so my thoughts naturally turned to masquerade, costumes, and cosplay. In pursuit of artistic integrity, I wrestle with certain issues when it comes to fancy dress, especially in the realm of superhero and other comics characters, based in what I look like.

First, here's a relatively superheroic shot (and I didn't pose for this with this blog post in mind: that's just how I stand naturally).

Okay, it's certainly not an eight-heads-high heroic figure, but enough to not embarrass myself in costume -- if I eschew the lean-mean or hypertrophic characters and go for someone stockier. In my younger days I could go for a pre-blue-fur Beast, or maybe a Kirby-stye Thing if I could figure out how to do the rocks.

Okay, but all right, Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my close-up:

Here's where it gets dicier. I usually wear glasses, but I can lose them for the costume, since I only need them to, like, see and stuff. I keep my head shaved; I could grow back a tonsure or Picard-fringe, but at this point, that's all you're going to get. And I wear a doorknocker beard that I probably wouldn't shave for casual cosplay.

So, within those restrictions, what are my best character choices for a costume? I mean it's not just the bald part - that's a fairly low bar, what with Lex Luthor and J'onn J'onzz and so on. It's the bald and bearded requirement that gives us trouble.

My RPG buddies all agree on the Loremaster character from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. I have to admit that I see a  resemblance in the face and even the expression. I could grow my beard out or get extensions, and I could even wear my glasses. But I think most people would just think I was a crappy Dumbledore; I would have to spend the whole time explaining the difference between Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, and I am not sure I want to go there.

Perhaps more widely known is Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. With a little Grecian Formula and perhaps some wax, we could be good to go with this. But I really want to go heroic, not villainous, and I'd like to avoid the whole racial stereotyping issue as well (although I guess later incarnations of Ming made him a lot less "Asiatic" and more generically alien). And if possible, I'd like to go with a comic book character.

My recent choice for profile pictures and avatars and such has been Vulko, the science adviser/prime minister/whatever to Aquaman and/or Atlantis (depending on which version of continuity currently holds sway in the DC multiverse). Once again, I think the resemblance is there; but Vulko is really not recognizable to anyone. Although cosplaying the sidekick to a superhero whose name has become the very definition of lame might be the height of po-mo irony, I'm not sure explaining that over and over would be much fun.

All right, here's a bona fide hero: Green Arrow. Specifically, the old Green Arrow from The Dark Knight Returns. The character is popular enough, even getting his own TV show now. Of course, DKR Oliver Queen just looks like an old one-armed hippie carrying a bow and arrow, and only the hardest-core comics fans will even get it.

Okay, let's quit fooling around: right now, the biggest name in the superhero arena with the general public is, of course, The Avengers. That's where we have to go: if you pick an Avenger, you can't go wrong, right? Now, if only there was a stocky, balding, bearded Avenger...

Oh, wait - there is! Doctor Druid!

Dr. Druid began his career in 1961 as Dr. Droom, and in those early days of Marvel Comics, when creatures like Fin Fang Foom and his ilk were around every corner, he was a run-of-the mill monster-hunter. Eventually, he realized that Dr. Droom was a stupid name and changed it Dr. Druid, which is slightly less (or maybe actually a little more) stupid. In the seventies, he started showing up as a guest character in The Hulk and Ghost Rider (Hey, they both had movies, too! And sequels!) and joining the mainstream superhero jamboree. He hit the big time and became an Avenger in 1987. He went on to a long career as B- or C-list hero, and then all kinds of Epic Events® started happening, and he stopped calling himself Doctor Druid and became just Druid, because apparently that's purer and spookier or whatever and who cares because he was killed. Until he comes back. Because that's the way continuity works these days.

I'm sorry, where was I? Oh yes - my costume. Dr. Druid FTW!

Of course, I'll still have to explain myself to everyone.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Notable quotable

I found this fragment in my files. I have no idea who said this, and I am sure I kept it for the Mike Sekowsky love at the end. Here it is:

Manhunter 2070 is the type of property that is really ripe for a revamp and reintroduction today, especially as a Vertigo or Wildstorm title. Starker is the kind of character I would love to see Grant Morrison or Mark Millar warp in their own inimitable styles. Unfortunately, I'm sure Manhunter 2070 is pretty far down on the list of "things to do" by most any creator nowadays. Which, I suppose, is a good thing - how does any artist nowadays follow up Mike Sekowsky?

Who indeed? Could it be.... I don't know... Buster Moody?

Too bad it's not real, and just part of the Relaunched series of wonderful speculations.

But I still wonder where that quote is from...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Two-buck luck

So, in the Value Village they have a wall of plastic-bagged toys for $1.99 each, each bag usually containing a handful of happy meal figures, Matchbox-type cars, and other odds-and-ends randomly tossed together; I've often perused the different collections with a half-thought to do some sort of art project, photo dioramas or stop-motion movies, highlighting the odd juxtapositions that come from this packaging method. I also check this wall out every time we hit the store because once in a while there is an overlooked gem in with the plastic dross; I have blogged about this phenomenon before. Today provided two Scores (that's VV talk) of this variety.

First, in a bag with a crappy banana-man giveaway from Orange Julius were these two guys:

The figures are not articulated at all, but they are way bigger than toy-soldier size. They caught my eye because the one looked to be from the Bronze Age or Classical Greece and the other from perhaps the Roman period, not eras usually associated with action figures.

When I got them home and had a chance to look at them more closely, I saw that the guy at top with the sickle (that's not a melted sword) and shield has JOSHUA written in tiny letters on his butt. You can see the horn hanging by his hip. The guy on the bottom with the spear and helmet also has a butt-stamp: it's harder to read, but I'm pretty sure it's JUDAS.

I am also pretty sure that these are (in)action figures of Joshua, Moses's apprentice and later leader of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, and Judas Maccabeus (or Judah Maccabee), the Jewish revolutionary and warrior of the second-century BCE whose exploits include the source of the Hanukkah holiday.

Coolness confirmed.

I did some searching for Joshua, Judas/Judah, Jewish warriors, Hebrew action figures, and similar search terms in various combinations, but came up with bupkis. Either these things are rare and obscure, or my google-fu is weak.

In any case, they're pretty fierce dudes. Check it out:

These guys are not messing around.

So, that find alone would have made for a successful trip to the wall, but as I was taking the bag, something on a lower peg caught my eye. And there, nestled in a bag along with a Pokemon, a pig, and one of those wooden ball-and-cup deals was this:


That's right - an actual 2009 Wizards of the Coast Beholder Eye Tyrant mini for Dungeons and Dragons. These bad boys go on eBay for like twenty bucks.

Not that I'd ever pay that much.

Not as long as there's Value Village.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

All about the minis

My RPG buddy John has said more than once that I am "all about the minis." And I guess I can't deny it: I have amassed a pretty significant collection of miniature figures for use in D&D or Pathfinder or whatnot.  As a DM, I have been accused of (and have not denied) designing encounters just so I could use some cool new minis. As I player, I have been known to replace the random and/or inappropriate figs the DM has placed on the board with (IMHO) better representations of the non-player characters. What can I tell you? Minis are fun.

So, I was visiting a friend recently and she asked if I wanted some minis. Of course I did - how can you have too many minis? - but I was nonplussed. My friend was a civilian, not a gamer, and had only played in one D&D campaign - a game I ran for three couples, all noobs. How did she come into minis that she was willing to give over to me?

She explained that she and a friend had gotten together to paint some minis as a project. I usually buy mass-produced colored plastic minis, but the tradition of buying lead, pewter, or other metal figures and painting your own goes way back and crosses over into war-gamers and history buffs in general. She and her pal had been approaching this merely from the crafting angle, wanting a precision painting exercise to work through.

I said sure, bring the minis on. Here's what she produced with a smile:

Wow. Little mice, dressed in politically incorrect, historically inaccurate, stereotypical Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving figures. I was stunned. Take a close look.

 Boy pilgrim mouse with blunderbuss.

 Girl pilgrim mouse with pumpkins.

Boy (?) Indian mouse with acorn.
(Raising the question of scale: 
if these creatures are mouse-sized, what's up with the pumpkins, 
and if they are human-sized, is that a gigantic acorn?)

I had to admit, the painting was done very well; nonetheless, these were not exactly the minis I was expecting. D&D usually features orcs, goblins, skeletons, zombies, and the like, and I'm not sure how these... characters... would fit in. I am so giving them to my current DM and demand that they show up in his grim 'n' gritty gameworld.

Actually, my friend did have another mini that she had painted which will fit fight in:

This murder of crows is totally cool. Notwithstanding the skeletal remains at the bottom, I can easily see using this as a swarm moving across the battle board.

So, thanks, Kristen!

Oh, and while we're on the subject of minis, here's the swag that was given out at Geek Girl Con for playing a D&D encounter:

That's an Ogre Pulverizer, don't you know.  I think I know who his next victims might be...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Geek Girl Con 2012

This weekend is Seattle was is (it's still going on) Geek Girl Con 2012.  I wrote about this event last year, when I attended the inaugural event; the con has already picked up a head of steam, grown in size and depth, and moved to a bigger and better location. GGC is ahead of the curve and well on its way to becoming a Big Thing®, and I'll be able to say I was there Back In The Day.

I can't go today and so could only attend yesterday's session, and I didn't even get to stay around for the Con-Cert, which included one of my favorite alt-nerd sister acts, The Doubleclicks, always one of the biggest draws (for me) at any geek event. But even though I could only attend for a brief time, I got the same great feeling of inclusion, community, and creativity that I felt last year - this really is a special kind of event and one of the few occasions that makes me wish I had a daughter, if only so I could bring her here.

I made a smartphone video again, this time focusing on the cosplay and crossplay. I hope Angela & Aubrey don't mind that I used their music for the background.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Funny, animals

My mind rolled around today to a somewhat geeky subject that I have been pondering on and off for some time, and that is the question of how to anthropomorphize animals in fiction. I'm not talking about literary style or descriptive language but of rules of internal logic.

This isn't a fully-formed idea yet, but it seems to me that like, say, time-travel, you need to have your system down before you build your little furry cultures and the stories that happen in them. I mean, you can approach time travel in a couple of different ways: that the past already happened and any attempt to change it is doomed to failure, or that when you change the past you create a new time-stream and a new reality. There are different variations and nuances, of course, but these two schemes seems to comprise the main divisions of that trope.

So, for anthropomorphic animals, it seems to me that we are also faced with a choice between two main categories. In one, prey animals are the human-like protagonists and predators are more like monsters; in the other, predators are the human-like protagonists and prey animals are, well, still animals.

In a story about a brave and noble band of deer making their way through the forest to a new grazing area under the guidance of a stalwart leader and a sage elder, the wolves might be demonic pursuers providing a constant threat. In a story about a bold and heroic pack of wolves on a quest under the guidance of a courageous leader and a scarred elder, the deer would be... deer?  I guess it's just hard for me to see how to make both the deer and the wolves people, since the one group routinely gets eaten by the other in a totally amoral, course-of-nature way. How could our wolf-warriors meet deer, negotiate with them, ask directions from them, and then eat them, without destroying the anthropomorphism?

It seems much the same in a household situation. If the mice are my characters, with little mice families and mice mayors and mice police and whatnot, the cat must be like a beast that lurks outside of town. But if my character is a philosopher-cat commenting on life from his windowsill lyceum, I don't know how to make mice the students that she just happens to occasionally devour.

Of course, this might be more about my limitations as a writer than the demands of logic. Aesop and Rudyard Kipling, of course, had talking animals that were still animals, but those stories were deliberately fabulous. If I recall correctly, in The Secret of NIMH, the owl is both a source of ancient wisdom and a predator; but Mrs. Brisby's interactions with him echo more to me the typical interactions between a hero and a dragon than a conversation between two people. And Brian Vaughn has lions and monkeys and deer all talking to each other even as some are eating the others in the great Pride of Baghdad, but that wasn't so much about anthropomorphizing animals as it was about animamorphizing the reader, I think.

So maybe what I am really talking about is a restriction I see on the construction of conventional genre stories using animal protagonists - when heroic fantasy or science fiction or picaresque adventure happens to feature people-like critters instead of people. The sort of rules-making that preoccupies me would certainly make it easier to write those stories, although it wouldn't necessarily make the stories any better. But I guess it wouldnt becessarily make them worse, either.

Remember, the Fantastic Mr. Fox ate chickens.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Six of one: the cut of his jib

Let's start out with something direct and colorful. I was recently browsing though some search or other on superhero comics and was struck once again by the sheer, outrageous garishness of superhero costumes. Superheros almost never work in live-action films unless the costumes are dialed down from 11, modified into body armor or motorcycle leathers, and otherwise made more "real."

Costumes are part and parcel of the whole superhero genre, arguably definitional, and I have no problem suspending disbelief when it comes to the outfits some characters wear - I've had a lot of practice, after all. My recent perusal of the cavalcade of images of this hero-wear got me to thinking: which superhero costumes - not characters - do I really dig, just for how they look? Here's the six that made the cut.

6. Spy Smasher. Full disclosure: Spy Smasher is one of my all-time favorite characters, but I do think that one of the reasons I like him so much is his costume, and it's not that his costume made the cut because I like him so much.

Spy Smasher is a classic of the Aviator Hero mold, with tight leggings (instead of jodhpurs) and a cape that take this WW2 comic book hero out of the pulps and place him firmly in the superhero camp. Added awesome: the detail on his belt includes the symbol "⋅⋅⋅—",  which is Morse Code for "V" (for Victory, of course) and which also represent the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which tune SS was always associated with. Pretty cool.

There were other superheroes, most notably Captain Midnight, who tried this look, but never quite captured the elegant simplicity of Spy Smasher. One modern hero deserves honorable mention: Marvel's Crimebuster was a late 70s hero who incongruously hung around with some space types but carried on the look pretty well.*

Man, you just can't go wrong with goggles.

5. (Sword of) the Atom. Okay: first, the Atom was a Golden Age hero, a 40s tough guy in a costume, who just happened to be short. In the late 40s, he got super-strong, but was just still a short tough guy. When superheroes were revived and renewed in the late 50s and early 60s, the Atom was a college professor who had learned how to control his size and weight through white dwarf star matter, so of course he fought crime in spandex. Then, for a time in the 80s, the Atom was trapped at his six-inch size and lived with some tiny people in the South American jungles, having the kind of sword 'n' monster adventures that suited Conan more than crimefighters.

He still had the spandex costume, but supplemented it with bracers, a loincloth, and sturdy boots. The whole effect should have been goofy, but thanks in no small part to the art of Gil Kane, I thought it worked.

4. Pow Wow Smith. Not quite a superhero, I guess, the "Indian Lawman" fought Old West crime as part of DC's contingent of Western heroes. I liked his all-dun rawhide look, especially with the added touch of white kid gloves and the black shirt collar sticking out. (Hmm... khaki, black, and white - add a green apron and those are Starbucks Uniform colors.) I thought this outfit was a nice deviation from the boots-jeans-blouse-and-mask get-up that most gunslingers favored.

3. Sandman. No, not Neil Gaiman's darling-of-the-Goth-set, but the original Golden Age hero. I first encountered him in the 60s when the Justice Society characters of the 40s were being taken out of mothballs and revived in the pages of Justice League. In the middle of Biff! Bam! Pow! Batmania gaudiness and camp, my attention was caught by Sandman's double-breasted suit, slouch hat, and cape - I mean, take off his gas mask and his outfit would hardly rate a second glance. It managed to help him maintain some modicum of pulpy gravitas when they swapped out his gas-gun for ray gun that affected people's nerves and made them do the Watusi. (I wish I were only kidding.) Anyway, great kit.

2. Ferro Lad. This could-turn-into-living-iron guy had a short career with the Legion of Superheros in the 60s - short because he Sacrificed Himself to Save Earth®. There was a lot about this costume I thought (and still think) was cool: the pale color palette, the "Fe" symbol, the buttons that look like rivets, the banded belt and cuffs, and the almost featureless metal mask. That helmet-like contraption served not to hide Ferro Lad's identity - all the LSH members were public figures - but rather to hide his Horribly Disfigured Face®. Hey, when you're ten, that's real pathos. And the costume just seemed to capture Ferro Lad's no-nonsense, can-do personality while looking clean and slick.

1. Daredevil. For an inveterate DC guy, I have to 'fess up and admit that my all-time favorite costume is that of a Marvel Comics character. While most would associate Daredevil with his all-red outfit, he premiered in this yellow-and-red get-up designed by the great Jack Kirby. While he only wore it for a half-dozen issues,  I thought it was way cooler than his red longjohns - the contrast, the details in gloves and boots and billy-club holster, and the subtle evocation of old-timey athletics. The costume would become the fulcrum for a Daredevil graphic novel in 2001, but to me, it is the distilled essence of Silver Age superhero couture.

*Bonus geeky nit-pickery: If you check out that image of Crimebuster above you can see he's wearing two pistols in cross-draw holsters on his chest. This makes a lot of sense, and actually could be just two shoulder holsters worn a bit forward. But a lot of more recent images of this character, such as the one to the left, show him with two holsters way forward on his chest, with the gun butts pointed outward. It would be really awkward to try to draw those weapons, and the whole thing is stupid.

Not that I've over-thought it or anything.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Once more into the breach

Once upon a time in high school, I drew a picture of Edgar Rice Burroughs's creation, Tars Tarkas of Barsoom, on a piece of looseleaf paper during class; it was certainly not as well drafted as the one in the banner above, but full of exuberant energy nonetheless. The student sitting next to me looked over at this sketch of a four-armed warrior with a quizzical expression on his face; by way of explanation, I simply wrote "He is a Thark" on the page, next to the figure, presuming that would be sufficient.

I have long since lost that sheet of looseleaf, but I have never lost my affinity for certain genres and forms and fascinations, and can still tell a Green Martian from a Red Martian without a thought. Science fiction, comic books, sword & sorcery, movies, superheroes, roleplaying games, action figures, myths & legends, steampunk, alternate history -- these are still the things that captivate me, and the things that I want to talk about.

So that's what I aim to do here. I have had comics blogs and general interest blogs and special interest blogs before, and I guess I don't know when to quit. I'll be flying the geek flag high at this place - to spare my Facebook posse from what might be a little too abstruse and to let my pals with the same predilections and penchants know where I'll be, ahem, holding forth.

Good to have you aboard!