Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Psychoanalyze these

So, I was waiting to have dinner with a friend, hanging out at his apartment with his new cohabitante, and my eye chanced upon a pile of comics upon a shelf. Further investigation and inquiry revealed that they might just be a pile set aside by my buddy for his new lady to read, as they have set an intention to read comics together. If this is indeed the case, I am not sure what this selection reveals, but here it is:

Some of these I have never even seen, some I have, some he has tried to get me to read, and none are any I have.

Monday, April 29, 2013

D&D Monday Funnies

So, posting about the intersection of D&D and TV Westerns yesterday got me to thinking about other D&D crossovers or mashups, and there it turned out there was enough random stuff on the hard drive for a little art gallery:

This one isn't noteworthy so much as a mashup as it for how it expresses the turf this blog stakes out (three out of the six bands on the spectrum).

 From the delightful webcomic Tweep

Superheroes play RPG, canon:

Tim Drake as the "Gamemaster." Clip floating around Tumblr and such for a while.

Superheroes play RPG, imaginary story:

Wonderful stuff from kylelatino on deviantart

Okay, this next one is really only funny if you remember I teach at a community college:

 From the great Order of the Stick webcomic.

And, let's leave it with a showstopper:

 Self-portait by postmoderntease on deviantart

D&D paraphernalia, comics apparel, game controllers, a light sabre, and a pretty girl. Now that's a mashup.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dungeons and Dragons and Spurs

So, our new car has a stereo that will play music directly from a thumb drive and finally there aren't any more CDs flipping around the passenger compartment. Wonder Wife downloaded a bunch of her tunes onto one little drive and that's all we need for hours of music. I love it.

An album that she included just for me, as a break from all her big-glasses-indie-girl-vocalist tracks, was TV Theme Songs of the Past. This was a collection of music from all sorts of shows, lovingly recreated by "The TV Theme Players," or, as I like to think of them, a bunch of studio musicians with a talent for musical impressions. The arrangements, orchestrations, and interpretations of theme songs are all dead on.

Of course, allowing for my OCD tendencies, I re-structured the files on the thumb drive into genres - one folder for detective shows, one for comedies, and so on - so I can get thematically coherent chunks of music. Today as I drove out to an appointment, I was listening to the Westerns.

Okay, now here's where worlds collide.

Dungeons & Dragons players have a tendency to use the lens of Alignments - Lawful Good through Chaotic Evil - on everything. I have even used them to suss out office politics. So, when I heard the line in the theme from Maverick "wild as the wind in Oregon, blowing up a canyon, easier to tame," I idly thought "Hunh, Bret Maverick was kind of Chaotic Neutral." Well, that's all it took and I was off to the races.

The result: my very first D&D alignment chart, based on TV Western Theme songs. Now, I used to watch some of these shows and some I have never seen; I assigned the alignments not on the shows themselves but on the impression the theme song itself gives. (In reality, because of the networks' Standards and Practices, just about everyone leaned toward Lawful Good.) This approached viewed "evil" as "having selfish motivations" - a common D&D interpretation.

Here they are!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Another King of the Jungle

Like a lot of comics fans, I like to pick up comics from the quarter bin, and not just because it feels so much more meet than paying $3.99 for a decompressed floppy, but because occasionally we find real gems. I'm definitely listing this one in the gem column.

Toka the Jungle King was published by Dell for ten issues from 1964 to 1967; the issue I found is #10. It was a confusing read at first, and a little internet research revealed why: Toka is actually an Inca noble - a prince or a high-ranking warrior of some kind - but he was put into some kind sleep or suspended animation for 400 years, and now functions as a sort of South American Tarzan in current-day Bolivia or Peru or someplace. A difference is that Toka is not merely a protector of the indigenous people of the area, but also asserts himself as their king, even though he isn't one of them ethnically or culturally and they already have a functioning governmental infrastructure (embodied in a chief and a medicine man).

Oddly, this issue lacks a narration box or any other exposition laying out this rather unusual relationship for new readers. I mean, how hard is After sleeping for four centuries, the mighty Inca warrior Toka awakes to protect the native people of his land once again or something like that?

Anyway, in this issue, Toka is being a bit dickish, throwing his weight around and yammering about his king-ness, perhaps in response to some challenges to his right to rule from Mulugru, the medicine man.

Just like our presidential debates.

Even the animals tick him off.

"Yeah, I know it's only natural, but I'm feeling macho today!"

The ensuing narrative arc has Toka being tested and failing several times, his experiences changing his view of what being a king means. First he screws up the village's response to a fire ant invasion:

Chief seems mighty forgiving of the goofball - this time.

Then his political enemy Mulugru drugs him up and messes with him not once, but twice. And to top it off, a volcano erupts, threatening the village. A heavy rain pulls Toka's fat out of the lava on the last one, just as he comes to realize that maybe he has been acting a little dickish.

By the way - is he ripped, or what!?

Of course, since Toka has Learned His Lesson, the people - and the animals, too - confirm that they want him as their king and he resumes his role as their leader and protector to cheers and huzzahs.

And then his comic gets canceled. The guy can't win.

The prolific Joe Gill provided this fairly pedestrian story, which was enlivened by a few nice bits of interaction that have some verisimilitude if not authenticity, and, of course, by the wonderful art of Frank Springer.

What really ratchets up the coolness factor of this comic is that there's not a white guy to be found. The whole story takes place within the indigenous society - the hero, villains (such as they are), sidekicks, and supporting players are all brown. That alone is notable, particularly for a comic of this time, but their treatment is exceptional: physically, everyone is portrayed comics-realistically; none is a caricature. And the dialog is rendered in straightforward language, with no syntactic or grammatical idiosyncrasies (the exception being Toka's occasional reference to himself in the third person, which is probably a sign of his royal arrogance more than anything else). The characters are all human beings, with rational motivations and reasonable weaknesses and fears.

Perhaps my response is more an indictment of the historical treatment of minority characters in comics books than a case of this comic's being in any way extraordinary, but the tone and timbre were certainly noteworthy. Good on ya, Joe Gill and Dell.

There's no trade paperback for me to buy, but I am sure going to keep my eye on the quarter bins for more Toka.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

We're not talking Pitt here

So, here's a cartoon that will likely strum the heartstrings of more than a few pals, including the Spectacular Sissy:

First question: Does anybody send in looseleaf manuscripts held together with brads anymore? For that matter, does anyone send in hardcopy manuscripts anymore? Didn't brad usage peak in the era of Mad Men? I can remember using them for papers in grade school, and in the office when I first began work in the seventies, but I can't recall the last time I saw one anywhere, much less in a work setting. This sounds like a joke that somebody remembered hearing in 1968 and thought it was too good not to use, even though most people reading the strip wouldn't know what the heck it was about.

And speaking of anachronisms, this strip came out in June 2010. (Yes, I have been holding onto it for that long, waiting for the right time to blog it.) The computer that Rat is using appears to be an iMac G4 "desk lamp," the model that I purchased in 2002 and which Apple stopped making in 2004. So when this strip came out, the computer shown was six years old - was it still instantly recognizable as a "real" computer even then? It barely is now.

I'm really not trying to bite The Comics Curmudgeon's style, but I just didn't get this strip.

Oh, for all those who need to ask, this is a brad:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bonus tracks: some ads

So, after looking at the comics from the prior post one last time before tossing them filing them away for posterity, I wanted to add a little bit about the ads. Oddly enough, like today, the vast majority of the ads were for computer/video games and accessories, mostly Nintendo, with some scattered products represented: model kits, the Star Trek Fan Club, and Tang gear, among others. I'll limit myself to three notes:

This is one of the ads for a video game, this one produced by a third party developer for use on the Nintendo system. That this represents acceptable ad-quality graphic design and illustration is almost unbelievable given the technical quality (if not creativity) of most ad work today.

This collection of three comics contained a representation of one of the more confused marketing strategies in recent memory: on the left is an ad for Dungeons and Dragons; on the right is an ad for some Advanced Dungeons & Dragons materials. TSR split the development of the game into two prongs and marketed several editions of each version for about twenty years.

Comics still had classified ads in 1989.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

5x5 Comics: Bwah-ha-ha redux

So, I announced last quarter at my college that I would be leaving "The Deans' Hallway" - relinquishing my position as Dean and returning (as tenure permits me) to the ranks of teaching faculty. One of my deaconal responsibilities was the supervision of the Instructional & Classroom Support Technicians - the lab techs in the science department. I had hired most of them and we had a great relationship. One of them attended Emerald City Comic Con with her brother (I think they were going just to see Patrick Stewart) and for a sort-of-going-away present to me she picked up three old comics:

Justice League #4 from 1987 and Justice League Europe #6 & #7 from 1989. I think she got them just because of the back-to-school theme of the cover shown above.

I'm not going to actually review these issues because who cares, but the perspective from 25 years or so on has some interesting aspects.

1. Someone needs to go back in time and mess with the notes of the guy inventing flexographic
printing so that it never becomes viable (like Dirk Gently interrupting Samuel Coleridge so he never finishes Kubla Khan). The image in these books are muddy and dark; readers raised on today's bright digital publications would feel like they were reading medieval manuscripts.

2. Man, there was some good drawing back in the day. These artists knew anatomy and there were no Escher Girls to be found.

3. The comics are filled with superhero action as opposed to gratuitous violence, and the sexual references are of the Three's Company, wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety. The former was a refreshing change from current comics; the latter was a change as well, but less refreshing.

4. These comics had words. Lots of words. It actually takes time to read them, there's so many words. Words that matter. Words that advance both plot and characterization as well as mood. There has been a trend to accentuate the undeniable but not universal similarities between comics language and film language to the detriment of the textual component of comics. Part of this impetus is artistic, a post-Watchmen privileging of the "realistic," whatever that is. Part of it is commercial: in the scramble to produce comics that really hope to be successful movie pitches, the visual is emphasized over the verbal. These forces combine to ensure that the textual aspect of most comics is given short shrift. It was nice to see text flowering here.

5. That said, the humor in these books did not age well.

Time-travel done. Thanks, Alex, for the memories.

Monday, April 22, 2013

3D Dioramae

I haven't posted a $3 Diorama in a while and I haven't had time to create one so I was going to try to get by using this one:

I was going to call it fierce alien barbarians do battle in a sparse futuristic landscape or something along those lines, but it's fairly obvious that these are just some figures on the shelf in my office, and that's pretty lame.

Then I decided to go full disclosure and just display all the geekery in my office. I recently changed offices as part of my transition out of administration and back to faculty, but the shelves are deliberately empty and I hope to keep them that way. Anyway, here's the stuff:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I wish I had left room for dessert anyway

Saw this image floating around the interwebs. It looks like an old photograph, but the car in the reflection appears to be a fairly recent model. A little digging found this:

Apparently the bakery had been in operation for some time and the location was taken over in the late twenty-naughts by Desert Island, a store for comics, art books, illustration, and design. Takes a lot of confidence to leave your name off your storefront.

It put me in mind of another establishment with a different approach to old signs and naming. This restaurant in the University District of Seattle is located in what used to be a florist shop:

The name of the restaurant? Flowers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No wonder they think it's ancient history

So, the interwebs reminded me today (yeah, like it was in my calendar and I forgot to check) that it is the 75th Anniversary of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, April 18, 1938.

First of all, let's hear it for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who as boys created a legend and who as men got what many consider to be way too little reward.

The check for which Seigel & Shuster signed away the rights to Superman.   (courtesy Illustration Art)

What came to mind today on this Diamond Jubilee, perhaps because I have had students reading excerpts from Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow and Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, is some historical context.
  • The first appearance of Superman is closer in time to the surrender at Appomattox and the end of the Civil War than it is to today.
  • The first appearance of Superman is closer in time to the first controlled flight in Europe than it is to the first manned moon landing.
The Man of Tomorrow has seen a lot of yesterdays come and go. I can't imagine what his centennial will be like.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mapping the Human Geek-ome

Nu, the infographic Diagram of Geek Culture has been floating around the interwebs for some time. It is not the only one; keen-eyed readers will have noted that the background of this blog is Version 2.0 of the Geek Hierarchy by Lore Sjoberg from Brunching Shuttlecocks. But this is a nice one with pretty colors and I thought I would use it to log my own geekology:

(clicking should embiggen)

I have outlined in red the bubbles that I think apply to me: things that I spend time on, care about, or know more about than perhaps I otherwise might. One thing jumped out at me right away: unsurprisingly, there's very little technology stuff circled, either of the computer nerd or gamer geek variety. I've never been a take-it-apart guy with anything more complicated than the water pump assembly on 1969 Dodge Dart or a toilet with a Martian Manhunter action figure stuck in it (and both of those instances arose from necessity, not interest), and I was born too early to have the 21st-century mutant eye-hand coordination that video games require these days. But there were some other odd discrepancies.

Blogger is a red island in the middle of the IT sea. I think this more a function of the creator's categories than it is an indicator about me: blogging is really more of a literary enterprise than a technological one anymore.

You'll see that I am a Torchwood fan but not a Dr. Who fan. Wonder Wife and I loved the Torchwood series (she especially for the rampant sexuality or the hetero-, homo- and bi- varieties) but neither of us ever got into Dr. Who. We tried with The Ninth Doctor, but something about the sensibility of the series wasn't engaging. Someday, if I am ever in traction for months like a skier in a New Yorker cartoon, I'll try jumping on with the 1960s kinescopes and getting a running start at the current incarnation.

My science fiction preferences are also spotty. I consider myself neither a Trekkie nor a Star Wars fan, but the The Fifth Element is one of my favorite films. Isaac Asimov gets a nod for sure; if the chart had had Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, I could have had two more circles. I believe, as Peter Graham said, that the golden age of science fiction is twelve, and that's who I was reading then.

D&D and Figurines are too probably too far apart to indicate that for me at least those are the same hobby.

So, what's the ensign on your geek flag? Find a copy if the chart and make your own circles. Even better, buy a print of the chart from the artist, Julianna Brion, and mark that up. Then you can really wave your geek flag high.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


While I am in the mood to compare two images:

This image was floating around the interwebs some time ago, apparently taken at a store in India:

It's a pretty standard oops-the-unlicensed-merchandise-got-it-wrong deal, but I think it was the slogan that really sold it: man behind brief and mask.

But it got me to thinking: maybe this wasn't the standard oops-the-unlicensed-merchandise-got-it-wrong deal, bur rather a special oops-the-unlicensed-merchandise-got-it-wrong deal. Maybe that Indian silkscreening had a dim memory of the classic villain Composite Superman, and got that wrong:

Wouldn't that be something?

Monday, April 15, 2013

I wonder about this

Nu, I was looking for a showgirl image to commemorate the first visit to Las Vegas by a friend of mine and found this vintage clip art:

I didn't use it, but it immediately put me in mind of something else. A few minutes Googling found this:

That's a cosplayer named Riddle as Wonder Woman from Amazonia, the Elseworlds story set in the 19th century. I know we could catalog specific differences in individual details, but man, it sure strikes me as the same look. Since I gather that in this version, Wonder Woman spends some time as a stage performer in hyper-misogynistic England, I guess it makes sense.

And if nothing else, this exercise showed me how much easier it is to get Amazonia cosplay or action figure images than panel grabs from the actual comic.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spreadsheet of dismay

Nu, I was having a talk on the way home with The Spectacular Sissy about comic books sales figures. Sissy is not a comic book fan but like all liberally educated folks, she can be interested in anything, and she seemed interested in my description of the shrinking market for traditional comics. So after our carpool ride, I did some quick internet research and came up with the following spreadsheet:

The top selling two comics in 1969 averaged over a half-million copies each month; in February 2013, the top-selling comic moved just over 300,000 copies - and this is a bit of an outlier: I believe it was the JLA flag-for-every-state issue. Even so, the number one comic of February would have come in at number 14 on the 1969 list.

The curve drops even more precipitously after that. February's number two, The Uncanny X-Men at 177K, would have come in at 40, and number three, Batman at 150K would have hit 48.

None of the other top-fifty sellers of February 2013 would have placed on the 1969 list.

I know there are a lot of details to parse in understanding these numbers, with the switch to a direct  market, changed distribution channels, and so on, but it is hard to look at the scope and scale of change and not think that regular monthly comics have become close to irrelevant.

I'd love to hear from someone with a bit more insight on the sales end of things.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Last night we watched The Musketeer, a 2001version of The Three Musketeers directed by Peter Hyams. Coming hot on the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this entry in the roster of the two-dozen or so live-action movies based on the Dumas book brought its own special twist: while the casting was pretty typical (some model as noble D'Artagnan, Tim Roth as the villainous Febre, Stephen Rea as the scheming Cardinal, and Catherine Deneuve in a star turn as the Queen), the fight choreographer was Xion Xinxin, Jet Li's stunt double and a prolific martial arts actor from wuxia films. This movie uses the "wire fu" techniques common to wuxia, so that the set-piece battles would comprise swashbuckling action flavored with physics-defying  leaps and mid-air clashes in the midst of precarious perches or other improbable settings.

Or at least it was supposed to.

From this perspective, the movie was disappointing.  The first big fight scene starts with D'Artagnan leaping twenty feet across a room from a seated position to protect a scavenging orphan from a mook; most promising. The fight itself moves the swordplay from tables to the rafters to rolling  barrels, but the darkness of the cinematography (the whole film seems to be in sepia) and what seems to be some reluctance on the part of the director to really cut loose constrains the whole episode.

Then there are some boring bits (whenever there's no fighting, the whole film slogs like a bad high school play, with Tim Roth the only watchable exception), followed by a typical break-someone-out-of-jail scene, the fight-on-the-moving-coach scene, and a poorly edited catch-the-hero-naked-in-the-stream-and-kidnap-the-girl scene, none of which would be out of place in a Burt Lancaster pirate movie and none of which used any wire work.

The climactic battle was a bit more ambitious. First, our hero fences a number of opponents while all are hanging on ropes from a high tower, rotating the "playing field" ninety degrees and allowing for some fun leaps and swings. Poor editing once again diminishes the effectiveness of the scene.

The final confrontation between D'Artagnan and Febre takes place in a huge room full of catwalks, ladders, and cross-beams: a perfect setting for lots of leaping, balancing, careening, teeter-tottering, and swinging in great arcs while sword-fighting. Unfortunately, the  fight is mostly filmed in long-shot, so the effect is that of watching a screen capture of a Donkey Kong game; it was almost as if they had spent so much money on the set that the director wanted the audience to see all of it all the time.

When it was over, Wonder Wife, who likes her some wuxia, couldn't even figure why Febre was dead, so unclear was the presentation.

If, as we did, you try this movie out hoping for some sweet cross-genre action, be prepared for a let-down.

It got us thinking, however, about other cross-genre mash-ups that have been tried, have worked, or might work. Here's a few that we came up with.

SF-Western: Cowboys and Aliens made the biggest splash with this.

Sandal Noir: The Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor is a great combination of private eye tropes and sword-and-sandal epics. (We needs a movie version of Gordianus the Finder.)

Eldritch Eye: The sadly short-lived Dresden Files managed to combine the rumpled private eye and the wizard into one appealing character, Harry Dresden. (Wonder Wife particularly misses this.)

Swash and sorcery: The 1980s British TV Series Robin Hood has the merry men fighting demons and monsters as well as the sheriff. (I can remember liking this, but it was a long time ago.)

SF-Medical: This was an idea we had for ongoing hospital series set in a space station: E.T./E.R.

Fairy Tale-Medical: A soap-operaish hospital series with fairy tales characters like in Once: call it Grimm's Anatomy.

SF-Lawyer: Imagine a space-opera L.A. Law: alien triad divorces, asteroid mineral rights disputes, and space-liner damage suits. Now come up with a catchy title; we couldn't get past Lawyers in Spaaaaaace.

SF-Circus: Wonder Wife holds that "the circus movie" is a viable genre and wants to see Space Big Top on Netflix soon.