Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Phone blogging

Internet service is out in our neighborhood.  In lieu of a real blog post, here's a picture of a lucha libre trinket.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More on scribbling

So, I made some hopefully-not-too-snarky remarks on the Other Blog on some public writing in my neighborhood. That response concerned an A-frame sign on a sidewalk, but there is a growing and nigh-ubiquitous (at least on Facebook) idiom: the occasionally-clever and frequently-flat e-card aphorism. Any number of DIY sites allow you to create these; here's the example at hand today:

This showed up in some stream or other of mine, probably Facebook. It's mildly clever, in that ain't-I-naughty kind of way. But a lack of parallel structure throws it off.

The prose couplet starts off with two distinct singulars being made equivalent: childhood punishment and adult pleasure. Nice opposition there, on two levels. But these two singular concepts are modified by the same plural possessive: our. I guess I can go with that, perhaps, if we conceive of each of these as representing a universal or an ideal; but this universal is then given two plural manifestations - naps and spankings - and the introductory phrase for example leads us to believe there are even more. This is not a case of a Platonic ideal, then.  So let's revise to get some parallelism:

It's funny how our childhood punishments are now our adult pleasures. For example, taking naps and spankings.

Okay, but I think we can polish even more. "To be" - in the original is and in the revision are - as the main verb can almost always be improved upon. How about we take are now and make it become, a slightly more active verb, adding a nuance of process to the meaning at the same time:

It's funny how our childhood punishments become our adult pleasures. For example, taking naps and spankings.

Okay, one more thing: the gerunds (the -ing verb form acting as a noun) in the short list of examples are mismatched. In the first, the person doing the taking is the one getting punished or experiencing pleasure; in the second, the person doing the spanking is an outside agent - not the experiencing party we are most concerned with. If we modify the last element, we can clear this up and get another nice two-word opposition to close with:

It's funny how our childhood punishments become our adult pleasures. For example, taking naps and getting spanked.

The taking-getting opposition is not just a fillip; it clears up the concept and creates a more consistent rhythm as well: two anapests with a beat between.

Demonstrably better.

With that, it's time for this pest to take a nap.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dime novel

So, there's this dime that is presenting me with a quandary:

It's a 1944 Mercury dime that found in a drawer. I checked online, and the coin is worth $1.45, for the silver content alone. If it were uncirculated, it might get a collector price, but it's not, so it won't. So here's the dilemma: $1.35 isn't enough to make me want to drive to the coin shop to sell the dime. But it doesn't seem right to present a buck-and-a-half 's worth of silver as ten cents, either.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. Some years ago, I came into possession of an old $100 bill - the bookstore on the campus where I was head of security thought it was counterfeit, but it was just old (1934 IIRC) and different-looking. I traded five crisp twenties from the ATM for it. It turned out the bill was worth all of $106, maybe a little more if it had been uncirculated, which it hadn't. I held onto it for a while, and then decided I no longer wanted to keep track of where it was. I also had a Kennedy half-dollar that I got back when I was six or seven and had no use for; it was worth $11, again for the silver. Looking through my pile of funny-looking coins and checking the internet, I found enough to net me a little over $20. That was barely worth the time and gas to go to the coin shop, but I did, and felt a little lighter for it. I also had an extra $100 to spend, since the original swap had been so long ago.

But now I have no other pile of coins to which I can add this dime to gain some economy of scale; just one lonely Mercury, too valuable to spend without feeling foolish, but not valuable enough to invest much into converting. I could just throw it back in a drawer, but I am trying to reduce the miscellany and clutter in my life, practically and metaphorically. I could just keep it in my wallet, hoping I'll remember that it is there if I ever happen to find myself by chance near a coin shop. Or I could just spend it like a dime, trusting that it will eventually wash up on some numismatic shore where it will find a home. I could frame it and make it into a tiny wall hanging.

Or I could blog about it, getting at least $1.45's worth of mileage out of the anecdote, and not worry about.

(Numismatics counts as geekery, right?)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

5 x 5 Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

So, Wonder Wife and I actually saw a movie in the theater, and despite my prior disavowal of interest, it was the new Star Trek flick. Here's the five by five:

1. Is there such a thing as too much fanservice? The window, Carol, the shout, "I'm a doctor," and the cameo all say yes.

2. Without going through the whole crew-as-D&D-party schtick, Uhura is definitely the bard.

3. Wonder Wife reports that watching four seasons of Enterprise actually helped her understand the technobabble and track the events more closely.

4. So, if the killing of Gromek in Torn Curtain was a -1- on the movie-conflict scale, I think -10- used to be the ending of the Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde. So we're up to, what, eleventy-seven now? Or we've switched to a logarithmic scale like earthquakes and warp drive. In any case, there sure was a lot of stuff blowing up and bodies flying and all that. It was loud, too. Or maybe I just don't go to enough movies.

5. Overall: engaging, if predictable.

Oh yes - and I don't know about where y'all are, but a movie-popcorn-soda date in Seattle now costs about forty bucks. And when did theaters start serving Mini Pancakes?

They were out, anyway.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


So, I guess the big movie news right now is Star Trek: Into Darkness. A friend saw it and was so surprised to have liked it so much he texted me to tell right after it was over. I have seen some reports that it didn't make enough money in the opening weekend, and I have read some reviews, mostly from web-pals. Many of these reviews have "spoiler alert" warnings or visual landmarks to tag where you should stop reading if you don't want to know major plot points before you see the movie. I guess there is a pretty big deal to spoil in  ST:ID; it might even be a "reveal" a la Crying Game. That I know it exists at all, much less what it is, even though I haven't seen the movie, is not the result of my ignoring or missing spoiler alerts: it is the result of an article showing up on one of my aggregators that had PUT THE SPOILER RIGHT IN THE TITLE.

Now, I'm not a stickler for spoilers, and there is something a little tenuous about 'spoiling' the second movie in the reboot of a twenty-three-year-long film franchise based on a TV series that premiered forty-seven years ago. But I think that this particular plot point, if prematurely disclosed, might ruin some genuine delight on the part of some fans; since geek culture accepts spoiler-alerting as S.O.P. these days, I can't imagine why someone would PUT THE SPOILER RIGHT IN THE TITLE.

Personally, it's no skin off my back. I am not that invested in the Star Trek reboot, maybe because it seems like just another example of Hollywood youngifying everything. So I'm not racing to see it, although I probably will eventually, and I think knowing this bit of information won't affect my enjoyment much, if at all. It just seems really odd that someone would... do that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

D&D Film Festival

So,  here's a collection of some D&D music videos, just because the game is on my mind, what with a new campaign coming up and all.

First is Tonight by Allie Goertz:

I should listen to more of this young woman's stuff: she's pretty good.

In response, we have Best Game Ever by Mikey Mason:

Mason can be a little over-the-top, but I find this and some of his other stuff pretty funny.

Finally, my favorite pair of Geek Girls, The Doubleclicks, with This Fantasy World:

Angela and Aubrey played a coffeehouse near me on their last visit to Seattle. If the fire marshal had come by, they would have shut the place down, it was that crowded. If you need geekcore music, these are the girls to come to.

Man, I wonder if the new campaign will have a bard...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

(Relation)ship of fools

So, I was looking at stuff on ScansDaily and I saw with my own eyes an excerpt from some recent Superman magazine that clearly shows that Superman/Clark is dating Wonder Woman/Diana and that Lois Lane is dating some guy. (I forget who, but he seemed nice.)

I guess I had heard that this was the direction DC was going with the New 52 business, but I must have either blocked it out or forgotten it. (I could easily have forgotten it - current superhero comics have pretty much fallen off my radar screen.) Actually reading an in-continuity sequence that showed this as the status quo was bit surprising. This is just such a stupid idea that seeing it actualized makes me feel a bit like I am peering into the Bizarro world.

I am sure that the comixweblogosphere (or what remains of it) is all abuzz with deconstructions and  interpretations and criticisms pro and con, so I will offer only two succinct arguments:

Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane published by National Periodical Publications 1958-1974.
Sixteen years, 137 issues, moving close to half-a-million copies per issue in its heyday.

Excerpt from "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 
published in Superman Annual #11 (1985) and, as far as I am concerned, 
the last, best word on the subject.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Random Inn

So, I am going to a get-together tomorrow night that might result in my DMing a new D&D campaign.  We'll be meeting in a coffeeshop, not an inn, but it got me thinking about the different DM tools I have access to, including this one:

Not too long ago, Wizards of the Coast published an Inn Generator on their website. It takes the Inns in an Instant tables created by John Hasznosi in Dragon magazine #418 and hooks them up to a random-rolling, easy-readout engine. Now, to create a description of the setting where many tabletop adventures start (and just about all visit), you just click a few times and your background details are laid out for you: the innkeeper's name, the daily special, the makeup of the crowd, and more. Try it

I'm not sure how useful it would be in actual gameplay; most of the time, the DMs I know have a specific idea about what's going to happen to the party if they go into the inn. I suppose you could use it to create a school of red herrings to hide the real maguffin or plot hook, but these DMs are also awfully proprietary when it comes to barkeep names and specialty drinks, so maybe not. I guess it would be used mostly by the by-the-book DMs who randomize everything from town population to the weather.

I can see a use for the generator as a writing exercise: whip up a prompt out of a few random elements and make some flash fiction out of it. Some of the combinations would sure get the imagination working and give writing students a chance to stretch some muscles.

It's also just fun to fiddle with.

Hmmm... maybe if this game does get off the ground, the adventure will start in an inn...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


So, here's a link to thing on Estoreal Adjunct, one of those tumblr places. It should be a little essay about Superman, with a link in it to a Cracked article on Superman. Other than the Cracked piece, I'm not really sure who wrote what on the tumblr page - tumblr is an idiom with which I have not yet become familiar - but I read both of them and then sent them to my friend Johnbai, who wrote me in response. You should read them, too, and then read what Johnbai said, reproduced below.

I've mostly been someone that agrees with the Cracked article.  And I think the other writer agrees as well.  Saying Superman is more like Sisyphus than Diomedes is hardly a disagreement.  He's just saying that Superman's task of protecting all of humanity is doomed to futility (which is what the Cracked writer was saying anyway.) 
While I haven't loved many superman stories, I liked the "For the man who has everything" because it gives you a glimpse of what Superman might crave for himself, beyond all the selfless work-ethic.  It humanized him in a very compelling way.  And it took a writer of fantastic ability to craft that story. 
I also liked where JLU went during the episodes where the Justice League were in conflict with the American government. Because it asked the difficult question, what do you do when the official standard bearers for the "American Way" aren't playing by the rules any more.  
I was also interested in Miller's portrayal of Superman in the Dark Knight as a thug working for Reagan.  It's a similar dilemma for every paladin or samurai... what happens when your master happens to be a dick? 
I always thought the interesting flaw in Superman was that he just wasn't that smart.  I wanted to see angles pursued that showed that he could be manipulated, or would struggle/fail at something because he just wasn't smart enough to figure it out.  That always seemed like an interesting reason for Clark and Bruce to have their relationship.  Clark needed Bruce because he could connect the dots that Supes just couldn't see.

I just happened to have a spare couple of pennies to toss in on this.

I think the problems with writing Superman that exist because the character is too powerful can be approached in a variety of ways.

The first is to make him less powerful. Look back at the roots of the character: he couldn't always juggle planets. Reducing his strength and limiting his array of abilities in-story wouldn't hurt his marketing value or his iconic status.

But maybe that's a cop-out. After all, I don't see articles written about how hard it is to write a Thor story, or how boring a character Silver Surfer is, or how no one can make Green Lantern interesting. No, it isn't the power level - it's having the character face challenges - internal as well as external - that their abilities cannot easily solve.

As I was reading through these critiques, I thought about a story - I don't know if it is remembered or I made it up - that Superman saves a community of people from some simmering natural disaster that finally discharges, only to see them evicted from the place by the legal owners, who now can make a profit from the location because it is no longer in a danger zone. What would Superman do? How would he feel? I'm sure he would be tempted to re-open the volcano (or whatever) but then he'd be putting other lives at risk. There's a story in there somewhere. Superman may be able to move mountains, but some problems are too complex, or too fragile, or too subtle to be solved by power, if at all. Those are the stories we want to read.

Of course, this can go down silly road as well, as in the old Uncle Mort days of "I promised not to set foot in Criminal City for twenty-fours - how can I possible stop Machine Gun Barker? I know - I'll walk on my hands!" Arbitrary rules, laws, wagers, and conditions do not often a compelling story make, but real limitations do.

In my mind, neither does making Superman a government stooge work, just to give him an ethical crisis when his bosses want something nasty done. I thought Miller's Dark Knight Superman was one of the least interesting versions of the character.  Superman may be a boy from the heartland, but he's no mindless follower. Nor does making him a dullard seem like the way to go - although I think that he might be manipulated because of his trusting nature or native ingenuousness rather than stupidity. That kind of arc, and its aftermath, could also make good story.

Let me end with the hero-of-myth trope this conversation is developing. The idea that Superman will ultimately never get what he wants - the safety of everyone, everywhere - is an element of what makes a good Superman story, but it does not make him Sisyphus, or any other character from Greek mythology. It makes him an Aesir. The Norse gods knew that ultimately Ragnarok would come and that they would fight and lose and die, but they made ready and fought nonetheless. Struggling on even knowing that defeat was pre-ordained - what could be more heroic than that?

It isn't truth or justice or even the American way - it is the neverending battle that can make Superman approachable and relatable.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Coincidental self-promotion, but at least it's short

So, I am currently teaching a research writing class (in fact, I am taking a break from grading lit reviews to compose this post) and as I was assembling instructional materials I was looking for an authentic example of an annotated bibliography. Lo and behold, look what washed up on my googly shore:

Click to link through to source

My natural modesty of course prevented me from using it in my class, but my esteem for my, um, esteemed editor insists that I post it here; it's not every day a fellow's work is called "beneficial" and I wanted to share that.

Oh, and you should check out the book - it's pretty good.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In the looking glass, clearly

So, I have mentioned already that Wonder Wife and I are working our way through Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix streaming. We are in the fourth (and last) season and tonight watched both parts of "In a Mirror, Darkly," the prequel series' take on elements of the original series' episodes "The Tholian Web" and "Mirror, Mirror"; the episodes revisit the alternate universe populated by Evil® versions of all the Star Trek characters.

It was pure, unalloyed fanservice. The story opens with a reworking of a scene from First Contact (which I have not seen but recognized from James Cromwell's Zephram Cochran). Then we get the Enterprise credit sequence, but modified with more Evil combat and less noble exploring. When the episode proper begins, we have Evil Archer and Evil Phlox and Evil Reed and even Evil Admiral Forrest (demoted to captain), all acting just as cheesy and glorious as the Evil Original Crew. It's all dark and Evil and a grand hommage to the original  and I explain some bits to Wonder Wife, who has a vague awareness of what it's all about and is happy to play along.

Until we meet Evil T'Pol:

When the action shifts to the bridge and we see Jolene Blalock lounging on the command chair in her belly-shirt, hip-hugger Starfleet uniform, Wonder Wife loses it and cracks up laughing hysterically, as mean and nasty and Evil as the story has all been up until then.

"What is she wearing?" she blurts between gasps.

I try to explain something about the Evil Universe and its revealing clothes that, y'now, show that they're Evil and all.

She actually laughs harder. "She's barely wearing pants!"

I'm about to explain more when I realize: she's absolutely right. It's ridiculous.

I think that many men among us in the geek world can develop a calibration problem. There are so many egregious examples of the objectification and sexualization of women in comic book, science fiction, and other genre imagery, that our perception may get skewed. After being subjected to so many Escher-girls and boobs-bigger-than-heads, so many Leifeld waists and Miller's butt-shots, so many Star Sapphire costumes and Catwoman covers, when we see a presentation of a woman that is just merely sexy, our thoughts are "Well, that's not so bad."

But, actually it is. As Evil as it was, the Empire's Starfleet in the alternate universe had the same uniforms as the Federation's Starfleet in the "real" universe, just with jewelry and patches that were a little more badass. Except for Evil T'Pol and later Evil Hoshi, whose uniforms were the only ones to feature bare midriffs. I might be able to get behind the use of revealing costumes to signify cultural attitudes, but as arbitrary as this was, it was clearly just fanservice of a different kind. It was unnecessary and pointless, and if my responsometer wasn't out of alignment from the flood of similar images (and worse) that come with the territory today, I would have noticed.

Luckily, I had an external sensor to help me out, since every time one of these uniforms was shown, I heard more guffaws and an occasional "I'm sorry, but it's just so silly!" between laughs.

In the original, Evil Kirk covers less than Real Kirk, too.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hot Air

Man, I do love me some airships. I mean I've only talked about them here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and a bunch of other places. From blimps to zeppelins, airships manage to be retro and futuristic at the same time - and when steampunkified, retro-futuristic. So when I heard about the World Sky Race - a flotilla of international airships competing in a series of races that would eventually circumnavigate the globe - of course I was intrigued. Finding out that the sponsoring organization was the World Air League - a retrofuturistic institution name if there ever was one - was just a cherry on the sundae. I was hooked. At least until I actually looked at it.

The World Air League, in the person of Texan Don Hartsell, has been promoting the World Sky Race since 2009, offering a $5 million Champions Purse Prize [sic]. The website has lots of videos of Harstell hobnobbing with international movers and shakers in places like Saudi Arabia, New York, Qatar, and Frankfurt, and there are press releases announcing the appointment of Advisory Directors and Organizing Committee Chairs and an Artistic Director for the Race. There are maps and photos and videos and computer simulations and coverage of publicity events hither and yon. There are hints that the race was almost set to go on 2011, or 2012, and now in 2014.

What I can't find anywhere on the site is a list of entrants. I can find a store to buy a cap or a T-shirt or a hoodie or a bomber jacket, but I can't find a list of airships, with their names, their captains' names, their specs, or anything like that. Or just a list of the world's airships, or even a list of countries that have airships based in them.

It makes one wonder.

A few years back, Seattle passed a voter initiative to build a monorail. Wikipedia sums up the misadventure thusly: From 1997 to 2005 the monorail project was a highly contentious political issue in the Seattle area. In November 2005, following the fifth voter initiative on the monorail in eight years, the monorail authority agreed to dissolve itself after having spent $124.7 million in taxpayer funds without beginning any monorail construction. The monorail project was a big boondoggle - the monorail authority had bought property all over the city, then sold it when it dissolved, and somehow managed not to have any money left.

And yet, for about eight or nine years, about eight or nine authority commissioners made about $80 or $90,000 a year, so for them, I guess the project wasn't so bad after all.

So, I'm just thinking, if I was an ambitious promoter-type -- and coincidentally, one of the early news items on the World Sky Race website is a Texas magazine article that compares Hartsell to P.T. Barnum -- what a plan it would be to envision something big, something grand, something monumental. Something so monumental that it would take years to gather the support, develop the infrastructure, and find all the partners to make it happen. Something so grand that enormous resources would have to be dedicated just to get it off the ground, so to speak. Something so big that even if it never happened - like the monorail - it could provide a nice living until it was given up on.

I think that would be pretty sweet.

Of course, I am just being cynical. I have absolutely no reason to believe that the World Sky League won't stage the World Sky Race in the next year or two or three. I mean, their advisory committee incudes the Former Minister of Home Affairs for Malaysia, the Honorary President of the Explorers Club, and the Former Secretary of State for Texas. And in 2010, Hartsell said at the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Awards that we would see "skyships from all around the world competing in the World Sky Race."

In the meantime, maybe I'll take another look at those T-shirts and hoodies.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Professional Development

So, the American Library Association 2013 Annual Conference is being held in Chicago this year.

Even though it's a hairsbreadth outside my domain as an English instructor, I may add it to my professional development activities this year. Why? Because of this:

Unbeknownst to me (and even to some of my library buddies), the track of sessions on graphic books at the ALA conference has grown so much that since last year they have been branding it as a mini-comicon within the conference. The purpose of the focus is to help ALA members "innovate and raise the profile of graphic novels and comics in their library or school." Yeah! While librarians, particularly public YA librarians, have been at the forefront of mainstreaming comics since the beginning, I had no idea that even the library establishment has embraced graphic books so strongly.

GraphiCon features an Artist Alley, with guests including Gene Yang, Chris Giarrusso, Faith Erin Hicks, Paul Pope, and many others; the Graphic Novel Stage for author talks and creator sessions; and a Graphic Novel Pavilion. The conference sessions look pretty cool, too; here's a sampling:

Busting the Comics Code: Comics, Censorship, and Librarians

Get Graphic in the Library: Celebrate timeless superheroes and villains of Graphic Novels and the art of ensuring their timelessness throughout the ages.

Krosoczka! TenNapel! Telgemeier! Graphic Novels Your Kids Love By Names You Can’t Pronounce.

Let's talk comics: A roundtable discussion with a line-up of comics creators and professionals, librarians and others

Comics Quickfire! A fast-paced game show where volunteers are paired off with professional cartoonists in a series of fun-filled drawing challenges!

Why do you make graphic novels? (And how can I do it too?)

Looks to me like the perfect intersection of professional development activities and personal avocation.

Postscript: Of course, if this is to be a permanent feature (which it looks to be), I can always look forward to the 2014 venue: Las Vegas. The story, according to a librarian pal, is that "they last had the conference in Vegas in the 80's and haven't been back because so many people didn't make it to their committee or even presentation commitments because they were partying too hard!" Librarians gone wild!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Scott Bakula Should Have Played The Spirit

So, Wonder Wife and I don't have any cable TV or satellite dish - all we get is what comes over the aerial (as my family always called it), and we don't watch much of that at all. We do have Netflix Streaming, and our usual wont is to watch one cancelled show from beginning to end. It usually winds up being science fiction or fantasy - we have watched Stargate: Atlantis, Farscape, and Legend of the Seeker, for example. Our current show is Star Trek: Enterprise.

Now I know this will possibly diminish my credibility as much as liking John Carter does, but we've enjoyed the show. I don't find it any cheesier than any incarnation of the ST franchise machine, and I have to say that it has displayed the tightest continuity I have ever seen on episodic television. Many have found Scott Bakula's Captain Archer wanting, but I find him the ST captain closest in affect and behavior (within the contraints of the genre) to real astronauts; he projects a bit of the same verisimilitude that Tom Hanks brought to Jim Lovell in Apollo 13.

Anyway, I have noticed that during the two-fisted space-opera action that is the hallmark of ST, Archer often gets the stuffing knocked out of him, sometimes for several minutes or more, before prevailing against his adversaries. Because of this, and the aforementioned tight continuity, he spends much of many episodes bloody and bruised from being smacked around or thrown across cargo bays.

The last time I noticed this, my mind connected it to a passage I recalled from Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, in his section on The Spirit. I looked it up to make sure I got it right: "Much of The Spirit's charm lay in his response to intense physical punishment. Hoodlums could slug him, shoot him, bend pipes over his head. The Spirit merely stuck his tongue in his cheek and beat the crap out of them."

Given his performance across four seasons of Enterprise, I think Bakula could have captured that charm. He may not have been a typical action hero, but neither was The Spirit. Bakula's a little long in the tooth for the role now, a few years older than me, but I think it might have been a fine thing.

A battered Archer just before he beats the crap out of a Nazi.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trying Thai

So, Wonder Wife has a sib and sib-in-law who are currently based in Singapore but who have connections in Thailand and spend a lot of time there. On their last trip, they picked up some Thai comics for me, to wit:

It is quite a colorful collection. The comics themselves are about five by seven inches, sort of old TV Guide size; each has 32 pages of story and blank inside covers. And that's about all I can give you in the way of context.

A long time ago in a blog far away, I took a look at some Indian comics that a colleague had given me. I was able to glean a lot of background on them, since the comics were in English and there was plenty of back matter, including a web address. For these, really all I can tell you is to call (02) 447-6280 and see what happens: that's all I can read of any issue.

Here are some close-ups of some of the covers:

The first three look to be in the horror genre; the fourth one is maybe about drug trafficking. Or ruby smuggling? I can't tell: I can't read the captions or even the titles.

Unfortunately, the interior art doesn't give us much help getting through the language barrier. In addition to being rather amateurish by most professional standards, I find it all but inaccessible. I mean, I thought I understood the language of comics, but I am all at sea here.

In this sequence, I can't tell if Plaid Shirt Guy has drowned in the well and is re-animated, has nearly drowned and gets revived, just happened to be sleeping in the well and came out, or is just a figment of Mustache Guy's imagination:

Trust me when I say the rest of the story doesn't help: the previous pages show Plaid Shirt in the well with a woman, and after this he and Mustache walk away to do chores together.

Maybe it's just that the conventions of body language and expression are so different. I have read  French comics, for example, and even manga, and have been able to follow along; even if I didn't know exactly what everyone was saying, I knew who was angry, who was excited, who was tired, and so on. These Thai comics just confound me.

Compounding the dilemma is that despite the promise of the covers, many pages are devoted to people just standing around talking. Without language facility, and with some hesitancy and doubt about interpreting the images, sequences like this one are incomprehensible:

Of course, not all of it is abstruse. Here's a guy putting the hurt on some zombies:

Now that doesn't take a whole lot of cross-cultural literacy to dig.

I'll take a longer look at some of these; if I think I can figure one out, maybe I'll post it with a guess-translation. And then the sib-in-law can read it and get a good laugh.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Another reason why none of my comics is in mint condition

So, I was rooting through one of the vertical files that hold my miscellaneous stuff and I came across this poster, which I had honestly forgotten I even owned:

The poster is four times as big as a comic; you can see the creases where it was folded to size. It showcases the crew from  Xenozoic Tales AKA Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. (I recognized Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee right away, but don't know the blond guy.) This was a series that I followed only intermittently; I think I liked it more for the concept than the execution. I always seat Mark Schultz at the same table as Dave Stevens - just as talented and idiosyncratic and always carrying just a sense of being a bit too self-contained. Schultz's series had a comparatively short history, like Stevens's Rocketeer - although it did break into the animated world, albeit with a pretty pedestrian show, at least from what I've seen.

The first thing I noticed about the poster itself was the composition. Okay, maybe that was the second or third thing, after the creepy EC-esque brain-monsters and Hannah's sexy-but-not-Escher-girl pose. Ah, for the innocent days when artists were content to show either busts or butts and didn't have to forsake all pretense at anatomy to show them both in one shot...

But anyway, to the composition: it looks like there's an awful lot of tree trunk and emptiness up there at the top. The answer is pretty obvious, and the overleaf explains it.

I recalled when I read this again that I got the poster not as an in-store giveaway but inside some reprint edition of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs; once I looked closely, I could find the staple holes. I'm not sure if it was the 1990 Marvel six-issue miniseries or one of the Kitchen Sink one-shots, and the Grand Comics Database wasn't helpful in tracking it down. I don't recall seeing the issues around; they may be in the Last Shortbox® but I'd have to check.

It strikes me as more than a little odd that this illustration contains neither Cadillacs nor dinosaurs, since that's the trope the series is associated with. Perhaps that's why the poster is not a big deal; even a Google Image Search doesn't turn it up. Hey, it's an actual rarity!

Too bad it's not in mint condition.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Free to be...

So, Saturday was a spectacularly sunny day here in the Queen City of the Pacific Northwest, and even though I hadn't specifically planned for it, I decided to head on down to a Free Comic Book Day event. I'm lucky enough to live in a town where I have four or five comics shops within in a couple of miles; I decided to walk to one particular shop which shall remain nameless because I really don't want to call it out.

Now, you can read about how a well-run store might do FCBD other places, like from Mike Sterling at Progressive Ruin,  but I am afraid that's not the story I have to tell. I chose to head down to a nearby store run by a kind and well-intentioned fellow who just can't seem to crack the nut of a good retail operation; this FCBD was no exception.

Normally, each time I go into the store, the experience is pretty much the same: there is a motley group of "customers" sitting around the gaming table, which is situated smack in the middle of the main space, right as you enter. The Regulars are arguing whether Thor could beat Superman in a fight or if Obscure Anime One was more or less awesome than Obscure Anime Two or if Bruce Campbell could beat Joss Wheadon in a fight, and they give me, the stranger in town, the same sidelong glances employed by the extras in Western movie saloon scenes. Often there are foodstuffs present; Subway or pizza or phad see-ew take-away scents the air. Some folks might be reading comics. The owner is scurrying about stocking shelves, participating in the discussion as he moves around the shop. I look around for the particular graphic novel or trade paperback I came in for, but can't find it on the shelves crammed with new releases, DC and Marvel collections, and RPG manuals. I catch the proprietor's attention and ask about the item; he is friendly, sympathetic, and willing, but totally unable to meet my request in any way that satisfies my needs, and he apologizes sincerely and wishes me a good day.

The fellow always strikes me as someone who has read a book on good customer service and memorized some of the suggested lines, but really hasn't internalized it yet - or contextualized it in the operation of his store. If my experience is even within a standard deviation of the mean value of customer satisfaction, I honestly don't know how the store stays open. But maybe I am just a bad match, and not in his customer base.

This being FCBD, I guess that hope which springs eternal in the human breast led me to believe that the store might actually ramp up its performance above the typical; I am sorely disappointed.

First of all, there is no Free Comic Book Day signage - no banner, not poster, no xeroxed flyer taped the door, no hand-scrawled note on an old grocery bag, nothing. Inside, the Regulars are at their stations; on the menu today are gooey garlic cheese sticks and a piquant red sauce, which are being shared across the table. The Regulars are having a robust discussion on D&D vs Magic. The owner is scurrying around; no other staff is present. No one greets me.

So wait, is FCBD even observed in this store? Well, it must be - otherwise what are these piles of comics, semi-neatly sloppily stacked on the gaming table for? I really can't tell - there are no labels or signs, the regulars seems to be leaning on/eating over the comics, and there is a guy to my right going through a longbox, pulling out back issues, and making similar stacks, so it's a little confusing. I don't recognize any of the titles on the table, and none of them clearly says "Free Comic Book Day Edition," so I am unsure about taking any.

The proprietor is busy so I decide to just leave. I feel sad, though. Not because I didn't get any comics; I clearly could have tried a little harder if that was really the objective. It is more that something that could be so much fun - whether it's Free Comic Book Day or just a regular visit to my Friendly Neighborhood Comic Shop - is so disappointing. As a business model and as a cultural value, I guess I expect some inclusion, or at least to be made to feel welcome.

But the sun is still shining on the walk home, so there is that.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Alfred, let's go shopping.

So, I am here in the Capital of the Inland Empire, The Lilac City, Spokane, Washington. Although I am attending an academic conference, I carved out a little time to re-visit some geeky haunts I discovered when I lived here for grad school:

First, we have Merlyn's:

Their cool A-frame elaborates on their trade.

They have a huge new comics wall as well as tons of back issues,

and a big gaming area, eerily quiet on a weekday.

The shelves are just one big D6 short of a full set of oversized Platonic solids.

And it has perhaps the coolest restroom in Washington:

I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Boo Radley's, an awesome gift and curiosity shop downtown:

It also sells graphic novels

as well as vintage genre paperbacks

and Steampunk gear.

Here was a great find: the D&D version of Clue. I kid you not, the back of the box asks "Was it Tordock in the Dragon's Lair with the Flaming Battle Axe? Or Mialee in the Dungeon with the Staff of Power?"

And here's a ST:OS action figure set - from the "Dilithium Collection."

If you are ever in Spoke-a-loo, check out these shops - they are worth a visit!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


So, on the way from Seattle to Spokane today, Wonder Wife and I ran into a Nail that changed our destiny: we had a two-hour delay while we waited for roadside assistance, and more while we got the tire replaced. Through the magic of wireless telephony, we had access to the internet while we waited for the wrecker to arrive, and I saw that a Google+ pal had re-posted an awesome deviantart poster/wallpaper illo featuring a metric boatload of geek heroes. Wonder Wife was looking over my shoulder at the image, and I got her to describe it for your edification.

Let's run some of those by one more time:

Flaming Boy!

The Rock Guy from That Movie! Where He Pounds Things!

Bruce Wayne! (He has a bow tie!)

American Guy!

Count Dracula! (He's got freaky things on!)

Jean-Luc Picard's son!

Vulcan Lady!

Anderson Cooper!

But you will notice she can pick J'onn J'onzz out of the crowd.