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November 30, 2004

The frightening side of change: why syndicates don't like Scott Kurtz and Keen

So I've been keeping an eye on how the Syndicated Cartoonist Industry is reacting to the slow -- but steady -- encroachment onto their turf by young turks with machetes. Put another way, I've been watching the reaction of the traditional newspaper cartoonists and syndicates to the "syndication" models that Scott Kurtz is trying with PvP and which Keen is trying with KeenSyndicate.

(For those who came in late -- Scott Kurtz is offering a full year, already drawn, of daily PvP to newspapers for free, so long as they have his website's URL. The idea is the exposure to PvP will drive Kurtz's comics sales, drive merchandise sales, and bring traffic to his site which will drive advertising sales. Keen, on the other hand, is offering a full page of newspaper strips twice a week to newspapers so long as they also include Keen's embedded advertising.)

Needless to say, the reaction hasn't been stellar. I've seen a few dismissals of the proposals "on the record" by established syndicate cartoonists. I've seen some "off the record" comments that blister paint off the walls. Let me sum up their position as succinctly as possible:

  • You're doomed to failure, because you're not selling your artwork. You're using your artwork to sell something else.
  • You're causing damage to newspaper comics as a whole because by giving your strips for free to newspapers, you cause them to undervalue the form
  • Any business model that doesn't involve selling the art to someone else directly is somehow less legitimate -- it's not art, it's prostitution (the old "you just want to sell tee-shirts and plush dolls -- you're not an artist" statement
  • I hate you.

It's fear.

Pure and simple, it's fear driving this reaction. And this is the only reaction that many (I fear most) syndicated cartoonists are going to have for any model that seriously (or even trivially) challenges the established system.

Look at it from their side.

They went into this with a very specific plan. They learned to draw -- maybe (even probably) going to school for it. They practiced and refined their craft. They did weekly shopper newspaper cartoon placement and drew comics for their friends. If they're post-world wide web maybe they did a small webcomic and maybe they didn't. Most of all, they drew. They came up with new strip ideas and did thirty strips and sent them to syndicates and got rejected, over and over again. They networked. They joined the societies. They joined the mailing lists. They worked and worked and worked to force an opening for themselves. They got rejected a lot and prized every handwritten rejection note they received, both for its advice and as validation that they should keep trying.

And finally they pulled it off. They got a concept together and some editor liked it and suggested changes. They made those changes. They sent in the revised proposal. And the editors liked it more -- they thought it was funny, and it showed the capacity to sustain. So they ink a development contract, with a series of guidelines. The artist puts together another six week window of strips, this time with an eye to the syndicate selling them to newspapers. The editors come back with a series of changes and individual strip rejections. "Don't do this -- we can't sell this to papers in Topeka. Change this. Take this out. Less continuity over here. More continuity over there. A Lesbian joke? Not until you're bigger, pal."

And the artist makes changes. He reluctantly concedes that some of the content changes makes the strips better. He gnashes his teeth over the others, because he thinks they dilute the strip -- but he wants this. He wants this. And after a couple more refinement passes, they have a package to send out. They do... and a few newspapers nibble.

That's it. They've made it. He's getting paychecks now. He's beginning to make headway. He's a cartoonist. He draws and draws and draws, and sends out packages and gets notes back -- change this character. Don't make this one black unless that's the point. Do you really think this is funny? He learns to value the comments his editors make that improve his strip. He learns to hate the comments they make that slash through what he wants to do. A few more papers nibble, and a few drop the strip. But he's getting some momentum. He has a few conversations with publishers about a collection -- only to hear back from the syndicate that they handle collections and publishing and merchandising, and they need to be cut in on everything, and right now they don't feel the circulation warrants a push. Still, he knows that'll come with time and effort and the slow building of a fan base. He starts getting fan mail. He starts getting hate mail. He starts getting comfortable.

And after a few years of this, he's tired. It's not as much fun as he thought it'd be, but he also loves cartooning with all his heart. He's doing everything he ever wanted to, and if the reality isn't as great as the fantasy, that's life. He's becoming established. He's becoming a name. He's beginning to entrench in the community, and giving advice to kids who're just like him.

Only... those kids don't want his advice. It seems that they're publishing their cartoons on the web, and building an audience for them. Not a newspaper circulation, maybe... but....

And they don't have editors changing things, and they own their merchandising rights, and they write and draw whatever the fuck they way -- Jesus Christ, they say Fuck right in the strip -- and they don't seem to want to make the changes and compromises he had to. They don't want to jump through the hoops or go through the crucible. It's like they want to be like those independent and alternative cartoonists who get published in the Stranger in Seattle and the local equivalents all over the country, only there are thousands of them. And some of them totally suck and some of them can't meet deadlines and he feels better, because all of the advantages of an editor standing herd over the artists just aren't there... but some of them post cartoons every day, and they have book collections and merchandising deals... and they seem to think they're professional cartoonists.

And now they're saying "you know what? The syndicate system is a relic of a different era. We make our money in different ways, but newspapers can be a part of our strategy. Here. We'll give your papers comic strips, if you accept our advertising as part of the package, or if you drive traffic to our site. This'll be good advertising for us."

Now... they're not only trying to leapfrog the system, they're saying the system doesn't matter. They're saying they don't need it, or want it. They don't want editors telling them what they can draw -- if a paper doesn't want to run a strip because of content, that's fine. They're not paying for it anyway -- the artist isn't out anything.

They are, in effect, challenging the tenets that the syndicated cartoonist has based his career and his entire life on.

...and some of them are more significant than the syndicated cartoonists in question.

Seriously. Have a look at uComics and Comics.com sometime. The big guns are there. For Better or For Worse. Doonesbury. Beetle Bailey. Those guys aren't sweating because Chris Crosby is offering comic strips to newspapers. I promise you Beetle Bailey has too much traction and cultural significance to disappear tomorrow. If it got dropped from papers, there would be angry letters.

No, it's all the strips you vaguely know the names of on those pages. Or all the strips you've never even heard of on those sites that are mad as Hell over this. Because those strips are at the early stages of the process. They're trying, damnably hard, to get traction in papers and spread through and begin to have an impact on cultural consciousness.

PvP, on the other hand, already has cultural consciousness. Thousands upon thousands of people read it every day. And they're a good demographic of reader -- young men of an age where they blow cash on video games and expensive high tech toys. PvP got a comic book deal from Image. Do you think Cats with Hands could get a comic book deal? Or CEO Dad? Or Heart of the City?

Note -- I'm not setting an agenda or releasing the hounds against those strips. I'm mentioning strips I've never heard of. That's right, after decades of comics page reading, of spending money on comic strip history, on devouring comic strips in almost every form I could get my hands on... these are strips that aren't even blips on my radar. They might be really successful. They might have thousands and thousands of readers. But from where I sit, they haven't had cultural impact. Not yet.

But Penny Arcade has. And so's PvP, and Nukees. You think Nokia would send these people free cell phones with video games built in if they didn't? They want the audience for those strips to buy N-Gages. They want them bad.

So the syndicated cartoonists lash out. This is literally a challenge to the way they've conducted their entire lives -- and a challenge to their capacity to become this Generation's Wizard of Id or Cathy. (We won't even discuss becoming the next Bloom County or Garfield or Peanuts. These days, there's an overwhelming feeling that that boat has left the dock and won't be coming back. And, with the Internet and cable television and information and entertainment bombarding from all sides, they're right, barring a total miracle -- and that miracle could happen to the web as easily as it does to the Boston Globe.)

You bet they're going to lash out. They're going to say hurtful things and trash talk Scott Kurtz and Chris Crosby. They're scared and they're angry. This is intensely personal. If these alternative models succeed -- and if Kurtz and Keen make their money off of alternative models that don't involve getting paid by the newspapers -- they directly impact the syndicate cartoonist's ability to get paid by syndicates to deliver content for newspapers.

Oh, some of their laments are just plain stupid. My personal favorite are the ones who claim Kurtz et al are sellouts. That's right, sellouts. They're trying to sell merchandise, not comic strips. That cheapens the comic strip. No, really. Honest.

(The stupidity of that statement is self-evident, but I'm on a roll here: comic strips aren't in newspapers for artistic reasons. They're in newspapers because newspapers want to increase their circulation, and a majority of newspaper readers flip to the funnies as part of the reading experience. A huge number read the funnies first. A nontrivial number read them before they read anything else. This is why newspapers have comics, period. Trying to sell tee shirts and mugs and advertising isn't selling out -- it's finding a way to draw and print comics that also feeds the family. There's a lot of easier ways to make money, to be blunt. In fact, it could be said that the artist who sells his comic strips to a syndicate for a paycheck is more of a sellout than the artist who retains all rights and offers the strip, making his money off of book and merchandise sales. But that's almost as spurious.)

What does that mean for people like Scott Kurtz and Chris Crosby? Not a lot. Oh, they're not going to like being trashed by other cartoonists, but they're still going to give it a try and they're either going to succeed or fail. And if they do fail, someone else will try something else. The one thing that's certain is the publishing and syndication landscape isn't what it was in 1990 (or 1980 or 1950 or 1900, for that matter), and twenty years from now new cartoonists aren't going to follow the same steps to reach a point of making money and cultural significance as the current crops do.

And like it or not, there is a growing feeling that not only isn't syndication the only game in town... it's not even the most desirable game in town. Frank Cho, when he pulled Liberty Meadows from the syndicates, made that point extremely well. Crosby and Kurtz are making it again. In his own way, so's Joey Manley. And the folks at PV Comics. And Gabe and Tycho. And J. Jacques. And Randy Milholland. And every person who's now putting food on his table by drawing a comic strip but not sending that strip to someone at Universal Press or King or Tribune Media Services.

That's scary as Hell to the guy who spent his life getting into the syndicate, because it makes him question everything. And so he lashes out.

But it doesn't change what's happening, and it doesn't change what's coming. It doesn't change the fact that things are changing.

So I don't get angry when I read these rants. I feel badly. I feel as badly as I would for people who used to work for buggy whip manufacturers. "I got a good job making buggy whips," they said. "These new 'horseless carriages' won't replace the horse. They can't. And the only way to motivate a horse that's been proven and true is with a buggy whip, like the ones I make for Universal Buggy Whip. So when these new things fail -- and they will, because I can't see how they'd succeed -- the guys working on those new assembly lines are going to be out of luck. But not me. I'll be making buggy whips."

It can be a bitch to see.

November 29, 2004

From consolidation to diversification.

So I'm reading today'sPenny and Aggie, and I see that T. Campbell and Gisele Lagace are moving from Modern Tales to Comics Sherpa, in a full on bid for traditional newspaper syndication. That's on top of John "It's not a week if Eric doesn't mention him on Websnark" Troutman and Meaghan Quinn moving off the Manleysites to Keenspot.

Is this a Bad Sign for Joey Manley? Nah. There's probably plenty of other strips queued up for his sites. And, as Campbell said in the letter he sent about this, there's a real "comic book aesthetic" to a lot of Modern Tales/Graphic Smash/etc. (Though to be honest, Narbonic's on there and very successful, so it's not 100% that way). Besides, people move around, looking for the best model and venue for their strip. But Campbell and Lagace really pushing for full out syndication surprises me. I mean... you don't hear about people pushing for the syndicates any more. Not in the webcomics world. The only other strip that's really pushing in that direction is Todd and Penguin, and that was on Comics Sherpa (which is run by uComics, which is run by uClick, which is run by Andrews McMeel Universal, which also runs the Universal Press Syndicate, which syndicates little known newspaper strips like Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse and Gar-fucking-field.

These days... there's a real feeling on the web that syndication isn't needed, that it isn't even desirable -- that if you syndicate, you lose control over your creation and your licensing and you undergo restrictive editorial oversight. It's almost odd to see a couple of webcartoonists saying "hey, I want to be in the newspapers. I want to get paid for this -- paid by someone else, someone who isn't me doing all the grunt work -- and get the exposure of hundreds of newspapers printing my work."

I'm down with that, and I wish them luck. I wish they'd had a deeper archive to start shopping to syndicates, but the premise is one that could work, and Campbell certainly has the writing chops and Lagace's art is both beautiful and strong enough in linework for crappy LPI printing onto newsprint (this is important -- not one webcomic out of ten would look good in the lowest common denominator printing of most newspaper presses. Lagace's art could work without major trouble.)

So I wish them luck, but I wonder if we're beginning to see a trend. A trend away from the online syndicates like Keen or Modern Tales and towards loose affiliations (like Dumbrella) or going it alone (like Real Life Comics after they left Keen) or even... dare I say it... the traditional newspaper syndicates.

The next few years are going to be very interesting.

I want to be Capable of Wonderful Things too!

(From Achewood. Click on the thumbnail for full sized wonderful things capacity!)

I've likened Achewood to jazz music before, and I honestly think that's true. There's the glorious and the grotesque, the marvelous and the mundane, innocence and insanity, and it's all kind of blended together with kind of a back beat and some light piano.

I'm in it hardcore, including keeping up with all the blogs of the main characters. And I'm anxious to see what happens with Mr. Bear in the hospital from the gunshot wound, or whether Tina's bitchiness will infect Molly, or whether Molly and Beef are full on over and what happens next with Beef's robot dog or what. But today wasn't about that. Today was a side-riff. Today was Phillipe getting an "I Am Capable Of Wonderful Things" doll.

I loved it. The whole rhythm of Llewellyn Ash giving his erudite explanations and couching them in baby terms, and Phillipe utterly cheerfully playing along, with that certain level of seriousness Phillipe brings to all things... it was perfect.

Last night, my parents watched Pollyana on Masterpiece Theater. It drove me from the room with its unctuousness. But looking at Phillipe, I see what Pollyana should be -- bright and innocent, serious and yet happy, even as truly horrific things happen all around him. And he is delighted with Llewellyn Ash... and yet Llewellyn Ash is itself odd... in a Twin Peaks sort of way. And just like on Twin Peaks, Phillipe just accepts that it is true.

How does someone "un-sell-out?" And what do you even call it?

So. You might notice a difference on the site design.

No... I haven't had my haircut.

No, I didn't lose weight. Jesus.

Okay, look, I'll just say it. Google Adsen-- er, Ads by Goooooooogle are gone.

I didn't mind having the ad bar there, and it was sometimes fun to see what batshit crazy things their algorithms came up with for my pages. But to be blunt, they didn't bring in enough money. After over three full months, I'd made $43.51 -- a nontrivial amount of which was after I got PvPdotted -- and my daily average was three cents.

Three cents.

They don't pay out until you hit a hundred bucks. At this rate, even if I have major links every other month or so, it'd be summer before I even saw money. Without major links (and I never ask people to link to me -- if they want to, they will ), it would be a long long time.

This was meant to defray the cost of running this site, including the upped bandwidth costs. But honestly, I can afford it and it's not like I'm seeing any of "my" money anyway, so screw it. I'll design Cafepress tee shirts or something.

Besides, the page looks nicer without it.

Remember, just because the dog chases your car doesn't mean he can deal with it stopping

(From Sam and Fuzzy. Click on the thumbnail for full sized landing clearance.)

I have a bad habit with new strips I'm reading. (New to me, that is.) I read through them and I like them... but I don't then actually... well... snark them. I guess because I want the first strip I snark to be so representative of the strip in general that the strips of each day don't encapsulate the experience well enough.

Well, that's just plain silly. So here's today's Sam and Fuzzy.

One of the things I like -- as you may have gathered -- is when the old jokes we've all known for our entire lives get pulled back out, dusted off, and made to work one more time. There's a special kind of creativity needed for a joke that's been done a million times. Logan pulls it off here -- we've all seen many many many examples of the obvious opening being given to a guy to ask out a girl. That doesn't change the fact that this strip gets you chuckling.

The strength, of course, is in the metaphor in the last panel. A good metaphor makes everything new.

There. Pressure's off for Sam and Fuzzy. Now, to figure out how to snark Schlock Mercenary without feeling I'm somehow missing the core brilliance of the webcomic in whatever strip I choose as 'representative...'

Not the Princess Leia fantasy. The Duo Damsel fantasy. Mmm... Luornu....

(From Melonpool. Click on the thumbnail for full sized fantasy!)

It's recently been brought to my attention I haven't mentioned Melonpool's return. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise. I've barely mentioned webcomics for the last couple of weeks. But it got me to thinking about Melonpool, and about hiatuses, and about 'retirement.'

Melonpool is... well, somewhat infamous in its long hiatuses. It's not the worst of the lot when it comes to that (one thinks of Hound's Home, just offhand). At the same time... well, this isn't Steve Troop's job, the way, say, PvP is Scott Kurtz's. And you should know by now that I believe firmly that if it's not the webcartoonist's job, we're lucky to get anything from them.

However... Melonpool has typically been good, and I think the hiatuses are part of why. I think Troop approaches the same state of burnout most artists hit, and then decides "you know what? I'm stepping back for a while." And then he finished his series up, tied up the loose ends, and -- and this is crucial -- ended the overall premise. The core premise of Melonpool has been "stranded aliens," be they stranded on Earth or on Melonpool's Rock or any number of other things. Finally, they were no longer stranded. Melonpool saw the last episode of Star Trek he had yet to see. Jaela's pop career went south and Jaela herself became female. Ralphie and Roberta ended up together.

It ended. Troop turned out the lights. And that was that.

So, I don't see the new "Melonpool" strips now being done since mid-November as a continuation. I see this as a whole new strip, with commonality of cast but new conflicts and premises. The Steel Duck is flying through space now, far from Earth (and hopefully not returning for a long time if ever -- that ground has been well trod). There is wackiness, but feels new. I think that's because Troop took a sabbatical (from Melonpool and webcomics in general), and let the series... well, end in his head. Now, we have sexual tension, depression, duplication, menage a trois....

...and freshness.

If Jeff Darlington had taken, say, three months off after Surreptitious Machinations and started anew with GPF, I'd probably still be reading it. Steve Troop's shown that to be true, by taking his own time away, giving himself a chance to recharge his creative batteries, and deciding that now that his story was done, there were new stories to tell.

I'm a big fan of this concept. And I'm looking forward to where Troop goes next with it.

Okay, that freaked me the Hell out.

(From Daily Dinosaur Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized CRAZY!)

The thing about Daily Dinosaur Comics is the writing. Because the same art is used every day, day in and out, but there is effort put in to making the characters consistent... the writing really gets a chance to shine in this strip. Unlike the strip we've compared DDC to the most in the past -- David Lynch's The Angriest Dog in the World -- the writing is given a chance to flourish instead of being non-sequiturish.

This particular strip's all about the execution. We have the typical T-Rex enthusiasm for a subject -- in this case, the neurochemical basis of thought and personality. It builds a bit.

And then, in panel five, we have a switch to a vastly creepier subject, one that's been nightmare fodder for me since Johnny Got His Gun. In fact, it scared me so much that the video for Metallica's "One" gave me nightmares just because it referred to Johnny Got His Gun. And then, of course, we go back to the first topic.

Which is where the Funny comes in. We're given a sense of creepiness at least in T-Rex's mind, though it's nothing that really freaks most of the rest of us out. Then, we're positively squicked with references to being locked inside our helpless bodies, unable to communicate or control ourselves, knowing someone else is driving us forward, and also knowing that scientists have already done this to creatures on this planet in real life. AUIGH!!!!!

And then, right back to the other topic, which seems so... tame afterward.

Now that's funny.

So, nightmares for me tonight. Oh boy.

And now, a little proof I've gotten my money's worth

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized nostalgia.)

I watched some MTV from the first time I had an apartment. (We didn't get MTV in Northern Maine back when I was in high school, so it had to wait for college, and then wait for that faithful time I decided to get a room with Andy Alexander.) But it didn't become a major part of my life until I moved into my first apartment with Frank, in Ithaca.

This was the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. I was right in MTV's demographic, and they played me like a guitar. It was almost all music videos then, with theme shows for Metal Fans and the like. Exciting special guests like Hulk Hogan introduced videos every now and again. There was MTV News and a few shows about upcoming movies or the like, and Remote Control and Just Say Julie and the soft core porn of Club MTV. VH1? VH1 was dull.

Then, one day... MTV changed. Utterly. My Veejays were sent to the curb. My shows disappeared. And all the videos were hip hop and rap. It was like... like MTV had been reinvented for younger people than I was. And that's when I discovered that VH1 was far more discerning and intelligent.

Never make the rash assumption the good programmers don't know what they're doing at Music Television. They do.

Anyway -- flash ahead to the end of the nineties. Music videos are vanishing (eventually needing two new channels -- MTV2 and VH1Classics) to become the music video channels. And VH1 surfed Nostalgia. First, it was Pop Up Video, which was a transitional show -- it still played videos, but also included exciting factoids. Then there was Behind the Music, which became a phenomenon. And it was still music, if not videos. Besides, the one on Tony Orlando was cool, and Leif Garrett rocked in a pathetic way. And they had Where Are They Now, which was Behind the Music for bands we didn't care as much about.

And now, all of those shows are gone too, and Nostalgia rules, music not required. It's gotten to the point that they have a nostalgia show, paced exactly like I Love the Eighties, for last week I swear I'm not making this up. It's called The Best Week Ever, and instead of Michael Ian Black cracking wise about the Rubik's Cube, it's even lesser known celebrities saying "Dude -- did you see Survivor last week? That was smoking!'

And God help me, I love it. It's like a sieve my brain can pour down into. I know I shouldn't. I know I should hate it and decry it, and I do. I do. I remember when it was about music, damn it.

And yet, I can watch for hours and hours and hours. I kind of wish I could be watching it now, but damn it, I'm still at my parents' house.

And they're wasting my time by listening to music.

November 28, 2004

Actually, I'd hire plenty of bitter goths. Only they'd be in their twenties. Clearly, I need to own a coffee shop where I can hire Baristas.

(From Todd and Penguin. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Snarky Ice Cream!)

Submitted without comment.

(Well, except that I did actually work in an ice cream shop for several months, back in Fort Kent, Maine. It was called "Andy's Variety" and I was 18 years old. I made astoundingly good milkshakes.)

(Well, and also that I could see myself owning an ice cream store with attitude, that college students and art types prefer to go. Maybe one of the cold marble places, with hipsters and indy rock folks behind the counter. Banter skills will be a must, and of course there'd be espresso and places to sit. So more a coffee shop. With marble counters and ice cream and mix-ins. And a Wifi hotspot.)

(Actually, I'd love to own a place like that.)

(And a place like that would go out of business in twenty-four days. But I might get a cute girlfriend out of it. For a couple of weeks. And then she'd figure out I was a dork who couldn't hook her up with coffee and sundaes any more, and that'd be that.)

(I make bad choices in love sometimes. Is that so wrong?)

(Oh, and someone remind me to link to the archive page when it becomes available. For some reason it won't let me pull it up today.)

Day 28: I'm not sure how to feel...

bunny-winner-100.jpgSo, we're officially at 51,013 words, and I've sent the file in for validation. Which it's done. Hit here and you'll see my official "winner of Nanowrimo" bit.

Only... I'm not done.

I figure there's at least 5-10 thousand words more before I hit the conclusion. Then, I need to add a bunch of scenes to fill it out and make it flow better. And I need to cut a bunch of things that got me word count but don't add enough to the story. I need to break up the revelations a bit more. I need to extend, adopt, and improve. And most of all... I need to finish the story. I need the big revelations, the big macguffin to be finished.

I need to finish.

And so, as pleased as I am to "win" Nanowrimo, and get the right to use the creepy-ass smiling bunny winner's icon... I don't feel satisfied. I don't feel good.

This was important for me to do. And I'll do it again next year.

But this didn't make me a writer, and it didn't make me a novelist. I already was and am a writer, and I've written novel length stuff before... and I won't be done with this until I'm done with it.

So. What now?

Now, I set this aside for a few days, and think about it. I'll work more on it on Friday. Right now, I get some other work done. And I get back into a real rhythm here on Websnark.

Am I proud?


But I'm not done. Even if I'm done.

It's a donation, asshole. Not a purchase.

So I'm reading Something Positive, and then I go on to read his rant....

And then I just stared for a little while.

You see, someone e-mailed him anonymously bitching about... well, lots of things. And going over and over again to the whole "we donated a year's salary" riff to justify the bitching.

Okay. You all know I have a mantra for people who make this stuff their job. It's a simple mantra. "It's your job, stupid." And I believe it. Once this is the way you put food on your table, you have a responsibility to your audience, what who are feeding you. It's the deal.

But there is a qualitative difference between having a responsibility to your audience, and being your audience's bitch, dancing when they say. And you know what? No one gets to write a trash talking letter to a webcartoonist, period. Because while the artist who makes their living this way owes his best efforts (within reason, asshole) to his audience, he doesn't owe one audience member the confluence of Jack and Shit.

Something Positive updates put near every day. There's a lot of energy put every week into the strip. He knows his responsibilities and he meets it.

Milholland reported that the people who complained end up almost inevitably not to have been the ones who donated in the first place. Well, I donated, long before I had this website. I gave him some of my hard earned cash, because I felt he was worth it.

And I have never, ever regretted it -- or any other money I've donated to webcartoonists, or products I've bought from them.

They don't owe me anything. I owed them some appreciation for what they'd produced. I gave it to them. Everything's square.

If you don't like that kind of transaction, don't donate.

And if you haven't donated, don't fucking speak for those of us who did. Because you know what? You don't fucking speak for those of us who did.

Jesus Christ. What is this, their hobby?

November 27, 2004

A curmudgeonly week continues in a curmudgeonly way.

(From Meanwhile in Hell, in Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail if you really feel you have to.)

I'm willing to accept Bruno the Bandit is both good and groundbreaking. And from what I've seen looking through its archives, it's funny and internally consistent and in all ways a worthy strip by a worthy artist, considerable in archive and solid in its place in the history and evolution of webcomics.

I'm willing to stipulate all of this. Ian McDonald is good at what he does. He deserves success and fame and a car full of pie.

But it's official. He's not bringing anything to Sluggy Freelance.

The idea was a good one -- give Pete Abrams a day off but still provide content, one day a week. Create a lighthearted little romp in the side corner of the Sluggyverse, with its own touches of Story and its own sense of Funny. Only... its Story doesn't fit Sluggy. Its Funny definitely doesn't. It's just... not....

What's the word I'm looking for.

Oh, yeah.

It's just not good.

Sam has been unrecognizable in both art and personality through all of this -- the "Puppies" bit fits what we know of Sam, but somehow it was just wrong. And the way the Dimension of Pain had been used before McDonald got involved and the way it was used after Abrams reclaimed it now shows there's just a sense of disconnect between the two styles. It was most pronounced last Halloween, when the Dimension of Pain plot intersected Sluggy's plot briefly. It was just frothy, without substance, without a sense of the zany complexity that is Sluggy's hallmark.

It's especially clear after the last couple days of guest strips by Clay Yount. There's something far more Sluggyish in Yount's figures, humor and handling of the cast. I get the feeling that Yount would be able to create a once-a-week subplot that would better reflect the Sluggyverse.

Or, maybe that's just because it was rare. I liked McDonald's contributions to Sluggy Freelance, Where Are You just fine. Maybe what Abrams and the Sluggites should do is get a rotating cast of permanent guest artists to turn in Saturday strips. It'd mean broader exposure for those strips, and we'd still have fun goodness.

McDonald could even be one of those. I wouldn't mind. But as things stand right now, this just isn't working.

Also -- do we really need the whole "ice cream thing?" Or am I just becoming too sensitive? I mean, it doesn't bother me when bikini babes show up in Narbonic....

November 26, 2004

Because you've drunk your Ovaltine, it's time to check in on the batshit crazy world of Little Orphan Annie.

(From Annie! Click on the thumbnail for full sized confrontation of Satanism head on!)

Long time readers know how much I truly adore Annie -- a comic strip from the old days that's been continuously drawn and produced all these years, where she the orphan without pupils in her eyes fights the good fight against totally twisted adventures.

You'll remember that we left Annie off having fled the hospital where she was being treated for multiple head injuries (and having forgotten her experiences as the playthi-- er, junior partner of the deranged Phantom Commando) because she doesn't like social workers or cops, and having found three broken pay phones preventing her from contacting her billionaire Daddy Warbucks, finally hopped a freight train and disappeared from the scene. Which, as you'll recall, made the Sheriff impressed with her pluck, rather than worried a girl with head injuries who was the key to a triple murder investigation had skipped town. But we've forgotten all about the Phantom Commando now, and moved on to a new adventure.

It started with said freight train traveling for days and days, leaving the cold, hungry and thirsty Annie trapped with nowhere to go for food or water or, one assumes, number onesies. She did take time to mouth her catchphrase ("Tomorrow is just a day away, after all,") but otherwise, she just endured... until her boxcar got uncoupled from the train on a spur in the middle of a desert. Yes, she had been in mountains and forests before then. Now she's in a desert. Give her a break -- this is all just a delusion she's having while lying bleeding to death in the boxcar after all. Or it would be if I were writing it.

Which makes me take a break and mention the now legendary community theater production of Annie that lost the rights to perform when the publishing company discovered that the company had rewritten the ending to make Annie's life with Daddy Warbucks a dream, and she was waking up to a terrible nightmarish life in the Orphanage once more, screaming and sobbing as she realized it was all a fantasy and the reality was harsh and bleak. Weird, how the publishers took a dim view to that, but I digress.

Lost in the desert, Annie started walking. After a while, a helicopter found her. Rather than give her a ride, water or food (or a trip to a bathroom), they demanded she get off the property -- telling her there was a neighboring ranch 30 miles away. So, the starving, dehydrated, exhausted, skull-damaged girl trods 30 miles... to Broadcast Ranch!

Yes, Broadcast Ranch, where three guys dressed up the way they used to dress in children's Cowboy Movies in the 50's put on a daily radio show of Cowboy Music -- once a coast to coast broadcast, now down to one station and one sponsor. Things look bad for them, but they still take the plucky young girl in, feed and clothe her and are kind to her. And let her use a phone. Which is fortunate, because it means her multibillionaire adoptive father and her guardian Santiago learn she's alive and fly out, and give a whole new sponsor to the show (at the tune of $10,000 a week, because what does Warbucks care -- it's only money, after all!) And, when Annie starts singing on the show as "Rosie of the Range," the switchboards start lighting up! (No doubt with concerned parents saying "that cowboy show has a girl who sounds like she's suffered multiple head tramas, malnutrition and dehydration recently. Shouldn't someone look into this?")

The new success of Broadcast Ranch causes a problem for those neighbors, though. You see, they've been trying to drive the old cowboys out for a while so they can take over the ranch... for SATAN. That's right, it's noted Satanist Anson Vail, and he has some nefarious plot he intends to further with a talisman clearly buried somewhere on Broadcast Ranch. Well, Oliver Warbucks determines who Vail is and marches right over to confront him.

"Annie," one of the cowboys says, "Ain't yew the least worried 'bout yore daddy?" [sic]

"Nah," Annie replies. "Daddy's backed down the real devil once or twice -- some altar boy isn't going to bother him!"

So now Warbucks and Anson Vail meet... and from here, who knows what adventures will occur!


First off, the fact that they're actually taking the time to parody Anton LaVey, of all people just tickles me.

Second off... this remains batshit crazy.

Third off... newspapers still print this. This is still syndicated.

Fourth off... what the fuck?

Thank you. We'll check in in just a few weeks, true believers. In the meantime, drink your Ovaltine -- it's got essential vitamins and minerals that Nesquik just can't compare to. Parents appreciate it, kids love it -- more Ovaltine please!

Also -- turn in all communists!

Invoking Murphy is just never a good idea.

(From Lost and Found Investigations. Click on the thumbnail for full sized comic -- what could possibly go wrong?)

It is a beautiful vacation day in Maine. The sun is shining, my parents have triumphal classical music playing on the surround sound system, just because... well, because they're cool parents. I'm mellow on the couch, with tea and flavored water and Trigger Man and online comics. Life's pretty okay today.

I've also been making the painful transfer from Safari to Firefox. Including the transfer of all the damn Safari Tabs for the trawls. Fortunately, I found a tool that facilitated it, but it's still a mess. And Safari is still going to be used to actually write Websnark... in part because, well, the Firefox implementation of the Moveable Type implementation page just plain sucks.

But then, I believe in using the best tool for the best job. Safari, for all its underbody speed, doesn't display as quickly in a practical sense as Firefox, it's oddly broken in places, and it goes to infinite pinwheel all too often for my tastes. So, it's time to move my browsing to a different tool. This, i have now done.

Which brings us to today's Lost and Found Investigations. Now, one of the things I like about this strip is the explicit "Beth and Frank will never get together, because when they do that's the ballgame" policy Milligan has. We have to flirt with them getting together, because otherwise there's no tension -- but it can't actually get there.

Well, over the past few strips, Beth's been attacking the problem head on, and Frank played the "enemies will strike at me through you card." Leading to today.

And... you know it's a clich. I know it's a clich. It's specifically asking Murphy to do her worst. (Yes, I know that the Murphy of Murphy's Law was male. However, my friend Chris came up with the personification of the law being a goddess named Murphy, and that's worked its way into my Imperial Space Fiction -- because who're spacers and soldiers on the epic scale going to take in vain if not the principle of things going all fucked up almost on cue? And if they're going to do that, why wouldn't they make that principle female? We're a sexist race in general, after all. I mean, if E.E. "Doc" Smith's space heroes could swear by Klono's assorted body parts, why can't mine invoke a cute mischievous Goddess of Universal Troublemaking. But my God I've strayed from the topic.) It's saying "please kick me." And naturally in the next panel Milligan does.

But clich or not, it works. I'm grinning. It's the perfect juxtaposition of Beth's cheerfully dubious face and Beth tied up while Frank bleeds on the floor. And you have to admit, it builds interest in where the story goes from here.

So, nicely done.

(Also, the introduction of a Cast Page... er... several months back... made life much easier for we the Milligan fans.)

November 25, 2004

Day 25

35,310 / 50,000

So, it's been a long time since I updated you. There's been writing going on, but there's also been gaps. But I'm still plugging away.

It's a whole new ball game, as I break 70%. It's no longer about the old quotas -- I'm writing more than 1,600 words every time I write, but between work and some of last week's snarks, there's been missed days too often. Right now, I need to clear 3,000 words a day between now and Tuesday.

On the plus side... I'm on vacation. And even today, being social and being with my family, playing games and eating turkey... I still cleared 3,000 words.

I'm psyched. It's working. It feels good. It feels right... and I'm not going to quote it here. There's too much, and too little context. I'll put what's done so far on the writing page at end of writing tomorrow.

Thanks, all. It's almost over, and then Snarking returns to normal.

But... none of the booth babes have superfluous Ys in their name! Where's Taryn or Ambyr?

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Gluons!)

Well, you know I like Narbonic. And if you haven't figured out I like comic strips where there's attractive women, you haven't been paying attention. But for all I love cheesecake and as much as I love the humor of the strip (Gluon Girl indeed)... the things that most struck me were twofold.

First off, there was the lettering. Having the booth babes speak with the silly little hearts and flowers and the like just perfectly set the tone. I can hear their bubbly little voices in my head.

But more than that... there's the three eyed cat.

The three eyed cat.

Gods, but I love Narbonic.

November 24, 2004

God, I love Twisp and Catsby

(From Penny Arcade. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Birdsea!)

I've absolutely loved Twisp and Catsby since their first appearance. I love the distinctive artwork. I love the surrealism. I love the world and almost Hitherby Dragonsesque nature of their adventures. And then there was today's.

The faux antiqued "paper" of the strip, the writing... Ominous!... and the idea that there is a secret to be found from the Turkey's mouth... it's all just fantastic. Maybe there's a pack of P-A fans who loathe anything that has nothing to do with video games, but I for one just fucking love Twisp and Catsby, and I don't care who knows it, and this was a wonderful thing to see in the Safari Tabs today.

Gabe and Tycho collectively get a biscuit. An ominous, tasty biscuit.


Sure, I'm late with snarks tonight, but on the other hand, I seem to be bitter. Doesn't that count for something?

This is try two on this snark. Which is indicative of the day.

I can't really talk about my day job. I can't because first off you don't care, and second off because I like my day job and want to continue to do it. However...

Well, let's put it this way. In systems administration, there are certain things that pretty much anyone with any understanding of the Internet would understand treads into grey or black areas morally, ethically and even philosophically. And sometimes, the administration above the systems administrator decides that... well, the janitor is probably morally, ethically and philosophically opposed to murder, but he's still going to mop up the blood when someone gets whacked in the hall.

So, having had to mop up some blood and bits of brain, I was in a fine fettle when I came across something I could get pissed about on here. And so we're going to discuss it, because I can't talk about the other and you wouldn't care anyway.

I buy stuff from Fictionwise.com. I love e-books. I love carrying around my library on my PDA. I love it and I wish there was more available. And because I buy stuff from them, I get their advertising. It's not really spam because I did, in fact, ask for it.

Well, yesterday, I got a notice that there were "Sherwood Anderson classics" available. Sherwood Anderson, in case you slept through American Lit, was the man who gave us Winesburg, Ohio. Which, I would add, was written in 1919 and is available on Fictionwise. And, as this advertisement mentioned, they also have Anderson's Poor White available -- one of Anderson's most celebrated of novels. And you can buy and download it right there, for just two and a half bucks. Forty cents off if you're a club member.

Great, right?


Which means Poor White is solidly into the Public Domain.

So what. It's available in bookstores too. Amazon.com has it for almost ten bucks. Two fifty-four is a bargain, right?

Guys... another place I turn to for e-books is Blackmask. Blackmask works hand in hand with organizations like Project Gutenberg, adapting public domain works into popular e-book (and HTML) formats.

Poor White is there. For free. In fact, a huge selection of Sherwood Anderson right here. For free. In the same basic formats for e-books, I would add. Including iSilo, which is my book type of choice.

Do I begrudge Fictionwise from making some money from public domain works that you could get for free elsewhere? No. Not really. They're trying to make money. But the idea that they need to charge two dollars and fifty cents, when they could get the text from Gutenberg or Blackmask, process it and slap it up on a server, and then have effectively no costs of production whatsoever, is ludicrous. There's no money going back to publishers. (If there is, someone at Fictionwise needs to be fired.) There's no money going back to the Anderson estate. It's free. I could slap the entire text of Poor White on Websnark if I wanted to.

And it pisses me off that instead of offering that work, and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, of Charles Dickens, of Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment is three dollars and forty-nine cents to buy from these people! A 19th Century novel that can't cost them two cents in bandwidth for you to download, that they almost certainly didn't have to keyboard or even scan in.) for maybe ten cents apiece, or as freebies if you buy X numbers of current, high cost pieces, they're charging absolutely absurd prices because they figure they'll get a few people thinking they're paying for convenience and that'll be enough.

We live in an era of unprecedented distribution. I have no problem with people making a little bit of money while they do it, but to push the margins so obscenely high on fiction that the public already owns the rights to is just plain ugly. And it pisses me off.

Somewhere, there's a sysadmin coding the engine driving it, and it pisses him off too.

But they just have him mop up the blood and move on.

On the other hand, there could be a line about putting tongues in tails. And it scares me I do know that reference without looking it up.

(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Country Wenches!)

I like Irregular Webcomic. I like the Hamlet plotline. I like obscure references. I like puns. I like office sexual tension involving LEGO.

I've got to say -- today didn't work for me. I guess I don't like it when you need annotations. When they add something but aren't necessary. Yeah, that has bothered me in the past with Penny Arcade too, though I think P-A (and Irregular Webcomic) are usually decipherable in context. Today's....

Look, I'm a lit Geek. I've acted Shakespeare often. I've been paid to act Shakespeare before. And I'm a big fan of Elizabethan double entendre. And I didn't get this one without checking the Cliff's Notes. I think it's moderately unlikely most of Irregular Webcomic's audience did either. It's just the way it is.

November 23, 2004

Hey, if I'd tongue kissed Bruce McCullough on multiple occasions as part of my job, I'd drink heavily too.

(From Real Life Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized bubbles!)

Let me say right out the gate I liked this strip a lot. I'm a big Celebrity Poker Showdown fan anyway. I like the professional Texas Holdem stuff on TV, but I love Celebrity Poker Showdown. It's not so much for the celebrities -- I mean, to be honest, I'm never sure who half of them even are -- as it is for the fact that at least half these people don't know anything more about poker than I do. I kind of wish Phil Gordon's infamous pamphlet, given to the celebrities before the tournament begins, would be released online or something, so I could read it and become at least as good as some of the mouthbreathers they have sitting around the felt on that show.

The other thing to remember, however, is that it all takes place in Las Vegas, and everyone at the table is drinking. The cute girls in gold lame pass through giving them drinks as they play, and you know Phil and host Dave Foley are enjoying a few rounds.

Well... the show is edited to be two hours long... but at least once we know they cut a lot out to make it two hours. (Phil and Dave and the celebrities all made jokes about the half of forever that particular round of poker had taken.) And Dave...


Look, the drinks are free.

Anyway, Greg Dean nailed it here. I'm of mixed emotions on the bubbles popping over Dave's head -- on the one hand, I'm a big fan of non-anime iconography. (I'm a little sick of Mangaesque iconography these days, I admit freely). I like the bubbles, I like trailing hearts over heads. I even like the old Dagwood Bumstead exclamation point indicating "shock and surprise at the punchline." (It makes me feel that all of Metal Gear Solid takes place in the same universe where Dagwood works for a defense contractor.) But that's incredibly picky. This is just a well executed strip.

Also, Dave Foley is funny when he's drunk.

November 22, 2004

Sometimes, tolerance means being just as possessive with guys as you are with girls.

(From 13 Seconds. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Parisian Sightseeing!)

13 Seconds is one of those strips on my "list of strips to read through," which means it's waiting for December and the end of Nanowrimo like all the rest. However, I happen to be on Peter Venables's Livejournal friends list, and when he completes a strip he posts it. So I've been kind of following the last few, though I'm not yet to the point that I'd call myself a reader. I need a lot more background, first.

Well, not long ago, there was an arc where one of the characters, in the awkward place where he's coming out of the closet, kissed one of the other characters. Which is all the setup you need for this strip.

And it just struck me well. Marsha didn't freak because another boy kissed Wally. She freaked because another person kissed Wally, and she reacted the same way she would if it were a girl. It was a little thing, but it was still a nice touch.

So, you know, I mention it here. That's what I do.

That moment that all becomes worth it.

So as you know, I spent a plurality of yesterday playing City of Heroes. Call it sanity. Call it recovery. Call it giving the tendons in my arm a day to heal from frantic typing. Whatever you call it, it was pretty much a full day of fighting for justice and experience points.

And truth be told, I spent a chunk of that day feeling pretty cynical about it. Early in the day we cleared out a couple of missions for my main hero, Transit -- but at least one of them was vastly easier than we expected, and the followup mission actually requires a full team of eight heroes to even start it. (Which is a pain in the neck, to be honest. There are about seven of us in our little coalition of heroism, but the likelihood of all seven of us being available to play at any given time is negligible. So, we'll need a coterie of pick-up heroes for this adventure. And while City of Heroes's pick-up adventuring system is pretty damn sweet, when you're at the culmination mission for an entire adventure, to suddenly have to have guest stars "Spydorr Man," "IMSOSEXYHOT" and "N0tBatM0n" join the Galaxy Circle is just plain disappointing.

So that was a bit anticlimactic. I then hit the streets with my "ode-to-Silver-Age" hero Matterman until the gang was ready for something for the evening. That something was the second Task Force you can take your heroes on. Task Forces are a long series of interconnected missions assigned to you by NPC heroes. This particular Task Force is assigned by Synapse, so those of you sitting at home who play this game and know from task forces are now nodding your head thoughtfully.

As it works out, this is the first time I ever played through Synapse. I've played through higher level task forces, as well as the soul crushing, mind numbing, finger cramping marathon that is the first task force, assigned by Positron. (Positron -- the only time in City of Heroes I've ever decided point blank that the citizens of Paragon City don't deserve rescue this much.)

Well, the Synapse Task Force is essentially one of the "end plots" for the early game. You see, at different levels in City of Heroes, you find yourself facing down different groups and organizations of nefarious intent. For example, as a first level hero... well, you're generally in the tutorial facing down contaminated thugs who've been sprayed by evil pathogens and gone nuts and throw rocks at you. But second through sixth level, you're generally facing street gangs like the Skulls or the Hellions, "scientific zombies" under the command of the insane Doctor Vahzilok, the odd pack of Nazis (which you can call "Nazis," but not "Nazi dogs," because the word "Nazi" is one of those the language filter triggers to block in the game. That's right. You're fighting a foe you can't name without it being bleeped. And yes, you can turn the language filter off, but Jesus Christ, half the fun of comments are watching language turn to [$@&%^]).

And one of the groups you fight are the automatons of the Clockwork King.

These things, as annoying and deadly as they can be, are cute. They look like scrap metal art as done by Phil Foglio, generally with little windup keys in their backs. And they make the most satisfying "crunch/clank" sounds when they collapse into junk. Now, there's a lot of Clockwork missions, so you become mind-numbingly used to them as you go along. "Oh, yeah. Fetch the weird spring. Oh, right, find the odd power source. Oh -- the mind of the King. Oh boy."

Well, the Synapse Task Force is the endgame of this. And it's... well... grueling.

At first, it's fun. The XP flies fast and free (especially for me, as two of the team members were L20 and I was L17 to begin with, meaning I got a healthy bonus for being a babe in the woods). And it's all doable. There's a few million helicopter clockworks and minion clockworks and giant killer clockworks to fight... they break the missions up into "recover the part" and "save the hostage" and "break all the robots in the power substation" type things. It's a good time. Also, you get to fight Bertha and Long Tom.

I swear. Bertha and Long Tom.

Anyway, it was sometime after one in the morning. We're exhausted. And it's just work at this point. We've lost all narrative thread. Our banter -- our group gives excellent banter, balancing the concept of role playing with the reality that this "role playing game" really is just a tactical hack and slash with multiplayer. (Admittedly, I feel that way about a number of the D&D Campaigns I was in and ran alike, growing up.) We've lost Darklens to fatigue and the recognition that tomorrow is a work day. And more crucially, our scrapper -- a speedster named Ms Mercury -- lets us know that sleep is no longer optional. And finishing off the Task Force with two defenders (my own Transit -- who as a teleportation specialist isn't exactly... useful on this task force in her own right, except as a minor buffer of allies and a minor doer of damage, and the more effective Schattenelf -- which I may be misspelling because I don't know German, but to my knowledge it's not a dirty word so stop snickering), and our leader, the Controller Living Prodigy, really couldn't do it all on our own. Nor would we want to cut Darklens and Ms Mercury out of the endgame. So we exit the mission after finishing and start saying goodnight....

Now, some of my team mates have played this Task Force through before. And they expect that at the end of the next mission, there is a Big Thing. However, the designers like to mix things up a little. So, we've exited a warehouse in Skyway City, right next to one of the gigantic walls and sequences of highway overpasses that is architecture in Skyway City... we're saying our goodnights, and beginning the 30 second countdown sequence to logging out and HOLY [$@&%^] IT'S BABBAGE!

Babbage is a Clockwork Monster. Huge, and epic... like something Jack Kirby and Lea Hernandez would collaborate on. There's nothing cute about Babbage. When we ran to engage, Ms. Mercury didn't come up to Babbage's knee. This thing drops down the wall out of nowhere, ready to decimate us for ruining the Clockwork King's plans, and any thought of leaving now went away.

It was frightening in the best cooooool way. Adrenalin was flowing (not in such a way that I'd need to medicate, thankfully) and the team was back into full swing. Ice bolts and darkness blasts and radiation bursts and swift kicking combined. Our controller locked Babbage in ice -- it lasted less than a second before he burst free! Ms Mercury flurried punches and kicks but couldn't nail anything vital. The Elf tried her own hold (those were some damn big tentacles of darkness) but they didn't manage to snag it. I burned the thing with my eyes and tried not to die... it began to weaken--

And it jumped to the top of a building and started to flee. It was out of angle for our attacks! And none of us had swift versions of flight (in fact, I'm the only character with Hover) or Superleap!

Which had been bugging me, earlier. Transit can teleport and hover, but when pretty much all the other heroes on my team have Superspeed, it still means she arrives last to the party most of the time. Last and exhausted, as chain teleporting takes a lot out of you. I finally used enhancements to alleviate that somewhat, but still -- it seemed like the power I'd based my whole character concept on was a wash....

...until that moment. Babbage was getting away! But Babbage would terrorize the streets and wreak havoc on lower level heroes if we didn't stop it! And no one else could get up there quickly. I looked up, targeted my teleport (teleport isn't a very granular power -- 98 yards forward onto your target, period) to the underside of an overpass, beamed up, whirled in air, targeted the rooftop, beamed down next to where Babbage was walking, jacked up all my remaining Inspirations for extra power and fired everything I had.

It worked. I got Babbage's attention. And therefore got very hurt, very fast, though not quite dead. And it gave my fellow heroes a chance to work up how to get within range of the beast. And we were able to nail the monstrosity.

In that moment, at the end of hours of gameplay and fighting vague dissatisfactions (at 17-19th level, I shouldn't feel superfluous)... suddenly, I was in a comic book. We were desperately outmatched, and the stakes were high and real (trust me, I've been on the receiving end of someone's high level ambush going "uncleared" while walking through a lower level neighborhood. You despise these people). Suddenly, we were the Fantastic Four fighting against a giant mole creature. Suddenly, we were the Justice League being pushed to the limits of our mighty powers taking on a threat no one of us, not even Superman, could fight alone.

Suddenly, it was role playing. For one brief second, I was the hero I'd been pretending I was since I was five years old with a gold towel to represent Captain Marvel's cape (not the comic book Cap, the SHAZAM! television show).

When you beat Babbage, you get a Badge in the game. The badges are fun, but generally fluffy (some combinations of them 'earn' you bonus powers, but when you're 19th level, you're very, very far away from any of those. They're just kind of cute at this point in the game). Well, this Badge represents something to me. This badge represents combat teleporting and desperation... represents those who wield entanglements trying desperately to hold the beast while our speedster tries desperately to get hold of the thing and shake something loose. It represents a multihour task force where you grind for XP and get a couple of levels and become almost jaded being transformed, alchemically, into the very heart of the genre you want so desperately to be a part of.

Oh yeah. It was worth it.

So, did anyone actually read this thing to the end?

November 21, 2004

A day without merit.

It had to happen, eventually.

I don't have anything to report or snark on today. I've got nothing. I did some City of Heroes (mixed day of it), and I did some research and notes and math for Trigger Man, and I did a whole lot of nothing.

Well, tomorrow should be a productive day, at least. I hope you guys had fun.

November 20, 2004

Notes from Panera Bread on a day of writing. Also -- art!

(From Girls with Slingshots. Click on the thumbnail for full sized bitch!)

I'm ensconced at Panera in Portsmouth, writing and enjoying the twin decadence of free Wifi and free refills on coffee. I'm running behind on Nanowrimo (hey, you snark the stuff I snarked from midweek on and try to have time or energy for writing fiction, too), so I needed to get myself away from the Tivo and City of Heroes and other distractions and just let myself bury into fiction. It's working well so far.

I wanted, however, to mention Girls with Slingshots. I got this off a link from Eat the Roses, and discovered that this new strip (from veteran webcartoonist Danielle Corsetto) was new enough that I could literally get in on the ground floor, with very little work on my part.

Corsetto's got over a hundred strips done in her previous efforts -- done during her college years and all available for your perusal at her website. I can't speak good or ill of any of these other strips, because I really am behind in writing Trigger Man, so I really don't have time to surf large archives. Besides, the backlog is huge right now and requires my attention in some semblance of order, so the older strips will just have to go onto the list and wait.

But this one is just thirteen strips long right now. It doesn't take long to read the whole thing. And you can tell Corsetto's learned a thing or nine about art, writing and pacing. It looks to be a slice of life so far, which can be great fun. I'm liking what I'm seeing so far.

So, here's a nice little droplet of snark for you -- a strip most of you probably haven't seen yet, that you can get into right now without too much trouble. Consider it a gift -- and five years from now, when Corsetto is angling towards wrapping Girls with Slingshots up, you can put on airs in her forums or LJ community or wherever that you were there at the start, you started at strip thirteen, and these Johnny come Latelys don't know from Danielle Corsetto.

And really, isn't that what we all want out of our Internet lives?

November 19, 2004

When you stare into the chocolate, the chocolate is also staring into you.

I'm not asking for one, but if I had one of these dolls, I'd feel obligated to put it inside a closed box and never, ever take it out. Though occasionally I'd have to push a rose petal in through the cracks.

(These folks also make the Nietzsche Will to Power Bar. The brilliance of this is frightening.)

I know people think I'm going to marry John Troutman with all the talking about him I do, but honestly, this strip's about marrying Meaghan Quinn, who is already married. Always a bridesmaid....

(From Vigilante, Ho! Click on the thumbnail for full sized Saints preserve us!)

It's easy to forget, drinking in the lush greys of Eat the Roses, that Meaghan Quinn is an absolutely phenomenal colorist. Now, it shouldn't be -- it's harder to create monochrome gradations that work well, and requires an extremely deft handling of light and dark -- but it is. There's something about the least-interestingly colored comic that causes your eye to gravitate to it before you look at the most incredibly colored greyscale comic. I don't know why.

However, when someone who understands light and dark and monochrome shading and gradation works in color, the results are subtle... and if you take a few moments to really look at them, will kick your ass to the curb and take your lunch money.

Look at today's Vigilante, Ho. Look at it. Look at the folds in the leather of the gloved thumb holding the picture. Look at the composition of the sepia photograph. Look at the almost halo of light formed around the Kid's face in panel two, and at the shifts of light and color in the skin tones of her collarbone versus her face. Look how the shadows around the Kid seem almost to creep closer to her as she tosses the picture away, and the sudden redness of the courtesan's hair (one hope's she'll develop a name sometime soon) surprises as much as her words. This isn't a strip in color. This is a strip that romances color. That whispers in color's ear. That convinces color to do things that color doesn't normally do for money or honor.

Meaghan Quinn gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

Things become clearer with mission statements

After yesterday's Snark on Graphic Novel Review's cover, and the ensuing quasi-debate in the comments, Alexander Danner, the editor of GNR, posted the Mission Statement for GNR in his latest Profundities Forthcoming post. With his permission, I'm reprinting it here:

Many literary readers, having been exposed to one or two or three "crossover" graphic novels every few years, are already interested in exploring the larger context of the form. They want to gain a better understanding of the "scene" from which these outstanding works emerged, and they want to find new graphic novels to read. We provide that context and that understanding. Although we welcome readers from both the artcomix scene and mainstream fandom, we do not expect our audience to have comics at the center of their lives: We are writing for the average reader of contemporary literature who wants to explore the field of graphic novels.

Now, this I can support. If Graphic Novel Review, as a matter of editorial policy and intentional decision, is specifically targeting contemporary readers and not targeting either indy or mainstream comics fans (though of course, they'll be happy to have them too), then I can accept that their emphasis will be on graphic novels that would appeal to those fans.

I don't know if their mission can be successful. I do know it's a worthy one, and if it is will go light years into the promotion of Sequential Art as an art form.

Now, I think they both have to put this online and rewrite their Writer's Guidelines to reflect it more clearly. As it is now, the natural assumption a reader makes when they look at the writer's guidelines is going to either be mine -- which is that they were cutting their nose off to spite their face -- or one of my other readers, who thought it was an intentional shafting of mainstream comics fans. I take Danner at his word that it's neither -- and this makes it explicitly clear that what they're doing just doesn't involve mainstream or indy fans, editorially, and so it'll greatly serve GNR to rephrase things to make that clear to everyone.

And will clear the decks for me to write snarks about pretty covers and well written articles without having to throw in caveats, and that's a good thing. Caveats scare me.

The line between sexist and hysterical really becomes one of perspective, doesn't it?

As you may remember, I posted a snark a couple of weeks back where I examined geek clichs in webcomics. The cliches I specifically identified were Monkeys, Ninjas, Pirates, Robots and Cleavage. In comments, some readers also put Zombies on the list.

Well, Steve Jackson Games has now announced SPANC -- which stands for Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirl. It's a card game... and lives in the eternal RPG/Card/Wargame realm pioneered by Macho Women with Guns lo those many years ago.

As a good liberal, I immediately wondered "do we really need a game with a bikinied catgirl on the cover?" I mean... honestly? And yeah, it's Steve Jackson Games, and I like Steve Jackson Games (of course, full disclosure requires I mention I get checks sent to me by Steve Jackson Games at highly irregular intervals). And I tend to trust Steve Jackson Games... and enjoy their card games, for that matter. (While Chez Greek left me a little cold, Chez Geek itself was a masterpiece of hilarity, for example. And some other time I'll take the time to write mash notes about Illuminati and Illuminati: New World Order.)

Then, however, I saw that said Catgirl was a Phil Foglio drawing. And that in fact Foglio does all the artwork for the game.

And the good liberal in me said "oh -- Phil Foglio? Cool! We have to buy this game."

So, I guess it just goes to show -- be consistently hilarious (even in your Porn Comics) and have consistently high quality in your art, and you get a "no, it's satire, not sexist" card free.

And for the record, Catgirl and Amazon are both subsets of Cleavage, but both are also close enough to their own clichs that we can practically make them their own categories. "Space" implies a robot, here or there. We have Catgirls instead of monkeys, but that doesn't rule out monkeys appearing in some of the cards (Planet of the Monkeys!) And there's always room for zombies.

I'm not sure we can call this hitting for the cycle, but it certainly loads the bases.

Blog with Strip, hold the mayo

So, I can't actually snark http://www.journeyintohistory.com right now, because the thing that caught my eye is the fact that he's put up a portal-cell of the latest Websnark headlines on it. Which, I have to admit, I find really really neat. For one brief moment, I can feel like I'm CNN.com. Then, of course, I read said headlines and it reminds me that no, I'm not CNN. I write a blog.

But then, Journey into History is also a blog. Only it's a blog with occasional comic strips. And I've been seeing that more and more lately. In a way, it's another "infinite canvas" form, only instead of exploding the artwork, the artist explodes the multimedia. There are strips (HB), which are pretty cool and distinctive. And there are other strips. And then there's his rambling. Rambling is good, any way you look at it.

This seems distinct, to me, from places like Penny Arcade, which use a news page as a gateway to the strip, or things like... well, a plethora of strips, which have a comic strip and a "rant." In those, the strip is the point. The newspost may elaborate on it or the rant may accompany it, but the words that are typed aren't typically the reason people show up. In a Comic/Blog like Journey Into History, it feels like the words are as important as the artwork... and that the reader is expected to enjoy and anticipate the essays as much as the comic strips. I don't know if it works yet, but I like the idea.

I have to wonder. With technology like Movable Type making the convergence of self-served art and text simple, will we be seeing more and more merged comics/blogs? Or will sites like this remain anomalies.

In other news, 'anomalies' is hard to spell.

November 19's a weird day for me

A while back, I had an online journal. It was more personal than Websnark, as longtime readers already know. Well, I covered November 19 and why it's weird in my life in One Day in the Life - 11/19/99.

19 years after the events detailed in that entry... things still tend to be weird on the 19th of November. So, if something strange happens to me later today... remember that I warned you right at the start.

Still remembering, Rich.

November 18, 2004

A link to something nice.

I haven't had a lot to say about Graphic Novel Review since it came out. I posted an opinion on its guidelines before it came out (I felt that taking a hard, though not absolute, editorial bias against mainstream super hero graphic novels was a mistake, ensuring that the very people who most needed exposure to creator owned and independent graphic novels would have no reason to read it. It's an opinion I continue to hold, though I don't know if it's been borne out or not.) I think it's well written, and some people I respect highly are associated with it, editing it, writing for it, or all of the above.

But... well, I'm not steeped in graphic novels anyway, right now. I haven't been to the comic store in months, and while I trek through the graphic novel section of Barnes and Noble whenever I go in there, I don't usually buy anything.

(The same is sadly true of Science Fiction these days, but that's because I'm a lot more likely to buy and download E-books from Fictionwise or Baen to read at my leisure than I am to buy physical books. I carry my Treo 600 with me wherever I go because it's also my cell phone, and I bought a monumentally large SD card so I can carry a library with me. There's nothing quite as satisfying as discovering that you're caught behind a car accident on an interstate, that you've probably got a half hour before any traffic's going to move at all, so you pull out your PDA/phone and start rereading Soothsayer. I just wish Sean Stewart novels came electronically right now.)

But, I do like the articles they write. And right now, I'm going to go suggest you look at this month's cover. Jenn Manley Lee has produced a striking and evocative piece that's just plain pretty.

Once you've seen it, feel free to head inside and see if anything catches your eye. "M." Campos and Kelly J. Cooper have reviews, and that's worth it all by itself. But it's the cover art that really yanked at my eyes this month, and that's worth a mention, don't you think?

November 17, 2004

The obligatory and long overdue snark where I talk about In Nomine

This is the three hundred and thirty-third post to Websnark. Which is frightening and wrong, on so many levels. However, I'm awfully glad there's actually someone reading these words, so for the record, thank you for coming.

However, the number 333 means something to me. Something all important. 333... means that we have just invoked Ralph, the Demon Prince of Apathy.

I probably need to explain this.

In Nomine, from Steve Jackson Games, is one of my favorite role playing games of all time. It's a game about the cold war between Heaven and Hell, told from the point of view of the angels and demons fighting it. All too often, they're caught as pawns between the great, celestial powers who provide mandate, but little understanding of the world of humans. There are some wonderfully dysfunctional archangels, some oddly sympathetic demon princes... and the game fully supports either a "bright" game where Good is ahead of the game, or a "dark" setting where Evil is... as well as adjusting the "contrast" on just how much difference there is between the Angels and Demons. (Because I'm comfortable and own my incipient damnation, I like running bright, low contrast games, where it's hard to tell which Archangels are good and which are evil, and the same with the demon princes, but over time the characters can figure out what the right thing to do is.)

One of the core concepts of In Nomine are Words. The entire cosmos, be we talking the Earth, the Celestial realms or the realms of dreams and imagination, are all bound up into one Symphony, with the angels and demons mere instruments. A half-step from the musical imagery we get the idea that angels and demons can be bound to a single concept -- expressed as a Word in a celestial tongue -- and gain strength or grow weak based on that Word's relative strength in the hearts and minds of humanity. So, you have Michael, the Archangel of War. You have Andrealphus, the Demon Prince of Lust, and so forth, up on the high end. On the low end, you have guys like Imbap, the Demon of Stale Bong Water.

Yeah, stopping Imbap is not considered a priority for the Hosts of Heaven.

Anyway, In Nomine is just plain fun. And, for those of you who need some webcomics content in all my snarks (yeah, I get letters like that), there's even an official mention of Kizke, the Demon of Internet Comics, Servitor of Kobal, the Demon Prince of Dark Humor. (Kizke is named for K'z'k from Sluggy Freelance). On the official mailing list, you get a semi-regular dose of webcomics inspired fun as well (I've seen writeups, if I remember correctly, for the cast of Something Positive, Sluggy Freelance, Queen of Wands (I think -- I could swear I've seen an Angela writeup, at least), and others. It works out nicely.

And then there's Ralph, the Demon Prince of Apathy. Who just doesn't give a fuck.

Ralph is a fan-creation of Nana Yaw Ofori, and his writeup, which doesn't need... well, any understanding of In Nomine to read, can be found here. For a while, he became a running joke on the In Nomine mailing list. And then someone brought up... Interventions of Apathy.

You see, the basic die mechanic in In Nomine is the "d666." Essentially, you roll three six sided dice -- one a different color than the other two. The two similarly colored dice are what you roll to do something, trying to roll high. The third die is the "check digit," and reflects how successful you are. However, if you roll three ones on the dice -- a 111, or a 2 with a check digit of 1 -- this is a Divine intervention (think of the Trinity, despite the... er... lack of any information on the Trinity in the game). Something happens that God would like. So, if you're playing angels, it tends to be good for you. If you're playing demons, it tends to be bad for you. On the other side of things, if you roll three sixes... yeah. 666. Infernal Intervention. Lucifer takes a notice and does something he finds appropriate or funny. Which is generally good for the demons, but not always. Lucifer's on the fickle side, at least when he thinks something is funny.

Finally, someone on the list suggested that any time you rolled three 3's... that caused an Apathetic Intervention, attracting the notice of Ralph, Demon Prince of Apathy.

What happens then?

Nothing, of course. Ralph doesn't give a fuck.

So. I missed my Divine Intervention post. (Post 111 was Random Reader Question, Randomly Answered, which actually was one of my favorite posts of all time. As well as one of the shortest. Have a look, if you want). My Infernal Intervention is still a few months away. But right here, right now, this is Post 333 to appear on Websnark.

This is Ralph's post.

And somewhere, in the Depths of Hell... Ralph doesn't give a fuck.

I have rather the opposite disorder, I'm afraid.

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized giving back to the community, bitch!)

Black comedy is one of my personal joys. For those of you who didn't get the memo, black comedy doesn't refer to comedy by people of African descent (for my opinions on that, you have to be more specific. The continuum ranges from my absurd love of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock, down to the abject contempt I hold all but two Wayans family members in), but, as Webster's says: in literature and drama, combining the morbid and grotesque with humor and farce to give a disturbing effect and convey the absurdity and cruelty of life. It's hard to do well. Which is why Something Positive so often warms the cockles of my flabby, distended heart.

This particular strip is the start of a new plotline for Something Positive -- there've been two strips following it, but I've been largely A) busy and B) asleep the last couple of days (I got home after work and then woke up this morning. It was that kind of a day). Still, I like this way too much not to throw it up here.

Eat a Fucking Sandwich, You Walking Pile of Twigs Patrol alone would get me laughing. I deeply enjoy Aubrey and Peejee inflicting violence and abuse on others.

However, the next several strips elaborate on this theme, as the pro-ano community -- that's right, there is an active community of people who support an eating disorder that causes people to starve themselves literally to death because they have such a distorted body image that they can't believe they aren't fat when they're a skeleton. A group that actually does seek to fight negative portrayals of the "anorexic lifestyle" -- gets the television show shut down. And we seem to be gearing up to Aubrey planning how to decimate those people who love the wasted-away look so much.

Hysterical. Because it's hideous, and because it's willing to point at this movement and say you people are fucking sick! You're enabling a horrible suicide and affirming a twisted self-image among people who need medicine and help and calories.

Milholland will get hate mail from people who think he's attacking anorexia-sufferers. He'll get hate mail from people who're into anorexia. He'll get hate mail from people who just don't find this funny. In this case, that hate mail means he's doing it right. Because when we live in a world where anorexia sufferers can be given a positive feedback support group and "anti-anorexia" could ever be considered a bad thing... the only thing we can do is highlight the absurdity and use it to point out the cruelty underneath.

Milholland gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

Now eat it and shut up, bitch.

November 16, 2004

You had me, and you lost me: General Protection Fault

gpf.png(From General Protection Fault.)

I work with teenagers, in my day job. (That's right -- the action packed world of blogging doesn't actually afford me the financial freedom to indulge my passions and intellectual pursuits. I actually need to 'work' for a 'living.') And sometimes, I have a hard time explaining what the world of technology was like back before they really understood it. Back in 1999, I taught a class on Computer Platforms and Philosophy to a summer session of students. I had to explain to them that it had been just seven years since there hadn't been any World Wide Web at all. That all we had was green text on a black screen (amber on black if you were lucky), and sending pictures to your friends involved UUENCODE and UUDECODE and an hour and a half on Kermit -- and it's not like people had scanners anyhow.

I made them a prediction, then. "Seven years from now, you're going to look back on the tools we're using now, the online world we live in, and be kind of amazed that the world was ever like that. You're going to have trouble remembering it to yourself, much less tell people who are seven years old right now about it." They didn't believe me.

Well, it's going on 2005. We still have a couple of years to go before we see if my prediction bears fruit, but there's a lot of evidence to suggest that I was right. If nothing else, look at games. Look at MassMMOGs like City of Heroes and Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. Look at Halo 2. Hell, look at the X-Box in general. Look at the ways we've learned to entertain ourselves.

A year before I taught that class, in November of 1998, a man named Jeffery T. Darlington started a new online comic strip. The online comic landscape was pretty barren in those days of six years ago. Kevin and Kell had been around for a little while, and the prehistoric entries (Argon Zark, Dr. Fun, Helen (Sweetheart of the Internet) and the like)... but it wasn't like today, in our vast world of strips. It was still a very new medium. It was still a very new take on sequential art, on distribution... on everything. PvP was less than six months old at the time. Penny Arcade was itself just two weeks from starting. And User Friendly, perhaps the closest antecedent to the strip Darlington was putting together, was less than one year old.

And unlike J.D. Frazer... Jeff Darlington could draw.

As a sidenote. I don't mean to pick on User Friendly's art. However, I think the brilliance of early User Friendly was in its uniqueness, its understanding of its core audience, and its writing, not its art. I don't think anyone would disagree with me. However, in Darlington, we had another member of the cognoscenti -- a computer scientist for IBM Global Services, Darlington understood the world of information technology. And in 1998, the majority of comic readers on the internet had more than a passing interest in information technology.

Darlington named his strip General Protection Fault -- a computer in-joke that more and more kids today need to have explained to them, which seems like a healthy trend for computer engineering to me. And, if User Friendly's theme was "those idiot users who don't know Unix from emasculation-victims," GPF's theme was "We're Geek, We Eke -- get over it!"

Eke. It means "to barely make a living." Seriously.

And that's how it worked for our heroes. It wasn't workplace humor like Dilbert (generally). It was relationship humor. These were coworkers and friends trying to make a living and have a basically good life. There was Ki, the cute (the Supermodelesque looks would come much, much later) if surly programmer. (Described as "not bad looking, but almost like one of the guys -- a quiet harbinger of storm clouds to come), there was Fooker, the systems administrator with no grasp of hygiene, personal space or 'comfort zones,' Dwayne, the self-described "uncreative" boss. Fred, the slime mold that evolved out of the garbage pit Fooker called a home, and Trudy, the beautiful, puppy-kicking marketing director. Hijinks ensue.

It's worth noting that back in my Superguy days, the character I wrote who meant the most to me was named Trudy. She wasn't really a good fit for GPF, though. My Trudy was more of a Something Positive kind of person. It got to the point that a friend of mine said "Eric, your inner child is a twisted little girl named Trudy," and that was frighteningly accurate. It's also worth noting that if you tell an anecdote like that to your mother, she makes assumptions that really weren't the point of the story. But I digress.

GPF was good. It was funny, and fun, and cheerful, with good characters who had funny situations grow out of their interactions. It was a geeky strip and a human strip all at once, and it didn't take itself too seriously. I liked it. Everyone liked it. While not Sluggy Freelance, it had a solid fanbase and good word of mouth. It was a charter strip on Keenspot, and became one of the fixtures of all things Keen. When Keenspot experimented with Keenspot Premium, GPF was one of the few strips to develop content quickly... and became one of the few strips to develop premium content at all.

In short, General Protection Fault had the goods.

Comic strips need conflict if they're going to be something other than basic gag-a-day, and Darlington wove several into the strip right from the beginning. The Ki-Nick-Trudy love triangle. The fact that Ki knew Trudy was evil, Fooker knew Trudy was evil but was so paralyzed by lust for her that he did whatever she wanted anyway, but Nick and Dwayne were clueless. ("She gave me a nice card" was Nick's all purpose answer to any suspicions Ki raised). Fred trying to stay hidden. The company trying to flourish. Trudy trying to take over the world. It was light hearted conflict, but it was conflict. Darlington began to develop more intricate plotlines. Ki began manipulating Nick through an anonymous IRC identity, then lying about it to him. (Ah, romance.) Trudy began blackmailing Ki. But no matter how much depth the story got, it remained pleasant. (In the middle of this period, Trudy one day thinks to herself "I think I will devote my entire week to making someone miserable! But who will it be...." This is not a sign of angst or darkness, just so you know.) And, despite the fact that there were a lot of relationship strips and a lot of geek strips and a lot of business strips and a lot of "my pile of crazy friends have adventures" strips, there wasn't anything like GPF. I read it every day. I looked forward to it every day.

I should say something like "it couldn't last," but to be honest it could. Other strips have done it. But Darlington fell into the most seductive trap a lighthearted story/funny strip can fall into: drama.

I rail about this over and over again, but the reason I do it is because it's true, and because it breaks strips. It breaks them badly. And then those strips don't recover. It's time to go to the Lexicon link again, kids... because General Protection Fault went for the Cerebus Syndrome, and fell into First and Ten Syndrome.

The fast recap for those who came in late: Cerebus Syndrome refers to the desire to take your light, satirical comic strip and add depth and darkness and sophisticated story -- to evolve out of humor and beyond humor, though without eschewing humor. It refers to the Dave Sim comic book of the same name, which started as a Conan the Barbarian parody and became something vastly more. (Well, until Sim lost his mind, but that's another snark.) You can tell when a creator wants to go for the Cerebus Syndrome, when the jokes begin to thin out and the plot points begin to mount -- when tension is supposed to build and people stop being funny, because there's nothing funny about this.

The problem is, it's astoundingly hard to do successfully. In webcomics, the champion of Cerebus Syndrome is Sluggy Freelance. It managed not to lose the core of what it was, while evolving into something much more, and becoming very interesting all the while. It's a testament to Pete Abrams that he pulled it off -- and not everyone agrees with me that he did. And when someone fails at a Cerebus Syndrome, it's an ugly, ugly sight. As long time readers know, we call that "First and Ten Syndrome."

First and Ten was a frothy, mindless, tits and ass comedy series on HBO back before shows like The Sopranos redefined what HBO could be. First and Ten was the collective realization by programming executives that unlike network television, they could have naked women and use bad words, and that would bring a certain demographic in droves. And it seemed to work. Now, it was always offensive at best (the high concept of First and Ten was that a woman -- a woman -- won her husband's football team in a divorce settlement, and was now going to -- get this -- actually try to own the team! It starred Delta Burke, who at the time was a sultry siren generally in flimsy outfits. It aimed low. Very low. But it hit its target.

And then, out of nowhere, First and Ten switched gears entirely and became dramatic instead of comedic. In fact, it became melodramatic. Comedy is hard, you see, and ratings were slipping. The bare breasts weren't enough to pull people in any more. So, they figured they could get a more sophisticated audience interested in the drama while retaining the old audience. Only the 'more sophisticated audience' wasn't interested, because they associated First and Ten with offensive stereotypes and gratuitous nudity, and the old fans weren't interested in drama, so they left. It was a monumental failure. You will note that you can't buy First and Ten: Season One on DVD today, which given the incredible proliferation of archives for sale means it really tanked.

General Protection Fault went for Cerebus. They got First and Ten.

We first knew we were in trouble during the Flood storyline. There had been weirdass quasicosmic storylines before then (featuring an oddly realistic big chinned cosmic being named... I swear I'm not making this up... "the Gamester," and his leather clad pixie-like sidekick "Mischief." Who... um... have never really done anything. Except make pronoucements). But with the Flood, we had a wholesale abandonment of humor and lightheartedness. There was a terrible storm, there was a terrible flood. Dwayne's wife was having a baby. Nick charged out into the storm and dove into the flood to save someone even though he couldn't swim (an event rife with humorous possibility, but it was played morbidly straight). Darlington stated publicly that he intended for the Flood to say something about how each of the principals dealt with a crisis.

It sucked. I mean, it sucked hard. It was one long exercise in depression and anger, and what dregs of poignancy could be eked out (there's that word again) didn't make up for the fact that this was a solid month of our lives we wouldn't ever get back. And what's worse, Darlington was convinced it was a tremendous success. And it was just a precursor to what was to come.

It was called Surreptitious Machinations, and with it, Darlington's trip to First and Ten was complete. Here's his own description of this plot from his archive page:

Year Four is very different from previous years, as it is primarily composed of a single, far-reaching story arc we call Surreptitious Machinations. Filled with lots of drama, action, plot twists, and the usual GPF humor, this tale is guaranteed to be the ultimate GPF masterpiece. (Note that it is highly recommended that the reader be familiar with the events of the past three years before reading this story, as it ties up a lot of loose threads.)

If this story was guaranteed, I'm waiting for my refund.

Surreptitious Machinations lasted a full year. A full year. Seven days a week, for three hundred and sixty three days (November 4, 2001 to November 2, 2002.) In this sequence, Darlington broke up the cast and scattered them "to the four winds," to use his own chapter break. GPF went bankrupt and was burnt to the ground, with Trudy framing Dwayne for insurance fraud and arson. Fooker was framed for mass murder by an robotic double from the future. (I swear to Christ -- a time murderous robotic duplicate from the future named the Fookinator -- not played for laughs.) We saw a vision of the future where Trudy is absolute empress of the world, Nick has been killed, and she hunts down and takes out the last of the resistance, even as Nick and Ki's son travels back in time to change history. (That's right -- it's not just depressing and morbid and totally not what we came to the GPF dance with, it's a clich!) Unfeasibly complex plots interwove seamlessly. We had the return of Fooker's secret agent identity, permanently (yeah -- Fooker was only an unhygienic slob with no concept of social skills during his day job. That's right). Finally, it culminated in a huge fight scene in New York where Nick and Dwayne were finally forced to confront the fact that gosh, maybe every one of their friends and coworkers were right about Trudy and they were wrong, and then... *snif*... good won out. Nick and Ki were reunited. CRUDE and Trudy were defeated. Empress Trudy lost.... (only she managed to escape despite being eliminated from history, because... well, because resolution would make Darlington melt into a puddle, I guess). And then an all new GPF could be formed.

It was over. It was finally over. And don't make any mistake -- it was a major blow to GPF. It got bad enough that Darlington actually had to post disclaimers swearing that the funny would be back, give it time, this was the payoff to the whole series, no honestly. Just have faith. And if it's just too much and not why you're here, then just drop GPF for a while and come back in December!

Guys, when you have to tell your fans to stop reading until your plotline is over... you've lost. You have completely lost.

I was one of those to drop it and then come back afterward. I wanted to have faith, you see. I wanted to believe. I liked General Protection Fault, very very much. And I wanted to believe the horror was over.

Sadly, what came back, while much better than the year long suckfest that was Darlington's "Masterpiece of GPF," just wasn't General Protection Fault. Instead, it was a mishmash of elements that tried to recapture some of the whimsy, compassion and caring that was a hallmark of the strip's original strengths. However, Trudy was gone, Fooker was gone, and just like you can't become a child again, we couldn't just forget the very, very unfunny, dramatic evolutions the characters had went through. As a result, General Protection Fault developed a fatal cancer: inconsistency.

One hallmark of this is art style. If you look at the more recent characters in GPF -- Ki's parents, Mercedes De La Croix, and even Trent -- they're done in a cartoonish/Superhero style first seen in the Gamester and CRUDE. If, on the other hand, you look at Dwayne and Nick... and then go all the way back to the very first GPF strip, back in 1998... they look exactly the same. No pupils, wide circle eyes, Nick's ridiculous pontoon boat feet.... as a result, it looks like General Protection Fault is currently set in Toontown, where realistic human beings walk by Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, and we're supposed to just accept that this is the way things are. For another... critical stupidity on the part of the cast that we could forgive when the whole thing was just a lighthearted romp becomes criminal in the post-CRUDE battle world. When Dwayne, whose willing blindness over Trudy literally cost him his business, got him thrown into prison for insurance fraud and arson, and who ultimately had to fight for his life and the lives of the world, decides to hire Trent -- an equally unctuous marketing director who once literally tried to drop a safe onto Dwayne's head, it doesn't make the reader think comedic hijinks will ensure. It makes us think that Dwayne is retarded and has no business owning a business, and one day his daughter Sydney will be wandering the streets, destitute and doing horrible things to survive. And sure enough, Trent is now suing GPF pretty much because he's a bastard, period. We leap over to Trudy on the run, and God help me it's compelling. It's sometimes beautiful -- one really gets the sense of a dark soul reaching for the light, living in the Hell she has created... and then we have a series of strips that parodies the Matrix for no good reason.

And then, there's Nick and Ki.

God help me, there's Nick and Ki.

There is no longer even the slightest glimmer of tension between Nick and Ki. There was once, when there was Trudy in the mix. But Nick made his choice. Tension over. Back before Surreptitious Machinations, there was a truly ham handed attempt to add "sexual tension" when Ki, seeing Nicole pregnant, had her "womb twinge" and nearly went nuts trying to get Nick to fill her full of baby. (Yeah. I think I read that story on Alt.Sex.Stories when I was twenty-two too. It disturbed me then, too. And that was... Jesus, that many years ago?) Now, they're virgins by choice (well, at least they're not having sex with each other. Ki used to go without panties while wearing skirts -- I have to assume she wasn't a nun) and have settled into the most boring routines of marriage -- sexless, joyless connection for years and years and years. This culminated, as you the readers know, with Nick finally asking Ki to marry him in the most pathetically afterschool special-ist plotline ever conceived in a webcomic. Ki's father, who has been a stubborn xenophobe all her life (he still calls her by the name he wanted to name her) proves to be a racist bastard, literally assaulting Nick when he asks for Ki's hand and sending him to the hospital. Then, Ki goes in, has about five minutes of arguing with her father... and he completely reforms, apologizes to Nick, gives his consent and blessing and accepts Nick into the family. It was literally minute twenty seven of a television sitcom and we needed to have Jan Brady learn the true meaning of being a sister, in time to be all better!

(Through this whole plotline, Darlington protested to people responding badly to Oshiro's literally terrible characterization by saying that the plot wasn't over yet -- give it time! Honestly! Only the payoff was simply a setup to let Trudy see Nick propose to Ki... and then leave, in tears, without even swearing revenge. In other words, it was Surreptitious Machinations all over again -- "come on back when the plotline is over! You'll see then!" Only we didn't see anything.)

I kept hoping that getting back to the fresher, more interesting characters would revitalize my interest in GPF. Fooker was back, and there were hints of something cool on the horizon with him. I like Sharon. I like Dexter. I like Mercedes. There was hope. I just had to make it to the next plotline....

Well, we're here.

It's literally about how Sharon and Ki, good friends and long time professionals, can't cope with Sharon being Ki's project lead on a project. (Nick, the level headed and very male uberman, being too busy.) It was set up in an implausibly bad way, with Dwayne literally talking to Sharon and Ki, saying that Ki had the seniority and project lead chops and (unstated) should be in charge, but he needed her database skills for this so Sharon would be. (If Dilbert came to work for Dwayne... he'd be begging the pointy haired manager to take him back in a week. Which admittedly might be funny, which would be novel for Dilbert these says.) Cut to Trent, sliming some repulsive theory that ambitious men work just fine together because hey -- one of them's the alpha dog and the rest fall into line (note to world -- this is a hideous lie. I worked in the Corporate and Education worlds. This Does Not Happen), but that women, being such excitable creatures, butt heads and just can't deal with each other. Not if they're both strong willed! Not like men could! And then immediately jumped to Sharon and Ki trying to bite each other's heads off! Because it's true! Hah hah! Those uppity females!

My boss is a woman. She's a great manager. (And doesn't read this, so I'm not sucking up.) Several of her peers are female. Several of them are "strong willed." But any head butting that goes on is almost exactly like the headbutting that the men do. I don't say men and women are the same, but the idea that you can't have two confident women on one team without them going for each other's throats is beyond sexist and into repulsive.

Today's strip features Ki ranting at Sharon's back. And then Sharon turns around, and we cut to a panel of a tiger about to attack a cougar. Get it? They're going to catfight! Whoo hoo! Maybe they'll tear each other's clothes off.

And it broke me. So help me Christ, it broke me.

I could deal with the failed Cerebus Syndrome. I could deal with the slog through First and Ten. I could deal with the discontinuous art style. I could deal with the inconsistent levels of sophistication in the characters. I could deal with the racism. I could deal with the sexism. I could deal with the toxic level of boredom Nick and Ki (either or both) instill in me. But I can't deal with all of them. I can't hold out hope any longer that the things that drive me insane will go to the background while the things I like come to the foreground.

Darlington does do many things right. His art, while schizophrenic, is solid and shows evolution. He is rock solid in updates -- I don't know that he's ever missed a day. Whether or not you like his convoluted plotlines, he does balance them simultaneously and he does eventually pay off the ones that aren't relationship based. And he can write engaging and poignant pieces when he isn't fighting with himself. And he clearly loves what he's doing, and there's no better reason in the world to write and draw a strip. Seriously. It doesn't matter what I think or anyone else thinks -- if Darlington is happy than power to him. And he still has fans who adore him, and that is good. I don't blame them for liking GPF at all. But that doesn't mean I can stick around for the ride.

The smartest possible move Darlington could have done, having committed to Surreptitious Machinations, would be to end GPF with Ki and Nick kissing in the sunlight, and started a new strip, with a different cast (with maybe some crossover and cameos), setting up without expectations or without a yearning to be what GPF once was but couldn't be again. He could still do it, but there's no sign he will. He's in this for the long haul.

I hope he's successful in that haul, but I won't be hauling along with him. He had me, and he lost me.

November 15, 2004

Day 15

25,805 / 50,000

As predicted, I lost Sunday's writing time, and truth be told I didn't do all that much on Saturday, because... well, the day before I wrote 6,000 words. You think I wanted to go within a country mile of this thing the next day? But, here we are at Day 15 (otherwise known as "halfway there"), and we are just slightly above halfway to goal in wordcount. The Quota Count on the day is 25,805/25,000, which doesn't suck any way you look at it.

I actually pulled two different sections of the day's writing for excerpts... entirely devoted to character interaction, as opposed to the exposition of the last several excerpts. This is all about the ways our characters think and feel. Also sex rears its head. I need to have sex rear its head at least once, don't you think?

Anyway, let me know what you think. We've talked a lot about the technology and the strategy and even a little bit about the politics, but it doesn't matter a damn if the people don't work. On the other hand, if they do work... well, I have something of an ego, I believe I've mentioned.

            “Did you ever think we’d be someplace like this,” Yerkovich said for what had to be the ninth time. “Honestly.”

            “Do I think we’d end up listening to bad piano and horn fighting it out in a recording while watching our fellow captains get drunk?” Piramatto asked. “Yes. Yes I did.”

            “That’s not what I mean.”

            “I know what you mean.” She half-smiled. “You have to learn to calm down, little Nicky. You’re a captain now. An old man. You need to be measured and calm and vaguely carved out of stone.”

            “Oh, save us from another one of those,” Renn said. “I might be allergic to your brand of puppy-like enthusiasm, Yerkovich, but it’s a far sight better than the stereotypical king of the mountain, sitting in his Captain’s Chair, fingering his Captain’s Star, looking down his nose and making pronouncements every hour or so, while his X.O. does all the heavy lifting.”

            “So, like our Captain Malcolm here?” Piramatto asked.

            “Hey, I can lift just fine,” Malcolm said, absently.

            “Yeah,” Renn said. “Exactly like our Captain Malcolm. They may want our youth and lack of preconditioning to turn us into Sortino’s Raiders of the fifth stage transition, but thirty years from now, we’ll mostly still be Captains while Malcolm runs his own little C-n-C, wearing a Commodore’s Star or even an Admiral’s five point. And when we all retire to our gardens and feed our cats and tell our friends our glorious stories, Malcolm will be ensconced in the Underministry until they force him to retire, whereupon they’ll give him a Baronet’s Ring and put him right back to work until the day he dies.”

            Malcolm snorted. “I think my mother’d die of shock if they ever gave me a title.”

            “If your mother hasn’t died of something by the time you’re seventy or eighty years standard, she’s immortal.”

            Malcolm’s smile slipped slightly. “I certainly hope we have a chance to find out.”

            Renn scowled, looking away.

            “Has there been any word,” Yerkovich said. “Any new letters?”

            “No. The Concordians have pretty well blockaded the information flow on Campos. If the synthetics don’t get to talk to each other, there’s no chance they’ll pass secrets, is there?”

            “You’re from Campos,” McWhirt asked.

            Malcolm nodded.


            “Fisher Plantation, in Eastgate Heights?”

            McWhirt nodded. “I know that place. As of 5284-170 or so, the Concordians had begun heavy mining there. I got a report from a friend who knew a free trader.”

            Malcolm pursed his lips. “Mining? Damn. They’ve got the infrastructure up to start ripping out resources?”

            “We knew it had to happen,” McWhirt said, looking down. “They’ve been sucking all the food out of the Hearthstone Plateau for years.”

            “You’re from Campos, too,” Piramatto asked.

            “Born and raised,” McWhirt said. “I still have a brother and a sister there. My father died of starvation two years ago. They were keeping his city on a thousand calories a day at that point.”

            Malcolm bit his lip. “Yeah,” he said. “Eastgate Heights’s had it easy compared to the Hearthstone Plateau. I’m sorry.”

            “Me too. But don’t kid yourself. Since they dug in, no one’s had it easy.”

            “Easier than on Garrity,” Piramatto said, shaking her head. “They can’t dig in there, because we’ve got so many soldiers still on the ground, but that means instead of being exploited, they’re being blown up or killed.”

            “You don’t look like you’re from Garrity,” Yerkovich said.

            “I’m not. My husband was a lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Army. Powered Cavalry.” Piramatto looked off into the stars beyond the plastiglass. “I guess there wasn’t enough left of his gunship to recover remains from.”

            Yerkovich nodded. “It never stops hurting,” he said, softly. “I sometimes wake up, and roll over, and turn to record something I want to tell Wilma, and then I remember all over again that there’s a crater where she and my boy used to be.”

            “This is turning morbid,” Renn said. “I thought this was a party.”




            Renn was frowning a bit more. “I think I need more information. Guard my seat.”

            “Where are you going,” Malcolm asked.

            “To check on dessert.”

            Malcolm half-smiled and nodded. “Have fun.”

            “Yeah, I can’t imagine a better time.” Renn scooped up his whiskey sour and strode off to where the desserts were being laid out.

            “He thinks he’s a spy, doesn’t he,” Piramatto asked, smiling slightly.

            “From a vid, maybe.” Malcolm shook his head.

            “What’s bothering you so much about this? So we haven’t been given the whole story. Are we ever given the whole story?”

            You don’t know the half of it, Malcolm thought. But he couldn’t tell Piramatto what the Sabre would be doing in the fight. That was strictly need to know, and Sortino had made it clear no one off the Sabre needed to know. “I don’t like inconsistencies,” Malcolm said. “If there’s something we don’t know, it can blow up in our faces when we’re engaging the enemy.”

            “Murphy does love secrets,” Piramatto said, half smiling. “Mm. No sign of Yerkovich. I thought for certain McWhirt would have sent him on his way by now.”

            “Maybe she’s not particular,” Malcolm said.

            “She’s from your world. Are girls on Campos particular?”

            “Depends on the girl.”

            “What about boys?”

            “What about them?

            Piramatto smiled a bit, over her drink. “Are they particular, Alex?”

            Malcolm met her gaze, and sipped his drink. “Depends on the boy.”

            “I have a particular boy in mind.” Piramatto traced her finger along the rim of her glass. “Particularly.”

            Malcolm half-smiled, and looked away. “I don’t know how to answer that.”

            “Don’t you?”

            “I’ve never been much for dockside dallying.”

            “Don’t be crass.” Piramatto smiled a bit more. “Besides, you can’t very well have a shipboard shag now. You’re the captain. The old man. The C.O. If you don’t dally dockside, when will you?”

            Malcolm snorted, looking back at her. “We don’t exactly have a lot of spare time.”

            “You can’t sit center seat from now until launch, Alexander. You’ll develop sores.”

            Malcolm smiled a bit, looking into his glass. “I don’t think I’m that person.”

            “What person is that?”

            “The person you want to be asking that question.”

            “Ahhh.” Piramatto leaned back. “I should be offended.”

            “Don’t be.”

            “It’s not me, it’s you?”

            “Something like that.”

            “You know, that’s never really gone down, right.” Piramatto drained the rest of her drink.

            “If I’d known how to make it more palatable....”

            “I don’t understand you, Alex. I could see Nicky still holding a torch for his martyred bride. And who’d blame me if I decided to swear off sex for the rest of my life?” She considered. “Well, Sutton would. And he’d never believe it. But you haven’t lost your lady love, as far as I know. If you ever had a lady love, you haven’t mentioned her.”

            “I’ve had one or two, in my time. No one recently, though.”

            “Why not?”

            “I’ve been tired.”

            Piramatto snickered. “You should drink more kaf.”

            “No, Verla. I’ve been tired.” Malcolm shook his head. “Worn down to the bone. I don’t have anything left to give to anyone. Not to you, not to... others. Not to anyone. There’s just this damn war.”

            Piramatto looked at him for a long moment, then looked away. “You hate this war so much, you married it?”

            “Seems like it.”

            Piramatto nodded. “I suppose I can accept that.”

            “There’s always Nick.”

            “I told you not to be crass.”

            Malcolm half-smiled. “No one ever accused me of being a good listener.”

            “Maybe not.” Piramatto stood up. “I need a refill. Want one?”

            “Not right now.”

            “It’s just a drink. Alex.”

            “I know. I honestly don’t want one right now.” He looked back up. “I don’t want to stop being friends, Verla. Not over this.”

            “Oh, we’re friends, Alex. Trust me. I don’t put up with this kind of shit from men I don’t like.”

            “You are long suffering.”

            Piramatto rolled her eyes. “I’ll be right back.” She paused. “Alex?”


            “There is something to be said for celebrating life, instead of hating death.” She half-smiled. “And you need to get laid more than any man I’ve ever known.”

            Malcolm snorted. “I always wanted to be ahead of the curve in something.”

The transformative power of bristol board

So, it had all the makings of a bad day.

First off, I had a headache -- the remaining dregs of the medicine shock from the weekend. (What a wonderful phrase -- "medicine shock." It's precisely descriptive, of course.) There was a little bit of caffeine withdrawal thrown in, though I took care of that soon enough today (of course, hand in hand with dealing with caffeine withdrawal is also dealing with the jitters from too much caffeine taken in, because it's hard to be rational about how much to drink when you have a headache and feel crappy, and the coffee is warm and the demon is whispering your name and looking fine in her coffee wrapper bikini. But I digress.)

Add to that a number of crappy things at work. Work as a whole was fine, but there were a quarter-ton of annoyances. And they all led up to lunch, when I went to the dining hall twenty minutes before they were supposed to close, and discovered they were, in fact, closed. No food for me. So muttering, I went to the nearby mailroom to grab my mail.

I should mention I'm terrible about mail. I receive it at the school (because I live on campus), which means I'm usually going to actually get my mail maybe twice a week in a good week. Add to that my allergy to the phone -- I am the world's worst phone correspondent. I don't like talking at length on the phone, and I'm terrible about returning phone calls. Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows that. I've reached the point where, having been forced by circumstance (not financial) to change my phone numbers recently, I'm just not giving them out to people. I'm going to see about retaining an official voice mail box for businesses, I'll have my home number which I'll give to my parents and my boss and that's about it, and my cell phone number.

As a point of order, if you call me on my cell phone number and you're not either my mother or currently on fire, you're going to get a pretty pissed off Eric who won't want to play your reindeer games. Hell, if you are my mother, you should be at least smoldering.

Anyway, my point is, I'm a total hermit. It's how I am. Despite my being plugged in for 10-16 hours a day into the most extensive and powerful innovation in telecommunications since Gutenberg first said "well, what if we made woodcuts," I'm pretty much Henry David Thoreau if Thoreau had spent less time ruminating about philosophy and nature and more time watching X-Play on his Tivo. And so I had a big pile of bills, credit card offers, and catalogs waiting for me at the mailroom.

And... I had a slip for a package.

Well, I usually do. I buy stuff. Pretty much all the time. So I went back and redeemed it, and they brought out a cardstock envelope, about 9x12.

"Oh cool," I thought. "One of the prints I've ordered has come in." Because as you know, I love illustration and cartoons and art. I'm addicted to bristol board. I love sketches. I love all this stuff. And I'm... well, not comfortable with asking for it. If I make it to some place on the Con circuit this coming year -- a con where webcartoonists go, as opposed to a con where SF dweebs like me go, mind. I don't expect to meet many cartoonists at Baycon or Arisia unless I bribe them to drop by with promises of beer and sushi -- I'll bring a sketchbook, wander the artist's alley... and probably never say more than twelve words to people. If I do manage to ask for sketches, even if they're doing "free sketches," which a lot will be, I'll force money on them, because I'm terrible about just asking someone to do art for me. It doesn't seem right. I'll be incredibly self-conscious about my name and Websnark, unless it's someone I've established a friendship with. And if it's someone I've established a friendship with, I won't ask them for a sketch in the first place, because I won't want them to think I just want to be their friend for the sketches.

Yeah, I have issues. I own them.

Anyway, this means I commission stuff and I buy prints and I bid in auctions. I bid in the Two Lumps auction and lost out, for example. But there is always tomorrow. And I'm usually waiting on a print or two to come in. Today, seeing the cardstock envelope, I assumed it was a copy of a print I ordered not long ago from Aeire of Queen of Wands, for example. No big deal -- just kind of neat, and I needed "kind of neat" on a day when I was in a bad mood.

So I get the envelope... and the return address is the right state for Aeire, but not the right city. And also, last I knew, Aeire's name wasn't spelled "S. Garrity."

"Well, cool," I thought. "I don't remember what I ordered from Narbonic, but that's nothing new." And then I got excited, because as I've snarked before, Shaenon Garrity has a habit of sketching on packaging. Which means hey, original art I didn't have to sheepishly ask for, from someone whose art I love. So I flip the envelope over....

And Garrity's sketched all right. A Snarky, sleeping peacefully away in his recliner with his comic strips. It's adorable and I'll have to ask Garrity for permission to post it, because I absolutely love it.

Right there... right there... I've gone from "bad mood" to "good mood." This thrilled me, and I haven't even opened the envelope yet. This is the power of cool people who draw.

So, I head out to the car, to drive elsewhere, to get some food because I really am pretty hungry. And I take a few moments to have a look inside the envelope... it is indeed bristol board....

But I know the second I look at it I hadn't commissioned it or ordered it and just forgotten.

You guys know, if you've been reading for a while or if you've read through my "My Comics Page" trawl in the corner, that I love Lynn Johnston and For Better or For Worse. I mean, love it. I've been reading it for years and years and years. I've been watching this family grow and mature and deepen and develop in all the ways Bil Keane's Family Circus doesn't for pretty much my whole cognizant life. FBoFW is one of those strips I point at when I'm told by a cartoonist who's loudly declaiming that there's no quality on the newspaper comics page, that there's just bland retellings and Garfield and Nancy. I point to it and say "you do one thousandth of the quality, the depth, the storytelling and the artistic values of this strip, and then come talk to me about the Newspapers." I don't care if it's merchandized or collected or published or printed or syndicated or anything else: this is a good strip. It's funny when it tries to be funny, and it brings the story better than 99% of any strips I've ever read. The woman does payoffs ten years after the plotline introductions, and yet you never feel it's being dragging. (If you want a trip, trawl through the archives and find the strips where Mike's wife was introduced. Here's a hint -- it was back when Mike thought girls were ooky. And remember these characters age in real time.)

Well, Lynn Johnston did an event at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco not too long ago. And Shaenon Garrity's husband works there, and Garrity herself puts in a lot of volunteer time, or so I'm given to understand. I'm a member of this museum (and if you love cartoons and comic strips, you should be a member too), which Garrity knows.

And so, unsolicited, she decided that since Johnston was there, and she knew I liked Johnston, and she further knew I liked original art... she got Lynn Johnston to do a signature and a sketch for me, and then sent it along.

It's a gorgeous piece. I'd scan it and put it up, but I'm never comfortable doing that with an artist's work. It's in blue ink, and features April and Farley's faces (okay, it's actually April and Edgar, I'm sure, but the dog I grew up with in the strip was Farley, so it's going to be Farley to me.) and an elaborate, beautiful signature and date. Maybe it only took Johnston eight seconds to draw. I don't know. It clearly didn't require any pencil work.

But it's the only one of this kind in the world, and she did it for me. (Well, she did it for Garrity, but hey -- it counts.) This is like getting a sketch from Berke Breathed, or Gary Larson, or Garry Trudeau to me. This is one of the strips that kept me coming back year after year after year to comic strips. I'm writing Websnark now, in no small part, because of a love of the form that Lynn Johnston was a significant contributor to forming in me.

For the record? I'm as happy and pleased, artistically speaking, by the Snarky Garrity sketched for me. But the gesture, the thoughtfulness, and the piece itself just blow me away.

I had been having a bad day. I'm now having a good week.

Thank you, Shaenon. I owe you even more beer now.

November 14, 2004

Winning the race

My eyes ache and my eyelids are too heavy. My stomach is about like I thought it would be. I'd still be asleep, but my cat decided she wanted to be amused, and crawled on me until I made those noises she finds so funny. So I checked the news. No promises how long I'll stay awake, but regardless, I learned something that deserves acknowledgement. Namely, Harry Lampert, who with Gardner Fox created the Golden Age Flash, has died.

I always liked the golden age versions of super heroes. Generally, I liked them better than I liked the modern age heroes. I'm a huge Green Lantern fan, but when I was eight years old I read a reprint of the Golden Age Green Lantern, and no matter how much I got into Hal Jordan, he always seemed like a leotard wearing fancy lad next to the two fisted Alan Scott. One thing I liked was the abandon of the heroes. Barry Allen became the Flash only after lightning managed to twist its way into the room he was standing on the opposite side of the window of, so it could conveniently avoid all the metal in the walls or on the roof of police headquarters (hello? Radio tower on the roof?) to hit the stockpiles of chemicals and bathe him in its transforming chemical goodness. Jay Garrick? Fell asleep while breathing "hard water fumes." And when he woke up, he could play tennis by himself and he thought wearing a pie pan with wings on his head made for a good fashion statement.

I can get behind that. The visual look of the Jay Garrick Flash was always cool -- just this guy in a cobbled together costume who took joy in running. And from all reports that described Harry Lampert too. This is a man who, in his sixties, became a successful writer with a series of books on playing Bridge. In fact, his book The Fun Way to Serious Bridge is described by the Houston Chronicle as "the bible of the game." And that might have been a mantra for the man -- he made serious work fun, and he took fun things seriously.

Lampert was an artist from sixteen years old on. He was a part of arguably the most significant cross-media transition in sequential art, working on and inking Fleischer Studios cartoons. He worked on Popeye and Betty Boop for them. If you don't think that was big, bear in mind most kids today don't even know Popeye was a comic strip before it became a cartoon, and a Hell of a lot more kids watch the Justice League cartoon than read the Justice League comic book.

After his time in comic books, which sadly (for us) was short, he went on to draw cartoons for Time Magazine, Esquire, The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post and others. He taught illustration at the New York School of the Visual Arts. And he enjoyed life. And, in the 90's, decades after he created one of the most enduring characters of the Golden Age of Comics, he learned an entire subculture prized his work. He went to the San Diego Comic Con for the first time in his seventies, and discovered people would line up for his autograph, would pay good money for a sketch, and were buying first editions of his comics for thousands of dollars. He was amused when he told The Washington Post that he couldn't afford to buy one of his own first editions -- they cost too much money.

I think it's nice that he got to be a comics rock star at the twilight of his life. I think it's nice that a DC Comics representative noticed him at San Diego, got his social security number, and sent him back royalties for his work, too. I think it's nice he got to know just how many people were touched by something he created.

Sometimes, the best race you can win is the one you didn't even know you had run.

Right, I'm going to have a cup of tea, some Tums, lie down and die. Enjoy, kids.

Ruminations between dizziness and excitability

So... I'm at a weird point right now... still too wound up to go to sleep, but feeling the medication effects (my heart rate's still way up and I've got adrenalin in my system still, but my blood pressure is now dropping like a stone thanks to the ACE inhibitors and then the coreg will flog said heart for a bit and force the beat to slow back down, if I understand the mechanisms correctly. All I know is these pills kept me alive a few years back, when a few years before that my only recourse would have been a heart transplant). So, I thought I'd type for a few minutes on one of my unwritten policies for Websnark.

If I make a mistake, or blow something, or post something I later regret... I'll own up to it, but I won't delete it. This is a record of... well, something, at least. Of my thoughts and blatherings, if nothing else. And when I blow it, I'm going to leave it up and own up to it.

I thought about deleting the boing boing post. I think it was a mistake to post it in the first place, because I e-mailed Mark Frauenfelder, and I should have given him a chance to respond.

(Note, by the way, that I'm glad Mark deleted the post in question on Boing Boing. I'm talking about me in this post. If anyone else out there was sensitive to the things I was, Mark did right by them. So, to sum up -- post about me, not him. Thanks. Kisses.)

I left it up, because... well, because I posted it. If you think I overreacted -- or at least was unfair to Boing Boing, you may be right. But I don't go for revisionist history on Websnark.

I decided to modify the entry, making it clear that Boing Boing had responded well, and replacing my own link to their entry with a strikethrough. But I leave it up there. It's the same with comments I or others make on the site. If someone makes a comment I don't like, I won't delete it (with the exception of true harassment of others. If Timmy posts a comment, and Bobby posts something obscene and horrid about Timmy in response, I reserve the right to pull Bobby's response off. If Bobby posts a rant about how I'm a fat loser living in my mother's basement, I'll leave it up. At least one of those assertions is accurate anyhow).

We live in an age where the historical record is easy to alter. We combat that not with technology, but with integrity. When I overreact or blow a call, that mistake becomes a part of this archive. That just seems fair to everyone.

(This may be why I posted a link to the terrible webcomic I used to draw. On the other hand, that may have been more of a preemptive strike.)


I e-mailed Mark Frauenfelder, who posted the link in question, before I put the snark up. I then snarked, because... well, that's what I do.

Mark, when he got my e-mail, immediately deleted the link and said he was sorry. He found it funny, and wanted to pass it along.

That is an amazingly cool response for him to take. It doesn't change the fact that I've lost a day (I can feel the effects coming on now, though the heart's still racing), but quick response and contrition counts a lot in my book.

So yeah. They remain a class act. For the record.

Oh yeah, that's funny. Let me riposte your light humor with a lovely joke where I ram a spike in your colon from the front. Hah hah hah hah! Isn't that a laugh?

EDIT: See the next entry for an update. Boing Boing quickly responded to rectify. So they get props for that.

So, I like Boing Boing. They are, after all, a directory of wonderful things. And I've seen many, many cool sites off of links they've posted.

Tonight, they posted a link to an "eeire possible ghost sighting" on their site. They recommend turning the sound up to hear the sigh, and the whispering, and describe a mist effect.

Now, if it were April 1, or Halloween, I'd take it with a grain of salt. But it isn't. And it's Boing Boing. I trust Boing Boing. So I go into it with a certain amount of faith.

For those who don't know? I have a heart condition. It's under control, but among other things, I try to minimize shocks. When they happen, and when they're intense enough, I have to take medication. Medication which produces pretty nasty side effects in me when it's taken in heavy doses.

So, I now expect that instead of having a productive writing day tomorrow, I instead am going to have difficulty keeping my eyes open and spend a lot of time lying on my back wishing I were dead because I'm so fucking naseous.

Oh yeah, fucking funny, guys. Laugh riot. See if I ever, ever trust a link you put out again.

Boing Boing: Signs of a ghost in TV commercial? leads to their entry on the thing. Know going into it that it doesn't lead to what they claim it does. If you like that kind of thing, enjoy.

If you're pissed because I spoiled the joke? Sorry. I was wondering about five minutes ago if I had to go to the Emergency room. Makes me selfish.

November 13, 2004

Dogpile on Greg Dean!

Over on Comixpedia, they've posted one of their regular "pose questions to a Webcartoonist" calls, this time for Greg Dean, who writes the widely read Real Life Comics. They've cleverly hidden this open call in an article called Call for Questions for Greg Dean of Real Life.

In the week since the call got posted, they've had exactly two questions for Dean posted. And I wrote both of them. I assume this means that Greg Dean's audience isn't Comixpedia's audience. Well, I don't know if they're Websnark's audience or not, but on the off chance they are, schlep on over there and ask some questions, already! This is a long running strip with distinctive art. It's sometimes inconsistent -- long time readers of Websnark will know they spent a good amount of time on the "Why do I read this webcomic, again" list, but they also pulled off that list -- but it's always beautifully drawn and often hits the truly excellent stage. So go! Go now! Ask questions, already! I want to read the answers Dean puts out! Entertain me!

NOT Day Thirteen, but Trigger Man related anyway.

I'm working on today's writing, but it occurs to me that the third part of the conversation between Captain Malcolm and Commodore Sortino is... well, necessary, to understand any excerpts going forward. That whole scene will need some heavy editing -- as a fellow named Channing reminded me earlier today (discussing a different project on my writing page, but it applies to this as well), there can be a density of exposition that kills things off. I may need to spread things around a bit. I can even think of a technique or two. But that's for later.

In the meantime, here's 2,300 words, finishing that scene out. I'm putting it in the extended entry blank, so if you want to read it, click on the "continue reading" link at the bottom of this entry if you're on Websnark reading this, or click on the link at the top of the page if you're reading this from an RSS feed.

In this bit, we also have the reason this story is called Trigger Man in the first place. And people who have access to my writing page can see this scene plus everything up until yesterday. As of today, I'm caught up sending out the password to folks, so if you don't have the password and would like it, send me a request at websnark AT gmail DOT com. If you sent one already and never heard from me, I'm sorry. Please send it again.

            Malcolm’s mind swum. “It... it’s incredible. It’s perfect. They’ll never know what hit them! We can end this war in two years!

            “That’s right. And we can make it clear that there’s no possible way for any power of any size to take on the Empire of Citidel and win. That if it looks like you can stymie us, we’ll change the god damn rules of the universe on you.” Sortino smiled slowly. “That is something the Concordians can’t compete with. They can drive at us in conventional interstellar warfare until they get enough of an opening to secure a new source of resources, but they can’t outthink us, or outdevelop us. And we can open up a second front in this war without substantially affecting our infrastructure or ability to supply it... if we can get there. And that’s the problem.”

            “What do you mean? We have fifth stage rated ships—”

            “We have some fifth stage rated ships. As many as we could build in this timeframe... as many as we could afford to build. Look around you, Malcolm. We needed entirely new shipyards to build the Bokken class of light cruisers. We needed the support facilities to supply a full task force and then to convey them. All that cost over thirty billion pounds imperial. That’s before the cost of putting even one ship together. And a single Bokkon class ship cost close to a hundred billion pounds imperial. How long do you think we can do that?”

            Malcolm whistled. “All right, good point,” he said, taking a long swig of the potent whiskey. His face was beginning to numb, but he wasn’t sure that was the alcohol so much as his expectations being blown apart. “Wait... that’s... that’s why you’ve got those huge cargo ships. And those ship tenders! They’re fifth stage rated, aren’t they?”

            “That’s right. One thing hasn’t changed with the new H/L drives – it doesn’t take substantially more hardware to drive twenty million tons of starship through a t-point than twenty thousand tons. So we’ve cheated. Cargo ships of immense size, also capable of carrying a few thousand IA soldiers. Ship tenders capable of hauling six frigates, or three heavy cruisers, two destroyers or one battleship, all on their own – hauling them through the t-point. Resupply and service ships designed to carry the components for stardocks and bases right through to Dublin. We’ll be able to set up shop there and be ready to star marching down the t-points to victory inside of five months... only there’s a problem.”

            “A problem?” Malcolm breathed out as it dawned on him. “How many people are on New Dublin?”

            “Well, we haven’t gotten recent data, what with the war and all... but if the synthetics are right based on trends, probably one to one point two billion people. And while they won’t have significant military resources, they will have a full skyguard plus some equivalent of the Imperial High Guard to protect against pirates or the like. And they may have some military hardware in-system. just because they’re helping supply the overall war effort, just like the rest of the Concordian planets.”

            “So they might be able to fight us off if we go in there with tenders and cargo ships. Even if we have some capital ships being hauled.”

            “That’s right. Or worse – much worse – they might be able to get a ship through the t-point to Cork. If they manage to get the word out before we’re ready, we lose at least half our advantage.”

            Malcolm nodded. “So... the Bokkens.... are there to secure the system?”

            “That’s right. The Bokkens, a group of three stealth corvettes to sneak up on the T-point – and let me tell you, the amount of money those corvettes cost was obscene, and a single heavy cruiser to act as command and control. Only we need to have a swift, decisive victory. We need to establish not only orbital superiority and t-point superiority but system superiority, and we need to do it fast.”

            Malcolm frowned. “With fifty-four ships, where they’ll at least have a skyguard, maybe have military ships and high guard, and certainly will be able to start launching things from the surface at us?”

            “Fifty-seven ships, counting the corvettes and the Usnach.”

            “The Usnach?”

            “The INHCX-6701 Usnach. That’s my ship – the C-n-C I mentioned.”

            “Oh, right.” Malcolm frowned. “A sticky problem. It’s certain we could take the system, unless we’re unlucky enough to have a convoy doing repair and refit in the system, but doing it while containing them, keeping them out of the t-point and keeping the populace from developing nasty tricks? Hell, we won’t even have troops to land initially, will we?”

            “No, we won’t. They’ll be second wave only.”

            Malcolm frowned, thinking. He was trained in strategy and tactics, as all naval officers were. In particular, he was schooled in fighting a ship, and using that ship as an overall strategic effort. All cruisers, with no frigates or destroyers, no cover fire ­­– not even fighter support....

            “Commodore... I don’t see how we can do it,” he finally said. “Not within the Conventions of War.”

            “Yes... the Conventions of War,” Sortino said, absently. He then turned to face Malcolm, eyes narrow. “Captain, can you summarize what the Conventions of War say about antimatter weapons?”

            Malcolm blinked. “Sir?”

            “You brought up the Conventions of War, Captain. I assume you’re familiar with them.”

            “Yes, sir. Sir, they prohibit strategic use of antimatter under any circumstances.”


            “It’s too destructive, sir. Using enough antimatter to have any effect on a target means having too much effect. Using them has been classified as a war crime.”

            “No, Captain. Using them strategically has been classified as a war crime. What do the conventions say about tactical use of antimatter weaponry?”

            “Sir... they don’t need to say anything. Antimatter isn’t effective tactically.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because, sir.” Malcolm shook his head – the question seemed absurd. “Yes, you could make an antimatter torpedo that would kill a ship it hit, but if you didn’t hit that ship it becomes a hazard to both sides. Plus, any ship that’s carrying an antimatter weapon is asking for destruction – all it would take is one hit causing the weapon’s Pennet trap to fail, and then there’s no more ship. It’s far more effective to carry fusions to crack ships with, because until you arm them....”

            “Yes, yes. Only we’re not discussing ship-to-ship combat here. We’re discussing planetary subordination.”

            “Which is strategic use of antimatter and therefore illegal.”

            “Think creatively, Malcolm. Yes, an antimatter bombardment would be wholly illegal. No matter how satisfying it would be to blow them straight to Hell, and no matter that we can rain down conventional ordinance until just as many cities are destroyed and just as many people are dead and get medals for it. But we don’t have to use antimatter on their cities or on their land. We don’t have to invoke Hell. If we do a spread of five high altitude antimatter missiles, which themselves disperse ten very small antimatter warheads apiece, detonating many kilometers over the surface, what would happen?”

            Malcolm bit his lip. “Well, there would be shockwaves – plenty of damage—”

            “Yes, but less than direct conventional missile attacks. Plus, there would be little radiation and fallout. Go on.”

            “Atmospheric disruptions would be pretty severe. The weather would go straight to Hell for a while... there’d be massive EMPs....”

            “And what would that cause on the ground?”

            “Theoretically? It would disrupt power systems, knock out electronics, screw up communications....”

            “Exactly. It would sow chaos into the wind. That would give the task force enough time to hunt and kill any ships in the sky, give the stealth corvettes a chance to secure the t-point... and if we coordinate the second wave’s entry tightly enough, give the Imperial Army a perfect ground to land troops in. Am I right?”

            “I... it could work, though I don’t see how this is tactical instead of strategic.”

            “Semantics, Alex. We send in an antimatter carrier along with the task force. We let the task force move in and hunt, monitoring the ground situation from C-n-C. We try to force conditions to be right to deploy antimatter as a spoiler. If we manage those conditions, we exploit the opportunity and manage tactical antimatter use.” Sortino smiled. “You see?”

            “Barely. I’m not sure we’d be on the moral high ground, though.”

            “Are you that worried about the moral high ground, Alex? If it means making them pull their forces off Campos?” He spoke more quietly. “And off Aurora?”

            Malcolm flushed. “Commodore, I don’t give a damn how we knock them out. I’m just saying there are consequences....”

            “And those are mine to consider, Alexander. But one thing is certain. You’re right that any hit against an antimatter carrier could mean that carrier disintegrating. So, for depressingly practical reasons, it can’t be the C-n-C ship that uses and deploys it. It will have to be one of the Bokkens, using the others as cover until it can deploy.” Sortino turned to look at Malcolm.

            Malcolm’s eyes grew wide. “You want me to use antimatter weapons against a planet?

            “I need someone I know I can trust,” Sortino said. “Someone committed to ending this war. Someone cool under fire and battle tested, but not without compassion. Someone with a personal stake in this war, but someone still capable of fighting his ship.”

            “You’re crazy. I’m not half the ship commander of your top elite. You want one of them.”

            “I don’t want to use the so called top elite at all on the Bokkens, Malcolm. They’re too locked into a style of combat. We may have less than sixty of these new light cruisers, but they’re still entirely new, with new technologies, needing new techniques. I don’t want someone who’s been fighting destroyers for years to walk in and try to apply their experience to this new ship. They’re too damn expensive to use in a battle of attrition and containment anyway, and that’s all these idiots know!”

            “So... that’s why you promoted me? Why you promoted all these others to captain out of turn? You’re putting together a new combat manual?”

            “That’s why I promoted them. You, I needed to promote for another reason.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Antimatter, of course.” Sortino paced back towards the far wall, draining the last of his drink. “Despite the fact that the Conventions of War prohibit the use of strategic antimatter weapons, there is a specific procedure for their use on the book. They have to be launched with the direct consent of the ship’s commanding officer. That commanding officer must be of command rank – at least a Ccaptain. And right up to the point where the missiles clear the bays, that captain needs to have the ability to abort the launch, even if a commodore is screaming for his head. Those are the rules... Captain Malcolm.”

            Malcolm stared at Sortino.

            “It’s actually ritualized, now. There’s a mechanism that antimatter carriers mount, right to the captain’s chair. It’s a couple of levers designed to be squeezed together, which completes a simple circuit. The ship’s synthetic detects that circuit is closed and therefore enables the missiles to be launched. I’d say it arms them, but you don’t arm antimatter. You just stop containing it so rigorously.” Sortino’s voice sounded almost clinical. Detatched. “It’s called the trigger. And the captain who pulls that trigger is called the trigger man.”

            “And you promoted me... to make me your trigger man?”
            “That’s right.” Sortino turned to face him, his eyes almost burning in the low light. “I promoted you to make you my trigger man, Alex. I’m offering you command of INLCX-6528 Sabre. Your duty, should you accept that command, is to learn the Sabre’s systems and crew, train, and deploy with the rest of the Task Force for the New Dublin System. We will be making transition carefully timed, to clear transition while New Dublin and hopefully any ship traffic in system will be on the far side of New Dublin’s star, so they don’t see us enter the system. We then go low and quiet and wait – carefully moving into position without being detected, until New Dublin is well and truly in its drought and hidden from the t-point. Then we attack, clearing the skyguard, establishing orbital superiority, and you would then pull the trigger on your ordinance, letting it be deployed at C-n-C’s command. We launch your missiles, causing a spread in both hemispheres to disrupt their power and communications, and we engulf and contain until the Army can arrive and take over.”

            Malcolm swallowed. “And if I refuse?”

            “If you refuse you’ll be assigned to command duty here at Scabbard, as a member of my staff.”

            “You won’t send me to fight in one of the non-carriers?”

            “I won’t trust you to fight in one of the non-carriers. You’d get a third-stage rated heavy frigate command or maybe even a very small cruiser. You’ll move on with your career. But if you’re the man I think you are, you’ll accept this assignment. And if you’re not the man I think you are, then your place isn’t on this task force.” He smiled, not unkindly. “Quite honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into what you’d do if you refused, Alexander. I didn’t think it very likely you would refuse.”

            Malcolm looked away. A chance to free Campos in months instead of years....

            “If it’s not against the Conventions of War, I don’t have a problem with this assignment,” he said, carefully. “I won’t do anything illegal, but if it is legal....”

            “Like I said, we’re going to be scrupulous about adhering to proper procedures and protocols,” the Commodore said.

            Malcolm looked down, and then nodded. “Then I’m your trigger man,” he said.

            Sortino smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”

November 12, 2004

Day Twelve... and I ROCK!!!!!

22,410 / 50,000

SIX THOUSAND WORD DAY! Six! Thousand! Fucking! Words! Plus three in-depth snarks! And a full day of work! There are days I feel inadequate. Days I feel like it's not there. And then there are days when I feel like I'm mainlining inspiration. Today, no matter what else I can say, I am a writer.

This also means I've gone from 2000 words (or about one day) behind schedule yesterday... to being 2,400 words -- or 1.5 days -- ahead of schedule today. The quota count is 22,410/20,000 on the day, which is a happier place for me to be. What's more, I'm now just 2,600 words or so from halfway. I'll hit halfway tomorrow, very likely, two days ahead of schedule.

I need to get the stuff up on the writing page. A lot has happened, including a full explanation of what Malcolm and the others are doing in the hinterlands. I also need to process about a million requests for access to the page. In my defense... it's been a very busy week.

Here's a 1,700 word excerpt, more to answer the question posed yesterday than to be representative of the output today. Remember, there's another 4,300 words that followed this.

I like where this story is going. I think I can sell it, after much editing.

God I love being a writer.

            Sortino poured more scotch into his glass. “Do you know why victory has always been inevitable, Alexander?” he asked, softly.

            Malcolm looked away. “If you expect me to say something about honor or never giving up or—”

            Sortino snorted, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m not talking about intangibles.”

            “Then... no.”

            “I’m not surprised.” Sortino sipped his scotch, stepping closer to the edge of the room. He looked up, through the dome, to the stars. “Two hundred and eighteen planets,” he said, gesturing. “Right out there. Almost all devoted to their war effort. A tremendous tactical advantage.” He looked over his shoulder, at Malcolm, “and a strategic limitation they can’t hope to overcome.”


            “The entire Concordian Empire is devoted to the war effort. Their resources are bent to the construction of ships, the training of troops, the development of new weapons. Their agricultural systems grow food to supply their military. Their engineers devote their time and energy to maximizing their systems, and analyzing ours. It makes them efficient killers.”

            Sortino walked to the other side of the room, gesturing again. “The Empire of Citadel, on the other hand... four thousand, one hundred and three member worlds. An infrastructure that supplies its military. Tithes giving a constant, but limited level of resources, spread out for hundreds of projects, hundreds of missions, hundreds of purposes. A singular lack of focus, in comparison to our enemies.” He smiled slightly. “And that leads to our victory.”


            “Because on most of the worlds of the Empire, no one pays any attention to the war. Life goes on. Our scientists and engineers don’t work to build weapons to fight a specific foe. They push the boundaries of science and knowledge, for profit or for curiosity. Life goes on, Captain Malcolm.”

            “I don’t follow.”

            “You said that there was only one way into Concordian space. The Thames-Aurora transition. Yes?”

            “Yes. So?”

            “That’s not true, though, is it? I mean, you can see a dozen Concordian stars from where you’re sitting. One of them is right up there.” Sortino walked closer, pointing. “It’s too faint to see easily, but that’s New Dublin. And just like we’re at the end of the Zabel Spur, they’re all the way at the end of the Cormier Spur in Concordia.”


            “So... there’s a transition point that leads there.”

            Malcolm blinked.

            Sortino smiled, waiting.

            “That can’t be. It’s too far away.”

            “Is it?”

            “It must be. How far is it. Let me check the with the base synthetic—”

            “Don’t bother. It’s about a hundred and three and a half light years away. Well, just shy of that.”

            Malcolm stared at Sortino. “A hundred and three light years?”

            “That’s right.”

            “It might as well be a hundred thousand light years then. That’d be... what, a fifth stage transition? Sixth?”


            “And that’s impossible.”

            Sortino smiled a bit. “Yes, and no. It’s impossible for the Concordians, because they don’t have the resources or time to spend working on the problem. Because like you said, it’s impossible. Everyone knows that. Since Bara Hotchkiss and Lyn Leopold unlocked the secrets of the galaxy, we’ve only been able to use up to third stage transitions. Anything more than that would take vastly more power than we can harness. Yes?”


            “And after thousands of years of expansion into the galaxy, it’s clear we never will be able to harness that much power. Not without destroying the ship in the process. Right?” Sortino was smiling again. It was a smug smile.

            Malcolm breathed out slowly. “You’ve worked out the power issue?”

            “Not directly. But that’s actually my point. On two worlds, over a thousand light years apart from each other, the two keys to the puzzle were solved. First, there’s the question of power. Have you heard of nullpoint technology?”

            “Nullpoint? I... yes. It’s some kind of storage battery or power cell or capacitor, right?”

            Sortino chuckled. “It’s a capacitor the same way a supernova is an example of fusion energy in action, Malcolm. Vast amounts of energy can be stored inside a nullpoint, and once it’s in there it’s essentially harmless. No chance it can explode. If you damage it, you just lock that potential energy off until you fix it. And you can make them as large as you need, and small enough for practical uses. One day, we’ll be able to mount a nullpoint to an energy rifle of some sort, and be able to use it for weeks without recharging. Or months. Or longer.”


            “Oh, we could do it now, but it costs far too much money to manufacture nullpoints, without even counting generating the energy. In fact, the Navy’s set up a nullpoint construction facility on the far side of the system’s star from us. It’s over there because it uses gravity induction to create antimatter, then uses antimatter reactions to generate the energy we store in the things. Some day, mass production will reduce the cost, but for now, we have better ways to use it.”

            “So... you can store enough power in a nullpoint to power a fifth stage transition? That’s absurd. I saw the figures once. You’re talking a star’s output, if you’re lucky.”

            “No, we can’t. Oh, I suppose if we made the nullpoints big enough and burned enough antimatter to charge it, it would be possible, but the Hotchkiss/Leopold drive would be torn apart by all that energy trying to push through it.” Sortino finished off his second whiskey. “But like I said, there were two breakthroughs. Not one.”

            Sortino walked back around, sitting in the chair he had sat in before. “The conceptual breakthrough that made nullpoint technologies possible happened on a planet called Casco back in Paramount Realm. The news and a full report on it filtered back through the courier system to the Imperial Ministry of Research. They, in turn, filtered it down to their Imperial Institutes. Have you heard of the Imperial Institutes?”

            “No, sir.”

            “They’re crucial to the Empire holding its place at the forefront of the galaxy. Founded a thousand years back. They’re the greatest brain trust humanity ever put together. They’re clearinghouses and laboratories, all at once. In fact, they’re the ones who give out the Vandross Prizes. In fact, it was a satellite campus of the Imperial Institute of the Physical Sciences on Casco that developed the theories behind nullpoints. The Ministry of Research got that and cross correlated with a theory put together by the Imperial Institute of Astronomical and Astrophysical Research’s planetary campus out on Nereid – in Coreward Realm – a couple of decades before. A theory derived from the Darrins – ever meet a Darrin? Very math-oriented species. Anyway, the theory suggested there were new ways to manipulate quantum layers in a transition point... a whole new methodology of putting the Hotchkiss/Leopold equations into effect, that would make it possible to open a fourth or fifth stage transition point with a fraction of the power the core equations would predict.”

            Malcolm stared at Sortino, then looked down at his glass. “I could use that refill now.”

            “I’ll just bet.” Sortino stood, accepting Malcolm’s glass.

            “Why did they sit on it for decades?”

            “Because even a fraction of the power required to make a fourth or fifth stage transition was more power than any starship could generate or store,” Sortino said, pouring. “So, the papers got sat on. Oh, the folks who wrote them won a Vandross for them, but it was esoteric knowledge only. A theory that had no practical application, from the standpoint of the universe. Only the strength of the Ministry of Research isn’t just research. It’s synthesis. It’s coordination. So when the nullpoint theories came across their desks, somehow they were able to correlate them with those new methods of cracking a t-point. They then sent out directives to several campuses of the Imperial Institute for Engineering and Technical Development to develop the hardware. Make nullpoint theory real. Make fifth stage rated h/l drives real. And make them work together.”

            “And... they did it?”

            “Of course they did it. In less time than the Ministry predicted.” Sortino handed the drink to Malcolm, sitting down once more. “Prototyped, tested, proved, patented.”

            “Then... those new cruisers we noticed, tacking into Scabbard Naval Platform....”

            “Are fifth-stage rated. Give them a fifth stage t-point, and they can jump up to a hundred and sixteen light years. That’s four third stage transitions, Malcolm. And like every shift up to a new transition stage, it’s faster. Four maximum third stage transitions, even ignoring the time it takes to travel between t-points in intervening systems, would take seventy days. Add in average travel times between t-points, and you’re looking at ninety days if you’re lucky. A maximum fifth stage transition clears in forty-one days.”

            “Then... then why build a whole new fleet? Why not retrofit half the fifth fleet and—”

            Sortino waved his hand dismissively. “No good, Alex. The new fifth stage rated H/L drives take entirely different astronautics. And that’s the challenge.” Sortino sat back. “You already know that nullpoints are expensive to create. You know that because I told you it was true. Well, the H/L technology’s a couple of orders of magnitude more expensive still. We literally don’t have the resources yet to make up entire fleets of fifth stage rated starships. It’ll be decades – centuries – before we could afford it. As it is, Operation Swift Sword is the most expensive Naval project of the last eighty years.”

            “Operation Swift Sword?”

            “That’s what we’re doing here,” Sortino said, smiling slightly. “We have an unprecedented opportunity, Alexander. We can send in a military force eight transitions behind the Thames-to-Aurora transition. What’s more, it’s five transitions up to the endpoint of a spur, so we could potentially strike and suborn all those planets before they even know we’ve opened up a second front of the war. If we drive down fast enough, and hard enough, we can take and fortify Campbell, cutting their supply line down to the Teo Cluster and forcing a retreat from the disputed worlds. And even before we get to Campbell, there’s a fourth stage transition between Newport and Tackleford that’ll put our forces eleven transitions deep into Concordian space. Do you think there’s going to be any organized resistance that far into their own territory?”

            Malcolm’s mind swum. “It... it’s incredible. It’s perfect. They’ll never know what hit them! We can end this war in two years!

Scott Kurtz is a mighty God of snark.

(From PvP. Click on the thumbnail for full sized EXACTLY!)

Kurtz nails it on the head. He nails why the Marvel Comics suit against Cryptic is so, and I use this word sparingly, retarded. He nails why it's doomed to failure. He even subtextually nails why it's stupid -- namely, because it's punishing people for being fans (since Cryptic isn't marketing this as a Marvel Comics game).

Dave Van Domelen, who's noteworthy for reviewing comics on a weekly basis, as well as being noteworthy for having a Mighty Science Brain and a willingness to wear Girl Genius Goggles in public, has posted an interesting essay on Why NOT to boycott Marvel over this. I think Dave's pretty well right in all of his thinking, and in the end I disagree with him. I say, don't buy Marvel's stuff because Marvel doesn't deserve your money. Don't pretend that this'll make them change their ways. It probably won't. However, when people are bastards, don't support them.

I'll say that again.

When people are bastards, don't support them.

Don't boycott Marvel to send them a message. They won't hear it. Don't boycott Marvel in hopes of forcing them to drop this crap. Quite honestly, they're likely to drop it because there's been a huge amount of negative publicity for them over it, and Corporate offices don't like negative publicity. It drives down share prices. So, someone's going to call legal, soon enough, and say "what the Hell are you idiots doing? We can't possibly win that case and in the meantime, people are pissed at us. What the Hell are you idiots thinking."

No, you should avoid buying Marvel because Marvel doesn't deserve your money. Simple as that. They're bad corporate citizens. They're bad creative citizens. They're bad stewards of an important part of our cultural mythology. They don't deserve your money.

If enough people say "fuck those bastards. They don't deserve my money," their behavior will change. Now, sometimes that's going to be hard. It means not going to Fantastic Four even though Jessica Alba is hot and the Thing looks cool as Hell. It means not buying X-Men Legends even though it looks kickass. It means not watching their television sho-- well, no one watches their television shows anyway. It means not buying stuff with the Captain America shield logo or a Backpack with Spider-man on it or the Black Cat Bra and Panties set. Not because those things aren't cool, but because Marvel doesn't deserve your money.

Oh, and don't buy the comics. Not that they'll care, but hey, go all the way with it.

Now, do I expect that to happen? No. No I do not. I expect you to go to Fantastic Four. I expect you to play X-Men Legends. I expect you to beg your girlfriend to wear the bra and panties and the little domino mask on your hands and knees. And that's okay. I'm good with that. Especially because I think this case won't go anywhere, and won't last long enough to matter anyhow.

But don't call out for boycotts because Marvel's screwing Cryptic. Marvel screws other companies. That's what they do. If you're going to stop buying Marvel stuff, do it because they don't deserve your money, and plan for this to be a permanent state of affairs. Otherwise, don't talk the talk.

As for me? I'm not going to buy Marvel things right now. They're acting like bastards, so I'm not going to support them. We'll see if I have the willpower not to see Fantastic Four, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

And either way, Scott Kurtz is a God among Snarkers.

Let's talk about monumental stupidity -- in other words, let's talk about the Comic Book Industry.

Marvel Comics is suing City of Heroes, because it's too easy to make characters who look like Marvel characters in the game.

Okay, let's stop for a moment and have a look at the Terms of Service for the game:

(e) Character Name. In order to use the service, you must create a character and choose a name for your character to identify your character to other Members (your "Character Name"). You may not select as your Character Name the name of another person, or a name which violates any third party's trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right, or which may mislead other players to believe you to be an employee of NC Interactive, or which NC Interactive deems at its sole discretion to be vulgar or otherwise offensive. NC Interactive reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to (1) delete or alter any Character Name or (2) terminate any license granted herein, for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, any suspected or actual infringement of any trademark or trade name right, copyright, or other proprietary right.

(f) Super Group Names, Super Group Member Titles, Battle Cry, and Character Description. While accessing the service, it is possible to name your Super Group, give titles to members of your Super Group, create a Battle Cry, and write a Character Description. You may not create a Battle Cry, Character Description, give a name to a Super Group, or give a title to a Super Group member that is the name/description/title of another person, or a name/description/title which violates any third party's trademark right, copyright, or other proprietary right, or which may mislead other players to believe you to be an employee of NC Interactive, or which NC Interactive deems at its sole discretion to be vulgar or otherwise offensive. NC Interactive reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to (1) delete or alter any name/description/title given to a Super Group, Super Group Member, Battle Cry, or Character Description or (2) terminate any license granted herein, for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, any suspected or actual infringement of any trademark or trade name right, copyright, or other proprietary right.

In other words, you're explicitly prohibited from naming your character "Iron Man," your superhero group "The Avengers," use the battle cry "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME," or use character or super group descriptions that make it clear you're just playing the X-Men. There is a mechanism in-game for slapping down people you see wearing Superman's togs (more or less) or the eight thousand variants of "Wolvernine" or "LogaNNN" out there.

This is apparently not enough for Marvel. They want to sue to force Cryptic to somehow prevent characters from modeling Marvel heroes at all, period, by hobbling the character creation tools so they can't possibly create the Hulk or Spider Man in any context.

It's not possible.

It's not possible. People are damn good at making graphics tools model what they want to model. Cryptic can only block explicit name-choosing and respond aggressively to reports that come in. They have no capacity whatsoever to ensure no one will dress a character up like the Black Widow. I mean, Jesus Christ, it's a grey leather jumpsuit. It's not like they can prevent people from choosing grey leather.

All this can possibly do is piss off video game fans and bias them against Marvel. And to be blunt, that doesn't do Marvel any good. Comic books are increasingly niche products. Teenagers aren't buying the Avengers -- thirty year olds are. And that's mostly okay with Marvel, because it's sale of the trademarks that drives their business now, not sale of the comics. Which is why they're suing, because they feel needlessly threatened.

Well, this won't kill off City of Heroes. It'll mean that there's going to be a lot stricter policing of character knockoffs, but I'm okay with that. Frankly, I get pretty bored with the Solid Snakes I've seen running around. However, it will pretty quickly be determined that Cryptic took steps to ensure Due Diligence, and the case will be dismissed. Or, Cryptic and Marvel will come to an accommodation before it ever reaches that stage. This won't end up being any big deal.

Except, of course, to Marvel's potential market. They will be pissed off at Marvel.

Someone explain to me how that's a good thing for Marvel. Seriously. I'd like to hear it.

See, now this I'd want in my local paper.

(From Basil Flint Click on the thumbnail for full sized spork action!)

John Troutman did something not too long ago that webcartoonists need a lot of courage to do, and which I'm of mixed feelings at best about, generally. Namely, he found he was working on a plotline, discovered he had no real direction he wanted to take it in, and he pulled the plug. Said plotline, for those of you who don't follow Basil Flint along (and if you don't, then why not?) featured Amanda, continually jealous of series supporting character Andie's tremendous rack, waking up in a Twilight Zone episode a weird amalgam of Amanda and Andie, huge rack and all, and discovering that enormous breasts aren't really all that fun. It wasn't a plotline that could easily be... er... fleshed out, but I give Troutman credit for hitting the real life high points of having large breasts (which went beyond the 'everyone drools' thing any webcomic would do and went into the subsections of 'they get in the way and it hurts when shit smacks into them' and 'you need to own stock in Ben Gay to balance out the backaches you get with those things.') Unfortunately, those high points couldn't last hugely long, especially since without Andie, a lot of the strip tension was gone. So I can definitely understand Troutman deciding "I've played this out as far as I can, and it's time to find something new." At the same time, I'm not a huge fan of the Reset Button. I'll take a comedically implausible in-strip plotline abort over simply throwing up guest art one day and saying "I'm not going to do this any more" any day of the week. (For an example of the former, have a look at Wigu -- Rowland hits a point where he doesn't like where his plot's going, and he'll suddenly have Hugo jump off a building and escape with his parachute pants and get the police, so he can end it. Which kind of works in my book. For an example of the latter which seems to be getting back on track now, there's the "El Pollo de la Muerte" plotline in Suburban Jungle, which Robey discovered was uncomfortably close to another comic strip's plotline (involving crazed, murderous chickens killing off carnivorous anthropomorphic characters -- which I guess conclusively proves there is nothing new under the sun) and punched out, recycling the starting strip a week later and then moving on into new territory. Territory I'll admit I like better, though I would have preferred having Leonard wake up on the floor of the Watering Hole covered in foamy milkshake, having hit his head and passed out and had a temporary 'death chicken' delusion based on a webcomic he used to read. But I digress.)

So, Troutman having aborted his plotline, he decided to take a little break. However, rather than doing the fan art or guest art cha cha, he decided to put up the series of comical strips he'd written and drawn for the Keenspot Comics Page. These go back to Troutman's late, lamented Sporkman character, and are drawn in a chibiesque style.

I love them.

Seriously. I am totally in love with this comic strip. I'm going to be sad when it goes away and Basil returns, even though I like Basil.

Troutman said the reason these didn't run on the Keenspot Comics Page is they're too sequential and serialized for a twice a week comic strip. Well, I've read and reread what we've seen so far, and to be blunt, I don't buy it. There is solid, daily funny whether you're following the serial or not. If there is solid, daily funny, no one is going to care if they're missing the last strip or not. And, having looked at the samples of what is running, there are definitely a couple of strips I'd bump for Sporkman in a New York Minute.

Excuse me?

No, I'm not going to say which ones. Jesus, why make someone feel bad for no good reason?

Anyway, today's strip was clearly drawn after Troutman knew he wouldn't be getting the newspaper strip gig, and he wanted to wrap the storyline up. Which I heartily approve of, because I'm enjoying this storyline a great deal. And, as you know, I'm of mixed feelings on the whole "reset button" thing. But this also saddens me, because I know this probably means the backlog of strips is gone and Sporkman's adventures are about to end.

It'll be nice to have Basil, Andrea and Andie back, but I'm going to miss Sporky when he's gone. And in the end, isn't that exactly how Troutman wants me to feel?

November 11, 2004

Day Eleven, or, Things Fall Apart

16,352 / 50,000

Let's cover numbers early. Because something should happen early today. 16,352/18,333. That's right. I'm 2,000 words behind schedule. The reason for this is profound: I spent much of Tuesday working to get ready for being out of my office entirely on Wednesday, I spent much of Wednesday at a vendor demo, then spent the rest of it, essentially, meeting up with someone local to the area, having a meal, and talking. What did we talk about? Well, a bunch of things, including our shared history in Superguy (I've talked about Superguy before, I think. If not... well, I will someday, I promise), and webcomics, because I talk about webcomics to people over food. It's a curse. Also, I had really good Shephard's Pie, which is perhaps the perfect food for me to eat these days.

And then today, I had to get caught up with all the crap that came up yesterday, and desperately try to catch up with Nanowrimo the rest of the time, because I was very behind. In fact, I wrote 3,000 words today or so... and if I do that again tomorrow and again on Saturday, I'll actually get back on track. After work, I came home and fell asleep for several hours, and would kind of like to go back to sleep, but I have to get some things done....

If you think all this is a half-assed attempt to cover my ass for not snarking anything today... well, you'd be right. But I will put an extra big scene in as an excerpt today, because... well, because. I think you'll like it. Malcolm, my protagonist, finally has a little bit of a breakdown and we begin to find out what's going on... on one level, anyway.

For those of you who've recently sent me requests for the password information for the writing page... I'll see if I can't get through that backlog tomorrow, and get everyone that access. For those of you who're wondering when I'll finally do something about the fucking bowling shirts... Saturday. I swear.

So here's a fast 1,900 words. And I'll try to do more tomorrow. Promise.

            “Through here,” the chief petty officer said, nodding behind himself. Malcolm nodded his thanks and stepped into the office.

            And was instantly plunged into the depths of space, or so it seemed. The office was at the very center of the wheel-like station, at the topmost deck, and the entire roof was a dome of plastiglass. As a result, Malcolm was almost made dizzy by the sudden feeling of infinity, all around him. There were soft lights on the walls, all directed down, but nothing that detracted from the sudden dizzying perspective.

            Malcolm shook his head, suddenly embarrassed. He looked around. There was comfortable furniture – largely wood, which had to have cost a fortune – and a broad desk opposite the door he came in. Commodore Kevin Sortino was standing behind that desk, off slightly to the side. He was smirking.

            Malcolm stepped forward. “Captain Alexander Malcolm, reporting as ordered, sir,” he said, coming to attention. It seemed the best recovery he could make.

            Sortino smiled a bit more broadly. “At ease, and sit down, Alex.” He glanced up. “It’s an impressive sight, isn’t it?”

            Malcolm took a seat. “Yes sir. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”

            “No, you probably haven’t. Do you know, the slowships had a room like this at the top decks of every ship? Before Hotchkiss and Leopold unlocked the nodal points of gravity and figured out how they were stitched together, shipbuilders always planned a place where captains and their crew could go and be reminded of how vast the galaxy is.”

            “I didn’t know that, no. Sir.”

            Sortino smiled a bit more. “I said ‘at ease,’ Alex. Would you care for a drink? I’ve got a Scotch from Campbell that I break out for old shipmates.”

            “From Campbell, sir?” Malcolm arched an eyebrow. “Concordian whiskey?”

            “I find whiskey doesn’t much care where it’s from,” Sortino said, stepping over to a small wet bar. “Besides, if it makes you feel better, this was part of a supply cache we captured on Migdal during one of the Army’s raids. A friend of a friend grabbed a whole case, and one of the bottles made it to me.”

            “Oh.” Malcolm was slightly surprised to find he did feel better.

            “Here you are,” the Commodore said, offering a glass with a couple of fingers of the amber liquid and two cubes of ice to Malcolm, who accepted it. Nodding slightly, the Commodore sat in a chair opposite Malcolm, with a low table between them.

            Malcolm shifted to face Sortino. Despite the years that had passed, he found the Commodore looked much the same as he remembered. Lean, with an angular face that had a slight flush to its light skin. Red-blond hair, which in the low light looked like it had no grey at all. He was wearing dress blues, but without the coat. Even on his white tunic shirt, however, the solid four point star and disk of a Commodore gleamed in the room’s low light, and below it he wore a small Admiral’s Star, reflecting he had a fleet command.

            Sortino lifted his glass in toast. “To victory,” he murmured.

            Malcolm lifted his own. “May it come swiftly,” he answered, and sipped the scotch. It was peatier than many Malcolm had tasted, burning as it went down. Malcolm half-closed his eyes to savor that burn.

            “That’s my kind of sentiment,” Sortino said, with a smile. “You don’t know how hard it is to hammer that into the Admiralty. They like containment. I’m not interested in containing the bastards. I want to make it abundantly clear to every two bit power in the galaxy that you don’t get to attack the Empire of Citadel.”

            “You think they’d learn that lesson?” Malcolm asked.

            “I think we can force them to learn that lesson,” Sortino answered, soberly.

            “Yes, sir,” Malcolm said, looking down into the scotch. He suddenly felt very tired.

            “How’s your family, Alex,” the Commodore asked softly. “Have you heard anything recently?”

            “No, sir. I... I don’t know, sir. I hope they’re managing.”

            Sortino nodded. “I wish I could tell you that we’d made an inroad into Campos, but we haven’t. It’s the same old story you’ve heard a hundred times. We push into the system with the Navy, but we never get enough of a foothold to land troops on Campos to start liberating it. We have to be able to reinforce a blockade to give the Army a chance to work. Otherwise, it could end up like Garrity. And the last thing we need is another planet where half the time we have soldiers we can’t reinforce or withdraw if needed.”

            “I know that, sir,” Malcolm said.

            “I know you do. You’re a good spacer. You always have been.”

            “Thank you, sir.” Malcolm took another sip of the whiskey. “Sir... I have to ask—”

            “Let me guess. You have to ask what all this is about. You have to ask why we’ve put thirty billion pounds imperial into a dead end system at the end of the Zabel Spur. You have to ask why you’ve gotten a Captain’s Star out of turn. You have to ask what all this is about.” He smiled slightly. “Did I cover the basics, Captain?”

            “Yes, sir.” Malcolm found himself smiling. Sortino had always been able to do that. He was so smooth, so charming.....

            “Well. The short answer is, we’re preparing to end this war once and for all, with the Empire of Citadel the solid winners. And you’re here to be a part of it. In fact, you’re here to be the lynchpin.”

            “Sir?” Malcolm asked, blinking. “I....”

            “Let me guess,” Sortino said, again. “You don’t think you’re anything special, so the idea that you could have the deciding role in ending a war conservatively estimated to last another sixty years is shocking. Am I right?”

            “Well, yes sir.”

            Sortino’s grin turned wry. “It’s a good thing I’m the one who decides who is and isn’t special instead of you, then, isn’t it.” He drained the rest of his scotch. “Do you know why victory has always been inevitable, Malcolm? Why in the end this was nothing more than an expensive fool’s errand for Concordia?”

            “Sir? I know why civilians think it’s inevitable....”

            “Why’s that?”

            “Because... because there’s an estimated forty-one hundred planets in the Empire of Citadel, counting member worlds and protectorates, and there’s less than two hundred and twenty Concordian planets.”

            “Seems like an obvious win for us, doesn’t it?”

            “Well... I can see why civilians think that, sir.”

            “But you don’t agree?”

            “I don’t think the numbers make victory inevitable, sir. I think victory has to come from our resolve and our strategy.”

            Sortino nodded. “What’s the fallacy of the numerical argument?”

            Malcolm sipped his whiskey. He wasn’t sure if this was a casual discussion or a test. “Concordia’s smaller size means information travels from one end of their empire to the other in a fraction of the time. Concordia’s direct control of her member worlds means they can command far greater individual resources than we can. And the whole of Concordia is involved in the war. While this is the largest war the Empire’s ever been in, it’s a very very small percentage of the Empire that’s affected by it. To people in Anterior Realm, or Coreward, or even Paramount Realm... it’s just an afterthought. And with all the frontier action in the outer realms, the Imperial Navy can’t focus even a tenth of its overall commitment to resolving this action. Especially....”

            “Especially?” Sortino asked, intently.

            “Especially with the Concordians contained,” Malcolm said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

            “Oh yes. The containment strategy. Hold them in place, and eventually they’ll run out of resources to pursue the war, in decades or centuries. In the meantime, there’s only eight Citadelian worlds in dispute or seeing violence. Eight worlds, out of thousands. That’s only two tenths of one percent of the Empire directly affected, right?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “You don’t like that strategy, do you?”
            “No, sir.”

            “Why not? You know it will work, eventually.”

            “No sir, I don’t know that. They’ve broken through to Rosenberg any number of times, sir. If they ever manage to solidly reinforce Rosenberg, and get control of the trailward t-point out of the system, they cut off the Manley Reach. If they manage that, they reinforce heavily on Simpson and Campos and send forces to Melchor to create another buffer there. They pull out of Garrity and Crosby’s Folly and Midgal entirely. They send troops in on Guigar and Kolchalka and Greenlee, one at a time subverting and conquering, and then Jacques and Bleuelsuld and Aeire....” Malcolm felt the words boiling out of him, almost without control, like a floodgate had been opened and there was no way to stop it. “Once they’re solidly locked into the Manley Reach, they have the whole uncolonized region past the Manley Reach open to them. They send in colonists and resource miners and surveyors. They hurl their military to the buffer worlds and strip back everything else to just hold and develop. Generations are born on the conquered worlds and die on them, and life becomes ritualized and expected, and sooner or later some Duke will propose coming to some peace accord with Concordia because it’s costing us money to hammer at them while Concordia is making money on their new worlds and the Concordian empire is expanding with the new colonies....”

            “That’s right. Sooner or later some Peer or some Tribune in Parliament will decide it’ll be easier and make more mathematical sense to consolidate their own power if they eliminate the costly war – costly in terms of lives and resources alike – and make peace.” Sortino practically spat the word. “And you don’t like that?”

            “No sir. No I don’t.”

            “Why not?”


            Sortino’s voice was soft. Coaxing. Insistent. “Why not, Alex.”

            “Because it’s not math to me, sir.” Malcolm barely kept from bursting into tears, buried emotions coming to the surface. “They have my family! They’re in my home town! My home country. My home world! They’re raping my planet and my friends and my birthright! I hate them for that!”

            “You hate your enemies?”

            “Yes! Yes!”

            “So why are you so tired these days?”

            “Because there’s no way out!” Malcolm shouted, tears finally flowing. “We fight them every fucking day! Ships burn and spacers die on both sides, soldiers dig in, take land and lose it the next day! It’s eternal!

            “What if we sent in two more fleets and blew them out of the sky?”

            “It wouldn’t last,” Malcolm said. “They’re committed to a degree we’ll never be, and there’s only one route in and out of Concordian space.”

            “The Thames-to-Aurora transition,” Sortino asked, quietly.

            “Yes! They just have to keep feeding things through Thames, and they can make fleets break against them at the choke point! And when the fleets are broken they just start flooding back out, from Aurora to Simpson and Abramsuld...” Malcolm’s voice dropped. He suddenly felt drained. “There’s no way out, sir. We have to keep grinding and hoping they don’t get lucky, until their economy collapses and they can’t keep building ships to send against us. And that’s not even considering the Orgalin are supplying them too.”

            Sortino nodded, and finished off his whiskey. “Want a refill?” he asked, quietly.

            “What? No... no, I still... no.”

            Sortino nodded, getting up. “That doesn’t answer my question, though. My original question.”

            “What... what was the question, sir?”

November 10, 2004

Community Spirit

Your friend and mine, mckenzee, of "Sinister Bedfellows" has started a Snarkoleptics Livejournal Community. While I'm going to cheerfully leave it in the hands of others, I'll be glad to make note of new snarks on it, giving LJ users another tool for finding stuff.

What's it best used for other than that?

...I dunno. What exactly do we do around here?

Still! Check it out, if you want!

Live, from Waltham, Massachusetts, it's a dull series of vendor demonstrations!

In my secret identity, I'm a systems administrator (a fact that causes my technically inclined friends to snicker uncontrollably) for a school in New England. On occasion, this means my boss (who I shall call Secret Manager-1, or just "M," for short) and I have to go and listen to people without charisma drone on in front of powerpoint presentations their secretaries worked up, and try really hard to pretend they're not saying what the previous vendor said. Right at the moment, a very tired man is telling us that there is an exciting new technology called "wireless," that people can use to get connectivity without wires! Honestly!

For the record, the fact that while he says that, I'm able to write this missive to you... and the fact that everyone else in the room, literally, is doing the same (well, they're not writing to you, but they're surfing the web) should tell the presenter that the word is out, but he's got to go through the motions because he has nothing else to talk about. I also get to hear IT managers and systems administrators ask the most absurdly esoteric questions in the world (we just heard -- I swear to Christ -- someone in the audience ask "what frequency range will 802.11n use?" The answer, if there's any possibility you care even slightly, is 2.4 Ghz, and there is no humanly possible reason why he'd possibly need to know that yet. That's just slightly like asking if the new hydrogen cell cars are going to have an alloy wheel option. There is an answer, but why would possibly care at this stage of the game.

There is an off chance that there'll be something interesting sometime during the day. And it's business travel, which is always fun in its own way, and M is fun to do these things with because she's just as cynical as I am, and when we finish here I'm going to go have drinks with an acquaintance which is always cool, so that's pretty nice. I'm not likely to get much writing done, but it's not wholly impossible. We are sitting in the back row, which is where the wired geeks are hanging out (we have cell phones, pagers and e-mail pings going off every thirty seconds or so, M and I apparently being the only two who know how to mute our powerbooks.

I'm not sure she'll appreciate me surfing webcomics sites, so we'll see how quickly snarks happen today. I might be able to get some writing don--

The wireless guy just told us not to install access points inside of metal encasements or behind metal pipes. This is the perdition I am sitting in for the next five hours. Pray for me. Pray for Bobo.

November 09, 2004

Nothing says business travel like doing... exactly the same damn thing you'd be doing at home.

(From Two Lumps! Click on the thumbnail for full sized Meer!)

So I'm in Waltham, Massachusetts. Which is all right, if cold. And... so far I've seen an offramp and a bunch of concrete buildings. But I'm told there are good restaurants and bars not far from me, so tomorrow after the conference I'll have to avail myself of them. Or maybe drive into the city. Or, you know, something.

This particular Two Lumps appeals to me, because I've heard this aria before. Especially at my parents' house. See, Sarah figured out early that if she makes a total nuisance of herself right when my mother gets up, she'll get a little bit of canned tuna or canned salmon for her trouble. It's astounding how much of a nuisance she can make, now. "Meer meer meer meer meer!"

Back at the apartment, she sings on occasion, but she's got me so well trained she doesn't have to sing much. On the other hand, if I'm under a blanket on the couch, she'll walk along the back of the couch, lean down, stretch a paw down with one nail extended, and poke whatever exposed skin she can find, until I lift the blanket so she can crawl under.

It used to be cute, and then she started waking me the Hell up. Bitch.

Meer meer meer meer....

A fast note from a busy day.

I'm buried neck-deep in work, because tonight I'm overnighting in the Boston area for a 7:00 conference with my boss, and I need to have a clean slate here at the school until I return. So I haven't had much time to snark or anything else. I also had to duck out and grab cat food at my lunch hour, killing my lunchtime snark time. And yet, I'm ducking in for a moment.

You see, they just got a shipment of British foods at the market, because... well, I don't know why. Maybe it's a Christmas thing. And I glanced at them quickly... and then saw they had relatively inexpensive packets of Kedem tea digestives.

What does that mean?

It means that right now, on my desk, I have a packet of biscuits.

Tasty, tasty biscuits.

Life doesn't suck.

November 08, 2004


(From Her. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Art!)

So... yesterday, as you know, my November Feeding Snarky column came out. It specifically compared and contrasted A Softer World and Sinister Bedfellows.

This morning, Chris Bishop's "Her" had... this.

The likelihood is, Bishop did this some time ago. But, there's a tradition among sites that claim the word "snark" as part of their lexicon, started by Television Without Pity lo these many moons ago. They have a tendency to ascribe any reaction from the television show, movie or what have you that has even the remotest possibility of having been influenced by something they wrote as a "shout out."

So, I consider this a shout out, even though it has nothing to do with me, has nothing to do with Websnark, makes no reference to Websnark, me or Comixpedia, and in fact takes A Softer World on as a subject matter in its entirety. Oh, and probably was done long before my article, which Chris Bishop probably hasn't read yet anyway.

I feel so influential. So delusionally, delusionally influential.

You think this is a battle? You should see what happens when they try to order one pizza for the two of them.

(From Greystone Inn. Click on the thumbnail for full sized battle of the titans!)

Brad Guigar's one of those people who can pull off one of the harder tricks in the webcomics lexicon. He can seamlessly work Story into a gag-a-day strip without sacrificing Funny. The relationship between Lightning Lady and the Fanboy is one of those. We know he's cheating on her (or at least, it seems that way). We know she's still in love with Keegan, but we don't angst about either. We churn along and chuckle pretty much every day. Guigar brings the Funny. It's what he does. It's what doing a daily strip means to him.

Today's an example of the way he evokes the funny out of situations. There's plenty of examples of Superhero Relationship Humor out there, and most of it is lame beyond belief. "Honey, did you crush the remote again" kinds of things. But Guigar knows from Superheroes. He loves Superheroes. And more to the point, he knows from SuperVILLAINS. So yeah, a woman with the power to crush men's wills with her mind, marrying a guy who can raise an invincible defense... there are going to be days like this.

I'm in a mood to appreciate stuff like this anyway, after watching The Incredibles, this weekend. They got it, too.

The Curse of Consistency

Say what you like about Chris Crosby, and I know some of you can say a lot: the man is consistent. As long as I've been reading Superosity, and that's been years and years and years at this point, he has never been late, he has never missed an update, and he has never had guest or fan art. The man updates. Since he started writing Sore Thumbs with Owen Gieni's art, that's been rock solid as well on its three day a week schedule.

Well, Crosby didn't update either strip this morning.

At first, I suspected a KeenProblem. Maybe a server went down. Maybe the cron job got screwed somehow. But no, other KeenStrips updated (including Nukees -- another strip known for its rock-solidness, though there have been a couple of times Nukees didn't update because of technical problems, and I can't say that's true of Superosity). So, the system seems to be running... but there's no Crosby strips yet this morning.

This is probably something minor. Misnaming the files as they were uploaded into autokeen, say. Or just a delay. For Christ's sake, after this many years Chris Crosby has earned the right to be late every once in a while, damn it! He's not on trial here!

Only... Crosby never misses an update. Much less two. (And yeah, I assume Crosby's responsible for uploading Sore Thumbs. Even if Gieni does all the post-processing, which I can't swear to but is possible, the likelihood is that Crosby would do one last editorial pass before letting it through.

Now. Cards on the table time. I love Something Positive. You know that. I'm a total Milholland fanboy. But I've gotten used to a certain... randomness... as to when it gets updated. I don't bitch about it, because I'm used to it. (If I had a decent way to do an "Update Time Pool," the way I once tried to do with PvP, I probably would, because I'm a bastard. But I'm a bastard who knows nothing but love!) I love PvP, and you know I've given Kurtz shit over inconsistency of updates. It's part of my whole "when it becomes your job, it becomes your job" thesis. For strips where they aren't the artist's job, like /usr/bin/w00t!, I cut more slack. It's no big. They'll give us what they have time to give us. But in any case, if I happen to glance at Something Positive or PvP or /usr/bin/w00t! or any of a dozen other strips and they don't update on "time," I don't give it a second thought. It's within my realm of expectation.

But I don't expect Superosity not to update. Superosity always updates on time!

So... now I'm worried. The man moved from California to South Dakota. It's November. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he's frozen to death in a flash blizzard. He wouldn't know how to dress for the weather. He's an innocent in the Cold Miser's domain, damn it!

Plus, how do we know the good people of Carlsbad know how to drive? He might be used to city street gridlocks. He might not expect a high school senior in his first five year old Jetta doing eighty down Main Street. I'm from a tiny-ass rural town. I know the risks! But Chris Crosby doesn't! Damn it! Why doesn't he call or write or let me know he's just running a little late! I'll bet he's out partying with his friends again! I slave and slave and slave and slave....

And, when it turns out that hey, he overslept and wasn't feeling great and decided to update this morning instead of last night, or that he sent stuff to the wrong directory, or whatever, I'm going to be unreasonably, indefensibly, unstoppably pissed. I don't expect this from him!

It's incredibly unfair, because he's earned the right to be late every now and again. But consistency of updating is a blessing and a curse alike.

And if there is some kind of serious problem, I'm going to feel like the world's biggest asshole for writing this post. Just so you know that I know.

November 07, 2004

Day Seven

11,729 / 50,000

Today kicked my ass. I'm at 11,729/11,666 so I'm locked pretty much in the groove. The first 1,600 words flowed like water. And then the gigantic slamming dam of "no more mister writer man" fell down on me like a fucking meteor. It took me about six hours to do the last 125 words and close out the day's work -- I have to finish the scene I'm working on when I stop for the day, or I go a little psycho. It calls to me, and demands completion, otherwise. So I managed to force out a crappy little ending and tomorrow I'll do something else and those 125 words will get nailed with a flamethrower when I get to the editing stage, because they suck.

Anyway, here's about 730 words to prove I did something today. They're all from before it went to Hell, so there's that, anyway.

            Captain! he called out, smiling. Come here and get properly introduced. He offered a hand. Scott Clarenbach. Youre... Lex Malcolm, right?

            Alexander Malcolm, Malcolm corrected, shaking Clarenbachs hand, and smiling a diplomatic smile. Quite a cargo ship youve got here, he said. I didnt think they came half this big.

            They didnt. But progress is on the march. I never thought Id be as proud to run package delivery. Captain, this is my first officer, Commander Jennifer Beverley. And these are some of your fellow VIPs. This is Captain Tobias Renn... he paused, to let Malcolm get caught up with handshakes.. Captain Nicholas Yerkovich, and I believe you met Captain Lan Delaine and Captain Verla Piermatteo.

            Very briefly, Malcolm said, finishing his handshaking. Delaine was the one with the oddly black pupils and Piermatteo was the overly pale Captain. Alexander Malcolm. A pleasure to meet all of you.

            Oh, this isnt all, Commander Beverley said, smiling. Not by a long shot. Weve got another four captains coming. Theres also a number of lower ranked officers on the VIP list, though they werent invited to this particular function. Youll have many, many chances to get to know each other between here and GS4771.

            Are we all on the Commodores staff? Captain Piermatteo asked, her accent not one Malcolm had heard before.

            Officially. At least until you get to GS4771, Clarenbach answered. But for purposes of the trip, the easy answer is yes.

            Whats this all about, Captain Renn, a swarthy man, said. He looked like an augmented human as well, his skin seeming almost to shine at certain angles.  Look at us Ive never seen a younger group of spacers wearing Captains Stars before. At least, outside of vids back home, and were not good looking enough for the vids.

            You were promoted out of turn, too? Malcolm asked Renn.

            I was a Commander for less than nine months before getting a Captains Star. You tell me. He looked, almost challengingly, at Clarenbach.

            I know, youre curious, and perhaps even frustrated, Clarenbach said. I wish I could explain everything, but I cant. You can already tell theres a major buildup of resources taking place in GS4771. Once you get there, Commodore Sortino and his staff will explain everything to you all. He smiled a bit more. I will say this, though. No bad eggs are on this list. You might feel a bit rough around the edges, especially when youre looking at that Captains Star of yours, but youre exactly what the Commodore was looking for.

            To do what? Delaine asked.

            Like I said. Im sorry. Excuse me. I need to get a drink and to check on our other guests. Beverley? If youd come along?

            Malcolm watched them go. Could someone please explain to me what six cargo ships of this size could possibly be carrying for an uninhabited star system?

            Could someone please explain to me who would build a Naval cargo vessel this size in the first place? Piermatteo countered. I can understand container ships approaching this size, owned by multiplanetary corporations that ship monumental tonnages. But a Navy ship, armored for battle conditions? This thing will carry in excess of sixty thousand teu, and we know theres at least six of them heading up the Spur,

            And at least three IA divisional carriers. Thats a Hell of a lot of soldiers heading up to nowhere, Renn said.

            I saw what looked like a ship tender ­ but one of comparable size to the Utahraptor, Malcolm threw in. You have any idea how many frigates or even cruisers a tender like that can haul?

            You all sound suspicious, Yerkovich said, speaking for the first time. Me, Im excited.


            All of this has to be some monumental buildup to fight the war. Theyre probably using GS4771 because no one would ever go there. Almost no one would even go up the Zabel Spur in the first place. There might be rumors about all of us, but they wont spread through the disputed worlds. By the time were ready, we can sweep down as an unstoppable force.

            Maybe, Renn said, doubt in his voice. Though its my experience that most unstoppable forces are pretty stoppable.

The Comixpedia Shuffle....

It's another month, and that means a new "issue" of Comixpedia. This month is Journal and Autobiographical Comics, so naturally I did a column on comparing photo-based comics. Damn it, can't I get anything right? On the other hand, this is my third column, which supposedly is the magical point where I go from being "some guy who writes a column for Comixpedia" to "Contributing Columnist," and that's just damn cool because it makes me sound like I should be working out of a newsroom exposing corruption. Plus, it was a chance to talk about A Softer World, Sinister Bedfellows, and the fact that they're not nearly as similar as they appear, and that's just plain fun.

This issue also features the extraordinary Wednesday White's review of The Devil's Panties. I'm hopelessly besotted with the thought processes of Ms. White, as you all know, and Jennie Breeden's The Devil's Panties has to be about my favorite comic strip that's never actually been snarked. I couldn't tell you why it's never appeared on Websnark, but it's a failing of mine, not Breeden's.

If that weren't enough, Kelly J. Cooper has a very interesting examination of the core definitions of the autobiographical in comic strips, and that's neat and deserving of a read. And in addition to my column, I actually got to be a news item, on the strength of my having named star systems after webcartoonists and the like for Trigger Man and NaNoWriMo.

So, a fun time at Comixpedia this month.

November 06, 2004

Day Six

10,348 / 50,000

Yesterday was busy at work, and when I got home the near-sleepless night caught up with me (those five snarks yesterday? That's what happens when you can't sleep and you don't have a cute non-cat girl with you. I have a sad and pathetic life). So, no writing yesterday. Today, I had a pretty full day (got up early, did some work on the Wikipedia Webcomics Wikiproject Snowspinner set up, did some research for an article I'm late on (though it'll be done within the hour), and had to bring the car in for service, down in Portsmouth. While I was down there, waiting, I went to see The Incredibles, which was beyond fantastic. After the movie, I went to Fresh City and got caught up on NaNoWriMo. The count-to-quota ratio, as of today, is 10,348/10,000, so I've lost most of my buffer, but I'm still slightly ahead of schedule. And that's good enough for today, damn it. In looking over the NaNoWriMo boards, I see a number of people up over 35,000 words. I have no fucking clue how that's possible. I'm considered an absurdly fast writer by many I know, and there's no possible way I could reach that limit. On the other hand, I'm not taking methamphetamines, either.

I'm also lying, by the way. I know it's perfectly possible. Once, on New Year's Eve, I wrote a complete novella -- longer than what I've done so far on this novel -- in 9 hours. My forearms and fingers hurt from that much typing for days, but the story was actually pretty good, for what it was. But I'm older now, and besides, I have to keep pausing to update spreadsheets. The problem with making a realistic SF universe is you have to keep checking how long it would actually take people to get from point A to point B.

I should pause for a moment and mention Where Snarkoleptics Congregate. This is a NaNoWriMo Forums discussion for fellow Websnark fans to post a "hello" so we can all see how we're all doing and give each other support. I know there's more than myself and Phy doing Nano, so if you're reading these words, please click on that link and come say hi! It doesn't matter how little or how much you've written. Just come check in. We're Snarkoleptics together -- we should congregate!

Well, I'd better get an excerpt down so I can get my article finished before Comixpedia launches missiles at New Hampshire. Here's a fast 982 words for you. You Daily Dinosaur Comics fans will notice that I named some ships after characters in that story. Yeah, I'm a geek. Catch you tomorrow!

            The McCoy was cramped just a crew of seventeen, in a ship that boasted moderate cargo space but little in the way of pressurized cabins. Theyd be glad to see Malcolm go, too, since protocol demanded he get a cabin to himself, forcing the two people whod been bunking in it to give their spaces up. He climbed up the ladderway into the bridge a tight room of three chairs, with the C.O. sitting above (and able to take over any position necessary). Unlike ships of the line, the bridge boasted a plastiglass half-dome that gave an excellent view of their surroundings. It was an impressive view ships of all class and description could be seen all around the McCoy. Huge Naval battlewagons and tiny five man traders moved to and from the huge ringed starport.

            Impressive, Malcolm said.

            Captain on the bridge, the chief running the comm board shouted, not having seen him climb up.

            As you were, Malcolm said, quickly. He was slightly annoyed. No one expected those kinds of protocols during maneuvers.

            It is impressive, Dolan said from above. Certified Imperial Gold. The gateway to two different approaches to the Teo Cluster ­ the trailward approach leading to the Manley Reach and Concordia eventually, when there isnt a war in the way. The coreward approach leads to the Barber Reach. Head rimward and you go up the Zabel Spur. And headward takes you to the Allass Corridor and the Atchison Sector. From the sound of his voice, Malcolm could tell Dolan was taking credit for the four transition points himself, as if hed arranged them and as if he were actually administering them.

            Ill bet the crews looking forward to forty-eight hours in an Imperial Gold rated starport.

            Oh of course, of course. Youll spend a few days here too, I trust? We should have dinner, one of these nights.

            My orders are priority/2, Malcolm said. If anythings going up the spur, Im going to me on it. I might not be two hours at the Naval Platform.

            Not much goes up the Spur. Nothing up there anyway. Maybe youll get a hospital ship going up to Kurtzwuld.

            Well have to see. Malcolm kept looking around. Sweet Murphy, is that a cargo ship?

            The ship Malcolm was pointing at was huge, by any standard. A container ship, with mobile frameworks and tender cranes throughout. It had to be half the size of the entire Vernon Shipyards, all on its own.

            My... goodness, Dolan said. That is a big one. Of course, they all look big to me.

            Sensory, Malcolm said, with the skippers permission is that flying independent registry?

            Petty officer Gomez-Hoyt didnt wait for Dolans permission the crew of the McCoy didnt exactly stand on ceremony. No, sir. Its identifying as... INCSDX-141 Dromiceiomimus.

            INCSDX? What kind of registry is that? Experimental dreadnought cargo ships?

            I dont know, sir. Ships synthetic doesnt have any information on it. Gomez-Hoyt looked over his shoulder. Theres another one, sir. Off to port.

            Malcolm blinked, craning his neck around. The sensor tech was right. Another of the giant, boxy carriers was coming in towards the Starport. Ill be damned. I wonder whats going on. Captain, do you mind if I ask for an active trace sweep of the system? Im curious if theres anything else like that in-system, and where its going.

            I.... Dolan blinked. He wasnt the sort to order active traces. I guess I dont see why not....

            Good. Gomez-Hoyt? Give me active traces. Nothing to penetrate hulls or violate security protocols. I just want to know whats flying out there.

            Active traces aye, Gomez-Hoyt said, grinning. Malcolm smiled a touch, too. Gomez-Hoyt wouldnt be on the McCoy much longer. Anyone that excited to break the routine wouldnt last more than two tours on a courier. Not with a war on.

            Its not really our business, is it, Dolan asked. I mean, Im sure if we should know something, theyd tell us....

            Call it an indulgence, skip, Malcolm said. He couldnt wait to get off Dolans ship.

            Captain Malcolm... Im showing seven ships of comparable size in the system. One more on approach, in addition to the Dromiceiomimus and the Utahraptor it doesnt match the hull configuration, though. It almost looks like a ship tender.

            A ship tender that size? It could practically take six frigates into tow at once. Who would want that? Malcolm frowned. Gomez-Hoyt you said there were seven of these behemoths out there. Where are the other four.

            On a tack rimward, making for the Ishida t-point. He looked over his shoulder. Up the Zabel Spur, sir.

            Dolan snorted. What would possibly need ships that size up the Spur?

            Maybe theyre medical supplies, the helmsman said.

            For what? Is the entire Ninth Army half-dead at Kurtzwuld now?

            Lets hope not. How many other ships are tacking for the Ishida t-point, Gomez-Hoyt?

            That weve seen? Nineteen, sir.

            Nineteen ships, all heading up a dead end?

            Yes sir. Gomez-Hoyt shrugged. Maybe the Concordians went up there?

            No. If the Concordians managed an incursion this deep into Teo Cluster, much less up the Zabel Spur, Rowland and Hynes would have been fortified three times as much as they were, and thered be a lot more warships coming in from headward and coreward.

            Yes sir. But that doesnt explain

            No it doesnt, does it?

            INSCS-8991773 McCoy, the voice of orbital control came over the speakers. Sorry for the delay. Were a bit busy back here. Youre cleared for approach and dock. Please set for encrypted automatic control. Welcome to Vernon.

            We have control connection encrypted on tight, the helmsman said, quickly. Clearly trying to impress the command officer who might recommend he get off the courier. Ready to release.

            Thank you, Gomez-Hoyt, Malcolm murmured, stepping back out of the way to the half-wall Dolans cradle was set atop. Curiouser and curiouser.

Twenty-one Word Movie Review

I beg you, in the name of all that remains being good in this world, go see The Incredibles. Right now.

November 05, 2004

The Rest of the Story So Far....

Hey all!

For those who came in late, I maintain a website where I post works in progress, poetry, art, and "whatever" creativity comes to mind. It's something of a notebook or chapbook, and it's password protected. It's not that I want to keep the masses out, but I don't want robots sniffing it or capturing it, and I don't want any prospective publishers to think I'm "previously published" by putting my stuff on an open website. I have quite a bit of stuff on there, including several chapters of books I'm working on (most notably Theftworld, some short fiction, some poems... that kind of thing.

Well, I've now put the work I've done up until yesterday (the first 8,300 words or so) on Trigger Man onto the site. That includes lots of stuff not put into any of the daily excerpts I've put on Websnark. So, if you're interested in seeing the complete novel as it is so far -- as well as other stuff I've written over the past couple of years -- shoot me an e-mail at websnark AT gmail DOT com and I'll be glad to send you the address and password information.

If you'd rather not... um... carry on!

Now that? That's a smile.

(From American Elf! Click on the thumbnail for full sized beaming! Subscription required.)

I haven't commented on the election over here at Websnark Central. I've had a discussion or two on it over on Livejournal, but I figure that no one here wants to hear that stuff. And I'm not changing it now.

I will say this. The election Fallout has been of slight interest, over on the webcomics scene (I'll try to do a Sore Thumbs snark sometime later, because I think there's something interesting going on there that has nothing to do with the strip itself). No one, however, has gotten the kernel of the whole better than James Kolchalka did in his American Elf strip from yesterday.

The weather is bad, and for roughly half of the country, there is a real pall hanging over us.

But there is still sunshine. If not in the sky, then in a smile.

It's going to be all right.

Clearly, I need to find some means of relaxing. Of course, that's what the scotch is for.

(From Suburban Jungle. Click on the thumbnail for full sized faceplant!)

I love it when we get the classics brought back. Cartoon characters used to do full on backwards headplants and facefaults on a regular basis. Heck, I remember Beetle Bailey doing a whole strip on different kinds of faceplants a full ten years before the web. You hear that? You guys didn't invent comic strip metahumor! Beetle Bailey was doing it years and years and years ago! BEETLE FUCKING BAILEY! The one with Sarge and the dog in the uniform and the sexual predator General Halftrack! They went on to do crossovers, too -- that's right! They crossed over with Hi and fucking Lois! Beetle is Lois's brother! Two different strips, completely unrelated -- ONLY THEY ARE RELATED! You thought it was funky when Trudy turned out to be Gwynn's cousin? BEETLE BAILEY AND HI AND LOIS!

Look, it's actually close to four in the morning, I can't sleep, so I'm writing snarks and setting them up to be published later in the day. I'm also drinking single malt scotch (before Jonathan Rosenberg asks, I'll come right out and say, it's Talisker, which is an urban and smooth scotch that goes down easily and, with my incredible lightweightness, should put me out like a light not long after I finish this post. My other scotches of choice are Dalwhinnie, which my good friend Kevin put me onto years ago, and Laphroig, which is the expensive single malt equivalent of a mugging).

Anyway, it was the inclusion of the classic faceplant that got me to snark this strip, but I also like the implications of it. We haven't heard much from Tiffany's career (or Tiffany in general) recently. It's nice to see some acknowledgment that she's actually struggling, and that Drezzler Wolf hasn't been the phenomenal boost to her career he promised he would be.

Anyway, hijinks should soon ensue.

And, just for the record.


Thank you.

The real Mickey would have laughed nervously the whole time. Also, he has no actual testicles.

(From Achewood. Click on the thumbnail for full sized testicular sacrifice!)

One of the things I really love about Achewood is embodied in Phillipe. He's cheerful and innocent, and a special boy! And the rest of the group understands that. There's a real Naked Lunch feel to Achewood, normally -- Roast Beef lying on his side eating turkey thighs out of the freezer box fits the tone perfectly. But somehow, everyone from Liebot to Ray wants to keep Phillipe safe and his innocence preserved. Oh, they lie to him and scare him for their own amusement, but even their jokes preserve his quiet innocence.

Anyway, this strip and the two or three before it seem to epitomize what Achewood is about. There's only so much I can explain it. You just have to experience it. It's just what you have to do.

Oh man, I hate when that happens. You can't wash that black out of your clothes, either.

(From User Friendly. Click on the the thumbnail for full sized U2!)

I give User Friendly a lot of shit. I really do. I don't think it's evolved enough over the years -- it's kind of stuck in the late nineties. And it doesn't resolve character arcs. Like, ever. It's sad.

And yet, it's rock solid consistent, and that counts a lot in my book. And when Illiad's on, he's on.

This is a solid, funny geek joke. It hits popular/geek culture strong. It makes a person laugh.

Illiad gets... dare I say it... a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

Tiki God Demands More M&Ms!

(From Blahsville. Click on the thumbnail for full sized media shill!)

Submitted without comment.

(Well, okay. I should point out that it's EriC Burns, not EriK Burns, though I expect they did the shift in name the way they also claimed Frank Cormier was actually named Frank Damonk. So it's parody. Parody!)

(I'm sensitive about the proper spelling of my name because when I was growing up, there was a cigarette brand called "Erik," and I didn't want to be associated with it. Also, I've seen every possibly variation of my name, when it seems to me the E-R-I-C spelling is the one used 99% of the time except when describing me. I've been Erik. I've been Erich. I've been Erick. Once, I swear to Christ, I was Eirik. So alternate spellings leap right out at me.)

(Oh, even though this is yet another "not-a-snark" about Blahsville, since I can't very well Snark them when they're referring to me, I should mention Erik Burns being dismissed as an 'obvious left wing shill.' Now, don't get me wrong, I am an obvious liberal shill. But it would seem crass to just say. But then I remembered it was "Focks News," and so I considered the source. There is no shame in being called a liberal shill by any derivation of a Rupert Murdoch organization.)

(Oh, and one other thing... wouldn't you softball Mayor Edwards? I mean, he's just the best darn mayor ever!)

(Oh, and it's "Moxie," named for the worst soft drink ever created. My family bears some of the responsibility for that culinary atrocity, so I have to point out the proper spelling.)

(This is a lot of parenthetical statements for a "submitted without comment," isn't it? Hi Mom!)

I wonder...

...if I should recruit some guest snarkers?

I mean, at least for November. To keep the output up while I write stories about far distant futures where people... well, talk to each other while drinking beverages for hours upon hours.

November 04, 2004

Day Four

8,276 / 50,000

There wasn't much done on Day Three. I was in Maine, as I related in my last post. So there was little writing done. I've managed to correct that for today, which is of course Day Four, and pushed the count up to 8,276/6,664, or about 1 day's buffer's worth. I'll try to stretch that for tomorrow, as I've got at least one overnight business trip coming up I want to be sure I'm covered for.

I'm a busy person. This kind of surprises me. But work keeps busy, and there's all this stuff to do. And stuff that calls out to be snarked. "Snark me, Eric," it says. "You know you want to! Write opinions about me, bitch! Bark like a dog! BARK LIKE A DOG!"

But I refuse to feel guilty about doing Nanowrimo stuff. I know it divides my writing time up, but Jess Christ, I'm writing a novel. That's what writers do. I'll do my best to not let Snarky languish. And you guys have been amazingly great, and that, in turn, is amazingly great.

So, here's a fast 500+ word excerpt from the current output. It's short enough that I won't put it behind a cut. Let me know if that pisses you off.

            So youre being put on a commodores staff?

            Commodore Sortino. That makes a difference. I know him.

            Morita started walking again, pausing long enough to make sure Malcolm was following. You know Sortino?

            Youve heard of him?

            Has anyone whos helped fight their ships in the disputed worlds not heard of him? He led the strike that broke the supply line run from Simpson to Garrity forced them to retreat to Crosbys Folly and fortify. If his successors hadnt fucked it up, we could have held Simpson, taken and fortified Garrity, and started up the ides from Migdal to Abramsuld.

            Yeah. Just like that. Malcolm snorted. You know better, Rita.

            Let me dream. He knows you?

            I didnt think so.

            But you said

            I said I knew him. He shook his head. I was a subleftenant on the Kanamori. He was a captain then. He was everything I think of when I think of captains. Malcolm shook his head. Larger than life. Took control of every situation he was in, just by walking through the door. Nothing seemed to shake him. Nothing seemed to hurt him. And he understood you.

            Sounds like he had an impact.

            Yeah, Malcolm said softly.

            That sounds like theres a story behind it.

            Malcolm took a deep breath. I was on the Kanamori when we got word that Campos had been taken.

            Morita looked away. Im sorry.

            Its okay. Malcolm was walking faster, now. Striding, almost. Like he was trying to put distance between himself and that memory. It devastated me. I had... have family there. Some I havent heard from in years. It was like the Concordians had set a bomb off under my bunk.

            And Sortino understood that?

            He came to see me in my cabin. Just sat there. Let me blubber. Didnt hold it against me. He understood. Malcolm took a deep breath, shaking his head. He was from Aurora.

            Morita stopped in her tracks. Oh, she said in a small voice.

            Yeah. His homeworld, saturation bombed in a surprise attack. The start of the whole fucking war. Hed been on leave at the time. He was there. He got a commendation for organizing a defense of the refugees. But his wife and parents didnt get out. Didnt even survive. Malcolm looked at Morita. It made all the difference to me. He understood. He understood the fear, and the despair, and the anger I was feeling. He didnt hold it against me. He let me express it. He let me exorcise it.

            And youre surprised he remembers you?

            Yeah. Malcolm shrugged. There were dozens of officers and crew on the Kanamori. More than half of us probably had something similar happen. Garrity, Campos and Abramsuld were all heavy feeders for the Imperial Navy. Malcolm chuckled, without humor. Theyre talking about revising posting assignments, you know? Over the next fifty years, set it up so that enlisted and officers are posted at least a sector away from their homeworlds. Makes people a little crazy to be thrown into such a personal war.

            Oh, yeah. Make sure people are twenty-five or thirty transitions from a homeworld thats being bombed. Thatll be good for morale.

So... so... CUTE

websnark-tan.pngI spent Election Night with my parents, and took Wednesday off from work, knowing that Election Night tends to last a thousand years or more. Which was certainly true this time. And Wednesday I spent in Maine, and aside from some glances first thing in the morning, didn't look at my computer much at all. Even after I shlepped back to New Hampshire, I got home and promptly fell into a twelve hour coma. I attribute that to a massive adrenalin surge caused on the ride home -- a deer leapt out in front of my car. I swerved and braked, then swerved more when I saw I was heading for a guard rail. And the next thing I knew, I was executing a near perfect Bootlegger's Reverse from Steve Jackson Games's Car Wars. Only, of course, I didn't mean to. But I did, in fact, end up stopped in the opposite side lane, facing the reverse direction from where I had been going. So I drove in that direction to a good place to pull off, and spent a few minutes reflecting on the act of breathing in and out. And then drove home, which went fine, and talked with my cat who was pissed because I had been away for a while, and then it was this morning, and I feel... well, pretty damn good, actually.

So, no NaNoWriMo, and aside from that one Narbonic note, no Websnark. But lots to talk about (there's doings all over Webcomicdom that deserve some note.) So, I'll try to get caught up today, as soon as I get caught up on systems administration work from my day off.

In the meantime, it's the Snarkoleptic Tan! Tans are... um....

Well... it's worth noting that there is a practice called OS-Tans that are... um....

That... I....

Oh, for Christ's sake. Read the Wikipedia article about them. It's easier that way.

Anyhow, given that *-tans seem to fit his drawing style very well, it makes sense that Alex and Ilia's artist, Rodrigo P. Nitto (or Rodrigo Pin -- I'm not sure which is proper or which he prefers or whether they're the same person at all) would find them appealing. So, he started a Keenspace Forum Thread where he debuted Tans for webcomics sites, like Keenspot, Keenspace, Modern Tales and the like. Others joined in (I learned about their existence from Ping Teo's Web Comic Finds, and even mentioned wanting one for Websnark there), and it became... well, a neat thread featuring lots of Chibis based on websites. What? No one claimed they were curing cancer over there.

Anyhow! Alejandro Melchor, who you'll remember creates one of my favorite Adventure Webcomics Nahast, contributed Websnark-Tan, seen here. And I love it. Like Ping's Webcomicsfinds-Tan, she's got a backpack because she trawls the web. Unlike Webcomicsfinds-Tan, she has a stuffed plush Snarky.

She has. A stuffed. Plush. Snarky.

This might be the cutest concept ever associated with... well, me.

I also like the magnifying glass in her backpack. Because hey, she scrutinizes.

So what do you want? I think it's adorable. And so you're going to look at it. LOOK AT IT!

Right. I'll get some real snarking done today. Promise.

November 03, 2004

Dear Christ, I'm such a geek.

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Information Technology!)

So, today's strip is a step forward in our plot. Dave has uncovered part of the truth -- though he will no doubt leap to the wrong conclusion in the process. Helen is positioned to be just as conflicted as Dave is, if her own Madblood crush still has any legs. Mell is probably about to injure someone.

And yet, the only thing I can focus on is the IP number Madblood seems to be running Lovelace on.


IPv4 addresses, of which this is one, are 32-bit addresses, generally expressed in 'dot decimal' format. 32-bit dot decimal is expressed in a series of numbers from 0 to 255 separated by dots. This is the only way it can be in IPv4. And yet, Professor Madblood's IP number somehow has 513 subnets in the Class B range and 319 subnets in the D block.

A mistake? Fool. Professor Madblood does not make mistakes! The fools at the Internet Engineering Task Force said he was mad! MAD! But now, with his supramacrotic redefinition of mathematical expression, his domination of packet data will be complete! All will bow down before his ability to force potentially 16 bits into 8 bits worth of the so-called "quality of service" differentiated services datagram! All will accept his unfeasible large total length of packets! Mu-hu-HAH-HAH-HAH!!!!!

Okay, I'm a dork. We all know it. I own this aspect of my life.

November 02, 2004

On election night, you want commentary? Have a map instead.

Concordia-Citidelia.pngSo, I do up this map. You all know it. Within two days, I need a lot more depth. So, it's the all new expanded map of the region.

Besides lots more planets, which of course means lots more... um... planets... I added in some region names. I could go into some detail of what a corridor is versus a reach or a cluster, but honestly, no one cares. (The Zabel Spar is significant, because a Spar has only one route in or out, according to theory. Okay, significant may be too strong a word. Also, I might be drunk.)

I haven't done regions for the Concordia side, because... well, I don't expect a whole lot of call for them. If I need them, I'll do them later. But otherwise, I think she's pretty well done.

Oh. And I corrected the spelling of "Toronto." Do you hear me? I corrected it. What do you want from me? What?

Day Two

5,867 / 50,000

It's going exceedingly well so far. I'm finding I have a voice and a lot to say, and as you can tell by the progress bar in the corner, I've officially hit 11% of total. Which, for two days work, doesn't suck.

For the record, this represents 5,867/3,332 for the "completed"/"quota" counts. So I'm well ahead of schedule, which is good given how little writing I might do tomorrow.

I'm finding it very hard not to go back and revise. In a way, that's what I most need to get out of NaNoWriMo this year. Writing is easy. Finishing is hard. This way, I can force myself to keep going, and when I think "wow, that's too wordy," I can then force my brain to think "and in December, I'll see if I can fix it."

I've got a revised map, though it'll have to be its own entry. Not because I wanted to name more planets after Webcomics (though that was fun), but because I needed information about the planets below the edge of the map. I'll do an entry this evening detailing the changes, while I'm in Maine.

That's right, right after work I'm heading out the door to the Pine Tree State, where I will be meeting up with the folks to watch the election results. We'll go out to dinner first, and then have an evening of cheers and profanity. I took tomorrow off, too, so I can stay up until the cow milking hour when Tom Brokaw says "it's now clear that it will be many weeks or months before we have resolution on the question of the American President...."

Anyway, here's a fast 1,500 words or so. I'm putting it in the "extended entry," so that it won't completely smack down peoples' browsers if they're not interested. Just click on the "continue reading" link if you're reading this on Websnark, or click the link at the top of the entry if you're reading on Livejournal or RSS.

            The message had been lurking, waiting the weeks and months for him to be in a position to report to a fleet commander. This Captain Fleischer was clearly the first available the system could hook him up with. Still, it was a damn inconvenience at best. He quickly worked to get his debarkment permission in order, but didnt bother tagging it with a tourist visa for the local planet. As an Imperial citizen, much less an Imperial naval officer, Malcolm could travel to any Imperial Starport facility without needing a Visa... but every Member World of the Empire of Citadel was sovereign, and they all had their own customs procedures.

            Since he wasnt going to the surface, he could bypass them. As it was, it only took twenty minutes to get the clearances he needed. He then disconnected and headed out it wasnt impossible that it would take twenty minutes or more to find his way to room IN8911c, even with the route programmed into his comm. And he got the feeling he shouldnt be late to this meeting.

            As it worked out, he got there in fifteen minutes, but then sat in the lobby for half an hour. Synthetics could create perfectly synchronized schedules, but human beings still had to follow them. The desk clerk smiled apologetically to Malcolm two or three times he was a petty officer third class, by his chevrons, and clearly was used to people being kept past their appointed times. One of his assistance, a pretty, young Spacer Apprentice, brought him coffee at one point. All part of what the enlisted did when a senior line officer was kept sitting. Fortunately, they didnt try to chat. Malcolm didnt want to chat. He was somewhat nervous. It wasnt likely anything was wrong, mind. They didnt usually let problems fester while a captain fought his ship in space. But they might simply not have liked his performace as C.O., and this might be their chance to route him to a desk somewhere. Or they might have liked it a lot, and lined him up for a larger frigate. Or chosen to make him X.O. on a cruiser or battleship give the chance for a Captain to put the polish on him prior to considering him for a capital ship command.

            Or maybe hed done something critically, crucially wrong in a crisis, and this was their way of getting him away from the Claremont so they could demote or discharge him quietly, without causing a scene.

            Finally, the desk clerk called over to him. Commander Malcolm? Captain Fleischer can see you now.

            Thank you, Malcolm said, getting up. He straightened his undress coat and headed to the office the desk clerk pointed out. He nodded to the other personnel in the office, and knocked at the door.


            Malcolm walked in. Captain Fleischer was rising from behind his desk. He was somewhat heavyset, especially in his face, which was jowly, and wore a light blue duty uniform, with flexible versions of his indica. And of course his Captains Star, with the Fleet Operations insignia below it. He offered Malcolm his hand. Commander Malcolm? Isaac Fleischer. A pleasure to meet you.

            Malcolm shook the offered hand. Thank you, sir. The pleasures mine.

            Have a seat. The Captain smiled ruefully. Ill bet youre wound up inside, right now?

            You could say that, sir. I wasnt expecting a note from Central Processing right after I debarked.

            I cant say I blame you. If its any consolation, I didnt get much more notice. The damn synthetics saw a priority/2 and grabbed my first open slot. With priority/3, I get a little more notice.

            Im sorry to inconvenience you, sir, Malcolm said, with a  smile he didnt really feel.

            Ill bet you are. Well, lets get to it. I have new orders for you.

            Malcolm blinked, cocking his head slightly. Sir? The Claremont just put into drydock for repair and refit. The best case scenario is a week before we can put back out. If its a priority/2

            It is, and I know. These are your orders. Not the Claremonts. Youre being reassigned.

            Malcolm felt the walls close in. I see, sir. Whats my new assignment.

            I cant tell you yet. There are formalities to carry out first.


            Fleischer opened his desk drawer, and took out a flat, blue folding box. It had the Imperial Crest and the seal of the Imperial Navy on the top. He set it down in front of Malcolm. Open it, he said.

            Malcolm blinked, and opened the hinged box. Inside, set into dark blue crushed fake velvet, was a gold Captains Star full sized, instead of the small one Malcolm wore as part of his assignment insignia."

            Malcolm looked up, startled. What is this?

            Youve been in the Imperial Navy for sixteen standard years. If you dont recognize that by now, youre probably in the wrong business.

            But... Captain, I....

            By authority of the Imperial Ministry of War, the Underministry of Naval Affairs, and the Imperial Naval Chief of Staff, I am pleased to announce your promotion to the rank of Captain, with all the privileges and responsibilities that rank includes. Fleischer smiled wryly, offering his hand again. Congratulations, Captain.

            Malcolm took the hand mechanically. Sir... thank you. I... dont quite follow, though. I was promoted to Commander less than four years ago.

            Thats right. And it seems to you too early to be brought up from Senior Officer to Command Officer. Thats because it is. Fleischer leaned back in his chair. Commander Malcolm, I didnt have much time to distill the orders I was given, but I did have enough time to read over your service record. Youre a competent commanding officer. Youre still young and rough around the edges. You have no practical experience commanding in large scale environments. Youre a good c.o. for a frigate and I have no doubt that in five to ten years youd make a good captain. But I dont argue with Central Processing, especially when theres a Commodore involved. They want you as a captain. They think youre ready for it. So youre going to have to live up to that. He smiled, ruefully. And if that doesnt scare the Hell out of you, it should.

            I could refuse promotion, Malcolm said, still looking at the Captains Star without picking it up.

            You have that right. I could have your discharge papers ready in five minutes, if you like.

            I didnt say

            Commander... Captain... youre being given priority/2 orders that are confidential until you accept your promotion. Does anything about that sound optional to you? You either need to put that star on so I can give you your assignment, or we need to work out your voluntary discharge without bias. In two years, if you want, you can reup for the service and pick up where you left off. And Im sure youll enjoy the desk they stick you in, but you wont be on a ship any time soon, I promise you. Fleischer smiled a bit more, not unkindly. Welcome to the big leagues.

            Malcolm took a breath and picked up the box. Thank you, Captain.

            Call me Isaac. As odd as it sounds, were captains together now. Want to take a moment to change your insignia? Youll have to before you leave the office, you realize.

            I realize. Malcolm began unhooking the hoop from his coat. So whats my assignment?

            Youre to be put on the next available ship heading rimward, specifically heading up the Zabel Spur.

            The Spur? The nearest world on the Spurs six transitions away from the disputed worlds.

            So you know your cartography. Do you also know where the GS4771 system is?

            Malcolm stopped and thought. Not off hand, si Isaac. Its a catalog number, so I assume its an uncolonized system  or a system with no useful worlds or T-points.

            Thats right. Technically, its the system one transition beyond Farber on the Spur. Maps typically dont show it because theres nothing there. No planets, no resources, and no T-point out. So why bother acknowledging it?

            And Im going there?

            Thats right.


            I have no idea. Youre to report to Commodore Sortino in the GS4771 system, and then carry out whatever duties he has for you.

            Malcolm blinked. Kevin Sortino?

            Fleischer arched an eyebrow. Thats right. You know him?

            I served under him on the Kanamori, back when I was a subleftenant. He actually promoted me to leftenant at the end of my tour.

            Hm. Oh, right. I saw youd served on the Kanamori. I didnt make the connection. He must have still been a Captain back then?

            Yes. Not for much longer, but....

            Exactly. Well, good enough. Just one of hundreds or thousands of subleftenants who served under Sortino, but for some reason he remembers you and wants you on his staff. And wants you promoted to captain before you join it. Why do you think that is?

            I dont know, sir.

            Me either. But I bet itll be an interesting answer.

Thank you, Chris Crosby. Thank you for just being you.

(From Superosity. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Democracy In Action! Well, Democracy Standing Around, which counts.)

You can rely on Chris Crosby. You can set your watch by him.

The rant I did earlier about write-ins for cartoon characters? He did it better, in today's strip. This is generally a good example of the good points of Superosity anyhow -- the naivet, the lesson, the denoument. It was well executed today, too.

And, as tired as I am, I was glad to get the smile from this.

On Decorations and Democracy

It's weird. I moved offices at the beginning of the summer (I had changed jobs, so it kind of went without saying I needed to change offices). My last office was 'decorated' somewhat randomly. Bookshelves full of books, a large collection of toys that students and friends gave me over time, piles of kipple... that sort of thing.

When I moved to my new office, for whatever reason I decided to decorate it. I got a "Sacrifice" Demotivator for one wall, right next to a whiteboard and a piece of digital art I produced (one of the few bits of art I've done that I feel really happy with. On the opposite wall I have the famous Picasso "spider painting" of Don Quixote, because my father had that same print in his own office and because Don Quixote just feels right to me. On my bulletin board I have pictures of my sister and my nieces, plus postcards and the like from friends. (And my "Republicans for Voldemort" bumper sticker, which both Democrats and Republicans get a huge kick out of.) Opposite my desk, I have a small framed sheet of the "Comic Strip Classics" postage stamp set from a few years ago.

And finally... I have something I picked up at the Battle of Benneton monument last September -- a "historical documents" set. It only cost four bucks for four different sheets -- a bargain. They're all printed on yellow, rumpled paper designed to look 'old.' It's just ink on distressed paper, but it works.

So, by my desk I have a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. On the inside of my office door, I have the Bill of Rights. Behind me, on the wall, I have the Constitution of the United States. The fourth 'document,' the Gettysburg Address, didn't interest me as much, so it's tucked into the bookcase right now. I'm a lot more of a Revolutionary War buff, anyhow.

The Revolution was really remarkable, when you think of it. At its core, it was fought for idealistic purposes. Not for monetary ones (oh sure, taxation issues were at the the forefront, as well as deeper issues like the injunction against the colonies developing their own industrial base, but those were symptomatic), but for idealistic ones. Read Common Sense sometime, or any given example of Ben Franklin's editorials from the period. Or John Adams's diaries or letters. They were doing this because they believed, with all their heart, that we have the right and the responsibility to choose our own destiny. We had the right and responsibility to have a voice in our own future. We had the right and responsibility for our own Sovereignty.

Remarkable. Astounding, really.

In the 228 years since the Declaration I've got hanging in my office was signed, we've made a lot of boneheaded moves. We've gotten it wrong a lot of the time. We've lost sight of who we are as a people and what we stand for as a Nation. But so so so much more often we've gotten it right. We've expanded our definitions of liberty, of citizenship, of the very Republic. We've taken a moral stand as a people, and declared our principles as well as our interests. We've grown to be the dominant nation on this planet, at least for now.

I get angry, a lot, at the American political leadership. I get angry when they disagree with me. I get angry when I can see a better way. I get angry at petty corruption and special interests and corporate greed. And sometimes, I even lose heart. And I never lose heart as much as when it seems like my fellow Americans just don't give a rat's ass. When they don't vote, or when they prove they have no idea what the issues are they're voting about.

But I never stop being proud. I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be the inheritor of a legacy born of ideals, of liberty and freedom, of rights and responsibilities. I'm proud of my Nation.

That's why I have the closest things we have to national sacred documents up on the walls of my office. And when I'm at my darkest hour, I can look at them and remember that it looked pretty bleak during the Revolution, too. "These are the times that try men's souls" indeed. But they held on, and eventually they won a Nation.

Today, the single most sacred ritual in American Society will be conducted throughout the Nation. Today, we have the right and the responsibility to come together in common caucus and express our opinions and our beliefs. We have the right and the responsibility to set the course for the next four years on the National Level... as well as the next two or six years depending on individual state elections. This ritual is crucial -- not just to America, but to people all over the world. (Which is one reason I don't mind writing about this topic even though my readership is international. What we Americans do today will have an impact on them as well, and they will be watching.)

Today, we vote.

If you truly have no understanding of the issues... if you're truly "undecided" because you just haven't bothered to learn the differences between candidates or if you think it'll be really funny to write in a porn star or cartoon character's name on the ballot... then please, stay home. Let the adults handle this.

If you are decided... or if you're "undecided" because you've learned so much and you're balancing the pros and cons and you're just not sure which way it will break... then please. For me. For your fellow Americans. For the people of the world. For the people of the Revolution who fought and died to give you this sacred right, this sacred responsibility, and this sacred trust... vote.

And if you're a praying person, please, pray that all goes smoothly today and that by, oh, midnight tonight we know who's won. Because if we have to go through another month of this bullshit, I'm going to have to throw myself into a wood chipper. And the Founding Fathers wouldn't like that one bit.

November 01, 2004

Day One

Last night, from midnight until about two -- the change of clock does screwy things to me -- I got the first 2,272 words of Trigger Man done. For point of reference, I should do an average of 1,666 words a day if I'm going to get this done, so I'll describe my progress as a simple ratio of [words written]/[word quota]. For right now I'm ahead. There'll come a day when I don't write a damn thing, though, so it balances out. Consider this like a webcomic. I'm building a buffer so those days when it's not there at all or life is too Interesting to even do Websnark, much less NaNoWriMo I don't have to stress. So, the Day One Count is 2,272/1,666.

Now, because I love you thiiiiiis much, here's a thousand word excerpt. Why do I anticipate people are going to either skim over these or start fleeing Websnark in droves if I keep posting them? Anyway -- this is heavy on exposition and Skiffy elements. When we're into December, there'll probably be rewrites, and the further we go into the month, the less jargon will show up and the more character moments... right. I'm babbling. Here it is. (Also, note this is raw stuff -- National Novel Editing Month isn't until December. So, bear in mind you're getting what you're getting.)

5284-014 21:07 In Transition/2 (Garrity-to-Migdal)

            The transition had been rough -- it was never smooth to punch a hole in space time, exploiting the natural latent tunnels between stars. Because the Claremont had a misaligned gravity net, it was rougher than normal. If the frigates crew hadnt been secured, spacers would have been thrown against the bulkheads.

            But theyd made it, and now they were safely in N-space. After an hour, the engineers had certified the hull intact and cabin pressure had been restored. Malcolm had retreated, exhausted, to the officers lounge to drink a cup of soykaf before heading to get five hours fitful sleep. He sipped the warm drink and watched the wisps and bursts of gold through one of the frigates few windows. N-space didnt really have anything in it, but as quanta radiated from the Claremont and shifted past the envelope, they flared gold, forming wisps and rails. Ghosts, they called them.

            Malcolm had seen a lot of ghosts in his time.

            His executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Rita Morita, walked up and sat next to him uninvited. You look like Hell, Alex.

            My friend. Malcolm took another long sip of coffee. Do you have an updated casualty list?

            Seven. Damnedest thing. One of the missiles hit the armor just right. Things were fine for three decks, but we had a collapse on the fourth deck that also damaged the port side gravity emitter array.

            Were lucky they were short range missiles, or itd have been a lot worse. Malcolm sounded distant, even to himself. Ill need their names, service records... you know the drill.

            All too damn well. Morita looked at Malcolm. I mean it. You look like Hell.

            Malcolm looked down at his hands. The darker skin contrasted nicely with the white of the mug. Im tired, Rita.

            It was a long fight. Hell, from what we could pick up, there were still shots being fired when we made transition.

            I dont mean that. I mean Im tired. Im weary. He looked at her. Concordia invaded the Empire of Citadel twelve years ago. They blew Hell out of Planet Aurora, subjugated the populace, and started moving inward.

            I know, Morita said softly.

            And what good has it got them? They made headway into our space, then we hit them back. We sometimes push past Aurora and hit Thames on their side. Theyve pushed all the way to Rosenberg more than once. But for the most part, we have a running battlefield of nine disputed worlds. They have their whole empire behind their war effort. I doubt more than ten percent of our Empire even knows there is a war.

            We have well over twenty times the worlds they do, Morita said. Itd be surprising if more than ten percent did know there was a war on. Weve got them contained.

            They should be more than contained. We should be pushing into their system by now.

            To do that, wed have to pull forces out of Periphery and Coreward Realms, even if we assume theyre not wasting too many ships back in Paramount Realm, Rita said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Its going to take a long time before we can afford that kind of commitment.

            And in the meantime, the Concordians have devoted essentially all the resources of their worlds to this damn war. Frankly, were lucky weve held them so far. If they ever solidly took Rosenberg, theyd cut off the Manley Reach from any kind of reinforcements. They could take them in a walk. Then, they just need to reinforce and hold....

            You know, you could transfer out of the Fifth Fleet.

            Malcolm didnt answer.

            Seriously. You could get posted to the Third, over in Paramount. Do light police actions, maybe get a desk in some port for a few years. Or head out to Periphery Realm play frontier naval commander for a while. You can get out of this get out from the pressure.

            Is that what youre going to do, someday?

            You bet it is.

            Malcolm drained the last of the soykaf. Youre from Kolchalka, right?


            Kolchalka hasnt been hit, yet. Though if Manley Reach gets cut off it will be. Malcolm looked back at his executive officer. Im from Campos. There are Concordian troops in my home town right now, and theyve got a lock on the T-points to Migdal and Abramsuld. You want to tell me how Im supposed to transfer to some other Fleet or some other Realm when theyre using my damn secondary school as a barracks for Concordian infantry?

            Morita paused, and looked away. Did you have a chance to look at the latest damage control reports?

            No, not yet.

            Were working on the linkages. But we have two missile tubes with obscructions in them. I dont know that we can get those to ready-fight by the time we hit Migdal. The weir cannons are doing much better. We lost two, but they were pure linkage issues. We should have them ready by tomorrow. Well probably have to take the gravity net down for about nine hours so we can do repairs. Were going to want to pass out some preventative shots.

            Malcolm nodded, absently. See to it. Priority is the weirs, then the gravity net. Keep the last two days clear for sensory work. I want it as close to nominal as possible for when we break out of transition. I just hope we dont have a couple of destroyers staring at the T-point, waiting to atomize whatever comes through. We didnt send destruction T-torps ahead of us.

            The T-point was clear twelve days ago, remember?

            So that means we just have eleven point nine days to worry about. Malcolm stood. Im going to get some rest.

            You do that, sir.

            And you?

            Im going to sit up and stare at ghosts for a while, she said. Someone in this room got me depressed.

A Modest Webcomics Proposal, that doesn't involve eating babies. *pause* It's a Jonathan Swift reference. Honest.

More and more, when I need fast information on a topic, I turn to Wikipedia. I like Wikipedia. I like the concept behind Wikipedia. I like the open source methodology of Wikipedia. Me like Wiki.

For those who don't know, Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia that anyone -- anyone -- can edit and write for, as easily as they click on hotlinks. As a result, esoteric subject matter can get in-depth coverage thanks to the Web's ability to create support groups for anything, erroneous information can be corrected in a robust way, and obsolescence is fought by the power of dynamic realtime corrections. This is an amazing resource and an amazing tool, and I'm a big big fan of it.

I don't think Wikipedia is a replacement for traditional encyclopedias yet, mind. I've read all the debates and comparisons between Wikipedia and, say, Britannica.com. I know the theories that make Wikipedia stronger than the old school editorially-driven encyclopedia model (as a fast review, the theory is that with many thousands of eyes watching Wikipedia, erroneous information will be corrected much faster and more completely than with the top-down editorial model of a traditional encyclopedia), and I think in the end they'll prove conclusive, but they're not there yet. Like many other people, I tried the "Wikipedia Challenge" that proponents have been shouting at those people who say "but if anyone can edit the entries, they'll throw in a lot of bias or false information." That challenge, in short, is "pick any 1/2/5/10 pages in Wikipedia, insert false information, and see how long it takes for it to be corrected." The subchallenge is "take any three topics and compare the Britannica's entries to Wikipedia's and see what's better and more complete.

Nine times out of ten, the information is corrected in record time... because nine times out of ten, the corrector picks subjects he knows a lot about, which (given the nature of the Web and the sort of person attracted to Wikipedia) tends to be a subject geeks like you or I hold near and dear to our hearts, and therefore receive huge corrections in nothing flat. Thesis proven.

Except, of course, this is the web, and computer geeks/open source proponents/anime fans/the like thrive on it. If you insert errors into entries on Ethernet, Sakura Cardcaptors, Sluggy Freelance and Libertarianism, you're damn right they'll be noticed and corrected in no time. People online live these topics. This also tends to color the subchallenge. A very typical subchallenge was found in a Freedom to Tinker post Edward Felton did, comparing six different entries in the Britannica and in Wikipedia. Wikipedia came out very very well in these entries, which sounds really good until you realize the entries were: Princeton University (which would have a large body of computer literate people interested in it), Princeton Township (which is a legitimate advantage to Wikipedia, IMO), Edward Felton himself (frankly, I don't expect to see an Eric A. Burns entry in either source, but I recognize it'd be a Hell of a lot easier to get into Wiki than the Britiannica. I'll give that a nod, though), Virtual Memory, Public-key Cryptography, and the Microsoft Antitrust Case.

Honestly, the only decent test in the above are the Princeton pieces, and I'll admit freely they did well. But a computer proponent with a web presence, a hardware/software specification, a method of encrypting information particularly over computers, and the war against Microsoft are undoubtedly playing to Wikipedia's strengths. It's like claiming the Catholic Encyclopedia is superior to Funk and Wagnell's because it has better information about the Saints in it.

For my own test, I made a couple of modifications to the entry on Fort Kent, Maine -- my hometown, which I know quite a bit about, and none of the rest of you have ever even heard of. To me, this was a more robust test. Fort Kent is an obscure topic, but has a couple of historical notes that make it possible someone would want information on it (including three tourist attractions, an Olympic Training Center involving the twin Northern Maine passions of guns and snow, a dogsled race, the northernmost terminus of U.S. Route One, and a War we once "fought" with Canada. Yes, we were in a War with Canada. No, no one got hurt). I think Fort Kent is a better test than Princeton because it's much more obscure -- few people have a driving reason to care about it unless they live there or lived there, as I did.

Well, the Britannica Entry was significantly better and more fleshed out than the Wikipedia entry. I did quite a bit to correct that, though, using Wikipedia's innate power to flesh out entries. I put in information about the Historic Landmark in town (the Blockhouse), the Biathlon training center, the Can-Am dogsled race, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the "Bloodless Aroostook War" (Wikipedia has a good entry on the Aroostook War, I should mention), the textile industry, the potato farming industry, MBNA's recent call center (which essentially saved the town, I should add), and the shipbuilding industry.

Did you see the intentional error put into the above? Here's a hint -- Fort Kent is on the Northernmost Tip of Maine. It's significantly farther away from the ocean than Albany, New York. Hear of any ships being built in Albany, recently?

No, no one caught the error. I waited two weeks, and corrected it myself. Thereby "proving" that Wikipedia isn't perfect yet. The other significant issue it's facing, from where I sit, is the area where two strong opinions, neither of them "wrong," duke it out for supremacy in an entry. The Lyndon LaRouche editorial discussion showed to distinction the ways in which diametrically opposed viewpoints can clash. (Snowspinner, you have my eternal respect, just so you know -- I was following this debate as a lurker before you ever commented on Websnark).

But to be honest, these issues aren't dealbreakers. If you go into Wikipedia with your eyes open, it is one of if not the most powerful, most potentially significant tools being built on the web. It's one of those things that couldn't possibly exist without an Internet, and it's one of those things that not only uses the web's strengths to good advantage, but also doesn't bog down with meaningless kipple. There's no Flash animation or needless frames on Wikipedia -- just information and lots of it, and an easy chance for you to make a difference.

And that brings me, all these words later, to lay this here proposal on you, the Websnark audience. I hope it's a proposal that will spread far beyond these borders, because I think it could be of tremendous benefit to the webcomics community as a whole:

I think every webcomic with more than 100 strips worth of archives on the web should have an entry in Wikipedia, and I think the Webcartoonist should not be the person writing the entry.

The reasons are simple -- Wikipedia is capable of storing and presenting vast amounts of information. That information is of particular benefit to the webusing public. The consumers of webcomics by their definition are the webusing public, and Wikipedia becomes an obvious resource that they could fall back on for information on their strips. There is a clear convergence of population and, leveraged properly, a clear opportunity for both Webartists and for Wikipedia itself.

For the webcartoonist, a Wikipedia entry becomes a convenient location for hard information about the strip, the main characters, and the like. If you need a good example of how this can be effective, have a look at the Megatokyo entry. As you know, one of my issues with Megatokyo is its density of story (what I call the "Megatokyo for Dummies" effect) and its lack of a cast page (despite a very involved cast). Well, both of these are addressed here, along with a good discussion of what Megatokyo is and what it is not, a summary of some of the complaints people have with the webcomic, and a summary of what people truly love about it. A link on Megatokyo's front page to this entry would go a long way to correcting some of the areas it's weaker in, and the effort needed on Gallagher's part would be minimal.

Note, by the way, that someone actually wrote a more in-depth entry on Tohya Miho, which is just plain silly. Unless a character is so universal that it becomes ubiquitous outside of its source work, it doesn't need more than the article itself could provide. On the other hand, that's an opinion on my part.

The Webcartoonist shouldn't write his own entry because he's not going to have the proper distance from his own work to properly describe it for an encyclopedia entry. He may include thematic elements and future revelations that one day might be made clear, but simply aren't in the work as it stands, thereby confusing the issue. By putting out a call to his fandom, however, and finding someone who can spearhead the creation of the entry, the Webcartoonist can get the ball rolling and, with a little work, get his dedicated fanbase working on updating and correcting the entry over time. This is also why I say 100 strips, though one could also limit the entry by amount of time worked on the strip. If you have twelve strips on the internet, and "big big plans" past that, you're not at the point where an encyclopedia entry can do you any good. Wait until you've got enough to talk about before you unleash your fanbase.

Wikipedia benefits by many additional links to the Encyclopedia, of course. The more links in (to articles of interest to the readers), the more likely Wikipedia becomes a first reference for other matters and materials, which in turn means more eyes looking at the content, which leads to more editors, more corrections, more content being generated... it's all good.

Please note, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a collection of fan pages. While there is always bias in an entry, whoever writes a given Webcomic's entry should strive to be as objective as possible. Don't feel you have to be all intellectual, but you should be concise and factual. If enough people are drawn to the entry, the more intellectual stuff will come with time all on its own.

In my perfect world, these entries would have a short description of the premise, a light discussion on technique and classification, a list of the primary characters, a list of the secondary characters, and a very, very short synopsis of major events. The last bit, oddly enough, is the least important -- this isn't Cliff's Notes (or [Webcomic] for Dummies). If someone wants to know what happened in the webcomic, they should read the webcomic. But this would provide a good grounding in who the characters are and what, in general, is going on, with the potential to grow into a detailed critical analysis over time and with effort.

And that can only be to the good.

It's on

It's officially November 1. Time to start writing.

Luck to anyone else crazy enough to do this with me.