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January 31, 2005

Ahhhh... sweet impact.

In my post on Basil Flint, I suggested that Atomic Sock Monkey Press, the publishers of Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot should release a supplement that includes "Fonz" and "Shark."

Well, MNPR writer (and creator of the brilliant RPG Dead Inside, which better win some awards this year and which you should buy) Chad Underkoffler (doesn't "Underkoffler" sound like a really cool mad scientist's invention?) took this as a challenge. As the artwork in MNPR is stick figurish, he has provided Fonzie and Shark Stick Figures for the game.

This pleases me to an almost absurd degree.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me *three* times... um... crap, I'm like a webcomics codependent, aren't I?

(From Shortpacked. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Batman!)

So. First David Willis did Roomies, and I read and loved it. And then he went for a Cerberus Syndrome and ended up in First in Ten, and I wanted to pound my head into the bricks. The sweet, sweet bricks.

And then he punched the reset button and remade his strip into It's Walky, and I read and loved it! And then he didn't really go for a Cerberus Syndrome because he knew where he was going from the beginning, but it was still First and Ten and after a while it was too confusing for me, and I did a "You Had Me And You Lost Me" and left it behind.

And then he brought back Roomies for Keensyndicate, but to be honest it didn't do much for me. It's still there, though.

But then... he hit the reset button on Shortpacked. It's two strips into the new Shortpacked Era.

God help me. I am David Willis's bitch. At least this one can't go for a Cerebus Syndrome. I mean, it's a gag strip about toys, right? Right?


(Oh, and he also started putting out new It's Walky strips, on a weekly basis for every hundred bucks he takes in in donations. Which... well, certainly counts as a revenue model, doesn't it?)

Say what you like about Scott Kurtz -- the man *does* learn from experience

In today's rant over at PvP, Scott Kurtz talks a little bit about his choices during the recent NCSoft/Marvel trial storyline he's been doing. And for the most part, I agree with Kurtz's take on his work -- he didn't set a side, he lampooned the situation as a whole. And while I personally think the Marvel suit is a load of dingo's kidney's -- I've seen the City of Heroes folks nuke names and designs that go over the line, and no doubt they've been getting better and more strict about it -- I can appreciate the humor of even the Marvel-oriented strips.

At the end of the rant, however, he threw in the following:

If there is one thing flawed about the Graphamaximo storyline, it's that I didn't take equal time to lampoon mainstream comics and their self-impoorance along side the alternative crowd

Now, I know how people reacted to that storyline. I know how the alternative/independents reacted, and I know how people reacted against the alternative/independents. And I know that somehow, that sentence just pissed both groups off all over again. That's the nature of the beast.

But I think he's right. If he'd actually devoted some time not to saying how the Alternatives were right, but how the Mainstream is also fucked up... it would have taken a lot of the curse off that storyline. Because Kurtz is right. He's not a political satirist, and he's not trying to convert people. He's trying to make them laugh.

And the best way to do that is to apply the shaft to everyone. That's what brings the Funny, in the end.

Really, it's one of the areas Checkerboard Nightmare shines in. Straub may like you or hate you, but if he makes reference to you, it's to mercilessly make fun of you. Same with Penny Arcade, really.

Obviously, the Graphimaximo ship sailed a long time ago, but it's just good to see that Kurtz learned the right lesson from it -- not to stop cracking on folks, but to spread the cracks around.

Yeah, that might mean sooner or later he might do a sequence where he cracks on self-important bloggers whose only claim to expertise is their successful installation of Movable Type. And if he goes down that path, I can only hope I get to have Brent cut me down to size while drinking expensive pretentious coffee and using his expensive pretentious Macintosh.

But that may be because I'm typing on my Powerbook in a coffee shop drinking a tall vanilla latte.

Is it hypocracy when we really *want* Brad to get beat into nothingness, though? It is? Damn.

(From Gin and the Devil. Click on the thumbnail for full sized philosophical discourse!)

There are substantial differences between, say, Gin and the Devil and Something Positive. Certainly Matt Milby and R. Milholland have different artistic styles. Gin and the Devil is a little more rooted in the everyday, too -- not only in a singular lack of pliant pussies (get your mind out of the gutter) but in a sense of almost desperation. There's a reason so many of these relationships evolve in bars, in Milby's strip. Milholland has -- though he might try to deny it -- a kind of optimism running through his strip. Things resolve, more or less, even if they take a long time, and no matter how incompetent and stupid the Lesbian might be, there always comes that day when she begins to step out into the light. In Milby's strip, said light is probably the harsh light of dawn on a day that might not improve things.

And yet, today's strip (well, Friday's strip) feels like it could be as much a Something Positive as a Gin and the Devil. The setup feels Milhollandesque, the delivery is just about perfect... it would work just as well with Jason in Wayne's place, ready to reduce someone who just sucker punched Davan into a fine red paste.

Which may say something about the commonality of the two strips, or at least that moment of comeuppance when the bully who just smacked your friend discovers that oops, he had friends who were bigger than he was. It reminds me of an experience back in college. My friend Matt is not the largest person in the world, but he might be the bravest. He's the sort of person who runs towards fights instead of away, because someone might need help. And there was a point where, freshly haven given blood (just to ensure he was at a disadvantage), he interceded between an abusive boyfriend and abused girlfriend. Said boyfriend turned on him, and three of his frat buddies turned to join them as well.

And the contents of just about the entire dorm Matt lived in turned on them. See, Matt was president of his dorm and nice to everyone, so pretty much everyone on Earth liked him. Did I mention several of the people in Matt's dorm were at B.U. on Wrestling Scholarships?

So, the pleasure I feel in seeing Brad about to be made triple jointed and foldable is in some ways nostalgic. And if it reminds me pretty seriously of Something Positive today, I think that's because I like Something Positive too.

I think "Fonzie" and "Shark" should be added to "Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot Deluxe."

(From Basil Flint, P.I.! Click on the thumbnail for full sized multiple panel nudity!)

I have phlegm and little voice to speak of. I cough, I spit, I snort. I drink peppermint and lemon teas by the gallon at the moment.

But my head is clear, my body doesn't hurt, and at any given time I feel like I might actually be awake instead of asleep, given my druthers.

I'm back, and ready to eat some fucking babies, kids!

Now, sure -- I went into today's Basil Flint thinking "Oh cool! Breasts!" Because hey -- breasts! But the sheer moment of actually having Fonzie actually jumping the shark in the actual hurricane that's blowing them to the side, with Fonzie actually saying "Ayyyyyy!" while the shark says -- and I quote -- "Grrr, Argh" elevates the overused clichČ into high art.

I'm reminded of the Simpsons. Which isn't a surprise. Meaningless pop culture references and trivia have mostly displaced what social life I once had in Ithaca or Seattle. But to get back to the point, Homer and Marge are getting remarried and Reverend Lovejoy is reading the vow that Homer wrote for Marge:

I will now read the special vows which Homer has prepared for this occasion. Do you, Marge, take Homer... in richness and in poorness? Poorness is underlined. In impotence and in potence? In quiet solitude or... blasting across the alkali flats in a jet-power, monkey navigated -- and it goes on like this!

My point is, I love things that go vastly over the top. It wasn't enough that Homer wrote an overblown vow to Marge -- he went vastly beyond all sanity. It's not enough that Troutman decided to go with a "Jump the Shark" joke in reference to Flint and Amanda kissing. (Wouldn't a Moonlighting David/Maddie having sex bit be more apropos?) Instead, he actually puts in Fonzie jumping over the shark, both of them being blown around in a freaking hurricane, Fonzie saying "Ayyyy" all the while. If you're going to do it, drastically over do it, God damn it!

Anyway. I'm always glad to read the Troutman files, and today's no exception. Plus, nudity!

January 30, 2005

You realize conservative pundits will claim Pardus's team as proof of the domesticated agenda, now.

(From Kevin and Kell. Click on the thumbnail for full sized... er... revelation?)

It's not that this sequence was bad, per se.

You see, I remember Kevin and Kell from the 90's, and from the turn of the century. I remember hidden clues being buried and slowly allowed to develop. I remember situations being set up, then being allowed to grow tense over long periods of time. I remember the payoffs that were built into those situations as a result. I remember Corrie being 'outed' as a sheep (and as a carnivorous one, for that matter) after years of first pretending to be a sheepskin, then pretending to be a wolf (in her father's skinned hide, no less). I remember the saga of Rudy's domestication. I remember the freaking Great Bird Conspiracy.

So... to have a new wrinkle introduced -- Coach Pardus is really a domesticated housecat wearing leopard spots -- on Monday, and have it pay off on Sunday (with Rudy and Kell both publicly admitting their domestication in the same breath, I would add)....

It's not that it was bad, but it was disappointing. I was expecting the conflict to be allowed to season and grow and develop for a while, so that the revelation would be given more weight. Alternately, it would have been nice if they hadn't done the setup at all -- instead doing a whole week of the kids' and Kell's views of Pardus (who's always been something of a cipher in the strip), building up to his award and his being exposed as a housecat at that point. And seeing the reactions of the cast, and not have them be so instantly supportive. I mean, he's been lying to them. Would they all ultimately understand? Of course. But Rudy -- for example -- has had so many of his family and friends give him revelations he didn't want to hear for so long... it seems almost surprising to see him immediately leap out and defend his coach after learning yet another authority figure was lying to him. A week or two of reactions from the cast, and some hypocrisy here and there, would have been nice. As it is... well, there will probably be fallout still, but there's no tension.

Also... given the species registry and the like... is domestication really the issue here? Pardus was literally claiming to be a different species than he actually was. I mean, obviously housecats are domesticated. Is this crossing out of the homosexual allegory and into the racist allegory? I'm a little confused.

Anyway... like I said, this was just a little disappointing, if nothing else because we've seen Holbrook do these things so much better.

January 29, 2005

This week has at last ended...

...and I'm feeling better tonight. I'm in Maine, having seen the family for festivities. My sister and both her daughters are now firm Todd and Penguin fans, to the point where one niece (the one sitting next to me) punctuated several statements with "so... I guess there aren't any cookies then?" I'm working on getting them to read Count Your Sheep.

With a little luck, I'll be far more myself in the upcoming week. Certainly I'd have to be feeling better, which means more concentrated and tons more writing. (I looked back at this week and just kind of shook my head. I'm glad I did the Rabbit Hole thing or else it'd practically be a wash on the writing front. And there aren't many washes on the writing front for me, usually.

Have a lovely tomorrow, all!

January 28, 2005

Yet More Fan Art! (hey, didn't he used to... like, talk about webcomics or something?)

The answer is yes. Chalk it up to a week of pronounced enfevertude coupled with medicine and fatigue and crap.

And yet, there has also been art. And for the first time, we have fan art sequels. First up, after we had a little... spirited discussion on spelling in a previous entry, Sylvan Migdal of Ascent drew up a Snarky just a tiny bit fed up with spelling and grammar issues. I love the fact that he has a bag of baby chips on the counter. (Though I hear it's mostly tofu and other soy products.) The baby on the package looks just slightly like the baby from Bobby Crosby's Pupkin, which somehow makes sense to me.

The other picture comes to us from Sahsha Andrade, an up and coming South Florida artist whose website has some wonderfully evocative work. Feeding off of the Snarky in Snow picture and an offhanded comment of mine... we have Sad Snarky in Snow.

I wonder if somehow this will get me in trouble with the Megatokyo community. If so (or even if not, really), it's worth it because it's darn nice. Though sad. Which is of course the point.

It means a heck of a lot to me that folks take the time to draw these things. At the end of the day, I'm a guy with a blog. I'm just happy folks like it. To have people do up sketches and drawings just makes me feel good.

And yes, I'm going to try to actually snark stuff. The flu seems to be abating somewhat, so I'm hopeful I won't kind of zone my way through stuff any longer. Alternately, I might start typing gibberish.

Of course, people might not be able to tell the difference....

January 27, 2005

Fan Art 2 of 2: I'm an Ovaraptor! I'm gonna eat your babies!

As mentioned before, this is the second piece of art to come out of Arisia -- this one done by the talented and charming Randy Milholland of Something Positive fame. You see, we actually had a point where a group of folks at Arisia -- all of whom were connected to the old Superguy mailing list -- hit the T out to the Bostonian Hinterlands to meet up with Randy, who shares Superguy in his past too.

During our meal and chat -- there were four of us, one other invited guest having another commitment and two others unsure about driving down from where they were in the coming snowstorm -- I had a glass of wine. Now, as you know from Burns Night, it doesn't exactly take a lot to get me drunk. And while I didn't get more than buzzed, it was still a source of merriment.

"This is tomorrow's S*P," Randy said. "My dinner with Snarky -- showing him drunk off his ass saying 'Hey! Don't you start shit with me! I'm a Ovaraptor! I'm gonna eat your babies!"

"Yeah? You do that, and I'll change the masthead to that!" I shouted back.

So he did. Snarky is clearly a mean ass drunk.

Fan Art (1 of 2), birthdays and rabbit holes

I'm still pretty damn sick. Fevers all through yesterday and last night (without the insulating power of scotch, I'm sorry to say), plus any number of other symptoms. Despite this fact, I did wake up this morning, and it was January 27. Which means that I have successfully cheated death for another year.

The best birthday present I could receive was seriously cool fiction, and that's been heartily available thanks to Down the Rabbit Hole day. See, I share my birthday with Lewis Carroll, and so this fellow called Crisper (fellow being unisex, because hey, how should I know?) suggested that instead of a crappy meme about how many pieces of Halloween Candy you received or something like that, this should be a meme where for 24 hours you write about the strange new world you woke up in, through the looking glass or down the rabbit hole.

I loved the very idea of it. And so I wrote a five part entry myself. If you'd like to have a look, they're here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and finally Part Five. Feel free to have a look if you want.

If you'd like to see some more primo examples of Down the Rabbit Holery, my good friend Greg Fishbone has been collecting examples of the best he's seen today. If you've been following along on Livejournal and seen one or two that Greg's missed, send them along to him for inclusion.

As it is my birthday, I should mention a couple of gifts I've recently received. Namely, two pieces of art, both coming out of Arisia (which I still owe you a report from -- I've been very sick recently, in my defense). One really needs an entry all to itself, so it'll go up in a bit. This one, however, is an adorable Snarky in the Snow (not exactly Sad Snarky in Snow, either), done by the talented Poinko of Fever Dream. (You know, that comic title is apropos given how I feel...) It's so cute, and Snarky looks so thrilled! Yay!

The other piece of art... heh. You'll see.


January 26, 2005

On the other hand, look at all those breasts. How sad can EDG be when surrounded by all those breasts?

(From Gaming Guardians. Click on the thumbnail for full sized bad potential situation.)

I've been frustrated as Hell by Gaming Guardians recently, because it's been really good, and yet I've never had that perfect strip to snark. This is a sad thing for me -- you want to snark the actually good perfect strip that pulls in the reader if you're grooving on the plot, and yet there's been no perfect strip for that.

This isn't Greg and Webtroll's problem. They're paying off years of setup with Greg/Unprodigal/Jester, and they've been doing it well. But the problem with payoff storylines is there's no good hook for new readers to come in. And yet, this sequence deserves them. For the first time, I feel like I understand what's going on with the Unprodigal and the Jester, and it's all tying together. There's glimpses of the original Greg/EDG dynamic, and yet there's glimpses of just how different they've become. There's still a sense of evil involved....

I don't know where it's going next, but I'm liking it. The Ultima additions are good ones. From here, almost anything can happen and I'm still going to like it. And yet, I'm not sure this was the right strip to snark.

Well, the Hell with it, Graveyard Greg and Webtroll are doing well and have my interest. Honestly, what more can I ask?

A Correction.

As I've said before, when I make mistakes here in the chair -- the mighty, mighty chair -- I will not conceal them. I will own up to them.

I reported that I had a lovely few drams of Dalwhinnie single malt scotch when I was celebrating Burns Night, in yesterday's post.

In fact, I had a few drams of The Dalmore. Which is quite a different scotch. It was wonderfully smooth, though reminded me it was indeed whiskey. The distinction is profound -- Dalwhinnie is a Speyside single malt, while the Dalmore is a Highland single malt scotch. Also, the Dalmore is a definite article, and Dalwhinnie is not.

Just to keep things clear.

Me am big reviewer guy.

Illness and fatigue (my all purpose excuse) conspired to prevent me from mentioning that my review of Goats went up on Sunday over at Comixpedia. I'd be appreciative if you'd have a looksee, and then look at many of the other articles and thingies. There's also an interview with Kris Straub and Chex which explains much, and Ping Teo's launched a new cartoon which distills the Essence of... well, things. That's right. There's an actual comic in Comixpedia. It only took... what, two years to make that connection?

(I'm going to be choked to death.)

January 25, 2005

The Irish get parades, drink green beer, and have jokes about vomit on their special day. We Scots read poetry on ours. I think we come out ahead.

For those who have been wondering, I'm sick. I was completely exhausted on Sunday night from the trip back through the snow, I was a walking corpse of fatigue Monday, and then I fell asleep Monday night only to wake back up with stomach pain at 2 am, and stay awake the rest of the night. During the day, I began to develop chest congestion and head congestion, and even more fatigue. Writing was out of the question. I was lucky I could recognize the keyboard.

I fell asleep as soon as I got home, though I tried not to (I didn't even eat dinner). I slept through until a few minutes ago, and woke up more congested, more achy, and slightly fevered. I just put on a humidifier, threw a basic dinner into the microwave, and came here. Because there are things we need to talk about. It is January 25.

It is Burns Night.

Robert Burns is famous for any number of reasons, but somehow he didn't "click" with the American Educational System before college, at least when I was going through it. We all know he wrote Auld Lang Syne, but we didn't talk about his Romanticism, his class warfare, his unique voice in writing in the vernacular of the working classes of his native Scotland, not the poncey language of a Wordsworth or Keats. He lived through the American Revolution, and believed in the spirit of Revolution. He is revered in Europe, and Australia, and Russia. In fact, during the days of the Soviet Union, he was one of the few poets to be heavily studied, because he was felt to be a champion of Communist Ideals without Manifesto. Dogmatic though it may be, this was one of the few strong expressions of Western Civilization into Russia.

He drank too much. He fathered an inordinate number of children, including several bastards (or so they say). Burns itself is a dirt common name in Scotland (it means rivers or brooks, which seems funny to me, since it seems to mean 'Careless with Matches.') He was rude, he was perfectly willing to publish poetry castigating his enemies, and the semantic quality of much of his poetry seems to boil down to "My luv is faire an' tru/an mine is the heart that luvs/an she feels my luv too/but now she's dead and lying in the fucking ground and worms -- worms -- are eating her skin and eyes and CHRIST I need a drink." Which made him both an early Goth and early Emo. It's also felt he was among the first poets to use the pain within his soul to talk otherwise respectable women into having indiscriminate sex.

He was an archivist. Many of his poems -- especially those published in the volumes of his Scots Musical Museum -- were meant to clean up folk poems and folk songs and the native music of the Scottish people and put it into a form where it would never be forgotten. This has been successful: I can sing about nine Burns songs off the top of my head with their original music, up to and including the real tune of Auld Lang Syne. (There are two tunes associated with it. The one you know, and the good one. Just, you know, for the record.)

I'm Scottish American, and my name is Burns, and I love Burns Night. I don't usually have a Haggis and speak the traditional prayer -- the Selkirk Grace -- and I sure as Hell wouldn't put Haggis in my mouth already feeling sick. Still, as I look at microwaved meatloaf, now sitting and waiting for me, I stop and ponder, and at least think, if not say:

Some hae meat and canna eat, And some would eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.

And as I eat, I consider Burns's poetry. The songs, the airs, the ode to a mouse whose home was destroyed by a plow. The satirical ode to a bug that crawls on a rich woman's head. Green growing rashes. To the weavers we gin going.

And I remember the words to a song everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows, despite the fact that not twelve of them actually know the lyrics. They are an invocation of good health, for good friends, for those we know now, and for those we have known who are not here today. And I think of all of you.

And I think of all of you as my friends, coming here and reading what I have to say. Which is nuts. I mean, it's totally batshit insane.

But still. You're my friends.

And so although I'm sick, I pour some Dalwhinnie in a glass (I should probably have Laphroig -- that'll kill any disease in me -- but it doesn't seem right), and I drink a toast to my food, and a toast to the beautiful lassies I know. I imagine the toast they make in response. And I eat, and I read, and think of friends and think of a man who died after only 37 years, his heart strained by backbreaking labor in his youth (not to mention all the alcohol). And though I'm coughing to much to sing out loud, inside, I hear the words sung:

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And though I'm not a religious man, I'm reminded of two prayers right now. The first, I'm told, is modern Wiccan, and they say it at the Renaissance Festival where once I worked, because that's where one says Modern Wiccan Prayers to middle Americans and not get yelled at:

Merry meet, Merry part, And merry meet again.

And the other? Though I'm no more Christian than I am Wiccan, there's only one thing left to say:

God bless you, and God bless Bobbie Burns.

Good night.

January 24, 2005

Some days, I'm just too tired...

...and this is one of those days. Work was a grind, and I'm still pretty exhausted from the slog home last night.

I did play some City of Heroes, but just long enough to earn the second 'event' badge for the Winter Lord attack. Said Winter Lord attack has been underwhelming at best, though the 'snowball' power was practically worth the price of admission.

Maybe next year.

G'night. Snarking tomorrow.

January 23, 2005

I'm not dead.

And I'm home. My cat is very happy, and I am very tired.

The hotel lost my car for a little while, but they found it.

The roads were bad until literally when I crossed the border into New Hampshire, when they suddenly turned wet but safe.

I'm so tired I could die. So I think I will.

Live from the Internet Room at Arisia... your reporters are stuck.

So I checked out of my room. I called for my car. I went downstairs, because I know that it's going to take many hours of driving to get to New Hampshire with all the blizzard and snow.

And I discovered, upon trying to leave, that the police were turning motorists away.

So, I'm still at the con, until at least six pm, my luggage safely in my car, and me broke and tired.

Pray for me. Pray for Bobo.

On the plus side, I got measured for a utilikilt. It was... liberating.

January 22, 2005

Fast Con Notes from Saturday

Today's panel was fantastic. An excellent group of people, engaged with the panel, who themselves rocked. Alexander Danner picks a good group, and is himself superior. Way to go, J.

Midway through the panel, my phone rang. It would have been embarrassing, but dumb luck let me spin it to my advantage. "Hey guys," I said to the audience. "Randy Milholland says hi."

"Hi, Randy!" they chanted back. I then handed my cell phone to Randy's roommate, who was in the second row, and she made sure Randy fed her cats.

Later, we had a Superguyish get together, though three of the invitees (Greg from yesterday, and Frobozz and Van, to use psuperguydonyms) couldn't make it due to A) other committments, and B) a giant freaking blizzard. But we did have myself (Sabre, to use the Superguyism), Gina (aka Crash), Jon (aka... um... Jon), and Randy (aka Nee). I had a glass of wine, which with my ultraefficient metabolism meant they got to see me get drunk.

Oh, and Betsy? Your sister Susan says hi, and says "hah hah -- I got to meet Eric Burns and you didn't." And she and I then talked about John Troutman and Meaghan Quinn.

I think it was Susan. I know it was Betsy. I hope it was Susan, because... well, she was a pretty girl, and I'd hate to think I've managed to forget the name of a pretty girl so quickly. On the other hand, I mentioned the drunk part.

Oh, and when we got back to the room, later, it was raining inside. Seems a pipe burst. We were moved to an absolutely gorgeous room. A large, gorgeous room. Life is good.

Except I'm like totally broke at this point. But hey, that's okay!

More notes from later, and expect the return of Journalist Snarky at some point.

Also, Drunk Snarky. Randy's made me a promise about Drunk Snarky. I'm holding him to it.

Got to go! Party with an editor to go to. This is your on the scene buzzed reporter signing off!

What is this, the Year of Shocking Wedding Proposals?

(From Superosity! Click on the thumbnail for full sized GASP!)

Arisia is going excellently well. My panel last night, on graphic novels, was amusing and cheerful. I had dinner with old friend and Superguy cohort Greg Fishbone, which was an excellent time all around. Further, to date I have seen no skunk porn. This is a positive and healthy trend I can only support.

I don't have a lot of time before I need to be off and Guestly, but I had to make note of today's Superosity. Chris Crosby can bring resolution and evolution -- he honestly can. After many, many years of teasing a proposal, we now actually have one. Even if Arcadia says no (and I doubt she will), things will have changed. This is a good thing. And he managed to surprise me, and that's a very good thing.

Chris Crosby gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

January 21, 2005

Good Lord there are talented people out there.

I'm getting ready to hit the road for Arisia. While I wait for my laundry to finish drying, however, I've been going through some of the submissions and sketches I've been getting for my Webcomics Project. (In honor of Chad Underkoffler, who is the master of public secrecy, this is Sekret Project Triple-S. Not to be confused with Sekret Project L, which will be soon published by e23.)

I'm getting some astoundingly good character sketches, based on what I sent out to interested people. (Kate Sith -- your e-mail is bouncing. Please for to let me know if you got the "Pitch" document.) There are clearly very very talented people out there, and I'm thrilled some of them are expressing some interest in working with me.

(If you've expressed interest but haven't received any direct e-mail from me outlining the terms of the project, followed by a pitch document, please send me e-mail at websnark AT gmail DOT com or comment on this entry: to my knowledge, I've sent things out to everyone interested, but there's always a few.)

Sometime later this year, I might be able to call myself a webcomics creator in some way other than ironically. That excites the Hell out of me.

A very welcome Disturbance in the Symphony

For those who don't know, Steve Jackson Games has finally launched e23, their PDF/electronic publishing arm. And it's one of the most progressive of its type -- sacrificing DRM for portability and ease of usability, for example, and setting things up so that if you have a catastrophic disk failure, you can always go back and download the stuff you've bought again. (I have my iTunes bought music backed up in like three places, because Apple won't do something this consumer-oriented, as a counter-example. Bastards.)

However, what has me so totally stoked -- even more than new Chad Underkoffler works (and a new outlet for Dead Inside, which long time readers know is one of the best and most innovative new games of the last couple of years, and which you guys need to buy. But I digress.

What has me excited is broad In Nomine support.

I have never liked a role playing game as much as I like In Nomine. I probably never will. And like all the IN faithful, I've been scared that it would be going away sometime, since support was fading away. However, SJGames has figured out that there are people like me out there, and we're willing to spend money. Cash money, no less. And e23 is perfect for that.

I have nothing in the current crop of In Nomine offerings. (Though that should change one of these weeks. It's in the can and waiting.) However, I have lots and lots of excitement for these products. And the way they're going about doing the releases is just plain cool.

So, they're getting my money. Go check them out. Buy stuff. Make some of that stuff In Nomine. And Dead Inside. And then look at everything else.

A sudden thought.

Kelly J. Cooper, one of the editors of Comixpedia, devoted to webcomics, is on a panel with me that goes over the best graphic novels and comics available to the discerning viewer.

Alexander J. Danner (yes, he's going to be Alexander "J." Danner for the rest of the day now), the editor of Graphic Novel Review, devoted to graphic novels, is on a panel with me that goes over the best webcomics available to the discerning viewer.

I love conventions. I honestly do.

January 20, 2005

Is this Journalist Snarky or Public Speaker Snarky? Either way -- Arisia lives!

Arisia is almost upon us! I'm going to be at a panel called Don't Forget the Comics tomorrow at 9:00 PM in Franklin, moderated by the always superior Kelly J. Cooper. Her description:

Don't Forget the Comics: Comic books in all their forms, including graphic novels and trade paperback collections, cover many genres, including science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, espionage, etc. Comics can be beautifully strange works of art, superhero-packed adventures, scathing political screeds, gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans stories, works of base horror or great humor. Join our comics experts to discuss the medium and listen to their recommendations.

Then, on Saturday, I have a 1:00 panel moderated by Graphic Novel Review editor Alexander J. Danner on Webcomics. That information:

Certainly everyone's heard of Sluggy Freelance, PvP, Penny Arcade, Something Positive, and other staples of the webcomic world, some of which have already made a successful movement to print media (PvP for one). But webcomics today are more than cubicle humor for server administrators and bored college students. How have webcomics made titles possible which might not have succeeded in print? How has the webcomic transformed the graphic novel marketplace? Has it, in fact? Answers to all these questions and more from writers and artists behind Teaching Baby Paranoia, Picture Story Theatre, Streets of Northampton, and the critic Steven Withrow, author of the book _Toon Art: The Graphic Art of Digital Cartooning_.

I have no idea if they'll actually mention Websnark in the revised description or not. My bio, sans all the humor, is in the program guide.

I believe I'm on a third panel as well, but I can't tell you what it is at this point. More as I know more. Oh, and Saturday Afternoon/Evening, I'm going to hook up with fellow Superguy Alumni at an undisclosed location, but that's not a public event. So hah hah!

If you're not following, by definition aren't you leading -- even if no one's following you?

(From Sinister Bedfellows. Click on the thumbnail for full sized leadership!)

Someone might ask if there was some reason I snarked this on the day of the American inauguration.

Someone might ask, anyway.

The thing I love about Sinister Bedfellows is the "found art" element of it. This isn't a pose, it's a photo, but Mckenzee makes it art. That still just blows me away.

So help me God, there's something cute about decapitated LEGO.

(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized expressions of mourning!)

Just when you thought only Schlock Mercenary can feature primary character death with repercussions, Irregular Webcomic steps up! I mean, who is going to fly the ship? Who will get Paris's cabin?

My favorite part is they're in cyberspace to essentially run a patch upgrade to their systems OS, and then the guys started screwing around with virtual laser swords and then killed off the pilot. Frankly, as someone who works in IT, I'm surprised we don't have more "screwing around" based fatalities.

Don't believe me? Remember, Livejournal's catastrophic loss of power and multiple day downtime was caused by someone essentially screwing around with the Big Red Button. And it's happened twice. If there had been a laser sword rack in Internap's cluster room, someone would be headless now.

Also? If there were a laser sword rack in Internap's cluster room? I would so have a resume in their HR department right now. Which highlights the essentially truth of this strip, doesn't it?

And you know, you can't safely operate a stolen car without being alert -- better steal some coffee for everyone's well being.

(From Freefall! Click on the thumbnail for full sized honesty!)

One of the things I've always liked about Freefall is the way Sam's criminal lifestyle isn't a source of angst for him. He's perfectly cheerful when he's justifying stealing everyone blind, with a certain innocence that's just plain likable. And, as he says, the night is still young!

Also he interweaves between Florence's night out and Sam's "honest day's work," which keeps the frenetic feel to things without overloading either side. this is nicely done.

I'm just mister happy tonight, aren't I?

Also born on that day? TV's Donna Reed! And Cinematic Also Rans Troy Donohue and Bridget Fonda!

(From Planet Earth (and other tourist traps) Click on the thumbnail for full sized cake!)

This is a nice prime example of Planet Earth. It has some surreality (Alien!), it's funny, and it highlights something about birthdays that seems interesting to me, and actually came up earlier today.

You see (well, probably you don't), I have a birthday coming up. For reference's sake, it's the same day as Lewis Carroll, Mozart and nuclear navy ubermaster Admiral Hyman Rickover. Hyman. Rickover. There's a man whose parents hated him. But I digress.

It came up at work today, and it turned into a flurry of finding out what days peoples' birthdays are. And in every case, everyone was excited to find out others peoples' birthdays, but didn't want their own known. It's not an age thing, it's a literal discomfort with becoming the center of attention. You feel like... well, you're older now, in your thirties. You have to be adult about this. But birthdays are fun in general. The party, the cake, the hanging around.

Over at Planet Earth, they've solved the problem. They just declare any given day the alien's birthday, and then they can have cake! Yay!

As for me... well, I tend to have my desire to be low key and self-effacing in such situations go to war with my arrogant desire to be the center of attention. I will say that with the declaration of that particular day "Through the Rabbit Hole" day on Livejournal et al, I'm pretty excited. Even though I have nothing to do with that, I can pretend people are doing all this for me. Anonymous, yet deluded into arrogance.


You know, that would make those silhouette ads a hell of a lot more interesting.

(From Lore Brand Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized insight!)

It's been a while since I've mentioned Lore Brand Comics. Given the construction of these strips -- a variation on cut and paste -- it's all about the writing. And Sj–berg is, simply put, one of the funniest human beings to ever stalk the web from behind sunglasses. His Slumbering Lungfish site is interesting commentary, and leads inexorably to the various and sundry funny things he's currently associated with. Though he doesn't link to his original breakout site -- the brilliant Brunching Shuttlecocks site he pioneered with David Neilsen back in that nebulous time we call "the day" -- it remains one of the funniest places on the web, and through Slumbering Lungfish you can find his great Bandwidth Theater, the Book of Ratings, and so much more.

This particular episode of Lore Brand Comics nails the Lore style pretty well, in my estimation. It's a dry humor, it poses a thesis you have to agree with, and it involves comparing consumer goods to vibrators. What more is there to say?

January 19, 2005

Biscuits. Tasty, savory biscuits.

So I'm back in Maine tonight. Why? Because I forgot my winter coat over Christmas, and the Cold Miser decided to have a blowout sale, so I had to come and grab it. And along with it was a delayed care package from a noted British (well, Canadian, but currently British) Snarkoleptic of intellect and style. Which one? Well, if said Snarkoleptic wants to be identified, I'm sure there'll be a comment. However -- superior person in all ways. But I digress.

It had been frozen against my picking it up. And now I have.

And inside it?

Well first off, Crunchie Bars. They're honeycomb foam in chocolate. It's like eating styrofoam, only it's awesome. I loves me the Crunchie Bars.

But more to the point, it's stuffed to the gills with British Baked Mini Chedders. Baked, not fried! And as they say on the back, you the customer are "spoilt for choice!" They have Smokey BBQ and Cheesy Beans flavor available!

That's right.

I got sent tasty, tasty biscuits.

I love my life.

January 18, 2005

So, do we call his hit count "nielson ratings" now, or is that unique visitors?

(From WIGU-TV. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Science Cop!)

When Jeffrey Rowland ended Wigu, it ended with young Wigu Tinkle deciding to watch an episode of Science Cop instead of Magical Adventures in Space. Wigu was beginning to grow up, or at least outgrow Topato and Sheriff Pony. (Or, subconsciously had figured out the pair wasn't exactly helping him most of the time.) Topato and Sheriff Pony briefly mourned, and went out into the world to find a new young lad to get to know, protect and meddle in the affairs of in such a way to keep a healthy cashflow from merchandising coming in to Butter Dimension Quad.

Now, Wigu has ended. And yet, we're now seeing the world through Wigu Tinkle's eyes all the more. Literally, because he's squatting on the couch watching television, and we're watching with him. Specifically, the W-I-G-U Television station, thus recycling an acronym that Rowland has used since When I Grow Up.

I don't know that we're literally supposed to imagine ourselves as Wigu Tinkle, watching television, mind. It seems more likely that this is just what the station is broadcasting, but it's a nice bit of continuity between the two series -- specifically, a bit of continuity that couldn't possibly make any less difference to anything, and that's the best kind of continuity of all.

So, clearly WIGU-TV is going to show television shows, letting Rowland do things while he enjoys them, then letting him switch channels or programs when he's ready for a change. And he's shown skill at doing rapid setup -- in two days of "Science Cop," he's set up the premise, gotten Science Cop on the scene, and done a Kevin Costner joke.

And it's fun. It's clearly fun.

This opens a lot of doors for Rowland. If he wants to do any kind of story, he can, just by switching programs. If he gets a yen to do a Magical Adventures in Space episode, he can. If he wants to do the news, he can. If he wants to do riffs on Reality Television, he can. If he wants to keep us updated on the casts of Wigu or When I Grow Up, he can cut to news bulletins about the shirtless man who just foiled a bank robbery with the help of a small black boy who rapped himself into a seizure, freaking the crooks into surrendering.

Or he can never touch the old stuff again. It's literally what he feels like doing, when he feels like doing it, and from the look of things, he can execute humor in short form with the best, in this new format.

I'm feeling really good about WIGU-TV. This is one to watch.

January 17, 2005

This is me in a bitchy mood.

In a day where the level of whining about who said what bad things about webcartoonists has reached absurd proportions, I am having an evening where, due to events that have nothing to do with anything, I'm not in a good mood. I'm just not. And yet, there are big things afoot in the world of Webcomics, and it was time I went back to work. So I turned to the Night Trawl, excited to talk about the inauguration of WIGU-TV, which I glanced at at work and had a moderate-sized snark in my brain about it, and I come to discover that there's some kind of major issue with the account.

Which, clearly, is not Jeff Rowland's fault. So even though I'm in a bad mood, I just kind of deal with that. And I had a sudden moment of pleasure, moving to the very next site on the trawl, because that next site is Clan Bob, and Clan Bob's been down for something in the neighborhood of a full year. It went down in the wake of the death of a friend and collaborator of the Bobs, and it stayed down after hosting and server collapses and who knows what else. For weeks now, the site has pointed to a series of quotes from many sources -- Blade Runner and Ferris Bueller's Day Off leaping to mind. There was a sense that faith would be rewarded, that stories started would be completed, that all that is Bob would be returned. And today, the all new Clan Bob returned.

Most other nights, I'd just give this a bye. Most other nights, I'd just say "well, that's life in the webcomics world." But tonight, I'm in a bitchy mood, and the Bobs are the ones to prop themselves up in the way of it. So let's do this fucking thing.

The centerpiece and most popular element of Clan Bob over the years has been a webcomic called Life of Riley. This started as a goofy little strip, and over time expanded to be an epic, surreal, sexy romp. And then became serious and far grander and depressing in places and... and....

Yeah, you know the drill by now. They went for a Cerebus Syndrome, and they landed in First and Ten. But somehow, it was still fun to read. And they created a mythology that I found compelling even if it seemed a bit ridiculous at times. And it maintained a visual quality that was considerable, and even if it was pretty damn First and Tennish, it did it as well as you could ask. And, rather than just go three day a week, they updated as often as they could, and on the alternate days they put up artwork, or a sprite comic called Dreams in Digital devoted to... well, babbling about Final Fantasy XI stuff. It showed commitment.

All in all, I liked it. Life of Riley was distinctive, and when it vanished -- in the middle not only of a climax point but a fight scene within that climax point, it was sad.

But, as I said, I had faith. We had faith. Fans got information where they could, making reference to the fact that the downtime had turned to a disappearance of the site, then getting bits of information back. And, despite the fact that it had been many months, I left it on my trawl -- a hole that didn't resolve, over and over again. And then began to resolve with quotes, with messages... we were getting closer. The commitment they'd built up all that time ago kept a certain core of fans waiting and hoping.

Faith rewarded, as I said. It finally returned.

Except, there's no Life of Riley. They decided not to revive it "yet," though it's on "indefinite hiatus," which most of the time means "we're never going to actually do this, but we're not going to declare it ended, either." They announced that they'd continue to do Dreams in Digital (apparently as animations you have to download to watch, for reasons passing understanding), but that that there would be no more Life of Riley.

Now, even that wouldn't warrant more than annoyance. Annoyance mostly born of the fact that over all these months they might have mentioned they weren't actually bringing the comic back, so that the folks who came for other Clan Bob things could anticipate and the people who came to see if the Third Stage Dan could effectively fight Lilith would know it wasn't gonna happen and move on. That's minor.

Only, coming back, the front page had the following message from William (MentantBOB) on it:

Over the past year, and several failed attempts at getting the site back up and running (for too many reasons to list here) it is with great satisfaction that the site is here for all of you to visit again. Most of you will note that the 'Life of Riley' comic is missing. We have setup an FAQ where you will find many of the answers to the questions that you are sure to be asking.

Going to that FAQ page gives you:

LOR has been around for over four years now and there is much more we want to do with the current story line. However, after ***MUCH*** deliberation it was decided that we are going to take an indefinate hiatus on the LOR project until we can dedicate the time we feel it deserves.

That's it. There's nothing else about it. Nor is there any element of appreciation for their past fans, or anything like that. It was a short paragraph that, in the world of webcomics, means "we're not officially saying it won't be back, but duh. It won't be back, sparky."

Not letting your fanbase know your comic won't be returning while they wait for your site to return was an annoyance, because it strings them out and then lets them drop. Not having your comic return, and not even putting up a decent announcement message on the front page, but instead putting a link up to a FAQ page which itself is perfunctory shows contempt for your fanbase. These are people who have patiently held on, long after the casual fans had dropped off. They believed in the storytelling that Aaron and Dan had been weaving (I have no reason to think Dan's even still affiliated with the site, though again there's no info so he might be). They believed that with enough time, they'd get the technical issues resolved and pick the story back up.

There's nothing wrong with deciding not to continue providing the free comic strip you've been giving people for all this time. But to shaft your faithful readers, fail to give an appropriate announcement, and shlep them off the front page for what amounts to a brushoff? That, as I said, is contempt. "You weren't ever that important to us" is the message that gets sent. "We're a gaming clan. Anything else was secondary, and we've cut the secondary out."

And most nights, I'd just snort, say "that's bullshit," and move on. But today I'm in a bad mood, so I'll publicly say "wow, that's total bullshit. What a crappy way to treat your fans."

And then move on, because there's no reason anyone over at Clan Bob gives a damn what I think -- Websnark didn't even exist back in the day. But when I first put my Evening Trawl together, this is what it said:

Clan Bob. This is on the list in hopes that they may yet actually update. Until it does... no snark for you. NO SNARK FOR YOU!

Well, it's 'updated.' Whoo fucking hoo.

January 16, 2005

A difficult admission

You see, there's things I want to say, and do. And forms I want to work in. Very, very badly.

Or maybe you don't see. How could you. I did the in media res trick, only that doesn't work in essays, does it? Well, let me pick things up and see where they fall from here.

Back in 2002, I wrote a comic strip. It was called Unfettered by Talent, and it was terrible. It's not the worst strip to ever be written (some of the writing was actually okay), but I can't draw. It's possibly not the worst drawn strip of all time, but it's in the top twenty.

But I would like to work in the webcomics form. I honestly would.

I have a working plan to do so, in one sense. A quiet little strip with a collaborator, on the subject of In Nomine. But while I'm excited to do that strip, because I like In Nomine, I like that artist, and I like jokes about coffee and demons, it is what it is. And there's more I want to say.

So, I have a thought in mind, and I would need to find an artist who would be willing to draw it, at least initially. And perhaps later, other artists could try it out too.

In tone, it would be more story than funny, though there would be funny. Really, it owes more to Modern Tales and the like in concept than anything else. And, because I'm predictable, it's about art, and magic, and muses.

And I'd like to find someone who'd want to do the art for it.

In the best of all possible worlds, this would be a three strip a week comic, and many weeks worth would be completed before it even began to appear on a website. What home it would end up on depends a lot on what's available when we get to that stage, of course.

I'm open to suggestions, or offers, or discussions.

Oh, and the vast likelihood is there would be no money involved. So... yeah.

Anyway. The worst thing that will happen is no one will respond. I can cope with that.

(Oh, and the other strip? The In Nomine one? I'll keep you posted with where that one's headed.)

Comicsnarkia! Or something like that.

I haven't had a chance to read through all of this week's offerings yet, but I should mention that over on Comixpedia, the next edition of my monthly column, Feeding Snarky, is out. This particular column goes into one style of Funny (since this is the "funny" issue and all), and invokes Men in Hats, Hound's Home and Nukees for examples. And that makes me a happy person, because I loves me the Men in Hats, Hound's Home (well, old Hound's Home. Recent stuff hasn't worked as well for me) and Nukees.

Anyway -- I'll have a look at the rest of the week's offerings too, but if you're jonesing for me to blather on about webcomics, here's something for you to chew on!

Meet the Snarker!

It's now official. I'm going to be one of the guests at Arisia 2005 January 21-23 in Boston, Mass of the Chusetts. Other Webcomics luminaries will be on hand as well, including Alexander Danner of Picture Story Theater and Graphic Novel Review, Kelly Cooper, who's an editor and extremely cool person over at Comixpedia (and also, as it turns out, an author from Dragon's Inn, so I'll have to ask if she knows some folks I know who used to be involved with it), and many others.

There will be much fun, many good times, lots of shopping opportunities, and sooner or later, I will find Skunk Porn.

I always find Skunk Porn at conventions. I don't go looking for it. It finds me. It scares me.

So, if you're anywhere in or around Boston, come on down and have some fun.

January 15, 2005

Journalist Fan art!

I've been kind of riding high on the good reception of the Dumbrella Meet and Greet essay -- it was something of a departure in style from my usual snarking, and you're never entirely sure how it's going to be received when you depart from style.

Well, the ultimate in compliments got paid a little while ago. Andrew Lin, who draws the fun, minimalist Home Run Comic, drew this Reporter Snarky. In his own words:

Your on-the-scene reports from Northampton, and your snarks leading up to said report seem to have triggered a creative urge. Images of Milo Bloom in his press hat jumped into my mind, and I had to put something on paper before I could be productive at work again. Attached is the end result, with apologies to Ursula Vernon for butchering her creation.

Well, I can't speak for Ursula Vernon, but it would stun me if she were anything other than pleased at this Snarky. He's full of pluck and vigor, ready to grab the scoop, chief! And as for me, I loved it. So thank you, and I hope everyone enjoys it.

I'll try to get some honest to God snarking done later today.

Yes, I do still read webcomics. Yeesh, Smartass.

Twenty four hours without Livejournal

So, a catastrophic failure hit Livejournal yesterday -- a power loss at their entire center, including all UPS systems (systems that they describe as "insanely redundant power and UPS systems"), leading to a total collapse of the organic interwoven server cluster. In restoring it, they discovered many of the machines that they use as backups failed, that other machines reported operations that weren't actually happening. and that they're literally having to recreate the database transactions on some of the restored servers -- like they were trying to compress weeks of posting into hours, one action at a time.

It's also apparently the second time it happened. From that same document detailing their recovery efforts: "now that this has happened to us twice, we realize the first time wasn't a total freak coincidence. C'est la vie." Which blows my mind. Seriously. I think it's hysterical. Your entire company's business is based on this kind of thing, and you have a catastrophic failure, and decide afterward that hey -- it was probably a coincidence. It couldn't possibly happen again. In my Imperial Space stories (including Trigger Man for those of you following along at home), that's called invoking Murphy, and Murphy enjoys these situations way too much.

Setting aside the logistical nightmare the LJ team's piecing their way through (and everything the Six Apart people -- who just bought this company, remember -- have to be wondering about, right now), there's the question of the greater Livejournal community. Several million of them.

And they're going through withdrawal, right about now.

Seriously, thousands of these people stay connected to their online world wholly through Livejournal. Take LJ out of the mix, and suddenly the center of their universe is broken. Hell, I use LJ as my RSS reader -- so I'm not following any of the lists I read through RSS at all today. So, no Boing Boing, no Wil Wheaton, no Neil Gaiman, no RPG design lists. Not to mention not seeing what's happening in the lives of my friends, acquaintances, and the various people I voyeuristically stare at.

And Livejournal isn't that big a deal for me. I can't imagine what the people who base their lives around Livejournal are doing today.

Maybe in the end this is a good thing. A reminder of the fragility of digital communities. A reminder that there's also this outdoors thing. Maybe.

But maybe not. The thing about Livejournal is... it represents millions of people who decided to write for the world to see. That's powerful juju. These are folks who, whether vapid or profound, are expressing themselves with the written word. They're expressing their opinions. They're delinating their hopes and dreams. And yeah, some of them are easy to make fun of, but some aren't. And all of them are trying.

Being without that is shocking, for some people. Suddenly, their tongues have been silenced. Their support groups are gone. Their fanbases are empty. Suddenly, they're being plunged back into 1999, and they don't want to be back in 1999.

It's going to be very interesting to hear what they have to say, when LJ comes back online.

Still, I miss Lucifer. And Cassiopia. And Lorne Greene. And the faux Egyptian thing. DAMN THEM!

So, this is something of a television review, because like many of my fellow geeks, last night I watched the series premiere of Battlestar Galactica.

I had watched the miniseries, and was somewhat underwhelmed. See, I was a young nipper when the original came on, and the disconnect between the original -- which was cheesy but also had style, and mythology and grandeur and a cowboy dimension and an epic scope -- and the new one, which seemed to want to do "American Realistic Military SF" with a few nods to the source material, was significant. Oh, the show itself was okay, back in the miniseries. As good, in its way, as Space: Above and Beyond, which itself was a pretty good SF show. But it wasn't anything exciting -- not like the Richard Hatch planned updating of the original would have been. It felt... generic.

Well, last night the first episode of the new series came on.

It'd be easier on me if it were named something else. Anything else, really. Because I still have certain associations with the words "Battlestar" and "Galactica." And so I resent it just slightly, because I still want to bitch and complain about the changes, and that's going to be hard to do while obsessively watching every second of this series.

This was exceptionally good. The characterization was brilliant, the execution of the two episodes (these were two episodes mashed into one, right down to them having two different names -- "33" and "Water." They were laden with style. Everything was tone, setting an honest feel of fatigue, of desperation, of despair barely being fought off. The first episode, "33," refers to the Cylons, who attack every thirty three minutes on the dot, no matter where or how the fleet jumps away. It has been five days of cylon attacks. Five days since anyone on the Galactica or Colonial One has slept. They're exhausted and horrified and don't have any way of escaping. The second episode, "Water," opens with Boomer opening her eyes in a strange place, soaked to the bone. The reason why highlights the scarcity of resources -- and the incredible odds against the humans -- in the setting.

One thing that stands as a triumph is a whiteboard. An absolutely normal whiteboard, like you have in your own office or take down phone messages. It's on Colonial One, where the President and her staff keep track of just how many human beings are left. As "33" progresses, the number slowly goes down. First over 50,000, then dropping below, then lower... lower... a number that constantly says "this is how many human beings are left alive. When this number gets too low, it's all over."

Only there are other human beings left behind. In a wholly unexpected and brilliant stroke, the series cuts back over to Caprica, the largest of the colony worlds that the Cylons have conquered. There, Helo -- one of the soldiers from the miniseries, left behind to give Baltar a chance to survive (because Helo figured his brilliance would be needed on the Galactica, not knowing Baltar was the reason the Colonies fell in the first place) is on the run from the Cylons, highlighting a world of humanity under conquest. And highlighting one of the best elements of Cylons who sometimes can look just like humans, all at the same time.

And, out of nowhere, there's something of the Mythic returned to the series. Not the original mythos, for certain... in an odd twist, it's the Cylons who have a sense of spirtuality. Not that the humans can take comfort in it.

This series is totally not Battlestar Galactica as we knew it. And yet, it's incredibly good. Ronald Moore -- the reason Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series -- has proven exactly what he can do without suits over him telling him what he can and can't do. This series has the potential to equal or even eclipse Babylon 5 in terms of sophisticated science fiction on television, and I'm bloody well excited to see it.

But weirdly, despite the fact that Babylon 5 is vastly better than the original Battlestar Galactica, I don't think the new version exceeds the original. In a lot of ways, it's sold its pedigree for superior -- but far less interesting -- generic SF tropes. They're pushing those tropes beyond all possible thought, but the Terra saga, the idea of Earth as a real hope and goal (instead of a panacea to prevent panic), the clues for the lost tribe, the mysticism, the political aspects, the cowboy aspects... they're all set aside for a very solid world of military SF and passenger liners trying to survive. The primary colors have been washed away in lieu of washed out grey. Hope has been set aside in lieu of defiance in the face of extinction. It's good, but it's not better. I really wish we could have seen what kind of glory an updating of the original premise could have yielded. Having lost that, I'm excited to see where this series is going.

January 14, 2005

Views of the Q-List: The Dumbrella Meet and Greet.

Howdy, kids. This one's long. Five thousand words long, in fact, so I've done the unthinkable and put it behind a cut. If you're on RSS/Livejournal, hit the site to read the full thing. If you're on the main page, click the "Read more" bit at the bottom.

And if someone has some convenient caffeine in patch form, I could really use it. Thanks, kids.

It's winter in New England, but winter in New England has been indecisive at best this year, so it was warm and raining. You worry, as you're driving, that the temperature would drop twenty degrees and freeze the roads solid, effectively trapping you or -- even more likely -- creating black ice that would cause your car to careen off the side of the road and into a tree, giving you a chance to test your airbags. Jon Stewart's voice was talking to me through the car stereo speakers all the way down, though, and that made me feel like I wasn't going to die. It seems like you won't get into a car accident while the cast of the Daily Show is talking to you. The tableau was all wrong.

Scoff if you like -- I'm alive this morning to type about it, aren't I?

Northampton was one hundred and fifty five miles from where I had been parked along the shores of Lake Winepausakee. If it had all been interstate, I could have cleared it in just over two hours. But most of it was highways and good old fashioned 'routes', wet as I said, with some fog and more than a few nervous driver, so it took me just over three. I have a GPS from the good people at Garmin -- it will also let me read e-books on it if I want, which is cool enough, but it's the strident voice of the directions that makes you sit up and take notice. Over the summer, I had some friends visit for the weekend, and we trawled all over New England via my GPS. We named her Frau Navistein von Garmin, or "Frau" for short. A digital dominatrix, always ready to announce that you are "Off route -- recalculating," in a tone of voice that made you think she was barely resisting adding "you stupid fuck" afterward. She took me straight to where I needed to go. Of course, then I had to circle around and find someplace to Park, which added ten minutes. But eventually, I got inside.

It's called the Haymarket Bookstore Cafe, easily recognizable by its total lack of books of any kind. It's dark, with lots of stained wood, and handwritten backlit menus up on the boards. It's on two levels as well... and the thing is, if you want coffee, you have to be on the upper floor, where the baristas are. If you want food, you have to be on the lower level where the kitchen is. If you want coffee with your food, make up your mind or haul yourself up the stairs, you lazy sack of shit. This, to me, is the sign of a good cafe. I chose to go downstairs, order a salad, and then head back up to get coffee.

The barista was maybe twenty-two, dark haired, with four visible piercings not counting ears. Two eyes, one nose, one labret. Dark ink tattoos. She was cheerful, but also looked ready to beat my head in if I looked at her crosseyed. Barista. I felt nostalgic.

A side note. I lived in Seattle during the heights of the whole Seattle coffee thing. I learned the art of care and feeding of baristas from the masters. I learned the casual disdain, the significant adorableness, the ability to beat you within an inch of your worthless life or at the very least spit in your latte if you crossed them there. Since then, I've been living in New Hampshire. There's a few nice coffee shops in New Hampshire, and I've had good coffee there, but the baristas are only baristas because they make you coffee. No one taught them the subtle, almost erotic art of pulling espresso and making your customers suffer. It was refreshing.

"What'll you have?" she asked.

"Tall nonfat vanilla," I said, trying to be smooth.

"A small?" she asked.

"A tall."

She looked at me with a weather eye. Poseur. You want to throw stupid words around, go to fucking Starbucks.

"Medium," I corrected, and she nodded. The guy next to her -- twenty one himself, eyebrow piercing and industrial on the ear, tattoos, grey tee and basic apron... the male of the barista species -- said "hey, can I ring you up?"

"Sure," I said.

"What'd you have?"

"Tall nonfat vanilla," I said, because I don't learn.

"A what?"

"He got a medium," the girl snotted. That's the only way to put it. 'Snotted.'

"Right, right," he said, and charged me. I dropped a buck in the tip jar, and he nodded. Poseurs are okay if they tip. A couple of minutes later, the girl walked over with my coffee and handed it to me.

"Hey," I said. "Is this where the Dumbrella event is supposed to be?"

"The what?" she asked.

"Dumbrella? The webcomics thing?"

She squinted, and shrugged. "Turn Your Back On Bush is having a thing tonight. But they never tell us anything."

This made me nervous. I had a sneaking suspicion I was in the wrong place, since the place we were supposed to meet was the Haymarket Bookstore Cafe, and as I said, there were no books in this place, for sale or otherwise. "Is this the only Haymarket Cafe?" I asked.

"Only one I know of," she said.

I thanked her and started back downstairs to where my salad would be waiting. I sipped.

Best damn cup of coffee I'd had in eight years. I'd marry that girl, if she even acknowledged I wasn't simian. Which of course she wouldn't. As Jeph Jacques and I said to each other later that night, you don't hit on your barista. You don't. The consequences of rejection could be dire. The least you could hope for is that she'd spit in your latte. And to be blunt, you'd drink it anyway. You'd have no choice. That is the power of the well pulled espresso.

The salad was somewhat disappointing, but the wifi was up. And that was good, because I had a good hour to wait before people started showing up. The downstairs was better lit than the upstairs, with an odd preponderance of religious art. Lots of virgins, lots of saints. No crucifixes, though. Also, a lot of vases. And yet, the music playing over the system sounded if anything Islamic, and they were mostly serving Indian food. The benches were wooden but comfortable.

At about ten to nine, I saw Jon Rosenberg. He and Jeph Jacques were the two I figured I had even odds of picking out in a police lineup even though I'd never met them. He glanced at me a couple of times. I glanced at him a couple of times. Neither one of us were really ready to walk over and say "hey, do I actually know you." Not without one of the two of us being female and cute, anyway, and I think Rosenberg's significant other might have something to say about that. I waited until someone else tested the water. Girls, two of them, hip, in black pea-coats. Chatting it up with Rosenberg and a powerful looking blond man, his hair in a pony tail. Phillip Karlsson, I thought to myself. And I realized that Rosenberg and Karlsson look exactly like their cartoon counterparts. Oh, they don't have the disproportionate eyes, and Jon actually currently has facial hair, but still. If you saw them standing next to comedic life sized cutouts of the comic strip, you'd know instantly it was then. Karlsson's hair was even pulled back into the pony tail.

One thing -- Karlsson is a powerful looking man in person. I have no doubt but that he could scoop up a chair and take out a malefactor at a moment's notice. He also wore a "Do Not Eat This T-Shirt T-Shirt" implied in this strip and on sale in their store. It's now displaced the Pirate Monkey Robot tee shirt as the one I have to own next, as soon as I'm comfortable it'll be in my size.

Finally, having let the girls break the ice ahead, and seeing Karlsson set out a number of freebies on the table they were next to (the likelihood that these were some random other people who happened to look just like Jon and Phillip from the comic strip, one of whom was wearing a tee shirt from the strip, and who happened to be carrying around Goats buttons, bumper stickers, comics and the like seemed negligible), I swallowed my fear along with the rest of my second cup of coffee (this one a decaf vanilla latte, and large) and walked over, nodding.

"Hey," Karlsson said. "Are you Eric Burns?"

"Yeah," I said. Because, after all, I was.

"Cool." He leaned over to Rosenberg. "Yeah, that's Eric Burns," he said.

We shook hands all around. "Good to see you," I said. Rosenberg smiled, looking around almost furtively. "People are actually showing up," he said.

"Well yeah," I said. "You're a rock star."

Rosenberg dismissed that with a snort, then shook his head a bit. "I'm always surprised when they show up," he said, and had a sip of a beverage that can only be described as 'adult.' Like I said, rockstar.

Rosenberg pointed out his compatriots, all of whom were there and none of whom I recognized. I didn't approach any of them at that point, because they were all speaking to fans, and as weird as it sounds, said fans had more right to access than I did. I was there, if anything, as the press. And while everything I learned about journalism I learned from old Lou Grant episodes, one thing I knew was the reporter didn't inject himself into the story.

Jeffrey Rowland I didn't instantly recognize, but I should have. I could see the spiritual kinship between him and his avatar in Overcompensating. He had also set out some books and the like, and drawing gear, and as he chatted with people he sketched in their books, or in his sketchbook. That's something I recognized almost immediately. Rowland sketches. All the time. Or at least, all the time he was there. He was personable and conversational and clearly enjoyed talking with his fans, but while he did so his pen was always working.

R. Stevens I also didn't recognize, but I had a feeling he was one of the group when I saw him. (Though my first guess had been John Allison.) He was active and frenetic, chatting people up and performing, almost. Friendly and uninhibited. A cool guy to know. He didn't look like anyone in his comic in particular, but then given the pixilated element in his comic, it'd probably be surprising if he did. And that made me think about that comparison, briefly. You find yourself expecting artists to look like they'd fit in their comic strip -- probably because that way, you can convince yourself that the strips are real, even if they have satanic chickens or poison potatoes or mack daddy robots or nefarious Portuguese Man'o'Wars in them. Which is just plain pathetic, if you think about it.

John Allison wasn't what I expected. I'm not sure what I did suspect -- going back to the whole "comic strip as life" thing, maybe I expected him to look like Ryan, bursting in on a vespa scooter with his own soundtrack. Physically, he probably looked most like Rich Tweedy from the Bobbins cast, though he's not red haired. And yet, looking at him, you think artist. He gives off a vibe not unlike you imagine T. S. Eliot would. Quiet, analytical, seeing things you don't see. Seeing potential.

Truth be told, Allison's the one I barely spoke to all night. He was in a corner with a coterie, several of whom were female and pretty. And that's cool for all involved. So I won't mention him much in the rest of the narrative, but he seemed perfectly pleasant and cool. Just for the record.

The event spun up quickly enough. There was no organization to it, mind. It was just happening, but people began showing up. More and more of them. Right next to them were two people that seemed like the people who wanted to be there early. One was a bit heavier than I currently am, wearing a purple shirt and tie, and next to him was a rail thin friend. I've seen their type at every con I've been to, and so have you. And they had a sketchbook with them. Idiot, I thought. You should have brought a sketchbook so people could draw in it. Then, I realized I wouldn't actually have given it to any of the artists in residence, because as I've said before, that seems like hubris to me. But then, I'm weird.

I ended up standing off to one side, and watching as the crowd came in. Pretty girls, hip guys, college crowd mostly. They all handled it a bit differently. Karlsson and Rosenberg did lots of chatting and passing of freebies out. For Rowland, it was like a traditional signing -- a line formed to meet him, to give him things or buy things and let him sign and sketch, and he cheerfully obliged. For Stevens, it was an event. For Allison... well, no clue. But he seemed to be having fun with his coterie.

And me? I stood off and watched. Letting the crowd come in. There were a couple of people with Goats tee shirts, some Questionable Content paraphernalia -- hey, where was Jeph Jacques, anyway? -- and a good amount of Wigu shirts.

One of the kitchen staff guys swung through. "Hey," he said, not too loudly but with some annoyance. "I need to get back into that closet." Clearly, he wasn't too happy about the crowd. I moved out of the way -- said closet was right next to the Rowland line, so for the most part people weren't going to get out of the worker's way. Needless to say, he didn't take a bumper sticker.

Karlsson came over after a bit, and we chatted. "These things stun me," he said. "People showing up to see... you know, us."

"Why? You know how many people read you every day," I said.

"Yeah, but still. We didn't get into this because we wanted crowds of people. We just wanted to do it." He shrugged. "Back then, there weren't very many comic strips on the web. If we started today, no one'd ever know who we are. But now, we're like... Q-List Celebrities, and that's weird."

I could tell how he felt. If he and the Dumbrella folks were the Q-List, I was at best the R-List, but sometimes even that freaks me out. Once, I was sitting in Panera Bread in Portsmouth, and after a few moments I realized that the people at the next table were bitching about online comics, and Websnark came up. That was a moment of profound strangeness for me. How much more is it when you have ten times the traffic, when people have been reading your comic strip for years and years?

Rock stars I'd called them. The Q-List, but at a Q-List event, there were still crowds. People into it.

Rosenberg and I chatted about the same thing a few minutes later. "Yeah, we never expected there to be... you know, fanbases. People willing to come out to see us. It kind of amazes me, still."

I nodded to Rowland. "Some folks settle into it pretty well."

Rosenberg grinned. "Well, Jeff draws. All the time. John Allison too. They always have sketchbooks out. They'll be up, late at night, drawing. Me, I'm more a writer. But then, you look at early Goats, and I didn't know how to draw at all. I only got away with it because there wasn't any competition back then."

"Well, you know me," I said. "If the writing keeps me coming back, I'm willing to give the art a bye."

Rosenberg laughed. "Well, it's not fair for me to say this, since I know what my art was like back then... but I just don't have enough time to read strips, so I'm pretty much going to stick with strips where the art and writing are both really good. I just don't have the time."

"I can understand that," I answered. "Still, if someone's drawing every day, day in and day out, they're going to get better by default."

"Absolutely," Rosenberg said. "That's very, very true."

"And if the art's beautiful but the writing isn't there--"

"Yeah. The writing's what brings you back. That's what makes these guys so incredible," he said, nodding to the rest of the group. "The writing and the art -- it's just there."

"Well, you're the proof of all this," a fan who'd been listening chimed in. "I mean, no offense, but when you started you were horrible. And now your art's incredibly beautiful."

Rosenberg grinned -- a little embarrassed, but also happy, I think, and shook his hand.

Jeph Jacques got in about then. Naturally, as the guy with the least distance to travel, he was the one who arrived last. And, as reports have indicated, he is very tall. Very tall. He reminded me of my friend and Superguy compatriot Gary Olson, who used to describe himself as having a "+2 Bonus Loom Attack." Now, here was someone who could have stepped outside his comic strip -- the same with Cristi, who should be familiar to readers of the Questionable Content livejournal. The Haymarket clearly has had influence on Jacques's settings, and the Northampton street it's on appears in the strip in different forms all the time too. In fact, looking at the patrons and baristas of the Haymarket and Cristi herself -- and Jacques himself, for that matter -- I think the next person who tries to accuse Jacques of drawing unrealistic women better watch out. They're all right there. We shook hands briefly and then he went in to visit with friends.

Stevens and I said a fast hello. "I'm a huge fan," I said. Which was true, and also dorky. He thanked me, grinning. And then smiled to the absolutely gorgeous girl also sitting at his table. "Eric here's being a journalist tonight," he said. "He's totally popping his Journalism cherry, right in front of us."

"Really?" the girl said, looking up and giving me a smile that caused parts of my bone structure to melt into cartilage. "You're a journalist?"

Now, I know what I should say in that situation. "Yes," I should say. "I'm with Websnark--" stated with authority, like of course she should have heard of it. "Have you known Rich Stevens long?"

What I actually said was "eh. I'm a guy with a website."

She kept smiling, looked me up and down, and said "Oh." And turned back to Stevens.

Presentation is everything, kids.

The other notable woman I met was waiting in the Rowland line. She had long, brown hair with a purple strip running down the front in the forelock position -- and was one of the first to make it look really good, in my experience. Of course she has a purple streak in her hair, you think. "You're missing a few holes to get ahead in line," I said.

"I know," she said. "But... I don't know. I'm not sure I deserve to meet them. I'm not a big enough fan, maybe. You know?"

I arched an eyebrow. "You came out in the rain to see them."

"Yeah, but I'm local."

I gave her a look. "You came out in the rain to see them. You're a big enough fan."

She grinned, sheepishly. "Okay. And I did leave a show to see them. I should get back soon, too."

"Especially if you're supposed to be on stage?" She laughed, and we moved on.

"Excuse me," one of the two guys sitting nearby -- the two I mentioned before. The ones with the sketchbook -- asked me. "What's going on?"

I blinked. "You're not here to see the Dumbrella artists?"

"The what?"

"Webcomics? Goats? Wigu? Diesel Sweeties?"

"Oh. I'm just beginning to get into those. I just read... he paused, looking away. Sheepish, it looked like. Like he was suddenly unsure he should mention names like Sluggy Freelance or Penny Arcade at some other collective's event. Proof positive that you shouldn't make assumptions, I suppose.

I ended up telling maybe ten people what was going on, all told. Regular patrons. It sort of made sense -- I was standing off to the side, not getting into the heart of the event. I must have looked like an event coordinator or a manager or something. My favorite was a couple of guys who came in. College hipster clothes and beards. "What is all this," the one guy asked.

"It's a webcomics event," I said. "The Dumbrella artists are meeting their fans."

He looked at the freebee table. "Republicans for Voldemort?" he asked. "These guys are Republicans?"

"Er... no," I said. "It's a 'greater of two evils thing. You know. Voldemort."

No, he didn't know. Harry Potter had apparently passed right by him. So I steered him away from the bumper sticker and tried to explain... well, what a webcomic was, in ten words or less.

"Great," he said, and pulled out a copy of Socialist Worker. It was a newspaper, the masthead in good old Soviet Red. "This is a great newspaper," he said. "For just a dollar, you get great opinion and fact you won't see anywhere else."

I opened my mouth, closed it, and smiled. "Not tonight," I said.

"Good enough," he answered, and they moved on, to track down others ready to take up the cause of revolution.

I didn't talk as long as I'd like to Jeff Rowland. But we chatted for a bit. When I told him I liked his stuff, he said "you used to. I don't do it now, remember?"

"You do Overcompensating," I said, and he kind of waved it off. "Monday," he said. "The new one starts Monday. I have it in my head. I'm excited." He kind of looked off for a moment. "Three years. It seems to be three years that these things last."

"That's one of the things I like about you," I said, then tried to figure out how to phrase it. "You don't cling to things you don't think are working, and you let popular strips that you've finished in your head end, and move on--

"Fun," he interrupted. "I do them while they're fun. When they're not fun, I do something else."

Maybe that's the difference between webcartoonists and print. In print, you either keep doing what you've been doing because you're under contract, or you do the Dan Cowles thing and publish new issues when you've got a new issue's worth of stuff, regardless of how long it's been since the last Eightball. On the web, if you stop enjoying yourself, you close up shop and start something new.

"Hey," a fan said to Rowland. "Show us the spider bite."

Rowland grinned, and rolled up his pant leg, showing a large red scar. It reminded me of the surgical scar from an infected abscess, I had two Summers ago. The "spider bite" was from last year, when a Brown Recluse tried its level best to take Jeff Rowland down.

"Wow," the fan said. "It still looks like that?"

"That's permanent," Rowland said, still grinning. He sat back down and went back to sketching.

After a while, the staff of the Haymarket let the artists know that they were closing in a few minutes. "Ten o'clock close time," Rosenberg said. "Yeah, we planned this well."

"I don't think they expected there to be this much of a crowd," I said.

"They didn't know we were coming," he said. "We just decided to go out for coffee, then someone put it on their site, and the next thing we know..." he looked around. "This just amazes me."

Just before we went out, I took time to shake Allison's hand and tell him that I like his work. He thanked me, quietly but graciously. I didn't mention Websnark to him. I'm not certain he'd know what it was if I did. I got a few pictures of people -- sooner or later, I'll post them up here, though not today -- and then we piled out onto the street, where we stood around and talked. This is where I got most of my chance to talk with Jacques and Cristi, along with Karlsson and Rosenberg and various fans of various strips. It was, if anything, a better venue than the coffeehouse had been. We talked about the weirdass turrets on the town hall, across the street.

"It was to protect against the Indians," Jacques said.

"From the architecture, it was to protect against the French," a fan said.

I snorted. If we went by the architecture, it looked like they were trying to protect against Six Flags.

Jacques and Karlsson were discussing tee shirts. Jacques mentioned that the new "Teh" shirts were selling well. "I believe it," Rosenberg said. "The minute I saw that, I knew it'd be a shirt and it'd sell."

"Thanks," Jacques said. "I didn't know you read my stuff."

"Yeah, I do," Rosenberg said. "I got into it. You do good work."

"Thanks. I read yours, too. But then, you probably guessed that."

Rosenberg laughed. I realized then that... well, in a way, it's not just me, amazed at the kind of subculture that's grown around these webcomics sites. The fanbase. Jacques liked the Dumbrella guys on general principle, and certainly he has a popular strip, but there was still an element in him of "Jon Rosenberg reads my webcomic?" I have to wonder if that's true of all artists... if there's always some sense of amazement that someone you've enjoyed and followed for years is reading your book. I know it always surprises me. It surprised me when Stevens mentioned the journalist thing -- that had meant that not only did he read Websnark (I'm always stunned at that), but that he'd read it that same day.

The conversation was growing mellow, and the hour was getting late. Some folks were tired. Others didn't feel so well. So we began to break up. There were handshakes and hugs. More than one artist mentioned that they'd like to live in Northampton. I can see that. I sort of want to live there too, now, though I think I'm too old. There's nothing so pathetic as a guy my age trying to be indy. Not that I made any attempt at all, in a rugby shirt and L.L. Bean windbreaker. I was the polar opposite of indy. Jacques and Cristi talked Scrabble with me -- they apparently have an ultra-super Scrabble board, with quad word scores and everything. I could get into that. I got buttons from another local -- an artist from Viking Squid Studios, which is a cool thing -- and then it was over.

I climbed back into the car. The fog was rolling in thicker. Traveling back ended up taking nearly four and a half hours. Jon Stewart having run out, I now listened to This American Life, hitting the road. The Q-List Celebrity event behind me.

So the question is, was it worth it? Seven and a half hours in a car for an hour of being abused by a barista and drinking excellent coffee, followed by an hour and a half of light conversation and watching popular artists meet some of their fans?

Yeah. Yeah it was. It was an experience. And I even had a very brief R-Level Celebrity moment myself. Milligan -- who comments on Websnark -- had come down from Albany and shook my hand. We didn't speak long, but I got the feeling I was something of a draw for him, as well as the actual, you know, artists. I had an excellent time, besides. I'll gladly hang with Jacques and Rosenberg and Karlsson any day they want -- I still owe Rosenberg scotch -- and I'd love to get to know Rowland and Stevens better (and Allison... er, at all). So yeah, it was very worthy.

And if I take off the "journalist" cap no one is really sure fits me anyway, and put on the "writer" cap I'm comfortable with, it was very worth it. Like I said, it was an experience. And I learned things. I learned that pretty girls will go out in the rain to meet artists. I learned that Enzed/Swede New Yorkers are funny as Hell. I learned that R. Stevens can draw ladies like flies to honey.

And, I learned that socialists don't read either Jeffery Rowland or J.K. Rowling. You can't put a price tag on knowledge like that.

And now we know.

No thumbnail. I glanced at my mail and saw a reference to today's Todd and Penguin, so I had a quick look before I sleep.

So, really fast....

I had my hopes, but I also knew how the story should end. (End... or leave off for now.)

Nicely done, Mr. Wright. Nicely done.

I just hope this story isn't over.

Ira Glass: Lifesaver

The event took place, was quite good, and I made it home alive, despite evil fog, one moment of adrenalin, and some serious thought of pulling over and going to sleep.

The reason I didn't was because I was actively enjoying the This American Life episodes I was listening to, so I didn't want to stop until the given story/essay I was on was over. And when it ended, I glazed over the interstitial and found myself in the next story.

Oh, and they're breeding biblical cows, and those cows are going to cause the end of the world. And the thing is, it's perfectly plausible. So now I'm going to have nightmares about cows.

Oh, also? Webcartoonists have the ability to cause beautiful women to come out to see them in the rain.

Full writeup tomorrow. Action Stalker Journalist Burns going to sleep.

January 13, 2005

A sighting.

I believe I have officially seen Jon Rosenberg, along with others who are probably some kind of affiliated peoples.

I have not confirmed anything by walking over and saying hello, however. Because I am a coward. Still, I'm pretty sure it's Jon Rosenberg.

Which means I've just been upgraded from "dubious journalist" to "stalker." And that's a sweet, sweet place to be.

Fun Northampton Notes

So, here's some quick notes for you the person at home. On the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts I've listened to in my mother's house, these would be the things that Peter Allen would say while waiting for James Levine to get off his fat ass and start the fucking Opera, already. In this case, you can just pretend they're being said by Bob Costas and Deborah Norville, and therefore they're vapid.

The Northampton City Hall seems to be a fake castle. Up to and including turrets.


Several of them. Not one turret. One turret would look silly, after all. If you're going with turrets, you have to go for the full monty. They look like they should be flying pennants while bit actors in helmets ready boiling oil to be poured down onto protesting and invading hipsters.

As for said hipsters... the ratio of young, attractive men and women to old, broken down people seems to be seventy-four to one in favor of youth, out on the rain slicked streets of Northampton. It's skewed in here because there aren't seventy four people in this room and by definition, I am.

As near as I can tell, the Virgin Mary is considered an ironic and somewhat hip interior decorating choice.

Also? Santa Rita of Cascia.

Santa Rita's story can be found here. She seems to have been an interesting and forgiving woman, and a nice choice for a saint. I'm not an expert, but still -- I'm behind this particular canonization one hundred percent.

For the record, Santarita.com seems to be a Chilean winery. From woman granted stigmata of the forehead from Christ's Thorny Crown for the last fifteen years of a woman who suffered untold tribulations with grace and forgiveness to Cabernet Sauvignon in one easy step.

Of course, that might be in reference to a different Santa Rita. Check the comments for Catholics up on their female saints.

I seem to have strayed from my original topic of discussion. In conclusion, cute girls with tattoos still fucking rock. Thank you, and try the lattes.

Your man on the scene

So, here I am in rainy Northampton, a significant period of time before the festivities are scheduled to begin, on the twin theories of A) not knowing if this would be difficult to find, and therefore not knowing if it would take long to get here and B) having fuck-all to do in New Hampshire anyhow. It's slightly over an hour before our heroes are due to arrive here at the Haymarket, and no one around me is wearing a large sign reading "Webcartoonist," so I'm going to assume no one's here yet -- and after all, why would they be? They have an hour to go.

So, as a reporter, I should give my impressions, realtime, of venue. The Haymarket cafe is cozy and pleasant and largely occupied by attractive indy girls writing in journals. I ordered a light dinner of gorgonzola and spinach salad. The spinach is good enoughm the gorgonzola all gorgonzoly, though they drowned it in way too much oil.

The coffee, on the other hand, is exceptional. And obviously, the wifi works as expected. If this place were local to me, I suspect I would never sleep again.

At least one of the reports said this was taking place at the "Haymarket Bookstore Cafe," but I have seen no books here, which makes me wonder if I'm in the wrong "Haymarket Cafe." I guess come nine of the clock I'll find out, won't I? I have to assume there wouldn't be two cafes named "Haymarket" so close to each other, but then I've been wrong before. Often. If I'm wrong this time....

Actually, if I'm wrong this time, I'll have days worth of amusing anecdotes for Websnark and for talks. And that's all I can ask for, isn't it?

More news as events warrant. This is your man on the scene, Eric Burns, wishing all ladies and gentlemen and all the ships at sea safe voyages.

Oh, and the fucking fog bank that was southwestern New Hampshire can disperse any time between now and my drive back. I'm just saying.

Journalism, or Road Trip

So, I mentioned to a friend that I was swinging down to the Northampton meeting tonight.

"Isn't Northampton like three hours from here?" he asked.


"So, you're driving three hours there, watching this thing, maybe saying hello to some people and buying them drinks or something, then driving three hours back... this evening?"

"Well... yeah."

"You realize this is the most 'journalist' thing you've ever done in your life."

"What do you mean? I'm not a journalist. I'm a guy with a blog."

"You're a guy writing an op/ed column who's traveling by car for six hours to cover a webcomics event. You're going to be dead to the world tomorrow, barely able to communicate verbally, and yet I'm almost positive you'll snark about the trip by lunch. You're a journalist. Own it."

I allowed as they might have a point. Now, I just need to get press credentials and use this as justification for entry into E3.

Because this is going be six hours worth of driving for a 1-2 hour event, obviously I need to make certain I'll be as awake and alert as humanly possible for the trip. To that end, I've downloaded four -- count them four -- new episodes of This American Life and the audiobook version of America: The Book into my iPod. I have things rigged up so I can plug the headphone jack directly into my car stereo, so Ira Glass and Jon Stewart will see me through to where I will sit and drink coffee and feel desperately dorky in the back of the Dumbrella presentation.

Why dorky? Well, I'll tell you. If you can look at this trip as an exercise in journalism, you can far more easily look at it as an exercise in unmitigated fanboyism. And the last thing I want to do is throw up submissively on Jeffrey Rowland's shoes.

January 12, 2005

Some days...

...you just don't have anything to say.

Tomorrow night, I'm making the trek out to the Haymarket Bookstore Cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts, as I mentioned. I'm going to see the Dumbrella soiree, including people with the surnames of Rosenberg, Rowland, Stevens and Allison, and see what they have to say to we the public. I'm told a fellow with the last name of Jacques will also be in attendance, though not perhaps on the dias so much as hanging back and heckling, and there's a couple of Snarkoleptics who have mentioned they may make the trek as well.

Other than that... there were many good strips today, but none said "snark me." I did get some work done on that short story, though -- so it's not a complete wash.

Out of curiosity... in the spirit of such era-defining terms as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Victorian Age and so forth... what do people think of a future group of historians and lit scholars referring to the main body of the 20th Century as "the Convolution?"

If you like it, the credit goes to my friend Chris Angelini. If you don't, it's my fault.

EDIT: Technically, though I wrote this post on the 12th, I accidentally saved it to draft instead of publish, so it only appeared after midnight. So technically I didn't post on the 12th at all. But I wrote this on the 12th, so damn it, I say it counts.

January 11, 2005

Humor! Or something like it.

The break is over, and so Comixpedia is back with their next issue. In this case, it's the Humor issue. And, because I have people who love me this much, I've gotten a couple of concerned letters that Feeding Snarky wasn't in this week's dispatch.

Well, there's a couple of reasons for that. The official reason is the inauguration of Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander. (The Eric Conspiracy continues to gain strength in the virtual world. Mu hu ha ha ha!) This column replaces the monthly roundups that were on 24 hour pixel people, now that the pixel people have moved off to the Grey Havens, and it only makes sense that this column would appear in the first bit of issue, since it's all about the last month.

The unofficial reason is I was desperately late with it and another article I did, this month. Frankly, I'm lucky they don't throw me out. But Erik's new column is spiffy, so read it. And I'll be along by and by.

(It scares me anyone even notices I wasn't in the first week, to be honest.)

Anyhow, in addition to Erik's new column, I'll mention that T. Campbell has a spiffy Humor Roundtable, with many of the people I think are demonstrably superior to other life on Earth talking about what they thing is The Funny what can be Brought. This includes R. Milholland, M. Campos, D. Wright, J. Troutman, B. Guigar, and R. North, all of whom are people whose 'things' I read every day they put them out. Which to me means "yay." And, the Incontestable Wednesday White returns with a Review of Questionable Content, which makes it a review of a strip I like by the finest mind in Webcomics Commentary. This, to me, is cake. Sweet sweet cake.

I should mention the new site design. I should, but it seems kindest not to. Though it seems to be in evolution, so I have hopes. (I especially have hopes that the links will become the same size as the body text, in Firefox.)

Finally, going back to the Tuesday Morning Update, there's a mention that the Dumbrella folks -- particularly Jeff Rowland, Rich Stevens, John Allison and Jon Rosenberg -- will be in Northampton, Massachusetts on Thursday night. Now, that's... hrm. 3 or so hours from where I sit, which is a significant jaunt. On the other hand, while it's certainly conceivable I'll get a chance to meet some of these folks, John Allison has elected to live in an entirely different country across a great heap of water, and it seems like I should see him in the flesh before I die. If I make this trek, it'll be to sit in the back of the room and not be noticed, since... well, this isn't my event, and besides, no one wants to see me in a coffee shop. I figure it's even odds I wouldn't even say hello to most of the artist types. (Because... well, I'm shy and they're mighty. Also, Jeff Rowland possesses spider powers, whereas I possess a cat.) Well, except for Jon Rosenberg, but that's because I would need to buy him a beverage that adults enjoy.

We'll see. In the meantime, Comixpedia. Go. Enjoy.

Too much to write, damn it.


I seem to have caught a short story. It's fairly demanding to be written. But there is also Shortbreads to finally finish plus the daily snarking. My brain is full to overflowing.

Oh, and I actually have a job, too. So, you know, I may not have time for any of this before 10 pm.

There is too much to be written in this world. There are too many interesting things. There is too much to say, and too many opinions to be said about it.

Or, I might need to start Ritalin. Never rule that out.

January 10, 2005

This is wrong on so *many* levels.

Yirmumah! Click on the thumbnail for full sized gleaming pate!)

Coffman and McDeavitt continue to experiment with different styles of art and storytelling, and have gone back to a daily format (truly daily, this time), along with color Sundays. I'm grooving on it so far.

Today's strip is a desperate cry for help and the proof that God doesn't care about us any longer. And yet, I laughed for a long, long time. For that, I thank them.

The wide eyed coffee drinking says it all, doesn't it?

(From R.S.I. Click on the thumbnail for... well, actually for the main page, because if there's a way to link to an archive page for it, I can't find it. Of course, that could be because I'm not very bright.)

I've been following Frances Moffatt's R.S.I. for a couple of weeks now, based on yet another recommendation. (Yes, I really do go through my recommendations. It takes a while sometimes, but I get there.) And, when the King of all Weaselkind mentioned her latest, it reminded me I haven't talked about it here. So I am.

This particular strip clicks because of things that happened to me in the writing world. Like the first time a student I knew walked up, paused, and said "Mr. Burns?"

"Yes?" I said.

"I read your website." Note that this is my old website -- the journal/essay one. For reasons I won't go into the current students would have... difficulty reading Websnark. Which is partially because I'd like to keep those halves of my life seperate, and partially because I use the word 'fuck' somewhat often, so the filters keep it out.

I blinked. "Oh."

He nodded. Now, this was one of the cockier students I knew -- with, admittedly, some justification. He generally wasn't at a loss for words. But this time he was flummoxed. "I... had no idea you could write," he said.

"Well... I'm glad you liked it."

"Seriously... you're... you're good. I just... wanted to say that."

And he left, after I thanked him. I knew why he was uncomfortable -- it was like learning one of the authority figures in his life had an actual life. Like I was perhaps sympathetic instead of an antagonist. Like I was human.

At the same time, it also made me uncomfortable, because part of that life had been pulled into my workday, and that's a little weird at the best of times.

So, I can see what Moffatt's trying to say here, and I also think she says it well.

You know. I'm just saying.

Those crocs are just so *happy!*

(From Pearls Before Swine. Click on the thumbnail for full sized double snarked comical strips!)

Pearls Before Swine is one of those strips that's been on my "you really need to have a look at this" list for some time. I've had many, many recommendations that I read it. People I respect like it. It was just one of those things.

Well, as it turns out, one of the LJ people whose LJ I read (LJ -- it's like it actually means something when you say the initials) goes by the Livejournal sobriquet of The Weasel King, which I'd probably have a joke about, but given my own Livejournal sobriquet is Demiurgent, I don't have room to judge, now do I?

Anyhow, TWK posted a few Pearls Before Swine strips over the past week, putting them right. In. Front. Of. My. Face. Go to the Friends Page, read Pearls Before Swine. And that did it. This is so getting daily trawled now.

He put the lower of the two strips above up -- it's part of an ongoing sequence, where a couple of crocodiles move in next door to a zebra in the housing development. And would like, very much, to eat him. Today's just tickled me, so I went to snark it, and as is my wont, I went to the day before's strip to get to the archive page for the linkback... and saw the glorious, hysterical Sunday strip above it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The newspaper syndicates are not afraid of controversy, opinion or being sometimes savagely funny. I submit to you Pearls Before Swine as a test case.

So, read it.

I seem to be becoming a professional devil's advocate.

I don't like Garfield.

I said it. It's official. I don't like it. I don't like that it's repetitive and unimaginative. I don't like that it was designed to be innocuous and marketable, not artistic and funny. I don't like that despite that fact, Garfield has potential (proven most clearly by the Garfield and Friends saturday morning cartoon, which was actually funny and clever and imaginative kids' fare) that it steadfastly refuses to exploit. I don't like the lasagna jokes. I don't like the "Jon is a helpless dweeb" jokes. I don't like the "I don't like Mondays" jokes (like a given housecat has any reason to care what day of the week it is). I don't. Like. Garfield.

So, here's a Snark defending Garfield.

See, Garfield is big news in comicdom right at the moment, thanks to the Los Angeles Times dropping the strip to make room for a new one. (My favorite part of that article? The one where the Syndicate representative describes Jim Davis as "hands on" with Garfield. Do you think anyone would ever describe, say, Lynn Johnston as "hands on" with For Better or For Worse?) And, when big news happens in comicdom, I get letters, most of them excited. "Did you hear?" they asked. "When are you going to comment?"

I guess the answer to that was 'Monday.' And yeah, I was glad to see it -- mostly I was glad that there was some actual response from the newspaper community cheering for the move, for artistic reasons. But, it didn't much impact on me, since I don't read the L.A Times and I don't read Garfield. However, it got me to thinking about Garfield... and about the down side to dropping the strip.

First off, this is unreservedly a kid's comic strip. Yes, its creation was cynical, its writing is hackneyed and uninspiring, and it repeats itself constantly. But to be honest, I don't think it's intended to hold readers past, oh, 12. It wants kids -- the ones who've never seen the jokes. The ones who like repetition because they're still having their brains develop (this is why, on Teletubbies, everything is done twice. This is not why there's a giant fucking scary sun baby overlooking them all on Teletubbies, to my knowledge). Kids quickly learn the lay of the land and laugh. They anticipate the joke the moment they see the pan of lasagna, or the moment Garfield thinks "Jon has a date tonight," or the moment Odie is shown sitting on the corner of the table. They get it, and that makes them happy.

And the thing is, that gets the kids reading the funny pages in the newspaper. Something toned to them, that they think is funny, sets a habit. And by the time they outgrow Garfield (when their brains get formed enough to start thinking "Jesus, did they just photocopy this?") the habit's formed and they go back to read stuff that's actually funny.

Secondly... Garfield actually is popular.

I know, I don't get it either.

But it has a readership. For that 1 prominent newspaper who dropped Garfield last year, there's 40 or 50 that picked it up. According to the Syndicate, it's in 2,700 newspapers world wide. Twenty seven hundred newspapers. That doesn't happen today -- not because of issues of quality, but because there's nothing so popular that jumps out of the current information glutted environment. Which means like it or not, Garfield is a part of our collective culture, in a world that increasingly doesn't have a collective culture. There's very few comic strips you can say that about, these days. Even the old (bad) standbys like Hagar and Blondie and B.C. can't claim that -- they might be on almost as many newspaper pages, but if you ask random folks to name Hagar's children or who Mr. Dithers was or any character names from B.C., they're not likely to know. Cathy is lucky people know Cathy's name, and her name is the title of the strip, for Christ's sakes.

But odds are, those people will be able to name "Garfield," "Jon," "Odie," "Veterinarian," and "Lasagna." And maybe even "Nermal." Christ, I can name them all, and I haven't willingly read Garfield in 20 years or more. The only comic strip (not counting Peanuts, which is even bigger in terms of culture, deserves it more, but is in eternal reruns now) in current production that comes close to that level of recognition are Dilbert, and Doonesbury, and neither are really meant for kids, and Doonesbury often as not is on the editorial page anyhow.

There is a value to shared cultural landmarks, even when those landmarks are insipid. There is a value to the shared referent we get from Gilligans Island and The Beverly Hillbillies, even when there were vastly better shows on the air at the same time. (And Married with Children and Baywatch, for that matter.)

And honestly, it's unseemly to despise the popular because it is popular. It's all right to despise Garfield as recycled humor by committee designed to push merchandise instead of art or humor, but it's not all right to despise people for liking it.

There's lots of strips I'd like to see off the comics page, because I don't think they're very good, I think they're taking up space, I think we should try to do better, and I think editors are typically a cowardly and superstitious lot. But when a strip actually is popular, especially with the children we're trying to recruit into the comic strip habit... I guess I give it more than a bye. So yeah, I hate Garfield. I'd give anything for Count Your Sheep to be sitting in its place in those 2,700 newspapers -- it's vastly better, funnier, and just as accessible, I think. But in a world where The Lockhorns and Marmaduke and B.C. Which Means Before Christ Not That You Can Tell In This Fucking Strip and the aptly named Hagar the Horrible are allowed to run free, stinking up the joint and bringing powerfully little in return... the fat cat who likes italian food and has a lame sense of sarcastic humor... and who actually hooks people on comics... gets more of a bye from me.

January 09, 2005

All right, already. It's snarked. It's snarked. Now for Christ's sake, let my cat go unharmed! She's done nothing to you!

(From Schlock Mercenary. Click on the thumbnail for full sized oversight!)

The tagline for Schlock Mercenary is "where military humor meets hard science fiction," and this strip conveys that sense. There's a real sense of the military and the mechanics in this strip.

I'm reminded of David Hartwell's definition of hard science fiction. It's as much method as science -- a sense of rigorous attention to detail, to world construction, to the sense of plausibility as there is actual science. Tayler nails that, and he nailed it in today's strip.

At the same time, it's also funny. And yet, also dark. And it brings the story. And closes a chapter.

Not at all bad for a Sunday. Tayler gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

Sweet, sweet resolution...

(From Todd and Penguin. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Innocent Revelations.)

One of the things I really like about David Wright is his ability to convincingly write innocence. See, there's lots of innocent cartoon characters out there, but all too often they seem... I dunno. Artificial. Like the television shows you see where adults write childrens' dialogue for children the way they think children actually speak. And adults then grin and say "yes! That's perfect." And children stare at the screen, turn to each other, and say "what the fuck was that? Jesus, do adults think we're retarded?"

And then, there's someone like Wright, whose Penguin is innocent, and comes across perfectly convincingly. His innocence has a dark edge (well, if we assume that Mr. Bear's yearnings to maul the humans come from Penguin's imagination), but it's sincere. And so, when he blurts out the fact that Todd bought Holly an engagement ring which he never gave to Holly because she announced she was going away to England... it was done not to force the issue out into the open, but because Penguin really wanted to know the answer, and didn't really know any better.

And now the issue is out into the open. And Wright's got me hooked. I really want to see the next several strips, and see how this plays out. I know the sweet ending would have that ring on Holly's finger... that's how it would work in Penguin's world. But the strip's name is Todd and Penguin, and Todd's life is typically Hell.

So, I expect Holly is going to leave, and there will be an air of "might have been" making her departure bittersweet. And if that happens, it'll be a good thing for the strip.

But I hope Holly has that ring on her finger, whether she leaves or not.

Wright's hooked me something fierce. Wednesday can't come fast enough.

January 08, 2005

A day of rest, light coughing.

This was another day of... well, next to nothing. Clearly, I needed the downtime. Tomorrow is a heavy writing day, both for here and other bits I'm behind on and bringing sobbing down from those who deserve better from me.

But I wanted at least to say hi, and say the unqualified astounding things about Issue 3 on City of Heroes, hand in hand with the Crappy Council (and they're not improving with time, I'm afraid -- their coolest new characters are the "Galaxy" figures... and they look almost exactly like Destro from G.I. Joe, only without his keen fashion sense.

Yes, I'm serious.

However, first off, the new zone, Stigia Island (which I think I just misspelled, but I'm not going to look it up because I'm... well, crap) is the best new zone of the game, so far. It's got all the joys of the Hollows without the impending sense of doom clinging to them. And they have lots and lots of new maps -- especially the cargo ship map, which just rocks.

Secondly... they did an amazing lighting engine upgrade. The sewers have always been somewhat funny -- these well lit sewers where villains like to hang out. Now they're full of shadows with shadow effects as you pass under the light sources. They're creepy, and that's perfect. We did the Dr. Vahzilok mission today -- a mission I've done about nine times before now -- and this is the first time it scared the crap out of me. Ambience is everything, and they've nailed it.

And when you go into the room where the Doctor is hanging around in his meat suit? Oh my Fucking God. Someone deserves bonus pay for this Issue.

So, City of Heroes remains an astoundingly cool game, and this free update remains phenomenal. Except for the Council. Fucking Council.

(You know, if they'd retconned the 5th Column into something cool, I'd have no problem. But they did things like take the Steel Valkyrie drones -- what a great name. The Steel Valkyrie -- and renamed them the "Zenith Hoverbot." The Zenith Fucking Hoverbot. It sounds like a brand of floating television! But I digress.)

On the other hand, the Council does have a Volcano Fortress. And it's amazing. I just wish it weren't being leased by such a pack of lamers.

January 07, 2005

The Pussification of the 5th Column

So, as you may have guessed, it's been a busy week down here at Casa Websnark. We got back from vacation and had... well, you know. Stuff. To do. Stuff to do. You know how it is. To give you some idea of just how busy... not only has my snarking been light all week, but I only got around to hooking up my Windows computer and booting up City of Heroes today.

"So what," you ask?

So... there's a new Issue of content out, Mister Man. Whole new areas! Whole new archetypes I'm never actually going to get to play! (Bastards.) Whole new sound effects and shifts of functionality!

And the 5th Column -- one of the premier bad guy teams -- has been wholly remade into "The Council."

We knew this was coming. There's been debate about it for months. You see... the 5th Column were Nazis. That's right, Nazis. Evil Germans who believed the Reich would rise again. They employed batteries of Helmeted Ninjas (because nothing says "Nazi" like the martial arts), guys with grenade launchers and Unteroffizers (I couldn't care less that I misspelled that) with names like Col. Wagner spreading their message of hate through the city, kidnapping and recruiting and blowing shit up. At higher levels, they also turned into werewolves and vampires and had Nazi Death Robots.

And it was cool as Hell... because it's seriously fun to beat up Nazis. You don't need any justification for it. You don't even have to think about it. A contact would give you a mission where the 5th Column were invading an office park to steal a valuable painting with some kind of encoded clue on it. You immediately got on your supergroup channel. "Bonedancer! Ms. Mercury! Azure Ampere! Nazi Art Thieves!" And a cheer would go up, and the Galaxy Circle would strike forth, assembling and entering and beating the living hell out of those Nazi bastards. Even just running along the streets in Steel Canyon, hearing them giving recruitment speeches, was enough reason to pause and start hammering them with electricity and radiation blasts. Because damn it, they were Nazis, and Superheroes fight Nazis! It's what they do! Nazis are evil and spread hate, and so we punch them in the head and call them "Ratzis" and make bad puns like "Don't cause a Fuhrer, Hans!" while you did it.

This is a core element of comic books. It has been since the actual Second World War. Captain America and the Invaders explicitly fought Nazis. The Justice Society spent a good amount of time fighting Nazis. The retconned "All Star Squadron" was a flying brigade of Nazi hunters. Nazis held on into the last part of the century, always ready to unleash a new steam powered Nazi robot on our heroes, who would defeat it and beat the fascists down for Justice -- and it felt good, because they were evil, rotten Nazis!

In the Issue 2 update, we also got a new low level 5th Column Base Map, which was a warehouse painted up in 5th Column Regalia, with a speaker system that intoned in German as you stormed the base. It was a wonderful piece of atmosphere as you and your low level hero chums beat the snot out of the 5th Column. Even the name was cool in an evil way. The Fifth Column. It sounded like a potboiler from the 40's, evoking thoughts of insurgents and spies and bunds going out and doing evil.


Cryptic Studios is preparing to launch City of Heroes in Europe. Including Germany. And now... the Fifth Column has been retconned. Literally retconned. There's apparently something about time travel involved or the like, so that for the most part, the 5th Column never existed (or was tiny and inconsequential), and now they've been replaced by The Council.

The Council.

First off, the name is lame as Hell. It makes it sound like you're fighting a corrupt pack of City Aldermen. And, running through a low level Council mission earlier today, that's pretty much exactly what they are, or so it seems. It's all the same missions, apparently, only now the Nazi elements have been taken out and replaced with... well... you remember all those soldiers in Cobra? The ones who didn't get action figures of their own -- they're the anonymous soldiers who sprayed energy fire at their enemies, had no personalities, and pretty much existed to eject at the last millisecond when G.I. Joe blew their planes up with missiles?

Yeah. That seems to be the entirety of the Council. Only Cobra's Generic Soldiers got to shout "COBRA," which honestly seems like more personality than these doinks have.

The reason they claimed the change happened was because of their overall plotline bible. They claimed that the bible just naturally called for this to happen, and the fact that they're launching a German version of the game had nothing to do with it.

This, of course, is transparent bullshit. They spent significant time, money and effort creating skins and textures and ambience for low level 5th Column bases in Issue 2, which then had to be largely redone for Issue 3. Plus they had to rewrite every 5th Column mission to make sure all the Nazi was pulled out of them. And when they first did this, they also changed the dedication plaques extolling the hero Atlas's fight against Nazis at the start of WWII to nonNazi stuff as well, until people freaked. They then claimed it was an error.

The real reason all this is happening is a German law that makes the display of Nazi regalia and the positive portrayal of Nazis illegal. Only... the 5th Column didn't display Nazi Regalia (their symbol was a kind of Skull done in Soviet Realism) and they weren't positively portrayed. Quite the opposite. You were supposed to beat the Hell out of them! They were evil! There was nothing good about them! They existed to have their helmeted heads crushed before being carted off to jail, sterilized by nuclear radiation.

The overall experience of City of Heroes has been cheapened by this. It feels... craven, somehow. It feels like the people at Cryptic didn't have the guts to keep the cool villains they had, and instead had to replace them with lame villains just to make sure they didn't get angry phone calls. This, I would add, despite that fact that there are tons of video games that do feature Nazis and do get sold and played in Germany. Including things like Castle Wolfenstein and Battlefield 1942. Games where you can play as the Germans if you wish.

Will this cause me to drop City of Heroes? Nah. There's not a huge amount in this latest issue for me (though I have a character in the range of the new zone, so there's that at least), but I still loves me the Superhero action. But I kind of wish they'd just cut the 5th Column out entirely, instead of forcing a lameass sea change onto them to make them as inoffensive as humanly possible. The visceral pleasure of destroying virtual fascism and racism and anti-semitism has been replaced with the dubious pleasure of beating up well armed janitors.

When Captain America fights the Red Skull, there's something epic going on. It's America and Freedom against Nazism and Tyranny on a grand scale. When Captain America fights Hydra, you hope there's a few pictures here and there of his current love interest in scanty clothing, to keep your interest. City of Heroes gave up the Red Skull to get themselves the dorks Hydra don't return phone calls to. And that's just sad.

Now this is a tradition I can get behind.

(From Achewood. Click on the thumbnail for full sized motivational message!)

I don't spend enough time talking about Achewood. That's not really surprising, mind. I don't spend enough time talking about 80 or 90 percent of the stuff I need to talk about. But Achewood's on that list. And the pity of it is, there's nothing else quite like it, so it needs to be talked about.

Today's Achewood is 'straighter' than most. And it's funny, which is a bonus. But it's also a good exercise in characterization. On the one hand, there's Ray -- who's exactly the sort of person who'd inaugurate "Fuck You Friday." When Ray and Roast Beef began their inexorable domination of Achewood (in the old days, it was far more about Philippe, Cornelius Bear, Todd the Squirrel and the like), I wasn't very fond of Ray. But Ray grows on you. He gets under your skin. You figure out what's bluster and what's genuine, and you learn to appreciate him. Also, he went to Hell for a while, and met a blues man there. That's Ray for you.

But there's also a momentary glimpse into Pat's psyche. I'm reminded of the South Park Christmas episode where the boys had to travel to Canada and got stuck essentially in the Wizard of Oz. Their nemesis was Scott. And, in the words of their Canadian Guide. "Oh no! That's Scott! He's a dick!" And that was justification enough. "Watch out for Scott! He's a dick!" Well, that's Pat in a nutshell. He typically ends up on the run from the law after shooting a friend of his. (Mr. Bear got it last time.) He's demanding and shrill and annoying. But they accept him. That's just Pat. He's a dick.

And there's a little bit of vicarious wish fulfillment going on, too. I wish I had the nerve to tell telemarketers "no, fuck you." And, since it's Fuck You Friday, maybe I will.

Anyway. This strip may not be typical Achewood, but then they're never typical Achewood, are they? So go read the strip. You'll like it.

January 06, 2005

The Triumphal and the Surreal

I'm sitting at home, with no inclination to snark whatsoever. My cat is sleeping on my stomach, content as can be, and I'm watching an old (50's or 60's era) game show that Tivo snagged for me. It's called The Name is the Same, and the celebrity guest of the night just came out.

It's Salvador Dali.

Salvador Dali. On a game show. That's shilling Swanson Chicken. Weirdass mustache and all. The game show's premise is they have nobodies with famous names come on, and a panel of guests have to guess what that famous name is. If the panel fails, they have to make out personal checks in the amount of $25 apiece to the contestant.

But this is the real Dali, on as their celebrity guest, and playing their game where he's thinking of a famous name he "wishes" to be... only this is Dali, so before that he's being... well, Dali, describing his new painting, "One Soft Watch Exploding in Eight Hundred Eighty-Eight Pieces." Which might be Soft Watch Exploding, though that was the early fifties so I think not. Or it might be something entirely different. I'm not up on Dali.

And yet, years after his death, Dali's managed to make my life momentarily surreal.

Anyhow, because there's no impetus to do any real cultural commentary, I'm going to cut and paste a post from my Livejournal. I'm doing this because... well, because hours later, I'm still just plain proud. And besides, it's something to do.

Hopefully, tomorrow there will be snarking aplenty (or even the finishing of the Story Shortbread list). In the meantime, if it's as snowy where you are as it is here, be careful.

So, for those who didn't follow this journal last year -- because, well, most of you had never heard of me -- I had a gastric bypass last March. I was... large. What the jokes would call "Oh my god, he's coming right at us." And I was dying -- sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but the end was near.

I've lost a lot of weight since then, and I'm still losing. I now climb flights of stairs for daily exercise, when before I had to take an elevator to go one floor, for example. But there was one area I was still terrified in.

Frankly, ice scares the hell out of me.

When I was at my top weight, slipping and falling on the ice was horrible. First, there was the fall itself -- a jarring impact that caused every joint to hurt and scared me on the way down that I'd break many, many bones. But that was just the start. You see, after that, I had to get back up.

And, if I fell where there was nothing to brace on, I couldn't.

I literally couldn't go from lying on the ground to standing up. I could get my legs under me, but they then couldn't dead-lift me back into standing position. So I'd have to either get help, or crawl to a tree or staircase or something.

It was humiliating. I remember once, last winter... I fell in the middle of the quad, on a snowy day. There was hidden ice, you see. It was the beginning of winter break, so there was no one on campus right then. And I couldn't stand. Finally, I started the long crawl across the quad back to the academic building so I could get up.

A teacher -- a nice guy -- saw me, realized something was wrong, and ran out to help me. And that was great of him, and excruciatingly embarrassing. I was helpless. I felt worthless. I felt like Darwin was standing over me, waiting with his chainsaw and smirking. I didn't deserve to live.

Well. That was then. I've lost over a hundred and twenty pounds since then. I now climb stairs willingly.

But I'm still scared to death of the ice.

Today it's snowing, and it was freezing rain before. And I was walking -- you guessed it -- across the quad. There were students everywhere, though. Which would actually be worse, if you think about it.

Naturally, I fell.

The first thing I thought as I hit the ground was oh Shit!

The second thing I thought, about a second later, was wait... that didn't hurt.

It didn't. At all. So, I shifted position, got my legs under me, thought "well, I guess we find out now, don't we?"

And stood.

I didn't strain. I didn't fight. I just popped right up, picked up the bag I'd been carrying, and kept on my way.

As I got close to the school, a student fell in front of me. I helped him up, asking if he was all right.

"I'm fine," he said, grinning and shaking his head. "Just embarrassed."

"Don't worry about it," I said. "I did the same thing a couple of minutes ago."

Take that, Darwin.

And if that's too feel good happy/overly personal bloggish for you... bear in mind that on the show, Dali just answered "no" when asked if Robert Q. Lewis, the host, was a person. "He is an Object!" he asserted. And then mumbled in French.

Either way, that's pretty cool. And he just drove Gene Rayburn off the stage with incoherence. Now that's entertainment.

January 05, 2005

Dude. It has the little pump action thing to extrude cresent shaped 'doh.' How cool is that?

So, in addition to the money I collected and donated in full from the Websnark Auction, I donated money of my own to Child's Play. In my own case, I went in and bought stuff off one of the hospital's gift lists (the auction money I donated straight to them).

Well, I must have screwed one of the donations up, because I just got a Big Barrel O' Play-doh from Amazon.com.

Well, I'm going back onto Amazon.com to order another Big Barrel O' Play-doh for the hospital. But in the meantime, I'm sitting in my office with a barrel full of little barrels of Play-doh. And it makes no sense at all to send it back to Amazon. Not for the small amount of money this cost.

Which means I now own Play-doh. Pink, green, blue, red, white, and yellow Play-doh. Plus a huge number of molds, collanders, extruders and rollers to work with my Play-doh.

Dude. I own Play-doh.

Sadly, I have to wait until the end of work to head home and play with it. But its going to rock! Dude! Play-doh!

The Twelfth Commandment

All right. This is going into unusual territory for me. It's going into where the religious crosses over into the political, and it's going into a couple of hot button issues. You need to know this going into it. I promise that later on, I'll post something about a comic strip, and if you'd like to wait for that without reading this, I'll be perfectly fine with it.

Still here? Coolness. Let's talk.

I make no bones about my political ethos. I'm a liberal. I'm not an extremist, but I advocate things that moderates don't, so I pretty much have to call myself "liberal" and be done with it. I'm proud of this fact.

You may intuit, from that admission, my opinions and beliefs when it comes to gay and lesbian civil rights, gay marriage, the "gay agenda," and the "religious right agenda." Let's stipulate those before I move forward. I am a liberal. You know how I feel about the above, at least in general. I'm very unlikely to disappoint you.

Further, as I told you back when I was talking about Christmas in schools, I'm not a Christian. That's an important part of this essay too.

Got all that? Good.

In the last few days, I've seen a number of people -- including a number of my friends -- launch into tirades against what they see as the latest horrific tirade from "the Fundamentalists." Namely, the conflation of the Tsunami and all those killed with some kind of divine justice against the Sodomites. They're horrified. "This is why I despise Christianity," some of them say. "This is the kind of ignorant hatred these people spew! How can so many Americans be fooled by this bullshit?"

And I'm here as a cheerful Liberal Non-Christian to say to all of you reacting in this way a simple, pleasant message:

Know your opposition.

Notice I don't say "enemy." Any belief structure that necessitates making millions of Americans my "enemy" isn't one I agree with even slightly. But there are issues I am in fundamental opposition with those Americans over, and there are millions of Americans who agree with me as well.

But the tirades that you despise aren't coming from the Evangelical Christian Community. They're not.

The tirades mostly come from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas. Their website is the cheerfully named God Hates Fags, if you care to have a look at the bile-filled hatefest for yourself. They describe themselves as a Primitive Baptist Church. However, their belief structure is mostly based on a particularly strict form of Calvinism. God has decided who will be saved and who will not. Those who will be saved will enter into grace and act perfectly before they die -- perfection meaning "agree with the WBC's interpretation of the Bible in all ways and act accordingly" in this case. They will have no choice in this matter -- God will select them and there will be nothing else they can do.

Please note -- this is the polar opposite of Evangelist Christianity. To the Evangelists and Charismatic Christians, it is all about Free Will and choice. Sinners are born Sinners, but can choose to repent, declare their faith in Jesus Christ, and enter into Grace. God Loves Everyone, and Everyone can be Saved, but you have to come to Him -- He doesn't do the work for you.

To the WBC, all things are expressions of the Divine Will. And, as an Apocalyptic Cult, they feel that Divine Will is very unhappy with we the sinners. And when God gets unhappy, he destroys cities and floods the world and kills pretty much everyone and most of them get cast into Hell. And that's a good thing. By definition, because God Wills It. To them, God explicitly does not love everyone. He hates gays and lesbians -- and Jews and Muslims and Catholics and any other church they consider to be apostate. This explicitly includes, but is not limited to, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Catholics, the United Church of Christ, the Assemblies of God, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Southern Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Unitarians, and of course all Jews who don't accept Jesus as the Messiah. They single out Billy Graham in particular as a dangerous heretic and false prophet.

The WBC has offered up loud and public thanks for the Tsunami, because they believe that it killed thousands of Americans and Swedes (they hate Sweden) and is yet another sign of Divine Wrath against the Sodomites and their Sympathizers. They have offered up thanks and praise for the 9/11 attacks for the same reason. They have openly expressed their hope that God destroys the entire North American Continent as punishment for our sinful ways, and they have expressed out and out joy that prominent gays who have died (especially those murdered) are now burning in Hell without release. Their God has no room for Mercy -- there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent this. Had he wanted to save Matthew Shephard's soul (they've been actively trying to raise a monument commemorating Shephard -- who was a teenaged homosexual brutally killed by gaybashers -- as burning in Hell, and they picketed his funeral with God Hates Fags placards) God would have reached out, caused Matthew to renounce homosexuality, and preach the gospel as they see it. They also believe God made Matthew gay, as God made all things, and chose not to save him.

They take joy in God's Hatred and Wrath, joy in the death he spreads (including, explicitly, children -- since they were being raised to do evil anyway), and joy in the coming End Times that will see America and all nations like her destroyed by a vengeful hand. They preach their hate-spewed gospel because the Bible says they must, but they don't believe it will do any good -- God will save those he wants to, and besides, it's too late for us.

So yes, I despise these hateful, tortured bastards. I despise anyone who takes pleasure in the death of one person, much less the death of thousands upon thousands. I wouldn't share a meal with any one of them. And if it turns out they're right and their God is the true one, I'd rather go to Hell. Eternal torment is preferable to a Divinity of Hatred and Selfishness, and I do not accept any deity capable of creating the Heavens and Earth could also be capable of that much bile and intentional, impersonal horror.

But I never, ever confuse these horrible people with Evangelical Christians. The Religious Right has an agenda I can't stand, but their churches don't advocate the destruction of America, joy in the death of tens of thousands, and joy in the torment of sinners. I know more than one Christian who believes in Exclusive Salvation -- the doctrine that only through Christ's grace and the acceptance of Him as your Savior can you enter the Kingdom of Heaven -- and none of them like the thought of their friends and even acquaintences burning in Hell. They would give anything to help you avoid that fate. The WBC will just literally dance on your grave.

So when we the Liberals point to the WBC and say "you see? This is what those bastard Christians want to do to us! This is what they stand for!" the Religious Right -- the real, honest to God Fundamentalist Christians stare at us and say "you honestly have no idea what our religion is about, do you?" They give up on trying to have a meaningful dialogue about the issues dividing this country, because we're not trying to understand -- we're lumping them in with the worst of their breed. It's exactly the same as the days when all left-leaning people were tarred as Stalinists -- not even just Communists, but followers of the Butchers of Budapest. It's exactly the same as when environmentalists are looped in with radical ecoterrorists. It's exactly the same as when the Gay and Lesbian Movement is conflated with NAMBLA.

And it wasn't true in those cases and this isn't true now. And by conflating the Religious Right with Antiamerican Apocalyptic Death Cults, we're ensuring that no decent communication can take place between the left and the right in this country. We're ensuring that Christians fully believe we aren't willing to distinguish between decent people who have different moral values than we do and monsters. And right now? That hurts Liberals more than Christians. Take another look at who won the last election if you don't believe me. And when we go on the offensive against all of Christianity because of the radical, hateful ethos of one tiny splinter of horrible people acting in unChristian ways nominally in the name of Jesus, we put all of Christianity on the defensive. That's just plain stupid.

You should all know the Ten Commandments (even if you're not a believer. This is a part of your civilization). Robert Heinlein informed us that the Eleventh Commandment was "Thou shalt not get caught." Well, I think the Twelfth Commandment is "Know Thy Opposition."

We have fundamental issues before us right now. We have battles that are crucial -- that must be fought. If, like me, you are a Liberal (at least on these issues) or even a Moderate who leans left on civil rights, you have to know what the positions the Right (especially the Religious Right) hold on Abortion, on Gay Rights, on the Separation of Church and State. You have to know the nuances of those issues, and know where the battle lines have to be drawn. And you have to know that your Opponents are not your Enemies -- they are Americans you disagree with on a number of issues.

And we can't do any of that if we're drawn into tarring them all with the WBC's brush. Trust me, the Religious Right doesn't want the WBC on their side of the debate any more than we do. But if we force them to include them, they will... and it will lead to ever worsening conditions for the Left.

And, if you're on the Right in these debates -- if you disagree with my stances... know too the difference between the Liberals and the Extremists. Know the difference between proponents of Choice and Gay Civil Rights and the extreme left nutjobs and proponents of pedophilia. And know that while we oppose many of the things you believe in, we are not your enemy either... and if you cast us as your enemies and lump us all into one great Leftist Horde... it will lead to ever worsening conditions for the Right, as well.

Know thy Opposition, and know thy Battlefield, and don't get distracted by the depraved rantings of a few horrible people. The issues are too important, and America needs us to be at our best in this debate.

January 04, 2005

Looks like she's married, mm?

(From The Ice Queen, a Trespasser's Mystery. Click on the thumbnail for the subscription required full sized renderings! Or, click on the link for today's free installment!)

Many people know Joe Zabel for his critical work, most particularly as the driving force behind The Webcomics Examiner, which is unquestionably the most ambitious and academic journal devoted to the burgeoning field of webcomics and webcartooning, currently.

What people sometimes forget is Zabel is also a webcartoonist. In fact, he works in 3D modeling (I don't want to say "Poser," because if he can make Poser do the stuff he does, I for one don't want to know it, given how horrendous my own Poser work has been), creating rendered work that's just about the best I've ever seen applied to sequential art.

Well, we're fortunate, because he's just begun a new mystery over on Modern Tales. Which means if you're reading this the same day I wrote it, you can actually see the first "real" entry even if you're not a subscriber. (Yesterday he posted the evocative and beautiful cover art to Ice Queen.)

Now, I recommend a Modern Tales subscription regardless. Because, dude. Narbonic. And No Stereotypes. And now The Ice Queen. And if this mystery proves to be as detailed as today's art suggests, you're going to want to go back and review the clues as they were laid out.

But for today, just look at the art. Just look at it. It's not quite Industrial Light and Magic/Gollum, but neither is it trying to be -- it works within the slightly artificial constraints of modeling to produce its effects, and it blends models to photographs (I assume) very very well. The details on his models are phenomenal, regardless, and his use of light and shadow sublime.

We don't yet know the merits of The Ice Queen's story, but it's looking good to begin with. So have a look. And get ready to follow the mystery.

Sad news.

Will Eisner has passed on. He had quadruple bypass surgery, and while he was expected to come through that, there's a host of problems that can arise when you have that extensive a surgery. One of them was enough, though we don't have details yet.

Which is almost odd, in a morning already made surreal by his passing. Will Eisner was all about the details.

There's always been an understanding -- at least among the cognoscenti -- that comic strips and cartoon art was really illustration, and worthy of something more than dismissal as "the funny pages." But the same can't be said for comic books. It's not that they were always seen as "kid's stuff." They weren't. Back in the heydey of the publishing world, when Superman and Action Comics sold millions of copies, they sold them to adults just as often as children. But there was still a sense that comic books weren't serious. They weren't art.

But Will Eisner knew different. And we know different now, because of him.

Eisner's storytelling techniques were seminal. The Spirit was more than an action pulp -- it was a dynamic study in how to tell a story in sequence. And it was exciting, but also poignant, and brought the funny in good and appropriate measure. The term "sequential art" is credited to Eisner. The first graphic novel was Eisner's, and there was nary a spandex clad gladiator to be found in it.

Most of all, Eisner was a teacher. He did more than produce remarkable art. He used that art to inspire and education a new generation of artists. Face it, when Jules Feiffer, Wallace Wood and Scott McCloud all cite Eisner's profound influence, you know you're looking at the headwaters.

Eisner also believed in the sequential form, as a tool as well as an art form. In his seminal Comics and Sequential Art, he covered comics as entertainment and comics as instruction -- and for many years he illustrated training manuals. He believed history and science and basic how to's could all be explained in a clear and entertaining fashion through comics.

The comics industry will mourn, of course. They loved Will Eisner. In a land of Stan Lees and Jack Kirbys and Julie Schwartzes -- beloved giants of comic art -- it was Will Eisner whose name became the highest award in the comics. And cartoonists will mourn -- Eisner was no stranger to the newspaper pages, and one of his characters still appears in Will Eisner's JOHN LAW over on Modern Tales -- that's right, the webcartoonists get to count just a little piece of Eisner among them as well. And his spirit runs through any number of webcomics.

It's odd, almost. I wasn't personally a Spirit fan. I liked it fine, but it didn't change my life the way so many others did. But I loved Eisner's technique and form and belief in the academic discipline of comics, so I feel this death. And I know many cartoonists who feel bereft now. It's like the uncle who taught you everything you knew has passed on, and you feel like he had so much left to say.

Perhaps so. But one thing is clear. So long as artists lay out stories in panels, where one panel leads to the next with a sense of drama and story... so long as men in suits fight for women in dresses who are no damn good for them... and so long as bristol board accepts india ink from a brush, Will Eisner is going to be a part of the comics.

That's the real Spirit in the comics, and he belongs to us all now.

Thank you, sir.

January 03, 2005

It's like a shout out, only it's not

One of David Letterman's running jokes of the night is his love of the word "Snarky."

Do you have any idea how weird it is to hear that from David Letterman, over and over and over? It's not like the word is mine in any way -- it's just I don't expect him to use it.

Snarky. It's just fun to say.

You know, this is the kind of trinity I can get behind.

(From Cheshire Grin. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Hosenpheffer!)

So, I needed time away today. It was the last day home with my folks (I'm heading back to New Hampshire tomorrow, and back to the glories of work on Wednesday), and there were Things Afoot, so I'm running late today. And I guess I'm okay with that. I own my lack of posting in this the new year.

But I'll make up for it by talking about Cheshire Grin, which crossed my radar not too long ago.

Cheshire Grin's fun. The art is distinctive, the humor is humorous, the sad bits are sad. And this was my favorite of the strips I've seen of it so far. (Well, that and the dragonslaying enchanted poison dog. I've been in games where those would have been par for the course.) This one isn't really representative -- it's just funny, and that's what I'm in the mood for.

The thing is... the strip takes the ground Dork Tower and Knights of the Dinner Table (and even the tabletop RPG sections of PvP) and treats it less as gagaday and more as a celebration of what it means to be what they call a "tabletop role player" these days. (Don't get me started on the theft of our hobby's name). I've been where these guys have been, way too often. I recognize everyone in this strip. And I've gone through periods where I, like Bill the GM, decided it was time to "put childish things aside" and cut off my nose to spite my face.

This is a sweet, sometimes dark, and funny strip. And right now they're doing a LARP thing that's both fun and beautifully colored. So, read it.

That's what I've got for today. Enjoy.

January 02, 2005

A music thing

Can someone tell me why the incredible, complex, musical, sophisticated and somewhat angry Nellie McKay is considered "Pop?" Pop these days makes me think of Britney Spears and her demon brood. McKay doesn't seem to fall into that so much as "twenty-five years from now we will fucking revere her as a genius in an age of vapidity."

Or am I missing something?

Thoughts on the future of Websnark... in a technical sense

So, there's some technical stuff that's always bothered me about Movable Type. Key among that stuff is the trouble so many commenters have with Typekey, which seems very much like a beta service pressed into general release. (I'm sorry -- I'm as big a proponent of Firefox as the next person, but if your browser based comment authentication service won't work with Internet Explorer it's a problem.) So I'm thinking about switching to WordPress. Wordpress is free, and it's robust, and looks like it has excellent features, and it looks like it has ways to block comment spam that doesn't involve blocking... well, everyone else.

Yeah, it means I'm out the money I spent on Movable Type, but so what? MT did what I asked, and if I've outgrown it, that's okay. And sure, I'll need to learn how to tweak Wordpress to get all my stuff. And processing things properly so that all my old linked thumbnails work will be grunt work, but that's okay.

The problem is... it doesn't seem to have an engine to upload and thumbnail images, and that's a dealbreaker.

Yeah, I could manually thumbnail, but I'm not going to. It would take too long. So does manual uploading, for that matter. I suppose I could use MT to upload, and then post in Wordpress, but that's downright stupid and I won't do it.

I see there's a thumbnailing plugin out there (probably based on Imagemagick). But it needs someone else to upload things via FTP first. Which might be workable and might not be. But it brings to mind exactly what I would like in this functionality.

I would like, beyond anything else, to be able to input the URL of an image, have it find it, give me the dimensions of the image, and let me set the dimensions of the thumbnail. It then would save the thumbnail and let me put in the link to the page the original came from, and stick that into a post for me to write. Preferably with settings that would let me decide alignment, hspace and the like.

That would make my life tremendously easier, and it's vastly beyond my ability to code. And yet, I suspect it wouldn't be hard to code.

I wonder if there's anyone out there I could pay to do this thing for me. Thoughts?

It amazes me just how good a Flip Dr. Pill Mell makes.

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Oh! Um! Oh! (if you have a subscription to Modern Tales. Otherwise, click on the link for today's Narbonic!)

One of the seminal comic strips in history -- the strip people like me always bring up, whether you want to hear about it or not, dang it -- is Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay. Possessed of a sense of the surreal, a sense of wonder, and a terrific sense of humor, McKay's strip brought a real sense of dream logic -- which is to say, no logic at all -- to Nemo's adventures as he slept, with certain guideposts along the way. (A sign or indicator that reads "Wake Up" to end the strip with Nemo, possessing epic bedhead, sitting up after awakening with some pithy comment, for example.)

Well, Shaenon Garrity -- a person I have unhealthy adoration for at the quietest of times -- has captured the pure essence of McKay far far far better than any homage I've ever seen, with today's strip. That includes Neil Gaiman's take on Little Nemo in "The Doll's House" run of Sandman (which while brilliant sacrificed the essence of Little Nemo to make a chilling point about abuse -- and raised a dual symbolism for Jed's capture), and any number of affectionate turns. Garrity understands McKay, and what made Nemo work -- particularly what made the strips work as standalone pieces, even when McKay had continuity.

Through this all -- the Princess pining for her playmate, Flip/Mell's amused taunting, Dave rushing to join his playmate and running into himself in dreams, the awakening scene at the end -- there is that same sense of the surreal, the imagination unleashed. This is a dream. If you don't think these are hard, look at any given television script that includes a dream sequence (all right, excepting Sheridan's dream on Babylon 5, though that was more of a vision), and see how utterly literal they are. The worst one I've ever seen was on an episode of Enterprise, because it absolutely captured what doesn't work in scriptwriter dreams. It featured one of the characters having a meeting with a crewmember who had died, realizing it was a dream, and having a wholly logical and rational conversation before the obligatory "waking up before being forced to admit what they need to admit to make their tortured psyche all better" ending.

That's not how dreams go. Not even lucid ones. That was just a plot point, clumsily written. In seeing it done well here, both in terms of dream logic and in terms of a tribute to Windsor McKay, I find myself just plain happy. Especially when you consider that Dave's conversation with himself is a plot point that does reveal something key about Dave, his feelings towards his work and Helen, and even his Time Travel adventures.

And that's not bad for a Sunday morning, now is it?

EDIT: Looking at it again, Mell looks more like Flip and Dr. Pill kind of mashed together. The hat is all Dr. Pill, but the attitude is all Flip. The cigar is something of a toss up.

January 01, 2005

And a happy new year to all.

It's 2005. I have no joke here. I just hope this is a really good year for everyone.