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Friday, July 19, 2019

GIANT ROBOTS

Shown on this page are a number of covers of comics that feature Giant Robots as a major part of the story, as characters or vital actors of the drama.  Over time in the last 130 years the concept of robots being major parts of human existence has been in speculative literature.  Rules of how they must behave, what they must do, and other considerations, have been in the background or even actively in the current storyline... Robots have been considered servants, replacements for humans in work that requires labor, and, in much of the speculative fiction, they take the role of warrior in human conflict.

The role of warrior, even hero, has the been the role with the greatest amount of attention.  Giant robots are seen as being armored, powerful, and serve as warriors instead of the frail humans, which would thereby reduce the danger that humans face.  However, with all sides eventually armed with robot warriors, the trend is that the warrior robots are built larger, and with ever growing ability to destroy an opponent.  The world of giant robots seems pure, just metal fighting metal, but, the war from remote control does have other consequences.  These are civilian deaths, and there is a notion that, since the robots fight in human stead, are these robots heroic, or are they murderers, or, are they still but machines?

Comics have presented some exciting stories, many have a relation to being influenced by or created by Japanese writers/artists/comics.  Go Nagai might have created the template for Giant Robot stories, but, there have been many different aspects of the genre/subject matter.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is nearly all metaphor and direct allegory, but the rest of the comics shown tell a straight forward story of giant robots, as heroes, as villains. 


“Is this neuro-bot really supposed to be her, this creature, this thing, compiled of the ghosts of human data, the replicas of their past?”  Bremer Acosta


“The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.”  Norbert Wiener


“Sexed but sexless, the robots. Named but unnamed, and borrowing from humans everything but humanity, the robots stared at the nailed lids of their labeled F.O.B boxes, in a death that was not even a death, for there had never been a life.”  Ray Bradbury


“Can a robot be brave? Can it selflessly sacrifice? Can a robot, trained to identify and engage targets, have some sense of ethics or restraint?”  Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
 

"A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.   A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.   A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.   A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."  Isaac Asimov



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The OFFWORLDER PROJECT artist: JORDI ARMENGOL



I interviewed Mike Baron recently about the Indiegogo Project OFFWORLDER, and hoped that it might lead to people funding the book.  This interview features the artist on that book, Jordi Armengol.  He is Spanish, very talented and interesting.

How are you trained as an artist?  Was art an obvious talent you had, or, did you discover it later in your life?

I was almost born with a pencil in my hands. My mum always tells me she remembers me filling like crazy empty notebooks from my bigger brother before knowing how to walk. Later I studied in La LLotja School of arts in Barcelona.


What comic artists inspired you the most in development of style. What non comic artists form your influences?

I was raised reading comic books of Spider-man. At that time those were published in black and white by an editor in Spain. Probably that has influenced me for the years to come to develop better my artistry in black and white and Shadows. My master were indubitably Romita and Kirby when I was younger, and later Al Williamson, Paul Gulacy, John Byrne, Steranko, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Moebius and Barry Smith, mainly.

On non comic artists my major influences are Goya, Sorolla, Tapies and Schiele.

How did you come to be involved in Offworlder?

I showed my work in Rogues! from Amigo comics to Mike Baron himself, and probably that was the final reason to offer me to come on board. I had produced a couple of covers for Mike's books before.

Working with Mike Baron's script, how visual is it, or, does he give you the words and expects you to create from that point?  I guess I am asking, since we all know Mike is a fine writer, how does he work other than by grabbing the reader by the throat, as he so often says? Is it his detail, or is it the freedom he encourages you to express?

There are writers that want the artist to draw every detail on his script. But then you find Mike Baron, that he's been on the industry for thirty years and gives you total freedom to develop the pages. I wonder if working for so long with Steve Rude in Nexus is the reason. Anyway, he is a hell of a writer: the way he develops the dialogs and the relationships between the characters blows your mind. He needed to stay on ground to combine science fiction with credibility on these pages. And the result, I can tell you, grabs you by the throat. As a comic fan I can't wait to see Offworlder published.

Not going to ask the annoying geek question "Where do you get your ideas" question, but, as a visual artist what is your philosophy when it comes to sequential art. Is it more about detail and accuracy, or is movement and energy the key?  How did you come to develop your personal work aesthetic?

I've been always a comic fan, but also I love Cinema and Photography. Detail is important but there has to be movement in sequential art. Drawing is important but you need also to be good at telling stories. In comic book  I trust a lot in the idea that pages and panels need to flow, that you need to be able to understand most of the story without reading the text. When I was drawing Offworlder, I was thinking more and more of the artwork of Al Williamson in the adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. That art full of shadows but so realistic shocked me when I was a teen.


Is it difficult to develop a look, from another person's story, or, do you find being given a concept that things flow just as easily interpreting that vision?  Also, as it is a historical fiction work do you have volumes after volumes of reference material, or, do you have enough confidence in your work to know enough and to create the rest?

It is not so much hard for me to develop a look from another one's story. I can focus easily in putting what I read into images in my mind. The process of developing the panels then is easy. While I am reading the scripts, I like to get immersive into the story and let it flow in my mind. Probably it is because of my passion for cinema. The best reference for artists today and always is Reality. Internet helps not only with pictures but also with videos. And about the volumes, I think that when you are able to draw with black spots and shadows, you increase your speed for deadlines. Just look at some of Mignola's pencils.

Offworlder looks to be a violent, alien versus earth guy story. What are the aspects of the story that make the action more than noise?  Is this a nuanced work?  Or is it balls to the wall action end to end?

You have a very deep plot related to human relations and religious background. Not only Christian or Egyptian but also relating gods to alien cultures. The credibility of all of it, the way it is all bend together,it is Mike's work. A masterpiece, believe me.  Of course there is a is a lot of action. Lots of it. Comics are entertainment. But real history background is very present. 

I am familiar with European comics, what are some of your favorite works that are pecifically European?  2000AD, Humanoids,L'Association, Dargaud?

Those you talk about are editors like Marvel or Dc Comics, or Cautionary Comics. Talking about comics I was never an editor fan, or a character fan. I was always following artists and writers' work. In European comics my favorite has always been Moebius/ Jean Giraud, but then also Hugo Pratt, Manara, Boucq, Roger, Homs...



Beyond the work Offworlder, what kind of comics do you want to draw?  I know the super hero is less important in European (And Japanese) however wildly diverse and exciting they may be.  Is Fantasy and ScienceFiction genre comics your preferred area of work?
 

In Spain superhero comics are the most popular thing, followed by manga and then European stuff. I think Independent American comicsis the closest stuff you can find to European comics. But working for DC Comics or Marvel would be amazing. Batman, Daredevil and the Punisher have always been my favs. Image, Valiant Entertainment or Dark Horse Comics are editors that would be really nice to work with too. I love Science Fiction. And fantasy too. I am a fan of George R R Martin but also of Philip k Dick and William Gibson: I would have loved to work in the Alien comic series based on his movie script for Alien 3.

What advice for being a creative talent would you give other talents looking to create?

Never stop drawing. And never stop dreaming. There is a lot of hard work on sight but the reward is worth it.

GO CHECK OUT THE PROJECT: OFFWORLDER ON INDIEGOGO!!!!!!


Johnny Clegg has passed away

The world is one in which people struggle for freedom, kill one another, hate each other, and do things that make me question my and their sanity.  I took part in a couple protests of South Africa, Apartheid being one of the policies I found egregious.  I cried when Nelson Mandela was freed, and the world seemed a better place.

Johnny Clegg and his two bands, Juluka and Savuka was part of the cause to fight the racial injustice.  His bands had both black and white members, and sang about a multi cultural state that South Africa could become.

I am aware that South Africa has issues now.  Not only is their violence and racial attacks, the problem of AIDS remains, and so does wealth inequality.  I am not going to pretend it doesn't exist.  But I also think modern slavery was wrong.  Johnny Clegg died of Pancreatic Cancer and I want to make notice of it, because even if the world he helped change isn't perfect, it is better for many of its people.



Thursday, July 11, 2019

I might be wrong, but everyone else probably knows what is right

For every inarticulate moron who despises people who are not their own same skin color, not their orientation, not their idea of gender, there are people who are actually worse, they are articulate and have all of those horrible triggers.  I was angered when a retailer who supported my work, and most of the creative work from many if not all of the local talents, fired someone for not sharing the sensitivity towards others that the present societal norms demand.  For me it is about differences in outlook not changing overnight and a need to be sensitive to both ends of the issue in question. To me it was sacrificing a quality person because he was slow to change.  There is a concept that I've been told about. I am not the originator of it. The person was a numbers/stats guru who called it "statistical quickening".  Two quick points, that may have been a word he just invented to explain to the moody illogical poet his concept. And, prior to this what I was made to think quickening was, had to do with a male organ when it is happy.  Apparently when social change happens, it isn't over night, it just feels like that. Imagine that it requires 2/3rds of a public opinion to cause a social change.  If you have a globe and it spins perfectly, it would be a state of opinion to be 50/50.  If you have 100 units, with 50 on each side it spins, there is no great movement, of any sort, there is stasis.  But as events change the topic, more units are added to the side that represents a new idea.  By the time social change has happened, you've shifted little by little, until there is a wobble, and eventually, the wobble leads to the globe upending and an broken circle, where used to be a perfect circle.

Anytime a slow unseen change in itself causes a change, little by little views change, without most people realizing it, and then, in the span of one or two months of time, what took 50 years of effort seems to change in 2 months.  If the change happens in this way, I promise there will be people left behind just by virtue of the speed of change.  There will be people who never change their views.  Those people who are offended by the change either have to leave the social grouping, or they will become hardcore anti change cause warriors.  Some will fight, others speak, but when society has an upheaval and disruption due to a massive wave of social change, you are not dealing with a rebellion, you are dealing with a counter rebellion.  Since the counter rebellion is based upon keeping the society that is changing, the bitter, refuse to change, warriors might be more aggressive and more willing to fight to the end, because if they lose they are lost forever. 

I think we have a world that experienced numerous changes during the years of President Obama.  The first was the ultimate arrival of blacks as being equal to whites with the election of Obama.  Then there would be a variety of change in the realms of LGBTIQ being recognized, acknowledged, even to the extend of gay marriage arriving as being legitimate.  Lastly, there were numerous jobs opened to,  education opportunities for, and equal treatment of women.  All of the change, combined with the potential of greater change upon the horizon, led to two great things.  There was a feeling on the part of those who were in favor of change, that there was momentum, and it could not be stopped.  And there were those who voted for Trump, whatever they might have believed, because he promised to stop most of the momentum.  Momentum is an important concept here.  The quickening makes it feel unstoppable.  I think this partially contributed to the hatred of Trump, beyond the usual product of the divide in America.

How the statistical quickening functions in the changes in Nerd media is that by simple mathematics and changed social movements, no retailer could ever hold the line and keep the old gang in power.  The power of capitalism in regards to social change is really simple.  If you say we are going to ignore the groups who now have momentum, those groups will go to whatever retailer does not ignore them.  And by losing sales, losing their simple math of how to survive, they will change. The grudging but perhaps eventual complete adoption of the momentum groups, will add weight to the power of change, and this change that has happened will feel overnight. But it wasn't.  Gays and Lesbians openly fought for rights since the 1960s. Blacks have struggled for their rightful equality since they were stolen as slaves.  And women have been fighting the inequality since creation/ evolution/ origins sans reason. But fighting for the cause would not have happened without certain firsts, and Obama was the first that meant the most.  Everything changed after him.

A result of change has seen new loud angry people with access to blogs and public airwaves who choose to fight.  Many people, almost all of them bitter about the changes in society, write that Transgenders are freaks, and will write about them and their problems with absolute glee.  Because women are normal.  Blacks, for most people, are normal.  Gays are becoming more normal.  But Transgenders are people who visibly represent the change, and they are hated most of all for that.  They are not the rightful target.  The rightful target for the hatred of transgenders is the concept that humanity has come to a realization that humans are born with certain rights, certain dignity, and certain abilities, and that nothing can be done to stop that natural flow. The dissent from the mainstream happens from many different sources.  These are some examples of the dissent.

Author Germaine Greer is particular virulent in her debate against Transgender people

Vox Day speaks about race, is unashamed of the concept of "white culture".  He might be intelligent, he might be able, and he clearly is articulate.  I believe that he wants to hold to the world that once existed, not the one that does now.  I don't see him in the fully evil context others tell me has to be there.  But I am concerned enough, regardless of sincere caveats. 
 
YourRGPisshit was a blogging site that was carried out by someone who clearly hated people who were so called others.  But in gaming this is a more vile issue.  Vox Day is a writer, he fights outside of comics, or games, he is interested in fiction, but speaks about his views.  The writer on YourRpgisShit hid behind anonymous status.  And tried to suggest that Transgenders, LGBTQI, Women and various ethnic people had no right, no idea what real gaming could be.



I've written in a voice here that isn't aimed at emotional support for the mainstream or the counter revolution.  I think there needs to be nuance on all great debates. But ... if we are this great society where democracy allows the best idea to rise up because of the marketplace of ideas works, we need to talk.  We need to accept that some don't change, that some don't want change, they like breaking things... and some believe in change, we need to discuss it. The mantra I heard growing up was that deep down in everyone is the same. Well bullshit. We are nowhere near the same.  But we are all the same in deserving dignity, respect, and fairness.  We don't do that either, but we should.  I always knew gay marriage would break the hold religious values had upon society.  Not because of gays, but because as Americans we tend to want, at least, things to be fair.  And it became clear to me, you could not deny other Americans the right to marry, whatever their gender.  Hell, I was asked if we should then allow polygamy.  What the hell do I care?  I can't make one wife happy, let alone more than that.  So how will we fix things?  I think society, if the cause is right, fixes it.  And while I am not a great big capitalist, there are consequences, financially, from not doing the right thing. We just need to be aware that everyone doesn't change as easily as others do, nor for the same reasons.

And the employee who was slow to change? I've never seen more women and people of color and people of different orientations, genders, and outlooks at the store he was fired from.  I might not always see the big picture.  The big picture is, the employee was making known his refusal to change,  and by doing that people were going to go elsewhere.   However right I was that the person is a moral decent person, I know he is a good person, and had encyclopedic knowledge of comics.  He'll be missed, for those good portions.  He won't be missed for the public face of that store.  He was telling them by his words that everyone wasn't welcome.  That was not something you want for your company.  Anywhere.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Difference between Comic book Reviewers and Me


When I write articles about comic books, the reactions are rather extreme.  No, not like death threats extreme, but if I have an opinion I receive lots of responses, whatever the opinion is.  And some of the responses are why do you think you have a better opinion or reason to share it than anyone else.  Others suggest that they think what I suggest is good is almost always anything but that, and that they choose to read comics based on what I recommend, but, not by reading what I suggest is good, but instead reading anything but what I suggest.  I am aware that we are all different, nobody is the same in life experiences, knowledge, taste, or even, sadly, financial ability to buy whatever it might be that you would like to purchase.  Someone I know and love who buys lots of comics says I should write about them more, but then will list a couple hundred series of comics that I haven't mentioned or should mention... That is all well and fine, but he spends over 400 dollars a month on comics.  I don't receive review products.  I review only what I have personally purchased, or have been given by others.  My ability to present a complete list is partially effective, due to the financial costs of trying to read the best of the world of comics.  I am ok with this, but, it is a sad affair that I can't read everything, dammit.


A point to consider is the difference between reviewers and their reviews.  What does it matter what a reviewer thinks?  Well it depends of course.  The reason there are different opinions is that we are all different than one another.  A person who survived a death camp, would have a distinctly different outlook on Nazism, war, bigotry, than a person who never left their home, having been fed and pampered their entire life, and who never watched the news or read a book.  While that's an extreme example, we don't know what a reviewer has endured, has learned, and their existence, however cursed or blessed, is also different in the fact that they are reading, listening to, watching, or playing a product and sharing their view of it publicly.  All of this should be obvious.  But it isn't really. We hope that the reviewer is fair.  And they might be.  But there are more reviewers who have petty hatreds or jealousies than there are purely fair reviewers.  That doesn't mean even the most biased reviewer is of no value.  Because, for example, I am petty, I am not so much jealous, but if a creative artist has been an asshole to me, I cannot give them a proper review of their work.  I have tried, but it barely ever came out ok in the end.   I've known reviewers who outwardly said they loved an artist, writer, movie director, singer, band, when in fact they did not.  The supposed love for the artist made their views expressed thereafter have a sheen of fair.  But I want to say too, if someone really does love a creative talent's work or the creative talent, you have to ask if their review will be fair?


Someone I know shared a lot of areas of taste with me, and I was/am a fan of Peter Gabriel as he was.  He was so disappointed in the most recent release by Peter Gabriel that the review, of a good but imperfect CD was so negative you could never have told from the review that he had ever been a fan.  So, a reviewer who likes a particular creative talent stands to be disappointed by a work that wasn't great.  A reviewer who hates a creative talent, rightly or wrongly, ends up having no way to be pleased.  The Peter Gabriel fan friend was truly talented as a writer, and I liked him very much.  He passed away, and I miss him.  I bring him up only to point out that, even good reviewers can be biased in ways that those who do not know otherwise, might think was a good review.  I am not a reviewer, actually.  I've decided that what I do is present works to offer to the readers products that I think they should find and enjoy.  Since we live in a world of cynical people, there is an assumption that the motive I offer only product to read is that I am paid to do so.  That isn't true.


When I received review product to review I chose the best of it all and offered them to readers.  One publisher had work that was but for one series, out of my taste range.  I told the publisher not to send me more books, and they demanded a review of all of their product.  So, I chose three of the dozen and they were not happy reviews.  The publisher ceo wrote to me and said, Did you even read them?  Well, I had, and I was deeply disappointed in the fact that I'd spent the time reading them, and had to thereafter write about them.  So, I sent all of the books back to the publisher, upon my dime.  He wrote a hateful email, saying I was a shitty reviewer.  I might be.  But, what the point is, he sent two months later more comics from the series that I had liked.  Apparently I suck and should learn to read if I am going to review certain books.  But if I gave good reviews, then I was worthy of receiving more product... This isn't a complaint, at all, about the publisher, just to show, you can demand reviews, you can reward reviewers with more product, but you should listen to the reviewer if he says, I don't care for these, and I can't give you a fair review.  My taste range has actually stretched, different works challenged my taste and comfort areas.  One creative artist had works that were similar to Harvey Pekar's stories, and I did not, do not, like Pekar's work, but, they were well done, intelligent, and instead of being dark and humorless, they had a spirit of kindness and care for the characters every bit as much as for how the reader would respond.


MY LIFE

If you are a comic book or fiction writing creative talent with work out and want to be interviewed or have your work reviewed you are welcome to send me a message and we'll discuss how you go about that.  While I will review from PDF, I can tell you, I don't enjoy that process.  So, beyond just sending a pdf, if you are talking about wanting the best possible opportunity for me to speak to others about your work, you might prefer sending a hard copy of the product.  Is this fair?  Well, there are realities about what I do that you should be aware of.  I want to like your book, but, if the process of reading it sucks, how much better would it be if I read the real thing.  That is, you want a great response?  You need to optimize the chances.  I will be fair, I promise not to attack you or flat out say your work sucks.  But if it doesn't move me positively at all, I think you'd prefer no write up than one in the negative direction.  Again, it can be discussed.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Food and The American Empire Decay

Sir John Bagot Glubb was an Englishman who observed how empires would rise, and then fall.  He investigated the trends and themes of each stage, and I should say, America should worry.

1) First comes discovery, exploration, and pioneering.
2) Then comes the age of conquest and war for territory and to establish dominance.

3)Then that empire or nation will enter an age wealth and victory through commerce.
4)The age of affluence that follows leads to great comfort, and change for the better.
5)Then will rise an age of intellect and offering of higher learning as a means of betterment.
6) But the betterment and questioning of all things, along with various existential ponderings, will lead to an age of decadence.
7) At this point society has reached its height, and if nothing is changed, it will come that we've entered the terminal state of empires,  the age of decline and collapse.  

“Decadence is a moral and spiritual disease, resulting from too long a period of wealth and power, producing cynicism, decline of religion, pessimism and frivolity. The citizens of such a nation will no longer make an effort to save themselves, because they are not convinced that anything in life is worth saving.” John Bagot Glubb THE FATE OF EMPIRES

I've mentioned here that one area of decay in America has followed a path that attends all empires.  Bread for the masses keeps their bellies from growling.  Circus, or spectacle, allows them excitement of the most base sources.  Violence and Sexual indulgence, perhaps natural aspects of human character become exaggerated in importance, and a focus upon them leads to a loss of our natural shame for vulgarity, and there comes an attachment to desires that cause behaviors that are not supportive of intimacy, nor healthy behavior.  Acts of constant war accompanies all aspects of the fall of the empire.  Borders need to be held, keeping others from the heart of the empire, maintaining material resources, and the need to maintain the society's greatness through dominance and aggression, all lead to a need for a permanent military, and a presence of the military in the government.  Lastly, drugs and alcohol abuse and use are prevalent, and the attachment to such inebriants gives a sense of security and comfort that used to be served by the parents and family, or even, the greater society.

America is in decline, if it is an empire on the permanent slide, that isn't my point.  And, although there will be people disagreeing here, this isn't saying we are evil or decadent.  It is saying that when society/civilization reaches a certain level of greatness, the prosperity incumbent, the perception of being in a society that is great leads to arrogance, and the lack of struggle of the preceding generations allows us to spend the surplus wealth that is no longer needed to rise above simple existence.

Whether we love the bloody spectacle of UFC, or watch pornography of ever more open display of formerly intimate behaviors, whether we hold the extremes any amount of desirable, or whether we love our decadence, society does revel in certain aspects of a declining society.  But how does food and focus upon the opulence and extreme offerings of expert chefs make us part of an empire in decline?

I don't, altogether, think that it does mean we are in decline.  I think this not because I am fat, which I am.  I don't say this because I own a restaurant or work as a chef.  I think this is an aspect of the fall of empire that is overstated, and does not honestly represent most or even many people.  It is true that emperors of Rome ate food from across the reach of their empire and that of those who traded with Rome.  Pickled tongues of giraffes or liver of eel from Iran, were outside of the food available to almost anyone, but it was eaten, like the foie gras fed to the emperor's dogs, because they could.  It represented wealth and power.

Well when I eat sushi, no matter how others see it, I eat it because I love Japan, and I love the food from Japan, and it tastes good.  To me it isn't a triumph over the poor, or of those who can't afford it as well.  Those who do feel that, are likely such a small minority, they are not influential in the total of that empire, or society or general civilization. I like food, and I am fat, but it is not my opiate.  Hell Opiates are my opiate.  But I will say, there are people called foodies, who might be seen as those who revel in the eating of oddities, or pursuit of gluttony, or even, the prevalence of eating contests, might represent a growing trend, but I think that they might all be innocent.  It depends on if people are eating to live, or living to eat.

I used to write restaurant reviews, and was asked to both write a recipe book, and to be involved in a casual dining restaurant by developing the recipes used.  I love cooking.  But, you'll never see me rob my child's college fund so that I might go to a restaurant.  Food is what we eat.  There is a line that I think society has not crossed, gluttony.  Food is a comfort, food is pleasure, but, we've not arrived to a place that we celebrate the lack others experience due to the consumption we have done.  It is not yet a pathological issue.

In the future I will be adding here reviews of food, restaurants, television programs devoted to cooking, eating, or contests.  We all eat.



Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mid Summer Fantasy Readathon

MORE FANTASY
 
Click on all images for original size

It's odd, because it seems that every time I mention getting emails people send me emails saying how hard it was finding my email.  It is kind of the chicken and egg scenario. To make it easier, my email is AlexanderNess63@gmail.com.  I could tell you the email of my partner Kurt Wilcken, but if I did I'd have to kill you thereafter.  So we'll leave that for now.

I received quite a number of emails regarding the last article about fantasy as a genre.  More than anything the emailers asked very specifically, what are some books featuring short stories, limited series or collections as opposed to many volume length sagas, perhaps a response to Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time length series.  However good the Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones are, and I am saying nothing about quality, we live in a world where we seem to be migrating towards 140 character tweets, video clips, texting, and our focus is narrowed. So, this article will show some collected works that are self contained, satisfying, and offer more if you wish to pursue such.  This isn't saying these are the greatest works of fiction in the fantasy genre, just that, if you go to Amazon or Ebay, or a paperback exchange, you can probably find tons of these books, at a reasonable price, and you'll find a reward for your reading of good to great entertainment.Of course your mileage may vary.

One of the common lessons for writers is make the readers love or hate your characters, because they'll see the world through those eyes.  And I think the best of these works shown have great characters.  I also think that in our own lives, which are the source of knowledge and experience,  the best stories might have thoroughly despicable horribly flawed humans who would lead to disgust and disdain, if their story were told.  And yet, it isn't our victories or defeats that reveal our character, I think it is entirely possible to tell a story of epic quality without great characters.  I think we all have potential heroism or evil within us, and any great story will have those qualities.

MARGARET WEIS AND TRACY HICKMAN
THE DRAGONLANCE SAGA and DARK SWORD TRILOGY

This might be the most difficult and expensive of the collections to find, but I've seen all of these books at bookstores, for about $15 each.  Good luck finding them if you decide to try them out!

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman  are talented authors, their greatest talent, from my reading, is composing a work that has tangible world and with a sense of history, geography, as well as heroism, as well as villainous behavior. More so, while it didn't move me for reasons of such, the DragonLance stories could be viewed in a context of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons statistics, and they can be played using the various game campaigns and manuals to reproduce.  I am not someone who ever tried to play the iconic characters from fiction in role playing adventures, since for me the point is writing your own characters.  DragonLance's world of Krynn possessed unique races, legends, lore, and worth exploring.  While over 150 novels have come out for the series, finding and or buying the three omnibus books would give you a healthy amount of tales.  The Dark Sword trilogy is an interesting story that features a magical world, a magicless man, and the prophecies how the one without magic will change or destroy the world.  It was a fun read.

ELIZABETH MOON
GIRD AND PAKSINARRION

The greatest aspect of the characters of Elizabeth Moon is found in the inner qualities they possess, and the military realism of the setting, wherein the characters are forced to fight and perhaps die for others.  The world she creates here is fully realized, and the characters she creates have motives and reasons for all they do that are consistent, and thorough.  The world of Gird and Paks feels real, so every action that takes place has an impact that is felt by the reader, as if their own world is the one experienced.

DENNIS MCKIERNAN
MITHGAR

I've read numerous snobbish reviews of the Iron Tower trilogy of Dennis McKiernan, and most say nothing more than "this is an epic quest such as Tolkien and others might have composed".  Well, for me, those are false in aim, and are of a sort of review that is unworthy of the work.  In no way did McKiernan suggest the concept was original.  But it was original in adding pure and true emotional energy to the epic clash between good and evil.  The two omnibus suggested for your quest have two distinct, powerful, fun quests. Beyond the two omnibuses suggested McKiernan has many books that fill his world of Mithgar, and while I have not read all of them, all that I have read are fun, and worth the time I'd spent reading them.


URSULA K. LE GUIN  THE EARTHSEA 

As I've shared before, I am a sucker for great cover art. The original art for the EarthSea books moved me, and that artist's work was used for books that were ancillary to the central series.  While I was not immediately excited about the work as much as the art on the outside of the book, I was stunned by the depth of characters, Le Guin's amazing ability to create a setting, and create real feeling events in their life made this series an epic of quality.  There have been attempts to adapt it, but it was never good.  While some books can't be adapted for the idiosyncratic aspects of their totality, Earthsea wasn't about a single character, it wasn't about a water world or medieval fantasy setting.  It was a beautiful 3 book length poem, without rhyme or form.  It was beauty in words.

ANNE MCCAFFREY 
DRAGONS OF PERN

If you are fascinated by dragons, if you like strong women lead characters, and if you like worlds that are similar to our own but composed in an entirely different fashion than our own, Anne McCaffrey's work should inspire you. Although it is rarely spoken of, the commonly held tropes of fantasy are rather limited in Pern.  The writing has been referred to as lyrical and layered in soft, sensuality without it being erotic or sexual.  The world of Pern possesses medieval era towns and fortress cities, anachronistic technology, and four distinct groups of humans.  Dragons are the power, but there are humans who can control them.  There is a complexity of story, where allegiance and control are a dance, and all inhabitants of the world face similar threats, despite the particular sides of conflict.


R.A. SALVATORE
DRIZZT DO'URDEN

I like the work of R.A. Salvatore.  He has a range of skills that allows him to depict action, show emotions, express romance, and creates characters that resonate.  The major character he has created is the lead throughout many of his works is a dark elf, talented and dangerous, from the Underdark Realms where evil and darkness is the constant.  Drizzt Do'Urden is not a hulking beast of a warrior, he is fast, agile, and almost dancer like in his enormous grace.  He also is moral, in an exceedingly immoral world, and from a place where morals are counted as weakness.  There is a lesser dealt with context of how a dark elf exists in a world of prejudice towards those of his kind.  However, the issue there is that the vast majority of dark elves are completely evil.  So, this aspect of the character's story has to be exceptionally nuanced, because if you are the sole exception, or nearly so, it isn't a stereotype held against a race, but a common trait.  The omnibus collections mean you can find a work, read a work that presents a character who inspires, excites, and deserves being in the pantheon of great characters of fantasy.


MICHAEL MOORCOCK
ELRIC AND CORUM

I could tell you how great of a writer Michael Moorcock is, and I think it could be easily proven to be true.  But he writes characters that do not resonate with me.  However, if you are moved by people without those danged morals or haughty high goals, he writes for you.  I do like comic book adaptations of his work, so, I think there is something in his work that is perfectly interesting, and the characters are facing a higher enemy than simply angry men.  Elric is the final monarch of a dying race, and his heart, though he wishes to be more than a member of race of extreme high levels of development in magic and court ritual.  He is unable to move beyond because he is a tragic prince, fated to kill, destroy, and cause the end of an age.  This weighs upon him deeply.  Corum is a member of a hunted people, and he goes through torture and horrors while fighting those who destroyed his people.  All of the characters of Moorcock have a great canvas upon which they are painted.  For me, the stories are great, the characters are very powerfully written, I guess I just like morals and honor. 


LORD DUNSANY
TIME AND GODS

Anyone reading Lord Dunsany and liking it probably loves the English language.  He told stories with a lush language, rich in detail, and concepts that were idealistic in its moral heights, and demonic in the evil when faced or found.  I can say for me, his works are book length poems, with characters that challenge the common hero. They have flaws, but more so, they have flaws that should mean they never are able to rise above and defeat the foe.  Time and Gods is a title that reflects the powers we do not command, that affect every life upon the planet.  His mythic tales move me spiritually, and even when poetry is not able to move my heart, Dunsany tales lift me above the horizon.  As with every author, your mileage might vary.


FRITZ LEIBER
FAFHRD GRAY MOUSER

I included Fritz Leiber's works because they utilize short stories and delightful tales.  But I've read that there are modern readers who think them sexist, and that women are ornaments rather than fully able humans. I can see that. However, I read stories from many eras and think them all products of the era they were written in.  For what they are Leiber's characters are fully wrought, funny, interesting, and worthy of being read.  A giant of a man who has skills more than simply of that of a warrior, and small male friend, a master thief, and charismatic sort, who is a great swordsman.  These two lost souls meet and become strongest of friends and allies. Lankhmar is an ancient city within which they explore, scandal, discovery and adventure.  It is filled with secret cults, undead beasts, and the most dangerous of sorcerers.  If you like great writing and can forgive the limitations, I recommend Leiber's work.

ROBERT E. HOWARD
CONAN AND ASSORTED SHORT STORIES

Robert E. Howard is probably in my top five authors of all time. While I realize his work isn't seen by many high minded critics as great literature, few writers, let alone any of those same critics have created nearly so memorable a group of characters.   There are more than one collections of Conan, while he wrote numerous stories only a few were of Conan.  His short stories are fabulous, cover horror, western, historical, fantasy, and even boxing and big game hunt.  He has a way that is direct, perfect in action descriptions, and resonates I think in ways that we often think are not modern.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

RPGs changed your entertainment world

Roleplaying games have a relatively short history, in terms of books, dice, paper and pencils.  While many give people like Gary Gygax of TSR fame most of the credit, that would be wrong.  There were others like Dave Arneson, M.A.R. Barker, Ken St. Andre, who all created worlds and rules to experience them, similar towards, superior to, perhaps they were even independent of contact with Gygax.  I am not attacking Gary Gygax, what he did was absorb all of the ideas he came in contact with and place them in a context that was to become the template for all games thereafter.  However changed, they had an origin, and usually were variations upon his publishing product. *1 (I am fortunate to have interviewed both Gary Gygax and Ken St. Andre.  While the Gygax interview was lost when PopThought was hacked, the St. Andre interview is still on this site.)  From the middle 1970s companies such as TSR, Chaosium, Flying Buffalo, White Wolf, Game Designer's Workshop, Game Workshop, R. Talsorian Games, Steve Jackson Games, Fantasy Games Unlimited, Atlas Games and many more contributed to providing an enormous choice of systems, settings, and games.  Games such Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Runequest, Ars Magica, Chivalry and Sorcery, Arduin, Talislanta, Empire of the Petal Throne, Jorune, and many more offered worlds and systems to explore, conquer, build for players of all sorts of interests.

Some will point to an origin of the concepts of fantasy, in the original literature of such, as found with J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Lord Dunsany, Poul Anderson, Ursula K. LeGuin, C.J. Cherryh, Michael Moorcock, and of course many more.  While these are all great writers, with impact upon the concept of fantasy, they weren't placing their work in a concept of how to play or live or adventure in their worlds.  If you assume all fiction is in various ways open to development and open to being playable, perhaps it might be, it is still not the same as having a game to adapt such fiction for use.


You might ask what is the big deal with this all, it is just a game, right?  Well, no.  It isn't.  The concepts of all these game creators and world designers weren't just one and done, played and left behind.  They inspired much of the fantasy RPGs on computer and video games.  Even if the games have internal algorithms to decide outcomes, they use the same concepts that the original game creators used.  Knowing all this might be simply extra facts to you.  You might have use of it, or probably don't.  That isn't important.  What is important, is that in this throw away society we ignore those who created what we wish to play, read, watch, listen to, and perhaps do so so we won't think about the cost of being a creative talent. *2

I am also pointing this out because society tends to look at things backward.  Examples would be, the movie Andromeda Strain is just like Outbreak.  Or, the Spartans remind me of Nazis.  But that is, of course, backwards.  And yet, it happens all the time.  Even more oddly to me, I've met born again Christians who tell me playing Dungeons and Dragons is evil, or from the devil. Yet, they watch fantasy movies, read fantasy books, and play video games based upon the concepts that Dungeons and Dragons used, and popularized. If you are playing a fantasy adventure game, in video or computer game form, think about the facts of what went into your being able to play it.

Lastly I suggest that without the doors opened by fantasy RPGs to the common person, we might never have had the film series of Lord of the Rings, nor perhaps Game of Thrones.  It bears consideration, what effect the power of creative role playing has had throughout all media.

1- The Interview with Ken St. Andre
2- Mass interview about Gary Friedrich deals with Marvel

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

WHAT IF War Comics, Updated and Revised edition


I was asked by someone following the release of the recent two articles here featuring comic book dystopias and utopias, if there were comics that asked WHAT IFs about World War Two.  This then is a reprint of an article, but updated to reflect more books to consider.


As a historian I have always had an interest in the conflicts of humankind.  War is savage, brutal, terrible, and it is something that you cannot look away from.  It involves us all, and if we watch as wars happen and have no passion or sorrow, we really have no heart.  One of the ways of measuring the impact of wars, is to demonstrate what would have happened had the event in question not had the result that in reality it did.  What if George Washington had been killed at the battle of Trenton.  What if America never entered the First World War?  What if King Harold was not shot throw the eye and died at the battle of Hastings?  Every change has an effect down the line.  What Ifs, or, Alternative History allows the viewer, from scholar down to casual reader, to see the importance of what actually happened. World War Two was a savage, world wide war, that saw the deaths of more than 60 million humans.


In Storming Paradise by Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice, DC Comics, present a story of enormous change.  First the Manhattan Project fails.  Then the Americans are forced to invade Japan, and find a country that is stubborn and unyielding.  There is no doubt that the atomic bombs were horrific.  But the consequences of failure of the Manhattan Project allows the reader to see how horrible the invasion and result would surely be.


In the Avatar Press series UBER by Kieron Gillen and Canaan White, the end of the war is seen within the grasp of the Allies, when a final wonder weapon is unleashed.  This wonder weapon is not a missile, a giant tank, or new bomb.  It is people who are imbued with super powers, and they are unleashed upon the forces of the Allies, to enormous grievous loss to Allied troops.  The only answer, to the Allies, is that they must develop a similar program and fight fire with fire.


Roy Thomas's Anthem is another superhero story, with a setting of the streets and sewers of America, where the super heroes had to flee at first to escape the Nazi juggernaut as it invaded the US, and succeeded.  Roy Thomas's other comic work often featured WWII, and for my money it was magnificent.  But in this case, sadly, Roy Thomas was given artists who, if talented, were so raw, that much of the time the story was lost for the lack of art skills.  The concept however, and the setting is worthy of being read.  Although I suspect it is hard to find, and won't be expensive, it is a work that leaves the reader both intrigued and frustrated.


Luftwaffe 1946 is by Ted Nomura and Ben Dunn, through Antarctic Press.  The work is somewhat less serious than it should be, but, this work shows the evolution of warfare should the Nazis have held out, and the world not be finished with war, either in Europe or Asia/Pacific.  The fears of how the Nazis might explode, innovating new and deadlier technology is only made worse by the realization that the Holocaust would have been over, not due to liberation, but by completing their endeavor to destroy the Jews.  I liked this series, and rarely had issues with anything technical. 


Ministry of Space from Image Comics, sees the war in Europe end differently than in reality.  This difference, which I do not wish to spoil, save to say, somehow the Nazi scientists are recovered by the British rather than the Americans, and the British use this technological explosion to become the first nation into space, and beyond.  The writing by Warren Ellis is smooth, and very much able to tell a story that is less ingenious as it is seamless.  The art, that of humans in the military and the machinery of the Ministry of Space, is amazingly drawn, by Chris Weston.  With his penchant for knowing how to depict military machinery and detail every aspect of the world, allows the reader to suspend every ounce of disbelief.  While some reviewers found the end of the work somewhat glib and heavy handed, it worked for me, because the verisimilitude that had been created.  All in all, this work is among my favorites of all time.  Your mileage may vary.


Royals: Masters of War was an exciting, if limited story about the super humans who won World War  Two.  It doesn't really break new ground of any sort, but it is entirely worth reading.


World War 2.2 asks a very important question, if Hitler had died at the start of the Second World War would the Germans have stopped the war, would they have gone on to fight essentially the same war, or would the lack of Hitler in fact improve the result for the Germans, and against the well being of the rest of Europe?