Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Timothy Truman's CONAN THE CIMMERIAN



CONAN THE CIMMERIAN

When Dark Horse Comics sent me a package of Conan and assorted books to review, I was in a place that was very difficult. Not for what they’d sent but for the fact that I was writing a long article, and wanted to review fantasy heroes and they were kind enough to send me some things to review in that vein, and then I nearly died, ... THREE TIMES. My appendix blew, I had two massive infections, and all my work began to overflow, since my schedule and life had been turned upside down. And I gave up on the very long article in the midst of one of the infections because I couldn’t think straight. 3000 words of musings about fantasy as a genre shot to hell. So when the new Conan series began I decided to buy them and review them to say thanks to Dark Horse and to catch on to what they were going to do, with a new #1.

So with the solicit information below this, I want to say that Timothy Truman is very much the writer of Conan that RE Howard would have wished to adapt his work. Conan is not a mindless barbaric warrior. He is not an ape with a sword. He does not dance about issues, he is a plain speaker and desires nothing more from others. In these issues Truman never once makes Conan say something that I couldn’t see REH writing himself. The art is quite good, but perhaps less to my taste as Truman’s writing. But that is irrelevant. Altogether the two comics (three if you include the variant cover) were well done and worthy of the new numbering. Which begs the question, why start over with a new number one? In today’s market we are flooded with comics that start but get canceled or are lost in the mists of diamond’s system. Number one issues are easy sellers, but when there is no real difference in tone or talent, why do it? Ultimately the work deserves attention, and if new numbering works, go for it. I could read Truman’s Conan in mini series, regular series, prestige series, limited prestige series, maxi series and more. Frankly he gets it. He truly gets it. And I love that.

FromDARK HORSE

Conan the Cimmerian #0
Writer: Timothy Truman
Penciler: Tomàs Giorello
Colorist José Villarrubia
Cover Artist: Tomàs Giorello

“Conan the Cimmerian #0 marks a transitional period in young Conan's life, as he spurns the magicians, turncoats, and legal trappings of the cities he's seen in order to return to the beloved northern frontiers of Cimmeria, where he was born and raised. It also marks a turning point in the artistic muscle that will fuel Conan's adventures throughout 2008 and beyond.”

Conan the Cimmerian #1
Writer: Timothy Truman
Penciler: Tomàs Giorello, Richard Corben
Inker: Richard Corben
Colorist Jose Villarrubia
Cover Artist: Frank Cho
Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

“Conan home with a crack to the head, and another begins to weave a tale about Conan's grandfather--another Cimmerian who was filled with wanderlust.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Myth works however it damn well pleases.

I wrote previously about myths and how they lay the cultural foundation for the society that follows. This isn’t to suggest that they are factually real, because while there might be a historical figure or event, what the masses remember is the portions they “believe” in. This happens not because people are weak minded or eager to ignore the portions of the story that they don't believe in, but rather because the fluid form of myth offers people the ability to accept the portions of the story that seem right. Also, myth works in our minds because we do not need the whole story to understand portions of it.

A legendary story from India...

“Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.

The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

A wise man explained to them: All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned”


This also argues how various people can be confronted by the same truth and see different answers coming from it. In 1988 I witnessed a debate and rather than discuss the subject of the debate, I suggest you should look at the poll that was seen as proving two very different viewpoints. The poll information showed that when asked that 30 % of people said no, 30% of people said only under certain conditions, and 40% said yes. One politician said the numbers showed that 60% of Americans agreed that the subject in question was wrong in most circumstances. On the other side it was argued that 70% of Americans agreed that the subject in question should be allowed. Both sides saw the same poll and had vastly different views of it.

There is also said to be no point in shooting down theories and beliefs dealing with mythic figures or events. Rationalism and logic only serve to point out that if you dissect something the life in it is gone.

This is not the same by the way as religious thought and claims being dissected by scientific methods and analysis. Religious claims and thought form the basis of belief and therefore there is an invitation to think and dissect and discuss further upon in. Myth is not something you are “supposed” to have belief or faith in. When you dissect myth it remains because it was never what someone thought it was anyway. When you dissect religion, however you do, it comes back to the individual with faith saying I believe it because I do, or I believe it because I had a religious experience that proved it. While the scientist might completely disbelieve such a claim, they can in no way disprove it. As well, when a person claims there is a God or not a God short of a miraculous occurrence to support it, or to deny it, the point is really mute outside of the belief or disbelief of those making the claim.

I realize it is silly, and I am somewhat embarrassed to say, I developed a superstition when I was a rabid fan of the Minnesota Twins. There arose a pattern that if I left the room where I listened to the game, the other team would score, or worse if I did not somehow listen to the game at all the Twins would lose. I am completely aware that I was using magical thinking, and the poor Twins of 1980 and 1981 really didn’t do very well even if it was true, I missed only 5 or 6 games and they had a record 77-84, and then 41-68. Logic would suggest that I should never have developed such a superstition, but then secondary beliefs roll in. And really, I loved listening to the games so why not?

And then in 1987 I was made very happy, and also in 1991.

The point of this all is to say that myth functions basically however it works in your mind. Rational views towards it tend to fail because myth and religion function on different levels, and one requires faith and the other requires nothing more than thinking it possible.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

At last, we can now know who would win between Pitt and Charizard.
When the original Super Smash Bros. was released for the N64 (Nintendo 64 for all you people who have been under a rock), some dismissed it as Nintendo’s attempt to cash in on the fighting game craze that was sweeping the video game community at the time. When I first played it, I enjoyed the crossover aspect and simple fighting mechanics. Then, years later when the first whiff of the GameCube crossed my path, I heard about Super Smash Bros. Melee.
See, Nintendo had discovered the true potential of the Smash Bros. series. From twelve characters to choose from to twenty-six, the game had beefed up considerably. And since Super Smash Bros. Melee was the best selling Gamecube game by a wide margin, the big N knew what it needed with a sequel.
Anyone who has played either of the two previous Smash Bros. will be immediately comfortable with the basic gameplay in Brawl. Up to four characters are dropped into an arena modeled after a particular Nintendo location, at which point they all begin wailing on each other in an attempt to knock one another off the sides, top, or bottom of the screen (resulting in constant glorious mayhem). As a character is struck his or her percentage counter, located at the bottom of the screen, begins to accumulate. The higher the percentage the more easily that character is knocked around. At 15% a character will hold his ground like a hardened warrior, but at say, 150%, even the lightest of taps will send him flying across the screen.
And for you non-N fans (shame on you), you’ve actually been included this time. As I'm sure you know by now, both Konami's Solid Snake, and one time Nintendo archrival Sonic the Hedgehog are both playable in Brawl. This opens up some very interesting possibilities that I'll get into later, but suffice to say both characters have appropriate fighting styles and fit in well with the rest of the cast.
While the number of playable characters hasn’t increased by much from Melee, Nintendo has thrown in a new feature called Assist Trophies. Assist Trophies are items that drop randomly throughout matches and, much like Pokeballs, can be broken open to release a character that will usually aid his liberator. However, unlike Pokeballs, Assist Trophies summon a random character from the entire Nintendo universe.

Another thing Brawl has is the new adventure mode, called Subspace Emissary. And, it actually has a pretty cool storyline to it! The player controls the Nintendo heroes as they adventure across a series of simple platformer levels attempting to repel the invaders and discover the reason they are being attacked, all the while joining forces with or battling against the other playable characters. Despite the fact that the game isn't quite designed to be played as a platformer, overall it's a fun little romp, and there are some distinctly hilarious moments when various Nintendo characters from drastically disparate series meet. Seeing Samus and Pikachu charging down a corridor blasting the crap out of everything in site, as well as Link and Yoshi in the same screen as each other are two memories I won’t forget soon.

And of course no Smash Bros. fan service feast would be complete without the beloved trophies. Once again there are several hundred to collect either via meeting specific conditions, picking them up in Subspace Emissary, or using your accumulated coins to shoot them in a weird little Missile Command-esque shooting game.
Perhaps the most exciting piece of fan service, though, is the soundtrack. Brawl's soundtrack is a monster, with well over two hundred tracks taken from dozens of different Nintendo titles. Many of them have been remixed or given an orchestral twist by famous game music composers, and it's a real treat to hear them blaring out in the heat of battle. However, at the start of the game you don't have access to the entire soundtrack, and in order to accumulate more tunes you have to pick up dropped CDs in essentially the same manner as trophies and stickers. Trust me, it's worth it.


All in all, the Smash Bros. series helpfully reminds you that your interests haven’t changed since you were ten. Everyone still likes beating up characters, but when you add the fact that they are Nintendo characters, it becomes a complete and pure joy to play.
Bottom line? Buy this game. Now.

And who doesn't want to hear this when they fire up the game? This is just way too freakin' cool:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Review: CONAN AND THE MIDNIGHT GOD



From DARK HORSE

CONAN AND THE MIDNIGHT GOD TPB

Joshua Dysart, Will Conrad




“Conan has won the throne of Aquilonia and the hand of the beautiful Zenobia. With a kingdom to rule and an heir on the way, will the Cimmerian finally put up his sword for good? Don't bet on it. When his bride and country are attacked by a sinister Stygian sorcerer, Conan strikes back at Stygia with all his might - and the might of Aquilonia - in a move that threatens to throw all Hyboria into chaos!”



This is an old Conan we are seeing, and it is very cool to see an angry, old crusty King who faces a hated sorcerer again, and has to be ruthless. Joshua Dysart is about as wonderful to chat as I know in the industry, his work runs the gauntlet between dark and playful, violent and serene. This work is one where I just adored what I was seeing, even if I was not sure it was what Robert E. Howard might have done with his character. For example, while this is supposedly an older and settled in life Conan, he is much less wise than normal. However, while this Conan seems more rash than most depictions, at least in his reactions and decisions, I think an old Conan fighting his eternal source of anger, his traditional enemy, SORCERERS is great fun. He travels across territories, leaves his own homeland open to invasion, all to avenge himself against a single sorcerer. The eldritch witchcraft and unholy God, reminded me that this book felt also darker and gloomier in some manner similar to Howard’s work in the Cthulhu mythos, violent and without hope in many ways. There is very little here to not recommend, the art is good, moody and strikes a tone that is perfect for the story. The writing is very good. Altogether while slightly imperfect, this is a book I liked, and am grateful to have read it for review.

More Horror being brought from the US to Europe

No we are not sending Roseanne Barr to Europe...

This is a press release from Hart D. Fisher's company, the same fellow who is bringing Joe Monk's THE BUNKER to European television and thereafter I hope to the US. Unlike my previous post regarding Joe Monks, who I respect and adore, I know neither John Specht nor Hart D. Fisher, (although I know Fisher by reputation). However, I think this is nonetheless interesting and I will look forward to seeing how it grows.

JOHN SPECHT JOINS AMERICAN HORRORS St. Louis filmmaker joins the new American Horrors production team

LOS ANGELES, CA- Crime Pays, Inc. founder and president, Hart D. Fisher has announced the latest addition to his American Horrors television production team, St. Louis, Missouri's most successful independent filmmaker, John "Insaniac" Specht. "John brings a hunger and vision to filmmaking that sets him apart from the rest of the herd," Says series producer Hart D. Fisher. "Through John, and other filmmakers like him, I intend to bring my production dollars and television exposure to the heartland of America where the blood is thicker and hearts beat stronger." Currently on location in St. Louis filming a one hour mini-feature for the new European television program, Project 22: Savage Breed, Mr. Specht was very excited to be a part of the American Horrors team. "I've been a fan of Hart Fisher's work and his publishing company Boneyard Press for a long time, for me to be his first round draft pick for his new European television series, that's a real honor," Says Specht. "My entire team is humming and ready to show the world what we can do. This is exactly what I've been working towards." Fisher is currently seeking out more indie filmmakers, feature films, shorts and horror-themed music videos for broadcast on American Horrors. For those interested in obtaining more information on American Horrors or wishing to submit their work for review contact them at: this link.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jon Stewart

People might be interested in reading this article from the New York Times about Jon Stewart. It is titled Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?
You probably will need to login at the NYT site to read the article. I have only been watching The Daily Show for a couple of years now and I am continually amazed by the show. At one time it was a joke that people used The Daily Show as their main source of news. Now, it really isn't a joke as you can learn a lot fo what is really going on by watching the show.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pirates: At World’s End

It is a well known fact that any big budget movie that rakes in the cash at the box-office will soon be followed by a video game version that will strive to grab even more money off of us crazy, gibbering, wild-eyed consumers. Unfortunately, these movie-to-game conversions are always crap. Nearly.

So along came the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a series of films that started out great, finished off merely okay, but, most importantly, ran off with so much loot from viewers that it would make Captain Jack Sparrow himself cry tears of joy into his bottle of rum. The video games to follow were inevitable, and now here we are already up to the game based on the last of the initial (sigh) Pirate movies, "At World's End".

If you were ever to compile a list of the greatest movie-based games ever, At World's End wouldn't even be fit to glimpse the very end of such a list.

Even though the game is titled "At World's End", the story starts from the beginning of the second movie and goes through to the end of the third; so in other words, you have to suffer through the events of two movies. Oh joy. If you've seen the movies you already know the plot of the game, but that doesn't mean you still won't get confused after watching all the disjointed cut scenes. For instance, in the first level you control Jack, and have to escape from prison. Then, for the second level, you suddenly find yourself playing as Will Turner, and you watch a scene that shows him rescuing Jack from being roasted over a fire.

Soon things will make about as much sense to you as a random episode of the appropriately-named Lost.
The gameplay consists of controlling Jack, Will, Barbosa, or Elizabeth and moving them through various locations from the movie, battling opponents, smashing open the odd crate and doing occasional side quests. For some reason, characters can't jump, and I am fairly confident in the thought that the decision to keep the character grounded was made solely to keep the player firmly in the level's confines, and save on time needed to design additional barriers to keep people from trying to actually explore the game world.

I had heard that the sword fighting was meant to be easy, but the A.I. I fought seemed to be firmly on to the fact that I was trying to finish the game as quickly as possible to get it over with, and constantly blocked just about all of my attacks. If that wasn't bad enough, my enemies sported an extremely nasty habit of jumping in at any opportunity to stab me through the chest while I was busy dueling with someone else or trying to operate some lever. Why couldn't they act like they do in all sword fighting movies, where they all stand back and simply watch as the hero duels with another enemy one-on-one?! And please don't tell me that this is where developers felt they needed to reflect the realism of pirate life! This is from the people who created the jump-less pirate?! YEAH.
The only thing worse than playing a bad game is playing a bad game that kicks your butt unfairly, and here Pirates delivers in spades.

Lazy development abounds, with a lot of key scenes from the movie absent, and other scenes taking cheap "reduce the animation" excuses, like showing your ship sailing away with character's voices played over it. Even when you finish the game (and then shout a whoop of joy and do cartwheels around the room), the lazy developers simply paste the credits over the screen you see when you're at the main menu!

Perhaps the greatest parts of the game lie in the "Jackanisms", which are scenes that play out where you have to press a button on the controller when prompted, and if you get it right you see some great displays of sword play and aerobatics. It's ironic, though, that the best part of the game is that which you don't have much control over.

If you're reading this review and still want to go buy the game, then go ahead, with my blessings. Just promise me you'll at least try not to buy the game at full price - for that truly is piracy - and I'll promise to keep your secret for 3 days. That ought be long enough to drive you back to the store, whimpering, to return it.

Bottom line? Don’t buy. Don’t rent. Avoid.

UPON THE MYTHS OF OUR POPULAR CULTURES



The underpinnings of Culture (and popular culture in particular) are often found in the myths that linger in the memory of the people. The reasons for this are rather complex, because when you consider all the factors that contribute the past should not act so much as an anchor for the present, but it does. The truth is a factory worker needs to know very little history or arts or politics to do his work. A chef needs to know the world of cuisine, but beyond that has little “need” of cultural literacy. The point is that it seems to be of little importance to know of the past, to be aware of the culture surrounding you, but the culture functions upon the memory of things.

I am not of Scottish descent but my wife’s family is, and their last name is Wallace, and that name has a legacy surrounding it that is a very vital part of the mythic memories of the nation of Scotland. Yes the nation of Scotland, because, due to a nationalist fever sparked by Braveheart the motion picture starring Mel Gibson, people in Scotland have moved slowly but steadily towards reimaging their nation of people into a true nation, apart from English sensibilities. The movie, however flawed factually, recounts the rise against Edward II, Longshanks by the Scots, as led by rebel and knight Sir William Wallace. It is, like many stories, based upon legends, but also upon historical records. Some of the movie is particularly egregious regarding historical fact. Mel Gibson had neither the famed red hair of the Wallace, nor was he nearly as tall as Wallace, who is likely to be the 6’7” of historical record due to the many references to his being able to wield a two handed Claymore sword ONE handed. Nobody could do this without great strength and truly, the leverage of being tall. But this and many other flaws did not prevent the story told from being emotionally moving, and stirring of a patriot’s heart in Scotland itself. The movie captured the moment in as much as it reminded the Scots of who they were and where they came from.

(1)Some evidence of the treatment of fact

Now, it is fair to suggest that the movie only inflamed existent emotions, but that does not argue against what I am suggesting, that popular culture mirrors our distant memories, even when we might not be aware of that. And aside from the factual errors the movie was brilliantly made, performed and filmed.



Another famous myth that underpins culture comes from the British isles as well, in the legends and myths of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. No mere movie shows this, but speeches by politicians, names of local sites, media products, and more all suggest that if one is not familiar with the legends, they are just being oblivious to the world around them. I would argue that for the English and Welsh to forget Arthur they’d have to be destroyed and rebuilt, for it is such a powerful memory. Myth in culture is a valuable thing to be aware of, as it forms a necessary cultural literacy where people are immersed in the knowledge of a culture, while being a part of it as well.

I am not suggesting either that the Arthur legend in particular is not a world wide phenomenon, and it goes far beyond stories of courage and valor. The end of the Arthurian legend stories has Arthur falling mortally wounded and being taken to Avalon where he will sleep until the moment his people need him again. This is not an isolated myth, as later stories in other countries mirrored this, Frederick Barbarossa was said not to be dead but sleeping in a cave where he would awaken when his red beard would wind around his body, Sebastian of Portugal, a young warrior king who died in combat but who’s body was never found was said to be constantly rumored to return, and lastly Charlemagne, of the Holy Roman Empire is at various times have said to visited other kings in their dreams to guide them and help them lead.

We watch movies, read stories, enjoy songs, and the information in them comes from who we are, as a people, where we’ve been, and where we are going.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Professional wrestler BARON VON RASCHKE speaks!



a reprinted interview: AN INTERVIEW WITH MY FAVORITE WRESTLER

I grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota. One of the two things you got used to were: bitching about the cold weather, and AWA wrestling. I never worried about it being “real”, as I enjoyed it as entertainment and it was that. Some people might have taken it seriously, but that was not the point, at least in my view. Whatever it was, the athletics were impressive, and the drama was fun to watch. Today wrestling is rarely about athletics, it is about steroids, vulgar displays, and loud and vulgar people. So while I was in the midst of bemoaning the loss of innocence, I decided to look up my favorite wrestler online, Baron (James) Von Raschke, “Der Klaw”. To my great pleasure he had his own website and I sent him an email. This interview is a result of that exchange. AND DAT IS ALL DA PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW!!

Alex Ness:How did you enter wrestling as a career?

Baron Von Raschke: After wrestling in high school, college, and the army, I contacted Joe Dusek, a promoter from my home town of Omaha. He, in turn, introduced me to Vern Gagne.

Alex Ness:What wrestlers were your greatest enemies?

Baron Von Raschke: Enemies? It was my work. Like a doctor or lawyer, I had a job to do and did it without worrying about making friends or enemies.

Alex Ness: Considering the changes from many regional promoters to a couple national ones, has wrestling become too interested in shock value and ratings, over the simpler, far less scripted (or overwrought) rivalries and matches of the past?

Baron Von Raschke: Yes, it has gone from family entertainment to a vulgar display that has little or nothing to do with wrestling.

Alex Ness: Could you crush my skull with your CLAW move?

Baron Von Raschke: Get real. It shuts off the blood supply. It doesn't crush anything.

Alex Ness: How did you come upon your signature move?

Baron Von Raschke: It was passed down to me (see my bio on my web site).

Alex Ness: If you crushed my skull, would it leave dents?

Baron Von Raschke: As I said before, get real.

Alex Ness: You’ve been seen on the new AWA Superstars recently as a manager. Do you enjoy managing as much as you did wrestling?

Baron Von Raschke: At my age, yes.

Alex Ness: With Wrestling now being generally acknowledged as “sports entertainment” does it help you feel less pain in areas of your body damaged doing purely athletic moves?

Baron Von Raschke: They do a lot of dangerous and reckless stunts that have nothing to do with wrestling, and I am sure they pay the price just as I did.

Alex Ness: What is the most rewarding aspect of having had a career in Wrestling?

Baron Von Raschke: I will never be a normal citizen, because people still recognize me and ask me to make appearances.

Alex Ness: Is a retired Wrestler like the Lion in Winter, still having a heart that enjoys the action, but knowing that it is over? When you retire from Sports entertainment is there anything like a retirement plan? Or do you have to make your own way?

Baron Von Raschke: A. My wife and my body said it was time to quit wrestling. I'm satisfied with what I did and with what I am doing. B There is no retirement plan. There is no health plan. There is NUTZING!

Alex Ness: How do fans contact you or meet you? Do you have a website?

Baron Von Raschke: I make appearances around the country and, yes, I do have a web site, which you went through to get these questions to me. The address is The Baron

FINAL THOUGHTS: Thank you Baron and Karl!

To the Readers and Blog writers: A Question

What Music Groups or individual artists do you most listen to?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not a snob, not a low brow, just me.

Someone once told me that until they’d seen my collection of movies, books, comics and music that I was an elitist snob. But that after seeing what I liked they had no clue what or who I was. Along side of Marx Brothers comedies was Jackass the Movie, alongside of Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany I read John Norman, and pulps, my comics covered the breadth and length of the history of comics without any sort of niches, except for Jack Kirby, Moebius and Timothy Truman, and my music spanned all genres and styles. The music was what they saw as the final straw. Alongside of Opera, I shelved Death metal, alongside of Motown I shelved Jazz, and there was Country music, Punk, and all sorts of things they’d never even known existed.

Now, this is not to announce to the world that I have an enormous collection. Because outside of the books I gathered during my years preparing to teach, I have relatively small collections of whatever I have. It is not because I am or was opposed to size of a collection being large or enormous, just, in the first ten years of my marriage my wife and I moved over a dozen times. And that sucks. And bringing books and such with you sucks too. So over time when I can trade down I do, when I can buy what I like in a format that is great I do.

But what I am, and what they could not understand, is a person who believes that all forms of music, literature, dance, drama, film, and games should have equal respect if done well. I am not saying all is equal in terms of quality, but in terms of how one should respect another’s work, in terms of giving all arts a fair chance to express their goals and final product.

As a reviewer, despite my training in Academia to read and write reviews of works in a critical fashion, I found it nearly impossible to dislike most anything in print. Oh yes, there are many pieces of crap in the world of creative arts, but when I was given great works alongside them I never wanted to poop on the bad for fear of missing out on an opportunity to promote something that was really good. That doesn’t sit well with numerous people who read critical reviews. And I accept and understand that. However, I can still do my thing and the people who don’t like my thing can go look elsewhere for the heavy critiques, the definitive reviews, and of course the snarky crap that seems to be everywhere.

This isn’t though a piece about reviewing, nor my collection. However much they’ve been referred towards.

I am saying that when looking at great works and not so great, it is no crime to enjoy anything. We are not bound by any rule that says Rob Schneider movies must not make you laugh. We are allowed to enjoy King Kong beating the crap out of Godzilla, despite the clearly fake effects, despite the horrid voice acting. What you enjoy is just that.

So, am I therefore a(n) universalist regarding culture*? Of course I could be, there is nothing wrong with that, but no. Do I think all expressions of creativity are equal? The performance artist who covered her nude self in chocolate pudding and read poetry decrying misogyny certainly caught my attention, but it was nothing nearly as powerful as any of the songs by Tracy Chapman about the same subject. Both expressed something important, perhaps personally to each woman performing, but one was better. I think taste is involved but the quality of one presentation was simply better.

I am trying I guess to explain that people might assume that people who like punk music won’t like country or disco, but people might also assume Opera is great and still like the Three Stooges, Nascar, and other fine things in life. Like what you like, high art, low brow, mass culture, popular culture, critical nightmare, or critically acclaimed, what you like is in your soul, don’t second guess your own taste.

* But with only one exception that I’ve noticed (not going to talk about it now at least), I am a(n) universalist regarding foods from all cultures. I guess there is more than one reason I am chubbers.

Here is where you may find more of me:
My Poetry Blog
God Blog
PopThought.com
My Space
My Comic book recommendations Blog

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Super Mario Galaxy: Captured Again?


When Nintendo birthed the Mario franchise two decades ago they had no idea what was in store. Not only has Mario served as an effective mascot, but he's proven he's good at so many different things! Unfortunately, our Italian friend has been so busy "exploring his boundaries" that he's forgotten who he is. All us poor gamers haven't seen a Mario platformer since Super Mario Sunshine, and we all know that game pales in comparison to Super Mario 64. And the most versatile plumber in the 'verse is back in full force with Super Mario Galaxy.

Our story opens in the Mushroom Kingdom during the celebration of the Star Festival. This centennial event is cause for wild parties and everyone is living it up. Amidst all the joy and revelry Bowser appears and kidnaps Princess Peach (surprise), castle and all. Mario gives chase, but is quickly thrown into the harsh blackness of space, presumably left to drift forever.

As luck would have it though (he abounds in luck), Mario lands on a passing space station, where he is befriended by Rosalina and her children, the Luma. The Luma are small star children, and it is Rosalina's charge to take care of them until they are grown up and ready to become full-fledged stars. Honestly, if Mario were a smart man, the game would have ended right here. Rosalina is far more self-reliant than Peach will ever be. Of course, you can't just fly off and take down Bowser, the space station is broken, and only the strength of the power stars can fix it. How typical. Can’t anyone keep up their stuff these days?

Of course, in order for Mario to track down the missing little sparklers he's going to have to trek far and wide, this time all the way across the great cosmos (Star Trek theme anyone?). You can access new levels by traveling to various observatories on the space station and using them to view galaxies you want to explore. Once you've selected a galaxy and our hero touches down on a planet, you'll quickly find that most levels are composed not of one large planet, but several small ones, connected by a series of "star launchers." It is one of the most inventive level designs in recent memory, and the folks at Nintendo should be commended for stepping out on a limb to try something new.

Obviously Mario isn't the only one cavorting about these worlds, and baddies will constantly beset you in order to ruin your day. So, Mario's brought all his traditional jumps and stomps with him to battle, and he's added a nifty spin move and a projectile attack as well. Occasionally, Mario will don a costume that grants him special powers. It works pretty good usually.

I say "usually" because there are times when the game tries to mix things up and throw in some "unique" mechanics. On a few missions, the game tries to utilize the Wii's motion sensors by requiring you to tilt the remote in order to control movement. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this control scheme, the levels in which it is implemented are some of the game's most difficult, leading to many deaths and very high blood pressure.

Soon after firing up the game it becomes very apparent that a lot of work went into the presentation. The galaxies you'll explore are all very vibrant and colorful, and the characters and environments are all exceptionally well-rendered. It's often been said that due to the Wii's lack of hardware it will never be able to produce eye-popping graphics, but you wouldn't know it to play Galaxy.

Also, Mario has found his voice.

Unfortunately, his voice is grating and stereotypical, and the worst part of the game by far is firing it up and hearing the famous plumber yell "SUPER MARIO GALAXY!!!!" I think the reason Mario and Peach have not yet wed is because they fear the kids will have her propensity for being kidnapped and his awful voice. The merciful thing to do (for us more than him) would be to return Mario to being the strong, silent type. Please.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Retiring Number Four

Brett Favre’s recent un-retirement and the Packer management’s game of “How-Can-We-Miss-You-If-You-Won’t-Go-Away” has caused much angst and outrage here in the Enchanted Land-O-Cheese, but it’s left me with something of a dilemma.

On the weekends, my wife Lute and I do craft fairs. She sells handmade jewelry and I do cartoon portraits. As part of my end of the operation, I display several sample pieces of my work. Hitherto, one of my show pieces , the star of the gallery, has been a caricature I did of Favre back in 1999. I like that portrait; I think it captures his likeness and his personality. And I feel a certain amount of pride that I was able to dash it off from memory. I matted the picture to set it apart from the others and Lute calls the piece “Saint Brett”.

The title is only half-facetious, because Brett really is regarded with that level of adulation here in Cheesehead territory. At his best, as in last year’s playoff game against the Seahawks, he is a joy to behold. He can be besieged by the other teams defense and yet save the play with a laser-guided pass or an unexpected shovel pass or even by sprinting the ball by himself to a first down; all the while grinning like a kid in a candy shop. I’m not a football fan, but that’s the thing that made me notice Brett; not the spectacular plays he made, but how much he enjoyed the game. (Although, to be honest, on days when he’s not having fun, he tends to get very sloppy. It’s a tribute to his talent that he can have an interception record like he does and still be an MVP).

When he announced his retirement last spring, he broke a lot of hearts. A lot of Packer fans wondered what the team would do without him; but I think a lot of us knew in our hearts that he’d have to go eventually. So, we worked through the Seven Stages of Grief and finally came to Acceptance.

And that’s when he came back and said, “Oops. Changed my mind.”

There are a lot of Packers fans who feel the team should have let him back. After all, he still is Brett Blessed Favre. Others are outraged at the idea that he might play for another team. But others feel that Brett should have stuck by his decision. When he said last spring that he wasn’t enjoying the game as much as he used to and didn’t think he could bring the level of dedication to the field that the team deserved, we took him at his word.

So what do I do with Saint Brett?

When he first announced that he wanted to come out of retirement a couple weeks ago, I debated whether or not to display his portrait with my other sample pieces. In the end, I compromised. I attached a word balloon written on an index card to the portrait saying: “Ha ha! I’m back again!”. I figured that would give people a chuckle no matter what they thought about the issue.

But now the matter has been decided. Brett will not be coming back to the Packers, either as a starter or a back-up. He’s going to the Jets. “At least he’s not going to the Tampons,” Lute says. She dislikes Tampa Bay almost as much as she does the Cowboys.

I think, then that it’s time to retire the portrait as well. I’ll replace it with a different piece in my sample gallery. Farewell, Number Four.

--kurt

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

THE BUNKER Goes to Cable Television



I’ve come upon many nice people in the creative world, but Joe Monks is different than most, he is genuinely nice. So many people will smile and say the right things, but are ultimately hoping for a freebie or help down the line. Joe Monks is nice and open and offers help from the beginning. I am really happy for him that his work is getting the recognition it deserves, and should say, his film The Bunker scared me, and really, that is saying a lot because I am almost never scared or freaked out. He successfully fused fear with dread, instead of gore and bodily fluids.

BLIND FILMMAKER'S FEATURE TO DEBUT AS SERIES PILOT FOR EUROPEAN CABLE NETWORK: THE BUNKER TO KICK OFF INAUGURAL SEASON OF FLOWERS ON THE RAZORWIRE

LOS ANGELES, CA-Crime Pays, Inc. founder and president Hart D. Fisher has announced that longtime collaborator Joseph M. Monks' debut feature, The Bunker, will air as the pilot episode of Fisher's Flowers on the Razorwire television series for the Indiepix cable channel. Beginning this fall, Indiepix will broadcast the new fright showcase to 120 million households in 17 countries. The distribution agreement with Carol Angela Davis, Inc. and Global Broadcasting & Syndication Inc., calls for 22 episodes of Flowers on the Razorwire and other horror-related programming. Production on the series is already underway, based on the 1990s comic book of the same name.

"This television distribution agreement is a major leap forward for independent American horror creators, allowing them to find a vast untapped audience for their work. I'm looking forward to bringing quality horror product to European audiences, and I'm proud to begin that with The Bunker," says Fisher. Monks, an independent comics groundbreaker for the past two decades, lost his eyesight in 2002 after a long battle with diabetic retinopathy. Faced with life-changing circumstances, Monks stunned the comic book world by returning to a largely-visual medium, garnering rave reviews for his work on Zacherley's Midnight Terrors, working with the legendary American horror host. But a return to the genre he enjoyed so much wasn't nearly the challenge he undertook next--becoming the world's first blind feature film director.

"Having written the screenplay for the first Flowers on the Razorwire episode, I was very familiar with the way Hart envisioned a full-on TV series," says Monks. "So when I wrote The Bunker, I saw it taking the series to its natural next-plateau, which was a feature. Like the Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night film, it made all the sense in the world. Helming it myself might not have, but directing it was a challenge too good to pass up." While the film initially drew interest as a curiosity, it's turned heads after several screenings, receiving praise from the likes of FANGORIA's Tom Carnell, Rue Morgue, The Hacker's Source and the Miami Herald, among others. A selection of the 2007 Halloween Horror Picture Show film festival, Monks is happy that the film has been able to stand on its own. "The curiosity angle is nice, but now that the film is making the rounds as we look for a distribution deal and the reception it's gotten has been so positive, this opportunity to showcase it to such a large audience is more than I could have hoped for. I'm excited about working with Hart on other episodes for the series. We've been in the indie trenches together a long time, so what better way to make a splash than on Indiepix?"

Go to the Joe Monks film studio and project Website

ICONIC DEAD PEOPLE



Posted here is a collage of faces that made the most money in the last few years while being dead. They are famous faces, icons of popular culture, can give us insight into what we celebrate in our culture. The names of the assembled deceased people of fame are: Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Albert Einstein, James Brown, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, ((Anna Nicole Smith)) Steve McQueen, Kurt Cobain, Andy Warhol, Che Guevara, Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, JRR Tolkien.

Some conclusions:
The people with darker skin were entertainers or rebels.
The two women, both white, were on the list for their iconic beauty.
The white males did not have to be physically attractive to find themselves upon the list, although some were.
Despite Asians, both South Asians and East Asians, being a fair portion of the populace none made the list.

Earning power seems to have/have had to do with:
Charisma, Achievement, Popularity while alive, Iconic status while alive, and in many cases, famous photos that seemed to capture the essence.

Why do we savor the people who were icons in life, in death? There is a difference between say JRR Tolkien’s resurgent popularity and that of Anna Nicole Smith. Tolkien wrote something who’s legacy remains. Smith’s legacy was beauty. While beauty fades and literary excellence does not, beauty is not an eternal constant. Quality of literature is relatively secure. So while popularity in life might come from something like looks, there is little guarantee that the qualities seen will remain popular.

What else is there we can see? Achievement is not in itself the key, for many of the greatest deceased writers, scientists and scholars cannot be found upon the list Popular culture must therefore demand something beyond talent, and, beyond an iconic or recognizable image. I suggest what it demands is a moment in time. Where the talented person that existed appeared at the time to be an important actor of the time.

People who I thought would be on the list?:
Former US Presidents, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, more women in general, and more people of ancestry outside of Africa or Northern Europe.

What am I missing here? Why else are these people upon the list? Why are some famous people who’ve died not bankable?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Art of Video Games

Tasked with restoring an afflicted sapling to its former beauty, you bring it to life with a swirl of your paintbrush. The sapling bursts with light, a melody of soft pink flowers blooms on its young branches, and lush green meadows breathlessly sweep away the cursed countryside, returning vitality to the diseased landscape.

The story of the video game, Okami (Wii) is told through cinematic cut-scenes and a visual presentation designed to mimic the style of traditional Japanese artistry -- specifically woodcut and watercolor paintings. This unique look is complemented by cel-shaded graphics and the result is beautiful. The word picturesque accurately describes the setting as Amaterasu (main character's) runs through the spectacular, giant-sized locales, all seemingly straight out of a painting.

Compare this:


To this:



Indeed, the first one is an in-game screenshot of Okami, and the second is concept art for the game. They are both beautiful, aren't they?

Okay, let's head on over to my favorite place: Zelda.

In-game screenshot:


Concept art:



Yeah, it isn't as close as Okami is, but it is still portrayed nicely.

A view of Popular Culture from the Retail perspective

As a reader of comics and buyer of comics (not collector however) I have seen many stores die in the cut throat world of retail. I've seen more publishers die I think, but both aspects of the comics world are difficult to make a living in. So I asked a great many retailers why. "Why do you sell comics? What about that business and arts world made you want to tough out all the difficulties of such a small market and industry?"

The two that answered said:

From
Tim Broman of Collector's Connection Duluth, Minnesota.

Why not?

I've sold real books, Jewelry, Shoes, tobacco, booze, candy, porn, magazines, yarn, goldfish, and so forth. I've worked for giants such as F.W. Woolworth, B. Dalton's Bookseller, & K-Mart. I've also worked for (Twin-ports based) little guys like Snyder Drug, Granada News, Gifts-N-Fixins (now LTD Jewelers) and the current employer, Collector's Connection.

Just for the record, I started working back in 1975, and have also worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken, a defunct Solar Hot Water sales company called Solar Resources, and the Viking Bar.

Something that I noticed was the specialty shops were always funner places to work, because the people who were there wanted to be there. I also noticed that if I personally knew (or could at least recognize) the owner of the business, these were places that were more enjoyable to work at.

Having never been a serious comic books fellow, I was initially hired at C/C based on my experience in other retail organizations. I did (in my younger years) read comics, and collect sports cards, so I had some interest in the field. That, plus I could be counted on to not blow off my schedule, or show up drunk and/or covered in blood and feathers.

I did not see Comics any differently then selling shoes, or jewelry. They were specialty businesses that drew a specific audience.

From
Charlie Harris of
Charlie's Comic Books
Tucson, Arizona.

There are only a few businesses left in America available to independent retailers; most can no longer compete against the flood of subsidized ‘big box’ stores. There are no more ‘Mom and Pop’ grocery stores, drug stores or hardware stores because they can't compete with the likes of Home Depot, Safeway, Walgreen’s, etc. Even those with years of higher education like legal and medical professionals no longer hang out a shingle expecting to support their families. There are still some hair and nail salons that haven't succumbed to the chains and, although Borders and the like have done away with independent book stores the comic business is still struggling as independent entrepreneurs try to succeed in merchandising products produced by large corporations.

For me personally the benefits of owning and operating a comic book shop are many but the biggest benefit is that almost every person who comes through my door is not only literate but chooses to spend their entertainment budget on reading material. The quality of my clientele is what leads my customers to also be my friends. I see my customers weekly or monthly and I get the opportunity to know them and their families have minimal trouble with crime and shoplifting and consequently feel like part of the community in which I live.

When I ride my bicycle to work neighborhood kids and parents greet me by name and I feel like an individual instead of a corporate cog in a large, often unseen and malfunctioning machine.

The opportunities for independent entrepreneurs has been limited to comic book stores, beauty salons, ‘head’ shops, auto repair, food service businesses (that fail ninety per cent of the time, in competition with the chain restaurants and bakeries), and the occasional music or computer related businesses that haven't quite been quashed by the new chain stores filling these niches.

With the recent success and growth in the comic industry I don't expect the book store chains to allow us to cut into their profits for much longer and Marvel Comics Group is now stocking a full line of their comics in 300 Border’s establishments to ‘test the waters’ and, of course the big box gets better discounts and returnability than Marvel would ever deign to give to independent retailers like myself; in fact Marvel, the number one comic publisher offers less of a discount than DC, Image or Dark Horse Comics who all do substantially less sales volume. Marvel is also now offering all of their comics in a digital format from their web site effectively cutting the retailers out of the loop.

For now, this is one of America’s last resorts for individual and independent businessmen. If America were concerned about their future than independent retailers would be getting the government subsidies instead of firmly established and successful corporations insuring a future that doesn't involve moving to China to find work.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Doctor Who Journey's End

I just paused watching the season finale of Doctor Who after about the first 5 minutes in order to catch my breath. They just resolved the three critical cliffhangers and I am just screaming with excitement. Wow!

9:10 PM EDT I've caught up with the transmission and there is now an advertisement. I've been wondering all through the previous episode and this why Sarah Jane is there. Finally we've been given a reason. How it will all turn out is a mystery, but it continues to be exciting.

9:33 PM EDT A wild ride in these past 20 minutes and still a half hour on SciFi to go. Some really crazy things have happened. One of the best lines of the show - from Captain Jack - "I can't tell you what I'm thinkin' right now." Just hilarious.

9:59 PM EDT It just ended and it was a bit of a kick in what happened to Donna, but one thing that I thought was "spoiled" for me by Kathleen David at Shore Leave didn't happen. I'll have to give her a piece of my mind when she puts up her review of the episode. I'll have to digest it all and listen to the commentary this weekend.

First!

Hey, Everybody!

Alan Coil's first post here. He won't be posting a lot, but he will be here regularly, and will be making comments both snide, wise, and witty. (Both?)

Alex is a friend of Alan Coil. He is also the only person Alan has met online who was brave enough to let Alan enter his home. Alan has shared meals with a few others, but none has opened their home to him.

What does Alan Coil do? He reads comics. Lots and lots of comics. He reads new comics and old. He sometimes re-reads a comic or series. He just re-read Watchmen. He watches movies, sometimes in the theaters. He watches dvds. He listens to music, sports talk radio, and the sounds of nature. And he hangs out on the internet.

What does Alan Coil look like? His worst nightmare. Hopefully you will never have that nightmare. Babies are stunned silent by the sight of him. Women who see him join nunneries. Rabbits stop reproducing.

What does Alan Coil do for a living? Nothing. Alan Coil is a deadbeat. August 1st is the start of Alan Coil's second year of being a deadbeat. He is enjoying about 6 hours of every day, and is bored most of the rest of the day.

Will Alan Coil always post in this pretentious manner. Alan Coil certainly hopes not, as Alan Coil finds it most annoying.

Have a great weekend! Here's wishing you Good Health!

Mike Grell and Mark Ryan Interviewed

Click this

I interviewed live Mike Grell and Mark Ryan for NexGenPulp Magazine. Mike Grell is the author and artist of Warlord, Green Arrow and far more, and I count him as one of my very best friends. Mark Ryan is an actor, and has been in works such as Robin of Sherwood, Transformers the Motion Picture and more. Both gentlemen are experts in medieval arms, and both have an ability to tell stories that are outstanding. In the interview you can hear them discuss their joint project called THE PILGRIM and hear Mike and I trade fun insults.

Potential Spam Blog

It appears that the software that Blogger uses to flag spam blog has gone wild. My two blogs and many out there have been flagged as potential spam blog in the past day. Blogger News has an article about this. Also if you go to the Blogger Help Group and search for "potential spam blog" you will see posts by many people who were hit this time around. The message people get is the following:
Hello,

Your blog at: ... has been identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling out the form at http://www.blogger.com/unlock-blog.g?lockedBlogID=...

Your blog will be deleted within 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and you'll be unable to publish posts during this time. After we receive your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two business days. If this blog doesn't belong to you, you don't have to do anything, and any other blogs you may have won't be affected.

We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of to spammers. For more information, please see Blogger Help: http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=42577

Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our spam-fighting efforts.

Sincerely,

The Blogger Team

P.S. Just one more reminder: Unless you request a review, you won't be able to use your blog. Click this link to request the review: http://www.blogger.com/unlock-blog.g?lockedBlogID=...
Anyway, in the past it has taken longer than 2 business days. If there are as many hit this time around as I suspect it will take a lot longer this time unless they realize there is a problem, unlock all those blogs and retool their software. I thought folk here might like to know.

Update: Instead of just another comment I thought I'd give another quick update in the text here. Friday night, on Blogger Buzz there was a post acknowledging the problem. Yesterday there was a new post called You Are Not Spam, giving their apology and telling more about what happened.

Furry Introduction

In my secret identity, I am a ninja cartoonist. I live in the Enchanted Land-O-Cheese with my wife, Lute; my daughters, Gamera Rose and Rodan; and a menagerie which currently includes three ferrets, an enormous cat, a finch and several fish.

I’ve written and drawn hand-made comic books and have done comics work for INNOVATION, for Antarctic Press and for Radio Comix. I’ve drawn stories for “Adult” furry comics; I’ve also written puppet plays for Sunday Schools. I’ve been a moderator on a Harry Potter fansite and president of a local Anime club.

And I’m an avid Role-Playing Game enthusiast, having been gaming almost as long as there has been D&D. Yup. I’m an RPGeezer.

Here are some of the sites I lurk at and post on:

Pop Thought -- Where I write an RPG column titled “Live and Let Dice”

D2MF -- One of Alex’s other blogs where we write about spiritual matters.

ComicSpace -- Where I have a few galleries of my cartoons up and hope to start up an web comic soon

Steve Jackson Games Forum -- I occasionally post comments on this site under the name “quarkstomper”

Street Prophets -- An online community for progressive people of faith.

The Arcana Wiki -- More on this to come.

In short, my interests are weird and eclectic. And I hope to share some of them with you.

--Kurt (aka quark)

NAO Intro

I just received Alex's invite. I'll echo the thoughts that a black background is hard to read. In any case, I have two blogs myself:
1) NO News is Good News - where I post about a variety of things that are of interest to me and my family - including books I've read, movies I've seen, sports events I've gone to, conventions I've attended, etc.
2) NAO Music Log - where I list the music I've listened to during the week and sometimes talk about it. (I started doing this in the first blog and then decided it would be best in its own blog.)
Anyway, I don't know how much I'll contribute here as well, but here I am.