Monday, December 29, 2014

The Battle of the Berezina, or So you think you are cold

End of November, 1812... Napoleon and his Grand Armee begins a retreat from Moscow, having hurt, but never destroyed the Russian Empire.  During the retreat of Napoleon's army from Moscow, his forces had abandoned many things, including most of its bridging supplies.  Fortunately for Napoleon his general in charge of such things, General Jean Baptiste Eblé had held back just enough of such in case of the inevitable emergency.  And there would be one, because Russian territory was large and every land has rivers.

As the army was retreating, some were fighting a rear guard action, against a Russian force that was hungry for vengeance, and to evict the invaders. Napoleon was concerned about the battles, but now, his forces in early winter, cold and freezing weather, approached a river that was open, but moving, freezing cold, and dangerous.

The crush of oncoming forces behind his 60,000 men forced Napoleon into making desperate commands.  He sent various forces in different directions to distract his enemy.  Meanwhile General Eblé sent his force of Dutch engineers into the waters of the Berezina river, where they set up a 100 meter bridge, in waters that were going to kill them from the cold.

Swiss units in the Grand Armee of the French were sent to hold out against the constant attacks and kept the Russians from breaking through.  From their original number of 8000 they numbered a mere 300 by the end of the action at the Berezina river. 

The bridges were holding, and the army poured across, but it was not a victory, nor defeat in military terms, much like Dunkirk in the Second World War, Berezina was realization of a disaster that could have been, and relief for the disaster that did not occur.

A poem was written for the Swiss units who fought so hard and were left with so few, by Ludwig Giseke

Our life is like a journey
Of a wanderer through the night;
Everybody carries something on his way
That causes him to grieve.
But then unexpectedly do fade
Night and darkness before us,
And the sorely troubled find
Solace to their sorrow.
Fearless, fearless, dear brothers,
Abandon the anxious worries;
Tomorrow the sun will rise again
Friendly in the sky.
Therefore let us move on;
Do not retreat disheartenedly!
Beyond those far heights
A new happiness awaits us.

Friday, November 28, 2014

That Time of the Year Again: The Two Christmases

It seems like the "War On Christmas" is starting earlier every year.  Kirk Cameron came out with a new movie this past month in which he tries to Rescue Christmas from them Godless Pagans.  And that means I need to trot out an essay I originally wrote several years ago for another blog of Alex's and which I like to re-post at this time of the year when our Culture Warriors begin putting the Vent in Advent.  It's all about how it's silly to wage a War On Christmas if you don't know which one you're shooting at.

* * * * *

For a while back when I lived in Darkest Iowa, I shared a duplex apartment with my wacky brother Steeve and my friend Scott. One year, Scott asked me to draw some Christmas cards for him to send to his Internet friends. This was around 1990, back in the caveman days. We didn't actually have Internet access ourselves, but Scott had borrowed a friend's university account and spent a lot of his free time on a computer bulletin board based out of the University of Iowa. For a while, both Scott and I were forum moderators at that site, (despite the fact that neither of us were students at U of I and in fact I was an alumnus of Iowa State).

I drew three different designs for him. One was a parody of Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" featuring the bulletin board's Sysop. One was a fairly bland one with a picture of a computer made out of snow. The third one bore the message "Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas Season."

"You can't say that," Scott said.

"Why not?"

"Because a lot of the people on my list are wiccans and atheists and agnostics. They'd be offended!"

Personally, I didn't see why they should. The message wasn't making any kind of religious statement; it just extended good wishes. My own attitude was, to paraphrase Bette Midler, if they can't take a blessing, screw `em. But since I was doing the cards for Scott in the first place, I acceded to his wishes and changed the message to a non-controversial "Greason's Seetings."

I think about Scott and his cards when I hear about the "War on Christmas". I suppose my experience should put me on the side of the Righteous Warriors out to protect Baby Jesus from the Evil Secularists. Somehow, though, I can't get that worked up about it. If a cashier wishes me a "Happy Holidays", she's expressing a hope that nice things happen; the same as if she had said "Merry Christmas," "Groovy Kwanzaa", "Swingin' Solstice" or "May the Great Bird of the Galaxy roost on your planet." I don't have to celebrate any of those things to recognize and appreciate nice intentions. In the same way, I don't have to consider it an affront to God if somebody says "gesundheit" when I sneeze instead of "God bless you." Take it in the spirit in which it's given.

At one time I used to get all bent out of shape about the Secularization of Christmas. I particularly detested the deification of Santa Claus. When I was in junior high and full of adolescent anger and self-righteousness, I wrote an abrasive, curmudgeonly piece on the subject which upon saner reflection I threw away. A thirteen-year-old curmudgeon is not a pretty thing. My views towards Ol' Saint Nick have mellowed since then as I have come to accept what I call The Two Christmases.

There are two holidays celebrated on December 25th. One, of course, is the Feast of the Nativity, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then there's the other holiday, the Feast of Jingle Bells and Jolly Fat Men in Red Suits and Reindeer with Luminous Noses. Both holidays happen to have the same name, but they're different.

I celebrate both; and I don't see why the two need to be mutually exclusive.

Where the Christmas Warriors get it wrong is where they assume that the holiday has to be either one or the other. To a certain extent, I can sympathize with their point. I worship Christ, the holiday's namesake; and it does bother me when the earthly Babel sounds of the secular festivities drown out the song which the blessed angels sing. The Puritans felt this way and so they banned Christmas all together when they ruled England under Cromwell. Which is a funny way to honor a man who loved parties and who used feasts in his parables to represent the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christmas, as it is celebrated today, has a rich and varied tradition; sacred and secular, spiritual and commercial, tacky and sublime. There's a lot of Christmas stuff that I deeply love, despite having no connection to the Nativity story and only a tenuous connection, if that, to my religious convictions: family get-togethers, the giving of gifts, Vince Guaraldi`s piano music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas", just about any adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Thurl Ravenscroft singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

When I was little, our family had a devotional booklet that we used every Christmas called The Talking Christmas Tree. Instead of setting up the Christmas tree and decorating it all at once, we'd put it together bit by bit. The first night we'd just put up the tree. The second night we'd add the lights. Then little by little we'd add more to the tree and we'd have a devotion talking about how each addition could symbolize something about God.

Now I know that most of those decorations, and the tree itself, can be traced back to pagan sources, which is why the Puritans had such a problem with the holiday. But part of the joy of Christmas comes not from purging the religious holiday of all secular dross, but rather of finding things in the holiday bramble that enrich and illuminate the spiritual aspects.

(According to one story, Martin Luther put up the first Christmas tree. Walking home one winter, he was so struck by the beauty of stars shining though the evergreens that he brought a tree home and put lighted candles in its branches so his family could see. And right after that, Philip Melanchthon invented fire insurance. This story is almost certainly untrue; other scholars trace the decorating of trees back to pre-Christian times; still, it's a good story).

It works both ways. Just as Christians can enrich their celebrations with aspects of the secular holiday, so too can Christian elements filter out into to world at large. Usually these elements are diluted: sentimental crèche scenes, platitudes of "Peace on Earth", Madonna and Child postage stamps; but God's Word does not return empty; not even when it's been wrapped in tinsel.

If we limit Christmas to only Christ - which I do believe is the most important part - then we also exclude those who aren't Christian from the holiday; we become in effect dogs in the manger. If we actually wind up driving people away from that manger, then we ain't doing Baby Jesus any favors.

"Happy Holidays" is a blessing, and ultimately all blessings come from God. The proper response isn't "That's Merry Christmas, you PC secularist!" but rather "Thank you; and a Merry Christmas to you too!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don Lemon and Cosby's Accuser

Before anyone asks, Rape is wrong, and treating women as sexual objects is wrong. I am not herein suggesting any rape victim has deserved their rape.  CNN Anchor Don Lemon told a woman who reported that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted her that she could have perhaps prevented some of it by fighting back, specifically, biting the penis. The internet and social media are going wild with mockery of such a statement.  This is perhaps less mockery but we are paying attention to the act of Don Lemon interviewing the accuser.  If Lemon had let the accuser speak without being challenged, he'd have perhaps been accused of not doing his job.  Although it seems to me, the bias is towards the accuser in such cases of public airings versus the courts, even if the defense attorneys and ultimate victory in courts are very much on the side of the wealthy and famous.

Don Lemon discredited his CNN Anchor chair by seeming to attack the accuser, and suggest something that seems perhaps to be a fantasy.  If only the starving children in Africa would live near food, they wouldn't starve.  If only the people of Buffalo NY would move they wouldn't get dumped with snow.  If only...   But this isn't altogether true.  Whether men should rape is obviously known, they should not.  But whether they do or not, is entirely different.  Words are the weapon of the PC people.  Don't do this does not equal people not doing this.  Because a woman has a right to wear anything and not be called a slut, not be catcalled, not be insulted, or hit on, does not mean she won't be.  She is likely to be all of those things. Men should not say or act upon those words, but they do. 

So this isn't me, Alex Ness, saying Don Lemon is stupid.  I haven't a clue if he is.  This is me saying, you can say whatever you like, and it doesn't change reality.  Men rape, men are assholes towards women.  The issue at hand is about men's behavior and words, and Don Lemon said something that was fantasy, or words without a backing in reality.  It to me reflects the ridiculous PC world of words over reality.  The reality is, the woman in question was being attacked.  Her first instinct was possibly how do I survive, not how do I hurt this fucker.  People need to understand that what we need is a change of reality, not a change of words.  Instead of telling people just fight back, long after the attack is done, ask perhaps what was going through her mind at the time.  Get a sense of the victim's suffering.  Don Lemon failed in that.

Rape is a volatile issue because at least in some cases it can be a POV issue of men/women.  But there are ways to measure damage to a woman, through the rape kit, and if there are repeated victim stories that have a common accused there can be a narrative created, and more.  I am not accusing Bill Cosby, but, Lemon's seeming defense of Cosby by seemingly asserting that if it were rape the victim could have stopped it by biting the penis, suggests a desire to soften the event, and make it questionable.

I suggest Lemon has made himself an ass by acting as he has, and has not helped clarify the issue.  But I suggest, we need a different way of dealing with rape in America.  We need to acknowledge that it happens, treat it as being something horrible, and not try to explain it away through the fantasy of words.  Fantasy of words in the PC world go both ways, both to obscure, and to falsely enhance.  I suggest we begin to say what things are, rather than say what they should be.

Whether or not Cosby's legacy is secure does not matter one bit.  If he raped women, he should not be able to escape the punishment. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Robert Plant Doesn't Seem To Be A Money Grubbing Son of a Bitch

People will tell you that every decision in life comes down to money.  But in the recent affairs of Robert Plant, former lead singer of Led Zeppelin, it simply isn't the case.  I've tried to tell people this, and all too often I am called an idealist, or a reverse cynic, whatever the hell that is, or a wide variety of nasty names meant to suggest that I have no clue about how life works, because real people choose to take the money, over all other concerns every time.   

I am not a fan of Led Zeppelin and I can honestly say, there was a time I was watching a Robert Plant video when I had the flu, and the video caused me to vomit.  It wasn't his fault, but just for those who think I am worshiping him for his talent, or his choice, I am not.  For one thing, I don't know his motivation for turning down 250 million dollars.  Another thing is, maybe that amount of money just isn't enough to get back together with people he doesn't like.  I don't know the answer.  

What I do know, is, in this world people think he is fool.  I've seen the comments about this on twitter and facebook, I've seen the news items popping up all over the net.   Everyone makes their assumptions.  He is by no means a hero for turning down money.  He is not a hero for saying no to a reunion.  But maybe we should applaud his ethics for being willing not to do something he didn't believe in, just because he was being paid insanely huge amounts of money.  I've never made much money, so I can't speak for the choice he made, I'll never have that choice to make. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not D&D, Still RPG

This is a brief look at pen and paper RPGing of my past.  Your experiences will obviously be different.  I don't expect anyone to find their experience to match my own.   I have been asked what I have played that is not AD&D 1st Ed.  The list is long, but not deep, in that, I played a number of games once.  With RPGs you needed more than one player, and I guess, I found too many games not interesting enough to continue to play for play ease, or interest.  Another issue was it could be too hard to learn regarding the game vis-a-vis the players and game master.  There were other games that I liked a lot but I never found players to join me in my quest to play.   The success for me of any game or system began with, is it fun? Then you had to ask, was it worth the time it took to learn the system, and then, did it reward your time in that system?  Do you want to go back to the game and play more?  In most cases I found that the answer was yes the games were good.  But the average RPGers wanted to get stuff, they bickered, they were not there to play roles, they were there to roll dice and get shit.  So because gaming is joint story telling, my experience with most games was bittersweet.  The time invested by me was lost due to other players.  They were not interested in playing the way the games were intended by the designers of the games to be played.  


Tunnels & Trolls

This game is the highest scoring for me of the non-AD&D games.   The reason for it is, simplicity of learning the system, the fun of the general system, and, you can play it solitaire.  Get snowed in a weekend or two in Fargo with your work done, no books to read and no one can visit, and you’ll see the point.

Gamma World

Gamma World first edition was a bit silly, but, it was fun silly, and it worked in many ways.  The various orders and fractures of society do make sense, for what the world is actually going through.  I did not like some aspects of the game, and almost no one played the game and understood it in the same way as I did , but, I did enjoy it a lot.

Call of Cthulhu

This game did capture the flavor of the world of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  I liked the game mechanics, and the flavor of how the game is structured.   I ended up playing, however, with a load of stupid, or over confident jerks who thought guns and bombs would mean victory.  My professor of arcane knowledge and his assistant, who was a master of kung fu and also a bright man, were skilled and never went mad, but they were always cursed with people who accompanied them who wanted to kill what could not be killed.



I was always told, dude, you need to play Runequest, the combat is so much more realistic than D&D and it is more fun and the religious aspect is more real.  Well, ummm, when I played it, it was silly, and stupid, and made less than any sort of sense.  I am not suggesting Every round of every game of Runequest was like this, for every player, but my experience, (which this column of course reflects) was that RQ was truly a system that was ok, but in a setting that did not move me, with a world and monsters that I thought were boring and childish.  Your mileage will vary.  My mileage will obviously vary. 

Warhammer Fantasy RPG

This was a huge disappointment for me.  I love the culture of Warhammer, the monster names, the dark nasty beasts, the angry edgy warriors… but the game play was hard, didn’t make a lot of sense.  The players who played it were people who played the miniatures games, and didn’t want to play role playing, so, everyone who was at the table came looking for something else, and got nothing out of the game.  It was no fun.  However, I did use the names of some of the beasts in my AD&D world, and I call Orcs: Orks, as it should be.


I bought this game for cheap one summer and brought it with me to college thinking my friends and I could play.  But it had game mechanics that were not conducive to role playing, and ultimately, we couldn’t see the point of it.  Someone I knew ask for my opinion of the game, because they had bought it as well and I said, it is a nice looking game.   And truly, that is about it.  The pieces were nice, but, it had very little RPG potential.

Boot Hill

Cowboys, Native Americans, Outlaws, Sheriffs, Rustlers, all sorts of player potential comes to mind, but Boot Hill was dreadfully thin in the development of actual characters.  You might have fun in a gun fight, or it might last one shot, but even then, the gun fights depicted weren’t very realistic (My brother is an expert as is a friend from the military, and both could explain in great detail how it wasn’t even close to real).   All I wanted was a framework to hang my hat on and make use of for the setting, and to create my own system for shooting.  But it was really bare bones.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sports team names, racism and media perception.

I'm going to be blunt. Why are non-pejorative sports team nicknames based on Native American themes racist? Protest groups go beyond the pejorative names to say that names like Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Warriors are derogatory to Native American peoples. The claim is made that using these names in conjunction with smiling caricatures like the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo is demeaning to these people. 

So isn't it hypocritical that these groups are represented by smiling Native American spokespeople who stand in front of these "offensive smiling caricatures?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Growing your Brain

  I am not someone who believes that there needs to be an hierarchy of taste when it comes to enjoyment of what we read, watch, listen, and play.  If you like midget wrestling, or reading westerns, or watching The McLaughlin Group, more power to you.  I believe that the same reasoning goes for listening to Abba, watching Godzilla, playing Super Mario, or reading romance novels.

But, while I believe that you can like whatever you like, guilt free, short of snuff films, and evil behavior, I don’t think that is necessarily as important as what you watch says about you.  The average human spends more time changing channels on the television and considering the drive thru menu at Arby’s than contemplating the meaning of life.  That isn’t a criticism.  And of course, there is no way of measuring it that I can be certain, but, the truth is that most people prefer to avoid the deeper questions, and that is readily found in popular culture’s media.

So when you enjoy reading a book, you are making a statement.  If you read a romance novel, you are perhaps escaping.  Maybe you are heartbroken and need a lift, or maybe you love the fantasy of it.  Maybe you like reading science fiction or westerns.  Or maybe, you like reading Franz Kafka because he challenges your mind.  The same concept of escape, and genres extends to every other medium.   We can choose to grow in any form.

So, then, what am I suggesting?  I am not saying anything really big, except this… there have been studies that suggest anecdotally that learning new things, exposure to new ideas, new concepts keeps your brain active.  People learning new things and new concepts were less likely to suffer Alzheimer’s disease.  Since my mother suffered and died from that horrible disease, I’d like to think I have some place in telling you, that is a worthy cause to take up.

If you have played video games for 30 years, and you don’t want to play board games, fine.  Try a new genre of video game.  If you read only fiction, and only mysteries of the fiction sort, I suggest you either try a historical work solving a great mystery, or you try writing your own.  Do things that use different mental muscles.  I promise you that even if you decide that you don’t like it, the things you do like will still be there when you come back.

Personally I am changing one thing for a brief time.  I have been working or going through health treatments or being in hospital for the last two years.  I haven’t read for pleasure or watched movies in that time.  So I plan to do some lovely reading.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Erik Larsen Interview

Erik Larsen has been involved in the comic book business since 1982, when he self-published his first comic, Graphic Fantasy, which contained the first incarnation of his most notable character, Savage Dragon. The character was simply called The Dragon on the cover.

He later became a paid professional when his illustration of two of his other of characters, Vanguard and Mighty Man, was published as the back cover of Megaton #2 in October 1985. A Vanguard story and cover (fighting Savage Dragon, no less) for Megaton #3 gave him the traction to make a sustained effort doing what he loved, making comic books.

After working for a couple of smaller publishers, he broke in to “The Big Two” when he was hired to draw DC’s title Doom Patrol. After building a reputation at DC, Erik was given the chance to work for Marvel comics. He then worked for both companies until he was asked to take over the Amazing Spider-Man when Todd McFarlane moved over to launch a new Spider-Man title in 1990.

In 1992, Erik was one of the founding creators who formed Image Comics seeking more control over their creative work. It was at Image that resurrected Savage Dragon, along with Vanguard and Mighty Man. Although he has worked for both Marvel and DC since the launch of Image Comics, he has continuously published Savage Dragon for over twenty years.

If you want to Google his name make sure you spell it properly, Erik Larsen, otherwise you might get a historic Disney animator (Eric Larson) or a contemporary journalist and author (Erik Larson).

Paul Ewert: As one of the founders of Image you’ve blazed your own path and as such have acted as publisher, president, chief financial officer, as well as creative talent. Your work, Savage Dragon, is approaching issue #200. Dave Sim’s Cerebus reached issue #300. Do you see yourself reaching that milestone?

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons
Erik Larsen: I certainly hope to, yes. It’s a goal—a benchmark—and once reached I’d like to just keep on going.

PE: What does it feel like to have published two hundred issues of a book that you control creatively?  To what extent is an issue number arbitrary, could you keep going far beyond 300?  How about 400?

EL: Or beyond. It would be nice to set the kind of record that people would look at and say, “Okay…maybe I’ll try for the #2 spot.” 500 issues plus would be pretty awesome but that’s going to depend on readers hanging in there. I can’t do this without them.

PE: You helped Image attempt to bring back Supreme.  Why did you take on that title? 

EL: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had a take on it that I thought was pretty fun and when Eric Stephenson and Rob Liefeld were talking about the books I threw out my 2¢ and said, “well, this is what I’d do…” and they both looked at each other dumfounded and proceeded to try and talk me into doing the book.

PE: What made it such an attractive project?

EL: It had possibilities and I had a story to tell. There was also an unpublished Alan Moore script and I’d never illustrated one of his stories so that was kind of an attraction.

PE: Were you surprised that no one has stepped up to take on Supreme after you left?  

EL: Not really, no. None of the titles performed spectacularly and a few didn’t really take off at all. Supreme really wasn’t attracting sustainable numbers.

PE: What elements of your work do you keep consistent? How as a creative talent do you make sure you do that?

EL: Certainly I make an effort to keep the characters looking relatively the same from issue to issue. There’s a certain dynamic that seems to be present. There are certain things which just seem to stick.

PE: Does that mean the “humanness” of your characters just naturally occurs when you write them? That the visual angles in panels are just unconsciously locked in to the right dramatic effect? Panels connect together properly so they set the pace of the story as you want it to flow? If so, how can I get me some of that?

EL: It’s funny but it does almost work that way. A couple of lines of dialogue in and it becomes clear what a given character would or wouldn’t do or say. They “find their voice” and anything which contradicts that just seems wrong and doesn’t ring true. With the art as well…that character wouldn’t stand like that or move like that. It would be like putting the Thing in a Spider-Man pose. It just looks weird and feels wrong.

You can observe the same thing in the real world. There are people that carry themselves as though they think they’re hot stuff and others who clearly have less confidence.

As a storyteller you develop a feel for those kinds of things and that’s a big part of why some characters feel real while others seem so shallow in another writer’s or artist’s hands. I can remember sending in notes when we were doing the Savage Dragon cartoon because so much of the dialogue was utilitarian. It got the characters from one place to another but too little of it showed personality. You didn’t learn who the characters were through their dialogue and in the real world you can’t help but learn that.

Overhear a conversation and in half a minute you’ll be making judgment calls…that guy’s a bit of an asshole. She doesn’t listen to anything he says. That kid really wants attention. That sort of thing. It all adds up. It all means something and if you’re doing your job well the reader will see the pattern and recognize the characters. “That’s just like something Kill-Cat would do” and even fill in the blanks (“I know just what he’s thinking”) based on past experience.

PE: How important are Good and Evil to the telling of your stories? It is often we hear about the root of all evil, but what is the root of all good?    How can a creative talent work to show that, or celebrate THAT?

EL: I haven’t dealt a lot with absolute evil. Largely I go with the idea that “everyone is the hero of their own story” and build off of that. The key is motivation. Why do you do what you do? What do you want from that? Fame? Glory? Love? Money? Comfort? Revenge? Satisfaction? Accolades? Sometimes it’s as simple as a lack of imagination and a need with a given character. I’m hungry now. My family is hungry now. Our rent is due now. How can I solve this problem now? And people justify their actions in any number of ways. Stories flow from that.

PE: Working in creative professions can be very difficult without emotionally supportive people around you. Have you had any family or friends whose opinions of what you do changed over your career? Was it emotionally dramatic or anti-climactic to find that out?

EL: Nothing has been all that dramatic. I was a kid that drew all of the time. I started drawing comics for my own enjoyment when I was very young. So these guys were pretty much used to the idea right out of the gate. In my immediate family we all have our own interests and this is just dad’s job. My wife and kids don’t read comics. My youngest read Scott Pilgrim and a couple other things but not a lot. He’s the most interested in it. He’ll ask what I’m doing and even offer suggestions. Plus, I have friends in and out of comics that I can bounce ideas off of. That’s pretty great.

PE: So you’ve never had an uncle who badgered your parents to get you to get “solid work” in construction or banking and then had to admit that you have done well for yourself as a “kiddie book” artist?

EL: Nope. Never. My dad refers to them as funnybooks at times but he calls them that to be a goof. It’s not said in a way to demean them. My folks were pretty supportive.

PE: Along with Jack Kirby, who are the artists who have had a strong influence on your style and work habits?

EL: There’s a lot of Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Terry Austin in the mix. Herb Trimpe was an early influence--the first guy, really. I grew up on his run on the Incredible Hulk. John Byrne came somewhat later. I channel a lot of guys picking up effects here and there. When I was on Spider-Man I was looking at Steve Ditko an awful lot. Jack Kirby is the big one.

PE: What was the most outrageous fun that you had while working on a project? Why was that?  The people you worked with, the subject matter, the publisher giving you freedom?

EL: There’s no one breakout moment that I can point to. Certainly the unlimited freedom I have now is incredibly liberating. I dipped my toe back into the Marvel/DC pool a while back and the contrast is amazing--and I was given a lot of freedom then--it’s just not the same thing.

PE: Describe the contrast you felt when you “dipped your toe back in the Marvel/DC pool?” Was there something you used to accept as “part of the job” back in the day that rubbed you the wrong way this time? Has work-for-hire changed that much or has doing creator-owned work opened your eyes wider to creative freedoms available to you?

EL: There was a plot which we had set in motion and the editor realized, somewhat late in the game, that was too similar to something which was going on in another book with the same character and we had to scramble to make changes and come up with an alternative that made some sense. I don’t think we were able to quite pull that off and the end result was kind of a nonsensical mess. I couldn’t help but think…this wouldn’t have happened in my own book. It may even just be in my own head but the sense I got seemed to be that I needed to check in regard to a lot of things.

At this point I don’t think I could go back. I’m so lost. I really lost the thread on all of these characters and don’t know where any of them stand. I’d have to just make up new stuff for the most part and if I’m doing that…what’s the point? Why bother? Why not just do it on my own in my own book where I don’t have to answer to anybody? 

PE: What change, since you started in this business, has made the biggest impact on you and your work?

EL: Computer color and the advent of the internet has made the biggest impact. The reality that I can scan in pages and email tiffs to be colored by a guy in Greece is amazing. That I can make my own corrections in a computer program on my own computer in my home is fantastic.

PE: As a successful artist you work in an industry that chews up and spits out creative talents.   The failed attempts at careers far outnumber the success stories.  What is the best advice for beginning artists?

EL: Be humble. Be helpful. Make your deadlines. Learn your craft. The guys who vanish do so for a reason. Either they’re not very good or not very dependable or not easy to work with. It’s really hard to break into comics--it’s incredibly easy to break out. Each job you do is the job application to get your next job. If you do bad work or blow a deadline or start being a headache--it’s very easy to walk away from you. You are easily replaced.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Regarding Cosplay

If you Cosplay, then you are part of a grass roots marketing campaign for that character. Make no mistake about it, if you take someone else's character, make a costume that character wears,  walk around in public and at Cons dressed in it, posing in it, letting people take pictures of you wearing it, then you are advertising that character. If the owners of the character do not pay you to do this and you have paid to make the costume, paid for room & board at the Con and paid entrance fees to contests, then you have paid money out of your own pocket to advertise someone else's property. If you can accept this as your choice, then good for you, but do not for one second believe that you have performed an act of creation. You may have crafted a translation of the character, but there was no creation involved.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sports as Entertainment: When Assholes Act Out, what do you do?

Carolina Panthers Defensive End Greg Hardy throws a woman upon a couch which is covered with guns and ammo, threatens her with various violent acts and refuses to let her go.  The woman does leave, eventually, calls the police, and her injuries are described as scratches and bruises.  Hardy has already been found guilty.  He has not been suspended by the NFL.

Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice hits his fiancé and knocks her unconscious.  He is suspended for two games and is given a path to relief from criminal charges with a diversion program where men are taught not hit or abuse women.  When the general public see the whole of the event, via a security camera video from the hotel, not just mutual combat and a bigger stronger opponent striking a smaller attacker, they see the lies told, and the cover up.  Whether it was a lie or cover up is not the point.  As a result Ray Rice is indefinitely suspended, and is essentially banned from Football in the NFL (or CFL as the case turns out).

Adrian Peterson, Running back of the Minnesota Vikings punishes one of his children by a spanking using a stick.  He leaves cuts and bruises, and force the child to have a mouthful of leaves.  The child returns to his  home in Texas.  The child's mother takes the boy to a doctor, who considers the marks and wounds to be a result of child abuse.  The results are sent to a Grand Jury and returned with no indictment.  Then it is resubmitted and a felony charge of Child abuse is leveled, causing the player to be charged, and placed in jail, until he makes bail and returns to Minnesota.  The case is pending, and the smoking gun is not a video, but actual bruises and wounds upon the child.

The NFL has taken a hit from these events, but there is an article with a headline/title that says it all.

So in other words, they don't mind ignoring abuse towards women, they don't mind the abuse towards a child.  They believe it is in their best interest to make money.

I am not mentioning all of the above to suggest that you do not watch it.  Nor am I saying do not support their sponsors.  I am saying this:  The NFL does not produce sports so that the players are moral, and they are meant to be role models.  The NFL produces football for one purpose, to make money.

If you can live with that, then I suggest you keep watching.  If not, you can enjoy your Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays and whatever else, doing whatever you choose to do.

Oh, you don't believe me?

Jerry Angelo: 'We knew it was wrong'



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Going to War with a Sword of Wood: Chuck Dixon's new Kickstarter project

Chuck Dixon is a talented writer with an abundant imagination.  Here is your opportunity to support a project he is doing from the early stages.

What the hell is a Sword of Wood?  It would be hard to kill an enemy without an edged weapon, no?

It's a medieval horror epic. The sword of the title is very significant though that significance is a key reveal in the story so...

Satan’s army is a term you’d hear from a warrior or priest in the Crusades of history.  How related would this fictional army be to the enemies of the Crusaders in reality?

These are more spiritual, eternal enemies of Christianity taking physical form.

Writing a tale that takes place around or during the Crusades immediately raises questions about the current culture’s discomfort regarding Christian and Muslim relations.  That would even be true setting a modern work in the Middle and Near East.  My question is, do you anticipate problems with the reader responses?

I'm not writing this to be controversial. The Crusades are a backdrop. Most of the action takes place in Norman Britain.
Tell us about the story, what is the short story of the work?

A knight of the Crusades returned home to his manor and holding to find the land stripped of every living human. He learns of an army of the damned sweeping across the countryside while most of the best and bravest are away in the Holy Lands. The knight's family is gone and he's not certain if they're alive or dead or have joined this hellish host. He and his squire go in pursuit of them and find themselves in a war between the undead and the living.

Who is the artist and what artist who you have worked with before do they most remind you of, with regards to the art?

Esteve Polls is an artist I've worked with quite a bit. We did man With No Name and the Lone Ranger together and he's working on an upcoming arc of Winterworld. Esteve will do the homework and shares my interest in making this world of the past come to life. I guess the closest comparison would be to John Severin.

Are supporters of the kickstarter supporting a film, or a graphic novel, or, both?

These funds are to get the graphic novel finished.
Why Kickstarter?  What publisher would be utilized?   Or is that part of the Kickstarter, you are self publishing through the proceeds?

There are publishers interested. But in these days, the only way a creator owned project gets done is by self-funding like this.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Power Girl?

Last month, Marvel Comics stirred up a lot of comment by announcing that there was going to be a new THOR, who would be female; and almost immediately following that up with the announcement that the new CAPTAIN AMERICA would be black.
Well, DC Comics is not one to pass up a possible marketing gimmick, and this week an interview with writer Paul Levitz on the comics website Newsarama reveals that the new version of DC hero Power Girl is going to be... flat-chested.
I'm kidding, of course.  She has a perfectly normal bust-size so far as I can tell.  Smaller than the original Power Girl's Most Prominent Super-Powers, but then it would be hard to get much larger without becoming ridiculous.  Oh, and the new PG is black, which I suspect might be a reaction to the criticism DC had gotten over the past year over its "whitewashing" of black characters.
Who is Power Girl and why should you care?  I probably don't have a good answer for the latter question.  The former one will take a bit of explaining.
For starters, you can blame Roy Thomas.  Roy was a writer at Marvel and later at DC during the '70s and '80s who loved the Golden Age comics he grew up with, and loved bringing elements from them into the comics he wrote and later edited.
Years earlier, DC had established that it's Golden Age Characters, such as the original incarnations of the Flash and the Green Lantern, existed in an alternate universe which they cleverly named "Earth-2".  (Although you'd think that since the Golden Age came first, that they'd get to be "Earth-1"; but nobody asked them, I guess).  For a while there was a kind of tradition that every year the Justice League would cross over into the other dimension to have a team-up with their older counterparts in the Justice Society of America.
Since the Earth-2 heroes were a generation older than the heroes of Earth-1, Roy began playing around with creating a next generation.  His comic INFINITY, INC. was a team consisting of descendants and newer versions of the older heroes.  Huntress, the daughter of Bruce and Selina Wayne (yes, Bats and Catwoman got married in this universe) was one of these.  
Another was the Earth-2 analogue to Supergirl, who was named Power Girl.   She had shorter hair and a different costume, but the same basic powers.  She also was an outspoken feminist; (or at least what a male writer in the '70s thought of as feminist).
According to legend, Wally Wood, who was drawing the comic at the time, and who was very good at drawing sexy girls, started making Power Girl's bust a little bigger, and the decolletage of her white costume a little bit deeper, each issue, to see if his editors would notice.  The adolescent fanboys buying the comic certainly noticed, and Power Girl's bustline became her most noticeable feature.
At some point, I'm not sure when, her costume became modified so that instead of having a low scooped neckline, it sported a "boob window."  Possibly because the scoop front had already gotten silly and this was the only way to show more cleavage.
In the mid-'80s, DC decided that  it's multiverse of Infinite Earths was getting too confusing, and so they created a huge mega-series to clean it all up.  This was the infamous CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS; (it's title a reference to the old JLA/JSA team-ups which had titles like "Crisis on Earth-2" or "Crisis on Earth-X").  The end result was that all of the redundant Earths were folded into the one and there were no more alternates.  Theoretically, this was supposed to make the DC Universe less complicated; in actuality, DC spent the better part of the next decade or two trying to chase down loose ends created by their house-cleaning.
One of these loose ends was Power Girl.  She was the younger cousin of the Earth-2 Superman, (as Supergirl was the kryptonian cousin of the Earth-1 version).  Only there was no more Earth-2 Superman.  What's more, as part of the re-vamp it had been decreed that Superman would be the only survivor of Krypton, and that there would be no Supergirl at all.  (Supergirl was killed off during CRISIS and probably the iconic image from the series is the cover depicting Superman crying in anguish as he cradles her lifeless body in his arms).
So where did Power Girl come from?
Writer Paul Kupperberg came up with a convoluted backstory in which Power Girl only thoughtshe was Superman's cousin, and that actually she was the granddaughter of an Atlantean wizard named Arion (a sword & sorcery character Kupperberg created in the '80s inspired by Michael Moorcock's Elric) who had been placed in suspended animation for several thousand years.  But pretty much everybody ignored this origin story.
In the late '80, she joined JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE, a spin-off title from JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL.  Her strident feminism got ramped up in the name of comedy, and she became cursed with a succession of bad costume changes, each one of which kept the boob window.
In the late '90s, she was treated with a bit more respect and began appearing in BIRDS OF PREY, a very good team book with a female cast.  She also re-joined the Justice Society, which had gone through a couple deaths and revivals of its own.
That was about when I dropped out of comics, so I'm a little fuzzy on what happens next.  But some years back, DC decided to give the Multiverse another spin.  Instead of having potentially an infinite number of Earths, though, they said there would be exactly 52.  Because 52 is DC's special number now.  Because... reasons.
So now there is once more an Earth-2 adjacent to the mainstream DC Universe, and DC publishes a couple books set in it.  One of them is WORLD'S FINEST, featuring the adventures of Power Girl and Huntress.  Remember Huntress?
Apparently in a recent storyline, Power Girl and Huntress become stranded on Earth Prime, the main DCU.  (Although back in my day "Earth Prime" was the name of our universe, not the DC Universe and... dang kids.  Sorry.)  There they meet a brilliant 17-year-old girl named Tanya Spears who helps them figure out a way to get back home.  Somehow in the process, Tanya gains super-powers of her own, (writer Paul Levitz is not yet revealing where her powers have come from), and before Power Girl returns to Earth-2, she "bequeaths" her hero name to Tanya.
Levitz says that DC has "Special plans" for Tanya.  Levitz is a good writer and I'll be interested to see what comes of this.  You can read the whole Paul Levitz interview and take a look at Tanya at the Newsarama site
I just hope they can resist giving her a boob window.

Monday, August 18, 2014

ICv2 Announces "Hobby Game Market Wins As It Hits $700 million"

Hobby Game Market Wins As It Hits $700 million

(August 18, 2014-Madison, WI) Pop culture experts ICv2 released today the results of their study on the hobby game market and it shows that the North American market totaled $700 million at retail for 2013. Breaking down the estimate for the total industry by category shows that collectible games was the largest at $450 million; miniatures second at $125 million; boardgames were third at $75 million; card and dice games fourth at $35 million; with RPGs coming in last at $15 million. “Hobby games” are defined as those games produced for “gamers” and are most often sold in the hobby channel or game and card specialty stores, but these items are not limited to sales in that market.   

ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp commented, “A $700 million market is a significant geek culture market segment. With the growth it’s been experiencing, a billion dollar market is within reach in the next few years, and hopefully this kind of industry analysis will help us get there. I cannot thank enough the industry insiders who helped us compile these estimates. Without their willingness to speak frankly with us about their own estimates of market size and the reasoning behind them, we would have been unable to complete this project.”

The hobby game industry remained strong in the Spring season of 2014, according to information compiled by ICv2.  In collectible games, WizKids' Dice Masters was the red hot and hard-to-find item due to high demand. Magic: The Gathering led the pack, but not as strongly as previous seasons.  Boardgames continued to grow with support from hard core gamers and an influx of mainstream gamers coming over from other markets. The heat in the miniatures category came from Star Wars X-Wing and Star Trek Attack Wing, with any extra space filled by anticipation of the new edition of Warhammer 40K. The big news in the Card and Dice Game category was high interest and quick sell-out of both Boss Monster and Adventure Time Card Wars. The largest change overall in the RPG category was the failure of Dungeons and Dragons to hit the Top 5 list for Spring, before the release of the new edition. This change is a first in ICv2's decade long history of sales reporting on the hobby game industry.

About ICV2.Com:For the people on the front lines of the pop culture business, staying ahead of the trends isn’t something that can be left to chance—it’s a basic necessity for being successful. That’s why ICv2 is the #1 source of news and information for the buyers, gatekeepers, and tastemakers on the front lines. ICv2 is where trend-watching has become a science
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