Sunday, March 20, 2022


Hello! Some of my older posts have been bringing people here to my blog, and I thought that I would point out that I am not very active here currently, unfortunately. I keep threatening to blog again but I don't end up pulling the trigger on it. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the blog, so who knows what might happen leading up to that.

Enjoy your visit, there are a lot of cool posts to discover from when I was a lot more active here. Check out the "popular posts" section down below, on the left, for posts that people have liked, for one reason or another. 

Thank you for dropping by! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Influential Books And Authors

So there's a thing going around about influential writers, and I thought that I would give it a stab. I was going to write this up as a Facebook post, but it turned out longer than I thought and posting to my mostly unused blog also means that I can share it more places than just Facebook.

Few things have influenced me quite as much as the Beat writers: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Ginsburg and Burroughs were my introduction to queer literature, and Burroughs showed me that SF writing can be a tool to get at political and social issues. Kerouac just opened up the world, and like a modern William Blake his visions illuminated the world.

John Dos Passos was a turn of the (previous) century author who turned me on to experimental writing, and his works are hauntingly modern and presaged the works of J.B. Ballard. Track down a copy of The 42nd Parallel. It is worth it.

With poetry my tastes are often Imagist, but the Romantics can make a strong showing as well. William Blake was an amazing poet, who likely suffered from mental illness, but was a better fantasist than many fantasy writers. T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and "The Lovesong of J. ALfred Prufrock" have influenced my gaming, my design work and even my world view at times. William Carlos Williams would have loved the shortness and precision of Twitter, I think. He was a Doctor who wrote his poetry on the backs of prescription pads in between visits to patients in their homes. "This Is Just To Say" is so much better than "The Red Wheelbarrow." Of course Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are must read American poets. Other must read American poets include Amiri Baraka, Gregory Corso and Diane Di Prima.

Jorge Borges and Gabriel García Marquez should be read by everyone, although it might be too soon for a read of Love In The Time of Cholera. Borges' Ficcones is brilliant, and his work as an editor and anthologist brought to my attention a number of writers that I probably would not have otherwise read.

Borges brings me to Michael Moorcock, because Moorcock was a huge fan of his work as well. Stories by Borges would influence a number of Moorcock's works. He is my favorite fantasy author, and probably one of my favorite authors overall. But as much as I enjoy his fantasy writing, he really came alive for me in his later period when he became more of a Romantic writer (in the classic sense), and you started to see more of an influence of writers like Blake, Percy Shelley and Byron on his writing. There was always a pretty strong Byronic influence on Moorcock's writing, though. I don't think that we would have gotten the sundry Eternal Champion characters without Lord Byron. His fingerprints are all over Moorcock's work at all stages of his life. This is also what makes having a grounding in literature so important. Yes, you can read all of the genre classics, but those genre classics were often inspired by more than just other genre writers.

Moorcock was also my passage into the British New Wave of science fiction and fantasy writing. As much as I enjoy cyberpunk literature, the New Wave writers will always have a bigger place in my heart. Plus, without the British New Wave we wouldn't have had cyberpunk anyway. The science fiction establishment was still recovering from the New Wave when cyberpunk came rumbling over the hill in the late 70s and early 80s. I don't think that there is a science fiction writer as good as J.G. Ballard. The movies of Crash and High Rise, while good, don't hold water for the original novels, and works like The Island and The Atrocity Exhibition are ground breaking and mind blowing. Like Burroughs, Ballard's influences would extend out of the worlds of writing and extend into film and music. If you can find a copy of Judith Merrill's England Swings SF anthology, it is well worth getting. Besides the various New Worlds anthologies, it covers a lot of the bright lights of the British New Wave, and writers like Pamela Zoline, Angela Carter (who was really only passing through the New Wave) and John Brunner. John Brunner is probably one of the most influential SF writers that you've never read. Harlan Ellison's groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions also covered the New Wave, and the American Auxiliary of authors like Philip Jose Farmer as well.

Yeah, cyberpunk. Gibson and Sterling and Rucker and Shirley and Shiner are all awesome, but my favorite is still Pat Cadigan's Synners. That and Lewis Shiner's Deserted Cities of the Heart are the literature of the 1980s for me (along side of Brett Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero, as big of a dick as he became).

The trinity of paranormal romance fiction for me are Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom books and Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books. If "trinity" meant four, then I would include Gail Carringer's Parasol Protectorate books as well. One thing that geeks really need to get over is the idea that romance books are only for women. If there's one thing that I've faced the most pushback for from nerds over the years, it would be my loving paranormal romance fiction. The genre has become for me what most standard fantasy fiction is for a lot of other gamers and geeks.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, and doesn't even go into my love of comic books. Without the influence of comic book super-heroes (and my mom), I wouldn't fight for the causes that I fight for today. We are, each of us, a big tangle of influences. The things that we read. The movies and television shows that we watch. The music that we listen to. All of these are factors that inspire and influence other aspects of our lives.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

My Life With Cyberpunk Gaming

photo by cheng feng
While I had read a few of his short stories in OMNI without knowing really who he was, my introduction to William Gibson came when I picked up a copy of the paperback of the novel Neuromancer when I flew off to my freshman year of college. I picked up the book after I had read a review of it, and an interview with Gibson, in Rolling Stone a month or two before hand. It blew my mind, and was probably the book that I've had copies stolen from me the most.

Before that I had seen Blade Runner in the theaters. I don't think that it really resonated with me until I was able to see it more than once, thanks to cable, and we received a slightly better film in some of the director's cuts that came after the initial release. But, we are now living in the future so I thought that I would write a little about how my interests in cyberpunk and gaming developed.

I have said on a number of occasions that I am a big fan of the R. Talsorian Games role-playing game Cyberpunk 2020. It wasn't the first cyberpunk game that I tried: our college group drifted through the SpaceTime game by Greg Porter (which was honestly more of an exercise in mathematics than it was a role-playing game) and there was a brief flirtation with Iron Crown's foray into cyberpunk gaming Cyberspace. Neither really suited our group, and I probably would have just given up on cyberpunk role-playing, or just kitbashed something from whatever generic system we were interested in at the time, except that I found the first edition of the Cyberpunk game, then known as Cyberpunk 2013.

Next year is going to be 2020, so it is weird to live in the world that we thought that the game represented. So much was wrong about the technology, particularly regarding anything computerized, but it had other things that were so right.

Despite a well deserved reputation for gun fondling, Cyberpunk was also a role-playing forward game that encouraged you to create and explore the personality and life of your character. The Lifepath system that the game used to help create the non-mechanical parts of your character, inspired by similar systems in Marc Miller's Traveller, were a series of tables that let you come up with family and life events that marked your character's past. These were things that could come back to complicate your character's present, or give them motivation to do things.

The world of Cyberpunk was also a rich one, and probably the first game world that I invested into the lore of in any sort of depth. It might also have been the last, outside of the worlds of Warhammer/40K.

The mechanics of the game are simple and robust. Even after a couple of decades, the game still holds up well in play. Back a few years ago I ran an online game that unfortunately only went for a couple of sessions because of real life. It was a fun game because we played around with some of the concepts of the game itself. That's one of the nice things about Cyberpunk is that you can take a hammer to it, to fit into into the type of setting that you might be more comfortable with, and the rules don't fall apart under the attempt.

It probably won't surprise anyone, but a big part of why I am interested in cyberpunk stuff is two-fold. First, cyberpunk is about communities. Those communities can be as small as a group of friends, or as large as an enclave organizing to push back against the world. Second, there is the fight against the status quo, against the powers that be. Like in the movie Network, cyberpunk is about people who are mad as hell, and aren't going to take it anymore. These are people who draw upon the strengths of their communities, and use it as a fuel for their fights.

Fuck the lone wolves, because that doesn't get the world into a better place, regardless of what some people might think. Strength comes from being a part of the community, lifting it up as it lifts you up as well. But, being part of a community doesn't mean being a cog in the machine. Knowing when to stand up, when to assert your individuality makes that community stronger.

I know that there's a lot of people for whom the genre, whether in fiction or movies or gaming or whatever is about big guns equaling big dick energy. But I think that is comes from a gross misunderstanding of not just the literature (the word literature standing in for all those things I just mentioned in the previous sentence) but the creators as well. People shouldn't let a surface read interpreted to agree with their biases become a dogmatic approach for them.

I am sure that many of you are thinking right now...what in the hell does this have to do with cyberpunk gaming? It has a lot to do with it. Chad Walker, the designer of the Cryptomancer and Sigmata role-playing games recently had a tweet thread that made some good points.

That struggle is central to cyberpunk and, frankly, without it you no longer have cyberpunk. I guess that what you have is a science fiction action movie. Which is fine, but it stops becoming cyberpunk.

As someone who has played the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game for a good portion of my life, I see this same sort of struggle as being as inherent in Mythos role-playing as it is in cyberpunk role-playing (the two have many more things in common with each other than they do differences). For me, the heroism of a game like Call of Cthulhu, or in cyberpunk gaming, comes from the fact that your characters do not struggle because they know they will win, but they struggle because they want to make the world into a better place. Regardless of whether or not they win right now.

This is just like how fighting in the real world works. You aren't fighting for a better place because you will get acclaim or "attaboys" from the "important people." No, you do it because you want to do the right thing, and you want a better world. You do it because your friends and family and associates make you stronger, and you make them stronger, and together you are something bigger and better. It isn't easy, and it isn't fun, but it is the right thing to do.

And this is what cyberpunk is all about. You're fighting the man. You're fighting the machine. You're fighting to carve out a better place for you and yours. One of the many reasons that R. Talsorian's game has lasted for so long, and has become as important as it is to so many people, is because it understands that these fights are important, and that doing it together with the people important to you is as much of a weapon in the fight as any automatic weapon ever will be.

We're in a cyberpunk world now, and not just because we're living in the same year that Blade Runner was set, or because in a few months we'll be in the same year that Cyberpunk 2020 was set. We're in a cyberpunk world because the gulfs between the haves and the have nots keep growing. Because the disenfranchised become more at danger with each passing moment.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Sound Of Breaking Glass

I think that it is time to jump back into the reviewing game, because I have missed doing it. Let's talk about one of the new young adult original graphic novels that are being put out by DC Comics, in this case Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. This is a poignant story that redefines the character of Harley Quinn in ways that make her interesting again. In this review I will look at the new original graphic novel (OGN) that I picked up the other day.

This is probably not something that I would have picked up, if I hadn't seen some of the previews for the book. I am not a fan of the current interpretation of the character that is rooted in her dysfunctional and harmful "relationship" with the Joker. I don't consider those sorts of relationships to be healthy, or the kinds of relationship goals that anyone should be shooting for. I do like the power of the Harley Quinn character, but I hope that when we get to the next phase of young creators in comics that someone will recast the character in way that doesn't make it an extension of something harmful.

Mariko Tamaki's involvement as the writer went a long way towards my interest in this book. Previously I read her Supergirl: Being Super and loved how she updated and modernized the character in a way that caused her to be her own character and not just the extension of a male character. If you haven't read Being Super you really should, particularly if you are a fan of the Supergirl television show. Along with Steve Orlando's Rebirth run on the DCU Supergirl comic, Being Super is a favorite contemporary interpretation of the character of Supergirl. Tamaki brings a similar approach to Harley Quinn in this story as well. All of the familiar elements of the Harley Quinn story are there: madness, destruction and The Joker, but Tamaki puts the elements together in a way that makes them feel like they are new again.

Harley is her own character in this story. Her origin is not dependent upon someone else being the agent of change, nor is it the outgrowth of a dysfunctional take on romance or a relationship. The Harleen Quinzel that comes to Gotham City in this story obviously has issues with mental illness, which cause her tendencies towards violence. Harleen is raised by a single mother, the assumption is that her father has died, but she is telling her own story and it is obvious that she is an unreliable narrator. Harleen is sent to Gotham by her mother to live with her grandmother in the city, but that goes wrong, too, because when she arrives in the city she finds that her grandmother has recently died. The assumption is that Harleen is sent off because her mother cannot handle the escalating violence of Harleen, but the story doesn't put a lot of emphasis on that because Harley doesn't put a lot of emphasis on that part of the story. Her violence is her's to own.

Breaking Glass is an origin story for Harley Quinn, and one that I would easily accept as canon. This story is the sort of thing that I look forward to as the future of this character. The teller of the story of the transition from Harleen to Harley is Harley herself, and even as an unreliable narrator we get the parts of this story that are important to her.

When Harleen comes to Gotham, and discovers that her grandmother is dead, she is taken in by Mama, an older gay drag performer. Mama's performance space is the ground floor of the building, and Harleen is quickly introduced to Mama's fellow drag performers, who become Harleen's first friends in Gotham (and it seems, her first friends ever). The costumes, makeup and pageantry of the drag performances are the vessel that allows the introduction of the largeness of the worlds of super-hero comics entry into this story. Super-heroes, and villains, are another form of drag that allows people to project the reality of their personalities onto the world around them, but writ larger than life. It is the performers who make up a persona for Harleen, based on her love of harlequins and clowns, and give her the drag name of Harley Quinn.

Steve Pugh's art throughout the book is phenomenal and is integral to relaying the story. Harley's narration often falls back onto fairy tales, and Pugh's art responds with a whimsical quality that reflects when her mental state is less grounded in reality. However, when reality comes crashing into Harley's fairy tale like a brick through a glass window, Pugh's art becomes more gritty and realistic, and drives home the dichotomy of the world as Harley views it, and the world within which she resides. The use of color in the book is a storytelling tool as well. Much of the time the color in a scene is monochromatic, mostly shades of blue but scenes with Ivy are often rendered in green as foreshadowing. When Harley is angry, or in a more extreme mental state, scenes are more colorful and explosions of red enter into the color palette.

There is no colorist credited in the book, so the assumption is that Pugh colored his own art.

In the mainstream comics Poison Ivy has become an important part of the Harley Quinn story. In many ways, her relationship with Ivy is the closest to a healthy romantic, or sexual, relationship that the character has had since becoming Harley. In Breaking Glass, Harleen and Ivy are classmates, and Ivy is one of the only people that she is able to connect, and become friends, with. There isn't a romance, but the relationship with Ivy is the only one that Harleen develops outside of the drag performers. In an echo of her mainstream characterization, Ivy is an activist who wants to save their neighborhood, and her moral compass does help to balance out Harleen in places. Harleen brings the influence of her friends' drag performance into Ivy's political activism, bringing along a super-hero coding in the masks and costumes.

Outside of some of Harley's drag performer friends, Ivy is also one of the few people of color in the story. Her political activism is her reaction to the outsiderness of how she is treated by society. When the principal brings both of them into his office at one point, he refers to Harleen as Ms. Quinzel, while he refers to her as Ms. Ivy. If this story gets a sequel that leads to Ivy's villainy, I think that this treatment is what will lead her away from humanity, and towards plants.

Breaking Glass is a solid comic, well written and with art that both grounds the story and allows it to soar with the flights of Harley's mind. Everything that should be in a Harley Quinn story is there, and the character does it without being the extension of another, male, character. Her relation to the Joker is antagonistic, rather than romantic, and it gets to where the relationship between the two characters tends to be in contemporary stories, but without the middle steps of a romantic relationship between her and the Joker. This makes Harley's story a stronger one, because it stands upon its own feet. Hopefully, one day soon, we'll see a similar take on Harley Quinn in the mainstream comics that gets away from the dysfunctional and harmful romantic relationships, but until that happens we will have Breaking Glass to use as a model for how Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The Patronage Of Paranormal Friction

You may or may not know, but I have launched a Patreon page. The reason for it is to help with funding the development of my paranormal fiction inspired and Fate-based role-playing game called Paranormal Friction.

If you have followed the blog for a while you'll know that this is something that I've worked at for a while now. I recorded a couple of YouTube videos for a couple of the very earliest playtest sessions. Honestly, I always figure that this would be something that I would write mostly for my own personal use and probably print off copies to use at conventions or home games.

The cover at left is a dummy image that I made up a couple of years ago out of some free clip art. I like the colorfulness of it.

It was probably close to twenty years ago now that I first encountered the genre of paranormal romance. I was at a Half Price Books, when I still lived in Cleveland, and as I was wandering and randomly glancing at shelves, I saw a book with the title Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong. You may have heard of Bitten from the Canadian-based television series that aired on SYFY in the United States (at the time of this writing it is available on US Netflix and I recommend it strongly). Since that book I have traveled through the worlds of Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, Gail Carriger, Devon Monk and others.

The books were filled with witches, magicians, werewolves, vampires, Fae and other things that go bump in the night (sometimes with a little grinding as well). What drew me into the fiction was things like the well-defined characters who were more than hard-bitten and grizzled anti-social loners. These were people who loved. People who had friends. People who were members of a community, who cared about the people around them and the places that they lived. I mean, yes, sometimes these characters wanted to be left alone so that they could drink their coffee in peace, but when bad things happened to people close to them, they got a to-go cup.

What I wanted, for a long time, was a role-playing game that would let me play games like the stories that I was enjoying. Some of them were close, on the surface they had supernatural creatures and people with weird powers, but the games fell out of step with fiction quickly. They aren't bad games, but they aren't what I was looking for, either.

I wanted a game that was simple. A game that could allow characters to have connections to each other, and to the world, in ways that were not only fictionally meaningful during play, but also could have some mechanical bite to them as well. I wanted the much-ballyhooed mechanics that "get out of the way" during play.

I have been a fan of the Fate rules since before Spirit of the Century ever came out. Those early free PDFs were so close to the game that I wanted, and unfortunately the variants of Spirit of the Century had an annoying habit of getting more complicated than they needed to be. And then came new versions of the rules: Fate Core and Fate Accelerated. I found the system that I needed to use in Fate Accelerated. The idea of approaches is a brilliant one, while being simple enough that I am surprised that no one hit the idea sooner in RPGs.

If you haven't played, the idea is a simple one. To streamline mechanics they came up with the idea of "What if, instead of coming up with a list of skills that outline what a character can or can't do, we instead come of with a list of ways in which a character approaches a situation? What happens when they do something forcefully or cleverly instead of having skills for all of the sciences, and the different ways that they can hit something?" It was pretty radical. And, it also opened up ways to achieve success in a situation without necessarily resorting to violence as well.

Don't get me wrong, there can be plenty of fighting and violence in paranormal romance fiction. It is just nice to be able to also have ways in an RPG where players can think outside of the box of combat when deciding their characters' actions. All of this meshed together for me, and I started combining material from the various Fate SRDs into a document and compiling it with the explanations that I have come up with for players who have never played the game previously, as well as codifying some of the things that I do when I run games for people.

I try to run my games as cooperative venture as I can. The story creation rules for Fate Core are nice because they give everyone in the group some level of input into the creation of the game's world.

So, all of this went into a pot, and over time as it cooked Paranormal Friction came out of it. I hope that you check out my Patreon page and, if my blog has given you any interesting content over the years, support me as I work to get the final yards of development done for it. There is also a Discord server for talking about the game linked through the Patreon page, and I hope to develop a community around the game.

Right now, as soon as you support the Patreon you get the current copy of my WIP document for Paranormal Friction in a text format PDF. There are still things that I am working to add to the game, and a few rough spots to smooth out yet. Hopefully you will become a part of the journey to get Paranormal Friction to the end, so we can all have a finalized game of it.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Law v Chaos (2)

Darkseid by J.G. Jones, from Final Crisis published by DC Comics

Over in Gallant Knight Games' first Tiny Zine Compendium there is an essay by me about the forces of Law and Chaos in fantasy role-playing games. It serves as an early promo for my Demon Codex fantasy role-playing game (still in development/writing).

I am going to go back over some of the basics from that essay here, but I'm going to also talk about the inspirations that have helped develop my take on Law and Chaos in my gaming. Click on the link above and get a copy of the Compendium, there's plenty of cool stuff in it to balance out what I wrote. Yes, that is an affiliate link.

I am a fan of Michael Moorcock. He is one of the few writers whose works I have carried over from having read when I was a kid. The influence of his writing and universes upon tabletop gaming is a fundamental one, although you tend to see the more overt representations of it in games like Runequest (not surprising that Chaosium would go on to produce a line of licensed RPGs based in Moorcock's worlds) and Warhammer. While you still see Moorcock's influences on creatures and the approach to how a multiverse works in the D&D game, the greatest vestige of his influence upon the D&D game is in the alignment system. Alignment is also the thing that D&D broke as it tried to change it over the years.

At first, alignment was not a system to gauge the morality of your character. There was no good, nor evil, just the conflict between Law and Chaos (and the buffer of Neutrality between them). It was more of an allegiance system, but in the earliest editions of D&D there wasn't much mechanical bite to alignment. Of course, there wasn't a lot of mechanical bite to a lot of things in the earliest D&D editions either.

Over time, and across editions, the alignment system developed into what we see now, an attempt to give some mechanical power to morality within the game. This ends up causing a different set of problems in a game that stakes advancement upon killing things and taking their stuff. The designers of recent editions have tried moving the mechanics around this, which is why you see things like milestone advancement.

The trouble is that the original approach gave you a richer tapestry to play your games against. War is hell, and it can be used as an easy way for a GM to kickstart conflict in a campaign. You have to balance things carefully, because you don't want the big story of this cosmic conflict to overwhelm what the players are doing with their characters, either.

This likely won't be my last essay on this topic, and that means that we can talk at length about more gaming specific topics over the course of them. Right now, I've thrown a lot of words at the internet and haven't gotten to that picture of Darkseid at the top of this post.

In case you don't know, Darkseid is a great cosmic villain, a New God created by Jack Kirby to serve as the primary antagonist for his "Fourth World Saga" at DC Comics in the Seventies. Unfortunately, the Fourth World books didn't last as long as other of Kirby's works at the time but other creators since then have taken the threads of Kirby's story and woven them deeply into the fabric of the DC Universe. And, while he didn't explicitly name it as such, the conflict between Law and Chaos was an important part of Kirby's mythos.

Characters like the Hairies in Kirby's run on Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson, and the Forever People in their own eponymous book, showed Kirby's ideas about Chaos. These characters were young, rebellious against authority figures and creative. The Hairies came up with incredible scientific leaps and created technologies far beyond anything available on Earth at the time of the stories. The faction of New Gods that populated the world of New Genesis were the good guys of the Fourth World, and they were the exemplars for Chaos. They fought against oppression and worked to evolve humanity into godlike figures such as themselves.

Representing Law in Kirby's mythos was Darkseid and his elite warriors of Apocalypse. Darkseid sought the Anti-Life Equation that would unite the universe under his will. All sentient beings would serve one mind: Darkseid's. I don't think that there are many characters that encapsulate the concepts of Law outside of Moorcock's works themselves as well as Darkseid did.

The one "problem" is that they still show a morality to Law and Chaos, something which is absent in Moorcock's works. The interesting thing about Kirby's works, when viewed through the Law v Chaos filter, is that they flip the script on how Law and Chaos as morality are typically viewed. Law is usually the "good guy," because of the whole "law and order" thing being good. It was probably because of how Kirby viewed the youth movement of the 60s that he flipped the script and made Chaos, the change agent, into the force for good in his mythos. Of course, you can trace these ideas back to his work on books like Thor for Marvel Comics.

For Moorcock, the principals of Law and Chaos are more akin to cosmic horror. The two principals are eternally at conflict with one another, not really knowing (or caring) why they fight each other. More importantly, neither Law nor Chaos really cares about the impact that their battles have on lesser beings. They only care about the conflict, and being the side that wins. This is more along the lines of my handing of Law and Chaos in Demon Codex. Alignment is a part of the game, but it shows a character's allegiance to one side or the other, rather than the ideas of good or evil. Picking an allegiance, which isn't a requirement, means choosing a side in a conflict that, if it comes to the world of your characters, will most likely ultimately destroy the world. Law and Chaos are like Godzilla and Mothra. They are much more focused on fighting each other than they are worrying about the people from Tokyo that they trod upon during their fight.

Going back to Kirby's Fourth World before I finish up, there was an interesting change that happened to the concepts of the New Gods when DC Comics rebooted their universe for the New 52. In this interpretation, the New Gods of New Genesis became less aligned with the principal of Chaos, as their own eternal war against Darkseid and Apocalypse made them more regimented and governed by rules and law. If you haven't read the Godhead mini-event that ran through the Green Lantern related books from a couple of years ago, it makes for an interesting read. Eternal conflicts can change those with even the best of intentions, grind them up and spit them out on the other side. Sometimes this comes with the realization that you're better off without that conflict guiding your life, while other times you double down on it and let it consume you.

Either way it becomes less about morality and more about survival almost. But, they call it dark fantasy for a reason.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The EN World Archives

I've had a couple of people ask about reviews or articles that I wrote at EN World before the job change, so I figured that I would throw up a link to the landing page for my articles. There are a couple of gaps, from when the site had a catastrophic database crash, but this should let people find things.

I am sorry that I haven't been as active with writing here as I would have liked. The day job is keeping me pretty busy as we prepare for some launches. I have a couple of reviews that are almost ready to go, so we'll see when I have the time again.

Update: Apparently one of the site updates after I left it broke the author's search, so that link doesn't work. I'll try to update when I've figured out a work around.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Path To Whimsy

A long time ago, back in the Stone Age before the internet was what it is today, there was a tool for players that was put out by White Wolf called StoryPath and Whimsy cards. Now, Nocturnal Media have relaunched the lines, and added sets of cards that were originally planned but never launched.

Top 10 Influential Books

There's one of those memes going around Facebook where people share the ten books that have been most influential on them throughout their lives. I'm not big on the whole "tag me and I will tag someone to do the same post" thing, so I'm just going to post here to my blog instead. Here are ten books, in no particular order or anything, along with a little blurb for each.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Go Into The Void With Horror Comic The Gentleman

There is a long history of the occult detective in horror fiction, starting back with characters like Carnaki and John Silence and stretching into the present with comic book characters like Doctor Occult and John Constantine. SFC Comics now brings a new character into this tradition in there comic The Gentleman: Darkness of the Void.

Oliver Solomon, the hero of The Gentleman, isn't just a Constantine of color. Like many heroes of horror, Solomon is haunted by his past. This aspect of the character is brought out in the story quickly, but it is handled in an organic manner by writer Greg Anderson Elysee. What could have been a cliched stereotype of a character is engaging and pulls you along deeper into the story, like a good antagonist should do.

The character of Solomon joins a small circle of male bisexual characters in comics. Sexuality can be an important part of both people and fictional characters, and sexual attraction can influence how people interact with each other. Solomon's sexuality is right on the surface of the character, and telegraphs his interaction with other characters in places. I think that this adds depth to the character and makes Solomon feel more real. Sexual attraction can make us all do stupid things, and in a world where supernatural horrors are real it can make a person do things that are really stupid. But, when the "smart" choice would be to not engage with a world of horrors, it is important to have a motivation that compels the character to act. Is sexual attraction a smart reason to do something? Not always, but I am sure that we can all think of times that we've done stupid things because of sexual attraction.

Obviously, this isn't an all ages comic book. There is nothing sexually explicit in this first issue, but The Gentleman's creative team is not afraid to jump head first into the mature themes that are often an important part of horror fiction.

The book is a bit of a slow burn, opting to build the tone and feel of the setting, but this isn't unusual for horror fiction, or comics. World building is important to horror, and Elysee confidently builds and reveals the world of The Gentleman without being heavy handed.

The Gentleman dives into the worlds of African and Caribbean mysticism, which is another way that the story sets itself apart from other horror comics. The use of this mysticism is a breath of fresh air because any other horror comic would have seen yet another retread of the Goetia and white mysticism that we usually see in comics. This is just one of the reasons why fresh voices, and fresh perspectives, outside of what we have seen again and again in comic book storytelling are so important. We need diverse voices in our entertainment because we need fresh perspectives and approaches to stories in our comic books. We've seen plenty of the same old voices, we need more of the new voices.

The art of Massimiliano Veltri is wonderful and has been given a vivid power by the colors of Marco Pagnotta. The art is bold and lifelike, and in a number of places I think that Veltri's art is very reminiscent of Tom Mandrake's work. As Mandrake is probably one of the best horror comic artists, this comparison isn't a bad one. The characters are well rendered and recognizable, and the art brings the world to life. Pagnotta's color palette is warm and restrained, and doesn't turn the book's shadowy world muddy.

This was a great start to the story of Oliver Solomon, and I look forward to seeing more of it. There is so much more story hinted at in this first issue, and in the capable hands of Elysee and Veltri I think that this comic has nowhere to go but up.

With the release of The Gentleman we should start the clock on how long it will be before Elysee is snatched up by one of the major publishers in comics. As a writer he has a strong sense of character and story, an innate storytelling ability that goes beyond the few comics that he has written. It looks like we have a lot of great comics to look forward to from Elysee's pen in the years to come.

The Gentleman was published via a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. My review is based on a digital copy provided by the book's author.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Looking Back At Gen Con 2018

Now that Gen Con is a couple of weeks in the rear view mirror, I think that I can put down some of my thoughts about the convention. This is going to be a more or less random set of impressions that I have, in no particular order of importance.

Friday, July 13, 2018

You May Have Heard

If you follow me on social media, you may have caught my big news today. I have been offered a job with Petersen Games, and I have accepted it. I will be working for them in a sales capacity, at least at first, and I am looking forward to getting things going. This also means that I will be ending my multi-year relationship with EN World. If you haven't kept up with my writing over there, you can got through the backlog by clicking here.

What does that mean going forward? Well, I am going to be busy getting used to Petersen Games, the people who work there and their games, but once I have finished that. However, eventually I will probably return to writing at this blog again. My work at EN World was important to me, and it didn't leave me a lot of time for posting here.

I won't be posting here as often as I was at EN World, I'm just not going to have the time for that. However, I do want to keep up with reviewing games and talking about games and gaming. My goal is to eventually get back to posting here a couple of times each month. When will this start? There's no real time table on that.

Friday, December 22, 2017

My Top 10 Songs For 2017

Based on my listening habits from the last year, I made up a list of the top ten songs that I listened to the most from 2017. I don't know if I can really rank them or not, but these would be among the top of the songs from this year that I have listened to the most.
I totally get that your list is different from mine. That's what makes music awesome.

10) Gorillaz - She's My Collar (featuring Kali Uchis)

There is a lot of good on Humanz the latest album from the Gorillaz, but She's My Collar is the one that stuck in my playlists.

9) Sir Sly - High

This is a catchy pop tune that I picked up from the radio. Like some of the early tracks by Grouplove, this song got stuck in my brain in a good way.

8) Zola Jesus - Siphon

This latest Zola Jesus album is mind-blastingly good, and a bit of a departure for her, soundwise. But still SO GOOD.

7) Lorde - Green Lights

Her first adult album, and it was really good. Melodrama got rid of a lot of the teen angst that were a big part of Heroine and replaced it with some really mature song writing. This woman has a long career ahead of her in music.

6) Bleachers - Don't Take The Money

Bleachers really grew on me. They took a chance with Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 (spoiler alert: there was no volume one), and let a group of women singers reinterpret the music from their album Strange Desire. The gamble paid off with a record that was both familiar and innovative. Now they've come back with their fusion of rock and pop with Gone Now.

5) Alt-J - House of The Rising Sun

It really doesn't get to be much more of a deeper cut than Alt-J covering the seminal rock song, House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. Barely nosing out the track In Cold Blood, this became my favorite from Relaxer, the latest from Alt-J.

4) Portugal. The Man - Feel It

There is a whole lot of political naivete in this song, but it wraps it up in a nice sugar pill of pop music that you can almost forgive the band.

3) Arcade Fire - Everything Now

Arcade Fire had a hard time recovering from The Suburbs. To be honest, that is probably one of the best albums of the last decade. Reflekor was a hot mess compared to it. I think that the band has finally recovered with Everything Now. I went with the title track as my favorite, but there's a lot of really good cuts off of this album.

2) St. Vincent - Pills

Breakups suck, and breakup albums rarely capture the lightning in a bottle of the feelings of love, and loss that come with a breakup. Masseduction manages to give a peak into Anne Clark's head, and let's you feel some of the emotions that are spilling out of her over her breakup. Again, there's a lot of good on this album. Give New York and Los Ageless good listens too.

1) HAIM - Right Now

I wouldn't have expected HAIM to be at the top of a list like this for me, but here we are. These three sisters from Los Angeles put together some great music influenced by bands like Fleetwood Mac. Something To Tell You is their second album, and it is no sophomore slump.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini -- A Review [NSFW]

There are currently few purveyors of the hardboiled noir school of pulp fiction that are as good as the Hard Case Crime imprint from Titan Books. When I want a new crime fiction book to read, I go through the crime section of the book store, looking for the familiar white and orange spine with that Hard Crime logo. I am never disappointed. When Titan Comics announced a few years ago that they would be adding a Hard Case Crime comics line, I was over the moon. There have been some great comics since: Peepland, Normandy Gold and their adaptation of the Millennium Trilogy have been some of the best crime comics of recent time. Now, add to this list the awesomely named Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini.

Monday, August 07, 2017

What COULD Happen If Disney Stopped Publishing Marvel Comics?

There is an interesting article on (of all places) a site focused on Disney and Disney-related theme parks that asks the question Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books? We all know that one of the basic rules of journalism is that if your headline asks a yes/no question, the answer is typically no.

The thing is that this headline asks a pretty valid question that once would have been a resounding "no," but with the state of the comics market, and the fact that Marvel Comics has been bleeding readers for a while now, I don't know that it is that simple of a question any more. Neither Marvel Comics nor DC Comics are the powerhouses of the comics market that they were 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, the comics market itself has never really recovered from the market's speculator-lead bust of the 90s. Sales of DC Comics are up from what they were a few years ago (thanks mostly to the bump in sales that came about due to the Rebirth initiative that the company started about a year ago), but across the industry the sales numbers are no where near sustainable in the long term.

People have a number of reasons why they aren't buying comics like they used to. The quality isn't what it was. The stories are rehashes. Long-term readers don't recognize the characters in the comics anymore. There is a cycle of events that interrupt the various ongoing books, stalling out their stories. Buying comics on a monthly basis is expensive.

Some of these reasons are probably more valid than others, but regardless of the underlying reasons, people don't read comics like they used to read them. The direct comics market is also increasingly fragile for a number of reasons: many comics retailers aren't the best of business people (having gotten into the business because of their love of comics), declining sales means declining capital, and declining capital means that it is more difficult for retailers to diversify their product base or weather the storm of declining sales. Many comics stores are only just now recovering from the industry implosion of the 90s, and it wouldn't take a lot to cause them to teeter over the brink. Would they be able to bounce back again?

Regardless of the comic buying patterns of many of us comic fans, the comic market lives and dies by the selling power of the Big Two: Marvel Comics and DC Comics. If Disney were to decide that Marvel is a more profitable brand if it focuses on movies and merchandising, there would be an immense and sudden vacuum that would lead to another bust within the comics market. I don't think that another company would fill the vacuum left by Marvel. Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Boom! all publish some good books, but they don't scratch that super-hero itch that the Big Two does.

It is this lack of genre diversity that would be one of the factors that would lead to this bust. By putting so much of a market reliance onto just one genre of storytelling, the industry makes it more difficult to course correct by having other publishers step into the void left by a publisher leaving it. By relying heavily upon one genre, they create their own long term troubles. The collapse of the comics market would hurt the livelihood of a lot of people -- from creatives to distributors to retailers. It isn't an outcome that I would want to see.

If it came to pass that Disney decided to pull the plug on Marvel Comics publishing comics on a monthly basis it would decimate the industry. Even companies like DC Comics, with the deep pockets of Warner backing them, would have problems, because of the impact that it would have on the direct market. Too many eggs have been put into one basket of distribution and sales, just like they have been put into the one basket of genre. This isn't something that I would want to see happen, but I think that it is more becoming a possibility with each passing month.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Face Front, True Believers!

As I am sure you all know, Gen Con is coming, and it will be the 50th anniversary of the convention. I'll be there, covering things for EN World and posting here at the blog, too. My appointment schedule has filled up, but there are still a couple of ways to find me at the convention. When I'm not in meetings, I'll be wandering the exhibitor's hall plus I am going to be on a couple of panels this year.

Thursday at 5pm local time I'll be part of a panel talking about being a tabletop freelancer. Kiel, the original panel moderator, had to cancel at the last minute, so I am stepping in with Beth Rimmels and Jacqueline Bryk to talk about getting a start as a freelancer in gaming. I'm pretty much just going to be there for the ride.

Friday at noon local time I'll be co-paneling with Beth Rimmels and we'll talk about marketing and publicity as a gaming professional. It will be fun. You'll laugh. You'll cry. Hopefully after wards you'll know more about marketing, because knowing is half the battle.

These are both ConTessa panels, and they're doing a whole bunch of awesome stuff at the con.

And finally, Sunday at 1pm local time there is going to be a panel talking about Battlefield Press, and what we've got that is new and upcoming. I'm sure you'll want to check that out.

Hopefully I will see you at Gen Con in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

CALEXIT Creator Pizzolo To Fund "Become The Government" SuperPAC With Comic's Profits

Superheroes are synonymous with comic books, while SuperPACs are ingrained in the current political landscape, and now there’s an unlikely crossover between the two worlds in the works. Matteo Pizzolo, the writer of the acclaimed comic book series CALEXIT and the co-founder of Black Mask Studios, is starting a SuperPAC called Become The Government to support first-time candidates from non-partisan backgrounds in the 2018 midterm elections. Pizzolo will contribute his writing royalties from the acclaimed ongoing CALEXIT comic book series to support Become The Government. Last week the first issue of the series by Pizzolo and artist Amancay Nahuelpan was released with a print run of 25,000. Within 24 hours, the book had sold out at the distribution level and at most major comic book retailers, prompting publisher Black Mask Studios to immediately initiate a second printing.

“Our intention in creating CALEXIT was to tell a story that celebrates the spirit of resistance. We want it to ultimately be optimistic, if not inspirational,” said Pizzolo. “Our job is first and foremost to serve our characters and tell an entertaining story. We’re not preaching at our audience.

“But at the same time, we have the opportunity to engage with readers on another level in a conversation about the state of the country. Each issue of CALEXIT has interviews with people like political activist Amanda Weaver, director Lexi Alexander and author Bill Ayers and I’ll be documenting the formation of the SuperPAC in the back matter of the upcoming comics.

“For me, forming the SuperPAC is an incredibly educational experience in how our government works, and I hope that by documenting my process in the backmatter of CALEXIT I can share what I’m learning about this strange and fascinating part of American politics, “ said Pizzolo. “With the Become The Government SuperPac, I’ll be putting my money where my ideals are by taking a more active role in the 2018 midterm elections, just like I hope CALEXIT might inspire some readers to take a more active role in their local communities.”

In CALEXIT, the citizens of California struggle to seize power back from an autocratic government. The ongoing series tells the story of Jamil, a 25-year old courier (aka smuggler), and Zora, a 27-year old leader in the Pacific Coast Sister Cities Resistance, who escape together from a prison camp in Occupied Los Angeles, where martial law has been in place for the past year —  ever since America’s demagogue President signed an executive order to deport all immigrants, and California responded by proclaiming itself a Sanctuary State. Each issue of CALEXIT will also include non-fiction material about local sustainability and grassroots campaigning for 2018 elections.

“When I started researching and speaking with people who are doing real-world political work, it really struck me how important midterm and local elections are, and how the smaller elections that aren't as glamorous as the Presidency have an outsized influence on people's everyday lives. And I became very inspired to join the process and support new candidates in smaller elections who can effect change on a local level in the short and medium term while also rising with grassroots support to become national leaders over the long term.

“Not all of our readers share my personal values and this isn’t an official position of the book, my co-creators, or the company, it is simply what I personally am opting to do with money I earn from my work writing the book. And I hope that by being open and honest about that it will continue the conversation between writer and readers. I’m hoping my experiences here will inspire our readers to participate more directly in their local communities, and I would hope it might encourage readers of all political points of view toward greater and more constructive participation. If there’s one thing I’m trying to say with the book it’s that we don’t have to agree on everything in order to work together.”

Become The Government will be an independent-expenditure-only political action committee focused on supporting first-time candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. The group, which will select candidates to support but will not donate directly to them nor coordinate directly with their campaigns, intends to advocate for candidates who bring fresh new ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the position.

Black Mask Studios will be exhibiting at San Diego Comic Con this week at Booth 2104 and selling a San Diego Comic Con exclusive cover by Winston Smith. the iconic artist whose work graced the album covers of The Dead Kennedys. The Los Angeles based indie publisher has arranged the “CALEXIT: Change The World Tour” of comic stores to promote the new series this summer.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For Because You Could Get A CALEXIT

I wouldn't have thought a year ago that this would be the world that I would be finding myself in. So many things have turned upside down, and inside out. I have said for a while that politics have been a part of comics since Superman threw a corrupt politician over the capitol building and Captain America punched Hitler. The medium has provided voices for the disenfranchised and work for people who had a hard time finding work because of their ethnicity, or their religion. Many readers have dumbed down the definition of comics to be their lowest common denominator, the so-called escapism of super-hero comics. But the medium is so much more than just that, and sometimes it takes a comic publisher willing to be more to remind us of that.

I've known about Black Mask Studios for a while, but I have only really seriously been getting into their books over the last year or so. I've been playing catch up, going back and finding these comics because they are some of the best that I have seen in a long time. The creative energy behind this publisher and the comics that they publish is something that I haven't felt since the months leading up to the foundation of DC Comics' Vertigo Comics imprint, or the early days of the comics that Milestone published. What Black Mask Studios is doing is lightning in a bottle.

As good as those imprints were in their respective days, I don't think that we would have seen comics like Kim & Kim or Quantum Teens Are Go! from a publisher like Milestone. We certainly wouldn't have seen such raw and open political commentary as Calexit coming from a mainstream publisher. These aren't just the comics that we should want as comic fans, they are the comics that we need. I think that we have forgotten that what we now call popular culture was meant to be the voice of the disenfranchises, the discontent and the outsiders.

I have a few friends in California. I visited the state for the first time as an adult a couple of years ago. I live in the South. I grew up in the Midwest. California was almost like visiting another country for me, but in a very, very good way. It was also very much like coming home. It isn't a surprise that there has been talk from people in California about succession. We're in a time of unrest unlike any I've personally seen since our country's turmoil of the 1960s. It also isn't a surprise that this unrest would create a work like the Calexit comic.

We are a country that is built upon protest, even though the powers that be would like to simultaneously call back to those bucolic days while simultaneously glossing over the parts about revolution and protest. Reading the first issue of the Calexit comic hit me in a way similar to when I first heard Public Enemy, hearing that mix of intellectual discourse with pure, raw anger at how the world ended up the way that it did. That is a tone that I am hearing more and more from friends (and strangers) as the current political environment continues to grow and build like a psychological mushroom cloud, poisoning everything that it touches as it grows and sweeps across the world.

The is always a need for dissenting voices in our country, in our world. I won't lie, Calexit is a scary ass comic. This sort of story isn't new, you could argue that Brian Wood went over similar ground with his DMZ comic, but compared to Calexit Wood's work feels toothless, tamed. This comic is an angry, confused and sometimes disconsolate voice howling out into the world, not unlike that of the protagonist of the seminal American poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Calexit and Howl are not dissimilar in that they both represent voices of an impetus for change in an age when societal forces are trying to keep change from happening. If you consider Art to be the harbinger of change as I do, then Calexit is the voice of "best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Calexit also has one of the best back matters in comics right now. Writer Pizzolo has interviewed activists and film maker Lexi Alexander to get their perspectives on politics, art and their intersections. It is some pretty powerful stuff, and I think that the interviews add depth and a stunning reality to the fiction of the comic. I hope that Calexit spawns more overt and mature political commentary in comics, across the political spectrum. Calexit is a powerful book and you need to read it with an open mind, regardless of where you are politically. I hope that it can open some eyes and wake up some people as it gives a voice to the completely warranted fears and frustrations of a good part of America.

I will say this: Calexit isn't for everyone. It took me a couple of reads before I became comfortable enough to find a way to talk about the book like I am now. This is why my review is coming out after the release of the book, rather than leading into it. I too had to find my voice to talk about this comic. If you think that comics can be more than just two guys in spandex punching each other in the name of conflict, then you need to read this comic. If you think that we need political discourse and dissent in our country, and our world, then you need to read Calexit. It is an uncomfortable and unflinching comic, but it is also a necessary one. Howl at the world and read this comic.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes To The Blog

I've turned off both G+ commenting and comments in general, here on the blog. Why? The answers are simple. I've been decoupling from G+ over the last few months (I have stopped actively posting over there), and pretty much the only sharing that I do to the site is automated. G+ had a great run, and I met some cool people because of it, but the handwriting is on the wall, and I would rather turn off the G+ functionality myself than find out (too late) that it was going away.

Turning off commenting has more to do with how I interact with social media these days. There are basically a couple of ways that I share content online these days: short term sharing and long term sharing.

Short term sharing are things like sales occurring on the OneBookShelf site, or places like the Humble Bundle or the Bundle of Holding. These things are ephemeral, and there's really no need to create a record of them that we can look back at in a year, or five. Things like that will go to my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Things that I want to keep around for long periods of time, like reviews and commentary, come here to the blog. These are things that I want people to be able to reference years after I have posted them.

For some, blogs have developed into forum-like communities, and that is cool, but for me a blog is simply a way to share content or ideas in a more-or-less permanent manner. Social media was designed for commenting and conversation, so I would rather continue to have conversations in those places (see the above links). Back in 2002-2003, when I started seriously blogging, commenting wasn't even a thing yet. The idea of blogs was to share links to the places around the 'Net that you thought were cool and interesting. They were a bookmarks folder that you shared with the world. Because of that, I've never really associated blogs with places where people meet and talk about things, and with the rise of social media, this angle is even less relevant to me.

There are as many approaches to blogging and social media as there are people using them. These approaches are mine and if you use your blog and social media differently, that is awesome.

In a few months, I'll have been posting to this blog for 14 years, and this time next year it will have been 15 years. It is weird to think that I have been using this blog for as long as I have, but I think that allowing my approach to the blog, and to blogging in general, is what has allowed this blog to live for as long as it has.

I hope to see you on Twitter or Facebook. Let's chat!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jim Zub and Steven Cummings’ Wayward Comic Optioned By Manga Entertainment

Writer Jim Zub and illustrator Steven Cummings’ Wayward, an ongoing comic series published by Image Comics, has been optioned by UK-based Manga Entertainment for development in television as a Japanese animated or live action series. Zub and Cummings will act as creative consultants on the project, including development of the initial story treatment along with character and creature designs.

Wayward is an action-drama set in modern Tokyo where Yokai, Japanese creatures and spirits of legend, battle against teenagers imbued with newfound supernatural power. The series launched to critical acclaim in August 2014 and is currently available in monthly comic format and four collected trade paperbacks, with a new deluxe hardcover collection arriving in July. Wayward's first volume, String Theory, made the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2016 List of ‘Great Graphic Novels for Teens’ and has been favorably reviewed by many outlets, including Kirkus.

Zub is a Harvey and Shuster Award-nominated comic writer (Avengers, Dungeons & Dragons, Samurai Jack, Figment). His other creator-owned titles, Glitterbomb and Skullkickers, are also published by Image Comics, the third largest comic publisher in North America.

Cummings is an American comic book artist based in Japan (Deadshot, Legends of the Dark Knight, Street Fighter, Forager).

Monday, May 15, 2017

Catalyst Prime: The Event [Review]

With the Free Comic Book Day comic of Catalyst Prime: The Event, we get to witness the launching of a new comic universe. Catalyst Prime: The Event has echoes of past comics stories like the birth of The Fantastic Four, the White Event in the original New Universe published by Marvel Comics, and the Milestone books published by Milestone Media and published by DC Comics. Each of these comics stories was not only an exploration of "what would happen if?..." but each attempted to look at what could happen if super-powered beings became manifest in worlds that were reflections of the worlds outside of the windows of the comics creators.

This may not have been intentional when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee put together that first Fantastic Four comic, but they created a world that was a reflection of the world that they lived in, complete with people with personal issues and problems. These people lived in a much more complex world than those of previous comic book characters because the world of the Fantastic Four, the worlds of Marvel Comics, dealt with things like politics and coming to terms with their "otherness" in ways that readers who were people of color, or the LGBTQ+ could identify with. Often the creators of these comics could only deal with these issues of otherness in a metaphorical manner, like the mutant X-Men or characters like The Thing that felt like their "monsterness" made them an outsider to the polite society of the rest of the world.

Even when comics like Marvel Comics' New Universe titles had more diverse casts of characters, they would still only deal with a lot of issues in a metaphorical manner. Too much injection of the so-called "real world" would make those who were used to the spotlight of comics characters looking like them feel excluded, as if the representation of characters was a zero sum game. Things like mutants were "okay" as long as they were a metaphor for queer identity, or being a person of color, but too much meant that the people who identified as the core audience for comics felt that they weren't represented.

The debut of the Milestone comics changed a lot of that. Books like Icon or Static or Blood Syndicate or Shadow Cabinet featured character who were African-American, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian and other ethnic groups. Previously there would be non-white characters who would be part of the super group, or who would be the side kick to the white guy super-hero, but now they were getting to be the stars of the books: the headlining heroes and villains of their comic stories. A lot of us take representation in comics for granted because most of the lead characters in the books look like us, but seeing that change, seeing the joy from queer and Hispanic friends as they read comics with characters who looked and loved like they did was a bit of an epiphany for me. And it isn't just that being able to see people who look like you do in comics, for those of us whose ethnicity is on the whiter side of things we get exposed to thoughts and ideas that we wouldn't normally get to see, and this enriches our lives.

So, that is a lot of words about comics that aren't Catalyst Prime: The Event. Written by Christopher Priest and Joseph Illidge, and with art by Marco Turini and Will Rosado, in Catalyst Prime: The Event we get the zero event that launches this new universe. Like with that first Fantastic Four comic, it starts with astronauts going up into space, but instead of it being the space race that impels these astronauts it is instead a potential extinction event. A meteor is coming at Earth, with the potential to destroy it.

This is a story that we've heard before in countless disaster movies of the last few episodes. But is this meteor really as dangerous as it seems? Loreena Payan, the Mexican scientist and business woman who discovered the meteor seems to be manipulating the facts to play things out to her advantage. Is she the hero, or the villain, of our story? It is too early to tell, but whichever path she ends up going down she already has complicated motivations that could make her either, or both, depending upon the story in question. The character of Loreena is obviously going to be the instigator of the Catalyst Prime stories for a while.

The astronauts are believed to be dead, due to the impact with the meteor, but to anyone who has read comics for any period of time it is obvious that, much like the Fantastic Four, the various heroes that we will see debuting in Catalyst Prime books over the next few months will be the astronauts, changed by their encounter with whatever was in space. I would be willing to bet that the debris from the meteor that rained down on the Earth will likely be the trigger event for other super-powered beings within the setting.

I live in one of the seemingly shrinking parts of this country that is an ethnic melting pot. I can turn on the radio, and the television, and hear Spanish voices. I don't have to travel far before billboards and street signs are in Spanish (or at the very least bi-lingual). The trouble is that I don't get to see this world portrayed in the comics that I read very often. I can't imagine what it must be like for the Hispanic people I know, and I wouldn't presume to talk for them. Since it appears that Milestone 2.0 isn't going to happen for a while yet, Catalyst Prime is going to be a window into a world that is like the one that I see every day, outside of my windows and when I go out into it. Is that enough of a reason to call a comic good? I think it is, and I would go a step further and say that comics like this are needed in our comic stores.

Catalyst Prime: The Event is a great comic adventure story. It is entertaining and engaging, and it did exactly what an introductory book is supposed to do: it made me want to read more. It made me want to explore more of this world, and to see the stories of its inhabitants unfold. If your local comic store has a copy of Catalyst Prime: The Event left over from Free Comic Book Day you really need to grab a copy. Then you need to read Noble, the first Catalyst Prime ongoing comic. We really need more comics that are not just diverse, but well-crafted. Catalyst Prime: The Event manages to out Fantastic Four even the Fantastic Four.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Skin & Earth From Lights And Dynamite Comics

I am used to my interests intersecting, but usually because a game I like is adapted to a comic, or a comic that I like is adapted to a game or a movie. This might be one of the few times that a musician that I like is adapting their music to a comic book.

The electro-pop artist Lights is adapting her upcoming album Skin & Earth into a comic book to be published by Dynamite Comics. Skin & Earth is the follow up album to her phenomenal release Little Machines.

If you haven't heard her music, you should.

Lights' music is poppy, but with hidden depths that linger with you after the music. The first song that I ever heard from her was the fluffy "Toes," but it was one of those songs that made me want to listen again and again. I think she is in a similar vein to Ellie Goulding, but not quite as low key as she is. Once you start listening to Lights, you definitely won't want to stop.

I am really looking forward to seeing how this comes out. We need more voices in comics, and I think that this book has the chance to be an extraordinary one.

"I feel my whole life has lead up to a project like this" says Lights. "It's a complete convergence of everything I love - music, comics, post-apocalyptic romance, crystals, wine and powerful ladies, all perfectly entwined. It'll be by far my most care-free and fierce album yet. I think now, more than ever, people need a reason to listen to a whole record, and this is mine."

"In recent years, the worlds of comic books and music have come together to produce some of the most exciting and immersive books on stands," says Dynamite CEO and publisher, Nick Barrucci. "To have the opportunity to work with such a talented and dedicated musician who is both writing and drawing the series herself will be a truly unique treat for both her fans and ours."

The comic series follows a young woman, En - a reflection of Lights herself - as she struggles to find hope in a hopeless world. Caught between romance and cults, gods and mortals, En is led down a dark path by new friends/lovers into a twisted fantasy world, forcing her to dig within and find the strength to overcome. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where corporations rule, Skin & Earth is an adventurous tale of loneliness and deceit, but ultimately becomes one of self-discovery and independence.

Skin & Earth #1 will be solicited in Diamond Comic Distributors' May 2017 Previews catalog, the premier source of merchandise for the comic book specialty market, and slated for release in July. Comic book fans are encouraged to reserve copies with their local comic book retailers. Skin & Earth will also be available for individual customer purchase through digital platforms courtesy of Comixology, Dynamite Digital, iVerse, and Dark Horse Digital.