Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review: 2008

End of the line, folks. 2008 stops right here. No more days are going to be manufactured for 2008; everybody is switching over to the 2009 models as of tomorrow. But don't worry about the days of 2008 being pushed aside and forgotten: we're here to make sure you won't forget.

Alex and I have looked over all the posts this year and conjured up a list of our top 5 favorite posts that each of us has written. These are, as far as we're concerned, the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the pinnacle, the apex, the thorax, and the Lorax of what Exfanding Your Horizons had to offer in 2008. We hope you'll enjoy reading all our old posts over again as much as we enjoyed having the time off today to do things other than write up a real post.

Alex's picks:

- Dungeons & Dragons: Describing and Demystifying

- Virsona: An ambitious experiment in artificial intelligence

- All Your Base Are Belong To Us and other laughable translations

Nathaniel's picks:

- Firefly: To know it is to love it

- Anime: Not just Saturday morning cartoons

- James T. Kirk Elected Fake President

A vote from each of us:

- Connecticut Renaissance Faire 2008

- 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Nathaniel's picks:

- The Worst Fanboy in the World

- I Don't Like Space

Alex's picks:

- Alex's White Whale

- Sandman...Endless Nights?

A vote from each of us:

- A Longwinded Comics Diatribe

- Potty Mouth Batman

- When I Grow Up

Alex's pick:
- How to Score Chicks...Or, So You Want to Collect Action Figures?

Nathaniel's pick:
- Orchidelirium

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Welcome to the Gotham City PD...and Some Other Things, Too

A short-ish post today, since I'm currently trying to catch up on a year's worth of backed-up reading over the course of my little holiday vacation time. There are a couple of things I'd like to mention, though, so this post may turn out to be kind of review-y.

Gotham Central coverFirst up, since I got it for Christmas and have just finished reading it, is a book that DC Comics put out a few years back, called Gotham Central. I got the hardcover edition of the series, which collects the first ten issues in a nice, oversized format that really displays artist Michael Lark's moody line work.

This volume is entitled "Book One: In the Line of Duty," and it is written by two of the industry's top talents, Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker. Gotham Central is the story of the other heroes of Batman's Gotham City--the officers that make up the Gotham City Police Department. In this first book, the GCPD follows both meta-humans and your typical, everyday Gotham crime scum.

Anyone who knows comics knows that Brubaker and Rucka excel with this kind of street crime fiction, and this neo-noir series is a shining example of that talent. Bottom line, if you are a fan of crime fiction, then this comic is a must-read. If you are a Batman fan, while the Caped Crusader only makes spot appearances in the first hardcover collection, you will still take something away from this book.

We learn from the very first issue of the series that Batman isn't all of Gotham's cops. Think about it: Batman gets the collars, the newspaper headlines, and he gets to operate outside of the law and without any paperwork. This creeping resentment, but ultimate respect, for Batman among the police force serves as a nice undertone for the series.

The other book I wanted to mention has nothing to do with comics. Well, that's not exactly true. It's written by a comedian, the great Artie Lange of the Howard Stern Show, and the autobiography is called Too Fat to Fish.

I've listened to the Stern Show since I was in high school, and the addition of Artie several years ago just made the show better than ever in my opinion. I still follow the show when I can, since my brother has satellite radio, and Artie brings a whole new level of funny to the show's classic lineup.

On to my review, then. First off, let me warn everyone that, as you might expect, this is definitely a mature readers book. But you knew that. Second, I polished the book off in a few hours, as it is not exactly astro-physics, so just be prepared for a quick read. Third, it's important to know going in that you will feel pretty lousy at several different moments in Lange's retelling of his life.

Now, don't get me wrong, the book is still quite funny, with Artie's humor laced throughout some incredible stories, but there are times when, as is expected in life, the serious and heavy need to take over. There are several heartfelt moments, particularly when Artie speaks of his late father, and there are even more stop-in-your-tracks scary stories of Lange's drug abuse and alcohol problems.

I definitely have a different picture of the man after reading this book. And that's not to say that I regard him in a more negative light. Artie is, above all else in these pages, incredibly honest in his stories about how he's lost control in the past, and how, when it comes down to it, he has an addictive personality.

Some of the things he writes about are hard to believe, and are simply hard to read. This book makes it crystal clear that Lange has demons, and that they hang around him still.

That said, there are some wild, hilarious stories about Artie's early days in the business, and he also provides some "inside baseball" for fans of the Stern Show. If you're a fan of the show, there's just enough info on the main players that you'll enjoy the book. But, if you're an Artie fan, then this is a must-read.

Well, that's all I've got for today. I have an interesting pile of stuff to get to, including some DVDs and audio books in addition to a looming pile of graphic novels and those other, non-picture-y books, so I'll likely post more later in the week. [Nathaniel's note: Leaving me to pick up the slack!]

'Til then...

[Image from]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Posting postponed on account of road trip...

No real post today, kiddo; Alex and I are making a road trip to a place called Legends of Superheros in Waterbury, CT to take advantage of their big holiday sale--basically, at least 25% off of all sorts of stuff all over the store.

The last day of the sale is Wednesday the 31st, so you might consider dropping by if you're in the area, or if you're an insane bargain hunter and care more about cheap comic prices than the cost of gas.

If you didn't click on the link above, their website is here.

Oh, and make sure you're caught up with our previous posts, considering we've been posting all through the holiday season.

Yes, even on Christmas Day. We love you that much.

Either that, or we've discovered how to write posts in advance and schedule them to post automatically.

But we'll pretend that we love you that much.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Can Has Cheezburger?: Cute cats with comical captions

Here's a simple idea that really took off: Adding funny captions to pictures of cats doing cute, silly, and stupid things.

Goodness gracious, I could have made millions.

It started with this ridiculous little picture...

I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?...and became a phenomenon that resulted in hundreds and hundreds of "lolcats" (these cat pictures with captions) springing up all over the Internet. There's a glorious repository at

Just a few samples of some of the earlier lolcats:

I HAS A FLAVORim in ur basketz cuddlin ur bearzMONORAIL CATINVISIBLE BIKEI made you a cookie... but I eated it.You Eated my Cookie?And they've even diversified to animals such as bunnies, mice, and, most notably, walrus.

Erm... walruses.


I has a bucketYou'll have notice the atrocious grammar by now. It's atrocious. And I promise you that prolonged exposure to lolcats increases the risk of irreparably diminished grammar and spelling.

Indeed, "lolspeak," as it is known, is quickly becoming the dominant dialect in no fewer than two of my social circles. If this is any indication, I suspect that lolspeak will be spoken by more people in the world than Esperanto in, oh, about two minutes or so.

To accomodate for all the religious people who has lost teh abilities to speek liak normul humanz, there is--I swear I am not making this up-- an ongoing LOLCat Bible Translation Project that aims to do exactly what you'd expect it to. (No, not make popcorn.)

I quote from the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verses 1-3:

1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.
2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.
3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.

Ceiling CatYou can find the above picture and waaaaaaay more translated verses at, but it's best to spend a good long time at before you delve into that so that you can either fully appreciate the humor of the translation or understand completely why it's so offensive.

Go reads now. kthnxbye.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Exfanding Review: The Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got a New Disguise

The band Aerosmith, like Cheez Whiz, I have always enjoyed but never really thought about keeping around the house. Not that I would ever think of keeping each member of Aerosmith around my house, mind you, except when they are processed into a squeezable bottle. Wait, no--I mean, flattened into a space-efficient compact disc.

Yes, that's much better.

If it's not obvious already, I'm a little tired right now. Christmas festivities and writing posts in advance and whatnot. But enough about me. We're talking about... well, actually, I guess we are talking about me.

You see, I like basically every song of theirs that I've ever heard... just not enough to go out and buy a bunch of their CDs to have them all. But at the same time, I liked them too much to exclude them from my vaguely elite CD collection. Which is why, for Christmas, I asked for The Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got a New Disguise.

The Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got a New Disguise CD caseTrippy, no?

Said CD contains almost every Aerosmith song I can think of that I've ever heard a radio station play, and then a few more. Here's the complete track list, for all you would-be buyers:

1. Dream On
2. Mama Kin
3. Sweet Emotion
4. Back in the Saddle
5. Last Child
6. Walk This Way (by Run-DMC with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry)
7. Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
8. Rag Doll
9. Love in an Elevator
10. Janie's Got a Gun
11. What it Takes
12. Crazy
13. Livin' on the Edge
14. Cryin'
15. I Don't Want to Miss a Thing
16. Jaded
17. Sedona Sunrise
18. Devil's Got a New Disguise

This album's got one hit after another, with music you've probably heard on the radio or in crucial pieces of American cinema such as Armageddon and Mrs. Doubtfire. The only things missing are their cover of "Come Together" and the original version of "Walk This Way," but I can forgive that because I've walked that way almost too many times.

Whatever that means.

As a bonus for buying a hardcopy CD rather than downloading the music online, you get even more trippy pictures. My photos are pretty lousy for reasons I feel no need to explain, so just use your imagination here to fill in the trippy gaps, or else you could partake of some mind-altering sub--nah, don't do that. Reading this blog probably warps your mind enough as it is.

The Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got a New Disguise CDThe Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got a New Disguise cover backIf you like Aerosmith and don't already own a bunch of their music, buy this album. It's that simple.

[Cover image from Remember, kids: Adding skeletons and devils can make anything, even your book report on Sarah, Plain and Tall, look way cooler, like it was done by older kids.]

Friday, December 26, 2008

8-Bit Jesus: Christmas Carols, NES Style

8-Bit JesusGeekologie has brought even more joy to my Christmas: knowledge that a certain Doctor Octoroc has released a full album of Christmas songs such as "The Little Drummer Boy," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Carol of the Bells," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in the style of NES games such as Contra, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, and even Little Nemo: The Dream Master.

Grab your free soundtrack here. Right now. It's not sacrilegious; it's amazing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All I Got For Christmas...

Gift of the Chozo"Waittaminute," you ask, "is this new content...on a blog...on Christmas?!"

Why, yes. Yes, it is. (Thanks for asking.) And, as promised, we here at Exfanding Your Horizons will be toiling away like Santa's's blogging elves...this Holiday-tastic week, just for you!

Need to get away from the family for a few? Had too much Christmas for one rational human being to handle? Well, stop on by EYH for all your geek-related Christmas Day (and after) needs! Well, that, and all kinds of other nonsense that we have coming up.

Besides, you can tell the in-laws you have to check your work email. You know...for all those Christmas Day work-related emails you get.

Anywho, with today being Christmas, we figured it'd make some sense to do a bit on The Greatest Gifts We've Ever Received. And, as always, we'd like to hear from you guys. Leave comments, people! That's what they're there for!

Now, since I got to the keyboard first, I'll start. I'm sure you're all figuring that my Greatest Gift Ever was comics-related, yes? Ha! Oh, my, you're just so wrong on that count. No, no, my Gift wasn't a first appearance of a treasured character, or a full run of Frank Miller Daredevils, or even a DVD of a comic book movie.

Nor was my Greatest Gift Ever a toy I unwrapped as a young child, or a bicycle, or whatever. Nor nor was my Gift some sappy, touching moment of family togetherness.

Nope, my Greatest Gift Ever was given to me just last year. I'll never forget the moment. It was a large box, rectangular in shape, and heavy as all get out. Looking at the fancy wrapping, I thought, "hmmm...that really doesn't look like a Daredevil #1." But, one never knows, and my hopes were (as always, stupidly, stupidly) high.

Then, my hopes were dashed when, just before I tore into the fancy wrapping, I said, not-so-jokingly, "Boy, you guys went to a lot of trouble trying to trick me into thinking this isn't a Daredev--" It was there when my brother cut me off, yelling with some exasperation, "It's not a Daredevil #1! No one will ever get you a Daredevil #1, so shut up about it."

Ah, family.

Still hoping against hope (I mean, it was Christmas, after all, right?) I carefully started the ripping process (careful, so as not to ding any of the corners on my Daredevil #1, mind you), and what did my little eyes see?

A cappuccino/espresso maker, staring back at me.

Cappuccino/espresso makerAll visions of Daredevil dancing in my head were immediately replaced by The Absolute Greatest Christmas Gift Ever. For, you see, I am a bona-fide Coffee-Fiend, a five-cup-a-day man, and there hasn't been a day since last Christmas that I haven't used that beautiful, wonderful machine.

Cappuccino/espresso maker - thumbs up!And that's The Greatest Gift I've Ever Received. Well, besides this year, of course, since I just know (I. Just. Know.) that that football-shaped present all wrapped up in the corner is actually a Daredevil #1.

And, now, it's Nathaniel's turn, so...take it away!

[passes over the microphone]


For me, picking out one single Greatest Gift Ever is sorta like picking out the one Greatest Single Marshmallow in a bowl of Lucky Charms. How can I say that yonder four-leaf clover tasted better than hither four-leaf clover?

That is not to say that all my Christmas gifts taste the same, but rather that the gifts I receive tend to fall into certain categories--books, apparel, front teeth, etc.--that, by their very nature, inevitably get added to a collection.

I recall a time when the fabled red balloon marshmallow was all the rage, and while I might have preferred the red balloons to any other marshmallows at the time, there were several in each bowl, and I was just as excited about each and every one. And then, when the red balloons took a backseat to other marshmallows...

...Uh... sorry, Cereal Metaphor. I just don't think it's going to work out between us anymore. Let's just be friends.

I'm still playing video games from countless Christmases ago, but I'm usually equally as excited to get That One Video Game That I Wanted This Year as I am with That One Video Game That I Wanted And Got Last Year (though Chrono Trigger and each installment in my Mega Man collection did cause unprecedented internal squeeing).

There have certainly been gifts that have taken me by surprise, and gifts that I had wanted for a long time and would have easily traded my little sister for.* I've had practical and impractical gifts that I love just the same. I can no sooner choose a Greatest Gift Ever than I could choose the Best Kiss of All Time. So many of them are special for different reasons, and...

...Uh, sorry, Kissing Metaphor. I just don't think it's going to work out between us anymore. Let's just be friends. (Call me!)

What I'm really trying to say is that every year I receive the Greatest Gift Ever. Being able to celebrate every aspect of the holiday is wonderful to me, and the fact that I get to celebrate every year is really the Greatest Gift Ever.

Christmas is my favorite holiday because I love to spend time with my family and friends, unfettered by work and nagging obligations; because it's a religiously significant time of year for me; because I actually love giving gifts; because I love the snow and the decorations and the foods and the smells and the Christmas music (preferably after all the turkey leftovers are gone, thanks); and because, doggone it, there's still a chance I could find that LEGO Monorail set under the tree. (Everybody keeps getting me a stupid Daredevil #1 every year. At least they burn well in the fireplace.)

(The comics, that is.)

Have I had some really spectacular and meaningful gifts in the past? Absolutely. But more than the gifts themselves, it's the fact that I can give and receive so much, year after year, that is the Greatest Gift Ever.

Oh, dear. I have to stop blogging now. It seems I've ruptured my torso on account of my heart spontaneously growing three sizes.

Kuribo's StockingAnytinsel, from both of us [assuming Nathaniel can be repaired] here at Exfanding Your Horizons, Merry Christmas!

*such as a toaster

[Chozo image compiled from sprites by BruceJuice, M. Bison, and Tommy Lee from Mario image compiled from sprites by Drshnaps of Alex does all his own hand modeling stunts.]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Mega Man Christmas - Rush the Christmas Tree
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the blog
Not a person was voting “fruitcake” or “eggnog.”
The widgets were hung on the sidebar with flair,
In hopes that new colors would cause folks to care.

Bland post-author boxes were redone. Instead,
Nathaniel’s was blue, and Alex’s red.
These touches we hoped would put us on the map,
Or at least would quell statements of “this looks like crap.”

When the number of hits just got fatter and fatter,
We needed to know why our polls didn’t matter.
Were they too hard to read? Did the colors all clash?
Or were our polls stupid, pathetic, bad trash?

Despite our incessant desire to know,
We never asked questions, and just let it go.
When thoroughly pretty our blog should appear,
Surely we’d lure more poll voters here.

With a Photoshopped banner that looked pretty slick,
And some well-written code to load pages so quick,
We knew that our blog would bring fortune and fame,
Writing posts about topics, some of which we now name!

Posts on Star Wars! On Star Trek! On Gaiman and Crichton!
On comics! Nintendo! On Dungeons & Dragons!
To the top of the page! Through our archives you’ll crawl!
A post for each day since the onset of fall!

Okay, so you got us, that’s kind of a lie;
We don’t post every day, but we certainly try.
But if posts aren’t enough, then there’s other stuff, too:
A link of the week and our blogroll are two.

There’s a place to leave comments; please don’t be aloof!
If I ask, leave a note, or I’ll look like a doof.
And check out our topics that spin round and round;
Down the sidebar a ways is our old-style list found.

We’ll try not to be vain, but our own horn we’ll toot,
We’ve subscribers galore, and followers, to boot.
Just look at them—ten! Well, it’s hard to keep track,
But do us a favor: sign up, join the pack.

Admire our rating, but vote so we’ll carry
At least 8.5 into January.
Then check out our links, pick out somewhere to go,
Unless you’re still watching our HTML snow.

Or read about us in that box way beneath
That we’ve hidden away like a sword in a sheath.
Don’t walk away yet; don’t go turn on the telly;
The next thing will leave you all shouting, “Whoa, Nelly!”

Yes, a “favicon,” friends, and I made it myself,
And a flashy gold brick as a symbol of pelf.
They’re so overwhelming, you’ll prolly drop dead;
But in case you survive, I’ll keep pushing ahead.

Our readers, they voted for President Kirk,
And Zombie Abe Lincoln still thinks he’s a jerk.
So what has he done for us? Nobody knows,
But that Klingon hit counter he still doth oppose.

With pictures to liven up every epistle,
Now our blog’s more exciting than early dismissal.
With all that we offer you should be here all night;
For crying out loud! Take our polls now, alright?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When I Grow Up, Part Five (Conclusion)

So, here we are. The end of this latest little series of rants. It's been fun, and somewhat therapeutic, for me to recount some of the hair-pulling moments I've had in the past few years on my Journey Into Comics. Granted, the Journey is still not over, and as I said in my previous post, hopefully soon I'll have a real, live book out in real, live comics shops and bookstores.

But that's still a long ways from happening (a long, looong ways!), and honestly, just to get the project to the point where it stands currently has been one of the most aggravating experiences of my professional life. But, it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life, and certainly a way to learn things about the publishing business that I would never have known otherwise.

And, yes, I promise to tell that story one day. Hopefully sooner rather than later...but just not today.

Today I'd like to focus on other things and other people. Mostly you guys, actually, but that'll come up in a little bit. First, I'd like to finish off my bit on how I couldn't get any work as an any of the comics companies. And how much that annoyed me. Because it really, really did.

Annoy me, that is.

After a while of working at my job and gaining enough experience (well, I thought so, anyway!) to at least be considered for a gig with one of the big companies, I decided to go all out and bombard DC and Marvel with my resume, letters, and the like.

And, well, as I've said in previous posts, I got...nothing.

Every time an opening would come up online, I'd jump at it, send in everything necessary, and wait. I'd check email and voice mail on the hour, and I'd check back with the posting site as often as possible to make sure the position hadn't been filled.

I remember, each time (each and every time), going through almost the exact same cycle of emotions. First, I'd feel relieved that I was able to send my stuff in before the position was filled, then I'd feel confident (incredibly confident, actually) that this was the time it would happen for me.

Then, I wouldn't hear anything for a week, then two weeks, then three, and finally, the job listing would be taken off the site, and that would be that. Dreams dashed once again, and it was back to the usual.

After the last time this happened, which was almost a year ago now, I have to admit that I was pretty much through with comics. That was it. Done deal. Time to get my head out of the Funny Books and just move on with real, non-four-color life.

I even dropped a bunch of comics titles from my weekly pull list, mostly out of spite. Not the healthiest reaction, I know, but hey, it did save me some money! I got out of my funk pretty quickly, and I started reading everything again, but for a little while there, man was I angry.

And, honestly, I guess I kinda knew that I really had no call to be so angry. I mean, companies can hire and fire whomever they please, and who the heck was I? So, like I said, my funk ended and things went back to normal and I went to work and came home and I was happy.

Then, about two or three months down the road, I got antsy again, and I needed to do something. I hadn't written anything of any substance in a while at that point, and I guess I was just at a certain place where I needed to do something creative. So I wrote a pitch for a comic idea I had and that went over well with the Powers That Be, so I sat down and wrote my comic and unleashed plenty of pent-up creativity.

And things happened, and now, well, the comic is where it is. So, I guess the moral of this story is that there's always Something Else. There has to be, otherwise we'd all go nuts. So, maybe this comic doesn't work out so well. Maybe my artist decides to stop before getting halfway through the book. Maybe there's no market for the book, and it dies a quick but painful (and expensive!) death on the stands.

Who knows?

What I do know is that, whatever happens with this latest stop on my Journey Into Comics, there's going to be Something Else that comes along. Because, like I said, there is always Something Else. There is always the Next Thing.


There's a story that needs to be told, or a fictional universe that needs to be created. And they are just waiting for someone to come along and...make them. And it'll be up to me, or you, or Neil Gaiman, or whomever, to write those stories and to make those universes.

Yes, it stinks that I haven't broken into comics yet, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Heck, I'm still trying! And, I suppose, I'll always be trying...until I make it. Because, one way or another, I will make it. And, in the meantime, there are always (plenty) of blog entries that need to be written!

So, that's where I'll end my part of this tale. Hopefully there will be more on my book in the months to come, but for now, it's your turn (I told ya I'd get to you!). Is there anyone out there with similar experiences trying to get into the comics industry? Or any fan-related industry, for that matter?

Please do leave comments, or shoot us an email about your own, personal Journey Into Whatever Your Passion is. Heck, if you do that, there's a good chance we'll post your email on the site, if you'd like. So, send us your comments and let us know what it is you want to be when you grow up!

In any case, just to officially wrap things up here, thanks again to everyone who sat through this and thanks to all of you for getting us to the 2000 hit count yesterday! Because of you, Nathaniel will soon know the greatness that is The Goon.

You should all be very, very proud.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2000 Hits!

Funny D&D artAlright, folks. Now you've really done it.

We've reached 2000 hits.

And to think that Alex and I had a running bet concerning whether or not we'd make it to 1000 hits by the end of the year!

Admittedly, some of this is Alex's fault. The bungling knave accessed the blog on several occasions without the use of a hit-blocking cookie. So I'm just pretending that those extra hits were from people who were daydreaming about looking at our blog, a no-doubt regular occurrence that in most cases does not register on our hit counter.

Now that we seem to have established something resembling a fan base (or else we have one dedicated patron who visits the blog once for each point the stock market falls that day), the days of betting on if we'll make it to X amount of hits before we get voted off the Internet are over.

But we still need to do something to celebrate these markers of our ever-growing status as an unstoppable juggernaut of popularity.

Thus, we have decided that for every one-to-two thousand hits we get, one of us gets to expose the other to a fandom that he would otherwise never approach.

For 1000 hits, Alex sat down and watched Star Wars: Episode IV, and he will be watching Episode V around this time next week. As his retribution, for 2000 hits, I will be reading The Goon.

I'm already brewing ideas about what I'll force Alex into next. (Karaoke? Jai-alai? Seppuku?)

This oughta be fun.

We'll return tomorrow with the exciting conclusion to Alex's saga about him vs. the comics industry (Y'hear that, Alex? It's gotta be exciting now, or else you'll have made me into a fibber). Also, we plan to continue posting at a regular rate all throughout the rest of the holiday season, with as few absences as we can manage.

[Subliminal message: The only gift you need on Christmas Day is a visit to our blog.]

2000 hits at Exfanding Your Horizons is made possible by viewers like you.

[Image from]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When I Grow Up, Part Four

Welcome to Part Four of my little week-long series of posts about my experiences trying to break into the comic book industry. If you've missed any of the previous posts, feel free to check them out here, here, and here. Or, if clicking's not your thing, you can simply scroll down a bit on this page.

That said, on to today's installment, where (in my twisted head, mind you) I was about to make the transition from wannabe-comics writer to wannabe-comics editor:

So, there I was, sitting at my desk at my new job, doing everything possible to learn the editing profession and to improve my skills as quickly as was humanly feasible.

At first it was a lot of making copies and proof-reading material already in late stages of pre-press without very many mistakes to be found or real editing required. But it was a good time for me to familiarize myself with the trade, and to find out how much there was that I really didn't know or understand.

As it turns out, there was quite a bit that goes into editing that I had never really thought about, such as the wonderful weeks-on-end process of checking indexes and glossaries and tables of contents to make sure they all match up with the sometimes-1,000-page-long textbooks I was helping to create.

Again, a great learning experience, and a real eye-opener, to say the least. My new job was helping me to gain important skills that, in my head at the time, I figured I would one day use to land an editorial position at Marvel, DC, Top Cow, or Wherever. Because, as I was known to think aloud back then, editing giant textbooks is way harder than editing a 22-page floppy comic, right?

Well, apparently not.

You see, as I got more experience under my belt, I decided it would make sense to start sending out my new (and newly relevant!) resume, now filled with editing experience, to the comics publishers. Now, to be completely honest, I have to admit that, within a month of my starting this new job, I sent out a resume to DC Comics to fill an Editorial Assistant position they were advertising for.

Not the best of ideas, but as it is now crystal clear to everyone reading this, I really, really wanted in, and I had some major tunnel vision!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I am so happy I was flatly rejected for that particular job, as, since then, I've been able to gain real experience (beyond the copying and errand-running I did when I was just starting out) in the editing field.

That said, I still have a beef with DC and Marvel for all the no-replies to my subsequent job applications. I especially have a beef with them for all the times I never received a phone call, or even an email to say, "Nah, you stink. Go away." Instead, I got nothing.

I got nothing after nothing, followed by more nothing served with a big ol' side of nothing.

There even came a time when I was applying to editorial positions at both companies knowing full well that getting hired would have meant making a non-lateral move with less pay. But heck, I was persistent! And more than a little nutty. But mostly persistent.

And, just before I go any further, I do need to say that I am quite happy at my current job, as an editor, even though I am still not an editor of comics. I'm learning more and more about different aspects of the business every day, and slowly but surely, I have become a real, live editor by trade.

Now, that's not to say that I haven't been completely frustrated by the comics industry, and the comics publishers. Because I have been.

Completely frustrated, that is.

It is still my goal to one day contribute to the world of comics directly, because I honestly think I would be good at being in the comics business, and, recently, I've taken some major steps towards that goal. We'll see what happens on that front as things happen on that front, and that's all I'm gonna say about it for now.

So, back to my frustrated-ness.

I completely understand that both Marvel and DC get inundated with applications whenever they post up an open position online. I also understand that, many times, the posting of said position is done merely as window-dressing, as the position will likely (and rightfully) stay in-house.

Still, every time I'd send out an application, with attached cover letter and resume, I'd get a swelling of hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be it. This would be the time when the Good Thing happened. The Good Thing that would lead to many more good things.

But, alas, instead of even having the opportunity of the fleeting hope that comes with opening a rejection letter, I got, as I've noted above...nothing.

But that was OK beacuse I was learning another, crucial lesson about the comics industry--it's just as tough to break in as an editor as it is to break in as a writer. I was also learning that the old sayings (you know the ones: "you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it" and "never give up") were a bunch of fork-tongued lies.

And, yet again, for the umpteenth time since my quest began, I found myself angry at comics.

Tune in next time for the conclusion to all this, in Part Five. And, if you've been hanging around and reading these, I wanna say thanks to you, and if you're just counting the seconds before this little series of posts ends--don't fear, because the last day is just around the corner!

'til then...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sad News for Star Trek

I'm sorry to interrupt Alex's great series of posts this week, but I just found out some very sad news. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who was widow of Star Trek visionary Gene Roddenberry, Nurse Chapel on the original Star Trek, Deanna Troi's mother Lwaxana on The Next Generation, and the ubiquitous computer voice, has passed away. Reports say that leukemia was the cause, but that she died peacefully in her sleep. She was 76.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Nurse Christine Chapel Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Lwaxana Troi
I have no doubt that she will be dearly missed by her friends and family for far more than her contributions to the Star Trek franchise. Knowing her only as a Star Trek fan, though, I can merely say that the universe is going to be a lot emptier without her. She had a role in every Trek series and even in some of the video games; no matter how much Star Trek might have changed over the years, in good times and bad times, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was always there to help tie everything together.

Neither the ship's computer nor the voice behind it ever get enough gratitude for what they do: Thank you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When I Grow Up, Part Three

Today, I'd like to share Part Three of my long-winded (but hopefully at least somewhat-entertaining!) post on my own, um, experiences in the comics industry (sure, that works).

If you've missed the first two parts, you can check out Part One here and Part Two here.

As for Part Three, well, that's right here:

So, I was on my way home from my Post Grad comics writing class where my Spider-Man script was very well-received, but instead of feeling encouraged by the reception, I was angry.

I mean, sure, part of me was quite relieved to know that maybe, just maybe I had the ability within me to communicate entertainingly through written words, but, mostly, I was just angry.

And not even at the world, in general, but at the comics industry, specifically. And mostly at Marvel and DC, and then mostly at Top Cow and Image, and then mostly at myself, for not doing more to get noticed by the publishers.

And then I got mad at the publishers again, and, finally, I got home. It was an exciting drive back, let me tell you. But I think my emotions were well-placed, and fairly justified. As many of you may know, getting noticed by any of the comics publishers (yes, even the "small press" houses) is nearly impossible if all you have are written scripts.

Which I would learn in the weeks that followed my Evaluation Day. Soon after, I started searching the Internet and the book store shelves for any and all "how-to" information that was available about getting into comics as a writer, and I did come across some useful stuff. The one thing that I read over and over and over again was something akin to the following:

"Do it yourself. Publish your own stuff."

And I thought, huh, well that makes a whole lotta sense. So I decided to go and do just that.

Self-publish, that is.

So, knowing that I couldn't self-publish a story with licensed characters, I created my own thing. I shut the door, typed away, and over the course of a weekend I had created a four-issue mini-series starring characters hatched from my own, somewhat twisted mind scape.

And I was happy with what I had, and I was excited that now all I had to do was draw this bad boy.

And then I remembered, oh, right, I can't even draw stick figures. So, I decided to look for an artist. Unfortunately, I didn't know any artists at the time, so the search through practical venues was pretty short and pathetic.

The next step was to advertise online, or so said all them book-thingies I was a-readin' at the time. So, I did that, too. I posted an ad on a well-known creator site (offering to pay a paltry $10 bucks a page) to any and all comic book artists that were interested in making my words into pretty (and sometimes scary) pictures.

Figuring this was a shot in the dark, as no one in their right mind would ever accept $10 dollars to pencil, ink, and letter a single page (let alone repeat that process over the course of four twenty-two-page books), I clicked "send" and the ad went "boop" and then it disappeared from my screen.

And I thought, eh, that'll be that.

But I guess I simply underestimated how "in their right mind" comics artists aren't, as my inbox was almost immediately flooded with responses and art samples. Some were good, some weren't, some of the artists wrote emails in languages I didn't understand, but, over the course of a day or two, I received at the very least 35 emails.

I sifted through everything, excitedly at first, but as I clicked each new message, I started to realize something. This wasn't going to work. Almost all of the responses were from artists who lived in other countries, which I didn't think would be a problem at all, but as I replied to one after the other, I began to realize that their grasp of the language was poor, at best.

This would make my script directions, and communication in general, difficult. And I started to get really discouraged and frustrated and whatever, and then I kind of came to a decision.

Looking back on it now, maybe I should have just said, well, whatever, I'll find a way to make it work, but this is a true story...mistakes and all.

Maybe it was because I just really didn't want it bad enough at that moment, or maybe it was because I was enjoying wallowing in my own self-pity. But, for whatever reason, I started to get really depressed about the whole making comics thing, and I responded to every single artist, telling them what I liked about their stuff, and thanking them for their response, and wishing them luck in the future.

But I said no to each of them, making up something about having it drawn by an artist friend who just freed up and would now have the time to draw my book. I couldn't bring myself to reject the artists wholesale, as the publishers had done to me in the past. But, still, I said no...a lot.

This was the emotional equivalent of accidentally kicking myself in the groin (which is quite difficult without Sin City-style special effects, mind you), so I decided to get a real job. A desk job. A nine-to-five-just-like-everyone-else job. So I interviewed locally, and I landed a job. And I started work as an editor. Not as an editor of comics, mind you, but still, in my head I thought, this is going to look great on a resume for DC and Marvel!

Now, instead of sending writing samples, I'll apply to their open editorial positions, and that's how I'll break in! It's a no-brainer! I can't lose! tune in next time, to Part Four, to see just how off my perception of the comics industry was back then.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When I Grow Up, Part Two

Instead of giving a recap of yesterday's post, I'm just going to pick up right where I left off. So if you missed Part One yesterday, please do check out the post directly below this one, then come on back up here for Part Two!

So, without further ado, I give you...Evaluation Day.

At the time I had to present my Spider-Man script to the other writers in my Post Grad comics writing class, I had only shared my work a couple of times before. I took a few creative writing classes in college, and once or twice each semester I'd have to stand up and read something I'd written.

But I never created anything I cared all that much about, and so I never really dreaded those moments, nor did I take them too seriously. But this was different. For me, this would be the first time I'd share a comics script with other comic book people, and I have to say, while I was excited and confident in my ability, I was nervous as all get-out.

Somehow, in my warped head, I told myself that this was it. This would be the moment where I'd either know I have what it takes or I don't. It was a room full of would-be writers--many with some discernible talent, and a handful of flat-out talented cats.

As I drove down to the city, headed for class, I went over the scenarios in my head: (a) everyone hates it, and I get laughed out of the class and possibly tarred and feathered at dawn; (b) everyone loves it, and I am immediately hired by Marvel to write Amazing Spider-Man indefinitely; (c) Well, uh...there wasn't a "c."

There was no middle ground in my big ol' head. Just "a" and "b." Either I'd be tarred and feathered at dawn, or I'd win Brian Michael Bendis-style acclaim.

Clearly, any rational human being would have come down somewhere between those two...uhm...not-so-realistic scenarios, but hey, that's what was going on in yonder fields of my cranium.

So I arrive at my classroom. I sit down, take out my notebook and script, and I am all set.

Class starts in three hours, but man, am I set.

Again, I wasn't so much with the rational. Finally, the time comes, and my script is read aloud by a few of the other writers choosing parts and acting things out. And a couple of things happen.

The first thing I notice is that everyone laughs when they're supposed to laugh. And not the polite, let's-massage-his-tender-writer-feelings type of laugh, either. This was actual laughter by people who had found something I wrote to be funny.

And that was a thrill, let me tell you.

The next thing I notice is that people are pretty into the script, the story, and the characters. And that was cool, too. But, again, since I wasn't exactly in the most rational of places that night, I was still nervous and guarded, and ready to scream at anyone with a negative comment, "You know nothing of my work!" and follow that up by flinging pies at all in attendance.

But the reading ended, and people were smiling, and the instructor was smiling, and I was...not smiling. Then, one at a time, everyone in class gave notes and comments and things, and I waited for the Bad Thing to come.

But it never came. Sure, there were a couple of story point suggestions and whatever, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. So positive, in fact, that one of the students (a published writer) said, aloud and for everyone to hear, "I don't know why you aren't writing Spider-Man for a living."

And the instructor shook his head and agreed.

So, after picking up the pieces of my own, exploded head, I thanked everyone and class ended, and I got in my car, and I made the long drive out of the city and back home.

And I thought about what the heck had just happened. And, while I was exceedingly happy that my script was met with great approval by the others, I found myself angry.

Angry at Marvel and DC and Top Cow and Image and all the other comics publishers out there. Because, during the time that I took this class, I was also sending out resumes and writing samples to publishers.

And I was getting form letter after form letter back, all with the same, sad, rejection letter-y language.

And that takes me to a good place to stop for today, folks. Tune in next time for Part Three!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When I Grow Up, Part One

So, like many other comics fans out here on the good old Internets, I have a not-so-secret goal in life: I want to write comics. Preferably for money. And, hopefully, to some critical success.

Now, as I'm sure some of you reading this may know first-hand, breaking into the comics industry as a creator (and especially as a writer) is not the easiest thing in the world to achieve.

Actually, breaking into well-guarded government agencies may rank as a smidge less difficult than getting actual work from the big comics publishers. And, apparently, throwing one's shoes at the President of the United States is waaaaay easier than breaking into comics.

In any case, I think my experience is a bit different than most, actually. I know several writer buddies who have told me they read comics as kids, and then one day realized that there are actually human beings who write and draw the books. And it was at that point when my writer buddies realized that they'd like to write comics when they grew up.

Since I never really read comics as a kid, and instead started reading them in my early 20's (less than a decade ago), I guess my first reaction was, "I want to do this. I think I can do this. Let's try to do this." So I tried.

To write comics, that is.

Now, I'm not a big "game plan" guy, and I typically don't care what might happen down the road, as long as I have something in front of me that I care about and view as worthwhile.

And, for a little while there, all I cared about was breaking into comics as a writer. So, I wrote.

And I wrote. And I wrote.

And, granted, quite a bit of it, per se. Actually, a lot of what I wrote a couple of years ago was either plain awful, or, if it had any goodness to it, it was because I was just copying the voice or style of guys that I was reading at the time.

But, I was writing, and I was writing often. And I found that sitting down with the door closed, staring at a computer screen and typing away, was something I really enjoyed.

And to be quite honest, I felt like I got much better as time went by and I kept on plugging away. As I kept seeing some improvement in my writing, my confidence grew, and then, ultimately, my ego grew, and I became more than a little obsessed with getting published and hired by either Marvel or DC Comics.

Obsessed is a bit of an understatement, actually. I lost sleep thinking about it, and more than once (I promise this is true), I had dreams about being a professional comics writer.

To say that it occupied my time is quite the understatement. Now, at that point I was just finishing up school, and I had plenty of time to write as I put off sending out resumes to companies that weren't related to the comics industry.

I so vehemently opposed getting a desk job because, as I said, my mind was made up and I knew (I knew) that I'd be writing comics for a living. It just seemed to make so much sense to me. It was so clear.

As I continued to put off getting a job, I decided to enroll in a couple of Post-Graduate courses at my University and give them a few hundred more of my Dollars. The classes I took were specifically designed for comics and graphic novel writers, taught by industry professionals.

It was in one of those classes where my already crystal-clear vision of my future became even more clear, as I sat down to write my first assignment.

It was a Spider-Man story, a two-parter, and I put quite a bit of everything I had into that bad boy. I wrote it in a flurry over the course of a couple of hours, I read it back until I couldn't stare at the words anymore, and I came to a decision.

I liked it.

I thought it was a nice, little Spidey tale, one worthy of telling, at the very least. So I decided to run with it. At the next class meeting, I passed it out to the others and they were to take it home, read it, and come back with their evaluations.

I went home and not-so-patiently awaited the next class. As time crawled past, I became more and more aware of mistakes in the script and I started having doubts about my work. But I figured that was only a normal reaction, and I passed the remaining time by writing another script. And by waiting some more.

Then, finally, as time tends to do, it passed all well and good and whatever, and the evaluation day came. And, since time is passing (right now!) and I have real, desk job work that needs to be done...

As much as I hate to do this, we'll have to get into the evaluation day next time! Be here, Exfanding Fanatics!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Onion: America's Finest News Source

The Onion logoNews happens all the time. In fact, news might be happening even as you read this.

But, as we all know, the news that gets reported is all too often depressing, frustrating, or just plain boring.

Not so with The Onion, a heavily satirical newspaper and web publication that "reports" on the latest news, both real, heavily exaggerated, and completely made up. It is a mockery of all that is serious and a celebration of all that is dumb.

Sometimes you'll chuckle, sometimes you'll laugh until you cry (it is The Onion, after all; there should be at least a little crying involved), and sometimes you'll be so offended that you'll refuse to read it again for at least--at least--another 24 hours.

Just one look at the front page of the website will give you an indication of just how much you'll enjoy the site (parental guidance suggested):

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Video Game Resources

They say that ignorance is bliss, so I'm here to ruin your happiness with information you might find helpful if you play video games.

For as vast and comprehensive as the Internet is, sometimes you just can't find the information that you need to figure out what that strange magic rod does, how to successfully navigate through your local ice pyramid, or how to rid yourself of those pesky Metroids that have taken up residence in the lab you're trying to raid.

For your convenience, here are three video game websites that just might come in handy in such situations:

GameFAQs: Walkthroughs, reviews, screenshots, fun Top 10 lists, news, message boards, and probably other stuff I don't pay attention to for every game and platform out there.

VGMaps: Complete maps, most of them created from actual screenshots, of a good sampling of games from various systems.

replacementdocs: Large repository of PDFs of hardcopy video game manuals.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Panda-Z: Simple fun. Cute, to boot.

Panda-Z charactersNine out of ten robot panda doctors agree that, while ostensibly a kids' show, Panda-Z: The Robonimation is a fun anime that will appeal to all ages.

Panda-Z is a series of short (5 minutes long, including the opening and the credits), lighthearted animations about irresistably cute robot animals (thus, a robonimation about robonimals) who go about their pleasant lives and routinely face horrible annihilation at the hands of giant robots engaged in gruesome battles to the death.

Okay, so that last part isn't entirely accurate. Pan Taron, the robot panda hero, regularly takes the helm of the dueling robot Panda-Z (that big thing in the picture here) to fight his clumsy and hapless robot enemies.

The villains are really more like disgruntled friends who forgot why they're angry at Pan Taron but keep on feuding anyhow. One of them even occasionally shows up to play cards.

Some episodes focus on a ridiculous mecha duel between Panda-Z and one or more foes, while other episodes concern anything from a ghost hunt to eating dinner to a dilemma of how to rescue a non-waterproof robonimal from the rain.

Pan TaronAlmost every episode is perfectly kid-friendly, but the show utilizes a brand of very simple humor that, while not always uproariously funny, is enough to at least bring a smile to the face of any viewer of any age, if not cause them to rupture a vital organ in laughter from time to time.

The comedy in Panda-Z comes primarily from slapstick, sight gags, and clever situations, which makes sense because the series is a "silent anime." Like the Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton films of yesteryear, Panda-Z has no spoken dialogue, and instead relies on quick cuts to a black screen with concise dialogue written on it whenever a character speaks.

To fill this audio void is an unobtrusive electric-guitar-driven soundtrack that changes from blues to rock to fusion to perfectly fit the mood of each episode. And that's to say nothing of the contagiously upbeat opening theme song that had my girlfriend and I crooning, "Come on baby do the rock and roll! The moon is high and the sun's just coming dooooooown. Coming dooooooown!" on more than one occasion.

Panda-Z is guaranteed fun for any age, and it's a great way to expose someone to anime for the first time--it requires no more time or brainpower than the average YouTube video. Heck, you can even watch some of Panda-Z on YouTube.

Pan Taron plush toyFor the honest viewers, the complete DVD collection costs around $30-$40 and includes bonus shorts, one variety made with 3-D computer animation and the other filmed with the aid of the Panda-Z action figure (pictured).

Be sure to check out the plush toys and action figures, most of which range in price from about $12-$40. The power of cute compels you. Some of them are difficult to track down, but it is my opinion that no household is complete without a Skull Panda plushy.

Skull Panda plush toy
[Images, in order, from,,, and]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gifts for Geeks, Part the Fifth: Gifts to Drool Over

Not everybody gives gifts this time of year, and not everybody has the money this year to be able to. We understand this, so for your sake (and for our own sake) we promise that we'll do our best not to dwell on the apparent materialism of this time of year after this post.

Yet, we as diehard fans of one thing or another still have hopes and dreams that will not fade with the changing of the seasons; dreams of attaining the impossible.

I want a Nebula-class starship with top- and bottom-mounted 360-degree phaser banks, pulse phaser cannons, quantum torpedoes, modulating shields, phasing cloak, time-warp facilitator, stellar converter, and twin cupholders.

Alex wants a comic book.

(Well, he wants a copy of Detective Comics #27--the first appearance of Batman. That's a bit different.)

So it is in this spirit that we present a sampling of some of the most outrageously rare and prohibitively expensive gifts the average geek could possibly hope for.

But we'll get there in a moment. First, a (lot of) word(s) from Alex:

Now, for my portion of this wishful…wish…list…thing. Now, I could be a jerk and say, “well if I could have anything comics-related, I’d want to understand what the heck happened in the final issue of Batman RIP.” But, since I’m not a jerk, I won’t even mention it, and instead, here’s my list for Santa:

- A work of original art by Frank Miller, Jim Lee, or Mike Mignola. Anything by any of these three will do, but since we’re talking ridiculous pie-in-the-sky gifts here, I’ll take a page each from The Dark Knight Returns, Hush, and Hellboy: Wake the Devil, thank you very much.

- A job at Marvel, DC, Top Cow, or Image.

- A full run of the Alan Moore (and Neil Gaiman) Miracleman hardcovers that are long, long, long out of print, and never again to be reprinted, unless the (many) lawsuits are settled. And, if you can actually find them…they’re not so much with the affordable these days.

- A life size, angry-looking Batman statue.

Tim Burton Batmobile- Which would look great in that Batcave I’ve always wanted.

- With a Batmobile, of course. Preferably from the first Tim Burton Batman movie (pictured).

And, finally…

- A butler. Named Alfred.

And without further ado: The Big List.

- The One Ring in 22K gold: $849.99.

- A playset of the scene in Star Wars where Vader and Obi-Wan duel in the Death Star as Luke and company make their escape to the Milennium Falcon, in painstakingly accurate detail and to scale with the action figures: Around $3,000. (images and video)

- Hiring Jamie Farr--Klinger, from M*A*S*H--to host a birthday party: $5,000-$10,000

- A 1990 Nintendo World Championships: Gold Edition NES cartridge made especially for the tournament, of which--at most--26 still exist: Upwards of $10,000.

- A home theatre designed to look like a starship bridge from Star Trek: 5,000-8,000 bars of gold-pressed latinum, plus any respect your non-geek friends ever had for you. (Variation 1. Variation 2. I want. Want want.)

- The original Maltese Falcon prop from the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film by the same name: $389,500.

- An original movie poster of the 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis: $690,000.

- William Shakespeare's autograph: Around $500,000,000.

- A rabbit-thing that turns into a spaceship: Priceless.

Of course, if you're a cheapskate looking to skimp on these clearly essential gifts this year, consider gifting that special someone with the Empire State Building.

Normally, this gift would require $2 billion and a great deal of waiting and negotiating, but this year you can get it virtually for free in about 90 minutes with just a little bit of paperwork.

[Image from]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gifts for Geeks, Part the Fourth: Random Gift Ideas

We'll be bringing our holiday shopping guide to a close tomorrow; though we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what we could write about, hopefully we've given you a halfway decent start.

For today, revel in the random gift suggestions by occasional guest contributor Gary H.:

- For the tech geek: The BlackBerry Storm

- For the "never had it as a kid/wasn't alive when it came out" Transfomers fan: 25th Anniversary Optimus Prime (with Transformers #1 comic, DVD of the three-part mini-series/pilot of the cartoon and a sound box featuring the voice of Prime, (both toon and movie) Peter Cullen
Captain Atom silver suit action figure
- For the DC Universe Classics collector: Wave 4 Captain Atom (silver suit version)

- For the Star Trek fan: The Hallmark Original Series communicator ornament (with phrases and sounds) and/or a paper bag for possible use during the new movie to prevent hyperventilation

- For the Star Wars fan: The new 3.5" (not inches; foots!) Millenium Falcon playset/vehicle from the Star Wars Legacy Collection

Now, if there's still a particular hobby or fandom you want to hear about, leave a comment here (anonymously is OK) and we'll be happy to do a post just for you about how you can capitalize on the capitalist spirit.

For everybody else, here are a few last gift-buying pointers before you go:

- Use Amazon and Wikipedia as research tools to get a better idea of exactly what fan stuff is available, how many different versions there are, and what differences exist between versions. ("Her list just says 'Chrono Trigger,' but that's only for the Super Nintendo, right? I hope she doesn't want me to buy a Super Nintendo, too...")

- Consult with an established fanboy or fangirl before taking a risk on buying something you're unfamiliar with. ("The Star Wars Holiday Special? Well, Dave likes Star Wars! Ooh, and if I buy three, I get a free Jar-Jar Binks PEZ dispenser!")

- Do not underestimate the possibility of finding the impossible at yard/tag/garage sales. ("Sure, Mrs. Chanpheng, I'll pay $5 for your son's case of Magic cards. And I'll give you 75 cents for that book over there--the one with the bookmark that says 'Black Lotus' on it.")

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gifts for Geeks, Part the Third: Comics for the Rest of Us

Today we're back with another edition of our Exfanding Holiday Guide, with an emphasis on (as the title suggests) comics that can be given as gifts to anyone. Even those who may never have read a comic before.

Especially to those who have never read a comic before.

Because, now, officially, comics are cool and you won't get beaten up if you read one on the train. So, here are a few suggestions for comics gifts for the rest of society:

--These first two are clear cut, no-brainer, can't go wrong gifts for that literary friend of yours who turns his or her nose skyward at the thought of reading a comic book. Watchmen. Not only is it literary, it is literature. And, yes, there's a difference. The same can be said about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Watchmen and Sandman are both readily available at comics shops, bookstores, and online sellers, collected in affordable trade paperback form. And, just a head's up--Watchmen is for mature readers, and while Sandman's audience base skews a bit younger, there are still mature themes.

As an aside to this, (and a thanks goes to our buddy and guest poster Gary for the idea) if you're thinking about a specific gift for a hardcore comics fan, consider getting him or her the Absolute Edition of either Watchmen or Sandman. These are much more expensive, leather bound, slip cased, over sized editions of the books, and they serve several purposes.

The first is that they can be used to defend your castle in case of an orc attack, being that they are simply massive, blunt-force-trauma-inducing books. The other, more practical (in most cases anyway), purpose of the Absolute Editions is that they present the art in a size much closer to that of the original art and the panels are re-colored. Think of these as a re-mastered box set of your favorite 1960s or 1970s era rock band.

Several DC Comics series have been given the Absolute treatment over the years, so there's a nice selection of titles available. Just to repeat a caveat, though--these books are expensive, and the majority of them cost $100 a pop.

--Next, we have some Batman stuff. With 2008 being the Year of the Bat, pretty much everyone is now well acquainted with good old Bruce Wayne. So, if you have a friend/family member who enjoyed the movie and wants to get started in the world of comics, here are some good options.

-Heath Ledger Joker fans will want to check out any of these three, creepy Joker stories: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore, The Man Who Laughs, by Ed Brubaker, and Joker, by Brian Azzarello.

The nice thing about all three of these books is that you really don't need to know anything other than who Batman and Joker are to fully enjoy the stories. So, the casual fan should be able to follow along with no prior continuity knowledge necessary! That said, none of these books are for the kiddies, so be warned.

The Killing Joke is Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's seminal, violent 1980s Joker tale that hinted at the until-then-unknown origins of Joker. Although Moore (author of some of the finest comics ever written) has publicly said this isn't one of his favorite works, the book has become an all-time classic. And Brian Bolland's art is incredible. This is a scary-as-all-get-out version of the Joker, and the story is a haunting look at a life gone terribly wrong. And it's essential DC reading.

The Killing Joke has been collected in a variety of forms over the years, ranging from very affordable soft covers to the recently released 20th Anniversary Hardcover Deluxe Edition, which includes newly colored art by Brian Bolland, as well as an introduction from artist Tim Sale. The hardcover makes a great gift, and it clocks in at about $18.00.

Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's The Man Who Laughs, written in 2005, is another early days story of Batman and Joker. It flew under the radar when it first came out, but has since gained a nice following, and DC re-released the book in a hardcover edition. Another good gift for someone new to the DCU, Man Who Laughs tells the story of the first meeting between Batman and the Joker.

Joker, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, is DC's current, hot book. While this one is set in a Gotham City already well acquainted with the menace of the Joker, it does shed some new light on the character. This isn't classic, old-school Joker by any means, but a new interpretation of the character. And, as you can see by the art, Bermejo's take on Joker is much closer to the Heath Ledger version of the character. Interestingly, Bermejo began drawing the book before the first images of Ledger as Joker were released.

Creepy Joker cover

--There are other great Batman stories that would serve well as introductions to the character, such as Frank Miller's fantastic Batman: Year One and the revolutionary Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

There are also classic Batman stories, written (mostly) by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, collected in three hardcovers entitled Batman Illustrated, volumes 1, 2, and 3. Although expensive at $50 a pop, these stories serve as the 1960s and 70s reintroduction of the character to his dark roots.

--Moving on from Batman and the world of mainstream comics, we have some indy gems for the discerning comics newbie.

For those who like off-beat, avant-garde humor and a mix of horror and noir, Eric Powell's The Goon. Seriously, buy it now. This Dark Horse series is handily collected in trade paperbacks, so you can start out with Volume One: Nothin' But Misery as a nice intro to the character.

Another great indy title is Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison, or BoP, and the entire series is collected in a big, ol paperback edition that retails for about $30. The story centers around a group of young people trying to find their way in New York City. It's a post modern coming of age tale, and you'll instantly recognize at least a couple of the characters as archetypes of college roommates or friends. And, since the story is collected in its entirety, all you'll need is the one, big volume.

And, if you have kids on your list, a fantastic introduction to the world of comics is Jeff Smith's epic Bone series. The entire, 55 issue run is collected in a massive softcover entitled Bone: One Volume Edition, published by Cartoon Books. And, while it'll run you about $40, this book is a surefire hit with kids. Bone is a whimsical, Lord of the Rings-type epic, with plenty of funny moments and Smith's simple and elegant line will immediately hook kids.

Well, since this post is quickly becoming epic in length, I figure now's a good stopping point. We'll have some more of our Gift Guide tomorrow.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A New Not-So-Hopeless Alex

“OK, those are Ewoks, right?”

“Uh, no Alex. Those are Jawas.”

And thus it began.

After successfully (and happily!) avoiding the pop culture phenomenon that is, was, and forever shall be Star Wars for the past twenty-odd years, I finally sat down and watched A New Hope, from start to finish.

And, while I won’t be going to any Star Wars conventions anytime soon, I did enjoy the flick. Actually, it was a pretty interesting experience. It’s impossible not to know basic plot points and characters involved in the Star Wars universe, and over time, I guess I kinda just created my own little version of what the movies were about.

So, there were still some surprises left for me (such as Luke's family being burnt to a crisp early on in the movie), even though I figured the story would seem more like a retread of the bits and pieces of the film franchise that I already knew about going in.

But, from the start, I was happily engrossed in the story, and even though there was a little bit too much (get ready for it) travel...for my liking, I didn't run out of the room kicking and screaming at any point.

Not even when the Muppets started playing instruments in the bar.

Now, the version I watched was not the original theatrical release of the film, but the re-cut from a couple years ago with several added scenes. Not knowing the difference between the two, I guess what struck me most was just how clean the film looked.

Anyway, as I'm sure everyone out there knows, this version has Han shooting Greedo in retaliation. And I thought it was a good scene, and it made Han look like the classic, cookie-cutter, loner good guy character.

Then, after the movie was over, I checked out the original scene...where Han shot first. And that really changed the character for me. I know it's been argued to death over the years, but I have to say, Han shooting first just makes a whole lot more sense to me. I guess it'll be interesting to take note of how I view his character in the next film, but I can pretty much bet the house it'll be in a whole different light.

So, there it is. I've finally watched a Star Wars movie. And I'll check out another one...eventually.

I swear.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gifts for Geeks, Part the Second: Comics

Today, for your consideration, I'd like to present to you the single most fearsome gift-reciever on any sane human being's holiday shopping list:

The Comic Book Fan.

(Momentary pause to soak in the hushed silence of an awestruck crowd)

You think it's hard buying a gift for your significant other, or maybe for your Great Aunt Petunia who can't really see or hear so well?

Ha! Such gift buying pales (pales, I says!) in comparison to the thought of purchasing a present for the hardcore comics fan--the man-child living in his mothers' basement, providing enough snark to kill a shark, spewing endless vitriol towards the writers and artists that create the things he loves most in life.

OK, that's a bit harsh. And, obviously not entirely true. But, c'mon we comics fans are historically impossible to buy gifts for.

I mean, think about it for a minute. Many comics fans complain about the books they buy...on a monthly basis...featuring characters they grew up with...and have a great affinity for. They curse the names of creators that they...follow on a monthly basis and have (or had) a great affinity for.

Face it, Exfanding Fanatics--comics fans hate the thing they love most. And other (much saner) people have to go out (in a recession!) and buy gifts for us? I feel for those people. I really do. But, there's hope. And, as we strive to do here, we just want to make life easier for you, our readers.

Because we love you. And respect you. (OK, and every time that little hit counter whatsit goes up, I lose another ridiculous bet to Nathaniel)

But mostly becasue we love you.

So, let's begin, shall we? First up we have some gift buying tips for the diehard Wednesday Warrior-type comics fans (the one with the matress propped up on long boxes filled with comics). If you have one of these fans on your holiday list, here are some things for you to consider:

--First and foremost, find out which comics shop he (or she!) haunts on a weekly basis, and get a gift certificate. Now, I know alotta people view gift certificates as impersonal, but trust me, a comics fan who spends Monday and Tuesday dividing the weekly budget up to figure out how to obtain food, pay rent, and buy the latest issue of Secret Invasion on Wednesday will greatly appreciate such a gesture.

And, if the fan is a regular customer, it's very likely that he or she already owns whatever trade paperback or whatever you might see in the store and buy on a whim. For the hardest of the hardcore fanboys, gift certificates are always a safe way to go.

--Next we have the somewhat tricky, but much more personal option of going to the comics shop and asking the proprietor what your gift reciever likes to read. Typically, if a fan is at the same store every week, the owner will know what he or she is into, and may even be able to tell you what item in the store that person's been eyeing for the past couple of weeks.

--Next up is an option that completely takes the surprise out of gift-giving, but may go a long way in making someone happy on Christmas Eve/Morning (or whenever). You can always just flat-out ask the person what he or she wants, where you can get it, and how much it costs. Heck, if it's some obscure little title that can only be found online, then ask the person to show you exactly where it is to be sure you get the right thing.

--And, finally, every comics-crazed fan needs storage supplies, even if he or she has plenty of them at home. You can buy bags and boards and long or short boxes from the local comics shop (for fairly low prices) and give them to the fanboy or fangirl.

Here's what you do--just ask the comics shop retailer for "bags and boards for modern age comics" and for some boxes. He'll then ask you if you want long or short boxes. If the collector has tons of space, get a long box. If the collector stacks comics in a closet, buy a short box. Either way, the fan will need them eventually, and it'll save him or her a few bucks down the road!

Next time, I'll exfand upon some options for the (much less rabid) casual comics fan.