Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Month in Review: June 2009

June continued our foray into "normal" blogging territory, with personal stories and reviews dominating the scene. Poll results, reader feedback, and personal observations provided enough food for thought concerning the direction of the blog in the months to come. June was perhaps most notable for the announcement of Exfanding Your Horizons' first-ever contest, proclaimed to be "The Easiest Contest on the Internet,"which was launched in the hopes of increased publicity and a better understanding of our audience and their opinions.

Beyond the contest announcement, here's everything we wrote:

- A summary of my contributions to the June issue of GameCola

- Alex's tales of New York City's BookExpo publishing convention

- Our weekly comics news feature, Waiting for Wednesday, issues fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen

- A review of the ingenious puzzle-platformer game Braid

- A joint review of the geek-tastic movie Fanboys

- A review of The Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius

- Thoughts on recent comics and an examination of one's taste in comics, plus a ranty follow-up

- A story about cereal boxes and the renewed popularity of Star Trek

- An opinion piece about GameFAQ's Best. Game. Ever. contest

- An introduction to World of Warcraft that explains the game and its broad appeal

- A review of the new format of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures

- Musings on the effort required to create YouTube videos I can be satisfied with

- An update on the status of Valerie D'Orazio's Occasional Superheroine blog

- Quick reviews of a few books that poke fun at comics

- A Father's Day reflection on raising children in a geeky household

- A semi-vague update on the state of Alex's current affairs

- An update on the state of Alex's graphic novel, and thoughts about getting published in general

- A tribute to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson

- A collection of some YouTube videos you may have missed

- An introduction to Tally Hall, a music group specializing in diverse styles

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tally Hall: All the music of a college radio station packed into one band

Tally Hall wallpaperTally Hall is not a name you're likely to recognize, but it's one you're likely to appreciate after even a short exposure. Their music is fun, whimsical, and intelligent, and the band is one of the most talented and creative groups you're likely to hear this decade.

Tally Hall is a male quintet specializing in "wonky rock-and-roll" that sounds like an upbeat mélange of They Might Be Giants, Flight of the Conchords, Fountains of Wayne, that famous "Coconut" song, half of the music released in the 1930s, Eminem, Rent, Blue Jupiter, Moxy Früvous, 8-bit NES music, and the theme to the Mega Man cartoon show... and that's just scratching the surface.


The topics of each song aren't quite as eclectic, but there's still a good range of them, with lyrics that go above and beyond simple rhymes and "fa la la"s--whether they're introducing the band, missing a loved one, trying to write a haiku, or encouraging you to eat a banana, Tally Hall never falls into a lyrical or topical rut.

Tally Hall band lineupBetween the blend of genres, the diversity of topics, the fact that no one band member dominates the role of lead singer, each song is wholly unique; it often feels as though Tally Hall becomes another band entirely between songs. Beyond that, it's not uncommon for the musical style to shift several times over the course of a single song. Tally Hall successfully captures the variety and unpredictability of listening to the radio, and this helps to keep their music amazingly fresh, even after listening to them several times.

To that point, I like to listen to CDs in the car from time to time, but after I've listened to a CD, it's doubtful that I'll put it in again any sooner than at least two or three weeks, so as not to wear out the songs.

Tally Hall was in my CD player for about three weeks straight.

Never in history have I listened to anyone or anything for that long, not even my all-time favorite artists. And this CD has some rap on it, which I never listen to.

Sure, I listened to the radio from time to time, but when all 18 of my preset stations began to fail me, I came back to Tally Hall, and it was only after about two and a half weeks when I started to skip the few songs I wasn't totally enamored with. Tally Hall isn't my new favorite band, but they sure as heck have impressed me and gotten me hooked.

Tally Hall album cover: Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical MuseumIn addition to making music, Tally Hall has an Internet show that's reminiscent of the Flight of the Conchords TV show, but much trippier, and simultaneously a little more mature and a little more juvenile than their music. It's a bit funny, and it's good for people with short attention spans, because, like their music, the show rarely sticks with any one genre or style for too long.

They like to throw in their oddball music videos as well, but you can view those individually on Tally Hall's YouTube channel if you're not a fan of their Internet show. And if the music videos are still too weird for ya, just close your eyes and listen solely to the music. Trust me.

Tally Hall is a clever bunch of people with immense talent. Their mastery of styles, their tight harmonies, and the sheer variety of their music warrants a listen, especially if you're looking for something different from your usual musical fare. Unless that usual musical fare is already Tally Hall, in which case I can't help you.

Check them out at the official Tally Hall website, where you can also learn exactly why they wear those smart-looking color-coded ties.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sidetracked Saturday

Here's the short version: I had one big post planned for this weekend, and if that fell through, a backup post that was worthy of being up for two days in a row. Due to timing issues, both my primary and secondary plans fell apart, and now it's a little after 3 AM and I have nothing to give you before I leave for the weekend, and it's probably best not to wake Alex at this hour and ask him to write up a quick post.

Still, we've made a commitment to post on every day except Sunday, and I'd like to at least have something here that might be worth your time, especially considering we have this super-easy contest going on and we should really be writing our best stuff to attract people and encourage them to participate.

Well, this won't be my best stuff, and I apologize for that. In fact, it won't even be my stuff.

If you've been reading GameCola (which I hope you are, if you like my writing at all), you may know we have a YouTube channel that we add too rather frequently, and it's not all video games. However, a lot of good stuff goes unnoticed.

GameCola YouTube channel backgroundBelow is a selection of some of the more recent things we've put up. Take a gander:

- Clips from the TV cartoon show Doug [Removed! Nevermind!]

- A humorous run of the Super Famicom game Super Back to the Future Part II

- A helpful video walkthrough for the first episode of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the GBA

- Clips from various Shirley Temple films [Totally not there! Fughgeddaboudit!]

- A complete video walkthrough of the PC adventure game Day of the Tentacle

- The first portion of a blind run of Final Fantasy VI Advance for the GBA

- A complete video walkthrough of Mega Man X for the SNES

[Editor's note: These videos were originally embedded, but when the blog slowed to a crawl, we transformed them into links. We hope you understand.]

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I think the fact that I wasn't the biggest Michael Jackson fan in the world makes me eminently qualified to write a post today about the man's impact. I own two Jackson albums--Thriller and Dangerous--just like everyone else in the world, and when I was little I remember pretty vividly going to see him in 3-D at Disney World.

Part of the reason I say I wasn't the biggest fan in the world has to do with simple math. I was just over two months old when Thriller was released. I bought that album years later, but the first album of his I purchased was Dangerous. Thriller sold 25 million copies the year it was put out, and it went on to sell approximately double that in the decades that followed.

The music I love is varied, but John Lennon is a hero of mine, and Led Zeppelin occupies three of the six slots in my car's CD changer. Still, like everyone else, I know the words to a half dozen Michael Jackson songs.

For a kid of the 1990s, as I was, Michael Jackson was the most famous person in the world. I remember news stories would, every so often, have a poll about whose was the most recognizable face on the planet.

Michael Jackson would beat out the sitting American President every time.

He was an uber-celebrity, he was the King of Pop. He was the greatest musical performer generations of people had ever seen, and one could argue that the pantheon is arranged in an order that resembles the following: Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. Throw in Dylan and Zep, and I think I'd agree.

He defined the music video and was the first African American to get regular airplay on MTV. Later in his career, Jackson's music videos premiered on basic cable, in prime time.

And now he's gone and once the haze of respect for the recently departed clears, the media will have at him. The tell-all books will be written, the crazies will come out of the woodwork, and he'll be in the news constantly.

And there will be plenty to write about. He was one of the most controversial figures of the past three decades. He was incredibly strange, and aloof, and especially in the last ten years, increasingly creepy.

But last night, the focus was on the music. And I bet the focus will remain on the music for the next couple of weeks. And I hope that when people remember him, that's what they remember. Because he was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before on stage. He was an icon, and he's influenced a generation of artists, and he will influence many generations more.

So here's to the King of Pop.

Have a good weekend, all, and take a moment to play a track from one of Jackson's albums. I know I will.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

That Which Can Drive a Man Insane

Before I get into today's post, I'd like to remind everyone of our contest, the self-proclaimed "Easiest Contest in the History of the Internet," where any one of you (yes, you!) can win a gift certificate to Amazon.com. So far, we've had a few entrants and commentators, and we thank everyone for playing along.

Anyhow, if you want to be entered into the contest, please do check the rules out here. We appreciate it, and good luck!

With that, let's right to today's (a little bit depressing and a little bit not depressing) regularly scheduled post...

Some days you get what they call a gut check. Other days, you get a punch in the gut. Yesterday, for me, was a bit of both those things.

By now, you're all sick and tired of hearing about the status of my graphic novel (still at a publisher, still being drawn and lettered, and still in a very Strange Place as I sit here and wait to hear some answers). However, I've never really talked about what the book actually is.


In my head at least, it's a book with cross market appeal. "Cross," in this case, between the school/library market and the mass market. It's an educational graphic novel, about an important historical event, with a very mainstream feel to it. And that's really all I can say right now because the script is being reviewed by a large publisher.


As I've mentioned, getting the project to its current state has been tiresome, and frankly, pretty rough. But the book is written, it was edited and vetted and edited and vetted and edited and...well, you see my condescension dripping from the page so I'll just stop.

And people told me how great it was, and others told me how not-so-great it was, and through it all I just tried to focus on completing the project. Finishing the script, forging ahead with the art, and getting the pages lettered and colored and finished and ready for press.

It's been expensive, it's been daunting, and it's been quite a bit of fun at times. Yesterday, though.

Well, yesterday wasn't very much fun at all.

A guy I hired to come on and help with marketing of the project decided he wanted no part of it. He didn't see the cross marketing viability of the product, and really just didn't like the book very much. He didn't like the script, he really didn't like the art, and that was that.

So far, he's the anomaly, the exception to the rule. Most people who have read the script and seen the art dig the book, and the concept, and agree about its long term potential. Still, this guy didn't. And, like I said, it was a swift punch to the gut.

Maybe it shouldn't have been, and maybe I should have seen it as others have told me to see it. But, when it boils down to it, I guess I was just upset at the outcome, and the former athlete in me was pretty annoyed with the person. But the businessman in me was smart enough to know when not to flip out, and the check was put in the mail immediately, preceded by an email filled with good wishes and thanks.

And now I need to move on and go to the next phase.

But before I do that, I'd really like to linger in this phase for a bit. Anyone who has ever written anything or put their art in front of others (heck, even athletes can relate to this feeling) know what it's like to be rejected and to be praised.

And unpublished writers especially know both feelings incredibly well. Most of us in the unpublished masses know the feeling of rejection better than the alternative, which while unfortunate, is very true.

And it's character-building, and it makes you a better person, and it just flat out stinks.

Whenever someone doesn't like something I've written, or in this case, something I've spent nearly two years writing, organizing, launching, promoting, and funding...well that just makes things a bit more difficult to swallow.

And I know every artist will say, "It's one guy. Who cares?"

But the truth is, at times like this I can't help but think that maybe what I've written just isn't all that great. And I've only looked at it through rose-colored lenses and maybe I should rethink things. And I know that's anathema for a creative person to think this way, but I am not (nor was I ever) a Rah-Rah, believe in yourself and you can achieve the moon type of person.

Mostly because, while you do need confidence in yourself to do many things, you also need talent. I could believe in myself until Tinker Bell's head exploded, but that wouldn't mean I'd ever become a professional wrestler. Or a soccer player. Or a golfer. Or captain of the Harvard polo team.

When it comes down to it, though, I have to just put my head down and keep running. But for today--just for today--I'd like to remain in this phase. Angry at things and mad at the world. Sometimes the best writing gets done when emotions are at their highest. Sometimes when I feel like this, nothing gets done besides vegging out on the couch until midnight.

But, whatever today brings, I'll deal with it.

I do have faith in my book, I have faith in my artist, and I have faith in my own abilities. I think the thing can sell and that it can be incredibly profitable. And hopefully the publisher will recognize that.

And if not, then it's on to the next. Either the next phase in this project, or the next phase in a whole new project.

If nothing else, these past two years have shown me that I want to be connected with the creative world, to talk to and yell at crazy and brilliant people, and to get out of the box, literally, of a regular job.

And maybe this punch to the gut can become a swift kick in the butt to do just that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 18

Another Wednesday, another Waiting for. And boy do I need some time to hang out at the old comics shop and not think about work or anything else for a while. And that's just what I plan to do later today.

A little Nirvana in the middle of the week.

And that's definitely a Very Good Thing. Anyway, there's some really good stuff out from the publishers this week, and it appears to be one of the larger shipping days in quite a while, so brace yourselves. Now, instead of my usual Wednesday tradition of providing you with a laundry list of books I'm going to be checking out today, this week I'd like to focus on only one title.

For a couple of reasons.

First, the main books I'm looking forward to today are titles such as Madame Xanadu, issue 12, Lillim, issue 4, and Cleaners, issue 4--all series that I've talked about in previous issues of Waiting for.

So, if I haven't yet been able to convince you that these books are worth checking out, then even mine own brilliant and persuasive prose will likely never lure you to such comics goodness!

Second, as you'll see in the preview below, I think this week's featured book is going to be a rather important addition to the DC Comics Library.

Let's get right to it, then.

Today's book is one that I've been waiting not-so-patiently for. It's the first issue of the highly anticipated Greg Rucka/JH Williams III Detective Comics run, starring Batgirl. Sorry. Batwoman. The new Batwoman, who was introduced a few years back in DC's weekly series, 52.

While I wasn't the biggest fan of 52, or quite frankly, any of DC's weekly series for that matter, I did like the idea of a new Batwoman. Actually, I should amend that. I liked the idea of Greg Rucka writing a new Batwoman.

I've always been a big Rucka fan, and some of the first comics I read were written by him. I've always admired his skills when it comes to characterization and his ability to tell a story (and say quite a bit) with relatively few words is pretty amazing.

Add to that the beautiful, painted art by JH Williams, and this book is on top of my pull list. Williams' art is unique in the field of mainstream comics, and his pages just look different from anything else being published today. Take a look at a preview page from today's Detective Comics, issue 854.

Detective Comics #854 page sampleNow, I might be going out on a limb here, but I think this issue will mark a pretty important run in the history of the Batman books. First off, this new Batwoman is a fairly controversial character. This series was initially meant to hit shelves last year, but because of Warner Brothers' The Dark Knight film, the series was put on hiatus.

Why? Well, basically because the new Batwoman, Kathy Kane, is a lesbian. Now, many of you are most likely asking, who the heck cares? And I'm right there with you. However, apparently Warners did not agree, and felt that a character as "controversial" as a homosexual Batwoman would be bad for business.

Now, I get that production companies are a little not-so-sane, and that any perceived detriment to the potential bottom line of a movie must be addressed, but...c'mon.

Anyway, that's not really the point of this post, nor is it the reason why this book's shipping is important. This book means something because it will prominently feature a gay character in Detective Comics, the flagship book of DC. (That's what the "DC" stands for, by the way). And, while there have been gay characters in comics before, this run on Detective will certainly be the highest profile afforded to a gay character.

And that's great, and it will generate some attention in the media, and maybe even new readers will pick this book up today. And that leads me to my next point as to why this book will be important--it's about a very new character, written by a master of the comics form, and it will be accessible to all. It's part one of four, and anyone picking the book up today will be getting in on the ground floor of a character.

And how many times can you say that about comic books today?

Most importantly, I feel, is that Greg Rucka writes strong, confident, smart women better than any other male writer in comics. And it's about time a strong female character gets the lead in a big time book.

So, I think this book's potential to draw in new readers is quite high, and between Rucka's prose and Williams' brilliant and beautiful art style, maybe this time we'll be able to hang on to these new readers.

Anyway, here's the issue solicit info from DC:

"Elegy" part 1 of 4! A new era in the history of DETECTIVE COMICS begins as Batwoman is unleashed on Gotham City! Marked by the blood-red bat, Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war – one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. With a script by Greg Rucka and breath-taking art by JH Williams III, you've never seen anything like this!

Featuring the debut of a new co-feature starring The Question written by Rucka! Odds against you? Alone and nowhere to turn? Willing to fight, but you don't know how? When you're searching everywhere for an answer, sometimes all you need to do is ask the right Question. Renee Montoya again dons the faceless mask to help those in need, all the while searching for her own answers in this new adventure with art by Cully Hamner (BLUE BEETLE).

And here's the stunning cover by Williams:

Detective Comics: Elegy coverThat's all for today. So, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Easiest Contest on the Internet

Exfanding Your Horizons is holding a contest.

[NOTE: Ha! Not really. This contest is now closed.]

Amazon.com gift cardWe're giving away two $10 gift certificates to Amazon.com. And it's really easy to enter our contest.

Call us vain, but we'd like to see all those numbers on our fancy sidebar increase. Especially our rating on Blogged.com. And some more publicity couldn't hurt.

That's where you come in.


To enter our contest all you need to do is one (or more!) of the following:

- Become a Follower of this blog (check the Loyal Minions section of our sidebar).

- Become a fan of us on Facebook.

- Make us a Technorati favorite (look for the tiny link that says "Favorite it"). Feel free to write a review of us while you're there, too.

- Rate us on Blogged.com. To rate us, you will need to click on "review this blog," write something as simple or as complex as you'd like, and then select your rating before submitting. RATE US HONESTLY. Or give us a 10. Which, realistically, would be rating us honestly anyhow. Right? ...Right?

- Follow us on Blogged.com. Just click the "Start Following" button. If you're already there to rate us, you might as well do this anyhow, and vice versa.

For both Technorati and Blogged, you will need to create an account if you don't already have one. The process is quick and easy, and I have never received any spam from being signed up.

At the end of this month, we will gather the names of all the Followers, Facebook and Technorati fans, and people who rated us on Blogged.com and throw them into a big, comical hat, or a passable substitute for a big, comical hat. We will then draw TWO names at random and send each one a $10 Amazon.com gift certificate via e-mail. Easy!

There is no official deadline, but results will be announced whenever we feel like it during the first week of July. If we can dig up your e-mail address, you will simply be e-mailed the gift certificate. Otherwise, we'll send you a Facebook message, etc. letting you know you've won, and it's up to you to get in touch with us about how to get in touch with you.


- If you are already a fan, Follower, or have voted, you have already been entered into this contest. Huzzah!

- Each contest entrant is allowed a maximum of FIVE chances to win--one as a Follower, one as a Facebook fan, one as a Technorati fan, one as a Blogged follower, and one for voting on Blogged. Please don't create fifty fake Technorati accounts and whatnot to get a better shot at winning. I know where half of you live, and I will find you.

- If we don't have your e-mail address and you take too long to respond to our Facebook message, etc., then we'll give the gift certificate to somebody else. Tough noogies.

- The two gift certificates must be given to two different people. If we draw your name twice, lucky you, you get to fight yourself to the death. The survivor gets one prize, and the other will be given to a randomly selected person who is not you. Unless your name is drawn for the third time, in which case we'll fight you to the death ourselves, because you're clearly cheating.

- If you become a Follower or fan, don't just stop Following or fanning us as soon as this contest is over. We've rigged the "Stop Following" button to cause your computer to ceaselessly make yak noises if you click it, and Facebook will permanently change your username to "Buttermilk Pajamas" if you stop being a fan.

- Immediate family members of Alex and Nathaniel are not eligible to win. You openly show your support for us out of obligation, remember.

Also, while you're at it, rate us on BlogCatalog and vote on some of my YouTube videos. We're not actually counting these toward the contest, but they'd certainly be appreciated, and they may build good karma, which could increase your chances of winning.

We're giving away $10 gift certificates if you click a few buttons, folks. It doesn't get much easier than this.

Become a Follower, become a fan on Facebook and Technorati, and rate us on Blogged by the first week of July. Don't just do it 'cuz you love the blog. Do it for the $10.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting in the Way

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Unfortunately for me, it hasn't been the fun kind of crazy, either. Quite the opposite, really. It's alternated between the "get home at 8:00 and crash" kind of crazy and the "finish one job at 6:00 and head out to another job at 6:30" kind of crazy.

And, honestly, with the way things are these days, I'm just happy to be headed to a job at all.

I guess the "good news" is that my other job is well on its way to becoming my "former job," as my business partner and I have run into some not-so-unforeseen troubles the past few weeks. They're things I had entirely predicted might happen, so it's a case of no harm, no foul at the moment. And, since it's a company that I own, I guess it'll never really be a "former" job.

And it's not like business has gone away. We still have clients, and we are still actively looking for more, but we also need to be realistic and so we have altered the business plan. Adapt or die, I guess. So far, it's a case of a few bucks lost, sure, but in the end it's nothing that can't be made up for.


A while ago I wrote about doing what you love, and making a career of the very thing that gives you the most joy in life. To make a career out of a passion, to wave a particular finger at the establishment, and to live in a four color world.

With all the garbage that's taken place over the last few weeks (and I'm off to a great start this Monday morning, by the way), a couple of Very Good Things have happened. One has something to do with the graphic novel that I have written, and is being drawn now. I'm currently in Waiting Mode, and I don't want to say anything for fear of jinxing the whole thing. But, good or bad, I will write about what happens when Waiting Mode is over. I promise.

But I will say that I don't remember a time when I was more in need of Very Good News. As usual, I don't have a very good feeling about it, but we'll see.

The other Very Good Thing is something that I'm just getting started with, and it's a rather large step towards that whole "doing what you love" theory of existence. All the work I've put into things over the past few months SHOULD have been directed at doing what I love. It will be now.

Yes, I'll still be working stupid hours. But there's now the faintest light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me--all any of us every really need is a little light and a reminder that things are what we make of them.

Or what we make them into.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fanboy Father, or Dad the Dork

I hope to be a father someday.

And I'm thinking ahead to all the geeky times my child (or children!) and I could have.

I imagine standing before a bookshelf with my daughter, pointing out the comics that might appeal to her, acting as a sort of comics librarian in my own home.

I imagine singing along to They Might Be Giants with my son as he takes me for a ride in his brand-new car, the one with the "My Other Car is the Millennium Falcon" bumper sticker.

I imagine losing track of an entire afternoon with my daughter as we run a marathon of our favorite anime series, and being amazed at how much of the Japanese she understands.

I imagine taking my son by the hand and walking along in the dusky October evening, chuckling a little at seeing my young Mr. Spock toting around a bucket filled with candy.

I imagine tipping over a huge container filled to the brim with my old LEGOs and building an empire with my children that spans the whole of the living room carpet.

I imagine sitting down with my daughter and her friends at a long wooden table and killing each and every one of them because they were not strong enough to defeat my crafty red dragon, and then, after getting punched in the arm by my daughter, finding a way to bring them back to life.

I imagine dusting off my ancient NES and hearing a little voice say, "Daddy, what is that? Is it a toaster?" And then my son and I will sit down together and play Gradius together, as my father and I once did.

After blowing on the cartridge a dozen times, of course.

It's hard to tell what the future may hold. Perhaps there will be no children for me. Perhaps my child, or my children, will scorn my long-held passions and ignore my invitations to watch this or to play that.

I'm willing to deal with that.

My geek passions run deep, but not as deep as the love that I as a father would hope to have for my child. The reason I want to geek out with my kids is the reason I write on this blog: I want to share the things that are a part of my life, the things that help to make me who I am. Even if my kids merely understand my passions, we will have that much more of a connection than we would if they did not. Being able to relate to my child at all is far more important to me than whether or not we can go to conventions together.

I don't forsee my father ever sitting down and playing an entire game of Civilization III with me. Likewise, I don't forsee me ever sitting down and watching an entire night of Monday Night Football with my dad unless the Bengals are playing, and that's only because their helmets are the coolest. That doesn't stop us from watching Stargate or singing in a choir together (Dad and me, not me and the Bengals).

The future is a long way off. At least, the future where I need to decide how old my child should be before it's appropriate to read The Goon. (Answer: Four months. At least, that's how long I had to wait until Alex lent it to me.) In the meantime, I have plenty of people with whom I can share my interests, and plenty of fandoms yet to be discovered that will ultimately bring me closer to the people in my life.

Sharing interests and growing closer with one another... Seems like a much better reason for Father's Day than just an excuse to get a new tie.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poking Fun

A wise man once said, "If you can't laugh at yourself...then you're probably an idiot." Words to live by, for sure. Words to live by, especially when one's favorite hobby involves reading about people who can fly, buying toys depicting people who can fly, and going to conventions where people dress up as...well, people who can fly.

So in the spirit of laughing at myself and everyone involved in the comics hobby, today I'd like to run down a list of a few satirical books on comics and the hobby that I've enjoyed over the years. These won't be official reviews, per se, but more like suggested reading. In any case, let's start.

First, if you want to laugh at this ridiculous and wonderful hobby of ours, then you have to start with Mark Evanier's fantastic three-book series collecting the best of his columns written for Comics Buyer's Guide.

Evanier is one of my favorite comics people in general, and his blog is always informative, thought-provoking, and flat-out funny. Sometimes all at the same time. And the content of these collections is no different. In the series, Evanier talks about a wide range of topics, including humorous tales of his old childhood comic book club, the insanity of modern comics numbering, and an incredibly informational (and, frankly, required) piece on Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and the creation of Batman.

Superheroes in My Pants! coverThe three books, entitled, Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life, Wertham was Right!, and Superheroes in My Pants, are all available on Amazon and at Mr. Evanier's Web site.

These are very affordable collections, and well worth your time. Oh! And I almost forgot the Sergio Aragonés art! Each books has spot illustrations by one of comics' greatest funnymen, and they complement Evanier's humorous prose. [You might recall Mr. Aragonés' art from the margins of MAD Magazine. I know I do. --Ed.]

Next up is another collection of columns, this time from comics writer and fan favorite Gail Simone. The collection of Comic Book Resources columns, called You'll All Be Sorry (or, YABS) is a skewering of the comics industry at large, at creators in particular, and at fans in general.

You'll All Be Sorry! coverYABS is not good, clean fun, but it is good, mean fun. From Wizard to the various comics news sites online, no one in the industry is left alone--not even Alan Moore's seminal Watchmen escapes Simone's wrath.

It's all done in jest, of course, but Simone's acerbic wit often leads to brutal satire. This book is tough to put down once you delve into it, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Finally, we have an interesting magazine that I actually just found this past weekend called Comic Book Nerd, from the great TwoMorrows Publishing.

Comic Book Nerd coverNerd is a straight-up satire of the comics press, as the book contains mock pages from Wizard, Comics Buyer's Guide, The Comics Journal, and even some TwoMorrows titles. Fans of any of these mags should get a few laughs at the satire, but with an in-store price point of nearly nine bucks and a page count of 64, it's satire that doesn't come cheap.

However, you can check out a free 16 page preview of the book on TwoMorrows' site, right here, and if you buy directly from the publisher, the book is half off!

So, in conclusion, a Public Service Announcement: Remember that it's okay to laugh at yourself and to poke fun at other fanboys and fangirls from time to time.

That's all for today--Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Occasional Superheroine Apparently Not Dead

Occasional Superheroine mascotA while back, I reported that Valerie D'Orazio's blog, Occasional Superheroine, was going on permanent hiatus.

Evidently, Val has been posting new material there for a while now. Who knew? So Occasional Superheroine is now back on our active blogroll. If you haven't done so, check it out--it's some of the most honest and intelligent (and sometimes controversial) blogging I've seen 'round the 'net.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 17

Holy cow. This is the first writing that I've done since last week. Which means that I've broken my own rule of "write something every single day" and that's not something I'm real happy with. But, I have a nice, looming deadline at work, and I spent this weekend...well...working in the office, chipping away at said deadline.

To make matters way better, I was supposed to have had this past Monday and Tuesday off, but that changed real quick last week, when a pile of ominous-looking papers and things was tossed in my lap.

And so, angry, tired, and a little gassy, I make my triumphant return to the blogosphere today, with Issue 17 of Waiting for Wednesday.

Looking over Diamond's shipping list for this week, it's apparent that there's a ton of new product coming our way. So at least there will be a crazy amount of comics-goodness that I can look forward to not being able to read...

Anyway, on to the list o' things I want to buy:

First up we have the book that everyone is talking about. You've probably seen the news articles and the spots on local TV stations that this week marks the return of a much-beloved character. And we here at Exfanding hope to stoke the flames of speculation and add to the Mighty Marvel Hype Machine!

That's right, today--well, okay, Monday if you wanna get all technical, seeing as how Marvel started shipping the books Monday--sees the Return of Captain America. Or Steve Rogers. Or both. Or, possibly, neither.

We'll see.

What we do know is that Ed Brubaker is writing a classic run on Cap, even if the titular (*giggle*) character hasn't been...well...in the book, or even alive, for the past couple of years.

So this week's Captain America, issue 600 (yep, the title returns to its original numbering) is going to be one of those Sell Out by Mid-Afternoon on a Wednesday Books. If you're interested in grabbing a copy, it might be a good idea to call ahead and be sure your LCS can set one aside for you. Anyway, here's the blurb from Marvel:

Where were you when Captain America died? It's the anniversary of the day Steve Rogers was killed, a day of reflection and mourning in the Marvel U...a time to look back on the things Steve did and what he stood for...or is this issue actually the beginning of the most wicked plot twist since issue 25?

Yeah, actually it's both.

Plus, contributions from Cap creators past and present, including a very special essay by Joe Simon, a classic story from Cap’s Golden Age, a full gallery of 600 Cap covers, and more anniversary shenanigans than you can shake a shield at! New and Reprints/Rated T …$4.99

And here's the Alex Ross cover (there will be a variant, I'm sure...):

Captain America #600 coverHype Machine aside, this is in all likelihood going to be a solid read, so give it a shot, even if you haven't been reading Brubaker's stellar run on the title.

Next up we have another (fantastic) Ed Brubaker book, Incognito, issue 4. I've talked about this series in the past, and it's one that I am truly enjoying. Brubaker's noir is hardcore noir, and the books read at a lightning pace.

Sean Phillips' art is perfectly suited for this type of story telling, and really, this is one of those series that we'll still be talking about, years down the line. Here's Marvel's info:


Zack's masked mayhem hasn't gone unnoticed by the authorities or the bad guys he's been in hiding from. Now, Zoey Zeppelin, granddaughter of the legendary Professor Zeppelin is here to find out just which side he's on--even if she has to kill him to be sure.

As we all know, BIG CAPITAL LETTERS in a solicit can only mean that the book is REALLY GOOD AND YOU SHOULD BUY IT. In the case of Incognito, though, that old paradigm is true. Here's this week's cover:

Incognito #4 cover And, finally, we have a book that's just far enough off the beaten path to fly under many readers' radars. From Wildstorm, Jeff Parker's Mysterius The Unfathomable, issue 6 hits shelves today and wraps the first mini-series of this new and wonderful (and wicked) character. While this title is housed under DC's Wildstorm imprint, it reads, looks, and feels like a Vertigo book.

That is, a mature readers title that delves deeply into the occult.

Why it's at Wildstorm and not at Vertigo, I really don't know. In any case, here's the info from Wildstorm:

While dying in the desert heat, what's the perfect way to conclude this gathering of free spirits? A massive orgy followed by a mass sacrifice! What do Mysterius and Delfi do in the face of something like this? And are they even talking to each other? Assume a meditation pose, clear your mind and connect to the unfathomable end of the beginning.

And here's the cover:
Mysterius The Unfathomable #6As mentioned, this is the last issue of the mini, so it would make the most sense for new readers to wait the month or so for the trade. If you like books such as Fables, or House of Mystery, I think Mysterius will be right up your alley.

And that's what I'm most looking forward to. How 'bout you--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Price of Perfection

With any luck, I've finally finished recording the actual game footage for my run of Mega Man 4, destined to join my runs of Mega Man 1-3 on YouTube.

I say, "with any luck," because I'm not sure if I'm technically finished.

Mega Man 4 screenshot: A line of energy pellets in Skull Man's stageDon't mistake what I'm saying; I've been playing this game for well over a decade (not continuously, mind you), so it's not that I'm unsure whether I officially reached the end of the game or not. Rather, as I've been looking back at what I've recorded, I've often thought to myself that I could do just a little bit better. That I could make things just a smidge more impressive.

So I've been re-recording a few things, even though what I have would be a perfectly acceptable finished product.

Mega Man 4 screenshot: Toad Man battleMega Man 4 is my best Mega Man game, after all, and my favorite. The level of impressiveness should go through the roof for these videos. The "wow" factor should be off the charts. There is no reason why this should not be the best set of videos I'll ever release.

...Or is there? I have poured hours upon hours of my free time into this project, and I haven't even started the audio commentary yet. Will anyone notice I fired one more shot than was necessary to dispatch that robot fish? Will anyone care I couldn't dodge that one tiny fireball because my jump buttion got stuck? How many days can I spend trying to perfect this project before it becomes excessive?

Mega Man 4 screenshot: slinkys (slinkies?) of doom from the first Dr. Cossack stageThere's a fine line between wanting to do your best and being a perfectionist, and it's difficult for me to determine whether or not any given video showcases the best I can do. Or, at least, the best I can do within a reasonable time frame. Given enough practice and trial-and-error, I could surely breeze through the game without ever missing a beat or getting hit. In the same amount of time, however, I could probably go back to school for another degree and then learn how to knit. That fine line needs to be drawn somewhere.

While I take pride in my work, I'm not in it for the recognition (though I certainly don't mind a little bit of positive feedback from time to time); specifically, I'm not trying to make "the most amazing Mega Man videos on the Internet." When it comes to video games, there is always someone better than you. All I want is to make a unique contribution that is still worth watching even after you've seen all those pixel-perfect and impossibly precise gamers who can bend the laws of gaming physics to their will.

Mega Man 4 screenshot: giant hippo battle from Ring Man's stageThis run of Mega Man 4 won't be perfect, but it doesn't have to be. There'll be enough showoffery to thrill veterans and newcomers alike. Heck, I might even pull a few tricks that nobody's ever seen before. And regardless of how the video turns out, the audio commentary is where I can salvage even the worst of my mistakes and shortcomings. I can laugh at my failures. I can point out the nifty little techniques that didn't make the final cut. I can draw attention away from that one tiny mistake in an otherwise perfect section by DID YOU SEE THAT? THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!

Maybe I don't need to go back and re-record Dive Man's stage just because I got hit once. I think I can let that go. I have nothing to prove. I aim only to entertain, educate, and maybe to spark a little conversation. If you take something away from my videos; if you're in better spirits after watching than you were before; if the videos are worthwhile at all, then that momentary lapse in awesome is inconsequential.

Hang on; did I say "momentary lapse in awesome"? I meant to sa--YOU HEAR THAT, ROBOT FISH? I OWN YOU!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Big Mini Change

Male Human Wizard miniatureFairly recently, Dungeons & Dragons miniatures underwent a significant change about how they are packaged and sold.

Initially, D&D minis were intended for use in tabletop battles as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game, with the added bonus of being useful in games of actual D&D--especially for the Dungeon Masters who like to drop a gargantuan black dragon on the table and watch the horrified reactions of their level 2 players.

Not that I would ever do such a thing.

Still, minis were ostensibly geared primarily toward the Miniatures Game people: minis were available only in randomized booster packages of 8 (starter sets and other special packages notwithstanding). This format works fine if you're playing the Miniatures Game, but it's somewhat inconvenient if you don't.

Gelatinous Cube miniatureIf you, as a DM, wanted to have a Gelatinous Cube for your next session, you'd either need to buy one online, keep buying booster packs until you finally got a Gelatinous Cube, or just go to the freezer and toss an ice cube onto the table and hope your players defeat it before it melts and totally ruins your hand-drawn map.

And that's to say nothing of the legions of players who had to settle for representing their characters with a nerdy little goblin because it was the closest thing they had to a godslaying half-giant paladin.

Finally, there's been a compromise between the folks who want specific minis for their quests and the three people who play the Miniatures Game. The two latest lines of minatures, Player's Handbook Heroes and Monster Manual: Dangerous Delves, are no longer available in totally randomized booster packs.

As has been the case for a few sets now, I'm not impressed with the paint quality on a lot of these new minis (too often bland and lacking in texture), but that has little to do with the new format of D&D minis, which I will explain... NOW.

Dangerous Delves packageThe Player's Handbook Heroes minis are offered in nonrandomized packs of three, and you can see each and every mini that's inside--just like buying action figures! And, as the name suggests, all the minis are race/class combinations pulled right from the Player's Handbook. However, I'm still holding out for a gnome blackguard mini.

The Monster Manual: Dangerous Delves minis--all of which are monsters, incidentally--come in packs of 5: one mini is visible, and the other four are randomized and hidden from view.

By the way, the prices didn't go down just because there are fewer minis in the package; knowing exactly what you're going to get has its price, and I imagine the added plastic packaging is a touch more expensive (and, in the end, wasteful) than a dumpy cardboard box.

I have mixed feelings about this new development, but so far the positive outweigh the negative:

Beholder Eye Tyrant miniaturePros:
- It's easier to find what you want (provided it hasn't been snapped up off the shelves already)
- The chances of getting "junk minis" that you have no use for has been reduced
- You can inspect the paint jobs on the visible miniatures (remember, beauty is on the outside here)

- Fewer minis for the same price as before
- In some cases you'll need to willingly pay for a mini you don't want in order to get one you do want that's in the same package (whereas with totally randomized minis, you can just get angry at your bad luck)
- Like with action figures, all the best visible minis are more likely to disappear before you can get to them
- Still no minis to represent a half-orc bard riding a camel

Yes, I realize that there are more cons than pros here, but finding what you want goes a long way with me.

I mean, really, how many Blood of Vol Fanatics does a person need?

Line of Blood of Vol Fanatics

Saturday, June 13, 2009

World of Warcraft: The first step is admitting it's okay to play the game

Hey, look! It's a guest post from neko-chan! Enjoy!

Shiny gem caveYou love World of Warcraft. This is a fact; you just have not realized it yet. Whether you are a veteran gamer geek well-versed in the art of pwning, or a non-gamer who knits and bakes delicious chocolate cakes, you will find something to love in WoW. WoW is an interactive online game which lets the user control a character in a sword-and-sorcery-style setting - only this setting also includes robot-chickens, flying manta rays, and voodoo witch-doctors.

First off, the basics: You will need a computer with at least 10 gigs of space free. (This may mean you’ll have to transfer your massive collection of Harry Potter fan-fiction to disc, but trust me, it will be worth it). I also suggest investing in a shiny graphics card if you can barely play text parsers on your current system.

Turtle boatNext, you will need to buy the game itself. You can technically get by with just the original release, but to get the full experience you should add on both expansion packs (Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King). This will cost in total about $80 for everything if you get the Battle Chest boxed package and the separate Wrath upgrade, (and they will throw in a couple strategy guides as a bonus). Not too shabby, considering. There is also a $15 a month fee to play the game.

Now before you get all uppity, consider how much you spend on comics, D&D miniatures, or even junk food each month. I’m sure your answer will be more than a measly $15, so don’t be miserly.

Big statueOkay, so you have the game and you’ve installed it on your computer, now what? The biggest choice you’ll have to make is what faction to play as. There are two main factions: the Alliance, which includes all the standard player races such as night elves, humans, gnomes, dwarves, and draenei (alien demons); and the Horde, which includes all the standard monster races such as orcs, trolls, blood elves, undead, and tauren (minotaurs).

There are also ten different classes to choose from, which allows a huge range of customizability for your character and lets you control your play style – ranged offense, close-quarters bonk, stealth ninja, meat shield, walking box of band-aids, etc.

Casting magicWoW is one of the most successful games of all time because you, yes you, control the game-play. Below, I’ve outlined some options for each type of gamer:

The Classic RPG Player: There are literally thousands of quests in the game, which can be identified by NPCs with exclamation points over their heads. The variety and creativeness of the quests still amaze me. WoW tips its hat to the traditional formulas of “fetch,” “escort,” and “grinding” quests; however it also lets you do awesome things like control giant metal scorpions, fly dragons into mounted combat, or use goblin technology to shrink giants into chibi format.

Dragon in flightCompleting quests will earn you some of the best armor, weapons, loot, and XP available. The overarching plots of the world are also revealed through quests, and will eventually lead you to some of the biggest, baddest end-game dungeons and bosses imaginable.

Another great feature is the free-form exploration of the world map. There are over 50 countries to visit, and each country has multiple areas of interest to uncover and investigate.

Surfing on a crocodile
The Point-and-Click Adventurer:
While you may not be able to lick everything, you can still interact with many of the objects in the game. In fact, some quests can only be picked up by clicking on hard-to-find items. Additionally, you can receive humorous messages from talking with and poking various NPCs. You can also perform many emotes with your character such as dancing, telling jokes, sleeping, and flirting – which can be extra-hilarious in a dungeon or boss-battle.

Finally, pop-culture and geek references are hidden throughout WoW – ranging from Marvel’s Wolverine to Monty Python. Basically, if something can be made fun of, you can be sure it makes a cameo in WoW somewhere. [Editor's note: I wasn't aware that Alex was in WoW. Must investigate further.]

Loghun, Render of Flesh (AKA Wolverine)
The First-Person Shooter: Enough of this sissy stuff; you want to pwn some noobs and mobs with your leet hax! The in-game camera angle is customizable, making it easy to scroll into first-person mode at will. Also, players can hook up headsets for live conversation with friendly players.

Entire game servers are devoted to “Plaver vs. Player” combat, letting you punk any members of the opposite faction that stray your way. That’s right folks, you can attack other player-characters as well as game-generated enemies!

Likewise, on all servers there are co-operative battlegrounds, dungeons, raids, and arenas where teams can strategically blast and slash their way through battle while protecting strategic resources. If you prefer questing solo, there are plenty of areas filled with game-generated goons that require sneaking, sniping, and a variety of weapons to infiltrate.

The All-Around Action Star: If you are the type of person who likes a challenge, then WoW can definitely deliver. The same players who count frame rates in Soul Calibur, and who can pull off 30-button combos, will find classes like the rogue right up their alley. By knowing when to use stealth effectively and striking an opponent from multiple directions, advanced players can score more damage and work toward super-awesome finishing moves. Similarly, there exist both elite bosses and puzzle bosses that require more teamwork, precise timing, and coordination of movement than standard enemies.

The Non-Gamer: You don’t like fighting or care about leveling, but you can still like WoW. Your character can learn professions such as cooking, fishing, tailoring, alchemy, or enchanting. Thus you can actually bake a cake or haul in a 15-pound sea bass as valid game activities. You can sell your crafted goods at an eBay-style auction house to make money. You can also buy and find all kinds of crazy neat gear to trick out your character's wardrobe.

Are you someone who is addicted to AIM or Twitter? There is an in-game chat feature so you can talk with people around the world. You can also form guilds of like-minded players with their own tabard, bank, and chat forum.

Still bored? Try partaking in holiday events such as Midsummer, Hallow’s End, or Brew Fest. These yearly celebrations offer unique quests and rewards that cannot be gained from normal game-play. Or try visiting the monthly Darkmoon Faire, where you can earn reputation and prizes for your crafting skills.

If all else fails, earn achievements by visiting the barber-shop to give your character a new look, buying a pet dragon whelpling to follow you around, hugging squirrels, or throwing your character off a cliff and surviving. Or try turning on options such as the tutorial or the tip prompts if you are completely stuck deciding what to do.

If you still aren’t convinced by all this, you can try a 10-day trial for FREE through the official website. F...R...E...E! (Just don’t blame me if you fail your college exams.)

Did I mention you can ride a dinosaur and disguise yourself as a pirate?

Friday, June 12, 2009

More Thoughts on Comics

After this week's post on my current comics reading habits, I started thinking a bit more about the state of the Big Two, Marvel and DC. Now, granted, I'm not going to say anything here that other (way smarter) bloggers haven't already said, but I need a post for today, and I'm kinda in a rant-y mood.

So here goes.

[Oh, and just as a head's up, this post is going to have some minor SPOILERS about current story lines, so if you're behind on your reading, then I'd suggest treading with caution.]

You know why Marvel is better than DC right now? I mean, flat-out better in sales, in stories, and in direction? Oh, and in the old Common Sense Department? I'll tell you why. Marvel would never kill Iron Man at the height of his popularity. Like, after a major motion picture. They'd never kill Spider-Man during or soon after one of Sam Raimi's blockbusters opens in the theaters.

Makes sense, right? Sure it does. I mean, what kind of a crazy marketing plan would take a character at the height of his or her marketability, and decide to wipe said character from all of the publisher's books?

(OOOhhh, so snarky today. So very snarky.)

In case you haven't figured it out, I am, in a round-about way, implying that DC may not have acted with the greatest...oh, let's call it...prudence...when they decided to make Bruce Wayne go away.

Especially after The Dark Knight was the biggest movie of the past decade, and the second highest grossing flick of all time. People like Batman (more so than they like Superman, or any Marvel character save Spidey) and it's just no coincidence that the Batman/Joker combo in a film equaled unrivaled success at the box office.

And, instead of having product spin out of that movie, DC kills the product. And, I might add, they do so in a very confusing manner. ("Oh, he's not dead, dead, he's in a metaphorical cave somewhere.") I just don't get it. (The Batman being dead thing, not metaphors in general.)

Now, on the other side of the street, Marvel killed off Captain America, but his return is on the horizon, and if I know the Mighty Marvel Marketing Team, Cap will be back in stride and ready to capitalize on the planned movie in a year or so.

Which makes sense.

Because, by and large, Marvel's cohesive storytelling and shared universe make sense. As an example, we know that both publishers are wary of over-using prime villains, such as Joker and Magneto. However, Marvel has made the decision to use arguably their most famous (and, probably, most marketable) villain, Norman Osborne, and give him a leading role in the Marvel Universe proper.

And, so far at least, that's been a great idea with some intriguing stories spinning out of it. DC rarely even lets Joker pop up, say hello, kill a guy, and leave. Meanwhile, Osborne has always been this ever-present, ever-creeping threat to Spidey, and lately to the MU at large. So, when he does finally appear, he's scary as all get out and entirely threatening.

I think that's how Joker should be handled. Have him pop up from time to time and do something crazy and maniacal and absolutely terrifying and then have him disappear back to wherever it is he disappears back to.

But what do I know? I mean, I'm the guy that thinks Batman shouldn't be dead.