Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Just because Nathaniel hates Halloween (and, apparently, fun), doesn't mean you have to! Um...hate Halloween (and/or fun), that is. Sorry for the clunky syntax.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, some spooky (and awesome!) comic covers...

Batman and Robin: Night of the Reaper cover
Batman: Haunted Knight cover
Batman: The Demon of Gothos Mansion cover
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why I Don't Like Halloween

Sad jack-o-lanternAh, October 31st. Probably my least-favorite day of the year.

I don't like Halloween.

I used to like Halloween. When I was a kid, Halloween was a time for me to dress up as one of my favorite TV or video game characters--as Luigi or Geordi LaForge or a white wizard from Final Fantasy, to name a few--and roam around the neighborhood with my family.

Halloween was only fun because it was a family event, and because I got to parade around like a dork and get away with it. Candy was something of a non-issue, as I'm not a big candy fan. I enjoyed collecting treats, but I usually traded or gave away at least a third of my haul, and much of the candy I did keep ended up getting thrown out after sitting around for a year and growing fuzzy.

Halloween became less enjoyable as I grew older. Messily carving jack-o-lanterns lost its novelty. Flagrantly geeky outfits were met with derision, and it was uncool to be seen outside with your parents. Ever. While I would have been content to continue trick-or-treating as a little kid in a bigger person's body, it was simply not socially acceptable to dress up as Sonic the Hedgehog and march around the neighborhood with a hobo. A hobo who is actually your father in disguise. Clever hobo.

The crushing blow came when I, foolishly, dressed as a LEGO minifigure when I was around 10 or 11 years old, possibly 12. My mother, who made all my costumes, did an excellent job as usual--I really truly looked like an oversized LEGO person.

I was utterly crestfallen when an old lady opened the door with her bucket of candy in hand and asked me, "Are you a banana?"

Halloween died, right there.

The self-consciousness hit me at full force, and the magical whimsy of escaping reality in the guise of something I loved became little more than a childish charade. No amount of candy could heal my broken plastic heart.

I did eventually recover from the embarrassment of wearing a nerdy costume in public--since then I've dressed up for two anime conventions and a few more Halloweens, and I leave the house wearing pajama pants with worrisome frequency--but whatever joy I once got from Halloween has largely remained in the past.

And the older I get, the more things I find that make me actively dislike Halloween.

I won't fault you if you argue otherwise, but Halloween is a celebration of all things terrifying, grotesque, occult, and destructive--it's the one day of the year where society as a whole embraces the things I eschew. It's the one day where I feel isolated from my friends because I want to have nothing to do with Halloween, which, by extension, means I want to have nothing to do with those who celebrate it.

I'm always torn, because if I stay at home, I feel like a jerk, and if I go out with even my closest friends, I never want to do anything anyone else wants to do, which makes me feel like a jerk.

I'll hand out candy at the door. That's fine. It's everything else about Halloween that makes me want to hide away from the world until it all passes over.

I'm too squeamish for violent horror films, and I'm too fond of feeling safe in my own home for the psychological ones; I don't like being scared. Gory zombie costumes and a jar of brains on your doorstep don't help, either.

Spirits and magic and demons are really popular around Halloween, and while I'm totally down with them being a part of real-world religions and works of fiction alike, I get uncomfortable when people start treating them as something halfway between religion and entertainment. Sure, break out the Ouija board; it could be harmless fun, or I might get possessed by a demon! You never know until you try!

Bobbing for apples: Bleaugh.

I'm all about responsible parenting, and no matter how much fun I had trick-or-treating as a kid, in retrospect it seems like Halloween encourages children to assume that their neighbors all owe them something, and that a mountain of something bad for you is, in fact, quite good. Also, Halloween trains children to lurk in the dark. Criminals lurk in the dark, you know. Maybe handing out candy makes me a bad person.

I'm a bit of a neat freak. A proliferation of fake cobwebs and mushy pumpkins really doesn't improve the aesthetic situation of the season.

Lastly, eggs and toilet paper belong on a grocery list, not on my house or in my trees. Thank you.

Enjoy your Halloween; I'll be hiding out here until whenever I have a family of my own, children and all, and can have fun trick-or-treating with them the way I used to have fun trick-or-treating with my family. And maybe, just maybe, one day they'll see past the sketchy costume parties and the cheap slasher flicks and realize that the best Halloweens were the ones spent walking the streets with a hobo by their side.

Clever hobo.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Poll: Who Likes Candy?

Halloween is just around the corner, and while some people are gearing up for costume parties and horror movie marathons, let's not forget about the true reason for the season: candy.

Box of Nerds candyI'm not much of a candy fan, but I'm a sucker for the few varieties to which I'm partial. I'm big into chocolate truffles, Sno-Caps, Peanut M&Ms, Australian red licorice, Bounty, Aero, Runts, certain flavors of Airheads, and any kind of Nerds, especially if they wear glasses. Whoops! Um, wrong kind of nerds.


Alright, so maybe I do like candy, after all. Now that I think about it, there are several other kinds of candy I enjoy; I think it's just that I've been spoiled by good European chocolate, so American mainstays such as Hershey's bars and plain M&Ms are more like last resorts to me, hence why I gravitate toward fruity candy.

What this all boils down to is that I'm just as picky about candy as I am anything else.

My question to you: What's your favorite kind of candy?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 35

Welcome to a very special, Alex Might Have the Flu Edition of Waiting for! I've had this wonderful and incessant headache since the weekend, and it is showing no signs of going away. Add in a slight fever and an overall feeling of never wanting to leave the warmth and security of my comforter...and I might just be getting sick.

Or, I might very well be sick right now.

Which means I won't be making my Wednesday run to the LCS, for fear of infecting the legions of comic fans who haunt the place on a weekly basis. See? I'm not all bad. I will, however, put a call into my retailer and ask him to put aside a few books for me.

Which books, you ask? Well, even though such a question sets up a perfect segue, I need to made a detour into digressions-ville for a moment. I went online yesterday to check what books were shipping, and I came across, let's call it an anomaly.

From Marvel Comics this week comes the Marvel Holiday Spectacular Magazine 2009. Ummm...huh? We're a few days ahead of Halloween, and Marvel is releasing its annual Christmas special? Doesn't that usually ship in...I dunno...December? Well, I guess with the economy the way it is, retailers (and giant corporations like Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us, for that matter) want consumers to start thinking about holiday shopping earlier than ever.

You know, so they can do a little at a time and maybe spread the money out over the next nine weeks or so. Sounds like a good plan, actually, and I guess Marvel is thinking along those lines. Maybe it is a--

Hey, wait a minute.

The price of the book has to be wrong. $9.99?! For a comic book? For a holiday comic book that ships in late October?


If that's not a sign of the times, I don't know what is. As I do with the annual Halloween specials, I like to pick up the Marvel and DC holiday specials, as well. It's just a nice, goofy way to spend a few minutes on Christmas Eve. It's fun, and I like doing it, so I'll continue to do it, thank you.

But for $9.99, over two months before the holiday? I guess I won't be reading a Marvel book by the fire this year. I know many say that comics are "recession proof," but really, guys, let's not go crazy with these prices okay? I understand that paper costs a ton these days, but is there anyone out there who will buy a new comic for ten bucks?

Didn't think so.

Now that I'm all fanboy angry in addition to being real person flu-y, let's get to the list for this week. I'm gonna make these quick, since I need to not be upright for much longer.

First up is this week's spotlight book, the Abe Sapien One-Shot, from Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse is in the middle of a very cool promotion called One-Shot Wonders, where they put their biggest titles (Goon, Buffy, Hellboy, Star Wars) on display in a series of one and done stories.

Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy coverThe idea is for people who have never read these books to jump on, with no strings attached, and give the books a try. A good idea, and with each issue carrying a $3.50 price tag, it's a nice way for those on the fence about a certain series to dip their toe into the water without having to plunk down fifteen dollars on a trade.

This week's title features Abe Sapien, who many of you will know from the two Hellboy movies. The story, entitled "The Haunted Boy," is about--well, I'll let the folks at Dark horse tell you what it's about. Here's the blurb from the publisher:

In his earliest days as an agent of the B.P.R.D., Abe Sapien is sent on a simple mission to investigate a haunting following the death of a young boy. What he finds there is far stranger and more deadly.

Mike Mignola and John Arcudi team with newcomer Patric Reynolds, who made his professional debut this summer on MySpace Dark Horse Presents, for this nightmare of corrupted innocence!

So, if this sounds interesting, or if you've wanted to give the Hellboy Universe a try, I'd suggest picking this one up. And kudos to Dark Horse for this new campaign. It's a good idea, and I hope it brings them new readers.

And since I'm starting to wane a bit here, let's do a quick run down of the other books I'll be sure to pick up this week. Blackest Night, issue four, from DC superstars Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, is the latest addition to the series that continues to impress. Now, despite its delays, this is still a must-read title if you're even a little bit interested in the DC Universe.

Blackest Night #4 coverJohns is pretty much shaping the immediate (and, likely, long-term) future for the publisher's major characters and books, and the story he's telling is accessible and, frankly, a lot of fun.

Yes, there's a strong horror overtone to this series, but watching Hal Jordan and Sinestro punching holes through dead things is kinda awesome. I know. It sounds like summer movie popcorn stuff, and it is that in a sense. But it's also a well-crafted, far-reaching story that will actually have some implications in the DCU. And it's Geoff Johns. Here's the blurb:

Summer's hottest event explodes in this critical issue! Hold on to your power rings, because the secrets behind the Blackest Night finally stand revealed! While Earth is evacuated, Hal Jordan embarks on a brave journey to the darkest depths to uncover the truth behind the Black Lanterns! You won't believe what he uncovers!

Pretty cool, super hero-y stuff.

There's also the latest issue of Green Lantern (issue 47), written by Johns, which promises to feature a battle that any GL fan is going to want to see. And if those two books don't quite do it for you, Johns has three (count 'em, three!) titles shipping today.

In addition to the two GL books comes Superman: Secret Origin, issue two. A classic-in-the-making, Origin is drawn by the amazing Gary Frank, and it's great, great stuff.

Finally, from BOOM! Studios and written by the legendary Howard Chaykin, is Die Hard: Year One, issue two. I picked up issue one last month (and finally had a chance to read it while in bed this weekend), and let me tell you--this is classic John McClane.

Die Hard: Year One #2 coverThe story follows McClane's first days as a beat cop in 1970s New York City, and the book oozes with grit as Chaykin's grasp of crime fiction and ear for dead-on dialogue shines.

Here's the blurb for issue two:

BOOM! Studios continues to present America's greatest action hero translated into the sequential art form for the first time! Drunks, pimps, freaks and the debauched rich. It's all in a night's work for NYPD rookie John McClane.

But what happens when 1976's toughest kid on the street runs into a dark conspiracy involving a blonde on the run? With McClane, it means the fun’s just starting. Join legendary industry creator Howard Chaykin on a thrill ride that's rung up over $1 billion in box office worldwide and become the gold standard for classic action! Yippee Ki Yay!

If you're a fan of the movies, then run out, find issue one, and grab issue two. You'll thank me later.

Speaking of later...I'm done. It's time to pass out and not move for a few hours. But before I go...

What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Exfanding Review: Trick 'r Treat...And a Touch of the Flu

Trick 'r Treat posterSo, today I had planned to review the recently released (whoa...alliteration is awesome) Halloween-themed film, Trick 'r Treat in depth. However, being that I am having a hard enough time seeing one of everything at the moment, I'm going to keep this post pretty short.

And, no, I don't mean "short for Alex." I mean, literally, short and sweet and almost to the point.

I think I'm actually getting (or in the process of having) the flu, as I am displaying flu-like symptoms. You know, like headache, fever, dizziness, and the inability to write coherently. Though, granted, two of those symptoms are ones I carry around with me at all times.

Thus far in 2009, I've avoided being sick enough to have to lie down all day and not do anything. Well, there's a first time for everything, as I literally spent all of the past nine or so hours under the covers, watching DVD reruns of 30 Rock.

Granted, that's not the worst way to spend a day, and it would have been heaven if not for the constant queasiness and that wonderful, pounding thing my brain was doing to the inside of my skull.

Right. No one cares. Sorry. (Like I said, coherency will be at an all-time low today...)

Yes, so. Trick 'r Treat. Hailed by many as the be-all, end-all of Halloween horror films. And it might very well be that, if, of course, a little, late-seventies flick called Halloween had never been made.

For my money (and for most horror fans' collected monies), John Carpenter's Halloween is--hands down--the best movie the genre has and will ever see. Sure, it spawned all kinds of junky slasher flicks in the eighties (included among them were the Halloween sequels themselves), but imitation is the best form of copying.

Or something like that.

Halloween is the Dark Knight Returns of horror films, and it will always be considered the quintessential October 31st viewing fare. It's a law, in some states, to watch this glorious (and mostly bloodless) introduction to Michael Myers and Laurie Strode on Halloween night.

It's like leaving cookies for Santa, or quietly cursing under your breath at happy, in-love couples on Valentine's Day.

But, with the addition of director/writer Michael Dougherty's (screenwriter of X-Men 2 and Superman [never even throws a punch but at least he] Returns) Trick 'r Treat, the Halloween canon has been revised and updated for a new generation.

Told in an anthology format (much like those great horror comics I love so much), Treat is something unique and fresh and much-needed in a genre that has grown stale, and stupid, and excessively violent.

And stupid. Did I mention stupid?

Sure, Treat features some over-the-top violence itself, but it certainly doesn't hold a candle in that regard to flicks like...well, you know the ones I'm talking about. No need to malign them here.

Unlike those movies, which you might have saw--er, seen, Treat features five actual stories (not just "hot chick walks into creepy room and is tortured for an hour and a half"). All of the stories are connected to one another and tied together by the appearance of Sam--that creepy little guy you see at the top of this post.

Sam is the Halloween anti-hero, and he's pretty hardcore.

The stories range from mildly creepy to downright skin crawling, and while there's always a lesson to be learned, Treat is never preachy. The premise is a simple one--if you mess with the "rules" of Halloween, Sam will get you.

I'm going to leave the recap of the film at that, since I'm getting all woozy again.

And I'll end with this. It took a good, long while for Trick 'r Treat to make its way to DVD--its history of near misses at the box office and distribution problems throughout its post-production life have all added to the aura of this creepy cult film.

And while many online have praised it as the greatest horror movie of all time, I just don't agree. That award goes to The Exorcist, in my book. Still, Treat is without question a great horror movie, and it's the second-greatest Halloween horror movie.

My recommendation?

Halloween night needs only two flicks to help ring in the holiday--Trick 'r Treat and Halloween. Watch 'em in that order, and you'll be set on the 31st.

Okay. It's back to bed for me. See you all tomorrow (hopefully) with another issue of Waiting for Wednesday.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tag, you're... not it at all.

Before I even begin, I need to pause and reflect on how to label this post. Though we occasionally write about music, the majority of our focus has been on visual media--comics and sci-fi movies and video games and whatnot--and the standardized tags we use reflect that. For the sake of posterity, here are all the tags we've used as of this very moment:
Blogger labels
Alex's Nonsense
Anime and Manga
Long Beach Comic Con logoCard and Board Games
Demystifying Fandoms
Election 2008
Exfanding Your Horizons
Fan Projects
General Information
Guest Posts
Month in Review
Orchid photoOff-Topic Discussion
Philosophy of Fandom
Puzzles and Mystery
Screenshot from Mega Man (PC): Volt Man's stageStories of Fandom
Video Games
Waiting for Wednesday
World Languages
Year in Review

Most of the categories are intentionally broad--my original hope was to keep the list of tags to a manageable size so that readers might actually be inclined to sift through our archives by topic. Also, there have been plenty of posts that could have had more specific labels than just "Books" or "Music," but seriously, how often were we going to write about anything horror-related?

Obviously this was before I figured out that Alex loves Halloween and vampires and zombie comics. Suddenly, the "Monsters" tag just isn't cutting it anymore.

Digging deeper, though: I'm something of a perfectionist, and if I'm going to get specific about my labeling, I want to have a tag that will stand the test of time. I don't want to have to turn around every few days to overhaul my tags because I suddenly fancy "Anime" and "Manga," respectively, instead of the combined "Anime and Manga."

Lupin III charactersAnd then there are times when Alex and I have two different interpretations of what a particular label means. Heck, I don't think either of us knows when to add the "Demystifying Fandoms" tag. We usually either introduce or discuss--I'll bet we confuse people more often than we demystify anything. What possible use do we have for this odd label?

Maybe I'll tag this post with "Demystifying Fandoms" and see if Alex does anything about it.

Hey, now there's an idea. Make, like, a "Bacon" tag, or something totally random that in no way, shape, or form applies to the post in question, and have that tag be some kind of code for something entirely different. For example, "Bacon" could be our tag for something we can't figure out how to classify.

Strips of baconOoh, I like that.

I wonder if I can tag our tags with tags? If so, I'm totally hanging some "Bacon" off of "Demystifying Fandoms."

Just how important is properly tagging these posts? Well, this was supposed to be a discussion of the Third Eye Blind concert I just saw. When I discovered we had no tags specifically for music genres, I launched into a tangent about tagging. Therefore, I must think tagging is pretty important.

Or else I really just didn't feel like writing about the concert just yet.

I dunno--what should we do about the tags? Try to keep them down to a nice, short-ish list, like we've been doing? Classify everything a little more specifically? Be really specific and make "Madame Xanadu" and "Virsona" tags? (Honestly, we should at least do that for Mega Man and The Goon.)

Ideas, anyone?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Suggested Halloween Reading: Comics and Graphic Novels

Well, with exactly one week to go before the big night, I figured it's a good time to run through some of my favorite, scary comics and graphic novels. As I've said many times, writing horror is hard. Writing horror for comics is even harder.

You have to deal with several issues--the first of which being the fact that the reader can actually see what's going to happen on every spread. Which means, if you really want the reader to experience a jump-out-of-your-shoes're going to have to make sure it comes after the reader turns a page.

Every spread needs to be carefully and thoughtfully laid out, and as in all horror, timing and pacing is key. With comics, there needs to be that special synergy between writer and artist to ensure the perfect, creepy pacing that will eventually lead to the perfect, creepy payoff.

Many comics have hit shelves with the "horror" tag. Very few of them actually fall into the category. Even fewer actually posses the ability to frighten a reader. So, here's a quick list of some of my favorite creepy comics, just in time for Halloween. And, while I've spoken about these books in the past (usually in a Waiting for Wednesday blurb), it's only right that I mention them again.

--In the past few months, I've written at length about the comic that many believe is not only the scariest on the stands today, but the scariest comic of all time. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, from Image Comics, features more Holy Bad Thing Happening to a Major Character! moments than you can count.

And if you're one of those people who roots for the heroes to win (um...or survive), then this book may not be up your alley. As I wrote about a little while ago, Walking Dead is just flat-out scary. It's the zombie story to end all zombie stories, and once you start reading, it pulls you in and makes it impossible to stop. Or to forget what you've read and looked at.
Creepy, horrifying, heartbreaking, and incredible, Walking Dead is the best there is, and now's the perfect time to dive in and take a bite out of this series. Many Borders Stores around the country have Halloween displays and sales, and I've noticed that they are (finally!) pushing Walking Dead pretty hard. The first four hardcover collections (each featuring 12 issues of the regular series) are out and very easy to find, so do yourself a favor and put this title on your list for the Great Pumpkin to drop off next week.

--Another book that should be at the top of that list is actually from Marvel Comics, and it features a much-beloved character of the 1970s. From their Max Comics line (which means you know it's either a. violent; b. filled with curses; c. "mature" in its art; or d. all of the above) comes Werewolf By Night: In the Blood.

This mini-series falls under the "a. violent" category, as we see good old Jack into his foes. And, yes, that's actually the name of the main character who turns into a werewolf.

Written by Duane Swierczynski and with stunning, incredibly detailed, rendered pencil art by soon-to-be-huge Mico Suayan, Werewolf is one of those diamonds in the rough that the entire industry pretty much decided not to pay any attention to.

Not so here on Exfanding Your Horizons. I mentioned this series a couple of times (though I won't go digging through old Waiting fors to find them), and I am a big backer of the book. This is old school comics horror meets modern sensibilities, and the four issue mini is a must-buy for any werewolf fan out there.

The horror is out there on the page, and it's visceral and bloody while still maintaining an interesting and thoughtful storyline. This comes highly recommended.

--Next up is something for those who prefer a more cerebral approach to their horror. There are two collections of Joe Hill's excellent Locke & Key series out in trade and hardcover from IDW. Both books can be found on Amazon for just around $16.00, and considering the fact that collecting the single issues would be more expensive, this is a steal.

Now, for those who don't know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. Hill has put out two horror books--one a short story collection entitled 20th Century Ghosts, and the other a full length novel called Heart-Shaped Box. Both were met with great critical acclaim.

Hill carries his abilities over to the graphic end of the literary spectrum, and he weaves an intricate plot around "real" and interesting characters.

The artist on the book, Gabriel Rodriguez, is one of the true masters of the comics medium. His sense of pacing and ability to draw dead-on facial expressions brings so much to this already tightly plotted and gripping series. Locke is thought provoking and creepy in that skin-crawling kind of way.

Here's the publisher's blurb for the first collection, which sums up the series quite nicely:

Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them, and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all!

Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder, with astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez.

It's one of my favorite titles, and I've just started diving into the two collected editions. Because Hill's plot has so many layers, the story reads much better in trade, so don't be shy about jumping right in to volume one!

--Now, if you're not in the mood for creepy and scary, but you want to be in the spirit of the season, I have a horror-comedy title that should be to your liking. Released last year in trade paperback from Image Comics, Screamland is the perfect addition to any Halloween reading list.

Written by Harold Sipe and with art by Hector Casanova, Screamland tells the story of the classic movie monsters, and where they are today, many years after the height of their popularity. In the age of CGI and special effects, what happens to the classics, like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman?

Well, in this horror satire, Sipe shows you. Some of it is laugh out loud funny, some of it is cringe worthy and kinda depressing, but Screamland is another under the radar book that deserves a spot on your shelf.

If you're a fan of Ben Templesmith's (30 Days of Night) style, then Casanova's art will likely appeal to you. And Sipe's witty dialogue and sharp satire will keep you engaged in the plot.

So, there are four books to get you started. I'll be back throughout the week with more, and if anyone has a Halloween Reading suggestion, please leave a comment and let us know!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pandora: Don't be afraid to open the music box

When your Winamp randomizer repeats the same 12 songs from your library of 8,000; when every radio station plays "We're an American Band" at least eight times per hour; when your Tally Hall CD has disintegrated from a year of continuous use in your CD player... then it's time to turn to Pandora.

Pandora is a free online radio station with a humongous selection of streaming music for your listening pleasure, but that's just the beginning of why Pandora is so great. Pandora gives you a great deal of control over the music that is played; you start by typing in the name of a specific song, composer, or artist you'd like to hear, and Pandora creates a playlist that includes your request as well as other music that you might like.

Super Mario Bros. Music BoxSeriously, you might actually like the music Pandora conjures up.

I say this because Pandora is in the business of mapping the Music Genome--that is, every single song is tagged with all sorts of attributes ranging from tempo to lyrics to instrumentation, so when you search for music in the same vein as "Disco Duck," Pandora's results will be much more dynamic than you probably deserve.

Once you've got a playlist going, you can diversify its sound by adding other songs and artists and composers into the mix. Why stop at Rammstein when you can also have Hindi rap and gypsy jazz?

Pandora isn't a total replacement for a traditional music collection, however; just because you request a song doesn't mean Pandora has it. And just because Pandora knows the artist you've requested, that doesn't mean you'll get to hear his or her music right away.

Fortunately, if Pandora starts playing anything particularly repulsive before getting around to "Muskrat Love," you can veto the song; Pandora will never play it again, and will be more careful to avoid playing similar songs.

Music notesThere are some other restrictions--for example, you can't rewind a song, you can only skip a certain number of songs per hour (it's a licensing thing), and you do eventually need to pay (a pretty reasonable fee) to listen to Pandora if you use it for more than 40 hours in a month--but you can read more about all that in the official Pandora FAQ. Or, you can just jump right in and figure things out as you go. It'll be an adventure!

If you're getting tired of your usual music selection, if you're looking to broaden your musical horizons, or if you just need to listen to some good music, try out

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Suggested Halloween Reading: Sundays with Vlad

Over the course of the next week, I'll be popping in here and there with a quick, recommended Halloween read to get you all in the mood for the scariest night of the year. And I don't mean April 15.

The recommendations will range from comics ad graphic novels (such as Halloween: Nightdance, which I mentioned yesterday) to full-on books. You know, the ones without the pictures and all the punching. And the only real requirements for a book to make this list are that it has to have something vaguely to do with Halloween, or it has to be scary.

Today's selection falls into the first category. Though, some of the stories the author tells about driving through Romania are pretty terrifying.

Sundays with Vlad coverSundays with Vlad: From Pennsylvania to Transylvania, One Man's Quest to Live in the World of the Undead, written by Paul Bibeau, takes a cultural look at the evolution and eventual commercialization of the Dracula legend.

And I'm just realizing that last year, right around this time, I mentioned the fact that I had just started reading this book. I stopped, obviously, and picked it up again almost a full year later. And I'm glad I did.

Pick it up again, I mean. As I wrote last time:

Sundays opens with a funny (and kinda scary) story about the author's honeymoon, and how said honeymoon takes a detour to the hills of Romania in search of Dracula's castle.

There's also tons of fascinating information about Romanian political history, and I think I've come to the conclusion that the Romanian people were likely better off under ol' Vlad the Impaler than many of their more recent political leaders.

Bibeau relates the story of how, in 2000, in an attempt to beef up Romania's tourism and to capitalize on the country's most famous son, political leaders come up with a brilliant and hysterical plan--they build a Dracula-inspired theme park.

Like Disney World,

There's plenty of interesting stuff in those first chapters about the historical Vlad for even the most discerning Romanian political historian. Of which, I'm sure, there are many.

Bibeau even talks about the Dracula book wars and the controversy that surrounds the now-famous book, In Search of Dracula, in which the authors claim that Stoker knew more than scholars previously thought he knew about the violent Romanian prince. (He didn't.)

From the hills of Romania, Bibeau takes readers across America in search of the influence of Dracula. And he doesn't have to go very far. In New Jersey, he visits the remains of a Dracula's Castle attraction, and in Virginia he attends (and takes part in!) a LARPing convention.

He watches 48 straight hours of (bad) vampire movies and he interviews the best known Dracula scholar in the world, Elizabeth Miller. He visits "real" "psychic" "vampires" and he hangs out with a guy who makes fang implants for a living.

And all the while, Bibeau's humor kept me laughing. When it comes down to it, Sundays is an incredibly informative title, but it's also laugh-out-loud funny. The book is thouroughly researched and it's a fast, don't-want-to-put-it-down read.

Still don't believe me? Check out an excerpt of the book, right here.

Sundays with Vlad is the perfect compliment for a late October evening, and if you're a fan of vampires, or of Stoker, you'll love it. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 34

What a weird and horrible week it's been so far. Both on a personal and professional level, I can say things have been pretty downright awful. First, the good news (And, by "good," I mean, "less bad"). I was told by Official Re-Employment People that my industry (publishing, for those keeping score at home) has one of the highest layoff percentages in the country at the moment.

What's worse, though, is the fact that publishing also has one of the lowest re-employment rates in the country, due to the fact that many houses are laying people off (or closing outright), and there are many, many fewer jobs than there are people in search of them.

The bad news is something I don't want to get into. But, man, lemme tell's been a week. On the bright side, I did manage to apply to a few more jobs yesterday (making the grand total near 40 in the past three weeks), and as usual with these things, I'm very much qualified for the positions I've applied to.

However, as the statistics indicate, that means next to nothing. In a "normal" economy, I think I would have had at least a half dozen interviews with places that I really want to work at. As it stands, I've had one. For a volunteer position. I got it, and it's quite a cool little gig, but it's not paying work. (I will, however, have an announcement about that soon.)

For now, though, I'm still scouring the usual sites, trying to find something in my industry. It's a weird thing, to have a profession, a career, and then be told by Outside Forces that you can no longer work within that field. Seriously, what the heck do you do when all the doors to your profession (a profession you're quite good at, by the way) close up and double-lock?

I can say, honestly, I have no idea.

So, yeah, when I say that I could use a Wednesday, I really and truly mean it. And happily, today is Wednesday. So, at least there's that.

It's a weird week for comics at my LCS, mostly due to the fact that Diamond shorted my retailer pretty heavily last week. So, while there's a decent amount of stuff coming into the market today, my store will be seeing much more product than most. Yay, being broke.

Still, I'll be grabbing a small handful of titles, and there are a couple that I'm actually really looking forward to. That said, it's time for the list of things to buy!

First up, we have the welcomed arrival of an annual tradition. The chill is in the air, the leaves are falling, and there's an abundance of candied apples for sale at the grocery store. Also, the DCU Halloween Special ships this week, so you know it's officially That Time of Year. Yep, that's right. Today sees the release of the yearly anthology book that many stare at in the store and go, ", thanks."

But not me.

Oh, no. Not me.

I love this stupid, mostly useless, (and bafflingly expensive) yearly title. Each year, DC writers, artists, and even editors (yep, sometimes they let them out of their cages!) all pitch in and contribute to the oversized (80 pages long!) Halloween special. This year, expect stories by Billy Tucci, Joe Harris, and Franco, and art by Rags Morales and Joe Prado.

DC Halloween Special coverAnd, while you can't expect to find anything truly creepy here (for that, check out the House of Mystery Halloween Annual, which shipped last week), you can expect some good old superhero fluff.

Every year, I like to pick up whatever Halloween-centric comics look good to me, and I usually read them on the 31st while I'm answering the door and handing out candy. And, of course, while eating my yearly fill of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It's a fun, childish thing that I still get a kick out of.

And the DCU Special is always on the pile come Halloween night. Here's the mandatory blurb from DC:

Darkness falls across the land as the DC Universe faces its greatest horror in this Halloween special filled with all-new stories! Watch as Guy Gardner continues his quest to share Halloween with the cosmos and his fellow alien Green Lantern Corps members.

In another tale, Red Robin finds the true, deadly meaning of the sinister holiday while overseas on his quest to find Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, Bizarro receives neither trick nor treat in his own backwards celebration of the spookiest night of the year on his home world. Plus, 10 other ghoulish tales to fill you with fright this Halloween!

Like I said, this is good, goofy Halloween fun and if you're in the mood for something light, but still true to the season, I'd suggest giving this book a go.

Speaking of Halloween reading, I also have a stack of graphic novels that I like to dive into on or as close to Halloween as I can. Last year, the excellent (and true to the movie continuity) Halloween: Nightdance was collected in an affordable trade paperback from Devil's Due Press.

Halloween: Nightdance coverAnd, while the current mini-series has (apparently) stalled out at DDP, Nightdance features some of the creepiest, scariest comic book horror I've ever experienced.

Horror, methinks, is the toughest genre to pull off in a comic, but Nightdance drips with eerie visuals and skin crawling circumstances. So if you're a fan of the original Halloween (and, really, who isn't?), I definitely suggest you find this book. It's on Amazon right now, for under $13, and you can have it in time for the holiday!

Finally, we have Beasts of Burden, issue two, from Dark Horse Comics. I had high hopes for issue one last month, and the book did not disappoint. This title manages to juggle a creepy story, sarcastic and spot-on dialogue, and whimsical art. How? Well, it's written by Evan Dorkin, and painted (yes, fully painted) by Jill Thompson.

Beasts of Burden #2 coverThis series follows around an eclectic group of four-legged paranormal investigators (as if "four-legged paranormal investigators" could be anything but "eclectic") as they dig deeper into the mystery of last issue.

Here's the blurb from Dark Horse.

When some pups go missing, it’s up to a ragtag team of dogs and. . .a cat to get at the heart of this mystery that reveals horrors greater than they could have ever anticipated. Turns out these pups aren’t the first good-natured animals to disappear in recent weeks, and it’s going to take some strong will, determination, and straight-up heroics to unravel this peculiar case.

Adventure, mystery, horror, and humor thrive on every page of Beasts of Burden--a comic-book series that will capture readers’ hearts and haunt their dreams.

The Eisner Award-winning story gets its own series!

A book that I am 100% onboard with, Beasts is yet another example of a stellar title from Dark Horse that ships on-time and doesn't take a decade of continuity knowledge to pick up, follow, and enjoy. That, and the art is beautiful and haunting and perfect. Give it a shot!

Welp, that's it for today. I'll have some more Halloween Reading Suggestions in the coming weeks, starting tomorrow with a review of book I just finished and loved. So, the only thing left to do is ask...What are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Exfanding Our Horizons

Recently this blog reached 10,000 hits, but instead of celebrating by Alex and I taking turns forcing one another to experience one of our favorite fandoms, we both decided to take the plunge together into a fandom to which neither of us has ever been exposed.

We asked around for ideas, added some of our own ideas to the list, cut out the hobbies and fandoms we've already experienced in some capacity, and then we whittled down the list to the five fandoms we were most eager to try out.

The key here is that we both had to be complete newcomers to the fandom, and we both had to be interested. We received some great suggestions, including reading manga, attending a live Rocky Horror Picture Show, and underwater basket weaving; however, I've dabbled in way too many fandoms for my own good because I am the everygeek, and Alex is just no fun--he was concerned he'd need to start buying an over-the-counter cream for Quidditch, which I assure you is a real sport. Apparently.

After a laborious (read: five-minute-long) selection process, here are the five hobbies and/or fandoms we've agreed on...


tHAT'S RIGHT! Oh, whoops, Caps Lock.


That's right! For a limited time only, we'll be keeping a poll at the top of the blog so that you can vote on our horrible, horrible fate. We'll close the poll either in one week or when we get 30 votes, whichever happens later.

Behold the options!

Watch Battlestar Galactica
A minimum of one season of the sci-fi TV series that ran from 2004-2009. Yeah, yeah; I know there are, like, 4.8 bajillion episodes in total if you count the original TV series and the movies and... well, we think one season oughta do.

Battlestar Galactica logo

Go on a ghost hunt
You know; a ghost hunt. Going on a stakeout for paranormal activity. Just like those guys from Ghost Hunters. We'll bring doughnuts, I bet.

Ghost Hunters logo

Read the best of H.P. Lovecraft
We'll both sit down and crack open the Necronomicon, take a hike up the Mountains of Madness, and spend some quality time with Cthulhu. If nothing else, we hope to learn how to spell "Cthulhu" so we don't need to consult Wikipedia every time.

Artwork of Cthulhu

Watch essential Akira Kurosawa films
Considering Kurosawa is reportedly one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, it's a wonder we've never seen any of his films. We'll undoubtedly give his reputation a boost by saying he's influenced us after we've watched Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, The Hidden Fortress, and/or whatever else our local library has in stock.

The Hidden Fortress Japanese poster

Do a road trip to local tourist traps
Surely our corner of the world has a wealth of tourist traps on par with The World's Largest Ball of Twine, the Celebrity Vegetable Museum, and the Dino Bungee National Memorial. We'll map out a trip and hopefully come back with lots of stories and a minimal amount of kitschy swag. If nothing else, we hope to learn how to spell "kitschy" so we don't need to consult the dictionary every time.

Sam & Max Hit the Road screenshot: Dino Bungee National Memorial
Have you made your decision yet? Go on, now--vote in the poll and make us exfand our horizons for a change.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Con Madness!

A quick Monday morning mash-up of a post, featuring a little Baltimore Con recap and some news that broke out of this past weekend's Big Apple Con.

First, to Baltimore. Couple of things that jumped out right away. The people. There were tons of them. I don't know what the actual numbers were for attendance last week as compared to last year (I'd check online, but it's late and I'm tired. And, um, lazy).

But just by the look of Saturday morning and the throngs of people waiting in the convention center lobby, it seemed like there were more people. And there was a steady stream of more people, all day long. Sunday was busy, as well, and it was very clear that people love the Baltimore Con. It's fun, and laid back, and there's plenty of space.

As I've said before, somehow the promoters manage to take a big, honking convention and make it feel like a Saturday morning show at a local high school. It's down home and the people are polite and there are no hassles trying to walk around.


I talked to several people at the show, fans and creators alike, and they all said the same thing. This year's con seemed more crowded. A lot of people said it reminded them of the old Wizard World Philly Show, which had been a great mid-major convention with top notch guests and little media encroachment.

And then, it exploded.

Several people said that's what they see happening in Baltimore in the next few years. Now, clearly, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I just hope that the con remains focused on comics and not 1970s TV series and whatever it is else that many comics shows feature that aren't comics.

Because, if Baltimore (with its new Summer 2010 time slot) goes in the direction of the Wizard shows, or even the New York Comic Con...well, that would be a shame.

Speaking of Wizard and NYCC.

This weekend at the first-ever combined/merged/whatever Big Apple/Wizard New York Con on the Pier, Wizard head honcho and promoter Gareb Shamus announced that next year's Big Apple Con will take place the same weekend as the New York Comic Con.

Confused yet?

Remember that long and ranty post about comics conventions devouring each other and flooding the market that I wrote last week? Yeah. I guess I was kinda right in my worst fears. Unfortunately with me, that's usually the case. So, what's the deal here? Arrogance? Stupidity? Greed?

Who knows.

Will New York be able to shoulder the burden of two huge cons on the same days? Of course it will. It's New York. And creators will likely split their time between the shows. As will fans. And there will be plenty of people at both shows. The problems will arise if the two shows attempt to exclusively sign creators, thus limiting their appearances to one show or the other.

Which will, of course, happen.

And it'll be the talk of the comics Web sites and we'll hear about this writer jumping the NYCC ship to go to Wizard, and that artist ditching Shamus to hang out with the Reed people.

Shamus has been methodically (and brilliantly) buying up cons around North America, and the Wizard Shows are on their way back to prominence. But do we need more pop culture mash ups every month? Or do we need more Baltimore Cons?

Well, you know my feeling on that subject.

In any case, it'll be interesting to follow Con Season 2010 and see what the trends are and what shows do well and what shows lose their audience. Hopefully the good ones stick around, and hopefully there's still an audience for comic cons by the end of the year.

So, here's to continued relevancy and cooler heads prevailing.

-- -- -- --

We'll be back tomorrow with our compiled list of new fandoms (for you to vote on!) that we're willing to try in celebration of our 10,000 hits on this blog!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NYAF: Not your average festival

We've had lots of convention talk this week, so it's only fitting to have a full-blown review of a real-life anime festival, courtesy of longtime reader neko-chan. Enjoy!

The NYAF (New York Anime Festival) is a midsized convention held every year in - you guessed it - New York City. This was my first time attending, as I usually try to make my way to Otakon instead; however, since NYAF is only a short train ride from my house, and Otakon is... well... not, financially I opted for the more local of the two.

Cosplay of Yomiko Readman from Read or DieNow, I always cosplay at conventions, and this year I went as Yomiko Readman ("The Paper") from R.O.D. I have tried to be more sensible in recent years about my choice in costume, and have this wisdom to impart:

1) Cosplaying as a character who naturally carries a large bag with her means you have plenty of space to store swag and still be in costume. You can also pack a change of clothes, or a baseball bat to thwart off over-zealous fanboys.

2) Wearing a benign costume means you won’t get overly-harassed if you plan to take public transportation or enter non-convention stores and restaurants.

3) The more you naturally look like who you are cosplaying as, the less costume pieces you have to deal with. After being a giant blue penguin for one con, and running around at another con in a wig and helmet during the height of summer, I can honestly say it was a pleasant surprise to not have to deal with elaborate accessorizing.

4) Dress for the season. It was late September, so I chose a character who dresses in layers and has a coat as part of her costume.

5) Consider the efficiency of your props. Is carrying around a 12-foot sword that does not fit inside a taxi really the way to go? Methinks not. My character had a book and a few scraps of paper that worked as bookmarks when I wasn’t using them. A simple and practical prop, especially because it gave me something to read on the train ride.

6) Wear comfortable shoes!!! I cannot stress this enough. You can forget your debit card, you can forget your hygiene, but for the love of Miyazaki do not forget comfortable shoes.


So I had my costume, I had my ticket that I pre-purchased online, and I was on my way to the Javits Center for day one of the convention. I knew it was a 15-minute walk from Port Authority, so I figured I would ask a friendly local for directions once I got there, and everything would be fine.

Javits Convention CenterNote: friendly locals are dumb.

After wandering around for a half hour, mostly in the wrong direction due to the influences of bad information, I gave up and called Nathaniel so he could MapQuest me there over the phone. Thus, I was a half-hour late to the con and missed the traditional building-wrapping queue of doom.

Actually, even though I was still grumping it worked out better that way. I managed to walk right in, grab my badge, and head down to the convention floor in all of 5 minutes. Not too shabby.


The con felt more like a giant mall of vendors and artists that happened to have a few screening rooms in the back. It was all on one floor, which made navigation pretty simple, but Lupin help you if you got stuck on the wrong side of a developing queue.

When I arrived, I pulled out my handy-dandy program to plan the day’s activities. I was quite upset at the schedule, though, as my options were 1) see the promotional screening of 20th Century Boys parts I + II and do nothing else, or 2) try and catch a variety of shows and panels that were horribly overlapped and didn’t take fanbases into account.

I tried for option 2, wanting to see as much as possible, however the first thing I went to see was canceled without warning, so I spent more time wandering around the dealers' room and avoiding Haruhi dancers than I had initially planned. Not the best start to a convention, especially because I ended up buying way too much swag while waiting for the next round of screenings.

CencorollLuckily, the rest of the day went by without a hitch. I saw the first few episodes of Aria (female gondola operators drenched in sappiness), the first two episodes of the original Captain Harlock TV series (mmmm, space pirates), the entire AMV contest (which turned into “It’s so magical” yaoi vs. magical girls), and the US premiere of Cencoroll (an animated short involving shape-shifting cannibalistic monster-cars and the humans who feed them pudding).


I managed to arrive an hour early, and got to chat with people in line about comics and anime as we waited to file in. A friendly Zero cosplayer helped me with directions, and in return I helped provide him with safety pins for emergency costume repair.

I wandered around the artists’ alley for a bit, and then got in line for the Yui Makino (Yuchi) concert. Although I didn’t know any of her songs, I always make a point of attending concerts at conventions, as it is likely the only chance I will ever have to see that performer on a US stage.

It was a fairly informal setting, but she proved a talented singer and piano player, and she was adorable – the very definition of kawaii. While I probably won’t run out and buy all of her CDs, as it was not generally the genre of music I would listen to on a regular basis, I did enjoy the concert and respect her as a performer.

Soul Eater posterNext, I saw the US premiere of the Soul Eater dub. Now I am usually an elitist snob about subtitles, and there are very few things I will allow to be tainted with English voices, but I really wanted to see what all the hype was surrounding this show, so I took a chance.

I am so glad I did. Before the episodes started, they had a special performance. The entire English voice-acting cast was there and read aloud a Soul Eater fan-fiction as professional cosplayers (some wearing official costumes borrowed from FUNimation) acted out the ridiculous scenarios.

Even without knowing the characters I was ROFLing, and it made me appreciate the series (and the English voice cast) that much more. (gun. gunning. gun gun.) Also, everyone in the audience got a free Soul Eater iron-on patch. Yay for free swag.

After that I caught the first two episodes of Galaxy Express 999 (Trains... in... Spaaaaaaace), then rushed over to see the first few episodes of Aquarion. All I can say about Aquarion is that I’m not sure whether to be disturbed or amused by the transformation sequences.

Next, I met up with a few of the guys from college as we waited for the evening events to start. One of them was cosplaying as the main character from Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify and was offering $10 to anyone who could guess his costume. He kept his money, but in the process was able to educate the populace about the series.

Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify posterThey went off to see the cosplay masquerade, which is where fans dress up in costumes and perform fan-written skits involving popular anime characters. I, however, decided to sit in on a screening of the first episode of Guin Saga.

The show has not yet been licensed in the US, so we were able to get a sneak peek, and we also received a free poster for filling out a survey with our impressions and demographics. I enjoyed the premise: young heirs of a war-demolished country find themselves trapped in enemy territory, and are randomly saved by an amnesiac man with a leopard head who can punch people through trees and pile-drive them into the ground.

Irresponsible Captain Tylor posterI ended the day with an older comedy series I had been wanting to see, Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Imagine a young Jack Sparrow crossed with Lupin III, and then make him the captain of a spaceship who somehow manages to destroy an enemy fleet by accident.

I should also mention that this series has one of the most painfully bad theme songs of all time, which means we had a riot singing along and making fun of it. Because there was nothing scheduled after our screening, and because the facilitators had to stay until the masquerade wrapped up, they let us watch an extra two episodes. Epic win.


Gurren Lagann posterI spent the entire morning watching Gurren Lagann: The Movie. Now I had been warned not to see it until I had seen the TV show, because it basically condenses the plot of the first half of the series, however I took a chance on it anyway. I loved it.

Yes, there were obvious spoilers, but the sheer amount of awesome overwhelmed. Take a post-apocalyptic-style world, and then add in scantily clad females with guns, ambiguous mechanics, and mecha pilots whose machines are powered by their manliness. Now have a combining mecha that can sprout drills at will and pummel enemies ten ways to Sunday. What’s not to like?

After that, I wandered over to World Cyber Games area. I have no idea what most people were playing, but everything looked shiny. I put my name in for a drawing to win a Samsung SSD (which I unfortunately did not win), and I spent a good half-hour watching some kids play Resident Evil 5 on the prettiest system set-up I have ever seen.

World Cyber Games room at the 2009 New York Anime FestivalAs I was walking back through the aisles, I passed a booth that was handing out free SoBe energy drinks if you posed with their flyer. Sweet.

I had planned on heading over to the FUNimation panel to see what they had upcoming for 2010, however I was waylaid by Jedi.

Yes, Jedi.

See, it’s generally an unspoken rule that Jedi will attend most anime conventions. We just try to ignore them and teach our children not to stare.

Lots of Jedi conventiongoers with lightsabersOkay, okay, I jest. I love Star Wars, but they were a touch out-of-place. Anysaber, they were doing a trick show of styles and techniques, and I couldn’t help stopping to watch. The performers were quite talented, but I think I was one of only two people clapping. Hopefully they had better luck garnering love at the NY Comic Con.

The rest of my day was comprised of doing a last round of shopping, and I think I left the convention center with a mere $2.80 in coins left in my pocket. I was tired, my feet were sore, but I had enjoyed my weekend and would definitely consider attending this con in the future.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Con Malaise

This week we're taking a critical look at some of our favorite flawed fandoms. We're proposing one change to each installment or aspect of the fandom in question that we feel would provide the most improvement.

In our final Fandom Fix, I'd like to take a look at the current state of the comics convention. And, really, what better time of year to do this than October, when there are four (yes, four) major conventions in the U.S. in a span of four weeks?

Think about that for a second.

Long Beach Comic ConFour major shows, in four weeks, back-to-back. Three of those shows are on the East Coast. Two of them are in New England. Two weeks ago, the first ever Long Beach Comic Con was doing its thing out West while the following week, the Baltimore Comic Con was doing its thing on the East, celebrating ten years of shows.

And today sees the start of the first Big Apple/Wizard-merging Big Apple Con in New York City. Followed next weekend by the Boston Comic Con.

Next year, the Baltimore Con is being muscled out of its October slot, and will instead take place in August, not even a month after Comic Con International in San Diego. Why? Because New York Comic Con (which has become San Diego East) has now moved to the second weekend of October, from its annual February slot.

It used to be (and when I say, "used to be," I mean as in, last year!) that Baltimore Con marked the end of the convention circuit, and everyone from dealers to fans to creators to editors could take a few months off before starting up again in the coming year.

Clearly, that is no longer the case. The recent glut of comic cons, and especially this October surge of big show after big show, is something that has me a bit worried.

This whole state of competing conventions is beginning to look like something out of a Daredevil comic. And I don't mean the ones when he wore yellow and smiled every now and then.

In the world of comic cons, there's a whole underbelly of corporate money-grabbing, dishonest guest stealing, and an all out promotional campaign that would make Presidential candidates jealous.

And it needs to stop.

Haven't we learned that, when you flood the market with the same type of product, consumers get sick of it? Obviously, since this is comics we're talking about, the answer is a four-color no. Remember that whole variant cover craze of the 90's that did its darndest to kill the industry?

And then remember when Marvel (then DC) started issuing all those "limited" variants a few years back? Some of those books were listing in price guides (Wizard Price Guide) for anywhere between $20 and $100!

And today?

Let's just say I saw more "hot" variant covers lining dealer's booths--not selling--than I cared to count at Baltimore. The day of the variant is dead (again). But, much like dead comics characters, the variant cover will be back and more ridiculous than ever one day.

That's just how it goes.

A type of book gets hot, stays hot, drops off the planet, then for whatever reason interest rises again five years down the road. It's cyclical, sure, but the cycle always ends in the quarter bins.

Long, rambling comparisons aside, the same situation is happening with comics conventions. By having so many of them, so close to one another, with virtually the same guest list...well, you see where I'm going with this.

It's just another example of the comics industry trying to punch itself in the face.

The Baltimore Con is an East Coast, autumn staple. It's known as one of the friendliest shows out there, and everyone knows you go to Baltimore to meet creators. Short lines, incredible guest lists, and an entire half of the convention center devoted to artist's alley.

Baltimore is exactly how to go about running an efficient, high-quality show. And its timing makes it a welcome site, after the crazy summer con season is over, and early enough as to not interfere with holiday shopping.

For me, it's been the perfect excuse to take a few days off, spend a little money, and talk with my favorite comics people.

Next year, though, I doubt I'll be going. August is typically a big wedding month, and I am in one the weekend right before the con. I'm just not a big fan of summer cons, I guess. Too much else to do.

As for Baltimore, there were several big name cancellations this year, and with the show being in August of 2010, so soon after San Diego, I wonder if they'll have trouble finding guests.

It has to be hard on creators to take so many weekends out of their time to hit up these shows. And more shows means more time creators need to be away from home. And, really, how long is that going to last? I'm willing to bet that many creators are going to look at the ominous list of 2010 cons and pick one or two shows to go to, and maybe decide against going to some of the smaller shows in favor of seeing the most fans possible at San Diego or NYCC.

Speaking of San Diego, I just read over on Mark Evanier's blog that the four-day ticket package that includes a ticket to Preview Night is already sold out. Yes. In October of the year before the show, tickets to San Diego have sold out.

So, clearly there's interest in comic conventions.

But, not to be all Chicken Little today, how widespread can that kind of interest be? Next year will be a big year for comics, and how conventions play out will mean a lot. Because there will be more shows, with less time between each, than ever before, will attendance suffer?

We'll see.

I say, less shows. Make them special occasions, not every-other-weekend occasions. Comic cons are like a little early Christmas each year, but how long will it be before there's a show planned on Christmas Day?

Hang on, I hear Gareb Shamus calling...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fixing Comics

This week we're taking a critical look at some of our favorite flawed fandoms. We're proposing one change to each installment or aspect of the fandom in question that we feel would provide the most improvement.

The worst thing about comics is that inevitable moment when someone unfamiliar with the hobby asks that question. You know the one.

"So, what's the origin of Wolverine?"


"Well, you see, he's a mutant, but he' old and he wasn't always a mutant. Actually, wait. Yes, he was always a mutant."

"And his mutant power included him having a metal skeleton, right?"

"Yes. I mean, no. It's--ah--it's adamantium, actually, and--"


"Yeah, but--but that's not important. What is important is that Logan had his--"


"Logan--Wolverine. That's his real name. Well, hang on. I gues his real real name is James Howlett, Where was I?"

"Ada-something skeleton."

"Right. Yeah, see, this government program, Weapon X, they experimented on Logan--"

"You mean James?"

"I mean Wolverine. Anyway, so this government program experiments on him and they lace his bones with this unbreakable metal."

"Oh. Well, I guess that's kinda cool. I didn't realize the U.S. government was part of Wolverine's origin."

"Oh, right. They're not. He's Canadian."


We've all had a similar conversation with a newbie, and we've all gotten the same, utterly perplexed and a little bit questioning of our friendship look. They never ask what Superman's origin is, because that one is simple and easy to remember and perfect. Same thing with Batman. I've heard Batman scribe Denny O'Neil explain that Batman's origin is the only logical event that could have propelled someone to become Batman.

And there's no need to tweak it, or add to it, or change it in any concievable way.

The same can't be said about many other characters' origins--especially some of the more modern ones. What's worse though, is the fact that so many characters' current state of affairs can't be described without some level of confusion.

"Tell me about Jean Grey."

"Oh, she's dead. Um...again. Give it a few months, though. She'll be back. And, um, probably evil."

"I see. I think. That sounds complicated. How about Batman? What's Bruce Wayne up to these days?"

"He's in a cave. I think. Drawing bat symbols. And he has a beard."


"Oh, and he's not Batman anymore. And he might be dead."

"Wait, who's Batman? Is it the old Robin?"

"Yep! It's Dick Grayson, and Damian is the new Robin. And Tim Drake is the Robin."

"Hold on. I thought you said Batman was in a cave?"

"He is! But everyone thinks he's dead."

I could literally do this all day, but I'll spare you all that burden. Instead, I'll just complain, sans the dialogue. One of the biggest problems with comics is accessibility. It's a hinderance that has always, and will always, plague the industry.

Because comics are, by definition, an ongoing serialized story, people who have followed a certain character for a number of years (or decades) expect to be "rewarded" for their loyalty. In other words, longtime fans don't want to invest time and money (oh, the money) into a year-long, company-wide crossover event just to have the whole thing erased from continuity a few years later.

Personally, I don't care. If the story happened, and I liked it, great. If the story happened and I hated it, that's my opinion. I'm sure someone out there loved it. Just because an event (or a character, for that matter) is written out of continuity doesn't mean that the event didn't happen or the character never existed.

That's the beauty of comics. Somewhere, either in a dusty longbox or in a beat-up trade paperback, that story still exists, and is viable, and is there for anyone who wants it to go and read. And enjoy, or hate.

But Continuity Hounds (and I honestly believe there are many working in the comics industry today) want things to tie in and connect and, sometimes, never really change from their own personal favorite runs on a book. Which is fine, but that also means that more recent continuity needs to sometimes be tweaked in order for older continuity to make sense in a character's world again.

Let's say you read comics in the 70's and 80's. And you fell in love with Chris Claremont's and Jon Bynre's legendary run on X-Men. They made that book a must-read for anyone in and around comics back then. Let's say you stopped reading after Byrne left the book. Flash forward to today. That same person picks up (one of the couple dozen) X-books Marvel produces today, and has no idea what the heck's going on.

Well, you can argue that they've missed two decades-plus worth of stories, so a lot had to happen. Good argument. However, the problem with that argument is, if you were to pick up an X-book a year after Byrne left the book, you'd be just as lost. I'm picking on the X-Men because they're the best example of a far-reaching, in-depth, and frankly, confusing string of continuity.

There are so many titles, so many characters, and so many different takes on the characters that, in order to dive in to an X-book for the first time, you really need to do your homework.

And a newbie is not going to want to do that. And why should he or she?

Of course, there's another side of the coin to consider. Say a 13 year old walks out of X-Men 3, loves all the punching and exploding, and wants to go read some X-Men comics. Great! A new reader! Well, sure, but only if the book that kid picks up is incredibly streamlined and doesn't require any prior knowledge of the characters.

And if an X-book is written that way, with all the cookie cutter characters from the movie franchise, then what about the fans who have followed the complicated lives of these characters for years and years?

And there's the problem. Comics, somehow, need to fall somewhere in the middle. A book needs to be written so that a newbie can pick it up and follow it, which means it can't be steeped in decades-old continuity. But, at the same time, the book needs to have some reverence for what's come before it, and it cannot be insulting to the tried-and true Wednesday Warriors.

Stan Lee always used to say that every comic book is someone's first. And if that book is incomprehensible to that someone, then comics loses a potential reader. Likely forever.

This makes me think of the first comic I read before I really got into this crazy culture. It was Batman, issue 613, right smack in the middle of the "Hush" story arc. Jeph Loeb wrote that book in a way that past events in the series were explained, and he used familiar characters. And the characters acted in ways I could relate to, because his interpretations of the characters were very much in line with the traditional takes on them.

Still, Loeb managed to bring new stuff into that story, and Hush and Jason Todd play huge roles in the DC Universe today. When I first read it, sure, I didn't get every reference or reveal, but I was still able to follow the mystery and enjoy the heck out of the ride.

And it made me want to go back and learn about some of the characters I'd never heard of before. Like Jason Todd. You mean, there was another Robin after Dick Grayson? What happened there?

And I have to believe that, if that one, single issue of Batman was way beyond my grasp, and, say, Bruce Wayne was drawing symbols in a cave instead of being a detective, I may not have continued to read comics. I might not have gone back to the shop the following week to check out what Superman was up to. I might not have picked up that weird-looking Dark Horse book with the big, ugly guy and his bug-eyed sidekick, shooting at zombies.

And that would have been a shame.