Thursday, December 31, 2009

Month in Review: December 2009

All I know is, it's taken over one full calendar year for Nathaniel to finally let me write up one of these "Month in Review" posts. Well, fine, that's not entirely true. The truth is, I have very little interest in going back and finding links and posting links and making the post look all nice and neat.

I'm doing it this month because Nathaniel is super busy and I' Super busy, that is.

So, lessee. First thing's first. I need a little introductory paragraph whatsit to get this thing going. I'm thinking it should be pretty self-serving, and focus mostly on how great a month we've had on the blog and it should bask somewhat in the glory that is EyH.

Right. Got it.

From the latest reviews in our Introduction to Kurosawa to our multi-part Gifts for Geeks holiday guide, December was a bang up month on the blog. In case you were stuck in the North Pole these past thirty-odd days, here's what we were up to:

- A nostalgic trip back to Alex's college days, and a writing class that meant a lot to him. (So much, in fact, that he went on about it for thousands of words...)

- Our weekly comics-news-turned-personal-diary-about-comics feature, Waiting for Wednesday, issues forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, and forty-four.

- An intro to the impending holiday season, followed by several Gifts for Geeks guides designed to make shopping a little easier on everyone. Included in this year's guides were: Comics, "Safe" Gifts for Befuddled Buyers, a mish-mash guide of stuff, and a trip back to the finest presents that 1989 had to offer.

- The continuation of our series of posts about the films of Akira Kurosawa, including Yojimbo and Rashomon.

- Nathaniel's somewhat baffling realization that he might actually like Superman.

- An answer to the age old question: will it blend?

- Two excellent guest posts by regular reader and contributor Scott; one about the Space Opera, and the other about fansubs in anime. Also, be sure to check out Scott's new blog, The Prism Glass.

- A little ranting on the part of Alex, about bookstores and comics.

- Nathaniel's excellent and entertaining post and recording of commentary over Deja Vu, a PC detective game.

- An update on the status of Wizard Magazine's recently-pulled price guide feature.

- This year's updated edition of Nathaniel's holiday classic poem.

- A reminiscence of the Baddest Gifts we've ever received for the holidays.

- And a couple of reflective posts; one by Alex about the year that was, and one by Nathaniel about this past decade of dorkiness.

Whew! That's alotta linking. We had plenty to say this month, and as always, we thank you all for putting up with our nonsense! We'll be back tomorrow with some New Year's Resolutions.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Waiting (Issue 44)

As mentioned last week in this here (brilliant and inimitable) feature, ain't much to talk about today.

This week is a "comic book skip week," and there will only be a small handful of titles available at your shop. These books were shipped to retailers last week, and they were instructed to hold off on selling them until today.

Of course, there's a catch. Some stores won't have anything out today, because there was a choice for them to make. Not all retailers wanted the books, and so they didn't sign up and swear (with a blood oath, one can only assume) not to sell them early.

So, if you plan on heading down to ye olde comics shoppe today, I'd suggest calling ahead and making sure your retailer will actually have the titles. I know mine won't and that's fine, since I wouldn't have made the trip for three books, anyway.

But, as a super-special side note, we here at Exfanding HQ will be making a comics shop run later this afternoon, as part of our yearly holiday season tradition. (In which we spend money we shouldn't spend/don't have on things we don't need/don't have any room for.) Still, it's a wonderful tradition, and one that I am greatly looking forward to partaking in.

We're a little late this time around, but hey, it still counts. We'll be hitting up some (far, far away) stores that we don't get the chance to visit too often, and that'll be lots of fun.

But before that, we'll be watching the final installment in our Introduction to the Films of Akira Kurosawa as we settle in (or, more appropriately, hunker down) to watch Seven Samurai.

A review will follow shortly. And it will be hilarious and insightful, usually at the same time. And there's plenty of other good stuff coming, including our Year in Review, in which we extol the greatness that is us. So be sure to check back often.

Now, if you haven't figured it out just yet, I am most definitely stalling and trying to fill this post with as many words as possible before getting to the actual comics that ship today. Why? Well, because there's only one that I want to talk about, and I need to pump up my word count.

You know, for my ego.

I could talk about the utter weirdness of a week without comics, but I don't really have a strong opinion on the matter. I tend to think that a comics shop without new comics is kinda like a mobster with no one to whack, so the whole point of the "skip week" is a little baffling to me.

I guess the argument is that this week is typically slow, what with the holiday and all. But, especially this year (when many employers are instituting a mandatory furlough for this week to save some dough), I'd think that there are plenty of people with days off, just looking for something to do.

I'd have to imagine that a lot of folks couldn't take vacations, and if they did, they are most liekly at the house of a family member. And if that's the case, comics fans would most certainly be looking for a local shop to haunt.

One can never underestimate the importance of getting away from family for a while. But, Diamond, Marvel, and DC don't see it my way. So you and I don't get new books this week. Oh, well.

Now that that's out of the way, I guess I might as well provide some info on the book that will be shipping today, and that I have some interest in. Today, DC releases issue six of the Geoff Johns epic, Blackest Night.
Blackest Night coverNot much to say other than, if you're reading this issue-to-issue, then I'm sure you'll be buying it today. If you're waiting for the won't.

Be buying it today, that is.

It's a great series--easy to follow, fun to read, and with some great surprises along the way. Everything you want out of comics, really. Here's the too-witty-for-its-own-good blurb on the book.

The secrets of Nekron are revealed as darkness consumes the DC Universe. Everything else: TOP SECRET.

Very good. Also, here's the disclaimer up on DC's Web site about the "skip week":

On sale December 30, 2009 only at comic shops participating in DC's "Green Christmas" program. Non-participating comic shops will offer the issue for sale beginning January 6, 2010. Check with your local comic shop for applicable on sale date.

So, y'know, if your shop won't get the book, I'd steer clear of the Internet for a while.

You know what I envision happening? If a fan's favorite shop doesn't get this in, he or she is going to go to another shop in the area to buy it. Then, when the favorite shop finally gets the book next year (okay, that's taking it a bit far, but you can't tell me it's not true!), that shop will be stuck with a ton of these things.

You'd have to imagine that orders are high on this series, so even a non-participating store is going to have a bunch of these. A week late.

Sometimes I don't get the comics industry.

Anyway, that's a rant for another day. I'd ask what you all are Waiting for, but I think I already know the answer to that. Still, since it's the last issue of this feature for the year, I just want to say thanks for reading, and stay tuned for WfW, Volume Two, coming next week!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anime and Fansubs

This entry has been written by Scott Rothrock for Exfanding Your Horizons. He has been many different kinds of geek throughout his life: book geek, cook geek, CCG geek, comic geek, Japan geek, computer geek, prop geek... and will doubtless explore more geekdoms in the future. Right now, he has started a writing blog called The Prism Glass, which aims to produce four stories weekly as well as blog posts on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Huge anime eyesFree anime!

What anime lover doesn't want free anime? If there's anything going against anime, it's the fact that it's an expensive hobby. One DVD could contain anywhere from two to four episodes of a 26-episode series, meaning that a single series is a not-inconsiderable investment.

Well, there's a catch. It's illegal, you know.

Back in the old days when anime was "that neat cartoon with big eyes", a lot of people were so enthusiastic about it that they wanted to show it to other people. Well, there was a problem then -- since it was new to America, there wasn't much of a market, which meant there weren't many companies bringing in anime. What anime was being brought in was old and expensive.

Lupin IIIFansubbing was a way around this. Even though it was illegal, a lot of people saw it as being a grey area and justified themselves in various ways. They said that the anime wasn't copyrighted in America, that they were exposing new people to anime and creating a customer base, that they were giving companies free advertising, and that they were spreading a foreign culture, just to name a few. While some of those may have been a little true, the fact of the matter is that fansubbing is essentially illegal. In the old days, it wasn't a terribly big deal because it was awkward and took a long time; you bought VHS tapes through snail mail.

After the advent of broadband, the fansubbing world exploded. Not only was it possible to find and download fansubs quickly, but it was also possible to make them even faster. Anime became more and more popular; it was increasingly hard to justify fansubbing by saying that it was free advertising. The truth is that with anime's rising popularity, many American companies would license anime as soon as it was announced in Japan.

Anime subtitle sampleSome fansubbers got around this uncomfortable fact by saying that they would stop subbing an anime once it was licensed; the vast majority simply ignored licenses until they received legal threats. Even then, groups would often splinter off into more clandestine groups to continue releasing the series "for the fans."

I may sound bitter, but don't get me wrong -- fansubbers were an incredibly valuable resource for me when I was into the anime scene. I even joined several fansubbing groups at the peak of my craze, which gave me an inside look at the culture.

Fansubbers are not evil pirates; they're simply fans who have the ability to subtitle anime. And yes, it does take a certain amount of skill. A typical fansubbing group will have about seven different types of jobs, each usually done by a different person, though some talented people can perform multiple jobs.

Anime subtitle exampleRaw Provider -- Unsubtitled anime is called a "raw". The raw provider finds raws, usually via Japanese peer-to-peer software. Sometimes they actually live in Japan and record broadcasts themselves, but this is rare.

Translator -- The translator's job is obvious; they create a script of the show in the target language. The vast majority of translators are not Japanese, although Japanese translators can be found. The quality of translation can vary depending on accuracy, understanding of nuance, and the ability to give characters "voices."

Timer -- In order to move the script to the screen, someone has to use a program like Substation Alpha to create a subtitle script. The subtitle script contains times for each line, telling the video player when to display the line and when to hide the line. This can be an incredibly time-consuming job when done well, though experienced timers can often time a normal episode of anime in about half an hour. This is also a critical job, since subtitles can make or a break a fansub -- are the subtitles too early? Too late? Is there too much to read in the short time they're displayed? This all falls onto the timer's shoulders.

Anime fansub exampleEditor -- Once the script is timed, an editor watches the entire episode anywhere from one to half a dozen times. An editor's job is not only to correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also to ensure that speaking patterns, spelling, and word choice remain the same throughout the series. It wouldn't do to say that those giant robots are "combining", then "transforming" in the next episode, then "gattai-ing" in another, and then "fusing" in still another, would it? The editor should catch those kinds of mistakes and ensure verbal continuity. Additionally, if certain lines are too long, the editor can suggest line breaks or timing changes for the timer. The editor is also sometimes responsible for checking the translation -- you know those "mass naked child events"? That was an editor sleeping on the job.

Typesetter -- The typesetter job can be and is often performed by the timer. The typesetter is responsible for choosing the font used in the subtitles, the color of the text, the color of the outline, when the text colors/fonts change, and sometimes details like finding ways to subtitle signs and letters. In addition to all of that, the typesetter can also be tasked with creating an interesting-looking karaoke for the opening/ending of a show. Creating and timing karaoke can be so complex that some people focus ONLY on that particular task. Being a typesetter is truly a thankless job -- nobody notices the job you've done unless you've done it terribly. And there have been some terrible jobs.

Anime fansub sampleEncoder -- The encoder takes the various subtitle files and the raw file, then puts them together into one video file. In addition to that, he tweaks the raw file to improve the clarity, contrast, and color while also shrinking it to a manageable file size. Many modern fansubbers aim to fit an entire series on one DVD; in the past, the aim was to fit four episodes on a CD. Ensuring that the video is watchable, artifact-free, and the correct size is all the encoder's duty.

Quality Checker -- Many people consider this the easiest job, and for good reason. Groups often employ several quality checkers at a time per series. The basic idea of the job is that a checker will sit and watch the episode, noting when they see a typo, some kind of mistake, or a video artifact, at which point the fansub goes back through the process until it's fixed. However, too many checkers will simply check their brains out and enjoy watching the release early, which will result in missed mistakes. This is usually what happens when a group releases a v2, or heaven forbid, a v3.

Spanish anime subtitleSo there's a fair bit of skill going into every fansub release out there -- even the bad ones. Why do people put all of this time into a product that will never make them money? Why do people download these instead of watching official releases with professional translations? Well, enjoyment is one easy answer. Cost is another. Speed is yet another -- fansubs come out days after the show is aired in Japan, whereas the official releases are much, much slower.

But there's one more thing -- fansubs can often have a higher perceived quality than the average official release. Due to limitations in DVD subtitle technology, official subtitles are a boring, blocky white font. This can look irritatingly cheap and boring to someone who has grown up with fansubs. And hey, the official releases don't even have song lyrics or karaoke? What's up with that? The lazy bums...!

Why bother paying all that money for a DVD with a few episodes with cheap-looking subtitles and an English track you don't want when you can download it for free? Convincing thought, isn't it? On top of that, the anime industry has been known to recruit good translators directly from the ranks of the fansubbers, which makes it even easier to justify fansubbing. After all, they have to be doing something right!

Sample subtitleDespite the obvious benefits, fansubs are still illegal, just like downloading your favorite movie, comic series, or album from a torrent site. Just something to keep in mind.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections on a Decade of Dorkiness

It's all over.

In mere days, this disappointing decade will come to a close. I say "disappointing" because I am still waiting for my flying car. Maybe the futuristic-sounding 2010s won't let me down.

I've been alive for around a quarter of a century (it's scary when I put it that way, right?) and the 2000s--or the "'00s" (pronounced "Ohs"), as I prefer to call them--would be the first full decade I can remember with any sort of clarity.

I wasn't around for all of the '80s, and my memories of the early '90s are patchy, and even during the mid-to-late '90s I wasn't paying much attention to affairs beyond my own. Politics? Climate change? War? Please. I have a princess who I need to rescue from another castle.

The '00s, though... Well, I can't say I'm completely in touch with what's going on in the world these days, but at least now I can tell you with moderate certainty that Bernie Madoff was not, in fact, the title character of Weekend at Bernie's.

Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 logoIt wasn't until I heard part of the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 countdown this weekend, in which all the top songs of the decade were played in a row, that I started to think about what the '00s were like as a whole. I heard songs that I thought were released in the '90s; I can scarcely remember a time when Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" wasn't playing on the radio somewhere, but it was released in the '00s.

Maybe it's too soon to tell, but I feel like the music of this decade hasn't had quite the same distinctive sound that music of earlier decades has. Pick almost any song from the '50s or '60s; if for no other reason than the quality of the recording, you can probably guess the general time period when the song was made. The '70s are pretty identifiable to me, and the '80s even more so, especially where electronic keyboards are involved.

It's a little trickier for me to define a distinctive sound for the '90s because a wider variety of instruments and genres seemed to appear on the airwaves, but the '00s really started to spiral away from classification thanks to Coldplay, Jason Mraz, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Evanescence, 50 Cent, Nickelback, Britney Spears, Snow Patrol, Dido, Shakira, Michael Bublé, Colbie Caillat, The Killers, Tenacious D, 'N Sync, Guns N' Roses, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and the Jonas Brothers. Or, maybe I just started listening to music other than oldies and classic rock.

Oh, and that doesn't even begin to cover all the indie and instrumental and not-in-English music that's out there. That's just a starter list for the sake of comparison. I admit that I could be totally off-the-mark about being unable to track down a distinctive sound for the decade, but judging solely by what has endured on the radio and in my own music collection, this decade has been rather varied in terms of music, perhaps more so than any previous decade.

The same goes for movies, video games, and television; the offerings have been quite diverse. Undoubtedly that's due to technological advancements--CGI lets lazy filmmakers do things more hideously than they could ever do with a little bit of puppeteering, for example--but the state of visual entertainment has changed monumentally over the past ten years, without a doubt.

CGI HulkA decade ago, people were playing Final Fantasy VIII on the original PlayStation, in all its pointy polygonal glory. Now people are playing Final Fantasy XIII on a PlayStation 3, and the graphics have just about caught up with the best of what Hollywood has to offer. Whereas controller vibration was a fancy new feature back then, dedicated Nintendo gamers such as myself now have soon-to-be-industry-standard motion-sensitive controls that they use almost exclusively to play old-school, non-motion-sensitive Mega Man games.

Final Fantasy 8 screenshotFinal Fantasy 13 screenshotBack then, at the turn of the century, we had TV shows like Boy Meets World and The Drew Carey Show and That '70s Show--we had sitcoms. Alright, so we also had 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel and the very first season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but unless it's funny or sci-fi or has Alex Trebek, I usually don't care to watch it.

This time around, we had shows like America's Next Top Model, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Jon & Kate Plus 8--we have reality shows. However, we also have/had Mad Men, Dexter, True Blood, 30 Rock, Scrubs, Lost, Castle, Heroes, and whatever the heck else other people apparently watch on TV, plus reruns of Firefly, Deadwood, Arrested Development, etc. Most genres have had at least a little representation on mainstream stations, and I assure you there's a slew of good examples that I'm missing because I don't watch TV.

Moreover, "Mainstream" became a lot harder to classify over the course of the decade, in part because of all the genre-crossing within shows and networks, and I think also because this confounded recession has caused us to be pickier about our entertainment; one person tries something different and creative or spectacular that proves to be very popular, and then suddenly we're flooded with the offerings of people trying to cash in on a proven success, thereby causing this thing that is different and creative to be mainstream because everyone is doing it.

Zombies, vampires, and comic book heroes immediately come to mind.

That's right: Comic book heroes--and comic books by association--have become mainstream, or at least a few of them. Joe Moviegoer bought his first graphic novel this year, a copy of Watchmen, or maybe the latest X-Men comic. Jane the Political Junkie found out through her favorite online news source that some fictional character, Captain America, had been killed off.

Death of Captain AmericaI don't even need to paste a *SPOILER ALERT* here because everybody knows about it. Cap's death is like Darth Vader's secret identity--at this point, everybody knows that *SPOILER ALERT* he's Luke's dad.

Hang on; I just had a spoileriffic thought: Cap's death got regular non-comics people buzzing about an actual comic book, and as a result, said people actually picked up the issue/story arc where Cap died. People were buzzing about The Dark Knight, in huge part because of Heath Ledger's death. If my sources are correct, Final Crisis started up around the same time that movie was released; perhaps DC recognized a trend and killed off Batman to get more people to buy Final Crisis? Please tell me I'm not the first person to think of this.

Anydarkseid, a multitude of once-nerdy niches became a little more mainstream and socially acceptable over the past decade, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Valerie D'Orazio wrote an interesting post over on her Occasional Superheroine blog about how Sci-Fi, a television station dedicated to exactly what you'd expect, rebranded itself as "SyFy" and vanquished much of what made it unique in favor of mainstream programming that was more digestible for the masses who weren't diehard sci-fi fans.

So now where do the diehard sci-fi fans go?

That was my same frustration with the motion-sensitive controls of the Wii (a topic about which I've ranted not once but twice, at least). Sure, easy-to-pick-up controls invite a much broader audience, but I felt like I, a longtime diehard fan, was being alienated because these new control styles were highly contrary to my playing style.

Star Trek 2009Continuing on that train of thought, there's the new Star Trek movie that rebooted a 40-year legacy, garnering a legion of new fans while alienating a great many longtime fans in the process. I've written about my fears, my immediate reaction, and the aftermath about/to/of the new film, but the bottom line is that Star Trek has gone mainstream.

Suddenly we're living in a world where the school bully and the snotty popular girl and the little pocket-protected boy stuffed in the locker can all agree that they like Spider-Man or Star Trek, at least to some extent. In a way, this decade brought about an understanding between geeks and non-geeks with hardly any effort on the part of the geeks.

On the one hand, I think it's fantastic that Grandpa Somebody is playing Nintendo with his grandchildren and that Little Suzie Someone can pick Doc Ock out of a police lineup. On the other hand, that widespread appeal comes at a price: some of the things that make certain fandoms appealing are inherently unappealing to a mainstream audience.

Star Wars--a fandom that is rather mainstream if it's enjoyed in moderation--made a huge comeback into the public consciousness this decade, for better or for worse. In this case, it can be argued that Star Wars' return to mainstream popularity is in part because of the emphasis on appealing to children--the toys and TV shows especially have begun to seep into the minds of a younger generation, which means that in another decade, Star Wars might be just as socially acceptable as Duck Tales and Looney Tunes.

There were other fandoms this decade that gained popularity, though these were already mainstream--the difference was that they had been dormant for quite some time. The '00s were host to more sequels, remakes, and franchise reboots than you can shake a Wiimote at; in fact, I'm not sure that the term "franchise reboot" even existed until this decade.

Bionic Commando RearmedFrom Terminator to Die Hard to Indiana Jones; from Batman to Superman to James Bond; from Chrono Trigger to Metroid to Bionic Commando; everyone and their prototype robotic brother got a fresh coat of paint.

Out of the blue, there were sequels to things that had been put away on the shelf at least five years ago, whether they needed sequels or not. New life was breathed into franchises that may or may not have needed resuscitation. And I already talked about remakes in a relatively recent post, so there's no need to rehash that.

All this talk of variety and diversity, yet everything new was really just something old in disguise. Go figure.

I'll continue to look back on the decade as the minor details melt into the bigger details that will feature more prominently in the history books and people's minds. I'm even considering looking for a copy of Consumer Reports' 2010 Buying Guide so that, in another decade or two, I can look back on the present the way I did with the year 1988. I'm sure it'll take more time to process the trends and hallmarks of this decade; after all, we've still got a few days left--anything could happen.

For starters, there's still time for that flying car.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Year's End Thoughts: Coming Up Milhouse

MilhouseThere are so many things I want to write about today. So many. The problem is, I'm not sure if any of them are even remotely of interest to anyone besides myself. So, I'm at a bit of a crossroads on this one.

Lemme just back up a minute first, though. Nathaniel and I started this blog to express and to share our love of all things geeky (and ridiculous!), but we also agreed that sometimes it's okay to post some of the more personal stuff to the blog.

Not always, but sometimes. Often, when I do just that, this blog serves as a great way for me to vent and to type until my fingers hurt and I don't want to type, or to think, any more.

And sometimes that's exactly what the doctor ordered.

So, since it's the end of the year, and because I really do want to at least mention some of these things as a--I dunno, a record of some sort--I guess I'll proceed (with some caution).

As you all know (and as I've made you all painfully aware over these past few months), I lost my job back in September and I've been diligently trying to find steady work ever since. Aside from several freelance gigs here and there, though, I've pretty much had an epic fail in this regard.

And that's made me moody and angrier than I normally am, and I hate that. But I don't do well with sitting idly by, especially when I feel like I'm at an age where steady, career-driven work is crucial for my future.

I have four years of experience in the publishing field--which doesn't sound like a lot. But, being that I'm out of college five years...well. There isn't much more professional experience I could have accrued during that time.

But, because of several factors--this recession the main one--I am constantly up against people who have ten, twenty, thirty, or in some cases, forty and fifty, years of experience in the field.

They have literally been editing books for longer than I have been on this Earth.

That's tough to compete with. With four years experience, I'm right at the cusp of being "experienced" while still being "inexperienced." Another year or two at my old job, and that would have been a moot point.

Things didn't work out that way, so as I apply for new jobs, I find myself caught in between having too much experience--for, say, an editorial assistant job--and not having enough experience--for, say, an Editor opening at a major firm.

So, fine, I'm just like millions of others in this country--unemployed and trying to scratch and claw my way back into the workforce. In the meantime, I decided to do quite a bit of writing, and to focus on the possibility of getting published somewhere. And I did. Get published somewhere, I mean. really.

Lemme explain. As I write this, I've just been informed that I've now lost my "fake job," as a Managing Editor of a magazine tie-in to a pretty big TV show. I've been "working" at this magazine since almost the day after I was laid off from my real job. I use quotes because I worked at the magazine in a volunteer capacity--which is fancy, high-falutin' talk for "unpaid."

Still, it was for a TV show that I really love, and it was a great opportunity to learn a bit about the magazine business, and that end of the publishing industry. The people were great, the other editors were awesome to work with, the articles and the writers were interesting and fun and probably too good to be true.

Upper management was a bit of a disaster, though. This magazine was truly a labor of love, and not what you'd call a profit maker. Still, the people involved worked on it because they wanted to be involved. However, recently, and quietly, the magazine was bought out by a new publisher, and the details of staff-related stuff was leaked online.

A heck of a way to find out you just got the boot, let me tell ya.

I wasn't surprised that I won't be coming back for future issues--I worked remotely, and I was the newest member of the team. I was surprised to find out about the position change on the Internet, and not from the mouth of the new publisher.

I find that to be wholly unacceptable, but quite typical of upper management types. They employ workers, not people. Well, in my case, I wasn't "employed" in the classical sense of the word. I was, however, doing quite a bit of work, and editing quite a few articles, both from established staff writers and new submissions we received on a daily basis.

And I was praised quite often for the job I was doing.

And, as I said, I came cheap. But, still, changes came and publishers switched, and whatever. Hopefully my name will be on the masthead for the issue that I helped out with, and hopefully I'll get some recognition for my contributions.

During my three months, I managed to hire a full-time staff writer. She's someone who is, now, and will continue to be, a valuable asset to the magazine, so at least there's some tangible progress left behind.

I also wrote an article for the magazine. It was for their Halloween issue, and I introduced and reviewed a handful of Halloween-themed and/or horror/paranormal comics. It was met with a very positive response, and it even looked like something that was going to turn into a monthly feature.

And, of course, once that article was published...I would be published.

The article was written in an hour or two, after the former publisher emailed with an emergency. We'd gone to press short one spread (two pages), and we needed something. I emailed back, ptiched my idea, and wrote the story.

It was approved and put into the issue. Not long after that, I was named the full-time (volunteer) Managing Editor.

But the story--and the Halloween issue--were the most important things to me. I'd seen my name in books before, as an editor. And, sure, there's a two second thrill that accompanies seeing something of that nature. But it's the writer--the real creator of something, from nothing--who deserves the credit.

Not the editor. Never the editor.

Even on those educational books I edited for four years at my old job, some of which by rewriting everything that had been handed in by writers, it was their names that were important. The credit was theirs. And that's how it should always be.

But the magazine. An article published in a magazine that's available in Borders, and Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold.

I've always wanted to say that.

That issue--the Halloween issue--is still at the printer. Sitting there, in its final proof stage, waiting to be uploaded and printed and churned out and sold. There was a problem at the printer, and the magazine is delayed.

It's December, so you tell me if the Halloween Special will ever be un-delayed.

I hope it goes to press. I hope my little 1,200 word article sees print. I doubt it, though. I'm not sure if I'll ever be asked by this magazine to write another article, or even to edit another article. I'm not sure any of the articles I edited will end up in a future issue.

Even if they do, I'm not sure my name will be anywhere near that masthead, and if it'll be as if my work was completed by an invisible hand. But I guess that's the true mark of an editor, anyway.

I can tell you this, though.

It's like winning a couple hundred dollars on a scratch off ticket, and then realizing that you actually didn't win. That the ticket never really existed. But, if it had, well.

Let's just say, a couple hundred dollars would be nice right about now.

So now it's on to the next for me. Again. My two comics--both created, written, and funded by me, mind you--are on hold. One because of a falling out with a former partner, and the other because of the same reason.

There's some heated contesting of one of the properties, which has been horrible and expensive and lawyer-y.

I think I might actually get into that in an upcoming post. We'll see if I'm allowed to.

But for now, when I look back on the Year That Was, I guess what it comes down to is this. I had a lot of things happen to me that were beyond my control. I learned a lot about business, and more specifically, about how not to do business.

And that's important, for sure.

I also found out who my friends really are, and who I can count on. Speaking of friends, two of my closest got me some really great presents for Christmas this year. And, even though I promised one of them that I'd wait for him and his girlfriend before popping the Watchmen Ultimate Edition into my DVD player, I may have already watched all of the extra features.

Possibly more than once.

Then, when I opened the mailbox this past Friday afternoon, I found a package filled with comics. Some old, some new. And two hardcover collections--Daniel Way's second Deadpool arc and the first arc of Avengers: The Initiative.

I'd read and loved all of Daniel Way's Deadpool, and I was hoping to pick up the second collection after the holidays, and most likely when it came out in paperback.

As for The Initiative, it's a series I've been meaning to get into forever, and now I have. Both collections, and the single issues in the package, were great. And with the giant snowstorm we had on the East Coast last weekend, there was plenty of time to kick back and read them.

So I did. And they were great.

And then I thought, eh, might as well dive into the pile of unread books lying under my bed. Books going back to September and August and July and before. I made a pretty small dent in the pile, but any kind of dent at all is progress with a pile like that.

So I spent Saturday and Sunday reading comics in bed.

And tomorrow I'll start in on my yearly tradition of reading the entire run of The Goon, from start to finish.

It hasn't been the greatest year. It hasn't even been a very good year. But it hasn't been a bad year. And that's something. That's enough.

On to the next, yeah?

The Goon holiday cover

Friday, December 25, 2009

All I Want for Christmas: Baddest Gifts Ever

Wolverine in the snowFirst off, the real title of this post is simply, "All I Want for Christmas." However, because I needed an excuse to run that cover image from Wolverine, issue 49, from a couple of years ago, I needed to include the word "baddest" somewhere.

So, yeah, mission accomplished.

Anytinsel, since today is Christmas (well, okay, not really, since we're typing this earlier in the week--just think of us as the Ghosts of Christmas Past), we thought it would be a bad (by which, I mean, "good") idea to talk about the best, geeky gift we ever received as kids.

I've done some research online, and though I could only find one eBay listing (at $150!!) for this item, I'm pretty sure the information is correct. Released in 1991, the Batman Wayne Manor Playset was definitely the baddest Christmas gift I ever got.

Batman Forever Wayne ManorAnd, no, the photo above is not the actual set that I had. Actually, it's not even the right model. I had the set released prior to the one in the photo, which was released after the 1989 movie hit on VHS. Apparently, that toy was used as a model for all subsequent releases of the product, with slight variations for each movie.


Still, it's impossible to deny that Santa was incredibly generous that year--delivering not one, but two of these to my home. The other set was for my little brother, who had a habit of wanting everything I owned.

(Looking back on it now, one should have been left in the box, stored in a closet, and flipped online decades later for $150. That would have been a true Christmas miracle...)

[Nathaniel steals the microphone]

I, too, had a Batcave. Not even the fancy Wayne Manor model; I'm pretty sure it was just the Batcave. Rocky plastic front, flimsy painted cardboard back, as I recall. Coolest thing on the planet. Disappeared one day, discarded after the cardboard portion got a little wet. A sad, sad day.

But let's not dwell on the sad. It's time to dwell on the bad. The good kind of bad. The baddest kind of good... bad.

I am so revoking Alex's privilege to come up with titles for these posts.

As I said last Christmas, it's difficult to pin down any one gift that is the greatest one ever. The baddest gift, however... well, that's slightly different. The baddest gift is one that's simultaneously a declaration of my raging nerdiness, a proud symbol of my favorite video game fandom, and more socially acceptable than going out in public without it.

It's a Mega Man t-shirt.

Now, I have a lovingly handmade Mega Man t-shirt that has not fared well in the dryer, and a store-bought t-shirt that has endured regular use and equally regular trips through the laundry process. I am nothing if not geeky clean.

Like a lucky pair of rocketship underpants, wearing my Mega Man t-shirt always makes me feel invincible, or at least like I've got a +40 bonus to all my saves. There's an indescribable comfort in being protected from cold weather and public indecency by your favorite fictional character, and I feel that much more awesome when I look down at my shirt, which truthfully proclaims, "I BEAT THE 8 ROBOT MASTERS!"

It's like wearing around a medal. An extra-large medal made of 100% cotton.

[Alex fights back, like the Empire, and takes over the typing...]

Now that I think of it, the Batcave that Nathaniel described might actually be the one that I had. I don't remember. And it's that layer of mis-remembrance that makes my Batcave Thingy the Baddest Gift Ever, as it meets all the necessary criteria for such a title.

And maybe Nathaniel's right about not letting me choose the titles for these things...


So, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a Batcave Thingy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

Mega Man Christmas - Rush the Christmas Tree'Twas the night before Christmas, when far from the blog
Two bloggers weren't writing, their minds in a fog.
Yet due to their foresight the posts were all there,
Preemptively written, the next day to share.

They'd learned from last year--it was drilled in their heads--
To schedule their posts meant more time racing sleds
On an iPhone, at least, with a nifty new app;
Can you see them outside? Goodness no! We would clap.

Nathaniel's inside mixing up cookie batter
While Alex buys pies and has grandmas to flatter.
The posts that we've written will be a big smash,
So popular they'll make the Internet crash.

Yes, dozens of fans to this website will go,
And they'll all want to stay for our HTML snow.
It's simple and pretty and brings you good cheer.
(It's the same chunk of code that we used here last year.)

Well, not much has changed since last Christmas; just click
On this link to see what was once new and slick.
Content with the layout, right now it's our aim
To write posts about topics, some of which we now name!

Posts on Star Wars! On Star Trek's big huge exhibition!
On Halloween, Watchmen, Yojimbo, and X-Men!
We talked about food and that game starring Squall!
Plus zombies, Fluxx, Conchords, and Bendis, et al.

Whoa, hang on; my brain is beginning to fry.
I can't think of more rhymes, but doggone it, I'll try!
I'll now try to work in the name "Scooby Doo,"
'Cuz that rhymes with a lot of fun words, like... um... spew.

Alright! So my creative juices went "poof"!
Should we write up our posts even more in advance? Proof
That this might be the case can right here be found;
In a rush to meet deadlines, this post's run aground!

I'd give you excuses but they're lame and moot;
They'd not be enough to make you give a hoot.
I'll try to improve now; I'll give it a crack,
Please give me a chance to get us back on track.

His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
Hang on; now it sounds like I've drunk too much sherry.
That's clearly the wrong line; believe me, I know!
Like our Link of the Week, this nonsense must go.

I'll mention our blogroll; it's buried beneath
Our archive and links; that's the space we've bequeathed.
We've sandwiched our sidebars; it's like we're a deli!
Our patchwork of widgets would please Mary Shelley.

We're working on something to put on a shelf;
A contest we'll hold to win it for yourself!
It's kind of a secret; it isn't widespread
What this secret prize is. Maybe pigs? Maybe bread?

The next thing I'll mention may make you berserk;
At the end of each post is a fancy new perk:
A trio of boxes lined up in a row
Will take you to somewhat related posts, bro.

It's time to stop writing; I'm blowing the whistle.
It's a quarter 'til two in the AM and this'll
All go down in history as just one more night
Where I waited too long to start blogging. Alright?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Waiting for Wednesday, Issue 43

Welcome, one and all, to the last Wednesday of the comic book year.

Bwah-huh? What's that you say, Alex? But there's one more week left in the year! Yeah, about that. There is one more Wednesday left in the year, but not on the comic book calendar. What I mean is, after today, there are no new comic book releases until 2010.

The reason? Next week (that's the week between Christmas and New Year's, for anyone who might not own a calendar) is a comic book "skip" week. The first Well, certainly since I've been buying and reading comics.

Why is next week a comic book skip week? Because all the companies (well, okay, mostly Diamond) got together and decided will be. And so it will be. But, just as deaths in comics aren't actual deaths, next week's skip week isn't actually a, um, skip week.

You see, on Wednesday, December 30, there will be three titles that ship to your friendly neighborhood comics shop, and you can read all about them over at Diamond's Web site.

Now, I think (I. Think.) that those three titles will actually ship this week, but comics shops owners who will be receiving them had to first swear (to some kind of super hero-y oath, I'm sure) that they wouldn't sell the product until the week of the 30th.


So, the big questions are--who is going to make the journey to the shop for three books? And, is this a smart move? Well, being that one of the books is Blackest Night, I think it'll be interesting, but I honestly believe people are going to head to the shops and buy. I've talked to some retailers who say that week is a dead week, and others who say just the opposite. I guess it depends on the store.

The way I look at it, though, a lot of folks have that whole week off from work, and they're usually looking for A.) Something to do, B.) Time away from the family, or C.) A place to spend some Christmas money and/or cash in their gift certificates.

Now, the second question--is it a smart move? I dunno. I'm not a retailer, so I don't really know how it'll affect the shops. I'd imagine that not having to pay shipping for one week will be nice, and appreciated.

But, as Bleeding Cool writes, next week's skip week will wreak havoc on shops (and consumer's wallets) this week.

There's a metric ton of new product coming today--mostly trades and hardcovers and one omnibus--and that's just from Marvel. That's crazy. Consumers who are at their wallet's end after a tough holiday shopping season are not going to drop stupid amounts of money on comics today.

Once again, the industry manages to take one step forward, and two steps back.

Still, if you have some money just begging to be spent today, there are plenty of options available to make said money vanish into thin air. Instead of focusing on the single issues that come out today, though, here are a couple of trades that will warm your heart (not really) through the holiday weekend.

First up, in celebration of Brian Michael Bendis' first decade at Marvel, the publisher is releasing the Brian Michael Bendis: First 10 Years At Marvel trade paperback. Clocking in at a whopping 368 pages, and including some of Bendis' best single issue work at the company, the price tag on this book is $35.

Here's the (long) blurb from the House of Ideas:

Celebrating Brian Michael Bendis' 10th anniversary at Mighty Marvel! Writing as many as five Marvel titles simultaneously, Bendis has become one of the company's most prolific creators during the past decade; his multiple Eisner Awards testify to quality that rivals such quantity.

In 2000, the crime-noir veteran re-created Marvel's most vital character for modern audiences in Ultimate Spider-Man, harbinger of the growing Ultimate universe and still thriving as it eclipses 100 issues.

He shook the world of Daredevil by revealing the hero's secret identity, setting into motion storylines whose repercussions will far outlast his departure. He next de- and re-constructed the Avengers, paving the way for the House of M crossover, which rocked the foundations of the Marvel Universe.

And then he shook up the status quo again, unleashing a Secret Invasion of alien shapeshifters on the Marvel heroes.


Now, I own each and every one of these issues, and some of them in trade, so I won't be buying this bad boy today. But, if you're new to Marvel, and you've heard good things about this "Bendis Guy," then I'd suggest taking a peek at the trade.
Brian Michael Bendis: Ten YearsPersonally, Ultimate Spidey, issue 13, Daredevil, issue 65, and Alias, issue 10, are some of my very favorite mainstream comics from the past decade. Bendis has been Marvel's top guy, and with good reason, since 2000. His run on Daredevil with Alex Maleev is probably my favorite run on any super hero title ever, and it's one of the main reasons I've followed everything Bendis has ever written, and will continue to do so.

I think it's cool that Marvel is putting a book like this together, and I hope that DC takes note, and maybe releases a similar trade for Geoff Johns' work this decade.

Moving right along, we have the latest installments in Dark Horse's One Shot Wonders initiative. I've talked about this before, but OSW is, in my opinion, one of the better ideas of 2009. These are all self contained, done-in-one issues that are easily accessible to new readers, while still including stories that will interest long-time fans.

So far, these books have presented the best from both worlds, and I don't see why this week's offerings will be any different, especially since these are high profile titles with high profile creative teams.

Willow coverFirst up is Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow, one-shot, written by Joss Whedon and with art by Karl Moline. Anyone who's been reading this whole "Season 8" of Buffy in comics form knows that Whedon and company have been delivering the goods, month in and month out.

There are two covers to this issue--the one above is by Karl Moline, and the one below is by Jo Chen.

Willow variant coverAnd here's the blurb from Dark Horse:

Willow Rosenberg has worn many faces--a shy computer geek, a loyal friend, a passionate lover, a fierce Wiccan, and a dark Willow.

Now in Season Eight of the critically acclaimed, award-winning Buffy comics series, Willow's powers have grown exponentially. She can fly. Teleport. And may or may not be immortal.

All we know is that Willow went on a walkabout following the demise of Sunnydale, and she met a very sultry, extremely powerful serpent lady who seems to be the key to unraveling the mysteries of what Willow is, and will become.

Joss Whedon and his Fray co-creator Karl Moline reunite for this special one-shot!

And, as Dark Horse is so diligent about doing, here's a link to a free preview of the book.

Next, we have Hellboy: Bride of Hell, one-shot, featuring a Mike Mignola story and art by the great Richard Corben! These two were at the helm of one of my favorite series of the past couple of years--Hellboy: The Crooked Man--and anytime they get together on a book, horror fans should take note.

Hellboy: Bride of HellI continuously mention Hellboy here on Waiting for, and it's because Mignola's series is unlike anything else in comics. It's the perfect book to get that "civilian" friend of yours to read a comic, and to most likely stick around for a while.

Here's the blurb for the one-shot:

A year after their Eisner-nominated collaboration Hellboy: The Crooked Man, horror comics legends Corben and Mignola reunite!

A nineteen-year-old girl is kidnapped and Hellboy tracks her down to a remote clearing in France where she's about to be given to Asmodeus, in a strange tale of ghosts, demonic revenge, lost love, and King Solomon.

And that's all I've got for today. Like I said, there are plenty of books to choose from on this holiday week. So, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Updating Wizard

Wizard Magazine logoOkay, so, I'm gonna go ahead and assume that this was done on account of me, and my brilliant post on the subject last month. Yep, according to this article over at Bleeding Cool News, the often controversial Wizard Magazine has decided to bring back its price guide.

Starting with issue number 222, the magazine will reinstate the one feature it possesses that sets it apart from the online news sites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. According to Bleeding Cool, the magazine listened to an angry fan base, and to the sound of subscriptions and orders being slashed to pieces.

Of course, we all know it was actually because of my post. But we here at Exfanding are, if nothing else, both humble and modest, and we won't press the issue any further.

Personally, I'm glad to see the return of the price guide--even though I don't ever use it. Sure, I'll thumb through it and make sure that copy of Action #1 is still hovering around the $300,000 mark, you know, for insurance purposes.

But mostly I just like knowing that it's there, and that, if I ever need to check the price of a new comic, I can. I won't, of course. But I can. Also, as Bleeding Cool points out, the magazine has been kinda light lately, as the price guide wasn't really replaced by any new content.

Which doesn't make much sense. The price of the magazine--a whopping $5.99--stayed the same, despite a smaller page count, and a less, shall we say, useful nature.

Wizard will also decrease the amount of sidebar text on the price guide pages, and increase the number of books they list. In the last couple of years, the magazine would list only a very small handful of titles and issues, while just four or five years ago, you could spend some time actually poring over the guide.

I'm very conflicted when it comes to price guides. Speculators did their best to buy every copy of the issue where Superman (spoiler!) died, and in doing so, they almost (spoiler!) killed an entire industry. Even so, I own the latest edition of the Overstreet Guide, in case I'm ever in the market for older comics.

Overstreet GuideI think the existence of price guides is a necessary evil, especially when purchasing older books. Knowing how much you should be paying for an issue, as per current market trends, is crucial in not being ripped off.

I'll use the (kinda) current example of my search for Batman, issue 227, with that great and creepy, Gothic cover by Neal Adams. That's a book I own in a hardcover collection, because it's a great story. But it's also a book I felt I should own as a back issue, because of the classic cover.

Batman #227The hunt for that issue was tough, but I came across it at a convention a couple of summers ago. And I paid exactly what I planned on paying going in--just under Guide pricing, based on its middle grade condition. And now I have a pretty cool comic on display.

Recently, that book has exploded on the back issue market, and high grade copies go for stupid money. Still, being informed is always better than the alternative, and as a way to inform, price guides are necessary in a hobby that relies so heavily on buying, trading, and selling product with constantly fluctuating price points.

The problem I have with Wizard is, instead of focusing its attention on the older books--you know, the ones that are actual collectibles, because so many mothers threw away so many copies decades ago--the magazine focuses on books that came out two weeks ago.

How can something that new be "collectible"? I say, it can't.

Hopefully Wizard will focus more on trends of Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age comics, and less on the (very) Modern Age stuff. Besides, isn't it more fun to look at photos of Detective Comics, number 27, than of, say, a book you saw in your local comics shop the same morning you bought that issue of Wizard?

So, to wrap this up, here's to the return of Wizard's price guide, and hopefully not to the return of the speculator market.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Deja Vu: YouTube Edition

As promised, here's my run of the PC detective adventure game Deja Vu, complete with humorous commentary and ridiculous gameplay. You don't need to know anything about this game to enjoy these videos. So... enjoy!

The first two videos are here to whet your appetite; the full Deja Vu playlist on YouTube contains the remaining four videos, in which I eat pretty much every item in my inventory. Seriously.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh, Man, Is This Gonna Be a Rant...

Hi folks. How ya doing? Good? Good. That's good. I'm glad to hear it. Me, too, actually. Me, too. I've been good. A little Christmas-ed out, but hey. 'Tis the season, right? Speaking of, I've been in the malls a lot lately, and I've been searching for that Perfect Gift online, and I think I'm now at the end of my Christmas rope.

Uh, I mean tinsel.

But I saw something today that worried me. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, but I needed some kind of opening, and I figured I'd go with what I went with. Right. So, the Something that worried me today was/is related directly to (in my opinion, at least) the shrinking of the "comics bubble" in which we all so happily live at the moment.

As the real estate bubble that couldn't possibly burst, or the can't-miss marketing brainstorm that was New Coke proved in spades, there's one thing that I've learned in my time on this Earth:

Everyone is usually wrong about everything.

New Coke toastAnd that's a fact, actually. And I was a professional fact-checker for a while there (True story--not a funny one, mind you, but true. Really. Ask Nathaniel.), so I know from reality.

So today I'd like to do some bubble bursting, some whistle blowing, some good old fashioned Exfanding Ranting, if I may. For those still here, I'm getting to my point. Promise.

I took a break from the *shudder* department stores, and made my way into Barnes & Noble, where I had some (decaf) coffee and browsed the shelves. Now, I haven't been buying too many new graphic novels or trade paperback collections lately, but I decided to head over to the graphic novel section and check out what was new.

And I found nothing.

And, I don't mean, as in, nothing new.

I mean, as in, Nothing.

There were no graphic novels. The section was...gone. Poof. Then, finally, like pain receptors in a triceratops trying to reach the brain, it hit me.

I had to pee. Must have been the (decaf) coffee.

After that, I walked back out to the section where there were now no graphic novels whatsoever, and I realized something else.

The comics weren't gone, gone. They'd just been moved.

Just like they've been doing in all of the U.S. Borders stores (better than the Borders UK stores, which have, um, closed), Barnes & Noble has decided to shift things around. Move product to different places in the stores.

And. Um. Bury the comics behind everything else. Near the service elevator. Or by the window upstairs, next to the "International" music section. (Which only has soundtracks, for some reason...)

When I found the comics section--once a mighty, aisle-long row of comics and graphic novels that included the very latest mainstream releases alongside the very best indie gems--I was disheartened, to say the least.

Gone was the mighty aisle-long comics extravaganza that had been there before. In its place was a two-shelf collection, directly in front of the service elevator, facing the back of the store. Next to the comics was the Manga Wall, which was huge and imposing and utterly out of the way of "normal" customers.

You'd really have to go out of your way to find them, sitting on their shelves in the back end of the Science Fiction section in a part of the store that many would mistake as being employee only.

Still, I scanned the shelves, hoping to find a few new and interesting books. Only, there were no new books. I was specifically looking for Alex Robinson's A Kidnapped Santa Claus (adapted from the L. Frank Baum story), and Matt Kindt's 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man.

And I found neither.

Actually, all I did find were books that had been there since the last time I checked out their selection, over two months ago. There was nothing even remotely new in stock.

So, why are comics once again taking a back seat?

Well, that's easy. Comics take up space. Too much space. Comics are becoming Manga, though with many more books being released much faster, and all with large, difficult-to-shelve trim sizes.

The comics industry (Hi, Marvel and DC!) releases hardcover collections first, followed by less expensive trade paperbacks, then compendium or bumper editions, then deluxe, oversized hardcovers, then omnibus editions.

All of the same material.

And maybe the book stores didn't really understand the nature of the comics industry, or us fans, and they didn't realize the sheer volume of product that would be assaulting their coveted shelf space.

And comics, of course...well. We always beat dead horses. It's what we do best, actually. Remember the 90s? Variant covers and polybagged issues and Superman dying? The comics industry tends to come across a good idea--even a great, game changing idea--and run it directly into the ground.

"Wow! These trade collections are really selling!"

"And, wow! Did you know there are some people who wait for the trade, and don't buy issue to issue?"

So we flood the market. Over saturate comics shops with "new" product featuring things we've already read, and bought, and bought again. The difference is, unlike the comics shops, the big chain bookstores can simply say, "no thanks."

And they can choose to just stop buying new product.

Now, maybe this is just an experience related to the stores in my area--but I haunt at least a dozen chain book shops, and they are all doing the same kinds of rearranging. There's a much larger focus on tweens and teens (Twilight, anyone?), and a much smaller focus on comics than in the past couple of years.

Listen, we all know the book shop may one day soon be a thing of the past, a relic from the good old days of 1999. And, Borders, it seems, is losing their battle, barely able to get their hands up to fend off the assault. And it's a battle that Borders will eventually succumb to. Sad to say, but true.

In the case of Barnes & Noble, it looks like they are at least punching back, and the release of the nook, their last-moment haymaker, seems to have really taken off.

So much so that if you want one, you can't buy one. Because they're sold out. It says so on the official page--"The hottest holiday gift is sold out. Order nook today to be first in line for the new year."

And, while that sentence makes my head want to explode, that's for another post. And so is the fact that B & N is essentially throwing said haymaker at itself, taking aim at store market.


Anyway, the point is, they're trying everything, and apparently, pushing comics to the back of the store is part of their new approach. I certainly don't like where this might be headed.

Maybe it's time for DC and Marvel to scale back on the trades--especially in this economy. Maybe they should go straight to the paperback, and offer the hardcovers as special orders, after the paperback has shipped.

It won't happen, I know. And I know we'll keep having edition after edition hit the shelves, and eventually there won't be any more room for them all. Heck, there's not enough room for them now!

What's gonna happen? No idea. Comics are moving increasingly towards online distribution, and away from print. I say, release full on, in continuity, original graphic novels that you can't buy in floppy form. Target those to the book stores and the comics shops, and make them available for download on readers like Kindle and nook.

But for the love of M.O.D.O.K., do we really need every single series ever published to be reprinted in trade? I say no.

How about you?

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Opera in the Final Frontier

This entry has been written by Scott Rothrock for Exfanding Your Horizons. He has been many different kinds of geek throughout his life: book geek, cook geek, CCG geek, comic geek, Japan geek, computer geek, prop geek... and will doubtless explore more geekdoms in the future. Right now, he has started a writing blog called The Prism Glass, which aims to produce four stories weekly as well as blog posts on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The Space Opera.

A ridiculous-sounding genre if there ever was one, right? Well, it's not quite what it sounds like. It certainly doesn't sound like opera, for one thing. For another, while the genre may contain its fair share of stinkers, it also contains a few gems.

The space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that seems to have more in common with traditional fantasy. Whereas "hard" science fiction focuses on technological and scientific aspects of a story and the impact that they have on people, space operas tend to focus on characters, with the technology simply being a means to an end. Many people have looked down on space operas, calling them simple fantasies with laser swords and spaceships. It focuses more on adventure, deeds of valor, and romance.

Star Wars fits the recipe perfectly.

Another hallmark of the space opera is the Implacable Foe. In Star Wars, the foe is Darth Vader. He is evil, ruthless, and not easily defeated. However, when he eventually is defeated through heroic effort, it is simply revealed that there is another, stronger foe hidden behind him! This is also an element of the space opera: a hierarchy of seemingly indefeatable enemies.

Before movies, space opera dominated science fiction in the form of serialized stories in pulp magazines. The pulp magazines spawned several science fiction legends in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but the story of the space opera takes place a bit earlier, in the so-called Silver Age.

A man named Edward Elmer "Doc" Smith essentially created thace space opera and many basic conceits of modern science fiction when he wrote a story about nigh-perfect men who formed a Galactic Patrol, fighting against the faceless Eddorian menace.

Grey LensmenTheir name? The Lensmen.

They were so named due to a Lens given to them by superior beings on the planet Arisia. So powerful was the Lens that the masters of Arisia refused to give it to any with even the slightest character flaw. The Lens was impossible to duplicate and granted the wearer a number of psychic powers. It also marked the bearer as being a member of an essentially superhuman police force.

The Lensmen were the elite forces of a Galactic Patrol, largely manned by beings who had, for some reason or another, not passed the stringent Arisian requirements despite being good people. Space as an environment is terribly hostile to living beings, but fortunately Doc Smith was up to the challenge.

He wrote about large ships housing hundreds, thousands of men in the fashion of the modern navy. These ships were protected by "force screens" and fired "Q-beams" at other ships in massed battle. Smaller ships were also employed for fighting and the transport of personnel. Whenever Smith had something for his characters to accomplish, the technology necessary was made whether or not it was actually feasible in the modern day.

Galactic PatrolWhile these technologies sound mundane to us now, Doc Smith wrote about them in the 1930s and 1940s, when science fiction was still very much in its infancy. These kinds of technologies seemed incredibly fantastic and radical in those days -- after all, readers had never been jaded by endless amounts of Star Trek or Star Wars.

Even George Lucas once cited the Lensmen as being a major inspiration for Star Wars, and it's easy to see why.

Unfortunately, Doc Smith's stories have suffered over the years. His unadorned writing style is now "boring" and "stilted", his morally-perfect characters "unimpressive" and "two-dimensional". Even sadder, perhaps, is that his stories, which could be said to have given birth to many of the classic tropes of science fiction, are now "cliched" and "predictable". They are scorned for the same qualities that should make them treasures.

Some publishers are now releasing new editions of Doc Smith's Lensman books, and I strongly encourage you to pick them up if you have any interest at all in science fiction.