Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Month in Review: November 2010

Opinions, reactions, and a few excuses were what we served up in November. Diatribes about entire fandoms, metathinking about the blog itself, and a number of uncharacteristically short posts were most of what we had to offer, paving the way for a thoughtful, substantial holiday season.

Here's a chance to catch up on what we wrote for November:

- A recap of my generally well-received contributions to videogame humor website GameCola.net in October

- Alex's weekly rant/comics news update/philosophical ramblings feature, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issues 44 (The Walking Dead), 45 (the Around Comics podcast), 46 (the return of Batman), and 47 (Ultimate Spider Man #150)

- A shocking admission that I might have actually enjoyed Halloween this year

- A happy reaction to comics' unexpected price drop

- A blasphemous prediction that it might not be a bad thing for Keiji Inafune to leave Capcom

- Ten insane facts comics taught us about American history

- The appearance of an unseasonable amount of snow

- A reflection on how what we're doing right now isn't as exciting as what we were doing at this time last year, or the year before

- A celebration of Veterans Day

- An introduction to book collecting, complete with pictures of actual books

- Fantasies of being invited to a convention as a special guest

- A discussion of a terrible ailment known as Collector's Rationality Disorder

- Why I don't like your favorite video game series

- A review of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic survival novel, The Road

- Highly intellectual discussions with Abe Lincoln, Albert Einstein, and a surprise guest

- Why I don't like your favorite kind of video game

- A teaser for our annual series on Gifts for Geeks

- Buzz about AMC's comics-based TV series The Walking Dead

- The status of my continuing comics self-education, and why school's out for winter

- The story of DC Comics, or at least a review of The Story of DC Comics

- A celebration of Thanksgiving

- A short list of geeky things I'm thankful for

- An awkwardly typed reflection on holidays and traditions

- A reminder that I like more things than just Mega Man

- A review of the insightful, music-focused documentary, The Beatles on Record

Monday, November 29, 2010

Exfanding Review: The Beatles On Record

With all the news last week about The Beatles finally being worn down by Apple to be included on iTunes, the band that changed everything is back on the front pages.

And, despite my feelings on the Greatest Band in History being just like everyone else in the world and succumbing to Steve Jobs' wooing, I will (as Paul would say years after they broke up) live and let live and accept the fact that The Beatles are on iTunes.

But all that has very little to do with what I want to talk about today, other than the fact that it served as a nice little intro as well as a way for me to vent on a (busy) Monday morning.

What I really want to talk about today is a documentary about The Beatles that re-aired over the weekend on The History Channel. The Beatles on Record is a 60-minute doc featuring rarely seen footage of the band over which music and audio clips from John, Paul, George, Ringo, and legendary producer Sir George Martin play.

The clips serve as the sole narration of the film, so as we progress from album to album, we get to hear about the creation of the music straight from the boys.

Of course, clips of songs are played with the introduction of each album, and we get insight into the making of the song, and the molding of each record. What's more, though, is that, with each new record, we get to take the temperature of the band.

From their younger, wilder days to their U.S. tour, from the height of their drug years to the bitter final days of the band, this documentary covers every studio album and manages to stand out in my mind.

Simply because it focuses on the music.

Sure, there have been hundreds of docs on The Beatles produced over the years. And sure, there are more insightful and more in depth films out there. But On Record shows the band at its best--relaxed, in the studio, and having fun making music.

And that's the message of this film--the music. Not the drama and controversy that followed the Fab Four around or the drug use or the infighting. It's about the songs and the creative genius that created the songs.

Personally, the most fascinating part of the doc came in the Sgt. Pepper's segment. In the voice over, Paul notes that, by then, the band had tired of performing live. He adds something to the effect of, "Not enough people could 'hear' us live."

Ringo follows this up with a bit of clarification (funny how he was, more often than not, the one who made the most sense), stating that the band's music had become so orchestral at the time Pepper was released that they simply were unable to reproduce the sound from their studio albums on the live stage.

And if you've ever seen/heard bands try to reproduce The Beatles's studio sound, you know that it takes a small army of people running around to all different instruments to get it right.

The Beatles On Record works as a documentary, or as just a way to listen to a great sampling of Beatles songs. Either way, you can't go wrong. Check it out.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I like more than just Mega Man, you know...

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you may suspect that I'm some sort of Mega Man fanatic who likes nothing but Mega Man and can only talk about Mega Man. Well, let me tell you something: Mega Man. There; it's out of my system now.

Seldom a week goes my where I don't mention Mega Man anymore, even if only in passing. Yes, I'm a diehard fan, but I've only got plasma power and sizzlin' circuits on my mind because of my ongoing YouTube projects. Do you know how many posts referenced Mega Man prior to March of 2009, when I released my first batch of Mega Man videos?


That's once every two months, on average. That's indicative of how often I should reference the games, given how many other fandoms I enjoy.

After all, I am the everygeek. I play all sorts of video games. I watch movies and a select few television shows. I enjoy anime, and I'm open to trying out manga. I read books and comics. I attend conventions and occasionally dress up in costume for such occasions. I do or have done all sorts of geeky stuff that I could write about, but keeping up with channel comments and recording sporadically is one of two fandom-centric things I'm guaranteed to be doing on any given week. The other thing is watching Star Trek.

I'm steadily working my way through every official Star Trek series ever. This was a project I started while I was in college. I watched The Original Series and The Next Generation by myself, or with my father when I was home on break, or with my freshman-year roommate when he was around. Since graduating and moving out on my own, I've been watching episodes with my gal, and now I get my Trek fix at least once a week. Like Mega Man, Star Trek is seldom too far from the top of my mind simply because of prolonged, continuous exposure.

Buried under these two fandoms are posting ideas galore. Assuming a "galore" constitutes less than five. I'm working toward completing a few post-worthy series and personal projects, but the going is slow. Posting on a daily basis and juggling everything else I do often limits the amount of time I have to write the big, beefy posts we were known for at the beginning of this blog, so there's a bunch of untapped potential there.

This goes for both Alex and myself: Left to our own devices, we'll write about whatever's on our minds, for as long as we've got time to write. From a blogging standpoint, there's nothing wrong with that--it's our blog.

Yet we listen to feedback. We read comments and pay attention to the results of our occasional polls. Just because I write about Mega Man all the time doesn't mean I'd rather be writing about it to the exclusion of everything else. We're open to suggestions. We've always written for ourselves, first and foremost, but if we can sync up what we want to write about and what you like to read, then the blog is better for it.

As Alex forecasted, we'll be launching into our annual Gifts for Geeks posts any day now, and we'd love to hear about the kinds of gifts that interest you, or if you're already fed up with all this holiday banter. Now's the time to chime in, because if you don't, you're guaranteed at least one post about Star Trek ship models or Mega Man action figures. Although that might be exactly the kind of thing you're looking for.

Like I said, we're open to suggestions. Comments can be posted anonymously and without a special login, or you could always shoot us an e-mail. And hey, guest posts are always welcome, especially if you're an expert or big fan of something you know we're not. We've had guest posts covering everything from poetry to kendo to orchids, so your favorite hobby or fandom totally has a place here. What are you interested in?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Happenings

It's a bit of a crazy weekend for us, what with family visits, holiday shopping excursions, and in my case, the cutting down of a probably-too-large-for-anyone's-health Christmas tree.

So you'll have to excuse the, um, lack of posting anything truly significant these next two days.

But, speaking of giant Christmas trees, let's talk a bit about tradition. As I get older, I realize just how much work actually goes into making a holiday special.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving and Christmas just kinda...happened. I sat down with my cousins in front of the TV or we ran around the basement playing whatever until the food was ready.

Until Thanksgiving was ready.

But now I realize the insane amount of time and effort that goes into preparing a big family holiday.

Not that I contribute much beyond moving heavy things to places they need to be, or buying enough alcohol to ensure that everyone who wants to partake will have a "special" holiday.

But still. At least the effort is there.

Anyway, it always amazes how flawless our holidays are. The food is always amazing, and everyone always has a great time. This year, even though we were down several key players due to other family obligations, we still managed to have a great day.

And with Christmas right around the corner--and with the promise of having a bigger family gathering on that day then we've ever had before--let's raise a glass to tradition.

Because we know work and bills and Bad Stuff will always be there. But so will holidays and family.

(And that's how you subtly turn a non-post typed awkwardly on an iPhone into something that kind of is a post. Happy Saturday, everyone!)

Friday, November 26, 2010


Given our international appeal (I.e. somebody from Romania accidentally clicked on a link to our blog once), it's possible that Thanksgiving isn't a big deal in whatever country you're reading this from. Or maybe it is. Maybe you celebrate with lots of food, and maybe it's a time for reflection. Maybe it's just another day.

For me, it's a chance to spend time with family, take in one of my favorite home-cooked meals of the year, and think about what I do and do not have, and how grateful I am for it all. I can be sentimental, yes, but I'm feeling a geeky kind of sentimentality today.

Thus, here's a list of some fandom-centric things I'm thankful for:

- Series that live on after their demise: The original Star Trek went off the air without a true season finale. Four decades later, a new comic called Mission's End told the story of Kirk's five-year mission came to a close. Not all revivals and long-anticipated continuations have been entirely welcome or well-done, but even the flops and frustrations are reassurances that these fandoms still mean something to someone, and that there are more stories worth telling (even if those aren't the stories we get).

- Compilations and collections: An entire series, all in one place. Trade paperbacks of comics that are impossible to find individually. Movie trilogies in a single package. A lone disc containing a dozen games from systems a dozen years apart. Even Super Hits collections count. There's a distinct joy to having the original releases of some of these things if you're more than a casual fan, but when shelf space is at a premium, and when the price-to-condition/availability ratio really matters, collections and compilations can't be beat.

- Clever cameos and references: There are simply too many examples to list here, but I love it when a movie or TV show takes full advantage of the cameo potential of their surprise guest star. I smile when a video game brings back an element of its history in a way that feels like a tribute and not an uncreative cop-out. I especially enjoy when an out-of-the-blue geek reference comes up in a place that ostensibly has nothing to do with anything.

There are oh-so-many examples I'd love to share (hey, there's an idea for a post that I'll probably never use), but I'll wrap things up with a Halloween example from the comedy-drama detective show Castle where actor Nathan Fillion relives a past life, and that one time when somebody Rickrolled the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving 2010!

Being that we are too busy (eating, mostly) to even entertain the thought of a real post for today, we present some of our favorite Thanksgiving-themed covers as a way to say, "Hey, look! We posted on Thanksgiving!"

Yes, yes. I know. It's lame. But, hey, we're busy.

You know, with all the eating. And if Nathaniel eats my turkey leg again this year, so help me...
Batman: The Long Halloween Thanksgiving coverJSA Thanksgiving coverTo all of our readers, Happy Thanksgiving from Exfanding Your Horizons!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 47

I’ve said it before, but I will say it again.

Today is my very favorite New Comics Day of the year. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is an all-around happy day, as most employers let their workers out a little early and pretty much everyone has tomorrow off.

Plus, we get to look forward to massive quantities of food. Which can never be a bad thing, right?

And, because of such warm and fuzzy feelings, the comic shop is usually crowded, buzzing, and (somewhat) devoid of the usual fanboy whining. Incidentally, that’s the exact thing I’m most thankful for.

Being that this is the last Wednesday of the month and comics shops tend to get pretty crowded with customers who have more time than usual to browse and talk, we’re in for a heavy week of new books.

Lots of stuff from the majors, and a nice helping of indy titles to round things out.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about Thanksgiving. And what I’m actually thankful for—I promise, no snark this time.

There are things that I get; that I understand and even expect. And then there are things that just boggle my mind. Like the fact that this blog has been around for over two years now, and you guys still make the effort to stop by each day. Or each week. Or whenever.

I don’t think I have the words to express how thankful I am for that.

It’s pretty cool, and even though I feel like I’ve been a terrible, boring, repetitive blogger this year, knowing that someone’s reading all of my nonsense (and Nathaniel’s nonsense, too) makes it pretty easy to sit down and type.

Even if it is terrible, boring, and repetitive. Especially if it’s repetitive. Did I mention the repetitive?

So, yeah. Thanks, everyone, for reading.

Now on to the comics. First up, from Marvel, a landmark issue of a landmark book. Ultimate Spider-Man reaches its 150th issue today, which is significant for several reasons.
First, it’s significant that any book makes it to 150 today (or even 50). This landscape is weird, and fickle, and for a modern title to reach its 150th—with no signs of stopping, I might add—is certainly cause for celebration.

Or, at least, kudos.

Which brings us to the other significant part of 150—the creators. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has been on this book from the start, and that’s staggering. One writer over the course of 150 issues of a mainstream book from Marvel?

It’s unheard of—not even Stan Lee can put that on his resume.

Like I said—significant. With all the significance, of course, comes a higher price tag--this book is sale on today for a whopping $5.99, but it's extra-sized. Here's the solicitation information from Marvel:

Not only is this officially the Ultimate Spider-Man 150th issue anniversary, but it is also the 10 year anniversary of the birth of the Ultimate Marvel universe!! Can you believe it?? We can't either!

To celebrate, Eisner award-winning series writer Brian Michael Bendis has created this triple size extravaganza and gathered together a stellar lineup of amazing artists!!

A reunion of the greatest artists of not only this historic book but of the the entire line of Ultimate Comics. Poor Peter Parker has made such a mess of his life as Spider-Man that the other super heroes are forced to gather together and decide once and for all what to do with the young wall crawler.

Guest starring the New Ultimates, the Storm Siblings, Ben Grimm, Iceman, Kitty Pryde and a slew of surprise stars! Also includes reprinting of Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 featuring an all-star artist line-up! 104 pages/54 pages of reprinted material.

Well, okay. There's reprinted material aplenty here, but from the solicit at least, it looks like there will be 50 pages of all-new story. So, 50 pages for $6 bucks? In this market? That's not such a bad deal.

Next up, we have a bit of a downer in DC/Vertigo's Madame Xanadu, issue 29. Vertigo announced that this series--which has been one of the best books of this new wave of Vertigo titles--will come to an end with this week's issue.
Written by Matt Wagner and with a rotating cast of excellent artists (most prominently Amy Reeder, who drew the first story arc, and Michael Kaluta, who drew the second), Madame Xanadu is a classic case of a critically acclaimed series with relatively low sales (though not Vertigo's lowest-selling book, by any means).

There are some whispers that the DC Universe proper has plans for the Madame Xanadu character--as they did with Neil Gaiman's Death character--and so Vertigo can no longer use her.

Which is stupid, but it's their policy.

So, yeah. A great book is cancelled, but fortunately, every arc has been collected in trade. Here's the blurb from Vertigo about this week's finale:

Eisner Award-nominated artist Amy Reeder returns for the amazing series finale! Set in the New York City of 1966, Madame Xanadu and her new protégé, Charlotte Blackwood, ponder what the future may hold. According to The Phantom Stranger, they stand on the edge of a new age – and the coming of a familiar team of heroes...

And finally today, we have a Batman book that can be read without knowing anything that's gone on for the past 2 years with the character.
Scott Snyder, one of my new favorite writers with his excellent work on American Vampire, and artist Jock take over the Dark Knight for a year-long run with a story called, "The Black Mirror."

If you've read any DC comics over the past week, then you've surely seen the 5-page preview of this series running through each issue. Obviously, DC has high hopes for this book, and for this new creative team.

Snyder's work on American Vampire has been stellar, mixing crime and horror perfectly, and Jock's expressionistic style is a great fit for Gotham City. Here's the blurb from DC:

Up-and-coming writer Scott Snyder (AMERICAN VAMPIRE) and acclaimed artist Jock (THE LOSERS) make their debut as the new ONGOING creative team of DETECTIVE COMICS!

In "The Black Mirror" part 1 of 3, a series of brutal murders pushes Batman's detective skills to the limit and forces him to confront one of Gotham City's oldest evils.

Plus, in the start of a COMMISSIONER GORDON second feature also written by Scott Snyder, when a figure from the past returns to Gotham, Jim Gordon must face some of his darkest demons. Featuring; Art by Francesco Francavilla (GARRISON).

So go on. Hit up your LCS this afternoon and get some books for the long holiday weekend ahead. Before you go, though--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exfanding Review: Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics

I was in Best Buy this weekend, alternating between picking up a couple of Christmas gifts and aimlessly wandering around the store. At some point, I came across a big, honking DC Comics display, filled with DVDs and Blu-Rays of cartoon series, films, and documentaries about the company.

Which surprised me a bit, actually.

It was pretty cool to see such a display--with big Jim Lee illustrations of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman--so prominently featured in the store, right next to the cash registers. The movie selection was good, too, featuring classics like the original Richard Donner Superman, more recent films such as The Dark Knight and Zach Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen, and a slew of animated shows, like the entire Justice League series.

But there was also A History of Violence and V for Vendetta, movies that, I'd venture, most non-comics people may not know were comics first.

A nice selection of titles, and since several of the cubes were either empty or almost-empty, the display was obviously working and people were buying the films.

Of course, I own everything in the display already, save for one item--the recently released Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a nice feature-length documentary about the history of the company.

I had some time on Sunday to sit down and watch the flick, and, despite the overall meh reviews online and elsewhere, I enjoyed it. Quite a bit.

Sure, pretty much 90% of what was on the doc I already knew, but there were a few tidbits that made it worth while. Like old, never-before-released films of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster and photos of the old DC bullpen.

The interviews with Irwin Hasen are classic--he's smart, funny, and he tells it like it is.

But the real treat here is the (brief) focus on legendary DC editor Julius Schwartz and his impact not only on DC, but on the entire industry.

The interviews with Schwartz are insightful and, even though there isn't nearly enough time spent on him, his contributions to comics come across in the film.

For those few things alone, I'd suggest this DVD to any DC fan.

Where the film falls short, though, is in what it leaves out. As is the case with any big company, there are big, bad moments in the history of DC Comics. But, since DC commissioned and produced the doc, I knew there was no chance we'd see any of that stuff here.

So don't go into this film expecting the behind the curtain reveal of a hard line documentary. This is all very feel good, yay comics stuff, and as such, it excels. Secret Origin is the perfect flick to throw on while you're arranging your comics on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Check it out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Comics Cooldown

When I started my foray into comics some two years ago, my plan was to sample a little of everything, starting with as many origin stories and issue #1's that I could find. I started with Marvel and DC, intending get enough of a feel for the characters and histories to read through a few of the pivotal universe-spanning events such as Civil War and Crisis on Multiple Trade Paperbacks. In the beginning, my self-education was quite rapid and effective.

I gobbled up Batman: Year One and consumed one trade after another in single sittings. I already knew I liked Batman, so I eagerly digested Alex's copies of The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Hush, and I added a few more of my own purchases to the pile. Around this time, I hopped into the Ultimate Marvel universe--selected for its seemingly easier-to-follow continuity--and slowly plodded through the teen-focused Ultimate X-Men before picking up and burning through a few trades of Ultimate Fantastic Four.

A strange divide began to occur: I collected anything and everything with "Ultimate" in the title, leading to a shelf with complete runs of a few different series; meantime, another shelf was filled with a single Jonah Hex trade next to a single Wonder Woman trade next to a single Eclipso trade. Marvel was for continuing storylines; DC was for trying out new characters. As a result, collecting DC comics became much more interesting and fun.

Very few DC characters had the honor of multiple trades appearing on my shelf (as I refuse to buy single issues except in the case of very specific one-shots). I grabbed a few different Superman comics that showcased the unlikely fact that Lex Luthor is not the only villain in Superman's world. Green Lantern was sci-fi enough to catch my attention. Blue Beetle with Jaime Reyez became an unexpected favorite. Green Arrow will fill up a lot more shelf space as soon as I find a collection of older comics, predating Kevin Smith's Quiver.

On the DC side, I started prepping myself for the first Crisis story by scaling back on the heroes I knew I liked and focusing on the complete strangers. On the Marvel side, I gradually made my way through the Ultimate universe, slowing down whenever things got too angsty or heavy. For a while, especially when the video games I was playing at the time were getting to be frequently frustrating, I sat down to read comics on a regular basis.

Comics pretty much came to a halt when I found some video games that were truly relaxing, and some comics that were difficult to finish. Specifically, Dragon Warrior IV became exactly the blend of strategy and mindless repetition that I had been craving, and JLA: Year One turned into a pseudo-horror story where (minor spoiler) the heroes fought against an army of creatures comprised of other people's stolen body parts. For me, this was a little gross and definitely not what I signed up for when I picked up the book.

That's about when my interest in comics tapered off. Or, more specifically, my interest in superhero comics. I'm still reading through a black-and-white trade of the first several Booster Gold comics, but I missed a big event with Manhunters a few issues back, and all of a sudden things are getting a little more fantastical than I prefer. I was never really interested in the Justice League or any of their equivalents, and the story arc detour I mentioned made the trade even less appealing. Ultimate Spider-Man wasn't helping, either, because I got to the part where there's romantic drama and Peter Parker gets all angsty.

Oh, wait.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Shepherd Book Serenity comic just came out, and I can't wait to stop writing this and read it. I mean, uh, I'm excited. I recently polished off an Alien trade in preparation for my introductory post on the Alien movies, and it was pretty good. I've picked up a few original Star Trek comics that I'll turn to once I'm done watching the last bit of the original Star Trek that I haven't seen in full (The Animated Series). I'm sure I'll still need my fix; there's no questioning that.

Bottom line? I'm reveling in the sci-fi stories and growing weary of the superhero ones. I've mostly determined which characters and series I want to follow, and most of them aren't with Marvel or DC. I'll still read everything that's on my shelf eventually, but I'll need to return to Ultimate Fantastic Four or crack open The Atom (who endeared himself to me in The Dark Knight Strikes Again) before being enthusiastic about tights again. And capes.

It's not just the superheroes. I've picked up maybe one indie comic that I'd never heard of in the past...ever. I left The Goon in Chinatown, and am still patiently awaiting his grand return when Alex brings me the next installment (hint hint). Yet, I haven't clamored for more; I've just brought it up in passing a few times.

I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for comics as a thing; most of the reason I'm keeping up with comics at all right now is because the continuing voyages of the fandoms I enjoy are available in that medium. The allure of sprawling out on a couch to read comics isn't as strong now that I've been doing that more often with regular books and non-motion-controlled video games. I can't remember the last time I stopped to stare at the artwork.

I had grand plans of being "in the know" with Blackest Night and Secret Invasion, of being able to tell the difference between Brainiac and Krang...but I've already had enough of a comics education to stay afloat in most comics-centric conversations I've heard. One of the reasons I got into comics so quickly was because of how neat it was to be exposed to so many different fandoms in such a short span of time. There's still enjoyment to be found in trying out new comics, but I find myself settling on a few different characters and stories, and paying less attention to my broader mission. For right now, and maybe for the long run, that's good enough for me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Walking Dead Tonight!

Just a head's up that tonight's episode of (the new hit AMC series) The Walking Dead will feature a script written by series co-creator and writer, Robert Kirkman.

Tonight's episode--number four of this season's six total shows--follows three solid premiere episodes. The pilot, which was more of a mini-movie than a tried-and-true TV show, was probably one of the top five first episodes of any show I've ever seen.

It was written and directed by Frank Darabont, so no surprise there. There were great character moments, long periods of incredible tension, and everything just felt right.

The second show? Not so much. As opposed to the slow burn payoffs of the first episode, number two was high-octane, mindless (ha!) zombie movie cliches.

But things picked up again last week. Well, that is to say, they slowed back down and focused on the human drama that has made the comic so critically acclaimed as opposed to the zombie-bashing shenanigans of episode two.

And with a Kirkman-penned show tonight, it's a safe bet that non-readers will get their first taste (ha!) of just how unsafe every character in the show really is.

Check it out!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Holidays, Exfanding, and You

Well, it's officially that time of year again, and come Friday, crazed crowds will line up in the pre-dawn hours to overtake kindly Best Buy employees in an effort to buy a television they don't need for 5% less than they would have paid two weeks ago.

Ahh, the holidays.

Running around, spending money none of us can afford to spend, debating questions like, "Do you think Dad will like this foot massager?" and "How do you know Great Aunt Mildred doesn't watch Family Guy?"

I can smell the consumerism (and not to mention, fear) from here.

But fear not, dear readers, for, as always, your Friendly Neighborhood Exfanders will be providing the annual (and celebrated!) Gifts for Geeks lists, wherein we try to make the holidays just a bit easier on you.

(That is, of course, once I ask Nathaniel if he wants to do these blasted (um, I mean blessed) lists again this year.)

Look for the first (of several!) installments in the next couple of days (or weeks!) and please feel free to drop us a line about your own gift ideas for the geeky. Or, you know, any hilarious shopping-related incidents that may have befallen you in the past.

Like that one time with me and the mall Santa and the bag of toys "for the children." You're not fooling me again this year, old man!

-- -- --

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Does Not Play Well with Others; or, Why I Don't Like MMORPGs

Millions upon millions of people play massively multiplayer online roleplaying games without me. I am a retro curmudgeon, and MMORPGs aren't anything like the games I grew up with. They're not my style. At all.

Since this blog hasn't had a good rant for a while, and since I'm already warmed up for complaining about things that everyone loves, I think this would be a good time to express why I am not millions upon millions of people.

1.) Social Interactions: For me, video games are a solitary matter. Or, if I'm killing time on a PC, a solitaire matter. Hur hur. Games are an escape for me, either from the seriousness of Real Life or to an immersive fantasy world I enjoy being a part of, and other people tether me to the Real World.

Now, when I'm hanging out with other people and playing video games with them, I want to be tethered to the Real World. I typically view competitive multiplayer games as a fun diversion with friends, and co-op gaming as a game-oriented bonding experience with friends. In both cases, the games are just a vehicle for sharing time together with friends (or family). The gameplay only really matters if it's terrible.

MMORPGs are not my scene because I really have no interest in making 12 million friends just so I can play one game with them. To put my feelings into book terms, an MMORPG is like a novel that can only be read in a crowded public place such as a stadium or a shopping mall. You can't just read the book; the people are part of the deal.

2.) People Are Jerks: I've spent enough time on the Internet to know that interpersonal interactions are different when someone's identity is hidden, or someone is a big jerk to begin with and are too far across the world for you to smack them around.

People will conduct themselves in a way that diminishes the authenticity of the fantasy world. People will punk your kills and steal your loot. People will hack your account and leave you a pauper. People will spoil your favorite TV show with idle chitchat.

3.) Playing on Someone Else's Schedule: Scheduling your game time around when you and your buddies are available to play. Starting up the game on days when you'd rather be doing something else, just to win some stupid hat in a one-day-only event tournament. Waiting for a big update to install before you can actually start playing.

This is part of the reason why I don't watch TV—MMORPGs require me to work my schedule around the game, not the other way around. This isn't like hiking, where you see it's a beautiful day and feel inspired to drop what you're doing and go take a hike. Actually, it totally is—it's a beautiful day, and the game says, "Your free time can go take a hike. You've got a stupid hat to win."

4.) The Gift that Keeps On Taking: A flat rate of $80 or so bought me Chrono Trigger, which I'm still playing some 15 years later, now for free. World of Warcraft charges you two cents an hour for not playing it.

5.) The Neverending Story: I like satisfying conclusions. I like sitting down to a game and knowing that there is a definite endpoint. Even with open-ended games such as SimCity and Animal Crossing, there always comes a time when there's simply nothing more to do except start over again. MMORPGs are designed to continually have new content and more options, and the completionist in me just wants to cry.

6.) We May Never Pass This Way Again: What happens if the game company goes out of business, or releases an expansion pack that completely destroys some of your favorite quests? What if everything you loved about the music, game balance, and locations gets thrown out the window with the next upgrade? How would you like Mario 3 if one day you got to World 5 and discovered that the boot-riding level was nowhere to be found?

There is nothing about MMORPGs that is inherently appealing to me. The only thing that could possibly draw me in would be a game based on one of my all-time favorite franchises.

A friend got me Dungeons & Dragons Online when it first came out. Of the two hours I played, 30 minutes were spent reconfiguring my computer so I could improve my video performance to something better than 7 FPS. Forty-five minutes were spent customizing my character. Fifteen minutes were spent wandering around a town, another 15 spent trying to assemble a group to enter a dungeon, and the last 15 minutes were spent getting stuck killing all the skeletons while the rest of my group abandoned me to race ahead, except for the rogue, who would stand just far enough away to steal even the skeleton's skulls before they hit the ground.

Another friend gave me a beta key for Star Trek Online. I spent two days trying to download the program, which was ultimately corrupted and didn't install at all. I still get their e-mails, though, so it's almost like I play.

Now there's a Mega Man Online in the works, available only in Asia. I got upset upon seeing the first trailer, which made it look like an uncharacteristically serious game that would uncomfortably bridge the gap between the original series and the X series, but we're cool now that I've learned a bit more about the premise (I.e. it's not actually a wonky crossover, but an adventure way in the future where they've replicated the bodies of famous robots like Zero using robot DNA). If nothing else, it looks way better than Mega Man Universe.

Will I play it if it ever comes to the States? I want to say "no," but the truth is that a Mega Man online roleplaying game (MMORPG, for short) seems more suited to my play style than a typical MMORPG. I generally like platformers more than RPGs (especially real-time RPGs with no pause feature), and the "people element" looks far less important; sort of a New Super Mario Bros. Wii thing going on where you can play with friends if you want, or you can play on your own with absolutely no trouble at all.

It's only a matter of time before yet another friend gives me another MMO to try, and maybe the next time I'll actually be able to play it. Will I embrace it? Will I categorically reject it? Only the blaster on my hand knows for sure...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Abe Lincoln is Broken

You may recall my introduction of Virsona, a website where you can converse with artificially intelligent personas of everybody from Marilyn Monroe to that guy down the street who used to cut your hair when you were little.

You may also recall the follow-up conversation where Alex and I discovered Abe Lincoln's web-slinging alter ego.

You may also recall my brief post-Fake-Election chat confirming that Abe Lincoln is actually a zombie.

You may also recall none of these things.

It's been two years since our last interaction with the artificial intelligence at Virsona.com, and I wondered how our good buddy Abe Lincoln was doing. More importantly, I wondered whether two years was enough time for Abe to learn how to hold an actual conversation. Let's see how things turned out:

Abraham Lincoln: Well Hello there. My what a fine day. What would you like to know about?
Nathaniel: Hiya prez. It's been a long time.
Abraham Lincoln: Hello.
Nathaniel: I'm surprised. I thought you'd want to say more than just "hello" after all this time.
Abraham Lincoln: I was a "self-made" man being both self-educated and self-disciplined. The Whig party (which came before the Republican Party) espoused these ideals and I identified with that. My legal career and temperment were both highly suited to being a "Whig." Today, given the shift if party beliefs and political positions, I'm not entirely sure which party I would endorse. do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it.....I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.
Nathaniel: Oh, good. Glad to know you're the same old you.
Abraham Lincoln: I understand.
Nathaniel: Terrific! Say, have you been keeping up with comics these days?
Abraham Lincoln: I probably have.
Nathaniel: What, you don't remember? How busy have you been?
Abraham Lincoln: I had a slammin' birthday cake. When my business partner William Berry died in 1835 and my personal debt grew above $1000.00.
Nathaniel: Whoa. Happy birthday to you.
Abraham Lincoln: My apologies. Happy Birthday to me -Thank you for remembering. This year it was the big 201. It's funny though, I don't feel a day over 56.
Nathaniel: What is your secret?
Abraham Lincoln: The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was a secret society originally founded to promote the interests of the Southern United States. It was to prepare the way for annexation of a golden circle of territories in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to be included in the United States as slave states. During the American Civil War, some Southern sympathizers in the North, known as "Copperheads", were accused of belonging to the Knights of the Golden Circle. By 1863, many citizens and active politicians north of the Ohio River were members or were in similar organizations influenced by it.
Nathaniel: So you're a Copperhead? That's why you feel so young?
Abraham Lincoln: The Copperheads were a vocal group of Democrats in the Northern United States during my presidency who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. We Republicans called them Copperheads after the venomous, although not usually deadly, copperhead snake which strikes without warning. My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
Nathaniel: What!?
Abraham Lincoln: what?
Nathaniel: Yeah, that's what I asked you. I can't tell whether you're getting better or worse.
Abraham Lincoln: I once had a dream right before the fall of Richmond that I would die. I dreamt that I was in the White House, I heard crying and when I found the room it was coming from I asked who had died. The man said the President. I looked in the coffin and saw my own face. A week later I was shot and killed by John Wilkes booth. Vote is not only a privilege, but a right to all citizens regardless of race or gender who abide within the law.
Nathaniel: Next time you should vote against being shot.
Abraham Lincoln: In spring, you certainly should. In autumn it's a lot less likely.
Nathaniel: Why, because you're less likely to FALL?
Abraham Lincoln: I once had a dream right before the fall of Richmond that I would die. I dreamt that I was in the White House, I heard crying and when I found the room it was coming from I asked who had died. The man said the President. I looked in the coffin and saw my own face. A week later I was shot and killed by John Wilkes booth.
Nathaniel: I see what you're doing. Giving me another chance to not sound like a horrible human being.
Abraham Lincoln: Just chatting with you actually. Being dead can get a little boring, I'm not going to lie.
Nathaniel: Speaking of which, are you still a zombie, or did that get better?
Abraham Lincoln: I am talking to you now.
Nathaniel: Brains?
Abraham Lincoln: Henry Halleck was a United States Army officer, scholar, and lawyer. A noted expert in military studies, he was known the nickname "Old Brains." I made Halleck General-in-Chief of all the Union armies on July 23, 1862. Halleck was a master of administration, logistics, and the politics necessary at the top of the military hierarchy, but exerted little effective control over field operations from his post in Washington, D.C. I would describe him as little more than a first rate clerk.
Nathaniel: Hm. You didn't take the bait. Clever.
Abraham Lincoln: That's a big subject. I shouldn't discuss it right now. Maybe another time.
Nathaniel: Ah, I understand. Is there anything you can discuss now?
Abraham Lincoln: Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it. During my stay in Farmington, Kentucky I rode into Louisville almost daily to discuss legal matters of the day with attorney James Speed, my friend Joshua Speed's older brother. James Speed served as United States Attorney General beginning in November 1864. In explaining the nomination to Congress, I acknowledged that I did not know James as well as I knew Joshua.
Nathaniel: Is there anything *fun* you can discuss now?
Abraham Lincoln: I am having a blast.
Nathaniel: That's awesome.
Abraham Lincoln: Yes indeed.

At this point in the conversation, Abe broke. As in, he spewed out a pile of frightening red error codes at me. It was too late--there was nothing I could say to save him. I sought help from another community Virsona, Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein: Hello friend, let's chat. I love teaching and being taught new things.
Nathaniel: Yo, Al! My Lincoln just broke; do you know how to fix him?
Albert Einstein: I know all sorts of things -- not just names, either!
Nathaniel: Great! Could you please tell me how to fix Lincoln?
Albert Einstein: As I already mentioned: Superb. I was a fairly introverted child. I took great pleasure in building models and became fascinated by physics and mathematics as soon as I was old enough to read.
Nathaniel: I became fascinated in finishing my conversation with Abe. Are you going to help me?
Albert Einstein: I am going like a time!
Nathaniel: Splendid. My universal translator broke, too.
Albert Einstein: I don't know about that, and as a matter of interest I really don't need to know! What else are you able to talk to me about?
Nathaniel: ::sigh:: Leaving, actually. Ta ta.
Albert Einstein: I don't know about that, and as a matter of interest I really don't need to know! What else can you tell me about?
Nathaniel: BRAINS.
Albert Einstein: After my death but prior to my cremation, Princeton Hospital pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed my brain for preservation, without the permission of my family, in hope that the neuroscience of the future would be able to discover what made me so intelligent.
Nathaniel: Evidently we're still trying to figure that out here. Bye!
Albert Einstein: If we are, I'll never forgive us.

This was getting me nowhere. In desperation, I turned to the only remaining pillar of sanity on Virsona...

Easter Bunny: Hi.
Nathaniel: Hello, Easter Bunny.
Easter Bunny: Like I said before: Hello there.
Nathaniel: Abe is broken and Einstein is being a doofus.
Easter Bunny: You can't be serious? It isn't as a joking matter. I rather think we should talk about something else.
Nathaniel: You're absolutely right. Thanks, Easter Bunny. I knew I could count on you.
Easter Bunny: Quite right, I am. But then, so is the foreign minister. Or so I was told.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 2, Issue 46

Holy return to comics, Batman!

This week marks a landmark in modern comics--it's the official return of Batman to DC continuity, courtesy of a slew of new (and much-delayed) releases from the publisher.

And it's about time. We've been Bruce Wayne-less for over a year now, and Grant Morrison's centuries-spanning tale of a "dead" Batman is now coming round full circle.

So, after a "death" that most certainly did not break the Internet in half when it was announced and a "return" that resulted in pretty much the same reaction, the real Dark Knight is back for good, and he's featured in more books than ever.

Which is kinda cool, I guess.

I have to give DC credit--they stuck with Morrison's grand plans and as a result, there is a huge, new story added to the Batman mythos. Say what you will about how DC handled the whole event (delayed issues, hyped up cross-overs that had nothing to do with Batman or his return), but Morrison certainly had a long-term vision for the arc, and he carried it through.
Sure, it crossed over into too many titles and it became confusing at several points, but hey, it was something big and different. And comics needs big and different.

Despite the "death" being brushed aside by many (let's face it, we all knew he'd be back), the following story is an important one in the history of the character and his world, and as with many of Morrison's projects, I think the whole epic will read better all at once, in a giant trade.

(Hopefully DC recognizes this, too, and creates an omnibus of the important issues so we don't have to buy six or seven different trades to get the whole story.)

Anyway, since I've already dived right in to this week's reading pile, let's keep going. The two big Batman books this week are Batman: The Return and Batman Incorporated, issue one.

Of those two, the one I'm most interested in is The Return. Written by Morrison and featuring art by the great David Finch, this is the book to check out. Finch made his name over at Marvel with amazing runs on books like Ultimate Spider-Man, The Avengers, and my personal favorite, Moon Knight.

His pencils are gritty, his cities are dark and filthy, and his action sequences are spectacular. Finch on Batman is the no-brainer of all time. His Batman is going to be considered a definitive version of the character, so certainly give this book a shot.

Here's the solicitation information from DC:

The event of the year is here!

Bruce Wayne made his long journey back through the timestream in RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, Dick Grayson and Damian uncovered important secrets in BATMAN and ROBIN, Gotham City's bravest heroes made their mark in BRUCE WAYNE – THE ROAD HOME...and now it's time for BATMAN to return!

What happens to Dick Grayson now that the "real" Batman is back? How will Bruce Wayne handle a reunion with his son, Damian? This special one-shot bridges two exciting eras of The Dark Knight and sets up a surprising new status quo that's just on the horizon.

Featuring the talents of Batman mastermind Grant Morrison and superstar artist David Finch providing interior art, this issue is a can't-miss for comics fans!

Next up is a book that is as diametrically opposed to a big, flashy, corporate event book as you can get while still being somewhat int he mainstream.

From Dark Horse and creators Mike Mignola and Richard Corben, the Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil one-shot hits today, and it promises a continuity-free pairing of stories with extra pages for the nice, low price of $3.50.
I've read the entire Hellboy mythos, and I've been following the single issues day and date of release for the past five years or so, and I can honestly say that the character has never been better.

Mignola consistently churns out the best the comics industry has to offer, and I expect nothing less from today's offering. Here's the blurb from Dark Horse:

Eisner Award-winning horror masters Mike Mignola and Richard Corben present this bloodcurdling double-feature comic with Hellboy entering two very different, but very deadly, houses--a carnivorous home and a pagan temple, both hungry for human sacrifices.

There's plenty more stuff coming out today, but I only have so much time, and I want to be sure to mention one of the best new books on the racks today. From Image, Morning Glories, issue four, ships, and with it one of the creepiest, best-written "superhero" stories of the year.
Writer Nick Spencer (who, by the way, just landed a ton of mainstream work) is knocking this book about a group of gifted youngsters out of the park. The story so far has been surprising, scary, and so well crafted that I cannot wait for each issue to ship.

Here's the blurb from Image:

With one of their own in danger, the rest of the Glories come together secretly and hatch a plan to rescue her—and escape from the sinister clutches of the Academy together! The teacher versus student showdown starts here!

There are second and third prints of previous issues readily available, so if you haven't checked this series out, please do so.

Okay, well. I need to run. Before I go, though--what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Exfanding Review: The Road

Sometimes books tend to lie around and pile up and get altogether ignored by the people who buy them. Which is kind of sad, actually, but certainly true. In my case especially, books pile up and become forgotten about, even if they were at one time purchased with excitement and the best of intentions.

Take The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Obviously a book that I "should" read. Obviously a book that was well reviewed as one of the most important novels of the past decade. Does the word, Pulitzer, mean anything to you?

Still, I've somehow managed to leave that particular book on the shelf of bookstores across the country for the better part of the last four years.

Now, I’m not exactly what you’d call a mainstream reader. My books tend to be from weird and obscure indy publishers, mostly horror, and mostly in paperback editions that no bookstore carries.

As a result, I order a lot of books online--out of necessity, not out of some digital obsession--and in doing so I come across even more obscure, weird titles from publishers on one has ever heard of.

Still, I enjoy some mainstream work—even the most mainstream of work—and when it came out, The Road was at the top of my to-read list. Every time I’d see it in a bookstore, I’d pick it up, read the description, and put it back, figuring that I'd probably just grab it the next time I was at the store.

Well, just about five years after its publication, I finally bought a (reader's) copy of The Road, a decision that was sparked by my finding a first edition a couple of weekends ago.

The Road is about a father and son in a post-apocalyptic America, desperately trying to travel to the coast in search of warmer weather, food, and "the good guys."

Though it is never fully explained, we know that the story picks up some years after a catastrophic event has wiped out most all life in America, and very likely, on Earth. And yet, out of sheer determination and will, this un-named father and son have somehow managed to survive, scrounging food where they can and fending off attacks from "the bad guys."

In The Road, McCarthy shows us the very best and worst of humanity.

The will to live, to keep going, is admirable and heart wrenching as we witness the man and the boy continue on. It's also despicable and evil when we see the lengths to which others have gone to survive.

There are horrors and mysteries on the road to the coast, and McCarthy builds tension superbly. And, while the plot and the journey to the coast and all the unanswered questions about what happened are engaging and intriguing, it's the relationship between father and son that makes this book a classic.

It is all at once familiar and foreign, uplifting and heartbreaking.

The Road is a novel that stays with you, well after you've closed its pages. McCarthy's limited use of descriptors, and economical use of words in general make the pace a furious one, and the two main characters make it impossible to leave the pages for too long.

I know this review is five years too late, but if you're like me and you put off this book for whatever reason, do yourself a favor and don't wait until the next time you see it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Majority's Mask

As I was sifting through my Backloggery in search of inspiration for my next GameCola article, I came to the stunning realization that I had beaten a lot of Zelda games. Ten of them, to be specific--as in, all but two or three of the games anyone's ever heard of. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that I don't really like Zelda all that much.

Blasphemy, I know. Everyone loves The Legend of Zelda. Hey, there are a few Zelda games I like well enough, and there's only one, maybe two games I've played that might actually qualify as bad. It's a solid series, but there's not a lot about the basic elements of the game that hook me.

I play games with lots of different weapon options, like Mega Man and No One Lives Forever. Zelda gives you a sword, a boomerang, arrows and bombs. In every game. And that's pretty much it. They're fine weapons, but I need to switch things up more often. I LOVE unmasking the Iron Mask enemies with the Hook Shot and setting everything on fire with the Fire Rod in Link's Awakening, but these kinds of novelty weapons often show up too late in the game or are too limited in their offensive usefulness to see enough use.

I also miss jumping. The jump-bestowing Roc's Feather in the Game Boy games and the ability to make your boat hop in Phantom Hourglass make me very happy, because I use jumping as a means of self-defense in everything from platformers to first-person shooters, and I still can't get used to dodging by not being in an enemy's line of fire to begin with.

On the flip side, I'm a big fan of puzzles, and Zelda is bursting at the seams with 'em. They may not always be as complex or mentally taxing as the ones in Space Quest or Monkey Island--quite often it's a matter of pushing blocks around or skillfully completing a task with the shiny new toy you found in this dungeon--but there's enough cause to pause and think on a regular basis, and that's good enough for me. Plus, it's nice to never worry about pretty much dooming yourself to failure halfway through because you forgot to pick up a tiny widget at the very beginning of the game. Stupid widget.

I'm not averse to item collection, otherwise I'd never have liked Metroid, another series that's very similar in style to Zelda. The key reasons I prefer Metroid are that it's platforming over top-down action, sci-fi over fantasy, and exploration over linear progression.

Zelda does have its fair share of open areas and hidden locations to explore, but the real focus is on the dungeons and bosses. It's all about getting from A to B and occasionally doodling around in-between. With Zelda, so much of the world outside of the dungeons feels like filler to me, whereas with Metroid, there's not always a clear objective or destination, so getting from A to B might as well be a dungeon in itself.

Linearity isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's just enough of a mix of linearity and freeform exploration in Zelda for me to want more of one and less of the other. The bottom line, though, is that I like Zelda well enough...but not nearly enough to warrant owning nine of the Zelda games I've played through (having beaten Four Swords Adventures with three other friends at someone else's house).

Granted, most of my best friends are big Zelda fans, so I've received about half of my collection as gifts. Regardless, I was the one who made the decision to pick up the GBA Zelda II re-release, and I'm the one who chose to play through every game I owned before tackling things in my backlog that seemed more up my alley, such as Star Trek: Legacy and Sam & Max: Season Two.

I've noticed a growing trend of compulsively collecting and playing games from series I'm not wild about. It's not just Zelda, but also Final Fantasy, Wario Land, and even Police Quest. For one thing, I'm a completionist, so it simply won't do to have played one of these games without trying the others. I also find it's good for conversation and writing inspiration to have all these popular games under my belt. Yet there's more to it than just these things.

There are things about all these series that I like, but there are so many things that bother me or aren't as exciting to me as they're supposed to be. I'm giving these series second and third and tenth chances because I want to see what my friends see in these games. I want to find more than one installment that's enjoyable enough for me to replay simply because I miss playing it. I have a few favorites in the aforementioned series that fit this criteria, but they're all ones I played during the era of nostalgia when everything was a favorite. And I assure you that none of them are ones any "real fan" would pick as their favorites.

I'm looking forward to trying out Final Fantasy VII and discovering that, for the first time since Mario 3 and Super Metroid, I agree with the opinion of the masses about which game in a series is the absolute best. And I'm hopeful that Minish Cap or even Zelda's Adventure will be weird enough to win me over. I may have played most of the games in these two series, but don't let that fool you into thinking I'm a fanboy.

Whether I'm a naïve optimist or just a hopeless collector, I'll keep buying and trying these games until I can honestly call myself a fan...or until I realize I should've saved my money this whole time and written out one big check to Capcom to help finance the best Mega Man game ever.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Collector's Rationality Disorder

It's amazing what I can convince myself to buy.

It really is.

As a collector of things—particularly things that tend to be expensive—I’m faced with choices every day. Now, granted, they’re not very important choices. Nor are they the most difficult choices to make.

For example, as has been heralded in the media recently, the original art to two historic comic book covers have come to auction. My choice was a simple one. I, like every other collector in the world, want them both. I can afford neither, because the estimates on the pieces are somewhere around $500,000. Each.

See? No choice at all, really, once you think about it for a nanosecond.

But then there are the hundreds of other, smaller choices a collector makes every week, every day. That $200 page that just came to market after being in a private collection for a couple of years. Should I buy it? I might not see it again for a while, if ever.

Or how about that killer Jim Lee page that just popped up on eBay? Should I bid on it? If so, what’s my max? I missed it the first time it was for sale—at a set price—and now its value has more than doubled.

It’ll be an investment.

It’s a good idea.

Just bid on it; it’s not like you’ll actually win it.

Well, what’s the difference between a couple hundred bucks at this point?

Go higher.

Collector’s Rationality Disorder is a terrible, wonderful thing. It’s allowed me to buy things I should never have bought. But I love them dearly, and I am happy to have them. It’s also drained my wallet of its most important assets.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever gone too far beyond my means, and in doing so, I’ve managed to build a nice collection.

Of course, most anyone I talk to disagrees with me.

Mostly with the “too far beyond my means” part, and the “rational” part of buying what I buy. I think we all have our Things, and comic book art is certainly mine. Collecting the art, for me at least, is much more rewarding and fun than collecting old comics.

It’s to the point where I wouldn’t mind selling off some of my books, so I can pay for more art.

Yes, I know. That’s probably some kind of warning sign. Like any self-respecting collector, though, I’m good at ignoring those.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Want to Be a Con Man

After hearing stories from my significant other about a webcomics convention that was held last weekend, I started wondering what it would be like to be a part of a YouTube convention. YouTube channels can have just as big and loyal a following as any webcomic, so why not?

Exfanding's excursion to Comic-Con put Alex and myself in the midst of some high-profile special guests, but I wonder what it would be like to attend a low-key convention that's really more of a geeky meet-and-greet than a sprawling money pit swarming with celebrities. Not that I'm speaking ill of Comic-Con--I had a blast. I also had much more money when I went in.

I think about how cool it is to have people who eagerly follow me on YouTube and actively participate in conversations unfurled through short comments. My channel has become just as much of a community as any social network, and I'm just as excited to meet my Friends and Subscribers in person as they are for me to release another video already, for cryin' out loud.

I'd love to be a special guest at a small convention. I'd hang around my table all day, doing a live Mega Man marathon and chatting up the conventiongoers. I could offer Mega Man lessons to struggling gamers and challenge passersby to a round of Mega Man Battle & Chase. I might not have anything to sell, but I could give away CDs of funny sound clips from my various videos. Yes, I have said a few funny things here and there, and yes, I swear there's actually a market for this.

There's also the fun I could have as a panelist. Panels are great because they don't necessarily have to have anything to do with my area of specialty. The name of the panel could be, "Watch These Dudes Play Contra and Fail Miserably," and I'd still be a perfect fit.

...So, anybody need a freeloading convention guest with no real marketable convention skills except for talking and playing video games with people?

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Introduction to Book Collecting: Book Hunting NYC

At home, above my desk, there’s a small shelf of books neatly lined up between two wooden bookends. The small shelf sits atop a much larger shelf; one that is filled to capacity with comic book trade paperbacks.

The small shelf on top has one comic—a hardcover edition of the recent Batman story, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? signed by Neil Gaiman—and a dozen or so other books.

Included among them are a first edition of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (missing the dust jacket), a signed first edition of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, a signed, dust jacket-less first edition of Mountain Interval by Robert Frost, a much more recent--and cheaper--tattered Complete Works of Frost, an unsigned first edition of Neil Gaiman’s short story collection, Angels and Visitations, and a signed first edition of part one of Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy epic, The Name of the Wind.
In case you haven’t guessed, this shelf is home to some of my favorite books.

The shelf—and, I suppose, its inhabitants—also represent the humble beginnings of a book collection, with the signed Robert Frost being the obvious highlight.
Just to set the record straight here, though, I collect comics and, even more so, original comic book art. I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the latter, just because of the sheer amount of time I’ve spent researching the hobby and its trends. I’m at the point where I can pretty much ballpark the price of a page just by looking at it.

So, yeah. I collect comic book art. I dabble in book collecting.

I do it for fun; I do it for the thrill of rummaging through a dusty old bookstore for dusty old books on a dusty November Saturday.

You ask me, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon and its dying light.

I’m drawn to paper, addicted to hard covers, and in love with words. Ever since I was little, I had a book in my hands. A big book, a little book, a picture book, a comic book. Even when I was far too young to know what the heck was going on in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I was reading it.

And loving it. And being swept away by it.

My love for books—real, actual, printed books—took me into a career in editing. It’s also allowed me some of the most rewarding hobbies imaginable, both in terms of being able to singularly get lost in them and in terms of being able to share them with friends.

And, come to think of it, complete strangers who would become friends.

Book collecting, like any type of collecting, can get expensive and has its hair-ripping moments of frustration and agony. But, as with all things, the better your attitude, the better your outcome.

So, instead of throwing myself into the deep end of the book collecting world—as I’ve done with comics art—I’ve decided to keep my book obsession somewhat at bay. And, I think, because of that attitude, I’ve been rewarded several times already, even though I’ve really only just started.

For example, this past weekend, I spent one of the happiest Saturdays I’ve ever had wandering—literally—around New York City with two close friends, ducking into and out of bookstores old and new.

There was the great find after a 30-plus block walk. And there was the museum-like shop on Madison Avenue with all of its Things No One Can Actually Afford to Buy. And there was the neighborhood book exchange, with its tattered and loved editions of books no one has ever heard of.

The three stores could not have been more diametrically in opposition to one another in terms of product line, ambiance, and price.

But they were all bookstores, and they were all special places.

The Housing Works Bookstore/Cafe, which is in SoHo, is—as the name implies—a combination used book store/coffee shop. And, on an early Saturday afternoon with the weather quickly changing towards winter, this shop was packed and full of life.
The sound of keyboards clacking and pages turning. The smell of fresh coffee and pastries.

It really was a unique, wonderful place.

I found a few dusty old paperbacks that have been out of print forever, including Lenard Wolf’s A Dream of Dracula and the (now infamous) In Search of Dracula and In Search of Frankenstein, by authors Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu.
I also picked up a coffee table hardcover filled with photos and information about the buildings I lived in while I did a semester abroad in Florence.

So that was cool.

We spent a good deal of time wandering the floor, searching the stacks for whatever caught our eyes. For me, time tends to melt away in a bookstore, and we certainly became cognizant of that after I said, for the fourth time, "I think I'm all set," and then proceeded to look for another 20 minutes or so.

From there, we hopped on the subway and made our way to Madison Avenue to visit a store I’ve always wanted to stop in—Bauman Rare Books. I've passed by the storefront many times, either walking to some appointment or driving to some class.

And every time, I just wanted to stop and spend the rest of my life in the store.

While I didn't have the opportunity to do that, I did get to spend a solid hour looking about, pulling truly historical tomes from bookshelves and flipping through them, and talking to the knowledgeable staff.

The prices on most everything I wanted were well beyond what I could ever justify paying, but the experience made the trip more than worth it.

On another side of the shop--which resembles the library you've always dreamed of building in your stately Wayne Manor, by the way--were the Really Expensive Things, included among them inscribed copies of Dr. Martin Luther King's autobiography and Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, the first illustrated edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first editions of Winnie the Pooh, Madeline, and oh, the list goes on.

Truly amazing, historical things, looking out through protective glass.

Needless to say, we were browsers, and not buyers here. Still, it was a highlight of the day, and it's certainly worth a visit if you're in the city.

Finally, we made the long walk up to 81st street and stopped by Westsider Books.
This store was the prototypical "book closet" with its stacks and stacks (and stacks and stacks) of books everywhere, even along the stairs! What a find! Every nook and cranny of this shop was packed with books--not an inch of space wasted.

We climbed the steep stairs and found ourselves on a small landing dotted with old cabinets filled with books. At the back corner, there were two crossing shelves that housed modern first editions and signed books.

Well, that's where we wanted to be. There were some truly great finds int his store, and I walked away with a signed first edition copy of Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy and a beautiful first edition of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Both were reasonably priced, and the McCarthy was, honestly, a steal.

I bought it for $40, which was over $500 less than it booked for at another store.

Talk about an amazing find.

And that's where I want to wrap this thing up. If you're thinking about getting into book collecting, start with what you know, and with what you like. And set monetary boundaries--and DO NOT exceed them.

I have to admit, when I saw the $550 copy of The Road at another store, I was considering asking about time payments. I knew it was over-priced, but I also knew that the condition was flawless. And with modern first editions, condition is the only thing.

Still, something told me to wait.

Sure, I picked up a copy in a slightly (and I mean, slightly) lower grade, but, wow, was it a good decision. As with most collecting hobbies, patience is a two-way street. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it leads to sleepless nights.

This time, it paid off, and the total waiting time was under two hours.

Like I said, a perfect way to spend a Saturday.