Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bloggy Blog Blog

Last week was the annual conference for my Way Cool Day Job. It’s actually my favorite week of the year at WCDJ, but it does require me to work what are essentially 15-hour days, so not a lot of actual writing got done. But since WCDJ pays the bills right now, and comics don’t, WCDJ wins.
Anyway, that’s why this blog is so late. And so filled with random.

“It’s the same dream every night…”
I keep stumbling across that line, or a similar sentiment, in popular culture lately. Movies, books, music. It’s oddly inescapable. Who the hell are these people? I never have the same dream. I almost wish I did. My dreams are goddamned insane.
Last week I had this dream:
In the dream I was working on a screenplay about cholos who ran a limousine service. As I finished it, I was walking to the park, when I was accosted by a gang of cholos in a limousine. They snatched my screenplay away and used it as a replacement engine for their car. (Dream logic. Go with it.) I got nervous that they would read the screenplay and get made at me for making fun of them. So I turned into Spider-Man and ran away deeper into the neighborhood. Then, in the dream, I realized I was just playing a live-action version of Grand Theft Auto. So I stole a dump truck and ran things over until I woke up.
Analyze THAT, Freudians.

I was at the bar waiting for my drink to come. A visibly drunk guy came staggering over to me and grabbed my shoulder.
“I like your tattoos. They’re cool.”
“Thanks,” I said. Because that’s the polite thing to say.
“What are you drinking?” he asked. And I should mention that it wasn’t a conversational question. It was asked in such a way to imply that the answer would determine whether he punched me or not.
“Diet Coke,” I said. Because that’s what I was drinking.
Now pause for 45 to 50 seconds as you read this story. That is the time period it took him to process my answer.
“WHY?” he asked. And this time the question came out desperate and bewildered.
“I quit drinking a while back,” I told him. This is my quick answer I give at bars when people ask me why I’m enjoying a soft drink. The real answer is slightly more elaborate – I quit drinking because I am diabetic, because alcohol affects me adversely as a result, and because most of the medications I take to combat my diabetes work over my liver like a speed bag, meaning that alcohol abuse is only going to exacerbate an already fragile situation.  But it’s easier in a bar to just shorthand it as “I quit drinking”, which usually gets interpreted as me being in recovery.
He grabbed my shoulder again. “I REALLY respect what you’re doing.”
And then he walked away.
I find it so odd that the prevailing mindest amongst people like that is that it’s okay to drink a soft drink in a bar if you have already made such a mess of your life that it has necessitated a 12-step program. But if you just choose not to get sloppy drunk, you’re some sort of asshole.
This is why I prefer hanging out with potheads. The most aggressive question they’ll ever ask you is if you are out of Funions.

This week’s recommendation is for literally ANYTHING Jonathan Hickman is writing. I’m late to the party on Hickman, having not noticed his early indie work. I started reading his excellent Secret Warriors for Marvel, which is an awesome super-hero/espionage book starring Nick Fury, and displaying an amazing combination of character, continuity, action, and mystery. It also ties nicely into his S.H.I.E.L.D. series – which reveals the secret history of the Marvel Universe, and re-imagines Davinci, Nostradamus, Tesla, and other historical figures as Marvel heroes and villains. S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the most brilliant things I have ever read in comics. Absolutely breathtaking art and such insanely cool concepts that my mind gets blown just thinking about them. -
Then there’s Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, which has surpassed John Byrne’s work as my favorite run on the FF EVER. As blogger Colin Bell outlines, in his first volumes, Hickman introduced:
·        Council of Reed Richards' from multiple universes striving together to Solve Everything.
·        An army of mentally neutered Doctor Dooms lurking underneath the auspices of said Council (surely that can't go well?)
·        The advanced passage of time taking place on back-up Earth "Nu-World" and the fates of the New Defenders that live there.
·        Future versions of Reed and Sue's children Valeria and Franklin meddling with their past to better their future, working alongside their grandfather, a time-displaced Nathaniel Richards.
·        Ben Grimm idolized by Moloid children he rescued from the City of the High Evolutionary, which has now reached the surface of Earth.
·        Susan Richards is Earth's envoy to the tribe of Old Atlaneans, who have similarly brought their city above Earth's crust.
·        Johnny Storm unwittingly allowing Annihulus to take control of the expanded N-Zone prison city.
·        A tribe of Inhumans from other parts of the Universe settling on the moon with the intention of bringing their city ship to Earth.
·        Reed Richards forming a think-tank with the genius young minds of the Marvel Universe - their first goal?  Curing Ben Grimm of his rock-like Thing state (this could be phrased better)
That, ladies and sirs, is insanely good comics.
So, completely unread, I am going to recommend Hickman’s upcoming Image title The Red Wing – the story of futuristic fighter pilots engaged in a war across space and time. Check it out. I doubt you will be disappointed.
Check out the upcoming Gathering Romance issue (Vol. 5) for a 2-page story by my lovely wife, Jenny Langin, and artist Amanda Rachels (Clown Town).  Then make sure to pick up Volume 6, aka The Big Book of Horror, featuring the story “Jack, Unblinking” written by yours truly, with art by my good and trusted friend, Mr. Chris Page.
If all goes as planned Chris and I will have another story coming out next year in the Gathering’s “Sci-Fi” issue. And I should have a five-pager (artist TBD) in the “Western” volume.
Also, work is flying along on my first OGN. The first five pages of art should be done soon, at which time, I will begin the sad, desperate process of sending out pitches to every comic publisher in the world.  Fingers crossed, gang.
 In addition to all of this, the Mighty Pat Loika has agreed to help me do a small project I've had on the drawing board for nearly forever, which will be appearing exclusively on this very blog! Watch the skies!
Enjoy your 4ths of July. Try not to blow yourselves up.
Hugs and Kisses,

Friday, June 17, 2011

Too Old to Frag

I recently went to my friendly local GameStop and traded in my copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Not because I didn’t like the game, because I did. But because I sucked at it. A lot. It appears that I am too old to frag.
Some qualifiers. First of all I am, at best, what could be classified as a “casual” gamer. Hand/eye coordination has never been my particular forte, in fact, coordination of any sort fairly eludes me (I cannot, for instance, ride a bike). I play video games not to seek any sort of challenge, but to relax. I think it’s telling that I never “beat” a game on my old NES or Playstation systems. Until the option to set your difficulty level came along, I was forced to play the games until hitting a brick wall of difficulty where frustration would lead me to some sort of rage fueled rampage against my controller. Not fun.
So when given the option to adjust difficulty on a game, I always go for “Casual”. If “Mewling Pussy Wimp” was an option, I would take it, and happily do so. But in deference to the flimsy scraps of ego that even rudimentarily skilled players like myself are assumed to possess, such honesty is usually eschewed.
I love it when games adjust the difficulty FOR you. When you have died at a given choke point SO many times that the game actually takes pity on you and ratchets down the intensity to a point where even a spastic like me can still pull off some measure of success. That feels so… well, not “good”, precisely, but at least there is the pleasure of surrender. The knowledge that the game agrees that you do, in fact, suck at this.
In addition to my lack of skill, I am always behind the curve on acquisition of new games. I am just not hardcore enough about gaming that I need to be an early adopter. As opposed to comics, where if I do not get my new books on Wednesday, I start to have the DTs. There are exceptions to the “Johnny come lately” rule of game purchase for me, of course. I bought Dragon Age 2 the day it came out, fueled by a deep love for the franchise, and a knowledge that if I didn’t, I would need to use a ball-gag on certain of my friends to keep them from spoiling the game for me (I am looking at you, Manny and Amanda).
The end result of not getting in on the ground floor is that, by the time I purchase the game and join the online community, the tiers of skill are already firmly established. And I wallow in the shallow end of the pool, where few still remain. So I face skilled ninja assassins who know all the ins and outs of the game, and seem to find hidey-holes and sniper points with something akin to genetic memory. While I run in a circle shooting into the air and trying to remember which button lets me jump.
Anyway, neither of those qualifiers really explains why I felt the need to abandon ship on Black Ops. Sucking at multiplayer shooters is not necessarily an impediment for success at the game. I tend to prefer support roles in games like this, anyway, avoiding modes like Deathmatch which reward base aggression and flawless motor control, and instead go for modes like Headquarters or Domination, where success can be attained by a willingness to fling oneself to the ground and pray that you are not shot.
In modes where a victory can only be achieved through wholesale slaughter, I will, almost without fail, fall into the “hunted” category, as opposed to the “hunter”. First of all, we have the aforementioned motor skills issue. Then to add insult to injury (literally), I only have ONE GOOD EYE. I watch the kill-cams sometimes after being mercilessly picked off, and have no idea how I was shot. It literally looks to me like the other player is firing at empty air.
Jenny listened to me complain about how badly I sucked and tried to console me – “Baby, you’re almost 40, and you have ONE EYE. You’re not SUPPOSED to be any good.” Then I had to tell her what really stung. While playing a multiplayer session where my performance was somewhere below abysmal, I overheard the other members of my team talking on team chat. About me. And about how badly I sucked. And about how, at the end of the match, they were all leaving the game, lest they be saddled with me again.
Fear and shame overtook me, along with distinct memories of grade school games of kickball where I excluded myself, after learning the harsh lesson that joy and enthusiasm for the game where useless commodities when not paired with skill. Jenny found this out and immediately tried to punch Xbox live in the face. I told her that technology didn’t exist yet. She suggested we buy a Kinect.
As we discussed it, I realized that statistically speaking, most of the other players were in their teens. And that, if they lived on the East Coast, there was a chance that I had made out with at least ONE of their mothers. That made me feel a little bit better.
But the long and the short of it is that I decided to trade Black Ops in. I am happier for it, a knot of tension having relieved itself, and my leisure hours returning to something more like “fun” and less like “self-flagellation”. At least until Gears of War 3 comes out, and the cycle begins anew.

And I likely will not, because Pat Loika said it was awful. And Pat’s enthusiasm for comics is such that it allows him to forgive many otherwise unpardonable sins of cinema when it comes to comic book movies. For Pat to say it sucks is to say that it, truly, deeply, irredeemably sucks.

I was intending to do a whole blog about the DC comics relaunch, but at this point, I think everything that could be said has been said. Gail Simone nailed down what was bothering me the most – namely, the paucity of female creators. There are titles I am genuinely excited about – Resurrection Man, Swamp Thing  - But those titles didn’t need a reboot to happen, so DC could have had my money without possibly alienating all their existing core audience. Obviously, we will all have to wait and see.

Mystery Men #1 by David Liss and Patrick Zircher is a really good time. Liss has been tasked to create a group of new pulp-influenced characters to become part of Marvel continuity, and so far, he is doing an awesome job with it. Not to mention that Zircher’s art is gorgeous. I love stuff like this and Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D., playing with the “secret history” of the Marvel Universe, and adding such cool toys to the sandbox. And I have a deep and abiding love and fascination for the pulp heroes, ever since my grandmother bought me a series of tapes of old radio serials when I was a kid. I used to sit and play with Legos for hours and listen to old Shadow and Green Hornet adventures. So Mystery Men #1 is factory installed with things that delight me.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a gigantic man-crush on Pat Zircher. Besides being a fantastic artist, he is also a really nice guy. He has been incredibly supportive of my fumbling attempts to “make it” into the comics business, and has given me tons of patience and volumes of really solid advice. Pat’s a top-shelf human being, and I will fight any man who says different.

Hugs and kisses,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I’ll see you at the movies! (Also, some questions and some answers…)

As the spring rolls into summer, and New Haven begins to smell like fart and garbage water once again, I am slowly releasing myself back into the wild. Primarily by having my lovely and long-suffering wife take me to the movies. Here’s a quick handful of spoiler-free reviews.
KUNG-FU PANDA 2 – Totally awesome and wonderful. I laughed. I cried. I clapped my hand together in glee. If you like the first movie, you will love this one. If you didn’t, then you’re stupid and ugly, and I don’t want to be your friend anyway. (A)
HANGOVER 2 – Here’s the problem. I laughed a lot at this as I was watching it. But as I was leaving the theatre, I felt kind of bad about having laughed. Then I talked with Jenny, and found out that she HATED it. And as we talked, and she explained all the reasons why she hated it, I realized she was completely right. I DID laugh, but it was very knee-jerk laughter. None of it held up even ten minutes later. And I’m saying this as someone who LOVED the first “Hangover”. Jenny nailed down the problem, I think – It’s MEANER than the first one. At the heart of the original, you still genuinely liked these guys, even when they were doing stupid, selfish things. In this flick, they’re just awful, AWFUL people. And the things they do don’t make them mischievous little scamps. They make them psychopathic assholes. The damage in this one is ALL permanent. And that makes it harder to forgive, and harder to laugh off. (D+)
X-MEN FIRST CLASS – Holy shit did I love this movie. And after the shitstorm that was X3, I didn’t think that was possible. But this is a genuinely fun comic book movie. It has its problems, and some of the stuff that happens is just plain silly. I don’t care. Loved it. (A-)
I asked for people to give me some Qs to A. This is what I got.
Ron “Aalgar” Watt, of “Sarcastic Voyage” fame, writes;  Dear Travis, How are you? I am fine. I once knew you as the angriest man on the internet — at the very least, you placed somewhere in the top five. These days you don't seem very angry at all. Has married life softened you? Have you sold out? Or does the anger still bubble beneath the surface like so much potential Hulk to your day-to-day Banner? Yours in Christ, Aalgar
I don’t know if I was ever AS angry as people perceived me as. One of the sad truths of the internet is how poorly tone travels. To the casual reader, my overuse of the word “fuck” can seem like aggression, but those who know me well know how much love I put into that word.
In all honestly, though, getting married has definitely helped grind the edges off of the chips on my shoulder. Actually, not being married in general, but being married to Jenny specifically. I was carrying around a LOT of stuff when I met her, and over the years, she has helped me put most of it into perspective. She is the best of the better angels of my nature, and it’s hard to be too angry when I get to spend every day hanging out with her.
Flonk writes; Coke or Pepsi?
Coke. Specifically Diet Coke. Although lately I have been making a lovely concoction with Sprite Zero and low-sugar cranberry juice. I call it “Special Drink”.
(“Community” reference for the win.)
Jef UK writes;  What's the difference between white people and black people?
Well, if stand-up comedy has taught me anything, it’s that black people *insert action here* like *insert stereotype here*, while white people *insert action here* like *insert stereotype here*.

Kelley writes; Why isn't government "by the people, for the people" anymore? Hugs, Kelley
Jesus. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this one. Especially because politically, I am somewhere to the left of Marx. 
Let me dodge the question by making this point: I am not, necessarily, opposed to a dude sending a picture of his junk via email or text. I mean, it’s tacky, and stupid, and his wife should DEFINITELY be pissed off at him. But it’s not really any of my business (he didn’t send a picture of his junk to ME), and it really doesn’t affect your ability to govern anymore than it affects your ability to play football. I also think it’s almost certainly less intellectually dishonest than trying to pass legislation against gay marriage when you are getting hummers from strange dudes in rest stop bathrooms.
I just think, if you fuck up in that way? If you email a picture of your goods to someone? If you get a blowjob from an intern? Just OWN that shit. Don’t be a liar, don’t be a pussy, Just say, “Yeah. I did that. I fucked up. It was pretty stupid. Sorry, sometimes the little head does the thinking. My bad.” It won’t make me forgive you, because it’s not my place to pass that judgement one way or another. But at least I’ll respect you a little more.
I liked answering questions. So people should send me some more.

I was going to talk a little bit about the DC Comics Relaunch. But I honsetly don’t think I have enough information yet to do so intelligently. I have some very strong opinions on it, but at this point, it would just be fanboy bitching, and there’s more than enough of that on the internet already. But maybe next time.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ “Criminal: The Last of the Innocent” is an insanely good crime comic from an insanely talented team. You NEED to read this book.

Hugs and kisses,