Friday, May 31, 2013

Geek Speaking on the Sexy Snikt and Kicking to Start

Geek Speak: The Sexy Snikt

As comic strips go this one isn't very high concept. The idea grabbed me as having some funny potential, so the problem became the execution. Initially I'd envisioned this as much more realistic with Wolverine looking rugged and manly in his leather jacket and jeans. He'd be standing in a hallway of the Xavier Institute when Psylocke walked by. Same idea, very different execution. I went this route because the tiny hero versions I've done are fun to draw...and it's a lot easier this way. 

Yup. Wolverine is drinking beer at lunch. That rogue. 

Starting the Kicks

I've been trying to think of some ways that I might be able to take what I'm doing with the blog and my cartoons to the next level. Some things are kind of self evident. Already I feel like I'm outgrowing the straight blog format. At the very least it's not a great way to showcase the comic strips, and anyone just getting started out reading the strips would have a hell of a time going back to the beginning. When I converted blog to a magazine layout it helped some, but in looking at other webcomics as a guide absolutely all of them make use of a viewer that allows the reader to go back and forth, view an archive, even jump to one at random. 

To be competitive I also need to bring up my game in my artwork. Drawmelt has been a part of that strategy, and getting the opportunity to draw a live model in a cool, totally chill setting has been of huge benefit to my artwork. The other part of bringing up my artistic game is learning to work in digital. Most of my education in drawing comes from my dad who was a tremendous artist, and an art teacher, but he had a classical education. By extension, I do too, plus a liberal dose of instruction from the incomparable book, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Before long that's not going to be enough. I'm going to need to learn to draw on a tablet using something like Photoshop. 

Both of those things take a tremendous toll on the dual resources of time and money. Neither of which I have in surplus, and shortly after my number two is born I'm going to have a lot less of each. I need a solution so I started looking into Kickstarter.

It's intriguing. My goal would be pretty modest. I'd need start up money to upgrade my computer, get a second monitor, purchase a tablet, subscribe to Adobe Photoshop, and have general expenses for at least six months. Compared to other projects out there, that's relatively humble. What's stopping me is all the unknowns. An even bigger blocker is the possibility of success and not only having to live up to my stretch goals, but to produce something; to live up to the expectations and faith of my supporters. 

People who come up short with the excuse that they're terrified of failure I don't think are being totally honest with themselves. More terrifying than failure is the prospect of success. Failure is not starting in the first place, that ship has sailed before someone can open their mouth to make the excuse. Success is scary because once you have it you have to work to keep it

So that's something I'm wrestling with. What's clear is I'm quickly reaching a point where I need to make a move into something bigger, or keep this going as a passion project, but not something that's ever going to buy groceries. 

Maybe someone reading this has a solution, some perspective, or an angle on this I haven't thought of yet. At this point I'm all ears.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tiny Psylocke Gets Exposure

Tiny Heroes: Get Psylocked!

I wanted to do something a little different with the tiny heroes, and thought a good way to change things up would be to draw a tiny heroine. So far I've been drawing a lot of dudes from Marvel and DC. It's way past time for some girl power!

Psylocke has always been a favorite X-Person of mine. She has serious martial arts skills, her ability to focus her telepathic abilities into a "psychic knife", and lest I forget to mention it, she's hot.

This is a character I would like to see treated really well in the books. Her use of telepathy is different from anyone else in all of the X-Books, and her seriously tormented background puts her somewhere in the Wolverine and Elektra range of psychologically broken. That could make for some really interesting conflict as she wrestles to come to terms with her past and tries to redefine who she wants to be.

Comic Book Review: Exposure 

Publisher: Red Giant Entertainment

Issue: 1
Price: Free on Comixology. Who cares how much it actually costs. Don't pay money for this.
Recommendation: Take a pile of them out in a field and build a fire pit. Burn them. Bury the ashes. Salt the earth where they are buried so nothing more can grow from their cremated remains.

At some point I was flipping through the free titles on Comixology, which I do quite a bit as I can't wrap my head around paying print edition cover prices for a digital copy. When I stumbled across this comic I don't know what compelled me to click on it so I could see more, although it might have something to do with the cover art.

I suppose I figured I'd check it out, probably find a book that embodied all the things I can't stand about mature titles, then flip away and forget I'd ever seen the thing. On one level it didn't disappoint, but it also presented vampires in an intriguing way. My interest aroused...just my interest people...I downloaded and read the book. It took a half an hour of my life that I will never get back.

This book absolutely represents almost every element of mature reader comics that make me want to grab the creators and shake them until their brains rattle while screaming, "How dare you pollute the art I love!"

This is where a spoilers warning would go, but I really don't give a shit. I don't want anyone to buy this thing.

The book is so bad I feel like I have to start with something good to say about it. Some of the writing manages to be compelling. The big plot point driving the first issue is a compelling idea that Roman Centurions who were responsible for nailing Christ to his cross were cursed to become vampires by spilling the blood of a divine innocent. That's pretty compelling on its own, but the writing goes on to briefly flirt with brilliance in its explanation of the classic vampire vulnerabilities. They can be killed by wooden stakes, because that represents the wood on which Jesus was hung. They're burned by holy water because that represents Christ's tears. My personal favorite is the explanation offered by the book for a vampire's weakness at dawn, and strength at dusk. Christ died on the cross at dusk, then rose at dawn on the third day. And therein the compliments end.

The book's title is "Exposure," which is setting the correct expectations right there on the cover. The story revolves around two women, both working for the same police department. One is a medical examiner and the other detective. It seems like the creators were trying for Rizzoli & Isles with vampires. What they accomplish is presenting the comic adaptation of a Cinemax original horror movie called Hot Cops 2: Vampire Nuns.

Much of what I will grudgingly call the story centers around vampire attacks on a convent. The convent must be the Sacred Order of the Magdalene's Holy Ta-Tas because all of the sisters are insanely hot under their habits, with the exception of the mother superior. The presence of the nuns is then elevated to fetishism when the main characters don habits to blend in. Not only do they not get to finish dressing before the convent is attacked, but the habits are damaged in the battle so they're fighting in a catholic nun's version of a micro-mini that conveniently shows off their fishnets. That's not a typo. They're wearing fishnets under a nun's habit.

When the main characters do engage in battle it seems like they must have unbreakable skin or something equally implausible. Vampire attacks that tear full grown men in half do nothing to them but tear off their shirts. Not their bras, mind, just their shirts. Which begs the question; if your skin is invulnerable to harm, why do you need a bra made of Kevlar?

Easily the most offensive thing about the book is the casual way it treats violence against women. It's either pointless and gratuitous, or it's a speedy way to get the main characters' kit off. Whatever the reason it's bizarre and offensive in the way that it's fetishized.

Overall the one or two good things in this book are not remotely enough to balance its failings. Don't make the mistake I did reading this thing. There are a lot of creators putting out there putting out much worthier work. To be fair, it looks like Red Giant Entertainment, the publisher of this book, has a few titles that would be worth a look.

Whew. Got that off my chest. It's an important lesson I think. Not every book out there is going to be good. Now I'm going to go re-read Saga. After that I need something genuinely great to restore my faith in comic books as a storytelling medium.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Geek Speaking of Doomed Pizza Strippers

Random Thoughts

No life dedicated to arts was ever wasted.

Geek Speak: Pizza of DOOM!

The idea of a sparkling vampire is deeply, fundamentally stupid. 

Bram Stoker gave us a horrifying vision of the ultimate king of the undead; an immortal monster given unimaginable power by feasting on the blood of the living. Stephanie Meyer gave us a simpering milquetoast, a pouting, centuries old pity case who gets his jollies with mortal high school girls. In the face of what vampires have become in popular culture I can only imagine the mighty Count Dracula would feel his only refuge is the sweet, long-delayed embrace of oblivion. 

Still Searching for Strippers on the Web

My wife and I are now completely caught up on Strip Search the web-based reality series from Penny-Arcade. Sweet Fancy Moses, this is some damn good television, and it's not even on television, which seems to be happening more and more. 

The thing that really makes this show is the relationships between the artists who are taking part in the competition. I didn't mention the prize in my last post (bad me). The winning artist receives $15,000, and they will be given studio space in the offices of Penny-Arcade for one year. Despite being in competition for what is essentially the greatest prize you could bestow on an up-and-coming web cartoonist, the artists have developed really tight bonds with each other.

The fact that everyone gets along appears to drive the creators of Penny Arcade Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins no end of nuts. Which makes me think they're missing a golden opportunity. More than anything else the thing that drives me crazy about reality programming is the contrived sense of drama and the petty squabbling and backstabbing between the contestants. Either the producers throw on their scuba gear so they can dive into the deepest, darkest trenches of the gene pool to find these gargoyles, or the whole thing is a scripted farce presented as "reality." 

By comparison the closeness of the contestants on Strip Search makes it all the more compelling when an artist wins the second challenge of the day and is asked to pick two of their fellow contestants to face elimination. This is an emotionally wrenching process that forces them to pick two people they've come to love and respect like family and send them to face Krulik and Holkins in the elimination arena, knowing only one of them can return. It's like Thunderdome for web cartoonists. 

As my wife and I have been following the show, we've started to familiarize ourselves with the cartoonists. All of them are amazing, and it's clear there's a reason they were picked to be on the show, but I have some favorites. In no particular order here are the cartoonists I'm enjoying the most:

Abby Howard's website is, which is short for The Junior Scientist Power Hour. What do I enjoy about her comic? To put in as few words as possible, she's crazy and hilarious. While there's no thread connecting each comic, they are all deliriously wacky and off-beat, and make for outstanding "lunch break" reading.

Alex Hobbs' website, is the newest of the artists taking part in the competition, but already has a lot to offer. The artwork on Alex's website makes use of a fun animation style and the jokes vary between cartoonish and slice-of-life. Overall he offers another good candidate for your lunchtime comic strip break.

Amy Falcone's website,, boasts a few strips, but Falcone's central strip is Citation Needed. Amy is a capable artist and she's infused her strip with a cute cartoon style. It can be confusing trying to navigate the website, but it's worth it to get at the rich seam of comic strip gold. 

Erika Moen is easily the most accomplished web cartoonist in the competition, and the polish shows in the clean, well composed comics on her website, Fair warning: most of her stuff tends toward the NSFW end of the spectrum. Among the naughty jokes and titillating drawings, however, she has a tender side that comes out in some truly touching comics. 

Katie Rice provides the illustrations for the online comic Skadi. Her work on the comic has a cool, new-animation, Adventure Time feel to it that is probably the result of the work she does during the day as a storyboard artist for Nickelodeon. Of all the contestants, Katie is the one my wife and I are pulling for to win the whole thing, which is kind of silly when we really stop and think about it. The competition ended in December. The winner has already been decided, and they've been ensconced in the Penny Arcade offices for almost six months. 

Lexxy Douglass' website,, differs from the rest in that she's the only one who doesn't already have a webcomic up and running. Even so, her website is worth checking out for the gorgeous illustration work she does. Lexxy is a very, very talented woman, and someone whose work I'll be following.

Tavis Maiden's website is the last one on my list of Strip Search favorites. It may be that I'm partial to his work because he's the only one in the group with kids, but whatever the underlying reason I've been drawn into his centerpiece comic, Stranger Danger. It's a fun, slice-of-life comic about the trials an joys of being a parent. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Geek Speaking of Drawmelts and the Legend of Captain Sexy

Geek Speak

Shock and Awwww Yeah!

This strip was interesting to put together. There was text in the last two panels, but after I had added it I looked at the strip again and realized the reactions I'd created for Mark and Steve sold the joke better than my actual joke. This is something of a first as I consider myself a writer first, and my natural inclination is to have dialog.

If I'm being really honest this is the result of watching Penny Arcade's series Strip Search. In the judging of elimination round five Jerry Holkins, the writer of Penny Arcade, points out that one of the strips created by someone who was up for elimination worked better with the text removed. That seems to have happened here. I liked my joke, but it didn't work as well as a couple of panels of straight up reaction shots. 

It's fun to see Steve (the short bald one) and Mark (tall with lots of hair) utterly dumbstruck. Steve especially as he's the one who tends to run at the mouth.  

The next time we see these characters I think I might play with their humanity a bit. We'll see.

Sweet Fancy Moses!

Wow, so someone out there must really like me! Or my mom is checking my blog two hundred times a day from at least five different computers. That seems somewhat unlikely so I'm just going to be really excited that I've crossed the line into twelve-thousand page views! That means since the end of March/beginning of April when I started blogging like a computer-literate honey badger the traffic to my little corner of the Interwebs has more than tripled! That's awesome!

Pirates of Meltdown: Legend of Captain Sexy

Monday was another evening at Meltdown Comics for Drawmelt. This has become something that I really look forward to doing once or twice a month. I don't have the time to do more than that, and I can't really afford to go more, but the time I get is more than worth it. The benefits of drawing from a life model are huge, and it seems like I'm getting better each time.

On the Monday the 20th I changed up what I had been doing and went to Drawmelt unaccompanied. I might not have gone on Monday, but as it happened the model they'd lined up a male model for the evening. For some reason it seems like the majority of the modeling done for these things is done by women, so this was a special enough opportunity I made the decision to head down on my own. 

It is with an artist's professional detachment and pure aesthetic sense that I say, "holy crap this guy is good looking!" As I was drawing him I just kept thinking that his absolutely the leading-man hero type. He is also the first model I've seen who came to the event with a character in mind, and stayed in character throughout the entire evening. He was kind of Han Solo meets the Dread Pirate Roberts. Very Cool.

Here are a few of my favorite drawings from the evening.

This was one of the first from the evening. I had some fun adding word balloons to a few of drawings when the model was switching between poses.

I thought I know what a smoldering look was...then Monday's model threw out a smolder that damn near toasted everyone's sketchbook. I bow to the superior smolder, and regret that I was only able to capture but a pale shadow of it here.

More fun with word balloons. Of all my drawings from the evening I think this one looks the most like the model. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Geek Speaking Money Shots over Nowhere Men

Geek Speak:

The Reaction Money Shot

Whether she intended to or not Sam has taken Mark and Steve to a place from which they cannot return. The question remains, will they be better people for it? 

My wife had a fair amount of input into these comics, particularly regarding my drawing of Sam's breasts. It's a testament to how awesome my wife is that her input wasn't, "you really shouldn't do that, some people might be really offended." She could have, and she would have been justified. Let's be honest, this puts a toe over the line of sexism. My wife could have made that argument and I would either have had to shelve this entire mini-arc, or find some way out of the corner I'd painted myself into. Instead what she said was, "Wow. She has a huge rack."

Something to that effect, and she was right. My first pass at drawing Sam with her shirt up had her significantly larger in the chest region. My wife's comment was a good observation because the first pass at drawing her with her shirt up was inconsistent with how I'd drawn her with her shirt down. So Sam got a breast reduction. 

The guys' reaction in panel three is based on a doodle I did before bed a long time ago. I've been trying to find a way to work up to it ever since. I had a lot of fun drawing their reactions in panel three, and overall I'm pleased with the results. 

One more strip with these three, I think, then we'll take a break from these characters for a bit. 

Comic Book Review: Nowhere Men

Publisher: Image Comics
Issue: 1
Price: $2.99 (cover price) $2.39 (on where shipping is free). 

Recommendation: Highly recommended

I'm going to start this review by saying this is a bold book. It deals unflinchingly with high-concept themes such as morality and ethics as they apply to scientific pursuit, human experimentation be conducted in secret, and the overreach of corporate ambition when it places profit above humanity. These are huge, huge ideas and they are handled well by the creative team of writer Eric Stephenson, artist Nate Bellegarde, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. 

The beginning of the book is a kind of prelude to the story in the rest of the first issue. The book opens at some point in the past. Based on the clothing and hair we're led to believe it's in the late 70's or early 80's. This is followed by what looks like the curriculum vitae of the four characters on the first page a la Playboy interviews. This is a brilliant choice on the part of the creators as it lays out exactly who these men are without having to devote pages and pages to character development. This becomes important in very short order as we jump from "some time ago" to "years later" and the characters introduced on that first page are much older, and much has changed between them. 

We meet them after a crisis moment in which one of their projects has taken a serious turn for the worst, resulting in the deaths of two men. How they respond to the tragedy sets up one of the major themes of the book. At the same time Stephenson deftly weaves in exposition that sets the stage for events later in the story.

Stephenson's writing is spot on. The arc of the book is carefully crafted to establish the tension early on, then leaves the reader on cliffhanger that is nothing less than out of this world. His dialogue is natural and each character speaks in a voice so distinct, so painstakingly well crafted, that you can very nearly hear what their voices would sound like if they could speak. 

The artwork is equally well done. Each panel builds on the one before, and the team of Bellegarde and Bellaire have done an admirable job evoking the tension of Stephenson's words.  The line work is tight and, detailed, and disciplined. This tightly controlled quality makes it even more jarring when you're introduced to characters who've been subjected to the secret experimentation that is one of the books major themes. In a medium where the monstrous and spectacular are all but quotidian, it's a remarkable achievement when a creative team can shock the reader. Bellegarde and Bellaire do it, and make it look easy. 

If I have a criticism it is that the same tightly controlled quality that makes it possible for Bellegarde and Bellaire to surprise the reader also makes the book feel as though they are holding back. Bellegarde is obviously a more-than-capable illustrator, but a large number of panels throughout the book offer only spartan detail. This adds impact to the big reveals in the book, but it also makes the world feel as though it lacks depth or substance. Almost like actors playing out a scene against flats painted in solid colors. 

I'm somewhat guarded in my recommendation of this book partly because the last book I reviewed was Saga, a title that would skew the curve for anyone else, and partly because it seems like the creative team is holding back. Overall a very solid first issue, and I'll be picking up the other issues to see where this team is taking us. 

Note: The cover image above is used without permission. If you would like to support the title or acquire a copy of the book please purchase it from the online comic store, Heavy Ink (linked from the image). Better yet, get out of the house and go to a local comic store and support them by picking up the print versions.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doodles and Strip Searching for Web Strippers

Doodles: I, Panda

I don't remember the precise circumstances, or how the whole thing got started, but I was at work one day and was eavesdropping on a conversation when someone dropped the phrase "iPanda." The conversation was entertaining, but I've utterly forgotten the context in which it came up. I do remember that one of my co-workers was really into the idea of an "iPanda" and thought the idea of a Panda with the Apple logon his chest was adorable. 

Between calls and emails that day I doodled out a quick panda with the iconic apple on his chest on a sticky note and put it on her desk. To preserve her dignity and the perception of her professionalism I will just say that her reaction was enthusiastic. 

After that I would occasionally put a new version of the iPanda on her desk. The one to the right here is one I don't think I ever gave her. It's a riff on Kung-Fu Panda that I called "iPanda Classic." 

Penny Arcade: Searching for "Strippers"

Images used without permission, please click the image above to visit the show's website. You won't be disappointed. 

I really can't wait to see how many hits I get based on that heading alone. 

Neither my wife nor I have ever been fans of reality television. Whether it's the over-wrought drama of the contestants, the contrived circumstances, or the plainly rehearsed "spontaneous" moments, there's always something that is just...grating about the whole thing. If were to put that in a twitter-friendly format it would say something like, "I have better things to do than watch hateful, narcissistic assholes be nasty to each other." 

With that said, both of us have been completely sucked in by Strip Search on Penny Arcade's website. For those who don't know (though I'm not sure anyone who reads this would fit that description) Penny Arcade is arguably the most successful webcomic online right now. It has been running since 1998 and maintaining a rock-solid three-strips-a-week schedule. Penny Arcade is drawn by Mike Krahulik and written by Jerry Holkins.

Both Krahulik and Holkins are huge fans of reality television. They started exploring the medium with their web-series "The Fourth Panel" which features them at work developing the comics that get posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Strip Search goes deeper in to the reality television format and brings to life something...wonderful. 

The concept of the show is straightforward enough, and familiar to those of us who remember watching "The Real World" in its first couple of seasons. All of the contestants share accommodations in a gorgeous and well appointed (and well-stocked) lakefront house somewhere in Seattle. Each episode features interviews with the contestants talking directly into the camera about the events of the day.

The show also brings in competitive aspects from shows like Survivor and The Bachelor, and each day two contestants must face an elimination round. One goes home, one goes back to the house, and the challenges continue the next day.

Krahulik and Holkins have assumed a cold, aloof, distant persona for the purposes of the show, presumably for dramatic effect. It comes off as a kind of a nerdy Bond-villain type vibe. To anyone who has watched "The Fourth Panel" or met them in person the contrast with who they really are is jarring. These are two of the nicest, most affable, most giving guys on the planet. Fortunately they frequently break character and you get to see them for the wonderful human beings they really are. 

At one point Krahulik even loses his temper when he has to send someone home at the end of an elimination round, and the work that is the basis for the decision is of such a high quality he can't bring himself to destroy it (in previous elimination rounds they destroyed the strip created by the losing contestant). In a moving moment he offers a testimonial to how much he likes the contestant's work and can't bring himself to destroy and instead hands it back for that person to keep; an invaluable memento of an amazing experience (and the fact that this contestant had already won a Wacom Cintiq HD probably didn't suck, either). 

The contestants are, for lack of something even more glowing to say about them, amazing. Each one is a fine artist in his or her own right and each of them is an established web cartoonist to a greater or lesser degree. In at least two cases (Erika Moen and Katie Rice) they already have an established fan base that even extends to some of their fellow contestants.  Artistic ability notwithstanding, these are people I'd like to hang out with on a regular basis. They are genial, open, friendly, and willing to share. It's a testament to their character that each time one of them is asked to nominate two others to go to eliminations it is an agonizing decision. 

The show works at another level that I'm sure some of those reading this will appreciate; it's a kind of peak behind the curtain into the what it takes to run a successful webcomic. I would even go so far as to call it a boot camp. in the first nine episodes the show has covered topics from ranging from working with a partner, to developing marketable merchandise, to managing your own PR through outlets like Twitter. The notes given to the contestants and the lessons learned in the process are things that are applicable to my own practice, as I develop it, and my be relevant to some of those reading this as well. 

One of the best things about the show, is the respect with which departing contestants are treated. When one of them is told "you are not the strip we're looking for" and asked to go wait in the car they are shortly joined by Krahulik and Holkins who offer sincere words of encouragement. No one leaves having had a bad experience. It is this sensitivity to their contestants and to their viewers that elevates this above the base sensationalism of other reality programs and makes something that is truly engaging and entertaining. 

Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Geek Speaking of Desperate Measures

Geek Speak

Desperate Measures

This is it! The time of reckoning for Mark and Steve is at hand! Lives will be changed! Bonds will be formed! No one will ever be the same again!

The idea here is kind of like pulling a Brandi Chastain (holy crap she was ripped) and pulling up her shirt in a fit of frustration-induced momentary insanity. I had a lot of fun drawing reactions for Mark and Steve in the last column. I doubt my reaction was any more restrained the first time I saw breasts that weren't in a magazine or an episode of National Geographic.  

Random Thought
I love the fact that ads for Snorg Tees occasionally show up in my blog! They have some outstanding geeky/funny tee-shirts. 

Penny Arcade Artist's Corner
I recently joined the Penny Arcade forms so that I could participate in their artist's corner. The artist's corner is provided as a place for artists to share work with each other within the Penny Arcade community and receive honest criticism. The forum will also post the occasional challenge, which is what prompted me to join. The challenge in the Artist's Corner of the Penny Arcade forum this week was "Get Your Cray-On!" Artists were asked to submit drawings done with crayon. I opened up my daughter's box of washable Crayolas, and Daredevil fell out of them. 

I work with color pretty rarely, so I'm pleased with the results overall.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Geek Speak and the Nexus of Naked

Geek Speak: Naked

Here is something I've never done before; a direct continuation of a moment from one strip to the next. This even uses the same location. The challenge here was getting it to look ass close as possible to  the previous strip, so I used the previous strip as a reference. 

Mark and Steve still aren't getting it, and now Sam the extent to which her co-workers are completely clueless. There's nothing else to do really, so she gets to have a little fun at their expense. I really like this about Sam, she sasses them in the final panel, knowing that she's the only one in the conversation who gets the joke. 

Something really interesting is happening with Steve. Where Mark is almost always talking in sentences that are nearly too long for my word balloons, Steve only says a word or two. He's really turning into a man of few words, who speaks only enough to say what is necessary. That is going to be a lot of fun later.

Gadget Review: Google Nexus 7
I swore I would never do this. It was like a kind of mantra. "I will never buy a tablet." Then my birthday rolled around, and it looked like I was going to be able to go to WonderCon. I had some extra money, plus some very generous gift cards, so the price tag on a tablet suddenly seemed with in reach. I knew I didn't want an iPad or iPad mini. Both are terribly overpriced, the reviews of the iPad Mini have been mixed, and most of my day is spent in the Google ecosystem.

Since I knew that I was going to be getting an Android tablet I was quickly able to narrow my choices down to two devices, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7. I liked the Kindle Fire because I already own a Kindle e-reader, I'm an Amazon Prime subscriber (highly recommended, maybe I'll talk about that in another blog), and my wife and I have a friend who owns one and loves it like a shiny puppy with a gorilla glass face. The Google Nexus 7 I liked because its specs were better, it's manufactured by Asus, the same company that made my laptop; and it comes with a full-version of Android where the Nexus 7 is a flavor of Android developed by Amazon. Both devices were roughly equal on price, and both devices had virtually identical rankings in Consumer Reports. 

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7 are both outstanding devices, but I ultimately settled on the latter. I wanted it for its full access to the Google Play store, the full version of Android rather than the heavily customized version installed on the Kindle Fire HD, and full access to Google solutions like Drive, Calendar, and Gmail. I do so much work in those last three that not having access to them would have left me very disappointed in the Kindle Fire HD (I suppose until I had a co-worker root the thing and install the full version of Android). 

I bought the Google Nexus 7 with a Poetic Slilmline Portfolio case that features an auto-sleep/wake function. When the device arrived I immediately plugged it in and started it charging, but didn't turn it on. I don't think this matters anymore, but I show my age in some funny ways. Before now you never wanted to be charging something while it was turned on. When things charged you had to leave them alone and go do something else. In my day. Kids these days.

When I did eventually get to turn it on it came to life and displayed a loading screen for a short while before going to the home screen. There was a short tutorial briefly describing how to use the device, and then I was off to the races.

It does race. Under the hood the device is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad-Core processor, which is a little misleading. The Tegra 3 features "four plus one" architecture which offers four full processor cores for HD video playback or for playing games, and a smaller single processor that's used when browsing the Internet, checking email, or reading an eBook. The single core uses considerably less power, so it extends battery life. The overall speed of the device is impressive. I actually prefer it for checking email to my office workstation. 

Storage is an area where the Nexus 7 both stands out from the rest, and falls short. It stands out from other devices because it offers up to 32 GB of storage in a very affordable package, if you get wifi only. The storage is extended if you store most of your documents and other files in the cloud using Google Drive. Where it falls short is the lack of a removable memory slot. The 32 GB of storage is nice, but it's not infinite. It would be nice to  be able to supplement that with another 32 GB on an SD or micro-SD memory card. 

Physically the Nexus 7 is an attractive device. Asus gave it a textured back, rounded corners, and a beveled body so the back curves to the edges. The screen is bright and clear and displays video and images gorgeously. The construction is solid. While this gives the device some heft, Asus was very smart in crafting a device that doesn't feel remotely cheap or "plasticy." It feels like it could take the small amount of punishment that regular use will cause and not suffer cosmetic or functional defects as a result. 

The Nexus 7 comes with Android 4.2 installed and gives full access to the Google Play store. Apps download and install quickly and I'm able to pay high-resolution, HD games with no performance problems. The Play Store has a wealth of apps and media content that offers something for everyone. Love books? Got it. Movie buff? Done. Audiophile? No problem. 

Overall the Google Nexus 7 is a great device. Though I once mocked tablet owners and swore I would never be one my self I find myself using it daily for everything from checking email, to looking at blog stats, to reading comic books, to studying for my project management professional certification. I have no problem recommending the Google Nexus 7 for anyone who is conscious of price, but doesn't want to compromise features.

The Google Nexus 7 sits in a happy place between price and performance. That's probably why they call it the "Nexus."

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Zen and the Art of Supergirl

Pre-Work Doodles: Supergirl

If I get to work early enough I will usually do one of two or three things: sleep, draw in my sketchbook, or drink coffee and listen to the radio. Which one I choose to do depends on how tired I am, how early I managed to get to the parking garage for the office where I work, and whether or not I have a clear idea of something I would like to draw. To be honest I mostly end up sleeping

No matter what I'm doing I use the time in the car before work as a kind of pre-work-day meditation. Most days this is the last quiet time I get all day. Weird as this is to say about a parking garage, it's very peaceful. If I've decided to sleep I'll lay my seat down as far as it goes, cover up with a blanket I claimed from the pile of the things that my daughter will never use, and shut my eyes. 

When I draw I set the same alarm I use if I'm sleeping, and use it as a timer for when I need to put everything away and go to work. I can usually get at least the basic pencil work done for a drawing before I have to pack it in and go inside.

When I sit and sip my coffee while listening to the radio...that's pretty much it. Though I do usually zone out and daydream. Sometimes that helps with the process of coming up with topics for this blog, or ideas for Geek Speak. 

Today was a drawing day and I decided to try and draw Supergirl. I got about halfway through drawing here before I had to pack everything up. I finished the pencils and the inked lines later in the day. 

She's caught in a quiet moment hovering high above the earth. Maybe she's thinking about lunch, maybe she's trying to remember the location of a clean bathroom in Prague. Whatever she's thinking, it's a moment that the dangers and stresses of her day-to-day life are (literally as well as figuratively) miles away.

The time I take for a quiet moment in the morning is kind of like that. It's a moment of relative peace before I have to return to the melee. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Geek Speaking the Saga of Water Balloons

Geek Speak: Nothing Like Water Balloons

Today's strip brings back Sam, Mark, and Steve. I'm continuing with the idea that Mark and Steve are completely clueless regarding Sam's gender. To them she's just one of the guys because they simply don't know any better.

In a way any guy over the age of eighteen can probably relate to Mark and Steve in the first panel. All boys go through a seriously awkward phase right around the time we hit puberty and start to notice girls. This is the beginning of the "hormonal idiot" phase of growing up and it lasts until you're about twenty five. At the beginning of that phase it's incredibly common for boys to brag and tell tall tales about their exploits and all the boobies they've seen, which is usually an outright fabrication, or he may have caught a glimpse of an older cousin while she was changing clothes. In any event, the game is to make yourself sound more grown up and manlier on the basis of all the unclothed mammaries you've ogled. 

It's a stupid game, but every guy you know played it at some point early in that hormonal idiot phase. 

That's what it's like. Guys get between ten and twelve years of being cute, then about thirteen years of being a complete fuckwit, then most of us wake up one morning with gray hairs on our head and hair growing out of our nose, and suddenly it's time to get serious. In the case of Mark and Steve they haven't had that moment of epiphany yet. They haven't had that moment where they realize it's time to stop talking about women as though they are simply a life support system for their breasts. 

Their moment is coming.

Comic Book Review: Saga
First issue of Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Publisher: Image Comics
Issue: 1
Price: $2.99 (cover price) $2.39 (price on, thought it's not currently available for order) $0.00 (that means free, cupcake, and it's what you'll pay if you get the digital edition from Comixology). 
Recommendation: Holy crap this book is good. If you can find it in print, pay real money for it and support the creators. If you can't find it (which is likely, this book is crazy popular) go ahead and pick it up from comixology while it's still free. 

The sensible place to begin talking about this book is to give everyone a heads up that this book is intended for mature readers. Boy this book intended for mature readers. 

Disclaimers out of the way I can begin glowing about the world coming to life in the words of Brian K. Vaughn (Y, the Last Man) and the images of Fiona Staples (Trick R Treat). The story has a narrator who comments on the action, guides the reader through the events, and provides some of the necessary exposition. In most books with a third-person-omniscient narrator the narration is clunky and forced and consigned to text boxes that break the look of the panels. Not so with Saga the voice of the narrator is woven into the images, linking in inextricably with the events, which makes sense when you learn the identity of the narrator. I won't reveal that here. Part of the fun is finding out who it is. 

Vaughn and Staples don't waste any time dropping the reader into the action, starting the story out by placing the reader in one of the most intense and visceral moments everyone faces sooner or later. The story is well orchestrated and those first tense moments are followed by a tender interlude, which is interrupted thereby initiating the conflict that will drive most of the rest of the book. 

The story is complex, introducing a rich environment and crafting a world where magic and technology exist side by side. A number of characters and stories are introduced, and events are set in motion that will ultimately lead to the different narratives intersecting at some point. 

All of the characters are given a distinct voice and attitude by Vaughn who crafts dialog and narrative with skillful precision. Vaughn's story is well paced with moments that alternately amuse, frighten, and put the reader on the edge of their seat.

Staples artwork is a great compliment to the words and story provided by Vaughn. The panels are well composed and the pages laid out so the story flows. Staples has also clearly had fun with character concepts and designs. The discovery of the different character designs is part o the fun of reading the book, and is reminiscent of watching the original Star Wars trilogy, especially Episodes IV and V. The first time watching the movies you never knew what amazing thing you were going to see from moment to moment, even on repeat viewings there was always some new, cool character you hadn't seen before. Staples work has that same joy of discovery.

In reading this as a title for mature readers, I really appreciated something Vaughn and Staples have done. While I would never dream of giving this to any reader under the age of fourteen or fifteen (basically anyone so young they wouldn't understand it or they'd find it confusing) it doesn't fall into some of the traps of other "mature" titles. 

Saga includes some very adult subject matter including violence and sexuality, but it deals with these subjects in a way that is "real" and never strays into the gratuitous or puerile. I hate reading books intended for "mature" readers where the dialog is stuffed with obscenity and the pages are filled with egregious, over-the-top sex, violence, and gore. Books like that degrade the subject and the reader. 

Saga rises above that. In many ways it's like a well-crafted, R-rated movie in print form. I feel very comfortable recommending this book, and I intend to keep up with it.

Note: The cover image above is used without permission. If you would like to support the title or acquire a copy of the book please purchase it from the online comic store, Heavy Ink (linked from the image). Better yet, get out of the house and go to a local comic store and support them by picking up the print versions.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Quinn's Uncles at Genghis Cohen

Quinn's Uncles Rock Genghis Cohen

Rock Gods with Day Jobs bring the house down with an acoustic accompaniment to Szechuan cuisine.

Jim and Tim rocking Genghis Cohen

Quinn's Uncles is a rock duo composed of brothers Jim and Tim Meade. Their music is chiefly acoustic rock that ranges from energetic numbers that will have you bouncing and rocking out in your seat, to ballads such as "Quicksand" that seem to have been wrought from raw materials drawn up from some deep emotional place, which reaches out through the guitars and voices of the Meade brothers to wrench at your own emotional vulnerabilities.

I was first introduced to Quinn's Uncles by Jim when he appeared as Don Pedro in a production of Much Ado about Nothing that I was directing. After hearing him sing bits and pieces of songs from what was at the time their latest album, Meadevil, I picked up the album. It immediately began to get heavy rotation in my car's CD player, and I belted out all the lyrics to "Say Uncle" and "Hot Monkey Love" using the imperfect instrument that is my own voice (it's better now that I've spent two years singing to a tiny human who shares my last name and some of my genetic material).

The first time the opportunity presented itself to see Jim play live with his brother Tim, I jumped at it. Mildly Sensational and I made the trip into Hollywood to meet up with a friend who works with Jim at his day job (the subtitle isn't me being clever, he really is a "rock god with a day job"). The show was in the back room of the Pig 'n Whistle, a cozy events room with its own full bar.

Before Quinn's Uncles took the stage I was unsure what to expect, I'd been listening to the album, and I'd really enjoyed it, but with a live performance there's always the risk of discovering the band who sounds great on the album is largely the product of extensive studio engineering. It was a genuine pleasure to find this was not the case.

Tim sings and plays lead guitar, Jim also sings and plays rhythm. They switch vocals depending on the song, which works as both are accomplished singers, and their voices blend, pardon the choice of words, harmoniously. The album featured drums and some other instrumentation, and the live show was the two of them with their guitars. I didn't miss the other instrumentation as their performance was electric and I left the Pig 'n Whistle that night humming and smiling.

On Saturday Quinn's Uncles played the music room at Genghis Cohen, and rocked it. Admittedly I was running late and came in partway through the first or second song of a forty-five minute set, but the disappointment of possibly missing the opening number left quickly as I was introduced to a song I hadn't heard before. From there they took the audience, near the sixty-seat capacity of the Genghis Cohen music room, through a selection of their songs from three albums.

Tim and Jim are consummate entertainers, as comfortable talking and joking with the audience as they are
playing their guitars and singing. Between sets they would banter with a charming brand of self-deprecating humor that pulls the audience, ever so briefly, into the brother dynamic they share. The audience is not left to passive participation in the show, as the Meade Brothers invited the audience to sing along with a couple of their more well known songs including "Let Me Down Easy" off of their sophomore album, Meadevil. In both cases the audience participated enthusiastically, singing and clapping along and both songs ended with the largest and most heartfelt applause of the evening.

The evening ended with their rock ballad "Exclusively" given a heartfelt performance by Jim, and wrapped up in true rocker fashion with a scorching guitar solo performed by Tim. The end of the show was a bittersweet moment, full of the infectious joy the brothers devote to their performance, but sorry to have it ended. Even so, I'm sure I wasn't the only one to leave last night humming my favorite tune from the evening. I am just as likely not the only who will be putting Quinn's Uncles back into heavy rotation on the car stereo to drive the streets of L.A. belting all the lyrics from their latest album with my own imperfect vocal instrument. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Hulk Smash Puny Espresso

Not so Tiny Heroes

My wife and I sat down with our daughter tonight so Mildly Sensational could read to our little girl. While they read I pulled out the smaller of my sketchbooks and started doodling. The first thing that came out was a tiny-hero Daredevil that I'm reasonably happy with, but not so much that I want to post it right away. It's definitely not on-par with tiny Nick Fury

After drawing The Man Without Fear I naturally turned to drawing his on-again, off-again girlfriend/booty-call, the Black Widow. That one I will post at some point. The pencil drawing turned out really well, I just want to touch it up with ink before putting it out there forever on the interwebs.

By this time our daughter was calling for her third book, "other book, mommy, other book!" Since they were still preoccupied with Sesame Street, Doctor Seuss, and book about noses, I started on what was supposed to be a tiny hero version of the Hulk. It turns out it's more difficult than I thought to draw a tiny Hulk. The Hulk by his nature is not. tiny. Instead what I came up with was the idea of putting the Hulk somewhere you wouldn't ordinarily see him. That turned out to be a coffee shop. 

Coffee Bean and Tea Hulk

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Random Thoughts and Inappropriate Elf Boobs

Random Thoughts

It's not every day that you walk through the office and hear someone telling a story that includes this sentence, "I could have told her that it's not safe to cut a microwave in half with a blowtorch." True story.

My hobbies have nomenclature.

Geek Speak: Inappropriate Elf Boobs

I wonder how many hits those key words are going to get me today. Another comic with the leading lady of  Geek Speak, Sam!

In scripted comedy it's generally accepted that women are going to be smarter, or at the very least more capable, than men. I thought it would be really fun to take that concept and put her with two guys so wrapped up in their geeky world of MMORPGs and comic books they're completely oblivious to Sam's gender.  

As a side note, it was kind of fun looking up slang words for "breasts." I went with jahoobies because it sounded like something you'd get from Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, made in a candy colored machine powered by an oompa-loompa on a stationary bike.