Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Geek Speaking of Spiders in the Dad Zone

Geek Speaking of Getting on the Nope Train

On a personal note, I'm genuinely scared of spiders. Every so often I think that I'm going to be cool, I'm going to be tough, I'm going to act like a goddamn adult and get over my fear of tiny eight legged demon spawn. Without fail that's when a spider will catch me by surprise. The effect is...deeply un-fun. I can't get my breath, my heart pounds in my chest, and my vision starts to blur. It's very much like having a panic attack, or the reaction I have whenever someone says "President Sarah Palin" (pant, pant, wheeze, I'm clutching my chest here).

With that said, would I abandon my child in this situation? Would I leave my own beloved daughter covered in spiders to cope by herself? Goddamn right I would! When was the last time you saw a spider? They have eight legs.

Tales from the Dad Zone: Normal Guy and Mildly Sensational vs. Ikea
No it doesn't have anything to do with Spiders. Mildly Sensational and I went out and bought our daughter, Somewhat Wonderful, a new bed. Her toddler bed was starting to get too small, and we were going to need to get her a new, bigger bed soon anyway, so we used her birthday as an excuse to venture forth to Ikea and pick out her new big girl bed. We did it fast, we did it loud, and we did it as a family. Stupid us. The two of us, plus the two of them, plus the utter chaos that is Ikea anyway, and we were lucky to get out with our sanity intact.

We arrived and went straight upstairs to the kids' furniture section so Somewhat Wonderful could try the beds. She meandered through the kids beds for a moment, then we took her over to the regular beds section and she entertained herself on those until she had a minor meltdown over needing to go to the bathroom but not wanting to. Then when she came back she didn't want to look at beds, crossed her arms, sat on the floor, and told us she wanted to be alone, which any sane parents would take as a cue to pick up the little congressional hopeful before she can get her full obstructionist going and take her the hell home. We're sane (marginally, but stilling hanging in there) so we tried. She didn't want to go home, she wanted to go to the mountains, which turned out to be the tents in the area of Ikea set up for kids toys. All of this has taken an hour up to this point and our son, Moderately Amazing, is starting to lose his little eighteen month old mind in his stroller. He's squirming, and whining, and bucking his hips like he's hoping to break through the straps with one mighty hump. While his sister is busy making Mildly Sensational marginally furious I pause to take him out of the stroller and sit with him in a tiny, kid-sized rocking chair. At which point he promptly begins our two-man show called "Father and Son Demonstrate Alligator Wrestling." The tiny toe headed tornado in my arms manages to slip free, so I have no choice but to get up and walk around with him.

Around this time Mildly Sensational has turned to the only truly reliable weapon in any parent's arsenal to get their kid to do what they want. Bribery. This time it takes the form of a plush cupcake set. Somewhat Wonderful can have her cupcake set if she will pick a bed. Please. For the love of Christ on Sunday, pick a fucking bed so we can go home! We got looks that could freeze yogurt at twenty paces for that. But...hey...froyo. The bribe agreed upon we made our way back into the kids' furniture section and pointed Somewhat Wonderful at the bed we wanted to get her anyway and convinced her that she wanted it, and it was really her idea all along.

Then we made our way into the concrete bowel of Ikea. A place of meandering corridors where lost souls wander in search of bargain Swedish, ready-to-assemble furniture with instructions in all but incomprehensible hieroglyphs. My wife and I have been together for eighteen years. We've been through some really tough things together, so the foundation on which we've built our marriage is pretty strong. Newlyweds, if you really want to test the depth of your commitment to each other go to Ikea and buy some bullshit stuff like...I don't know...a new desk and a lamp. When you've picked out what you want go down into the cold, uncaring, concrete hell that is the Ikea warehouse. One of you push the cart while the other one navigates to the aisle and bin where you will allegedly find your purchases. Stronger marriages than yours have been crushed to powder by this very thing.

If you see a pale, wrinkly little guy with stringy hair lurking between the aisles and whining about a lost ring, run like hell. 

We survived. Our sanity and our marriage intact and made it home with a Kura reversible bed. Reversible because if you stand it on one end it's a loft bed, if you stand it on the other it's more or less a standard twin bed frame. I guess "reversible" tested better in focus groups than "turn-upside-down-able."

In the next edition Normal Guy and the Quest for a Second Wrench.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Randomly Jackson-ed Off

Random Thoughts

Recipe for happiness: have a root beer float at least once a week.

When your boss (who enjoys your artwork) accuses you of being a tease because you happened to bring the new, largely empty, sketchbook with you instead of the one containing pencils for upcoming comics, the appropriate response probably is not, "I'm not a tease, we both know I put out." 

Jackson-ed Off

For a long time now I've followed an artist by the name of Phillip M. Jackson, who goes by the nom de guerre of "Jolly Jack." I should start this by saying I love his work. He bridges between realistic and cartoonish, and his long running strip, Sequential Art, is consistently in the top five web strips I recommend that people read. He was one of the reasons that I signed up for a membership on Deviant Art, and one of the reasons I started posting anything over there. 

Recently he posted something that made me realize some things about art and artists. I'm not going to put the image in here, because it is not for the squeamish. If you would like to see it after reading what I have to say, I'll post the link at the end. 

One of his recent posts is a lengthy, vertically oriented comic strip featuring his avatar, a cartoon hamster, showing off the book-like cover for his iPad to Penny from Inspector Gadget. Those of us who watched the cartoon will remember lusting after her all-powerful computer book she used to actually get things done while Inspector Gadget was off impersonating the love child of all Three Stooges and Q from the James Bond movies. As the strip progresses the hamster gets more and more outraged at her apparent ambivalence to the awesomeness of his iPad book until he eventually hits her with it, knocking her down and out of frame.

Then he hits her again.
And again.
The iPad case becomes bloodier and bloodier.
He stops, considering what he's done, then wanders out of frame.
Then, and this is where it takes an extremely disquieting turn, he comes back into frame holding a knife.
He's seen carving on something, presumably Penny's corpse. Blood splatters and his expression is maniacally determined.
Over the next two panels he stands up into frame wearing a Penny-face-flesh-mask

Keep in mind, he's making light of brutally killing and mutilating a girl who's supposed to be ten years old. A fictional cartoon character, sure, but he also placed himself in that situation through the use of his avatar, which personalizes things to a degree. 

An understandably outraged someone left this comment in his feed: "This is NOT ok. I like your art. I try to ignore your smug sexism. But if you're gonna draw pictures of that thing killing children and ripping their faces off, you have officially crossed the line. I'm done following you. I'm blocking you, and I'm reporting this image. Fuck you. I hope you die like this." 

While this loses credibility by wishing such a gruesome fate on the artist, he does make a point. There is funny, then there's funny, but wrong; and finally there's just plain wrong. For me, this strip falls into that latter camp. It's definitely not my cup of tea. 

When I thought about it a little more it raised the question, do you judge an artist solely on the merits of a single piece of work? If this was the only thing you'd ever seen from Jolly Jack, you might not ever come back. No one would blame you, this is way over-the-top. Admittedly he does a lot of comics that can only be called pornography, but it's not all he does, and it's not the most significant work he does.  

Also, as an artist who draws comic strips there are comics I've done, and some I will do at some point, that I would not want certain people to see. Sometimes you get an idea for something that crosses the line, but it won't leave you alone, and the only way to deal with it is to just go ahead and do it. I leave those in my sketchbook where they will probably never see the light of day. Jackson seems to have no qualms about putting his darkest ideas on display for the world. 

With all of that said, I don't think I can stop following Jackson for this one piece. I enjoy his other work too much to abandon it. Pieces like these:

After giving it some serious thought, I believe it's possible to continue to like, and follow, and be influenced by an artist, even if you don't like everything he does. 

The image in question can be found here:

Not for the squeamish, or those who loved cartoons in the '80s. You've been warned. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Geek Speaking of Feeling the Thunderer

Geek Speak: Classic Game Distraction Tactics

Some of my comics flirt with being autobiographical. This one doesn't so much flirt as buys it dinner, takes it out dancing, then home for a nightcap where they fall into bed and make passionate, floor shaking, wall thumping love. Which is really long and colorful way to say, "this be a true story, folks."

I was in the kitchen working on something, which is hardly unusual, the kitchen is kind of like my man-cave. Some days it's where I go to get away and unwind. I don't think Mildly Sensational minds so much because my unwinding in the kitchen usually produces things like dinner, or dairy free vanilla custard (made with coconut cream instead of whole milk, it's awesome!) Over the holidays I even experimented with baking my custard in pumpkins.

All of which sounds way more exciting than, "I was in the kitchen doing dishes," which was more likely the case. As it turns out, feeding a family of four means there's a steady stream of dishes needing to be washed. I turned around to grab another dish of the stove and Mildly Sensational was standing there holding out our son, Moderately Amazing. She looked me in the eye and said in a perfect deadpan, "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this."

Those who've grown up playing video games probably get the reference right away, for others it might take some explaining.

Yes, that is a Miskatonic University shirt Mildly Sensational is wearing.

My favorite of the alternate covers
Comic Book Review: THOR!

Publisher: Marvel
Issue: 1 through 5
Price: $3.99 (Yikes)
Recommendation: Recommended

I will confess that prior to the relaunch of Thor late last year I had never read the comic, nor had I really ever wanted to. Big muscled blond guy in tight pants who happens to be a god defends the earth, which he calls Midgaard, by beating things up with a magic hammer. To me that's what Thor's stories always boiled down to...yawn. In the hands of the right team I know that he's had some good story lines, but overall I feel that, as a character, Thor has typically gotten lost in a field that is full of muscle-bound white dudes beating stuff up.

Ok, the Hulk is technically green, but stay with me.

When it was announced that Marvel would be trading in Thor's mighty thews and passing the hammer to a female lead I took notice. I'll admit to wrestling with whether or not to pick up the book at the risk of buying into what might or might not be a marketing stunt intended to boost a title with flagging sales. I mean, come on. It's comic books. They do crazy stuff all the time to try to sell more books. Those of us who read books in the 90's will remember rushing out to buy holographic foil print covers of X-Men because "they'll be worth something someday." I'm glad I ultimately decided to ignore that instinct and pick up the book.

While the writing doesn't exactly blow me away it's solid, with a good hook in the form of not immediately revealing the identity of the new hand that grips the hammer. The writers are obviously enjoying the dual nature of the new Thor as her inner monologue is that of a modern woman, while her speech is that of the Norse god(dess) of Thunder. As the story unfolds we're given bits and pieces of information that are clearly intended to lead up to a much larger event, but right now work well as standalone adventures to introduce us to the new Thor. What I like best about the writing so far is that Jason Aaron accomplishes something really difficult. He crafts a story such that the reader is drawn into the character of Thor as she learns about what it means to wield the hammer. Aaron places the reader in the character's boots as she questions her powers, tests their limits, and discovers that, for all practical purposes, she really has none. As it should be for a goddess.

I look at this and it still gives me goosebumps
While it doesn't have the fun cartoony quality of Ms. Marvel or the gorgeous colors, line work, and lighting of Death Vigil, I am really enjoying the artwork in Thor, provided by Russel Dauterman with colors by Matthew Wilson. They bring us into the world of the new Thor with classic comic book bravado. Their compositions accurately pace the action with relatively quiet moments feeling relatively static and confined, while action sequences feel chaotic and larger than life. Key moments are pulled off brilliantly, such as the first appearance of the new Thor after she has just picked up Mjolnir from the surface of the moon.

If I have criticisms, they're nit picky at best. If the woman holding the hammer is mortal, how did she get to the moon? The hammer goes to those who are worthy to wield it, but she picked it up as though it were already hers. How did she know she would be worthy? I feel like we should have reached a point by now that we could all accept that boob armor is impractical and looks ridiculous.

Really that's about it.

It would be impossible to write about this comic book without touching on some of the social commentary that has come up around it. The same cynical, misogynistic, knuckle-dragger who brought us GamerGate wrote what I will only call vile opinion piece on this book for the online news-ish outlet, Breitbart. I won't link to it here. You can find it pretty easily in a Google Search. Take my word for it. You are a better person for not having read it.

The decision to pass the hammer from "he of the thundering pectorals" to a female lead would at first appear to be fairly bland marketing gimmick to boost sales. After reading the book and thinking about it I believe that Marvel's decision is not only bold, but important. What makes this important is the thing that surprises me most about some of the reactions from fans and critics alike. I'm shocked that today, in 2015, we still have to come out and say that yes, in fact, a woman can be worthy of the might of a god.