Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ohhh yeaahhh!

Weeks ago, I spent gads of money that I really didn't have on a Nintendo Wii. Certainly, as a single man who loves his toys, I do not regret this purchase, but since I had very little money after buying it, purchasing games it play on it was difficult. Once my arms started to cramp up from all the Wii Sports, I decided to figure out how to hook the thing up to he internets, because I had heard you could download "classic" games and play them as new. I used the quotes there because, to me, "classic" refers to things that are really old, like mummies or Clint Eastwood. It shoudn't refer to anything that came about in my lifetime.

My first downloads were slightly underwhelming. Back in the day, I thought Balloon Fight and Super-Contra were the height of entertainment (remember, there was no internet porn!) Now, they were kind of childish. I don't know what i was expecting from twenty-year old video games, but I guess the years had colored my memory. Urged by a friend to download Super Mario Bros. ("You have to get that one! It was THE game!"), I remembered why I actively hated most games as a child. I was a rather impatient little shit, and if I could not succeed at the thing instantly, I was likely to throw some kind of tantrum. I have learned that, while my tantrums are not as pronounced, the attitude is the same twenty years later.

Then I found it. In the list of Wii downloads, one of my all-time favorites: Earthworm Jim. A game I spent hours on. A game I could play. A game I actually enjoyed. And it was just as I remembered, maybe because it was only 14 years ago instead of twenty. And I was in college. And I was more mature, less likely to destroy things if I lost. And I was still good at it. Of course, I don't know how I ever got along in the game without Google, but, still...

** Actually, I think it's a whole other blog post on how the little secrets in all these games got all over the country, even the world, without people being able to just type "Earthworm Jim cheats" into a search engine. I know there were magazines and stuff, but I never had one, and I never knew anyone who did, but someone I knew knew someone and word got around somehow. isn't that kinda cool when you think about it? **

And while Jim has helped me feel better about my Wii purchase, it still leaves me pondering why I had to go out and spend all this money on the latest technology when I primarily use it to play games that are over a decade old. I could have probably went on eBay and bought a Sega for fifty bucks. For that matter, I'm 32, so why do I need to play games in the first place? Shouldn't I be, y'know, doing something with my life?

I've heard people say that, because my generation is the first one in awhile that didn't grow up with a major war or depression to screw up our childhood, that we're the entitled generation, that we feel it's okay to play games and sports and read comics and watch cartoons and do numerous other things that responsible adults need not do anymore. And because modern technology (that our generation has developed probably to fulfill these childish needs) makes it so simple to do, that we are probably more screwed up emotionally than we would be if we had a war.

In Thunder Road (possibly my favorite song), Bruce Springsteen wrote, "So you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore," the real joke being that Bruce was only 24 when he wrote that. On Storytellers, he quantified the line by saying, "The Vietnam War has just ended. Nobody was that young anymore." Unfortunately, I'm a generation removed from Springsteen. Fortunately, I am that young anymore. My generation didn't have to grow up, and so we didn't. And I'm wondering if we ever will.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The Dark Knight Returns

I was watching some of the Dark Knight on DVD tonight, and yesterday while at work (heh), and still marveling at what a great film it was. This, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is a huge thing for me. I don't generally enjoy movies, so to enjoy this one as much as I did is a tribute to how well-made it was.

Unfortunately, this dvd was a tad sparse on extras (I smell an Ultimate Edition, or 2.1 or whatever. Dammit!) However, one of the extras featured a little bit about how they built the batpod. This was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The batpod (Batman's little motorcycle thing) was real. Not CGI. Not some little toy. It was a real thing that a real guy drove through the real streets while they were filming it from another batpod-like vehicle. A team of experts built a real batpod that could actually come out of the tumbler and drive around.

This is amazing, in this day and age. George Lucas wouldn't have bothered with that, and that's why (one of the reasons, anyway) Dark Knight succeeded where all of those Star Wars prequels failed (and a lot of other films). This kind of attention to detail comes out in the final product. It makes the film seem more real, that it could happen today. Christopher Nolan wanted to have a better suit for Batman because he wanted Batman to be faster and be able to turn his head. So what does he do? He writes in a scene where Bruce Wayne says he needs a new suit because he needs to be more agile and turn his head. Why make up a reason when the real reason works so well?

Finally, I also realized why this movie beats the hell out of most other super-hero-y movies, and it is because that reason I just mentioned: realism. There are no aliens or weird powers, no guy who gains super-powers when he gets close to the yellow sun of the Earth. Maybe I just have trouble suspending my disbelief, but I enjoy that the Dark Knight (and Iron Man, to an extent) was so grounded in reality. Maybe it makes it seem less nerdy. Maybe it just makes for a better story. Whatever it is, I'm obviously not the only one, because Dark Knight and Iron Man are two of the biggest and best comic movies of all time, and just all-around big money-makers. So, the public has spoken, and they are right. For once.

So I guess I'll have to buy that Ultimate Edition when it comes out, huh?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas in the Sticks

Last Saturday, I attended my first Ed Humphries' Ho-Ho-Ho Throwdown in the quaint little hamlet of Dudley, MA. Now, naturally I was slightly disappointed at the lack of ho's, and slightly freaked out by being in Dudley, which is practically in Connecticut and is also aptly-named. The town is a dud.

However, the party was quite happening. I am always nervous about these affairs because I was certain I would be one of the few singletons there (since I always am), and y'know, it was in Dudley. Most suburban married people have difficulty finding common ground with me, unless we can talk about sports or, well, that's about it. They don't see too many movies that aren't made by Disney, they don't hang out in the same places as I do (mainly bars), they don't really have time to do a whole lot of anything. Ed Humphries appears to be the exception that proves the rule, because this guy knows his movies, his beer and he has a nifty blog, too (Really, click on it). Maybe being in the sub-suburb of Dudley frees up one's time, since there is very little to do other than watch the trees grow.

Ed's Throwdown consisted of a Yankee Swap with a Trivia Twist; each participant, after opening their gift is asked a holiday, pop culture question. if they answer it correctly, they remain in the running for the ultimate swap gift, provided by Ed himself, which must be swapped by the proverbial Last Man Standing after every gift-grabber has answered a question wrong.

And who do you suppsoe this year's Last Man Standing was? Why, interestingly enough, it is the guy who is always the Last Man Standing, the quintessential Last Man Standing in all of life's little endeavors; me.

Yes, even after several beers, I answered all of my questions correctly and was crowned champion. The prize i was awarded was a 3 ft. tall statue puzzle of the leg lamp from Christmas Story. Alas, I had to give it up (This is the house rule to guarantee that at least one gift is swapped), so I traded it to the only girl there who I knew to be single, trying to at least ensure me some kind of conversation piece. However, I don't think that stealing her gift endeared me to her. Oh well, them's the breaks.

Point is, I went to Dudley, the proverbial lion's den, because we all know how much I hate the suburbs, and not only survived, but thrived. Thanks to Ed and the whole gang at the Throwdown for a great time. And I hope I get invited back next year, when I will be sure not to bring a crack pipe as my swap gift. (You had to be there.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More Staggering Genius - Creating Comics

Here we go, part 2 of my adventures in comic-creating.

In May of 2003, my 4+ year-relationship ends and my ex makes it her mission to ruin my life. She nearly succeeds. Though I won't admit it, the lure of writing funny books isn't there. John begins to grow tired and use the skills developed by doing the comic to get actual work in the comic industry, through correspondence with Chi. SM becomes a secondary interest for everyone. As a last ditch effort to see our hard work bear fruit, we call in our friend Jay Penney to redesign our website, with a store and a forum and a WYSIWYG editor so I can write my own posts and take the burden off John's shoulders. For most of 2004, this is what I do. The hits are moderate, the sales minimal. Even Wizard World Philly doesn't generate interest. The whole industry has changed in the couple years since we started this. The web has given license to everyone with the slightest creative bone to make a comic, and the market becomes diluted with poorly-made fluff.

We have some creative conflicts as well. John sees the writing on the wall and just wants to throw every issue on the site and forget trying to print and sell them and just have fun. My ex girlfriend has left me with immense debt, so I would still rather try to make money. Jay feels that we shouldn't go back to fake letters and made-up SM Animated Series Episodes Guides because we'll fool the readers, of which there are few. My hopes continue to wane.

We fall in with Ian Shires, who "runs" a website for indy comics and wants us to be the flagship of his new imprint. Through Ian, we are put in touch with some lawyer, who claims that he has put comics back into Walmart, and he can sell our book by the thousands. It is suggested we reprint issue #1 for a newer, bigger audience. We are convinced that SM will be on the cover of this guy's catalog, due in April, so can we draw him with bunny ears? The more I listen to this guy ramble, I have my doubts and begin to wonder if we would be putting in some money for nothing, which I am tired of doing. Or worse, would we lose the rights to our own character? I ask John and Jay what they think. Ultimately, it is left to me to decide our fate, and I nix the deal. The irony being that the guy who has the least creatively to do with any of it made the final decision. it's just as well, because I'm pretty sure he was a shyster.

The interest wanes more as time goes on. We still decide to print issue #1, since we were on our way to doing it anyway. John removes the bunny ears and uses that catalog picture as the cover. We try a new creative direction with Secret Monkey Vol 2 #1, with less focus on crime-fighting and more just bizarre, Family Guy-style weirdness. It lasts three issues. The deal with Ian fizzles out, and I think he sold maybe $20 worth of comics. Our website,, dies a slow death, and John and Ray (whom we brought in back in '03 to help write some funny stuff) start, an off-shoot for SM and the skads of other strange characters we created over the years. I have one hope left; Wizard World, one of the biggest shows of the year, will be in Boston in September of '05, and I plan on getting our own table.

Sadly, it is one of the smallest Wizard World cons ever, and even though we sell most of our wares over the three days (including giving a bunch away), between paying for the table and all the other expenses, we take another financial hit. Also, it's not very fun because we are way in the back corner and nobody really pays much attention unless you throw the comic at them.

On Sunday afternoon, the last day of the con, John and I have a pseudo-heart-to-heart, and confess that the book hasn't been fun in a few years and we should move on. I apologize for trying to hard to make lemonade out of a lemon. We endeavor to make a fun place, and we do, for awhile. Dursin's Dungeon, my regular rant column, returns. Fake letters and a fake intern get space on the site, as do all the comics we ever did. No store, no printing, no selling.

Eventually, however, life gets in the way. John makes real strides in the industry thanks to his skills developed working on SM and his contacts through Chi, so it did do some good. Jay lets the site expire, having lost some money and precious time developing a site that became a cautionary tale. Benchcomics faded away. Ian is apparently still in business, selling comics and giving indy creators a place to go. John and I are still working on getting our own comic rolling, except it's for a company instead of self-publishing it. So far, we are waiting for the artist to get drawing.

The real irony? Well, printing your own comic these days is cheaper than ever, as is maintaining and paying for a website. For his birthday, I just bought John a five-issue Secret Monkey trade paperback, the only one of its kind, printed at for only $7.00. And you can print them on-demand and sell them through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with your own ISBN and everything. And webcomics are more popular than ever, so you can even clean up that way. I keep going back to that line by the Joker from The Dark Knight:

We weren't crazy. We're just ahead of the curve.

My Own Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius

The tagline for Blogger says, "Share your life in a blog. It's fast easy and fun!" Or something like that. That's what I will now do, because it's sssoooo much fun.

It is the year 2000. About a year earlier, I had begun what would become my job, a job I still possess. I'm also about two years into a relationship that will be the measuring stick for all others to come after, good or bad. this is mostly due to the timing and duration of the relationship, not really because it was all that amazing. It's the benchmark because I was 23 and it last a long time and I had nothing meaningful to compare it too.

Anyway, with that perspective, the story begins. At some point, my friend John e-mails me and asks if I am interested in starting our own comic. He plans to resurrect two ideas from our youth, one funny and one serious. As it turns out, the funny one is a lot more enjoyable to work on, and we end up moving ahead with that one. It becomes the first online adventures of The Secret Monkey. The Secret Monkey is a monkey from the year 2525 who is trapped in the present day. To pass the time, he fights evil wearing only a paper bag with eye holes as a disguise. And I should add that John comes up with the plots, draws it, colors it, inks it, letters it and posts it on the actual website, while I write cheesy dialogue. But it is fun.

We go to a comic convention in Boston in November of 2001, after completing three issues and number of weird ancillary funny things like Mad Libs and fake fan letters written by us. At the Con, we hand out Bag's o' Fun, which are paper bags with eye holes printed on them that contain stickers, magnets and assorted other SM-related goodies, all of which we printed on our home printers. We handed out about 300 or so, and the hits on the website saw a noticeable bump. A couple weeks later, in December, John calls me to ask if I had seen the new issue of Wizard Magazine, the premiere comic magazine. Secret Monkey is mentioned, and praised. They even got our names right. The hits skyrocket into the thousands, practically overnight. Unfortunately, I can only focus on the fact that we have nothing on the website that we can actually sell to all these people.

We attempt to correct this. We print Secret Monkey #1 through a company in England that also offers to distribute the book. We attempt several times to get into Diamond Comics, basically the only company in the States that distributes comics to comic book stores. They reject us every time. Undaunted, we print issue #2. We are given half of a friend's table at a podunk convention in Attleboro to help us sell the book, and that same friend offers to put it on his shelves and hand out Bag's o' Fun at any show he attends. I also hand-deliver issues to several local stores that agree to sell them on consignment. About 6 years later, SM #1 still sits on the shelf at New England Comics in Allston. All the while, we are writing more and more comics, branching out to create a mini-series for the Heroes United, SM's group of super-secondary characters.

Eventually, we catch on at Benchcomics, a web distribution company that looks rather slick and cool, and promises to one day devise a way to charge people to read their books online. This is good, since we are hundreds of dollars in the red on this thing and I am of the belief that no one wants to buy a comic they can read online for free. Although SM proves to be one of the most-popular comics on Benchcomics, and we are even interviewed by a comics website, we see no actual money from it. It does, however, put John in touch with Chi, creator of another comic on the site, which will come into play later. We do work on a crossover with his book, which becomes the ill-fated Secret Monkey #9.

While my life was starting to crumble (said relationship was dissolving), we are given a glimmer of hope yet again when FM International, the second-largest comic distributor in the U.S. (and I mean distant second) picks us up and orders an astounding 11 copies of SM #1. Thinking we finally made the big-time, I pack up 11 copies and ship them off. As I recall, orders of issue #2 in FM drop to somewhere around 3. And I may be wrong. They they not have bought any. By the way, I'm pretty sure that out of those 11 copies, the distributor takes 60%. In all, we have still not made a cent on Secret Monkey.

End Part 1. Even I know it was getting too long... but has the fun begun yet?

Monday, December 01, 2008

"They" Aren't Always Right - My Take on Dirty Sexy MOney

For some time now, "they" have been coming up to me suggesting television shows that I should be watching. And when I say "I," I mean specifically me, like as if Show X was written just for me. Once in awhile, They are right and I do like the show (Arrested Development, Firefly). Most often, I have a lukewarm reaction (30 Rock), but sometimes, They are way off.

Dirty, Sexy, Money.

I thought the title alone would draw me in, plus I really like Peter Krause as an actor. Sadly, I Netflix'd the first few episodes this weekend, and was quite disappointed. Now, I know that the first few episodes maybe isn't enough to get a real feel for the show, but if they can't draw you in in the fiorst three, how does a show expect to last? Alas, I heard after watching the first two episodes this weekend that the show is being cancelled, so I guess I'm not too far off here.

The problem, as I see it, is that the writers are trying to portray the Darlings as this helpless lot of foosl that need theor lawyer to help them through life, which is a premise for hilarity, right? Sure, until they write plots involving murder and deception and adultery. Where's the hilarity there? Plus, if the Darlings are such idiots, why should I care that Jeremy is sleeping with his sister's arch-nemesis, who is only her nemesis because one of them (I can't remember which, and who cares?) wore bangs before the other one. I don't know any family where that would be an issue, let alone take up two episodes. Hell, I don't think I've ever dated anyone who my family liked.

"But, dude," you may be thinking, "You're being too harsh. In fact, the characters are actually learning and growing thanks to Nick's influence. You're just a crumb-bum." True enough, but here's where the show fails. First off, in order for normal folk to identify with (or even like) obscenely rich people, they need to either be human in some way, or completely over-the-top, like in the aforementioned Arrested Development. Seeing these stupid people complain about their lives just makes me hate them all the more. So, William Baldwin is cheating on his wife with a transvestite, and I'm supposed to feel bad for him because he doesn't want to run for Senator because his daddy is pushing him into it? Boo-friggin'-hoo. And the lying, cheating Reverand with the bastard son is the worst, because he is totally dispicable and hateful, yet I'm somehow suppsoed to care about his dilemma. I kind of wish he would just get what he deserves and die a painful death. And thanks to the miracle of the ratings system (or whatever laws govern TV cancellations), he shall.

The sad thing is that the acting was actually pretty good. Donald Sutherland and Peter Krause both deserve a better fate than this, but I'm sure they'll catch on somewhere else. It's just a bummer really, because there was potential for real laughs here, but they decided to go another way, and thus, the show suffered. G'night, Darlings. We hardly knew ye.