Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Professionals vs. The Students ;)

Recently, because I love a good story, I volunteered to be a judge in the Boston University Student Employee of the Year Competition. Apparently, this is a very prestigious award, because as I was told in my letter, the participants can move on to regional and national competitions. I don't know how the judging goes for that, but I would imagine it entails filing and answering phones in front of a whole panel of judges.

My job as judge involved me reading letters written by the students' supervisors extolling their virtues. Now, for some background, I have worked at BU almost ten years and have seen a lot of work-study students come and go. But some of these students, even the undergrads, do more work than I do, and certainly more work than I ever make my students do (I guess I would qualify as a push-over.) obviously, I can't reveal any names or anything, but one kid apparently wears a shirt and tie to work every day. I certainly don't do that. Even Formal Fridays were just a mockery of Casual Fridays.

But the thing that really jumped out at me was the wording of some of these letters. these letters of rec were written by professional staff members at Boston University, the immediate supervisors of these students. Now, I will be the first to admit that I may not set the best example to these kids as far as being a pillar of the community, but at least I know my grammar. Besides, these letters were written with the knowledge that they will be read by fellow staff members who will be judging your students based on this description of their activities and attributes. A quick read-through may not be out of the question here. At least twice (on two different letters) were male students referred to as "she," leading me to wonder if these were basically form letters with the names changed. And how about this sentence, copied verbatim from the letter (The only thing I've changed is the students name, but I kept the same amount of syllables to keep the flow. Try reading it aloud):

"When we moved a new task to the web from Galaxy Smedley would make sure that he would start using the new web-based function instead of the old Galaxy function even though he was more familiar with the Galaxy-based function because he knew that he would soon be explaining the web function to people on the phone and would need to help his colleagues understand how to use the function."

I think I need him to explain that sentence. maybe the new function could help this person write. Need I stress again the proof-reading, these are professionals here, earning a salary. Not to mention that this person apparently works in the payroll office and determines whether people (myself included) get paid on a weekly basis or not. Also, this letter is not some e-mail to your friend (or some rambling blog post.) This is a letter meant to get your student an award. I must admit, at least subconsciously, the shoddiness of this letter may have affected my view of this kid and cost him a few points. I mean, maybe she's wrong about him. After all, she can't even put a comma in a sentence.

I don't want to beat this dead horse, but it's pretty obvious that the more ways we have to communicate nowadays is just making us lazier. E-mails, texts and Instant Messages are making us more ignorant when it comes to professional settings. And did I mention that I work at a university, where our actual goal, at the very core, is to shape young minds?

I wanted to close with my personal favorite: One letter I read was for a grad student who was in the science department, and was doing major research on Alzheimer's disease. Not only had this student been published already in her field, but get this: she also planned the office Holiday party "that was a big success showing us her clear leadership skills."

I wish my leadership skills were judged on how good a party I threw.


Monday, February 23, 2009

I Wanna Be Like Conan

To me, if there was one celebrity I wanted to be like (If I had to, y'know, be a celebrity), it would be Conan O'Brien. The guy has the best job in the world, and as I watched him give his farewell address, and saw him actually get choked up, I could tell that he realizes this fact. He will soon take his rightful place in late night, as host of the Tonight Show.

Now, anyone who knows me knows what a Leno-fan I am, but even I have to admit that this is how it should be. Conan deserves any spotlight shined on him for the years that he toiled away and worked at his show that nobody ever watched and nobody cared. And I didn't think he would ever catch on. I remember the first time I ever watched it, and I thought he was a funny guy, a bit weird, but there's no way people would buy what he was selling. I was wrong, and I'm glad because he makes me laugh. Sometimes, good things do happen to the right people.

In tribute, one last look at one of those moments that made me laugh so heartily, which may be over-played, but I don't care: Triumph ragging on the Star Wars fans:

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Floppy Disc Chronicles Part II - Martin Eden

So, in going through more of my old papers, I came across this gem; a paper I wrote on Jack London's Martin Eden. It's not actually an interesting paper, especially if you aren't familiar with the book. But there's a great story behind this paper, and if John Coffey (Coffee? Whatever. He was a great professor.) is reading this, I apologize, but I fooled you.

See, I never read the whole book. I know this is probably not a new thing for college students, but I found it terribly depressing and I was going through some weird shit at the time myself (the date: 11/27/95), so "terribly depressing" novels weren't really anything I wanted to immerse myself in. Thus, I decided to read the beginning, and then the end. The end sees Martin Eden, after seriously the WORST LIFE EVER, throw himself overboard and drown. Not very uplifting, but I was pretty uplifted that I figured that out before I started writing the paper. Upon returning our writings, John Coffey/Coffee let us know that he could tell who actually read the book and who didn't and graded accordingly. Those who found the ending of the book to be "inspiring," were given a lower grade, as they obviously did not read the book to its conclusion. I don't remember my exact grade, but I remember doing well and getting a pretty good grade in the class. So, my advice to all the students out there? If you're gonna cheat, win!

And to my loyal readers, I give you "The Garden of Eden," a short paper I wrote after reading half (if that) of the book. By the by, be sure to take note of how down-trodden I really was in late 1995, my diabetes year. You think I'm a dick now...



The life of a man named Martin Eden came full circle. At the beginning of the story, Martin Eden was a young, surly, man of the sea, a man with little culture and education, except for what life had taught him. Then, he met a woman.

There are not too many things in this world that will change a man's life, but one of them is certainly a woman. Martin became enraptured by Ruth so much that he attempted every method he could think of to better himself and bring himself up to her level. Although, most men refuse to admit it, we would all do the same if we were put in Martin's shoes. Love has a way of blinding people that way.

Martin began reading and writing, hoping that he could win Ruth's heart by having something in common with her. He changed who he was in order to win the love of a woman. It is essentially the classic formula of a star-crossed romance. Very few people can say that they have not been through something like this at least once in their lives.

Truly, there is a piece of Martin Eden in every man. We struggle to achieve our goals, whether those goals are love, wealth, fame, success, or just making it through every day without killing ourselves. We battle to win the game of life, and it is a difficult battle because life is a hard game to win. It takes persistence and patience at the same time. Once we finally reach the pinnacle and achieve our goal, then we realize that old truism "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," even in the Garden of Eden.

Happiness is fleeting for Martin Eden. By the end of the story, even though he is getting mail from publishers and editors, Martin has grown so cold and cynical that he has developed a deep disliking for people. In a way, he had won the game of life, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. This is the Martin Eden that most people, myself included, can identify with. When life has worn on a person so much, it is hard for them to greet everyday with a smile, even when they have seen their dreams to fruition. The harsh realization that today is going to be just like yesterday, and tomorrow will be exactly the same, is simply too much to handle. Remember, when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

A perfect example of the changes that Martin Eden went through was the fact that when he was trying to educate himself so he could win Ruth's heart, he detested sleep. It was a waste of time, time that could be better spent reading or writing. By the end, sleep was all Martin ever did. It was an escape from the world that he despised. At the very end of the story, Martin opted for the eternal sleep, instead of living the miserable life that he had been living. Martin had grown to hate everyone, even himself.

The cruelest irony is that Martin seemed happiest just before his life ended. He sat in his stateroom and read a passage by Swinburne, the same author that he had encountered the first night he met his beloved Ruth, and he was moved by it so much that he decided that death was the only solution, the only way to win the game. And what better way for a born and bred seaman to meet his demise than at sea. That one passage made Martin feel better than he had felt in a long time, because it gave him the impetus to kill himself.

This is where Martin Eden differs from most other sane people. Most sane people do not see suicide as a solution. Most see suicide as a sign of quitting. When it gets a little too hot in the kitchen, suicide is nothing more than the easy way out. Martin Eden saw it as the only way out.
We should all learn from Martin Eden's mistake. We can all learn a valuable lesson from him. The lesson is that with hard work and dedication, you can sometimes find a way to win the difficult game called life, even though the odds are against you. We can learn from his mistake of ending his own life. Suicide is never the answer, no matter how much the deck has been stacked against you. Life goes in cycles, and eventually it will get better, no matter how rotten it seems now. That was the advice that Martin Eden should have heeded, instead of a poem about death by Swinburne. It may have saved his life, and prevented him from leaving his own personal Garden of Eden.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blast from the Past

I'm not exactly sure why, but I have unearthed some writings from my past. Well, "writings" is an interesting euphemism, because I thought most of them sucked when I read them again. I just couldn't believe the stuff I took the time to write about (Of course, I'll probably look back on this blog in a few years and think the same thing. I hate Time.)

Anyway, this one was a paper I did in my Essay Writing class (WP-121) as a freshmen at Emerson. It's rough, but for a college freshmen, I've seen worse. The paper was on my favorite movie at the time, Oliver Stone's media satire, Natural Born Killers, which I still love, but I think tells a different story all these years later. In fact, it may have been ahead of its time. Look at where reality TV has gone in the 15 years since the film's release. I think "American Maniacs" could be on TV these days.

Anyway, I decided (for no reason I can recall) to write the essay as if the events really happened, so this isn't a pretentious film analysis. Honestly, I don't think it's so bad. I wonder if Oliver Stone would have liked it. Anyway, I hope you do, even if it's only to see how lame a writer I used to be.


"If I was a mass murderer, I'd be Mickey and Mallory" was the answer to tabloid television journalist Wayne Gale's question, "What do you think of Mickey and Mallory?" It seems to sum up what the entire nation thought when Mickey and Mallory Knox went on a three week killing spree that left fifty-two people dead. Why did this country become so captivated by these two bloodthirsty lovers? It was because the Knoxes had some power over everyone. They affected an entire nation. Mickey Knox blamed it on "the demon," the demon that is buried deep inside everyone. However, the real culprit was, in fact, Gale himself, through his sleazy T.V. show, "American Maniacs." Gale, and those like him, transformed the Knoxes from psycho- killers to cult heroes. It was the media that made them superstars.

The presence of the media followed the Knoxes every step of their bloody journey. The media helped carry the Knoxes' message of murder to the people. Even at their arrest at the hands of the sadistic Detective Jack Scagnetti, there were cameras present. It was Scagnetti's wish to have a news crew there, to witness the fall of the Knoxes and show the world that he was better than Mickey and Mallory, and at the same time boost the sales of his new book. What the cameras did not pick up was the brutality Scagnetti used in capturing the two killers, and his vicious strangulation of a prostitute just hours before the arrest. If they had seen it, then the entire world would have seen that Scagnetti is just as evil as the Knoxes, only much less popular.

Because Scagnetti was the one who had put the Knoxes in prison, he was selected by the prison warden, Dewight MacClousky, to transport the killing couple to a mental institution. It seemed that even prison could not hold back the Knoxes, as they had killed a handful of inmates and guards in the one year that they had been incarcerated. It was ruled that they were too dangerous to have around, so the plan was to have Scagnetti assassinate them on the way to the institution, and make it look like an accident. Scagnetti, wanting to go down in history as the man who killed Mickey and Mallory Knox, gladly accepted MacClousky's offer. In Scagnetti's words; "I'll go right up there with Jack Ruby." Scagnetti wanted to use the Knoxes as his stepping stone to stardom. Scagnetti could get into the public eye and get his book on the bestsellers list at the same time.

However, Wayne Gale was not quite finished with the Knoxes yet. He wanted to use them to make television history. On the day before the Knoxes were to be transported, Gale used his influence to get an exclusive interview with Mickey Knox from inside the prison. As with Scagnetti, Gale was using the Knoxes' unbelievable fame to propel himself to that status. This was the second episode of "American Maniacs" devoted to Mickey and Mallory, and the first one got the second highest ratings in the show's history, second only to Charles Manson, which illustrates how Mickey and Mallory had captivated the entire nation with the help of Gale and his tabloid T.V. show. For this reason, Gale was frothing at the mouth to do this show. He knew that the eyes of whole world would be on "American Maniacs," and that is all that mattered to him.

In his interview with Gale, Knox stated that everybody has "some sin, some awful secret thing." He was talking about the dark side that is in everyone. Knox said that the demon "feeds on your hate. Cuts, kills, rapes." Mickey and Mallory Knox were the personification of this demon. Wayne Gale and his media brethren were responsible for bringing this demon to the front. The Knox's trial was a perfect illustration of this fact. It became a huge media circus. The chaos was compounded by the presence of thousands of Knox-supporters, gathered outside the courthouse to cheer their heroes on.

As Wayne Gale described it, the "nation caught Mickey and Mallory Fire." It was a fire fueled by Gale, who gave his audience a distorted picture of what it's like to be a mass- murderer. Thanks to Gale's influence, Mickey and Mallory became superstars. Gale realized that his interview with Mickey Knox would make television history. What he did not realize was that such an interview would incite a full-scale riot. During this riot, Gale found himself in the heart of the very violence that he was feeding to the public and he was the cause of it all.

The infamous interview was conducted live, right after the SuperBowl. The irony of football's padded violence contrasting with the real violence that embodied Mickey Knox was not lost on Gale. He had orchestrated this entire ordeal, and he was ready to take his place in history. However, he was not ready for the carnage that he would cause.

The riot was sparked when Mickey Knox told Gale that he was "a natural born killer." With this simple quote, Mickey's fellow prisoners began wreaking havoc all over the prison. This is a perfect illustration of the affect that Mickey and Mallory had on a large group of people, and the reason that the riot started was because Gale needed to make television history.
Amid the chaos, Mickey Knox saw his chance. Taking advantage of the minimal security in the small room where the interview was conducted, Knox waited for the perfect moment. When it came, Mickey wrestled a shot gun from one of the guards and used it to blast away at the rest of them. Now in control, Knox forced a wounded guard to take him to Mallory's cell and made sure that Gale's cameraman ready to roll. Leading a procession of wounded guards and Gale's T.V. crew, Mickey Knox and company waded through the turmoil of the prison riot, cameras rolling, of course. Knox wanted to put on a real show for the home audience.
At Mallory's cell, a confrontation with Jack Scagnetti awaited Mickey. As a nation watched live on network T.V., with Gale's commentary plugged in for added measure, Scagnetti was shot to death by a vengeful Mallory Knox. It was poetic justice. Just as Scagnetti had wanted to use Mickey and Mallory as his stepping stone to fame, the Knoxes had now used Scagnetti to become more famous than ever. And they owed it all to Wayne Gale and his rolling camera.

Who wept for Jack Scagnetti? Nobody. In the story that was unfolding on countless people's television sets, he was portrayed as the villain. Scagnetti and his fellow police officers had kept Mickey and Mallory Knox apart for the last year, and their blood-soaked reunion amid the chaos of that day was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Everyone had told the Knoxes that they would never be together again, and they had now proven everybody wrong. The nation that had caught Mickey and Mallory Fire could now cheer their heroes on in their homes just like any spectator sport.

As the Knoxes attempted to make good their escape, Gale discarded his microphone in favor of a handgun, and he too began firing away at the guards, claiming that he now felt "alive for the first time" in his life. Mickey and Mallory had worked their magic on Gale as well. For Gale, it wasn't murder that was an issue. The issue was the fame and fortune that came with being the journalist that was at the Batongaville riot. His place in history was assured, and that's all he cared about. Gale's selfishness was over-matched only by his intense greed.

After the Knoxes made their daring escape from the prison in Gale's news van, they stopped off to do one last interview. With Gale manning the camera, Mickey and Mallory said their goodbyes to a nation that adored them, as they now would have to disappear from the public eye to avoid capture. Before signing off, the Knoxes left all of their fans with one last token of their appreciation. They emptied their rifles into the man that had made them famous, Wayne Gale.

As Gale's dreams of stardom were obliterated by gunshot after gunshot, Mickey Knox made sure that the camera got it all on film. Gale had lived by the sword, and he died by the sword. As with Scagnetti, it was poetic justice. Gale had become a victim of the very violence that had become his livelihood, and there were probably less mourners for him than there were for Scagnetti.

Mickey and Mallory Knox had taken their place in history alongside people like O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, and Rodney King. The American people have an incredible appetite for violence. As long as there are people like Wayne Gale, hoping to get rich off of someone's murder, then the publics' thirst for excitement will be quenched by simply turning on the T.V. In 1963, we saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot by Jack Ruby on national television. In 1994, we saw Jack Scagnetti and Wayne Gale murdered by Mickey and Mallory.
Stay tuned, history is written every day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Putting a Price on Making Comics

So, I guess I'm starting to think a little. Never a good thing.

I was figuring out the economics of making a comic. And this is not a self-publishing deal, because I've done that before, and believe me, that was bad enough, because you had to pay for your own printing costs and work your ass off to sell it, and most of the time that meant walking directly into stores, where they may take 8 or 10 copies and you'd get half the cover price. Or buying a table at a convention and begging passers-by to look at the thing. Not exactly a get-rich-quick scenario.

Now, considering that the comic I am co-writing (and currently waiting to be drawn) is being printed and distributed, I figured that would keep my costs down. However, we had to get our own artist to draw the thing, and as artists kept dropping out, what we were paying them went up. you get what you pay for, I guess, because we have a couple guys who haven't dropped out, but we have to pay them a rate of $30 a page. The upside is they are really good. The downside is it will cost us $660 an issue. For the planned five-issue series, that will bring it to $3300, plus the $300 we shelled out to get a known artist for the cover of issue #1. At $3600 for the series, at a $2.99 cover price, if we sold 2000 copies (which I believe is the new minimum to remain in Diamond's catalog for more than a month), that puts us (minus the Diamond percentage) at $3588, or $12 short of what we put in. Now, I'm not sure if Blue Water takes a cut, but I imagine they do. They are publishing it, after all.

Now, the hope would be to sell tons and tons of them, of course. Naturally, I'm not sure how to do that. Sales are down everywhere, according to my local comic shop proprietor (who I am counting on to order many copies). So, right now, 2000 seems like a lot. We may never make it passed issue #1, which would mean we would have to collect it in a trade and sell it ourselves, which, again, is not a way to actually make a lot of money.

The good news? I would have a published comic. A credit to my name. Something to show the nephews (although they better buy it.) And if it leads to something else down the road, then I guess you can't really put a price on that.

Monday, February 09, 2009

New York Comic-Con - The Other San Diego

This past weekend I journeyed to New York City for my first official New York Comic-Con. I had heard from folks in the know that this is not like San Diego, because there's no movie studios and gamers and all that crap. Just comic folk. Plus, it's not 3000 miles away. plus, I love New York. Who's the big winner? Dursy! Dursy wins!

And, yes, I was. It was a lot of fun, despite the fact that it is actually a lot like San Diego Comic-Con, only a smaller auditorium. There's still tons of sweaty, overweight people in costumes taking pictures of each other and looking for that rare deal on a limited edition Paste-Pot Pete action figure, and, of course, Lou Ferrigno was there. I guess that is to be expected. It's just the shear volume of it still astounded me. Even with people losing jobs by the minute and comic prices rising, I still saw hundreds of people spending hundreds of dollars on "collectibles." I sat by the ecselator at one point and watched all the costumed folk trudge out of there will huge bags and boxes overflowing with swag that they had bought. It literally looked like they were only leaving because they couldn't possibly carry anything else. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's pretty good, I guess, that they still have money to fuel their passion. It's also kind of weird that there are people who can't afford to eat or pay rent, and these guys are blowing gobs of money on old crap. I mean, I'm all for having a little fun, despite the cost (I was there, after all, and I'm certainly broke), but there are lines that were obviously crossed.

To that point, I made my usual stop at Terry Moore's table, and bought a limited edition Echo print, with the money going to the Comic Book legal Defnse Fund (that took some of the sting out of it.) I also was able to find some old Strangers in Paradise issues for a good price, including my holy grail, #30. This completes my collection, as I now have all 90 issues of the series, including a couple of the rare first print ones when he was first startingn out. To mark my triumph, I waited in line for a few minutes and had Terry Moore sign my #30. When I told him that I had achieved my goal, he seemed rather impressed. The real feat, actually, was to impress one of my idols. I should have told him that I did buy several of them from his website store. Then he would have really liked me.

However, I saw a piece of Strangers in Paradise original art that I really, really wanted. For those who know what the series is about, the page I was going to buy was the one rigth after David passed away, after winking at Katchoo, the love of his life, and Katchoo is in the hallway, and the emotions on her face are captured so beautifully, from shock to horror to sadness. tehre is no dialogue on the page (not that original pages have dialogue on them, but it only makes this one even cooler.) I was amazed that no one had actually bought it yet, quite frankly. I even told Terry Moore's wife that same thing, and we had a nice long talk about the beauty of original comic art, the way the ink looks on the page, and the size of the drawings. The price tag? $425. Realtively cheap for original art, but I could not justify spending that kind of money on a comic book page, even if it is my favorite comic. There was no way. I drew the line, thanked Robyn Moore for the talk, and walked away, almost wishing I had haggled with her for it.

Of course, after leaving the convention, I spent a bunch of money on dinner, and then a little mroe on a cab-ride to the iFanBoy party at a bar called Stitch. Then I spent another $40 on drinks while there, chatting the night away with my old high school friend Clay, whom I had not seen in years, even though he lives in Brighton as well. I also chatted with the stars of the iFanboy podcast, and warned them I had staretd a podcast of my own and that we were coming to get them. Cryptically, Josh Flanagan said, "I'm glad I'm not starting a podcast now."