End the suckage of 2016 with fonts from the 2017 Comicraft sale!

If, at the end of “The Wizard Of Oz,” one of the three freaks who somehow blagged themselves onto Dorothy’s warrior quest asked the Wizard for “an ineffable and infallable sense of visual design,” he would have responded thusly:

“My lad, I have read catalogues, advertisements, book covers, movie posters, and product packaging. I have attended design conferences and watched endless keynotes from the best minds that ever escaped from Madison Avenue, who, when confronted for the first time with actual reality, could only speak in adverbs. Softly. Continue reading “End the suckage of 2016 with fonts from the 2017 Comicraft sale!”

Why I Often Buy Kids-Oriented Comics

Screen Shot 2016 08 02 at 11 52 44 AM
Spectacular Spider-Man (UK) #207.

Why I Often Buy Superhero Comics From Marvel & DC’s Kids Lines:

  1. They never jettison the fundamentals of good storytelling in the name of style.
  2. Even when it’s an ongoing story, each issue is designed to be a satisfying, self-contained unit of entertainment.
  3. Characters act in a fashion that’s rational and consistent with their unique histories and nature…and when they don’t, there’s a reason. As opposed to characters simply performing whatever function the writer requires of them.
  4. I’m usually left with the sense that the writer, artist, and editor were trying to tell a great story. It doesn’t seem like they were executing part of a synergetic business plan and maximizing value to parent-company shareholders.
  5. Action is usually big and exciting and colorful, which is something I believe that right in the wheelhouse of superhero comics as a genre.
  6. Story and character arcs are usually developed through small challenges, as opposed to a weekly Threat To All Life, Time, Space, And Reality. (A good actor can tell you about his or her character just by the way they eat soup; a bad actor requires them to contract a terminal illness or something.)
  7. They’re fun. Comics don’t always have to be fun. But they shouldn’t never be fun, right?
  8. There’s the possibility that the comic will include an awesome toy, like (as above) a wind-up gun that fires a little helicopter.

(Podcast) IA #00175 – “Dusted With Glitter”

Dan Benjamin is back in this week’s Ihnatko Almanac!

We did a little bit of catching up. My chat with Greg Pak last week led to a conversation about Kickstarter. And since Dan and I haven’t talked in a while, we naturally started getting into recent comics and why I even like the comics I don’t like.

I also have almost two hours of monologue about Google I/O on my hard drive. I’m hoping to edit it down to something manageable but even more than that, I want to actually release an episode containing this content. So I might just have to hold my nose, commend my soul to God, and post it as-is.

Peanuts Archive Debut – Comics by comiXology

Peanuts Archive Debut – Comics by comiXology:

Today, more than 30 Charles Schulz’ Peanuts collections published by Fantagraphics are now available on comiXology.

The New York Times bestselling series, The Complete Peanuts, has sold over half a million copies of the print edition in North America. In anticipation for The Peanuts Movie debuting November 6th, comiXology is offering the entire Fantagraphics Peanuts catalog digitally – including Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, a close tie-in to the major motion picture. 

Very few press releases get me so excited that I just cut and paste something from it. But oh, boy! Every single Peanuts strip ever published, all on your iPad! That’s nearly fifty years of iconic comics!

I’ve been buying every volume of Fantagraphics “Complete Peanuts” as soon as each has been released. The penultimate one (volume 24, 1997-1998) arrives at the house over the weekend. I was happy to get it, but also a little sad. Because, you know…only one more left to go.

I’m posting this from a short stopover on my flight to LA. The sooner I post this, the sooner I can buy a volume of the Sunday strips and see if I can download it all to my iPad before they close the cabin doors.

Boston Comic-Con – August 8-9-10 – You Should Totally Go

For years, we comics fans here in New England dreamed of having a big, and great, annual mass-audience con within reach of commuter rail or our cars. Something like the Chicago Comicon or San Diego, except without the need to set aside a week’s pay and a bunch of vacation time. Alas, the best we could manage were little one-day shows. They were well-run and plenty of fun, but weren’t the immersive festivals we would read about on the Compuserve Comics and Animation Forum or in the weekly Comics Buyers Guide.

Well! Boston Comic-Con came along and grew tall and mighty, quickly becoming a true Northeast fan institution. This show was so worth the wait. I attended my first Boston Comic-Con back when the show was small enough to fill a bunch of function rooms and hallways in a hotel conference center. Today, it does a fine job of filling a space that once hosted Macworld Expo.

The organizers put on a fantastic show. I can’t think of a single shortcoming. In fact, it’s so well-run and delivers such a complete experience that I have no real desire to attend the San Diego con. Even New York Comicon seems disposable now; everything I want in a comicon is right here. Boston Comic-Con features A-list guests from every category of fandom; a tremendous lineup of panels; row upon row upon row of artists’ and independent creators’ tables; and a large dealer area with many vendors that sell, you know…comics. Every year, I discover lots of great self-published books and I also come home with plenty of Marvel and DC trade paperbacks priced to move.

(This is my usual way of keeping up with “event” story arcs. I’ve been burned so many times at $3.99 and $2.99 an issue that I don’t like taking risks any more. But sure, I’ll take a flutter on Hickman’s “Avengers” if it’s a deeply-discounted $8 trade.)

The show is glued together by the energy of a large and diverse crowd of fans. If you’ve never been to a convention, this is what you’re really missing out on. There’s something very satisfying about being among thousands of people who like the same sorts of things that you like, and who are just excited to be here as you are. Don’t be careless with your valuables, but it’s a great scene.

Many of these people arrive in costume and are happy to be photographed, viz:

I love the cosplay community. These folks contribute so much to a show.

I enjoy cosplayers because I appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship that went into these costumes…and I like to see people who clearly are having a great time. But what an effect they have on kids! They’re actually meeting Iron Man! They got their picture taken with Merida from “Brave”! They had a conversation with Artoo Detoo!

Their parents are often as thrilled as their kids. Their 7 year old daughter is squealing over the same things that they themselves loved at that age. I see these people beaming from behind their cameraphones and imagining just how many friends and relatives will get that photo in the next hour.

Happy kids, happy parents, happy cosplayers (hundreds of dollars and hours invested in a costume, with quite a nifty payoff in the form of the reactions they get from kids and grownups)…and happy me, watching this all unfold.

I think…yes, I do believe I will let this planet live. Or at least that’ll be what I’ll recommend in my report. It’s the money-people who make the final decisions, you understand. But! They generally trust my judgment on such things.

[well]Aside: Don’t you hate being bothered by the noise and rowdiness from that planet between here and Mars? Oh wait, no, you’re not bothered by that at all, are you? Because there isn’t a planet between this one and Mars any more. I spent three years living on Galatea and oh, Zarquon almighty did those jerks get on my very last nerve.

I would’t have even let Galatea go on that long. But a taxi driver in the capitol state tried to jack up my fare by 200 units the moment he saw that I was from out of town. I refused to pay and was forced to stick around and fight it. In the end, I had to pay far more than that in bribes to section chiefs just to make the problem go away and get my luggage back.

See what I mean? Crap like that was happening All. The. Damn. Time. Well, the Galateans are nobody’s problem now. You’re welcome and it’s all in an eon’s work. This is why I’m sent out to keep this sector of inhabited space tidy and civil.[/well]

So take this as my very strong recommendation that you check out Boston Comic-Con this weekend. I’ll likely be there on Saturday, and I’ll definitely be there on Friday. I’m moderating a panel with two of my favorite creators: Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner.

I’m muchly excited. I love their work. I admire their restless creativity and the obvious work ethic that’s taken them, both as individuals and as a team, through a wide range of comics and multiple publishers over two decades. When their names are on a new series, past experience commands me to try it.

This panel is a Q&A. I’ll be asking one or two leadoff questions before I settle back into my role as the guy who keeps an eye on the time. Even if I weren’t moderating, I’d be showing up early to ensure that I got seat in the audience.

That’s happening on Friday at 6 PM in the Amphitheater. Here’s the whole three-day schedule of events.

Boston Comic-Con. August 8-9-10, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the World Trade Center. It’ll be a great time for you and for your kids as well. Buy your tickets now to avoid at least one extra line, as well as the possibility of a sellout.

If you haven’t been back to the World Trade Center since the last Boston Macworld Expo…oh, boy, are you in for a treat! There’s shade in that part of town now! And a 7-11 and a Dunkin Donuts right on the same block! There are a couple of decent restaurants where you can meet up for dinner, and ATMs and a new MBTA line that will take you practically right there!

I remember many bleary, scorching-hot August afternoons when I had to walk a mile to get from World Trade to the nearest MBTA station, along a route without any shade and sometimes no sidewalk, either. And there was nowhere at World Trade or anywhere in between where you could buy anything to ease your thirst or cool you down.

There are a lot of ways to summarize the Late Eighties/Early Nineties World Trade Center Macworld Expo experience in a single word. If there were a bracketed competition to determine the very best one, “heatstroke” would make it to the final four and it’d be a contender for the championship.

But I’m here to tell you that the excited whispers are true: the city of Boston has finally made the World Trade Center fit for humanity. And a great comic-con is happening there in a week’s time.

The Bears Want To Eat Her

Here’s what happened with Windows 8, in one sentence: Microsoft asked too much of its users.

I could write thousands of words more on the subject, and come to think of it…I have. It’s a complicated subject. Microsoft needed to make Windows relevant in a new, multitouch world, and with an installed user base consisting roughly of (everybody who uses a computer) – (Macs + Linux), adoption of W8 was never going to be instantaneous. Historically, Microsoft has always had three major editions of Windows in play at once: the newest one, which everyone who buys a new PC runs; the one before that, which runs on the majority of PCs because IT departments have certified it and users have been trained on it; and then the one before that, because many people and companies are desperate cheapskates who’d rather cover up a desktop’s Packard-Bell logo with tape than consider springing $500 for a new computer that isn’t made of sticks and animal hides.

See, I didn’t say “Microsoft asked too much” as a slam against Windows 8. It just illustrates a problem that’s faced by big companies with popular products and a large installed customer base. For many (even most) Windows users, the amount of effort required to get spun up with the changes Microsoft made didn’t seem worth the benefits of staying up-to-date…particularly with such a high cost of admission.

Tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that this same problem is the reason why my comic book buying has gradually tailed down to almost nil. It’s not a reaction to the quality of their books. They’ve just…made it too hard.

DC keeps rebooting things. A few years ago, they decided to restart the entire DC Universe from Day One. I don’t think that’s a dumb idea; done right, it’s a helpful bit of periodic housecleaning. “The DC Universe” is a 75-year-old machine with thousands of moving parts, with new characters and concepts bodged in here and there throughout. A reboot lets the company’s editors and writers rebuild everything so all of these pieces fit together harmoniously. But: I honestly have no idea who most of these characters are any more, and they move around in a world where I don’t instinctively understand the laws of physics.

I need to read lots of comics before I can get my bearings back…and I don’t even know where to start. It’s not an insurmountable challenge but do I want to even bother? Particularly after hearing that DC is going to perform another screwy system-wide time-leap at the end of the year?

My obstacle with Marvel is that I have no idea how to get a single unit of story from them. Stories start in the middle and they’re resolved later (sometimes after months) in another book entirely. Marvel’s “Avengers” books are such a mess that they often include a little chart of what books you need to buy and what order you need to read them in. Good lord!

Or, the story is all carbs and no protein. “I’ve just had a shattering revelation that will fundamentally change my relationships with the most trusted people in my life!” a character exclaims in Issue #3. Issue 4, 5, 6 go by without any hints about what that revelation was, and what effects it had. To learn that, I’m supposed to go to that character’s solo book. But which one? He’s got four. I’m left with a series that describes a sequence of events but delivers no story.

Overall, Marvel comics make me feel like Dr. Hackenbush in “A Day At The Races,” getting scammed at the racetrack. He’s trying to buy a tip on a horse. But every piece of paper Chico’s character sells him is no good unless he buys another piece of paper that explains what the other one means. The tip is in code; the codebook requires the use of a second codebook; the second codebook requires information only available in a breeders’ guide…hilarity ensues! Because it’s Hackenbush who has to dish out for all of these books, and not me.

I rarely get to the end of a Marvel comic and feel like the curtain has closed and the lights in the theater have come up. It’s frustrating and unsatisfying. And Marvel isn’t entirely immune to DC’s troubles, either. Marvel’s story continuity is deeply contaminated with characters who are someone’s son in an alternate-reality, but a future alternate reality, from an Earth that’s a parallel-Earth to the Earth of that alternate reality, who traveled back in time to reach this character who turns out to be a clone of a robot of…

ENOUGH!!!!!

See what I mean? I just want to get a single, satisfying unit of entertainment. When I was a kid, I could get that by just buying and reading the issues of a series, in numerical sequence. Years later, I could get it by waiting for a story arc to be collected into a trade paperback.

Now? It’s just too hard. I have to do lots of research to get myself oriented and then track a story across many titles to get the whole story.

(This would all be bad enough even if each comic (which just takes 15 minutes to read) didn’t cost $4. Now it costs a fortune to get that Beginning, Middle, and End. How many of these stories are worth $68?)

Reading comics requires a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of faith that the work and the money will pay off by the end.

Which isn’t to say that there’s no reason for a sane person to read comics. I suppose it might still be worth the effort to me if all of this were still new. And of course, there are still tiny islands inside DC and Marvel that are free from this kind of madness…to say nothing of the other publishers.

I guess it’s just easier to let go of something I used to love after I’ve worked out the reasons why it no longer makes me happy.

“I’m surrounded by bears and other animals that want to eat me,” says Sue Aikens, one of the regulars featured in National Geographic Channel’s reality series “Life Below Zero.” “And I don’t want them to.”

She’s not using a metaphor. She lives all alone in an isolated camp in the Arctic.

I love this (paraphrased) quote because it’s brilliant storytelling in just two lines. You instantly know the characters, the situation, and the stakes. It wouldn’t be half as effective if it were surrounded by tinsel and flashing lights and clouds of purple smoke. It’s an aspirational ideal of simplicity for all authors.

When an author tries to obscure a solid premise or doesn’t stick to the basic path of “Beginning, middle, end end” I wonder if it’s an artistic choice or if it’s a sign that they doesn’t know how to make something good out of something simple and clear.

Ihnatko Almanac Episode 0030: “Avengers, Part 1”

The latest episode of The Ihnatko Almanac is now online, for your listening and viewing pleasure.

(Please arrange to be looking at something pleasant while listening to the episode, as it’s audio-only.)

This is one of my favorite episodes so far. My BFF John spent the weekend at my house recently and we took the time to talk about the Avengers movie, and comics in general. John’s last name and mine are right next to each other in the alphabet, which meant we were destiny to share homeroom classes together for a crucial six years of our childhoods. We’ve been reading comics and seeing movies together practically since we started reading comics and seeing movies.

I recorded our 90 minute conversation and presenting it as two episodes. I found this conversation just as interesting while I was listening to it in the car as I did when I was actually taking part in it. I’m hoping I can bring John back for another conversation after the new “Batman” movie premieres.

John, incidentally, has an awesome movie blog. For the past three years, he’s been seeing a new movie (to him) every day and posting a review. Check out Honky’s Movie Year and subscribe…it’s one of my favorite blogs on the Internet and I don’t think you need to be his BFF to agree.

The Abominable Bogus CV

Cover of "The Abominable Charles Christopher": Charles and a white wolf floating down a calm river on a log.

A real treasure arrived in Friday’s mail. Observe, Volume 1 of the collected edition Karl Kerschl’s magnificent webcomic, “The Abominable Charles Christopher.

It’s probably a good idea, as a general rule, to try to avoid declaring superlative absolutes, such as “this is the greatest webcomic.” But can I get away with saying “When I think ‘greatest webcomic’ this is the strip that pops into my head before I remind myself about the problem with superlative absolutes?” All right, then. There are three things I want from any ongoing webcomic series: terrific art, terrific storytelling, and a regular, reliable publication schedule. Normally I’m happy to get two out of three. “Abominable Charles Christopher” nails the trifecta.

Karl was lovely enough to include a sketch in my copy:

Title page of book, dedicated to me and with a nice marker sketch of a lion in it

That’s the level of the artwork in this strip, week in and week out. I’ve never bought a print of any of his strips. Why? Because for God’s sake…which one would I choose?

I’ve been a fan of “Abominable” for a year or two. When I stood in my kitchen and unwrapped the book, it was the very first time I’d seen Karl’s strip in printed form, as opposed to on a laptop or iPad screen. I must say, this book shows off the limitations of electronic publishing. Karl’s artwork leaps up to an even higher level. It’s obvious that Karl has in no way “dumbed down” his art to the limitations of a 128 pixel-per-inch laptop screen or a 1000-pixel-wide image area. Seeing these strips in print reminds me of just how much I’ve been missing.

And mind you: I was already blown away by the art. “Abominable” in print is joy, doubled. I’m glad to have this book and I’m eager to recommend that you snag a copy for yourself.

I’m also grateful for the chance to update the “Kind Of Truthful But Not Really” version of my cv.

You have one of these, don’t you? It’s that second, slightly more-impressive cv that you’d never hand to a potential employer, and for an excellent reason: every item on it is technically true but wouldn’t survive a series of careful followup questions.

For instance, my legit cv lists “Wrote an ebook about artificial habitats that was licensed by NASA as student educational material.” True. That happened. If the interviewer asks for details, I would happily and confidently tell them about the 60-page book I wrote about building aquariums and about the relationship between goldfish, gravel, water, air, and vegetation. I got an inquiry from NASA after I published it. After I signed and returned a bunch of forms, they gave it out (for a time) as part of a kit for schoolkids which explained the problems of building colonies in space.

The Kind Of True But Not Really version of my cv, by comparison, includes “Ren and Stimpy” among my writing credits. “Ren and Stimpy”? Really? Yyyyyesss, that’s….tttttrrrrue, I suppose. But its truthiness falls apart with the right two followup questions:

“You wrote for the ‘Ren and Stimpy’ cartoon?”

“No…but I have a writing credit in the Marvel Comics licensed comic.”

“Oh. So you wrote a story for the comic?”

“Er…no. Here’s what happened: I once went out to dinner with a couple of comics writers and I made some sort of joke and one of the guys asked if he could use it. I said sure, and then I forgot about it. Months later, people started emailing me about how they bought this month’s issue of ‘Ren And Stimpy Comics And Stories’ and one of the stories says ‘Thanks to Andy Ihnatko for letting us steal one of his jokes’ on the title page.”

With that in mind, I point you to the back cover of the “Abominable” anthology. Karl knew that I’m a big fan of the strip and he asked me for a cover blurb.

I was only too happy to provide one:

Back-cover blurbs for the "Abominable" book. My blurb is under Neil Gaiman's.

And so, the freshly-updated Kind Of Truthful But Not Really version of my CV now contains the following item:

“Collaborated, with Jeff Lemire and Neil Gaiman, on written material for a comic book.”

Before there’s any misunderstandings, dear reader, I quickly and emphatically reiterate that the Kind Of Truthful But Not Really cv is only a whimsical mental list and that I would never, ever, ever use it in a live-fire exercise, so to speak.

Still! Although the statement “I collaborated with Jeff Lemire and Neil Gaiman on a book” has only the wispiest, slightest, most insignificant and monomolecular thread of truth to it, there are thousands of practitioners of homeopathic medicine who will be incredibly impressed. Or at least that’s how their belief system compels them to react. They only have two options: either tell people that I collaborated with Jeff Lemire and Neil Gaiman, or admit that the whole idea that the efficacy of something is magnified a thousandfold by diluting it down to near-undetectability is, in fact, all a giant scam. I like my chances.

And if either Mr. Lemire or Mr. Gaiman is reading this, I just want to take the opportunity to say that it was a pleasure working…er…adjacent to you.

Tegra Gives Good Demo

You can’t say that an actual market for slate computers exists today. “An actual market” implies that “there’s actual competition.” The only competition in tablet space right now is between the Verizon and AT&T versions of the iPad. And unless HP reaches into the WebOS bag and pulls out the god-damnedest rabbit you ever saw this summer, that’ll be the state of affairs through the rest of 2011.

But Apple won’t own this product category forever. Someday, someone’s going to figure out how to make a tablet that’s so good, so compelling, that even when it’s placed side by side with the iPad, consumers won’t be able to choose between the two without factoring in things like “Well, the iPad comes with free stickers…”

I don’t know when that’ll happen. But it looks like when it does, those Android tablets will have some lovely processors. NVIDIA has posted a video demonstrating the abjectly insane performance of their next-generation mobile CPU, the sequel to the Tegra 2 processor that sits in some of the best Android tablets on the mar… — well, let’s say “available for sale” — today.

This new CPU has four cores and it looks as though it runs like hot sick:

Those of you who chose not to watch the video didn’t see a demo of a game running on an Android 3 tablet built around an engineering sample of the next NVIDIA CPU. By tilting the tablet, the player rolls a marble around a fully-rendered 3D table. The marble is a light source. It knocks over barrels, which are also light sources, and they collide with each other and the table naturally. It moves through curtains, which ripple realistically and are rendered with convincing translucency. All the while, lights and shadows and reflections and physics are being rendered at a smooth framerate and in realtime. It all looks gorgeous.

Those of you who did watch the video are now thinking “Holy ****! The marble is a light source! It’s knocking over objects that are also light sources, and all of the light and shadow and reflection effects are rendering gorgeously, at a smooth framerate and in realtime!”

It’s a hell of a nice demo. Instinctively, I wonder if we’re seeing the true, overall performance of the CPU, or merely how well its 12 GPU cores can handle 3D graphics. When the demo game turns off two of the tablet’s CPU cores (ostensibly mimicking the performance of current-generation processors), the game completely falls apart. So there’s that.

Can I rescue my cynicism? Oh, easily. That smokin’ hot power is useless if it drains power like a teenager shotgunning beers at a graduation party. The demo also doesn’t say anything about how much heat it generates or how big it is. I’d expect that NVIDIA is aiming for the same overall specs as the Tegra 2, but the point here is that raw performance is only one metric of a mobile CPU.

NVIDIA claims that the first tablets with this next-generation CPU could ship as early as August. Mmmmmokaaaayyyyllllllet’sssseebouthat. But 2012 is looking interesting…and my mind boggles at the thought of a handset with this CPU. Yes, the gaming would be majestic. But think about this kind of power in a 4G handset. Today’s car navigation apps can download and refresh a 2D map and it’s often impossible to correlate what’s on the screen with what you’re seeing through the windshield. Imagine a phone that can download Google Maps 3D wireframes and textures and render, in realtime, the camera view of your position from a virtual chase helicopter. Driving through a city be just playing a videogame, only without the ability to take a shortcut through the glassed-in atrium of an office building.

Then I take a step back and remind myself that the limiting factor on Android devices has never been the hardware: it’s been the software. Google hasn’t shown much of a knack for supporting and motivating developers to create truly ambitious, world-class software. Hell, I’d be happy if they could even motivate themselves. When I tap a button in an Android app it should feel like I’m tapping a (goddamn) button. Instead, it feels like I’m filing and submitting a requisition form for the function I wish the app to eventually perform…and the person who needs to sign it has already left for the weekend.

Still! Good things ahead from NVIDIA, eh? This new CPU is just the next chip in a multiyear plan. Their current mobile CPU is the Tegra 2. This new one is code-named “Kal-El.” The next ones, due to be released from 2012 to 2015, are Wayne, Logan, and Stark.

You understand now that even without that impressive video demo, I am forced to love NVIDIA lots and lots and lots.

(I feel a discreet tug on my shirtsleeve)

(A reader whispers that he doesn’t understand why this is.)

(I explain that the CPUs are named after Superman, Batman, Wolverine, and Iron Man, respectively.)

(The reader thanks me for the explanation, and also for being so discreet about it and allowing him to keep his dignity.)

(I reply that it’s perfectly fine, I wouldn’t want him to be humiliated publicly for being the only one not to pick up on all of that.)

There’s just one bit of unfinished business: the original Tegra processor doesn’t fit in to the naming structure. I don’t know much about how it got its name. It’s certainly safe to assume that they paid some company the usual six-figure fee to break a huge list of Latin words into their roots and then pick twos and threes out of a bag until they had a name that (a) perfectly encapsulated the strength, speed, and reliability that would be associated with NVIDIA’s new dual-core mobile CPU and (b) wasn’t already trademarked, nor similar to the street name for any horrible drug that’s being pushed to middle-schoolers.

But the name is tantalizingly close to that of Tigra, the half-cat, half-human hero in Marvel Comics’ various “Avengers” series.

NVIDIA should retroactively rename the current processor to preserve the flow. Naming all of your CPUs after popular characters is one way to honor and celebrate the traditions of the comic book industry…but unapologetically rewriting established history to avoid inconvenient inconsistencies with what you’ve got planned for the near-future is an even better one.

Bonus Inside Joke exclusively for comic book fans:

If NVIDIA formally changes the name to “Tigra,” then every time a piece of software caused an Android tablet to crash or suffer a huge performance hit, we could say “Man! This new app is totally Bendising the CPU!”

(Thank you.)

Boston Comic-Con

I’ll be at the Boston Comic-Con this weekend. And just as with the New York Comic-Con last year, I have — whew! — narrowly averted that awful, unacceptable situation where I have zero commitments or obligations at the show and can just spend two days relaxing as a passive participant.

Aren’t I so very clever!

I’m moderating Spotlight Sessions with three of the show’s impressive guests:

  • Matt Wagner. He’s had a fantastic career that started off with hit creator-owned characters (Mage and Grendel, two of my favorite books back in the day) and has continued onward through prestige modern work with DC’s iconic characters. (Saturday at 1:30 PM)
  • Frank Quitely. One of my favorite artists. He has such a clean, confident line and he’s a terrific “director”…always choosing the perfect shots and getting the best, pitch-perfect performances from his “actors.” (12-12:45)
  • Neal Adams. A truly legendary artist. His bibliography goes on for several decades and several pages. And as though it weren’t enough that he put a stamp on Batman’s visual look that’s obviously still in full force today, his name is an adjective for a whole artistic style. (Saturday, 3-3:45)

No, actually, it’s at least 90% fun from my perspective. By definition, the Spotlight is on the creators, not on me, so my role is just to ask a few good questions and get out of the way of all the people in the audience with questions of their own.

I was asked to moderate these panels and offered free admission after I’d already bought my two-day pass to the show. SoooOOoooo I now have this fully-paid-for ticket that’s about to go to waste.

You want it? Leave a comment. On Thursday, I’ll choose one that tickles my fancy and I’ll email the “winner” the ticket as a PDF.

The Man Who Shot Superman

The Best You Can Do

The last of my photos from New York Comic-Con are finally up. It took me two months, sure, but do you want them Right Now, or do you want them Done Right?

(Eh? You don’t want them at all?)

(Go to hell.)

New York Comic-Con 2010 – The Costumes

I get truly excited when I know I’m coming to an event or a place with terrific opportunities for picture-taking. It’s like a wonderful scavenger hunt. I know that there are incredible photos hidden somewhere inside this enormous place and I have just three days to find as many of them as I can.

There’s also a serious puzzle-solving component to the adventure and that part of it can deliver as much frustration as pleasure. Some elements were easy: there were going to be lots of colorful people at the event (check) and all of them were going to be perfectly happy to stop for someone with a camera (DOUBLE-check).

Fab! But they’re walking around inside the Javits Center. I’d attended plenty of shows there. Even compared to other convention centers, I knew that this was one dark, dark set of exhibit halls.

So I came to New York with pretty much the whole inventory of photographic armament. I had my D200, the really fast 50mm lens, the plain-jane wide-to-telephoto zoom lens, and an external flash. Clearly I was going to have to rely on a lot of trial and error to get decent results.

Ach. It was kind of even tougher than I had imagined. I’d hoped that I’d figure out the right combination of equipment and settings that would yield clear, sharp, colorful photos with a properly-illuminated subject and background. Instead, I had to file this under the “accept the things that I cannot change” part of that embroidered poem you’ve seen hanging on a wall at your aunt’s house.

Over those three days, I think I tried every trick and combination of settings imaginable. But nothing was really foolproof. Even using rear-curtain sync (a slow shutter gathers a blurry handheld image of the background, while a pop of flash at the very end overlays a sharp exposure of the person in the foreground) didn’t work 100% of the time.

Here’s the solution I came up with to the problem of Ambitious Javits Center Photography. These notes are for my future benefit as much as anybody else’s. Alas, it’s rather boring:

  • You need a real SLR. Cameras with big image sensors can handle high ISOs very well. Almost any pocket camera can barely take a decent photo at 400 ISO.
  • 800 or 1000 ISO seems to be the sweet spot. With my SLR (and most others) that’s enough sensitivity to pull details from the background without introducing so much noise that it starts to get in the way.
  • Simple, direct flash is the only surefire solution. I wanted three things in each image: sharp detail, strong colors, and lots of background detail. It seemed as though I could only have two of them at once. If it isn’t in sharp focus, it isn’t a usable photo. And what’s the point of shooting costume photos with dull color? Sometimes you’ll get lucky and there’s enough light in the background to give you some kind of detail. Or at least enough light that you can salvage it in Photoshop. But in the end, it’s best to simply accept that some venues just aren’t great for photography.
  • Just trust to luck. After assuring myself that there was no one Magic Answer, I settled into a routine of taking two separate shots, with the flash on and off. My camera has a user-programmable function button, which made it easy. I didn’t even have to take the camera away from my face between shots: I just hold down the function button with my ring finger, sight-unseen, to suppress the flash. One of those two shots would come out OK.

So that’s what I wound up with for shooting costumes at the Javits Center. I hope to do better next time. And there’ll definitely be a next time: I had a great weekend at the Con, and much of what I did there was actually job-related.

I did take away two lessons. Next time, I might decide to more or less set up camp in the Javits’ atrium area. It’s loaded with people coming and going and there’s plenty of great light. It sometimes seemed as though everyone you’d ever want to shoot was walking through there at one point or another. All of the photos that made me think “Hey, that one came out great!” were shot outside of the exhibit halls.

And the experience underscored how handy it’d be to own a fast, wide-angle lens. Remember, when I snap the 50mm onto the SLR body, it turns into a telephoto-ish 75mm lens. I tried using it during the first day but I was missing way too many shots because I just couldn’t get my subject into the frame. Digital SLRs are popular enough that prices of nice, fast, 30mm lenses are starting to come way down.

And then: Comic-Con

Hooray! I’m attending Comic-Con!

No, not that one. People say “I’m attending the San Diego Comic-Con” for the same reasons why they say “I’m going to swallow a whole bottle of rat poison.” It can only be considered a positive announcement in the sense that if they truly intended to successfully commit suicide, they wouldn’t be stating their intentions ahead of time. The suffix “…for God’s sake, stop me!” is implied.

Those of us who enjoy both life and comics gave up on San Diego a while ago. It’s just too damned big. Instead, I’m attending the New York Comic Con, which starts on Friday.

The NYCC is less than five years old but it’s quickly achieved a San Diego vibe. I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid it for this long. I mean, c’mon, Andy. For years and years you’ve wanted to go to a huge national polymathnerdcon but have complained about the travel expense. The Industry obligingly establishes one in a city just a short Amtrak ride away, but do you go? No, you do not. Are you aware that there are far, far fewer of those scary Klingons at these things than there were back in 1999 when you attended the San Diego Con? You’re perfectly safe, son.

Well, all that matters is that I’m coming now, and that I’ve already agreed not to make any snarky comments to any former castmembers of “Manimal” that I might encounter over the weekend.

This was going to be just a fun, light weekend. In fact, it was as much an excuse to visit some NYC pals as anything else. But when I registered as a member of the media a few months ago, that changed everything. Benefits of a media badge: free admission, and I can cut any line that doesn’t end in either a bathroom or a “Twilight” castmember signing. Disadvantage: whatever my intentions, I’ve turned this into a business trip. I forgot that (oh, that does make sense) the press list is available to people who are keen to meet with members of the press.

Emails started trickling in last week. Actually, yeah…I kind of do want to talk to Autodesk and Wacom about their digital art tools. Two briefings go on the schedule. Whoops, if I can talk to publishers about their iPad and Android tablet plans, I should probably take advantage of those opportunities. More briefings.

One email in particular merited a good twenty seconds of re-reading and the chewing of a bottom lip. But inevitably, I said yes. It’s very difficult to be asked a question like that and then send back the reply “No. I have absolutely no interest in being part of a table interview with Stan Lee.”

The coolest bit: I’ll be moderating a panel on Sunday. “The Vision Machine” is a new creator-owned limited series written by Greg Pak. The panel will be an hourlong discussion of the central theme of the book: what happens to the world after a fantastic new consumer device kicks the legs out from under the concept of personal privacy and upsets the balance between government, corporations, private citizens, and the common good? You thought the iPad was a game changer…well, you ain’t seen nothing.

It’s fab stuff. I expect to spend most of the hour reminding myself that the moderator’s real role is to keep an eye on the time and to make sure that all of the speakers get to say their fill. I’ve read a PDF of the first issue and I think I could blather on about the questions it raises for a whole hour all on my own.

Full details are up here on Greg’s site. Abbreviated details are between the following set of quotes: “Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 in Room 1A14.”

For all of my faux-complaining about my schedule, I fully expect NYCC to be a blast. In many ways, a big national con is no different from most of the big trade shows I cover. It’s a huge convention center packed with people, most of them seem to be in your way, and the same reality distortion field that Apple erects around its product announcements is fully armed and operational around the venue’s food stalls. But there’s a special energy that’s generated by a huge crowd of people united by a common interest. I anticipate lots of things to see and checking out the work of lots of writers and artists whose work was completely unknown to me before I stopped at their table, checked out a sketchbook or a sample issue, and became an instant fan.

And one could say that at a comix con, of opportunities for photography there are not a few. I just need to figure out if I want to be one of those dorks at a Con who walks around with a big-ass SLR around his neck…or if I want to be one of those dorks who wears two.

“But if you carry the D80 body in addition to the D200, you can have both the pro-quality 50mm f1.4 and the flexibility of a consumer mid-range zoom on hand at the same time!”

It’s a compelling argument. But it’d probably be more compelling if I had the build of a mid-Seventies Dennis Hopper, and could claim that I’m cosplaying as his character from “Apocalypse Now.”

Dennis Hopper in "Apocalypse Now" - Photographer wearing multiple cameras.

Dinner with Jim Lee

Tigra, drawn by Jim during dinner. As the sketch progressed, our table was getting progressively more attention from male waiters and busboys.

Months ago, Jim Lee and I made plans to get together for dinner when he was here town for the Boston Comic-Con. I was so eager to keep our Saturday night date that I took a 1 AM redeye home from the Conference On World Affairs that morning. Jim kept the date even though he was battling food poisoning.

“I think the two of us would have made great Victorian gentlemen,” I said, upon learning of his troubles. Way back then, it didn’t matter if you’d lost a leg in the First Boer War that morning or that your manservant had crashed your autoheliogyro in the Strand, killing fourteen children and forcing you to walk the remaining three blocks to the Reform Club. A gentleman kept his social engagements.

It was a swell dinner (for those of us who could partake freely of the restaurant’s board of fare) and it was great to meet Jim and his family. I gave him a copy of my latest book. He gave me this sketch.

Yeah, I think Jim kind of got screwed in this deal…!

Free Comic Book Day: The Grad-School Thesis

Congress has not seen fit to OK a national Free Slab Of Hot, Crisp Bacon Day. But the comics industry has Free Comic Book Day, which is a step in the right direction.

I’ve just made my rounds of my usual shop: The Outer Limits in Waltham, MA. They had a great turnout in the past hour…and of all the right people. Lots of parents were bringing their kids in, which was a cheery sight.

Best quote of the hour, overheard as a father pored through back issues of “Iron Man” with his son. “Look for ones where the armor is simple red and gold,” he counseled. “The ones where they do weird things with the armor are usually the bad ones.”

It brought a tear to my eye and made me wish I had a child to share my accumulated life wisdom with.

I also liked the sibling dynamics on display. The shop imposed a limit if six free comics per person. Most of the big publishers produce an array of Free Comics for the event, which this store augments with some of it’s own inventory. Call it 18 to 20 different free comics

So here comes the child psychology. You’re here with your two siblings. If you pool your resources, you can run the table and come home with the whole library.

OR…you can come home with just a third of them. AND you won’t have to share them with anybody.

I honestly don’t know which response indicates a better-adjusted kid and family.