shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Gaming Anniversary. Last Saturday was Endgame's Anniversary party. I stopped by, though only for a couple of hours, as my free time continues to be very short. I got to see some friends and play a couple of games, so it was all good. Endgame, meanwhile announced that they're opening a little cafe immediately adjacent to the store. It's cool to hear that they're doing well enough to be considering expansion.

After my couple of hours at the party, I headed up to Lake Temescal to do some writing. I was delighted to discover that it was an extremely nice day. I'm officially calling it the last day of Summer, and I'd previously thought they were all gone. Anywho, I did the writing I had planned, and it was glorious outside, and I came home for dinner. A pretty typical Saturday of late.

Sick. Sadly, I also picked up my first cold of the year at the party, at lunch, at the lake, or somewhere in that vicinity, because I was coughing by Monday night. I think Tuesday was the worst of it: I couldn't put in a full day of work. I'm still sniffly now, but not as bad. And my energy is better. I'm hoping to be well enough on Saturday not to get tuckered out, as Kimberly and I have plans in San Francisco.

(For the moment though, it kept me from gaming the rest of this week; good thing I had that bonus Saturday gaming to carry me over.)

Halloween. And today is Halloween. Kimberly and I had planned to go get pie or something somewhere, to celebrate the season appropriately, but she unfortunately ended up with her stomach too upset to eat anything. So I went out and got some deserts at Berkeley Bowl, and I ate mine tonight (Double Fudge Cake), and she'll probably have hers tomorrow (Tangy Lemon Bar).

I was quite surprised when I rode to Berkeley Bowl to find the streets between here and there just jammed with trick or treaters. There were also several houses totally done out in Halloween regalia. I usually think of Berkeley as being pretty Halloween free. We gave up getting treats a couple of years ago because we tended to get 0-2 trick-or-treating groups and they were all mobs of overprivileged and overaged kids. The folks trick-or-treating south of us were more clearly parents out with their kids. It was very cool. As were some of the houses, particularly one that had smoke coming off its roof, and a light to make it look green! Someone else had a big open fire in front of their house.

So, that was Halloween. I also read the first 100 pages or so of Grendel Omnibus I. I figured it'd be appropriate for the holiday too, with its dark, noir feel -- but it's now being put away lest I overdose on stories of Hunter Rose.
shannon_a: (Default)
Just finished reading Prince of Stories, a look at the works of Neil Gaiman that I'd been wanting to pick up for a few years. I finally thought to grab it from the library, which was the right choice. Though the book had lots of good content, it spent way too much time simply detailing the plots, places, and peoples of Gaiman's work.

The saddest thing that I read in the book was in an interview, where Gaiman mentioned that he'd proposed a 6-issue Sandman prequel to DC, detailing what Morpheus had been doing before his capture (which we've seen alluded to as something on the other side of the universe). Gaiman wanted to do it to help support the comic's 20th anniversary. However, the New York Bestselling author and movie producer asked for his royalty to be upped from the 4% he'd earned as an untried comics writer to 6%. (Compared to the 15% that he gets now for a new hardcover ... Gaiman noted that he made more money off of a single copy of his newest hardcover novel than off of a volume of the $100 Absolute Sandman.) DC refused, and so we don't get six new issues of Sandman that we'd otherwise seen, a book #0. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

(And sadly that seems to be DC's generally attitude toward great writers, who continually move toward Marvel, resulting in DC recently rebooting their universe on the backs of a handful of good writers and a lot of writers who are just adequate.)

However, Prince of Stories really reinvigorated me to work my way back through some of Gaiman's work. I've just been rereading his Miracleman, which has long set in my closet ignored, as it's kind of an appendix to Gaiman's bibliography: an unfinished dead-end. However, the issues that exist are great. It was like (re)discovering a handful of lost issues of Sandman, as they're largely written in the same style, and "The Golden Age" (which is what I've read so far) largely takes the same attitude toward approaching its protagonists through intermediary characters. I keep hearing that Marvel is within a year of closing up the Miracleman mess; I bet they'll be willing to give Gaiman more than 4% royalties to complete the series, but then it's kind of a mug's bet, as Marvel has treated Gaiman better than I've seen just about any publisher treat any creator. (They went out of their way to help Gaiman resolve the Miracleman rights with the 1602 comic, whose profits went to a foundation designed to fight the legal fight.)

I also think that Prince of Stories has encouraged me to pick up the four Absolute Sandman volumes. I drooled over the recoloring a few years ago when they first appeared, and now that I'm ready to reread the series, I think I'll put out the money for them as I can ...  

Somewhat sad to see that Gaiman hasn't done much written work since The Graveyard Book. I guess movies and Doctor Who have been keeping his busy. But, I'm always sad when a comics writer moves to novels or movies or tv, because it means we'll see much less of their content. It's great he's been so successful though.
shannon_a: (Default)
After a stressful Saturday, I purposefully took a more restful approach today.

Took myself out to a fast-food lunch with a comic book to read, as I did every week when I was younger. I even read a classic, the recently released Excalibur Visionaries: Warren Ellis, Vol. 1 which was mostly includes stories I hadn't read before, as I got into Ellis' Excalibur a bit late.

(Man, Berkeley was crazy today. Some PAC-10 track thing. Munchkins walking around in graduation gowns. The first moving vans and packing crates solely infiltrating the streets. And it seemed like there was some type of street-kid convention this weekend too as grubby, smelly, punky kids were filling Telegraph--even more than normal--at least on Friday.)

After that I biked down to Emeryville to look for a book about Louise Erdrich. I took a pretty round about way both there and back up home, which means I did something like 9-10 miles of good biking today. I got to see some industrial streets in West Berkeley that I haven't biked before, then I revisited my old route home from Chaosium when returning. The local book stores of course did not have what I wanted, so I turned to Amazon. Yep, that's one reason local book stores are losing; it's hard to compete with infinite shelf space. And it's why niche stores might be the ones that hold out.

Sadly, the ride wasn't as nice as I would have liked. I had fun, no doubt, but it was cool, overcast, and breezy, as it has been. (I'd say the wind is the worst, but I've slowly gotten better about riding into the wind, just as I've slowly gotten better at riding up hills.) Give me a month and I'll be bitching about the heat, but we've had an abnormally long winter this year, with spring only peaking through for a day or two at a time.

The forecast for tomorrow: rain.

Did some reading and also some writing in the late afternoon & early evening. The latter was work, of course, on my RPG History Book. But, I enjoy the history writing, which was why I started doing it in the first place.

Finally, tonight was the Survivor finale. I'd say it's a guilty pleasure, but I actually don't give a crap about what other people think most of the time. This was easily the top season of the show, top to bottom, and though I don't think the best player won, I think a very good player did. (And I say that without spoiler because I think individual viewers could have considered many of the people going into this episode the "best" player, which is one of the reasons it was a great season.)

(And with summer coming and Survivor done, I'll soon be watching Big Brother. That one just might be a guilty pleasure, because I'm entirely aware that the show is crap, but it's also about the only show during summer which gives me my reality-TV buzz of seeing into 15-20 strangers' lives.)

A bit more reading before bed.
shannon_a: (Default)
I like reading comics. However, they seem to be a somewhat less professional medium than a lot of other mediums of publication. In particular, writers and authors seem totally okay with hugely delaying their work. Even Neil Gaiman succumbed while working on the end of The Sandman. And the worst offenders: indie publishers.

A comic book getting continually delayed is pretty much the easiest way to make me lose interest. Here's several comics that have frustrated me in exactly that way.

Squadron Supreme. This comic book by JMS was going along swimmingly through the first 18 issues when it was called Supreme Power. Then it was renamed Squadron Supreme and got put out hiatus for a bit. This created a delay that I felt particularly large since I was waiting for trades. However the big problem occurred when JMS abruptly left the title about 7 issues into the new run for reasons I've never been able to discern. He left in the middle of a story line that's pretty much never been finished. Though a new writer has since restarted the series, I'm not even sure I'm interested, since I haven't seen a new issue since 2005, not counting some origin stories and crossovers that I regretted buying. The trade paperback of JMS' last issues is finally due out this year.

Planetary. Warren Ellis' brilliant story of a weird modern world was only supposed to run four volumes, and the third volume was published in ... 2004. Five years later, it looks like the final volume would soon be out. The story is good enough that I still care, but a five-year wait for the last several issues is just out-of-this-world crazy.

Age of Bronze. Eric Shanower's tale of the Trojan War is supposed to run 7 volumes. Volume 1 came out in 2001, volume 2 came out in 2004, then the first half of volume 3 came out in 2008. Since then, Shanower has only managed to publish two issues toward the second half of volume three. Considering that it's taken him 10 years to publish the first three TPBs, it'll take another 16-17 years to publish five more books (if he manages to not split any more volumes) or 30 years to publish eight (if he splits all the remaining volumes). I ain't holding my breath on that one, though I finally purchased volume "3a" last night.

Artesia. This beautifully painted story of a woman warrior first came to my attention in 2005, when the author, Mark Smylie, handed me the first three volumes at GenCon of what he said would be a 22-volume series. In the almost four years since, he seems to have published just three issues of volume four, which is half of the story. If he continues at his current rate, which seems to be about 8 years per volume, it'll be 152 years before he's done. Really not holding my breath there.

Astro City. I can't complain too much about Kurt Busiek's ode to the Silver Age, since I finally picked up a new volume in 2008 (though only because I was willing to pay hardcover prices). However the last volume before that was 2005.

What was it with 2006 and 2007, which seemed to be the years of slowdown for many of these series?

Queen & Country. Greg Rucka's great spy series isn't quite in the same boat as some of these others, since the author seems to have purposefully pulled back to work on other things. Nonetheless, the last two volumes, of 4 issues each, came out in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Rucka claims that he plans about 50 issues, and has written only 32.

I have to suspect that some of these delays are due to cashflow problems, but, dammit folks, the delays just hurt readership and thus increase the cashflow problems.

Sigh.

Crossposted to Xenagia.
shannon_a: (Default)
The rain is coming down outside. It's pleasant to be inside and hear he raindrops while I work through a final read of chapter 16 of the iPhone in Action book. I've got a good chunk of work that will keep be busy through the next several hours, but then I'll be happy to get started on a 4-day weekend.

(Lucy, as always, is less pleased by the rain.)

All Alone. Kimberly is out of town. She left for Florida to visit her ma yesterday morning. Based on the phone call I received, she arrived safety about fourteen and a half hours later. Ah, the efficiencies of modern travel. I remember those bad 'ole days when I could only take a direct flight to where I'm going, and I was told that arriving 30-60 minutes early for a domestic flight was fine. It's so nice that our high leader George Bush with his most respected war on those dirty terrorists living in our midst, combined with thirty years of deregulation in the airline industry have done away with those days.

In any case, I have the house to myself until Sunday. I kicked off that freedom by doing some chores last night, fortunately in advance of today's rain (though it was threatening even then).

Bike Maintenance. When I bought my bike last month, I was told to bring it in after 30 days for maintenance. Today is the 30-day mark, so I brought it in yesterday night. The staff at Missing Link was as always very helpful, but I was bemused by their lead question, which was, "Have you ridden 200 miles with it yet?"

Now, I can't think of any time in my life where I'm ever likely to have ridden 200 miles in a one-month period. Back when I worked for Chaosium, I rode 5 miles back and forth each day, which is about 25 miles a week, and thus a little more than 100 a month. When I was in High School I rode 4 miles back and forth to school each day, or about 20 miles a week, plus over to Scott and James' house a few times a week for gaming, for another 3 or 4 miles each time. At best, that's maybe 32 miles a week, or 130-140 a month. Lately, I've been doing 11 miles to Endgame each week (though only today if the rain lets up), a 10-20 mile adventure most Sundays, and some other scattered travels, such as riding to roleplaying. I can count maybe 120-150 miles since I've bought the bike, but not 200.

Who rides 200 miles a month!? (Apparently, people who buy their bikes from Missing Link.)

So I'm bringing the bike back a couple of weeks from now.

Hair Maintenance. I like always going to the same 'ole hair cutting place. That's because on occasion when I go to a new hair cutting place I get a psychotic hair cutter that I really don't want having anywhere near my neck and eyes with sharp objects. I still distinctly remember a very crazy hair cutter that I got when I had the misfortune to go to a Supercuts here in Berkeley. So, I try to stick with the same 'ole.

But last Sunday I tried to go out to my favorite place and found that it only had one stylist working ... and a line. Then I went back yesterday and found that they're now closed on Tuesdays. They've stopped being able to run credit cards in any case, which also annoyed me.

I don't think my favorite hair cutting place is long for the world. I'd guess they're trying to charge too much for their chairs, and thus are having a hard time keeping them filled. So I went to a new place to get my hair cut yesterday. It's much closer to my house anyway. And neither of the stylists who were on seemed to be crazy.

Books. I'm planning to do some reading over the break.

I was very pleased to discover, when I stopped by the comic shop yesterday, that War and Pieces, the climatic 11th volume of Fables, was out. Truth to tell, it was a little anti-climatic after the superb volume 10, but still a good read.

I have a hoard of other comics to read, borrowed from libraries through Link+. I started off on the 18-issue X-Men: The End yesterday, and was pleased to find it quite good. Anything that Chris Claremont has written in the last 20 years has been pretty hit or miss; it was nice to have a hit (so far, at least).

I was also very happy to discover that the library had a copy of Princeps' Fury in for me, the fifth Codex Alera book. I expect I'll write about the whole series when I'm done, as it's another of those recently written epic fantasies that I've been reading.

Two hours after I started this journal entry, it looks like the rain may be leveling off. It it really is done, that should make it early enough to bike tonight (safely). Meanwhile, I'm getting close to done with chapter 16.
shannon_a: (Default)
I'm having an increasing problem in the field of comics: hardcovers. It's been a gradual thing, and it started out with the evolution of the Trade Paperback over these last several years.

Now TPBs I like. They have a couple of big advantages.

First up, they're a lot easier to store than comic books. Big long boxes of comic books have been a constant factor in my apartments and house over the last 20 or 25 years, and there's never a good way to store them. Right now, for example, I have a great closet in my office that's just the right depth, but it's shelfless, which means I have heavy, heavy long boxes all stacked up, and what I want is inevitably at the bottom. I never casually browse them like I'd like to.

Second, TPBs actually collect stories together into coherent sets. In the modern world where stories are usually decompressed and always run over multiple issues, this is a great boon. I vividly recall the last story arc of Lucifer that I read in the original issues, and that I had to reread it a couple of times as I got the issues, because there was so much complexity it, and I couldn't hold in my head from one month to the next.

There's also a big disadvantage in TPBs*. If you choose to buy comics only in TPBs, something I did starting in 2003, then you start to gradually lose track of what's coming out and what comics are still being published, since you have a delay of 6-12 months before you see most comics.

Enter 2005. Marvel Comics put out the first volume of the New Avengers collections in a hardcover and jacked the price up $5 as a result. I bought it because it was by an author that I really like ... and apparently I wasn't the only one. Three years later Marvel and DC are both putting out huge swaths of their collections in hardcovers before they do TPBs.

Whereas I was tolerant of that first book, I've become more and more irritated over what's clearly a big money grab. Every three to four of those hardcovers I buy costs me an extra comic.

So, I've started to back off. I'm going to probably keep getting New Avengers in hardcover since I have a complete set of these "Premiere" editions, but I've drawn the line at other hardcovers that I got suckered into like Green Lantern. Instead, I'm increasingly waiting for the TPB editions of the hardcovers to come out.

The problem: things are getting delayed even more. At first Marvel would put out the next hardcover and the last trade out at the time, increasing the delay to the 12-18 month range, but they seem to be getting greedier and greedier. Increasingly, both Marvel (with, say X-Factor) and DC (with, say Green Lantern) are putting out 2-3 hardcovers in a series before the TPBs.

So now I'm seeing lags of 2-3 years in some of my comics, and sometimes I lose track of whether a comics is still being printed, or if I even care about the author.

And, having me just plain forget that I wanted to read a comic from a few years ago, even absent my irritation over the money grab ... that's not the best way to keep me as a customer**.



* Some people say there's another big disadvantage: that you're not supporting the monthlies and thus you're not helping comics get to TPBs in the first place. In a world where loss leaders happen, I don't think that's actually a problem, and I definitely don't think it's my problem. If I want to buy comics as TPBs, thinking I should be forced to buy them as comics too is cuckoo.

** A few weeks ago I discovered that The Death of Captain America Volume 1 (which is I think from early 2007) had finally made the jump from HC to TPB. Unfortunately I've been unable to buy it at my local comic store because of another problem with the situation: they still have the HC in stock, and so don't want to restock with TPBs. I finally ordered it from Amazon tonight.

(Crossposted to Xenagia.)
shannon_a: (Default)
Friday I picked up one of the newest trade paperback collections of the Hellblazer, The Fear Machine.

Reading Hellblazer has often been an exercise in frustration because the collections have been very scattered. The problem is that the comic started back in 1988, and that was well before any collections were being regularly put out. Even through the 1990s, only collections of the highlights of series were being published, and thus for a while there were collections of issues #1-9 and #41-46 of Hellblazer, but little else.

Things finally started changing over the last several years, with DC putting out an increasing number of Hellblazers, slowly back-filling the entire 20-year run. I think the movie helped their momentum a lot. At this point they have everything reprinted but half the run of original writer Jamie Delano and the entirety of the run of the third author, Paul Jenkins. I'll looking forward to both of those getting finished up, as my collections of both runs were very spotty.

I can understand why Jamie Delano got saved until near the end. He was the one who really defined the Hellblazer comic and made it successful, long term. But at the same time, he can be a hard read. Though he writes very good characters (which is what I think made the series successful in the long run) he can also get very esoteric, and I've sometimes found standalone issues or the finales of arcs hard to follow as a result.

Nonetheless, I was very pleased to finally see The Fear Machine hit print again.

The Fear Machine is an interesting story because it shows something of the breadth of stories that Delano told in Hellblazer before the comic got a bit more set in his ways. He turned from a story of demons and angels (in the first major trade) to a story of conspiracies and technology here. (He'd next follow it up with a very human serial killer.) I only had bits of this story before, and so I really enjoyed getting to read it as a whole.

I also noted how the individual comic has changed in the last 20 years. The Fear Machine was very much a 9-part story, but it wasn't decompressed. Each story had a lot of weight, sufficient that I wanted to stop and think after each issue, rather than just plowing through. I'm afraid that's something that's been lost in newer comics.

It's funny, but back in the 1990s DC was saying that they didn't know how to collect The Fear Machine because of the length (which was 9 issues). Now, that's entirely commonplace; if anything, people are surprised by a 4-issue trade, which was much more common when the medium was just starting to expand.

I'm really happy about how much trade paperbacks have grown in importance in the comic book market. I think it allows for more mature stories, because people are writing on larger canvases. It also allows for the publication of really high-quality comics that might sell poorly in the periodicals, but which continue selling at those same low but respectable levels month after month, forever, when released as a collection.



DC already has the fourth Delano trade, The Family Man scheduled for later in the year. I'm hoping they'll finish up with Delano early in 2009, then move on to the last set of issues they haven't collected. Jenkins' run is about 40 issues long (the traditional length of a Hellblazer run), so that should keep them busy for a while.

(Crossposted to Xenagia)

Conan

Aug. 21st, 2008 12:02 pm
shannon_a: (Default)
Lately I've been reading comics about Conan the Barbarian.

These are, of course, related to Robert E. Howard's classic pulp hero. There have been two series of comics of note, a very long (250+ issue) run that began at Marvel Comics in the 1970s and a much more recent (50?+ issue) run that began at Dark Horse a few years ago.

One of the nice things about Dark Horse's acquisition of Conan is that they've been doing their best to get everything into print, thus they've put out something like 13 collections of Marvel's Conan and 6 collections of their own, not even counting various miniseries and the old black & white Marvel series.

I've been quite liking both of the series that I've read, though they're clearly very different.

Marvel. The Marvel series was written by Roy Thomas and he set out to do the same thing as de Camp and Carter had done over at Lancer book in the 1960s. He decided to tell the whole story of the life of Conan, beginning with the earliest days when he was a boy come down out of Cimmeria.

I have a lot of respect for that ideals, especially back in the 1970s when comic books were much less serialized. Granted, the adventures were still pretty individual. It took a year before he wrote his first two-issue story and several issues beyond that before he told a multi-issue saga. But the idea of a character really growing over time was relatively original in comics at that time (and could probably only have been done at the Marvel of the 1970s).

I also expect that the comic causes "purists" to gnash their teeth. Not only did Thomas adapt the original Conan stories, but he also wrote many stories of his own, to bridge the gaps. However I expect what purists really hate is that he adapted lots of other stories. Much of it was Howard's writings, but from different time periods and about different heroes, abruptly turned into Conan stories. Most famously, a relatively modern story co-starring a heroine named Red Sonya was adapted into a story with the hero Red Sonja, who has thus become an important part of the Conan mythos, even though she never lived in Hyborian times in Howard's writing.

Thomas even went out to other pulp writers. Moorcock wrote a story guest-starring Elric. John Jakes likewise contributed the plot for an issue. Thomas even adapted a story by Norvell Page called Flame Winds, as usual turning it into a Conan story.

(As it happens, I think it was one of the best Conan stories of the first few years of the comic.)

Anyway, I find the 1970s comic lots of fun.

Dark Horse. The more recent Dark Horse comic was by Kurt Busiek for its first run. It followed in Thomas' footsteps by being a chronological tale of Conan's life, but it steadfastly has refused to adapt anything but Howard's own work (with some bridging stories too, of course, else the comic would last just a few years).

The writing is very sharp--probably better than any of Thomas'-- though you can certainly see the changing times because the stories end up very decompressed. What Thomas told in a single issue often runs longer than that. The comic has also had beautiful, beautiful art.

If I were a big Howard fan, I'd want to have both series on my shelf.

(I'd actually like to have both on my shelf even though I'm not a Howard fanboy, but money constrains me otherwise. So instead I've been checking them out from the library. Sadly, checking things out from the library is sometimes an exercise in frustration with serial fiction, particularly comics. I've thus far read books #1-5 of the Marvel series and #1-2 of the Dark Horse series, but at that point I hit a wall. None of the 49 libraries I have easy access to through Link+ have the next book in either series. I could get #8 and #12 of the Marvel and #4 of the Dark Horse, but that's it. I'll just have to sit and wait, I suppose, but in the meantime I've sent a note to my local library, who had all the books I've read so far, that they should get the rest.)

Crossposted to Xenagia; come talk about genre stuff with us there

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