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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Bedded & Jess: A Kickstarter Project!


I'd like to bring your attention to a great Kickstarter project I'm involved in. 

 For the past couple of years, I've been inking a comic book called "Bedded & Jess" by artist Nick Woll.  Nick is autistic and has some difficulty communicating, but has some decent chops as an artist.  I find his work has a great energy and stylistic elements that remind me of some of the classic Disney artists such as Carl Barks and Floyd Gotfriedson.  He's especially good at packing a page with lots of frenetic detail and unusual characters, and has a talent for being creative with panel borders.

 With help from his brother, Nick has put together a series of adventures starring his creations, the titular "Bedded & Jess".  Simply put, it's a continuing story of their characters getting into one unusual situation after another and meeting a host of strange characters along the way.

They've got a lot of work done (over 300 pages so far!), but to get this thing off the ground, they're going to need a bunch of support, so they're running a Kickstarter campaign to get the first 8 issues published.

To help support their project, I'm donating an orignal watercolor painting based on one of Nick's drawings for someone generous enough to buy in at the $350 level.  Even at the basic levels they've got some fun rewards that I'm sure comics fans will enjoy, and at the top levels there's some truly amazing stuff.

Do me a favor and check out their campaign, even if it's only to see all the cool art they've got posted.  Be sure to watch the "About the artist..." video featuring Nick himself.

 This is a campaign for a worthwhile cause, but it's also a fun book that I've really enjoyed working on, so please support them if you can!



Thursday, September 10, 2020

Art on Instagram

 I have been slowly building my Instagram feed over the past few months, mostly populating it with old art pieces and sketches that I've created.  Followers can expect to see things that have not been widely published or may have never been published at all.  There's some fun stuff in there, and I'm enjoying rediscovering some of my own work that I'd forgotten about. Check it out!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Things to Do in the Slowpocalypse, Part II: The Audio Version - Podcasts

Coming back to the topic of ways to fiddle while the world (metaphorically, at least so far) burns, here's some of the audio delights I will be enjoying in the coming weeks.  Actually, I've been enjoying many of these for a while now, as my dayjob involves spending a lot of time staring at spreadsheets and moving around theoretical numbers.   Having something interesting to plug into my ears often makes the days pass a little more lightly.
This one's turning out to be quite lengthy, so I'm going to break it up into a couple of posts.

Podcasts have become both a lifeline and a daily routine for me.  The first thing I do every morning is to refresh my podcast feed and download the latest episode of any of the two dozen or so shows I listen to.  Whatever your interest may be, I can almost guarantee that there is a podcast out there to go along with it.
Some of the best of the current crop (in my opinion) are:

True Crime Podcasts - I'm lumping these together because I have several in my feed right now, but that does not mean that they're all of a type.  Casefile is a wonderful show with an anonymous Australian narrator who does deep dives into unusual and often unheard-of cases.  Invisible Choir attempts to take an empathic approach to often grisly events that you may not heard of (caution:  definitely NOT for the faint of heart).  On the other hand, My Favorite Murder is considered a comedy podcast, and is often funny even though they cover some heavy material.  Meanwhile, Serial Killers is much more polished and covers exactly what it says on the tin.  For a more unusual spin, Most Notorious covers famous historical crimes, and recently has done a couple of timely episodes on the 1918 Spanish Flu and other infectious diseases.

A bonus item for this section is Last Podcast on the Left...this also take a humorous slant on the true crime, conspiracy theory and other weirdness it covers.  It's a bit less mature, but fun to listen to.  Unfortunately, I recently had to drop this one because they have gone Spotify-exclusive and I can't get their episodes in my podcatcher of choice.

Fiction - There is a lot of good fiction being written for podcasts, and a lot of great older fiction being recorded.  Foremost among them for me are the shows from the Nightvale Presents network, which brings you such shows as the Welcome to Nightvale (think H. P. Lovecraft meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and The Orbiting Human Circus (think Neil Gaiman meets Jacques Tati).  Following close on their heels are the shows from Escape Artists (Escape Pod and Pseudopod are the ones I enjoy), which present horror and science fiction from some of the top names writing today.
Also no slouch in this domain is the District of Wonders network, home of Starship Sofa and Far Fetched Fables.  The former is a top-notch sci-fi podcast, while the latter presents fantasy fiction.  I'm a Patreon supporter of the former, but not so keen on the latter, but that's just because fantasy is not really my cup of tea. To each their own.

Nonfiction - I don't spend all my time in true crime and genre fiction.  I occasionally like to learn things, and when I do, I turn to shows like Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, a fantastic "boots on the ground" view of major historical events.  Dan doesn't release his episodes very often, but when he does, he makes it worth the wait, with 3 and 4 hour shows that make for a long and very enjoyable listen.
Much shorter in length, but no less interesting, are the companion shows "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and "Stuff You Should Know".  The former is bite-sized chunks of history covering topics wider than the military history that seems to be the mainstay of so much historical writing, while the latter provides regular shows covering a wide range of topics, from scientific discoveries, to famous people to every day things that you may never have thought to question regarding origin or process.

General geekery - This is where the list gets peculiar and particular to me.  Your interests may vary, but for me, I like shows that dig into the history and analysis of topics that I enjoy.  One of the foremost of these is The Cromcast, an analysis of the work of Robert E. Howard and his contemporaries.  Given that I publish Ian McDonald's "Bruno the Bandit", this one's a natural for me.  Closely related is The Lovecraft Geek, hosted by eminent Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price.  I can't fail to include Hypnogoria podcast.  Jim Moon's weekly reviews or readings of works by Lovecraft, M. R. James, Adam Nevill, and many related horror films and their creators are worth waiting for, and one of the audio highlights of my weekend.
At quite a tangent to them are The Tim Ferriss Show and WTF.  Both shows feature interviews with fascinating and successful people in a variety of fields.  The former examines the formula for their success, while the latter tries to get into their history and personality.  Both shows get rather long, but for the right subject can be worth the time spent.

Of course, even in the unlikely possibility that none of these catches your interest, you can always "roll your own" when it comes to podcasts, using the web service Fourble.  This service turns lists of mp3s into custom rss feeds that you can then plug into your podcatcher and have new "episodes" delivered on a schedule that you define. I find it especially great for listening to the many audio offerings available at archive.org, and have rolled custom podcast feeds for Ronnie Corbett's "When the Dog Dies", BBC's "Weird Tales" show and the classic weird literature show "The Black Mass".  Of course, their list of publicly available podcasts is quite extensive, and would probably make for a lifetime of listening on its own.

For all this, my preferred method of listening is the PocketCasts app, available for both Android and iOS.  Disregarding the aforementioned Spotify exclusive shows, this is the best and easiest-to-use app for discovering, subscribing and managing your podcasts and episodes.
If you're looking for a relaxing way to spend time while sitting out some isolation time, it's an equally entertaining and edifying experience to sit back, close your eyes and enjoy a good podcast.  Or six.  Or ten.  Or whatever it takes to get you ready to take on the world again.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Strange Days Indeed or Things to Do in the Slowpocalypse

Actually, John Lennon fibbed a bit...people did tell me there'd be days like these.  Specifically, Mary Shelley, H. G. WellsGeorge Stewart, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Pat Frank and  Margaret Atwood, just to name a few of the better ones.  But perhaps I'm being hyperbolic...I don't actually think we're headed into a new dark age where mysticism and superstition rules, identity is forbidden and some plucky Randian soul will have to rediscover the lightbulb...although the romantic in me is secretly thrilled at the prospect of getting to live out Rush's "2112".

What we are headed for is, among other things, record amounts of downtime as we enable the oxymoron of "social distancing" and shelter in place in our homes, apartments and hobbit holes of choice.  The results, on an individual level, will be record amounts of boredom and ennui and an almost Asimov's Solarian level of isolation.  In short, pretty much what I've been practicing my entire life.

Like a lot of people, I'm facing a lot of "involuntary vacation" time in the coming weeks.  However, I am taking a rather stoic approach to all this and choosing to see it as an opportunity to do some of the things I've put off for too long now.  To quote Shakespeare when he channelled Marcus Aurelius in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Fortunately, this is the best of all apocalypses in that we at least have internet while the world crumbles around us, and with that, there's some good folks out there willing to help me amuse myself to death (thank you Neil Postman!).  Here's just a few of the things I'll be enjoying in the coming weeks, presented for the edification and delight of anyone looking for some distraction. 

First and foremost, there's the Internet Archive.  I like these guys so much that I'm a regular financial contributor to them.  They are exactly the kind of resource we need at a time like this.  There are millions of books, movies, audio files, games and programs and other material available from their website.  I'm especially fascinated by their selection of magazines (they have the entire Warren archives!), particularly their Pulp Magazine Archive, where you can read scans of everything from Weird Tales to Fangoria to Amazing Stories magazine, with lots of diverting stops along the way.  In addition to all this, they have an extensive library of books on every topic imaginable, either free to read or free to borrow through their lending library service. 
In fact, they have just announced that in response to the current situation, they are suspending all waitlists on their lending library, making sure that the necessary books are going to be available to people who are stuck at home, especially to those students who will be studying at home and will require electronic resources to do so.
For an especially apt and timely read from their lending library, may I recommend Will and Ariel Durant's "The Lessons of History"?  It's a quick read that I've found very insightful in its broad overview of human history.
Or, if you're looking for something lighter, may I recommend "Eternal Lovecraft", an entertaining anthology of Lovecraftian stories, including some that are quite amusing.
Of course, if you've more video oriented, there's a lot of gold to be found in The VHS Vault, a vast collection of digitized VHS tapes from the golden age of home video.

On a more educational note, I will be enjoying and recommending the content at Open Culture,  Similar in intent to Internet Archive, Open Culture is a more curated collection of freely available material, including courses, book, audiobooks, images and movies.  True to their name, they definitely have a more cultural bent, highlighting such things as Patrick Stewart's one-a-day Shakespeare sonnet reading, lectures from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, and Buckminster Fuller, and films by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and John Wayne

Open Culture is a great resource to do a deep dive into a topic that may have interested you for a while, but that you've never had time to explore.  Personally, I've been meaning to get to the films by Andrei Tarkovsky, especially Stalker and Solaris, and I'll probably get to those this weekend.  It may also be a great time to take in some art lectures, especially the Digital Photography course available from Harvard.

For those wanting to spend more time consuming something fun to take their minds off all the bad news circulating right now, I'd also recommend the Digital Comic Museum.  It's a fantastic place to read all those wonderful comics of yesteryear that have entered the public domain.  There's work in there by some of the masters, including Eisner, Frazetta, Bob Iger and Reed Crandall, among many others.

Naturally, I'll be spending some time just vegging out with some video as well.  Aside from the offerings from Youtube, which is an attention hole like no other, there's some great genre classics available from Shout Factory, including a ton of MST3K material.  For anyone who uses Kodi, there's a legal and official Shout Factory add-on for that app that will give you access to their catalog.
Same goes for Tubi TV, which has enough B-movies and action/horror/sci-fi flicks to while away many an hour when you need to turn off the real world.
Being the horror fanatic that I am, I'll probably also be checking out the free trial from Shudder, if only to see what's available there.  I already subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, so I probably won't want another subscription in these tightened belt times, but I am curious to see their selection.

Finally, and biggest of all for me, while I'm not working I'm going to be looking forward to....working.
I've got the strips for the next Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit.  I've got inking jobs to do and sample pages for a comic book proposal.  I've got personal projects to work on that will keep me busy for quite a while yet.
In anticipation of my income decreasing even further, I've decided to try my hand at editing other people's writing.  To that end I'm currently reading the Chicago Manual of Style to learn how to do this at something like a professional level.  I know that's probably like saying that I'm reading the dictionary, but in a weird way, I'm enjoying this book more than most fiction books I've read in the past year.  I guess I've always had a closet grammar nerd in me.  Anyway, give me a hot minute to finish this blunderbuss of a book, and I'll be ready to proofread and edit your documents into something like a publishable format.  I expect to be slow and imperfect at first, but to get better with practice, so I'm going to take my time and ramp up with some easy work.  There could be a lot of potential in work like this, and if nothing else, it will be fun (to a certain value of "fun"). 

I'm sure there's a ton more resources out there...lots of creative folks and publishers are making work freely available in response to this situation.  Feel free to leave a comment with your favorites to share them with other readers. 
Also, although it may be difficult at a time like this, don't forget that most of these services run on voluntary donations from users so if you can, give them a little bit of support.  Every little bit helps, especially at a time like this.

Stay safe.  Stay home, as much as you can.  And do what you can to make this time enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Setting Bruno Free!

In response to the current situation around the Covid-19 Coronavirus and the requirement for self-isolation, I have seen several creators online offering some of their work for free.  Hey, we've got to do something to fight off cabin fever while we're avoiding other people right?
Armed with that inspiration, I've gotten Ian McDonald's permission to make Vol. 1 of "The Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit" free.  The book is available free in pdf and cbz formats right now from DriveThruComics. 
Head over there and grab a copy if you don't already have one!  It's a great introduction to a very entertaining series with some of Ian's finest work, not to mention a host of illustrations from other webcomics artists, all wrapped up with praise from Marvel Comic's own Roy Thomas and a cover that is arguably the last published work by classic Conan artist Ernie Chan!  All that and you can't beat the price!! Click the link above, or the cover image below to get your own copy of this comics classic!

While you're there, don't forget to check out our other free offerings, "Why Comics?" and a Journals of Simon Pariah short story, "A Pair of Boots". 

Here's hoping all you Brunatics stay well and stay safe.  It's not a great time right now...but it could be a great time to catch up on some reading!


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Reading the Unreadable #6: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

To be honest, I'm not even sure why this one made the list of most challenging books.  The site I pulled this information from claims that it's due to the change in narrator and shifts in time and place, but honestly, it sounds like the compiler of this list just hadn't read much science fiction.  While the changes in viewpoint may be a bit confusing for a beginning reader, there's enough context clues to make it clear who's narrating, and the overarching themes of the book are much more important than the setting.
The work itself is a feminist examination of gender roles as seen from the perspective of characters from parallel earths, each with a vastly different cultural development.  As such, it is less rabid than, say, Thomas Berger's "Regiment of Women" but more aggressive than Octavia Butler's "Dawn".  Given that, perhaps the most challenging thing about this novel is it's approach to looking at gender norms.  Unfortunately, looking at it from the perspective of a somewhat liberal-minded reader in the 21st Century makes the ideas in this book seem somewhat dated.  While I'm sure the problems that Russ attempts to discuss here still exist in some forms, she writes from a milieu that no longer exists as such (at least not in Western society), and that makes the novel's approach less immediately relevant.  Not invalid, mind you, but rather separated from the modern context. 
To me, that's a shame, because the form of this novel is a fantastic one for an entertaining examination of a philosophical and cultural problem.  One of my favorite tropes in science fiction is the idea of the examination of modern life from the alien perspective, and Russ accomplishes that rather neatly while managing to make human beings themselves the aliens to their own world...or a form of it.  It's an approach that allows for a deep dive into the fallacies of culture and our perceptions of "how the world works".  This is a work that could stand to be updated to the modern context.  If ever there was an argument for rewriting a novel the same way we remake movies with new technology, this book is it.  Of course, I don't know that any other author could do Russ's voice justice without sounding like pastiche, and unfortunately, Ms. Russ passed away in 2011.  Perhaps a more current author like Nalo Hopkinson or N. K. Jemisin could get around to doing their own thing with this idea.  Perhaps they - or someone - already have; I haven't read enough to say for certain. 
All I know is that of all the books on this list so far, this is probably the one I would most recommend to other readers looking to expand their literary horizons a little.

Up next, "Being and Time" by Martin Heidegger.  This one promises to be a bit heavy, even for one with my philosophical bent.  According to Amazon, it's 610(!) pages, so I may see you back here by the end of the year.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Brunatics Rejoice!

Fans of Bruno the Bandit, Ian McDonald or just good writing in general, it's a good day!  Long after hanging up his pen on Bruno, Ian McDonald is writing again!
Ian has begun posting his short stories on Wattpad, starting with three very powerful tales, "Bloody Buddy", "President Cthulhu" and "I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me".
I've been lucky enough to be given to read each of these stories (and others yet to come!) in advance, and let me tell you, you're in for a treat!  Ian's writing has matured in interesting new ways since ending his webcomic, and these stories show some entertaining and insightful new directions for his work.  Ian always had a way of subtly working social satire into his Bruno strips, but with these new works, there's more than just humour...Ian draws on politics, popular media and personal experience to create stories that are equally amusing, horrifying and touching.  Each of them are a great reading experience, and taken all together they show that Ian is developing into a decent writer well beyond the scope of his previous work on Bruno.
But don't just take my word for it...go see it for yourself!  Head over to Ian's profile page at Wattpad and check out these stories, and see if you don't agree with me!