Because you demanded it… Phone Attack!

22 10 2012

My wife says I should start charging for giving people phone advice, and I almost think she’s right at this point. (Don’t worry, this one’s on me.) I’ve actually been giving so much phone advice lately, copying and pasting the same notes from one friend to another, that I figured I may as well clean up my notes and make them available for the masses. What does this have to do with comics and games, you may ask? Well, not a lot, except in so far as our smartphones are becoming an indispensable part of our lives and engaging with comics and games digitally is fast becoming a major part of the market. So I might get into the ramifications of that at a later date, but basically, I just love smartphones almost as much as comics and games and I wanted to talk about them today. So here’s some starting advice for the savvy smartphone shopper.

First of all, yes to Android, all the way. Don’t get me wrong, Apple has a fine product with iOS and the iPhone, but I’m an Android guy, and I think you should be too. If you want simplicity, (for a price,) go Apple. You won’t be disappointed. But despite all their hype, even the iPhone ain’t perfect and you will find quirks that bug the poop out of you and make you want to chuck it across the room. In fact, you’ll find that to be the case with any tech device you get. That’s just the nature of the beast. But if you think Android might be an option for you but don’t know where to start, let me help seal the deal.

To make a long story short, buy the Samsung Galaxy NEXUS, GSM version, direct from Google, for $350, (see my Update #1, below,) latest Google Nexus phone for around $300, contract-FREE, (not to be confused with the newer Samsung Galaxy S3.) Purchase a SIM card from an MVNO like Straight Talk along with a month of prepaid service. Sign up for the amount of service you need from T-Mobile, contract-FREE. (See my Update #2, below.) Activate Google Voice with your Gmail account, (set one up if you don’t already have it,) and port your cell number to Google Voice. (This allows you to keep the same number with no more porting, even if you end up switching services a lot in the future, thus freeing you from one more chain the carriers try to shackle you with.) Then link the number on your new SIM card to your Google Voice account. Finally, cancel your current carrier’s service and pay the ETF; (don’t worry, you’ll still save money in the long run.) Stir in a cup of ice and enjoy.*

So that was easy; if you’re still not convinced, let’s break it down. First, the flashiest part of this whole plan: the phone! I’m an old school smart-gadget guy from way back. I had a simple candy-bar dumbphone for a while, which I struggled to constantly keep up to date with my paper address book, but I eventually augmented its almost nonexistent organizational capabilities with my first Palm OS-based device: a Handspring Visor. Next was another Palm-based device, the Sony Clie. For a hot second, I tried out a Blackberry 7100, the precursor to the Pearl, but quickly dumped it. My first real smartPHONE was the Palm Treo 650. I loved that thing, but eventually it grew old and needed to be put down. Over the course of a year I flew through phones, trying to find a worthy replacement, a Nokia e71, a Blackberry Curve, all the while keeping a close ear on the rumblings about an open-source phone, the Open Moko, all as the iPhone was exploding on the scene. But despite the excitement, I just didn’t see what I was looking for with the iPhone, (even though I used a Mac at home.) Then Google came to the rescue with the announcement of Android and it’s first phone, the G1, aka Dream, (manufactured by HTC.) I had mine reserved on Day 1 of the product release, Oct 22, 2008, and I’ve been an Android guy ever since. I got heavily into modding my phone with custom versions of the operating system, and upgraded to a version of the first Galaxy, the Samsung Vibrant, I’ve helped out with my wife’s HTC Sensation, and I recently made the best step of all to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the current Android flagship phone, sporting the most advanced version of the OS: Jellybean, 4.1.2. All this is to say, I have a good idea what makes a good phone, and for my money, the Galaxy Nexus, (not to be confused with the myriad other Galaxy phones out there, including the latest and greatest S3,) is the best phone out there. Why not the year newer Galaxy S3 that you see all those commercials for? Or the HTC One S? They are spectacular phones, even with better processors and RAM than the Nexus, but they lack something huge: unmodified, vanilla Android.

Jelly Bean is a phenomenal, state of the art mobile operating system and when it launched back in July, basically closed the only remaining gap between Android and iOS. You may have heard people complain that Android was too clunky, or that the iPhone “just works” or is so much smoother. And this was for the most part true. Until Jelly Bean. JB did a lot for Android to streamline the overall experience, both visually and under the hood. In fact, JB is so much smoother that running it on the Galaxy Nexus with a 1.2 GHz dual-core chip is easily a faster and smoother experience than running Ice Cream Sandwich, (the immediately prior version of Android,) on the Galaxy S3 with a 1.4Ghz quad-core chip. And to compare it to the iPhone, there is no longer any discernible user-experience advantage to iOS over Android, and in fact, Android downright performs some tasks better.

Let’s take a moment for a quick primer, in case you’re falling behind. For some of you, this will be obvious, but let’s just make sure. Jellybean. That’s the name of the current version of the Android operating system, or OS, which is a mobile software operating system developed by Google. Similarly, Apple develops iOS, which is the name of their mobile operating system which runs and is sold exclusively on their iPhone. iOS is currently up to version 6, called iOS 6, which ships natively on their newest device, the iPhone 5. iOS is an adapted version of Apple’s personal computer operating system, called OS X, versions of which over the years have been called Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, & Mountain Lion. Likewise, Microsoft develops the Windows operating system, which has had versions called 95, XP, NT, Vista, 7 and soon, 8. And coming back to Android, it launched with Cupcake, and then alphabetically progressed through Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and now Jellybean, and probably next year will be Key Lime Pie. Why do you care? Mobile OSes are evolving way faster than their desktop big brothers, in large part because they still have a lot of catching up and innovating to do to become fully functional personal computing platforms that are able to fit in your pocket and go anywhere. And in general, having state of the art hardware in your phone makes it a lot easier to get things done with your phone- more so than having a state of the art computer does. With a computer, most people can get everything done that they need to on a simple, $400-or-$5oo machine with zero bells and whistles. The equivalent of such a computer in the smartphone world would be a free or $50 Android phone of last year’s model line up and it would be absolute torture to get anything done with it. So the latest and greatest with phones can really matter. That’s (partly) why everyone clamors to be first in line to buy whatever latest and greatest phone is coming out every few months.

So now you know that Android is great, and why you need Jelly Bean. But currently JB is still only available on the Galaxy Nexus, despite being out for over 4 months. Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, the three biggest Android phone manufacturers, keep postponing their rollout of JB to their newest devices, (like the S3,) though it may have actually very recently just begun appearing. But they are nevertheless notorious for getting OS updates out slowly, if at all, especially as the phones age. But Google’s Nexus line of phones are specifically commissioned, (except for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, the bastard child of the Nexus family,) to always get immediate OS updates. So that’s why the Galaxy Nexus is the best JB phone you can get.

But there’s one other HUGE reason to get the GSM Galaxy Nexus, direct from Google: NO. MORE. CONTRACT. Are you sick of being locked into an expensive 2-year contract with a cellular service provider who never seems to have your best interests at heart? You can end it all by cancelling your contract with them and switching to a pre-paid monthly MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, who offer you the same service but at HALF the price or even less. (Yes, you can still try an MVNO if you like, but I think T-Mobile’s new plans are the way to go.) You can even shop around, changing from month to month. And the cost difference over the life of what would have been a 2-year contract at a major carrier is actually way cheaper in the long run. Plus, being a contract free GSM phone, you can easily switch SIM cards for international travel. And yes, that’s even WITH paying the ETF, (early termination fee,) to your current carrier. In fact, cancelling your service and paying the ETF SOONER rather than later can save you more money than if you wait for your contract to expire. My and my wife’s contract with T-Mo was up next June, (8 mos away) and even with paying TWO ETFs totalling $400, I’ll still start saving money on the deal by February. We switched from paying $165/mo for our 2 lines on a family plan to just $90/mo,( that’s 2 separate $45 unlimited packages) from Straight Talk. That’s $900 bucks a year. That’s real money. And that’s with T-Mobile, the cheapest of the big three carriers. That more than allows you to buy a new contract-free phone at full price, (usually around $600,) every year or two. Which makes Google’s Galaxy Nexus at just $350 a no-brainer. (UPDATE 5/7/13: I’ve just switched us back to T-Mobile. Their new pricing is now competitive with the MVNOs, and they have better coverage and service. Indeed, I am currently paying to T-Mo $90/mo for both of us, contract-free. That’s with data of 500MB/mo for my wife, and 2.5GB/mo for myself. If this proves too low, we can easily raise either of our data plans for $10, each.)

So there’s my pitch, I hope it helps your decision-making. If you order the Nexus now from Google, you can’t go wrong. That said, there’s still a couple things to keep in mind. The Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have the best battery, and you might want to purchase an extended battery, (incidentally, that’s something you can’t do with the iPhone, EDIT: and also can’t do with the Nexus 4, sadly,) for something like $30. Also, while the Galaxy Nexus is fantastic, it is a year old and Google is poised to announce at least one new Nexus phone, (the LG Nexus 4) on October 29, which will presumably also be sold directly through their Play Store, and which may also likely drive down the price of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, if not immediately, then probably by the holidays. Assuming the Nexus 4 is everything we assume it will be, all of the above still holds true- just replace all my mentions of “Samsung Galaxy Nexus” with “LG Nexus 4.” And enjoy!

For more information on these topics, here’s a good article written by a pro who DOES get paid for this sort of thing.

*Do NOT put your cell phone in a cup of anything, let alone ice. It’s technical, but you might damage it.

UPDATE #1: Since first posting this, I’ve learned some stuff, particularly regarding Google Voice’s glaring lack of MMS support, which I detail in the following paragraphs:

As the market stands now, I continue to advise everyone to buy whatever the most current Google Nexus phone is at the time. (The Nexus 4, at the time of this writing, April 2013.) The freedom of choice this allows you is unparalleled, plus you’re guaranteed to always get prompt updates to the OS, usually at least MONTHS before the next closest third party phone, if they even get them at all. Not only is your OS always up to date, but it functions the way it’s designed to, which I think results in a more consistent, modern, and pleasant user-experience. Buy it direct from Google, as they subsidize the cost of it themselves, so it usually runs around $250-$300, $300-$400, but contract-free! Also, get the largest storage capacity model available. With the way the technology evolves so swiftly, you won’t be sorry. (EDIT: Other phones aren’t bad options either, see my Update #2, below.)

As for carriers, T-Mobile’s new month-to-month plans look great, and you get the comfort of a major carrier. However, their plans still run rather high, in the $60-$70 range, as compared Their plans start at $50/mo, similar to the smaller MVNO competitors. Mobile Virtual Network Operators, like SIMply Mobile, Net10, StraightTalk, etc., lease coverage from the major carriers, like AT&T, T-Mobile, etc., so a plan on an MVNO has identical coverage as if you were with the big carrier, but at a fraction of the price. Net10 is the cheapest right now, at $43/mo. I just bought AT&T network SIM cards from them for my and my wife’s two phones; I’ll be switching our service to them from StraightTalk this month. The drawback with MVNOs is potentially weaker customer service.

The last factor is your phone number. I used to advise people to port their number to Google Voice, and then they are free to switch carriers while always retaining the same phone number. This is an undisputed advantage, however a couple caveats have come to my attention since making this switch myself in the summer of 2012.

First, and most dramatically, Google Voice is utterly incapable of either sending or receiving MMS messages. I am not speaking hyperbolically. I cannot send MMS messages from my Google Voice number, (the only number people know as mine,) nor can I receive them from anyone, (except notifications from Sprint users- more on that later.) EDIT:(There’s not a lot of solid information on this problem, mostly rumor. What follows is my best understanding of the issue, as gleaned from the aforementioned rumors.) It’s a political issue more than a technological one. The big carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mo, and Verizon actually have agreements with each other to route MMS messages across their networks. In an effort to shut Google out of the game, they refuse to route MMSs to or from Google Voice numbers. (SMSs, ie. *normal* text messages, and phone calls route just fine.) This has been the case for the several year history of Google Voice and doesn’t look poised to change any time soon. Google and Sprint did finally work out a small deal last year, so if you have a contract plan with Sprint you can send and receive MMSs with a Google Voice number, and non-Sprint Google Voice users will receive a notification SMS that an MMS has been sent to them, as well as the content of the MMS forwarded as an email to their Gmail account. (The Nexus 4 is GSM-only, ie. AT&T and T-Mo only. Having a GSM phone is advantageous, though less so if you don’t travel. If you simply must have MMS AND Google Voice, Sprint is your only option, but I don’t know their limited phone selection well enough to suggest one.)

And just to be clear, when users of all other networks, (except Sprint,) send me an MMS, I never even know about it. This is not a technological issue that can be solved with a clever workaround or app. The entire Google Voice network never even knows I got sent an MMS, because AT&T or Verizon, or whoever never even bothered to send it on. Now this wouldn’t be a huge problem if MMSs were only photos. (Email, or social network sharing, is a much better protocol for sending photos.) But most phones, “smart” and “dumb” alike, including the iPhone and Android, when composing group text messages, by default change them into MMS messages, which allows for Reply-All functionality amongst other things. (Some phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S series can have this default function switched off, so that group texts are sent simply as multiple SMSs.) So if someone sends a mass-text to several people including yourself, lets say in order to book people for a job, you will never even know you missed the text. Which is obviously a big deal.

Since realizing this, I’ve been thinking hard about what to do about it. One of my employers who I knew frequently sends texts regarding work to a group of people, I actually explained the situation to and helped him change the default setting on his Galaxy S III so that it doesn’t automatically convert group texts to MMSs. This helps some, and I don’t think I’m missing too much other communication about work, (again, I’d never know if I did, unless the individuals followed up with me about it later,) but it still is worrisome to me at best. Knowing that I don’t seem to be missing too many texts, for now I’ve decided to wait it out and see if Google’s rumored Babble service may help solve the problem. (It’s hoped Babble will be announced at Google I/O developers’ conference in May and more information may be known then.) Babble may even replace Google Voice, which has been a product mostly ignored by Google, and which many users are becoming concerned may be cancelled, ala the recent Google Reader.

So that’s my two cents. I got my wife a Nexus 4 for Christmas and she loves it. We are very satisfied with our MVNO service and especially at the money saved. (We used to spend $160/month to T-Mo, and now spend $90. The savings is so dramatic that it paid for itself, even with TWO $200 Early Termination Fees within about 7 months.) Google Voice is great and provides the best solution for texting from your PC I’ve ever seen, (Growl Voice on the Mac!) But the MMS issue is always weighing on my mind.


Most of what I say above still holds true, but here’s some addenda:

1. While a $300-$400 price for a new Nexus phone direct from Google remains my favorite phone option, don’t discount manufacturers’ flagship phones like the excellent HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4. You will sacrifice some freedom in not having stock Android direct from Google, but, especially if you’re not interested in always being state-of-the-art, a manufacturer skinned phone like these can work well. Also, if you really don’t need anything fancy, (I’m looking at you, Mom,) budget smartphones can be had in the $100 range, like the Samsung Galaxy Discover. You will likely suffer some lag and slowness with the cheaper hardware, but if you’re not going to be putting the phone through its paces, this will not be much of a problem.

2. Also, I’m changing my recommendation of MVNOs. I’ve spent the last 6 months or so researching them all and trying both Straight Talk and Net10, but with various annoyances, from inconsistent conditional call forwarding (required to properly utilize Google Voice voicemail,) to poor service performance forcing me to continually try different SIM cards, to all but non-existent, Asia-based customer service; all this, along with the spate of recent changes at T-Mobile, I’ve decided I’m going back to the magenta-hued carrier. First, T-Mo is offering new plans which make the advantages of an MVNO no longer unique, (contract-free, unlinking the phone subsidy price from the coverage price, month-to-month.) T-Mobile is now only marginally more expensive than the cheapest MVNO, and with the bonus of real customer service and proper conditional call forwarding, and much better cellular and data coverage, (at least here in NYC,) it’s well worth the cost. Also, the plans really are simple, finally. As one reviewer put it: “I am the first person to admit that I don’t trust wireless carriers. It always seems like they are trying to squeeze more cash out of their subscribers. But when I look at the new T-Mobile plans, I can honestly say that I don’t think T-Mobile is cheating anyone.” This, along with their merger with Metro PCS, their continued LTE rollout, their awesome spectrum gains, and finally offering the iPhone 5, T-Mobile gets my vote as the carrier to beat.


Phlying Physics Phun!

22 03 2012

Quick tangent today. (Oh- tangential tangent that’s not as removed from this blog as the original tangent: Remember Tangent Comics? What the heck was that? From Marvel or something? I can barely remember, but I think it stunk.) #Video Games, #Casual Gaming, #Android, #Rovio, #Angry Birds, #Space!, #NASA!!!!

Biiiiirds iiiiiin spaaaaace!

This is amazing. I just didn’t dream Rovio would have such a smart innovation up their sleeve for this latest iteration of Angry Birds. Even as I launched that first red bird, I just didn’t know what was going to make this game special. And then…, just as I thought I missed the pig on my first shot, my bird got caught in the gravity well of the asteroid, slingshotted (slingshat?) around the asteroid once, twice, and then took out the pig! This game is going to be epic fun.

But wait, there’s more. Here, watch the NASA trailer video:

Angry Birds on the ISS!

Rovio’s got lots of good videos advertising this game, but this one’s by far the best and most exciting. Space is back, baby, and MATH makes it possible! And Angry Birds and Rovio help show how it’s FUN!!!

So, yeah, I heartily recommend this game. It’s fun, and I admire and applaud Rovio for trying to do something so noble with it at the same time.

Digital Comics… Not Just Animation. Oooo- Clicky!

17 03 2012

So a bit of a departure today- more musings than anything. I’ve been reading up on some of the digital comics news of the last month or so, in particular: DC’s announcing their surprise that digital comics sales actually seem to be helping PRINT comic sales; Mark Waid’s assuming himself the mantle of comics’ digital white knight; Marvel’s announcement of their Marvel AR Re-Evolution Revolution Augmented Reality And Infinite Digital Comics And MY, Aren’t We Technically Literate And Hip Initiative; Marvel hiring Waid to work his digital magic for them; Marvel’s Joe Quesada and Waid both talking about how they worship this guy Balak; and how all this affects me. Because that’s what it really comes down to, right?

First, at the ComicsPRO meeting earlier this month, DC’s John Rood revealed some vague statistics that some are interpreting to mean that digital comics might be helping print. Somebody suggested that this could be just a matter of greater exposure for what is a very niche product. This makes sense to me. It also occurs to me that this doesn’t necessarily mean we have nothing to fear from digital comics- to me, it just means that digital comics still stink. As soon as digital comics actually start truly replicating the vast majority of the experience of print comics, (like Mp3 files do for CDs, or epub files for print books,) then we have reason to worry about the state of the print comic industry. But that death knell is still a touch further off than many people seem to think. Because with comics, it’s not just a matter of software to display the individual images of a comics page, but the canvas: the overall display device itself. Comics are far more tied up in their medium than other forms of traditional media, and as such, the digital media to display them has a long way to parity.

Mark Waid thinks he’s got this thing just about figured out. To his credit, I applaud him for trying so hard. I agree with him entirely that a major part of the excitement about the promise of digital comics is the chance for independent creators to brave the frontier in ways more conservative large companies might not. That said, digital also entails a much broader skill set than traditional comics, and perhaps the infrastructure of  a larger company can do more than individuals. Not that I have much faith in Marvel or DC to spearhead this. Rather than traditional comics creators working to reinvent comics for digital, wouldn’t it be wild to see computer programmers come at the problem from their end?

Marvel does have quite a big plan in the works, a two-pronged approach of Marvel AR and Infinite Comics, under the banner of Marvel ReEvolution. Seems a bit of a scattershot approach, and currently a bit confusing in their branding of it. Marvel AR is an augmented reality app for phones and tablets, (and I do really like that they’re marketing this as for “tablets” and not “iPads.” This seems practically a first for the digital content delivery industry, and is sorely needed.) The app allows you to point your device’s camera at a print comic and it will then display on the screen additional content overlaid on the comic image. It’s described as akin to DVD extras, and they’re insisting that it’s only for print comics, (for now,) which I’m glad to see they’re interested in using digital as a means to help print. This is smart. But what they’re offering can even more easily be offered for digital comics, so to not do so is just introducing artificial scarcity into the equation, which is just silly and never works. Plus, the (admittedly very limited) content I’ve seen so far seems gimmicky and annoying. Time will tell, but I see this sort of content being far more successful when linked with digital comics themselves.

Marvel’s Infinite Comics is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

Oooo. Clever logo!

Motion Comics were a joke, current digital comics are little more than glorified scans, but Infinite Comics seems like the first try at actually experimenting with the digital medium on its own terms. So that’s exciting. From what I can tell it looks like both writer Mark Waid & Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada saw French comic artist Yves Bigerel’s 2009 experiment (and you should definitely check this out!) and were totally inspired by it. (Bigerel is called Balak on It bothers me that I’ve seen  Quesada extensively cite Bigerel, while I’ve only recently seen Waid mention the guy when questioned about him in reference to his work with Marvel on this project. Waid either came up with this same stuff independently or in tandem with Bigerel, who he calls a friend, and maybe he’s cited him a lot outside of where I’ve read. And I know Waid has cited Bigerel before. But in all the digital! digital! digital! I’ve heard from Waid in recent months I wish he and the press would have mentioned Bigerel a bit more.

Regardless of that matter of my small perspective, what Bigerel, Waid, Marvel, (and others!) are playing with is basically clicking the screen to advance the comics panel, or elements thereof. Word balloons appear at the click of a mouse, picture elements change incrementally, and even the panel frame shifts, revealing different parts of a scene. Bigerel’s experiment is exceptional, much more interesting than Waid’s Luther, but it all feels more like reader-directed animation than comics to me. Bigerel and Waid keep talking about how for comics to remain comics the reader must remain in control of the passage of time. They advise that introducing actual audio, whether sound effects or full voice performances of the script, and uncontrolled animated elements, like in Motion Comics, breaks the reader’s control of time. This makes perfect sense to me. However, I feel they’re missing something else integral to comics. Bigerel states that “Comics are about creating Time with SPACE!” He even second guesses himself, wondering if he’s not just employing digital gimickry, but eventually decides that No, he’s not. However, I believe he, and Waid and others, are in error to suggest that giving the reader control over just the rate of time’s passage is all that’s required of a comic. I’d argue that the simultaneous juxtaposition of sequential images is also required. Scott McCloud at least hinted at this in his explorations of the definition of comics.

As I click through Bigerel’s, (very enjoyable!) experiment comic I use the arrow key. As he says, it’s very easy and natural. I advance the story at my own pace. Some transitions are quite exciting and I even enjoy the usage of identical copied images from frame to frame while a single key element, like a word balloon or facial expression, is all that changes. (I’ve ranted before about how I loathe the use of mechanically reproduced images in print comics.) It’s a great experience. But at times, especially at some of the most exceptionally compelling transitions, I start to get a familiar feeling. It feels like animation. I do my own experiment: I hold down the arrow key. The images fly by, a bit too fast, but the effect is clear. This isn’t comics. This is animation. I play around some more, looking for what makes this different from comics. I realize something else important. Bigerel says comics create time with space, and I agree entirely. However, he’s overlooking what makes time Time. Time is one event following another. In print comics individual images visually follow one another in space, creating the ILLUSION of time. The reader has to make a creative/imaginative effort to decide that these two images represent the same subjects sequentially in time, despite their juxtaposed existence AT ONCE in reality. Yet, in Bigerel’s “click-comic” experiment, (yeah, I just coined that idiotic term,) no two sequential images ever exist for the reader at once in her experience of the comic. Each image is  always at least a click away and can never be viewed simultaneously, and are therefore ACTUALLY separate events in TIME. Therefore, these type of comics break the one rule that Waid & Bigerel consider sacrosanct. Time is actually NOT in the hands of the reader; it still absolutely controls the manner in which she must experience the comic. Yes, the reader controls the rate of time’s passage but they don’t actually perform the essential imaginative act of creating time’s passage in their minds. Without this key element, I’m afraid these click- or swipe-through comics are actually far more akin to animation than their creators hope.

And that’s all pretty darn interesting to me. Without a doubt, experiments like this will only lead to a greater understanding of these art forms, maybe even creating some new ones in the process. And it’s fascinating to me that it took comic creators playing with new tools available to their medium to discover a brilliant new way to allow a viewer of animation to experience that medium. And for comics, this experimentation leads us to an even more refined definition: A comic uses a visually juxtaposed sequence of images as a metaphor for a temporal sequence of events, asking the reader to make that imaginative leap. So click-comics, by being composed of individual events separated by time, are not comics.

It is called sequential ART, after all, not sequential events.



27 02 2012
<To my (three) blog-readers. Forgive me for not posting in a while. -cough-cough- Here’s hoping I get back into it. Here’s a fawning letter I just sent to the Hellboy/BPRD editors at Dark Horse, and it rants a bit about the rest of the industry as well.>

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - The Long Death #1 - Click thru to read a preview and see the eyeball!!

Ladies and Gentlemen of Dark Horse,

What did I do to deserve you? No, seriously. BPRD: Hell on Earth-The Long Death #1? James-mother-lovin’-Harren? (“How do I like the artist, huh,” Scott? HOW DO I LOVE HIM, YOU MEAN!!! GEEEZ!) Eyeball-tooth monster in Johann’s suit!?!?!! Freaking blood red wendigo thing ripping the agents to shreds? I am beside myself with joy. Apoplectic. Breathe, Kris, just breathe. MAN! Page 3, panel 2, the gruesome miasma flowing up into Johann’s helmet; I literally grimaced in pain. Turn the page. THAT EYEBALL!!!! I’m looking at it right now and it turns my stomach and quickens my pulse. All this, and then followed with that great line “I was sleeping!” HA! Oh, good it was only a drea– HOLY CRAP A BLOOD WENDIGO IS KILLING EVERYONE!!!! And. It’s. The. Best. Comic. All. Year. So just what did I do to deserve this? Thank you so, so much. (And if I haven’t made it clear, I want James Harren to do every possible issue of BPRD from here on out.)

Having been SOOO let down by the New 52, (tried THIRTY of them, kept one: Wonder Woman.[edit: kept TWO: also Batwoman.]) I’ve been really depressed about the state of the industry, where the big two almost seem to be actively trying to drive floppy periodicals to extinction, if not the entire action-adventure comic medium. Sure DC/Vertigo has Unwritten, (sweet, sweet Unwritten!) and American Vampire and Marvel has Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales Forever!) and Daredevil, (sweet god, Daredevil!!!) but otherwise? Ugh. But then I get to the shop, (Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn,) for the first time in a month and come home with a luscious looking stack, little knowing just how great it is.
–OK, quick sidenote. Dark Horse and IDW know how to do ads. I want to tear every DC and Marvel comic to shreds when my damn story is interrupted every other page by boring full page ads for their own books with SIX-month-old cover images! ARGH! But Dark Horse and it’s brethren compose quality ads highlighting their amazing creators telling me about upcoming books in time to place an order. Their Horsepower columns and the like help me connect with the creators and gain a deeper reading of their comics, (Vertigo often nails this one too,) and it all adds up so that I actually look forward to flipping through the back of the book after reading to see what’s coming next! How do those other boneheads not get this!? —
Sidenote done, but it’s WHY I was looking forward to this stack of comics. I was blown away at the Cloonan/Wood Conan ad a couple months ago and added it to my pulllist immediately. (btw, Dave Stewart’s coloring in that first issue was a masterpiece.) Likewise with the ads for The Strain before that. Also in my stack is Severed 7 and Prophet 22; even Image seems to be enjoying a renaissance of creativity these days. So I guess it’s just superheroes that are dying an ignominious death. That’s sad, and it pains me and makes me worry about comics. But you Dark Horsey folks and your peers really remind me where good comics are at. I checked out your website today, and I LOVE your How a Comic is Made feature and your flipbooks (but fullscreen, please!) and your Zones- you really prove that you’re trying lots of different things and are seeking to engage, cultivate, and GROW your new digital audience, rather than just bilk them for a few bucks. Very impressive.You’re what, 25 years old or so now? You ARE the future of American comics. You’re so many light years ahead of what the competition is doing. Keep it up. It can only get better from here.
(Oh, and that’s two years running for you, by my reckoning anyway: Best Comic Last Year: Hellboy: The Fury #3.)
Thank you.

Chew on this!

25 07 2009

I just put down Chew #1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory and couldn’t get to my keyboard fast enough. This is a comic that needs to be reviewed, NOW!

Tragically, I never picked up Chew when it first came out on June 4, and needed to be tricked into it by Image Comics putting it out in a third printing on the back of Walking Dead #63, one of my regular monthly books. Truth be told, I somehow never found the premise that interesting: the main character is a cop who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats. Big deal. Sounds like just another twist on the quirky television cop show trend, a la Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Ghost Whisperer or some such other drivel. Well, if you felt this way as well, lemme tell ya, sister! You were dead wrong! And I knew it after only the second page. If this doesn’t hook you, nothing will.

It was the beets that really got me. Well, first it was the “something else entirely” line. It’s timing and the arresting image by Guillory hit me just right. And then the beets made me laugh out loud. So now I knew this book had something going for it- a cool and quirky take on a rather dry genre, with some appropriate leavening humor thrown in. But can it sustain? Well, the next page certainly indicated more of the same. So that was good. Then the book started getting into the plot, slowly revealing the absurd situation that the United States finds itself in, (I’m trying not to give it away here- the reveal is too good to be spoiled by the likes of me,) which adds yet another layer of excellent humor to the book as well as some fine political commentary. Can this book get better? You bet it can! The first issue’s plot ends with our protagonist being forced into an extreme situation- one which gives the premise one final twist and one which made me yell out loud in shock and excitement!

John Layman tells a really well-crafted and balanced story, squeezing quite a lot into just 22 pages. Chew bends the rules in a satisfying way, truly giving the reader something new and rather unlike anything else on the stands. I’ll be anxious to see if he can keep me guessing like this throughout the series. If so, he’s got me hooked. As with the Zombie craze of the past few years, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing quite a few imitators in the months to come. Rob Guillory’s art is the perfect complement to Layman. Guillory has a quirky, humorous style, which is not at all inappropriate for a book with as many good laughs as this one. But this isn’t a humor book- it just needs frequent lightening of the mood, or else it would get too bogged down in what becomes some pretty chilling stuff. I was enjoying his art throughout the first issue, finding him to be incredibly solid in his style and draftsmanship, (perhaps this comes from his background in children’s book illustration?) but I wasn’t getting a strong impression as to his storytelling talents. And then I turned to the book’s double-page spread and was blown away. To be honest, it certainly had a lot to do with Layman’s scripting of the moment, but Guillory did a fine job supporting it. I’d be remiss not to mention Guillory’s self-coloring, except I didn’t really get to see it- the reprint I read was in black and white only. From what I’ve seen however, the coloring is top notch, with really ubiquitous and defining pallette choices. I don’t know much about Guillory, (or Layman, for that matter,) but I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for more of their stuff.

(Oh, one other note about Guillory, and a bit of a side-rant. I noticed several moments in the book with repetitive imagery, the kinds of panels that you too frequently these days see simply photocopied or otherwise artificially duplicated. And yet Guillory never resorted to this sort of cheap cop out. (Aside from the obvious photoshopping of the double-page spread. Except here was an instant where the technology was actually appropriate to the effect.) It just drives me nuts when comic artists photocopy panels over and over again; Mark Bagley did it all the time in Ultimate Spider-Man! “Identical” panels are supposed to represent two separate moments in time, and therefore should be drawn separately as well.)

Chew #1 is available in a third printing, (black and white only,) on the back of Walking Dead #63. The first two color printings are extremely hard to find. Chew #2 is already into it’s second printing as well. I’ve no doubt Image will be collecting the first few issues of this book in a trade, but I strongly urge you to try to find them in the single issue format.

To that end, here’s some exciting news from Guillory’s blog:

“On August 5, the first 3 issues of CHEW will be in stores. This is a PERFECT opportunity for new readers to jump on, and for others to catch up. So again, on that date, we’ll be releasing:

CHEW #1 Third Printing
CHEW #2 Second Printing
CHEW #3 First Printing”

Bon Appetit!

Chew is published by Image Comics.

What the %^&# is up with Marvel covers this month?!

30 04 2009

I don’t know if you noticed, but it seems that most of Marvel’s books this month have a second alternate cover. I’ve been noticing more alternate covers on books in the last year or so and it unnerves me to no end. I hear the publishers’ age-old rationale that they are just offering a choice to the consumer, but I don’t trust it and I’m incredibly nervous of the speculation cycle returning. (But seriously, in this world, NOW, they’re trying this shit?! What kind of morons are they?) Marvel’s covers are very eye-catching, mostly because they don’t look like traditional comic book covers. They exhibit a wide variety of artistic styles and are even billed as something like “alternative art appreciation covers.” Which on the surface seems like a cool idea. Comics are dying to get recognized as a valid art form in this country; what better way than they themselves recognizing other art styles and drawing in new readers. Except it’s all a crock of shit.

The alternate cover of Spider-Man has an image of Wolverine. Not with Spider-Man, just Wolverine by himself.

OK, so maybe Wolvie appears in this issue, and the art appreciation rules are very loose. On the alternate cover of Daredevil is also Wolverine. Wow, Logan’s busy this month. Same with Hulk. And Hercules. And X-Men. In fact, ALL the alternate so-called “art appreciation” covers exhibit Wolverine. Why ever would they do such a thing? CAUSE THEIR DAMN WOLVERINE MOVIE IS OPENING THIS WEEKEND!!! What the hell!?? They’re co-opting art appreciation as a mere marketting gimmick? That is low, man, even for Marvel. It’s bad enough that they’re saturating the stands with tons of new one shot and mini-series Wolverine comics this month. I flipped through several and they’re as lousy as you might expect. Just out to make a quick buck off the poor saps who, inspired by the big Hollywood movie, decide to buy a comic book for the first time in 15 years. And boy, will they be disappointed. Potential new comics readers probably won’t have been this disappointed since they picked up the copy of Spider-Man with Barack Obama on the cover. Ugh. Boy, there’s a surefire way to hang on to new readers. Give them crap. And just to add an extra layer of vile ooze across the whole debacle, the alternate cover versions, (at least at my comic shop,) are $10 a pop. For that price, who can afford to appreciate art!!!? Ah, it’s like 1993 all over again!

OK, I just did some checking, and it seems the covers in question are actually part of a “Wolverine Art Appreciation Month.” And in fact, the images are pretty cool looking. But whatever, it still stinks of cynical marketing tactics rather than just putting out good product. I should also point out that I’m quite anxious to see the Wolverine movie, (I know, I know, it’s real title is X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, or something, but that’s just dumb.) I’ll let you know what I thought of it next time. Till then.. Peace!

Facebook, Facebook, how do I hate thee?

19 04 2009

Let me count the ways: One Two Three Four Five…. well, we could be here all night. Blessedly, John Kovalik, the cartoonist of my FAVORITE dorky comic strip, Dork Tower, summed it up quite nicely: