Monthly Archives: July 2008

A Bittersweet Eisner Awards Ceremony

Confession time: I rarely attend the Eisner Awards. As much as I love and respect my fellow industry types, it’s a hard slog to make it through a three or four hour ceremony at the end of a 14 hour day on the show floor. But this year, thanks to a tip, I made sure I showed up.

After almost all the awards had been given out, Maggie Thompson from Comics Buyer’s Guide ran a slide show saluting the great folks the comic industry had lost this year. And along with legends like Creig Flessel and Michael Turner, she showed a slide I’d taken from Wondercon a couple of years ago on a sunny day outside the Moscone convention center. My son Neil had been six at the time, but was cropped out of the photo to better show the man he’d been sitting next to: my friend John Simpson.

John Simpson

John passed away this past October due to mesothelioma, and this was the first Comic-Con I’d done in a long time without having him stop by, lend a hand, and spend time hanging out between panels. I especially remember laughing ourselves silly at the Simpsons movie, which debuted during last year’s show, and which the entire booth staff went out to see together along with John.

Near the end of his life, John gave me a letter that he requested I ask CBG to publish after his death. It was as touching a love letter to comics fandom as you’ll ever read, and it was even entitled “Ruminations on A Life Well Spent With Comics” — playing on the fictional Simpson’s own Comic Book Guy’s shared feelings about the hobby. Seeing John’s face up on the Eisner Award’s display screen was a moving reminder of his love for comics and comics fandom…and a fitting tribute from that same industry to a man who is very much missed.

Comic-Con will never be the same without you, John.

Haiku of the Day

Blisters on my feet
So tired. Too much blinky.
Best Comic-con yet!

The Peanuts Scavenger Hunt

Neil and I abandoned the ComicBase booth on opening night to the care of the other staffers and went out on a Quest for Swag. We were so mobbed in by people, however, that we’d all but abandoned that mission when we spotted a sign next to the Fantagraphics booth mentioning that they were a stop on the Peanuts Scavenger Hunt.

“What’s that?” we asked a staffer, pointing at the sign. He informed us that if you went to the Peanuts booth (really the Charles Schulz Museum booth) and got a scavenger hunt card, you could take it around to different places on the show floor to get it signed. If you filled out all the spaces, you might get a prize (a Snoopy tote bag).

There were only 50 bags being given away per day, however, and about 30,000 people in the hall, so I didn’t reckon our chances were that good. Still, after a short trip to the Peanuts booth to pick up a card (and give ’noopy!” a big hug) we were off to the races.

The first three booths were a piece of cake, situated in the quieter end of the hall. But the fourth stop was some 40 rows down at the far end of the exhibition center (and right in the worst of the action). Neil and I had caught up to Kelly and Carolyn by that point, and I put Kelly on my shoulders for the long trip down to the Funko booth. Twenty minutes later, we finally arrived, but had to wait for the signature person to get free since the booth was mobbed with people, well, actually buying things. By the time we left, I was certain the whole thing was just for a laugh, since there were only 50 prizes, and I’d seen dozens of people in line at the Peanuts booth right when we started.

Still, Neil and Kelly were excited by the whole event, and we mushed our way back to the Dark Horse booth to collect our final signature from the always-delightful Dark Horse staff. At last, we were ready to head for the Peanuts booth, when we came straught across Snoopy himself being led by a handler (bathroom break?) and followed in his wake all the way back to the booth.

Once there, however, I found myself giving another “Don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get anything” talk to Neil, explaining that there were at least 30 people in front of us in line, and they only had 50 bags to start with. Neil wanted to wait anyway, and his patience was rewarded when a staffer appeared out of nowhere and said, ”Oh! You’ve got your card all filled out? You don’t need to wait in the checkout line for that–just go straight to the front and show them your card. We’ve still got 18 bags left!”

In the end, both Neil and Kelly met ’noopy!, got a cool tote bag with “Snoopy for President” on it, and had a wonderful first day at the Comic-Con–thanks in no small part to the wonderful folks at the Peanuts booth.

Rock Revolution by Konami at Comic-Con

We somehow coaxed Carolyn into attending Comic-Con this year, and she and I spent a couple of minutes wandering the hall before the floodgates opened and plunged the place into sheer chaos. We even managed to stumble across Konami’s “Rock Revolution” which a rep was boasting “was way better than Rock Band”.

We were in a hurry, but I had to stop and check it out. “Way better?” I asked. “Tell me more!”

“Uhh…” the marketing guy began, looking suddenly very uncomfortable… “Well you know how Rock Band is just guitar and drums, right…?”

“And vocals and bass guitar!” Carolyn chimed in.

“Well… I don’t know if this one has vocals, but… <mutter><inaudible><mutter>We have Really Great Songs!” he finally said.

“Awesome! Can we check it out?” said both Carolyn and I. And within minutes we were getting ready to flail away on “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers.

That is a great song, and I was intrigued by the six pad (plus bass pedal) drum kit. Carolyn took “beginner” on guitar while I tried “medium” on drums.

My unfair, 4-minute-long review of the game? It seems to miss the whole playing music thing for the sake of button pressing, in the same way that “Dance Dance Revolution” makes you move your feet, but doesn’t actually resemble any sort of dancing I’ve ever done. This may all be a long way of saying that I completely cratered on a drum piece which I could play on real drums in my sleep.

The thing I’ve really enjoyed on the drum part of Rock Band is that it breaks down the real drum part in a way which actually makes musical sense to a drummer. To wit: if you can only play one instrument at a time, make it the bass drum. Two: bass drum and snare. (Heck, if you can hold down those two in time, along with the a time-keeping element like a hi-hat or ride cymbal, punctuated by the odd cymbal crash, you’re not far off from being a functional drummer).

Rock band starts with the basics (bass/snare/cymbal) and ups the subtlety level of the rhythm as you go up in difficulty level. Rock Revolution, on the other hand, despite—or maybe because of—having more pads to play with, seems to treat drumming less as a musical exercise than as a button-pressing one. You don’t start with a (simplified) version of the real beat of the song, but instead just hit vaguely related parts of the rhythmic structure strung out between six different pads.

On “Somebody Told Me”, it’s incredibly awkward because of the bass drum part is almost completely omitted (the anchor for the entire song!) and you spend your time instead trying to figure out which combination of pads corresponds to part of the remaining snare/hi-hat rhythm (which is even more disorienting since there’s no hi-hat pedal, and that song relies heavily on the up-down action of the high-hat throughout to entire chorus).

I sucked on it. In exactly the way I suck at arcade drumming games–and don’t suck at Rock Band, or on real drums. Take it for whatever it’s worth.

For her part, Carolyn pronounced the “Easy” setting on guitar to be “way easier than Easy in Rock Band”. She ventured that it might be a good game for folks who had problems with Easy not being easy enough, but after that, we had to thank the rep and scoot to pick up Neil and Kelly from the free babysitting service provided to Comic-Con exhibitors during setup for the show. (Kids aren’t allowed on the show floor during that time, due to the constant back-and-forth of heavy machinery and forklifts).


OMG, it’s Comic-Con!

After months of preparation, several sleepless or near-sleepless nights, and a ten hour drive, we made it to San Diego to once again take part in that mightiest of comic events on Planet Earth.

We’d barely managed to get set up when the doors were flung open and what seemed like a mile-long line of comic fans burst into the San Diego convention center whooping it up in their search for goodies and comic-con exclusives. Within minutes the convention hall was a sea of people and the left half of it could only be moved through with a fair amount of determination. Pictures (and maybe even video) to follow, but it was unreal. And that was preview night!

Batman: The Dark Knight

If you had trouble reaching us this afternoon, it’s because the company was all out seeing Batman: The Dark Knight. (Yes, there are some advantages to working at a comic book software company).

My take: 4 stars out of five, and easily one of the best comic book films I’ve seen in years. Of the Batman films, I liked it second best to the very first Tim Burton one. (Who can forget seeing Burton’s Gortham City for the first time?).

Acting-wise, Ledger stole the film—his Joker was great. I won’t do any spoilers here, but he’s just so well-written and played that you can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. He absolutely nailed the Dark Knight-era version of the character. The rest of the cast was solid, but they just didn’t have the same on-screen fascination for me.

So why not five stars? For me, it comes down to editing. Unless you’re prepared for it ahead of time, the sheer length of the film can get a bit tiring. Had they found a way to shave 30-40 minutes off (particularly by trimming the second act), it would have been a stronger film. As such, it takes on a bit of a Godfather tone—both in scope and, unfortunately, in running time.

New Watchmen Trailer

Oh man does this look cool!

Kudos for Palm Tech Support

A couple of days ago, I got an unexpected call from Shane at Palm Tech Support. He’d heard about my Treo problems from his boss Richard and asked if there was anything he could do to make things right. Long story short, a box arrived this morning with a new Treo 650, replacing the sound-deprived one which I’d had stuffed in a drawer for the past year (and which is currently on its way back to Palm’s repair center).

Whatever problems the 650 itself had, I definitely have to tip my hat to Richard, Shane, and Palm Tech Support. You guys deserve a lot of credit for this one, and it’s the kind of tech support that gets people talking (in a good way!) about you. Well done, and many thanks!

Jumping to Conclusions (or, “The high cost of screwing up esoteric aspects of video editing”)

While waiting for today’s ComicBase update to finish posting, I was killing time reading various news feeds when I saw a strange news story developing right before my eyes. The thing was, from the moment I saw it, I suspected the whole thing was more a “bug” than an act of malice—because the same thing happened to me years ago when editing videos with comic creators for ComicBase.

The “scandal” is uniquely bipartisan. Over at Media Matters a left-leaning “media watchdog” web site, they’ve kicked off a firestorm with allegations that Fox News had maliciously altered  the pictures of a couple of New York Times reporters. Little Green Footballs, a conservative blog then picked it up and also lamented Fox’s dirty trick.

Photo 1

…except that it doesn’t look like a dirty trick at all. It looks like a DV/JPEG conversion issue.

Basically: Digital video pixels are not square: they’re the incredibly odd shape of 0.9 pixels wide for every pixel in height. So, when you mix them with “square pixel” source like photographs, you need to have your video editing suite set to squoosh or stretch accordingly.

Ironically, Little Green Footballs, which gave us the GIF proving so vividly that the George Bush “draft dodging” letters were forged in Microsoft Word, didn’t notice the problem. If they had taken the original image, scaled the width by exactly 10% and overlaid it on the “altered” images, they’d see they were a pixel-for-pixel match.

Admittedly, there’s also a bit of a color cast to the whole image (yellow is accentuated in the whole image—note the shirts), and ironically, it looks like in one image someone did carelessly use the “healing” brush in Photoshop to try to clear up some blotching in a reporter’s complexion at the cost of a wisp of hair. The somewhat higher black levels on the video image also accentuated the shadows under the reporter’s eyes. The real damage, however, appears to have been caused by simply loading in the stills in the wrong pixel aspect ratio.

Photo 2

I saw the story developing in real time as I waited at my desk for the weekly update to finish, and recognized it as the same sort of rookie mistake I’d made years ago as a young video editor. I verified it in Photoshop and tried to let LGF know that there was likely less to the story than appeared, but the web was already in full uproar. Unfortunately, LGF had their registration closed down for the weekend and Media Matters (me being new as a commenter to both systems) still holds my comment for moderation—probably on Monday. In the meantime, thousands upon thousands of words have been written on the story. It really does seem like one of  those lies that is travelling halfway around the world before the truth (or at least the unsatisfyingly geeky explanation) gets its boots on.


Which Phone Should I Get?

OK, I need some help here:

I’m currently using a Motorola Razr which was razd from the dead by Neil after Carolyn abandoned it as unsalvageable. It replaced my Palm Treo 650, which has been sitting in a drawer ever since it decided that it no longer wanted to transmit sound–a job requirement that, for a phone, is decidedly non-optional. (The Treo 650 I’ve got now is also the 4th of its breed–the previous 3 being warranty-repaired when they all decided to stop working in various ways. Unfortunately, the warranty on Treo 650 Mach IV had expired, and there just seemed to be no sense throwing more money down that particular rathole). Sorry, Palm, but I’m over you. Update: A hat tip to Palm Tech Support.

Anyway, my Razr, despite being a perfectly good phone, is getting decidedly long in the tooth, and a recent crack to the external LED screen (tip: don’t bike to work with your keys and your cellphone in the same pocket) made me decide it’s time to upgrade.

I checked my phone account at AT&T today, and to my astonishment, found out that my contract is up–meaning that I’m absolutely free to either re-up (including a new phone), or move elsewhere. So here’s my question to you: what phone would you suggest for someone who wants:

– Excellent phone performance (reception, call quality)

– Contact transfer from Outlook

– The ability to be used outside of the U.S.

– Light internet usage (I’m amazed by some of the things iPhones can do, but I don’t want to pay big bucks for an internet plan I don’t use often. The absolute max I think I’d ever consider would be $30/mo. for phone internet services).

– Music/GPS are nice, but not essential (I’ve already got a GPS in my car, and an iPod 160 with my whole library loaded up).

(As a bonus, whatever phone I do pick is likely to wind up with ComicBase export support for it (if it doesn’t have it already), because I definitely want to be able to keep my title lists on it!)