Saturn Returns

If you've been reasonably lucky, you've experienced a few days in your life that you could describe as perfect days. If you've been particularly lucky, you've realized while you were experiencing them that they were perfect days.

My 30th birthday was such a day - a perfect day I was able to revel in because I knew it for what it was. Some of the people I like best in the world had gathered to help me celebrate. There was warm air, bright sunshine, the sound of a very full river rushing by fifty feet away. I spent half an hour chucking sticks into the river because I had nothing in particular better to do. I ate the salsa we made from veggies grown in our own garden and canned last fall, saving it for just the right time. I played an incredibly fun game I've been waiting since Xmas to play. I got rip-roaring drunk and stared into a campfire and at the stars overhead all night long.

I can't think of anything more I could possibly ask for. By far, the best birthday I've ever had. Many thanks to Toph, Amber, Skippy, Holy Shit It's Julie and of course, Emily, for being there to share my big day.

Now We Are Six (plus twenty-four)

On Saturday, I will turn 30.

I don't know where my 20s went. I feel like I was 19 looking at 20 just yesterday. My 20s are sort of a blurry haze of awful jobs, late, boozy nights and wasted opportunities. My twenties were entirely mis-spent, a lousy decade I'll never get back.

No, that's not true at all - well, the part about how fast the time goes is, but nothing else. The truth is, overall, the last decade has been great. I had good times with good friends. I met an amazing woman when I was 24, with whom I've had great times and many adventures. Before I turn 31, I will be married to her. I've run a marathon. I've been to China and all over the United States. Yeah, there are things I could have done differently, or better. But I decided a long time ago that regrets are a useless waste of time and effort.

I don't think birthdays are really a good time to look back, anyway. Knowing that ever-increasing number and looking backwards is really just an invitation to just that kind of self-destructive and meaningless introspection. Birthdays are an opportunity to look forward. By choice, I say not, "Oh my God, I'm already 30!" but rather, "Hey, I'm only 30 - plenty of time to do it all, right?" Okay, maybe I'm not going to "do it all," but I'll die trying. I'm excited about what the next decade is going to bring.

Still, it feels a little weird.

Viral Marketing At Its Finest

Yeah, another one, this time from Chris's Invincible Super-Blog.

I never met a comics meme I didn't like. So sue me.

Creative Sweet

Dude...thanks to a variety of very kind and wonderful people, I'm getting Adobe Creative Suite 3 for my birthday. Not PhotoShop Elements. Not just PhotoShop. Not just Illustrator. Adobe Creative Suite 3 Design Standard, complete with whole-shebang editions of PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Bridge.

This is, in case you hadn't figured it out, Fucking Awesome. Yes, with Capital Letters and such.

What does this mean for you, the ever-loyal, ever-faithful, ever-fabulous GBN reader? Well, remember that webcomic I promised way back when?

It's practically here. It's mere weeks away. In fact, I'm working on the first page of it right now. It happens to double as a class project, but for you, dear reader, that's neither here nor there. The point evil plan to dominate the world first foray into self-publishing and publicizing is about to begin.

Deep thoughts coming tomorrow. I'm just giddy and wanted to share.

My True Love - Comics Memes

Shoulda voted for him when you had the chance, Mary...

Meme courtesy Lady, That's My Skull.

The Difference a Day Makes

The Cape Times of Capetown, South Africa, has created some really incredible ads. I find them haunting and beautiful. Others may find them crass and exploitative. Either way, I thought I'd share them here.

Click for larger versions with more readable text.

As Seen on TV

What does your brain do when your body is on autopilot? That is to say, when you're doing a task so automatic that it requires virtually no higher brain function whatsoever? Mowing the lawn, taking a shower, that sort of thing. My mind wanders all over the place at such times. Often, I compose meaningless lists of trivia. Today in the shower, for example, I was trying to remember the words to the theme from Green Acres. And in that vein, I have a trivia question for you:

Who played Oliver and Lisa Douglas in the early-'90s movie version of Green Acres?

This is, in fact, a trick question. Such a movie does not exist. But it feels like it should, doesn't it? There's a strange sort of gap in my mind where I feel like I remember it happening, but it clearly didn't. There were movies made of The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, Lost in Space, McHale's Navy, Mission: Impossible, The Mod Squad, The Avengers, The Brady Bunch, My Favorite Martian, as well as more recent stuff like The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky & Hutch and Miami seems like there ought to have been a dreadful big-screen version of Green Acres that nobody saw.

There's this Arnold Ziffel-shaped hole in my brain where there ought to be Tim Allen and Heather Locklear standing in for Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, lots of unfunny manure jokes and a tacked-on plot about unscrupulous bankers or something. It seems like exactly the kind of thing for which I watched twenty promos a day on the in-store screener tape during my circa-'96/'97 career as a Blockbuster Video assistant manager.

And yet it doesn't exist. I find this troubling. I find it even more troubling that I think it ought to exist when I should be tremendously glad that it doesn't.

Right on Schedule

You'll be relieved to know that the world's most rational, thoughtful and intelligent people, internet message board posters, have the whole Virginia Tech tragedy figured out.

Y'see, it turns out that the fucking lunatic who murdered 32 people in cold blood isn't really to blame, after all. It's all the fault of the movies. According to the internetters, one of the photos the lunatic sent to NBC "resembles" a scene from the South Korean movie Oldboy.

This news is meant to be, I donno, shocking, or revealing, or something. To me, it means we're just right on schedule with this shooting.

It was right around this time-frame after Columbine, a few days later when the dust had settled and "Why?" was taking over for shock and grief, that people started blaming Marilyn Manson and "Doom."

I understand that trying to figure out why it happened is an important part of the process. I also understand that it's a question without any satisfactory answers. In the absence of satisfactory answers, a lot of people go straight for ludicrous ones. Back in 1999, guys like John McCain and Joe Lieberman were calling for the movie and video game industries to take "accountability" for their "part" in the tragedy. People were making strained connections - "Those boys listened to Marilyn Manson, and we find Manson and his music to be personally distasteful. Ergo, it was his devil-music that inspired those boys to become killers."

And now it begins with Cho and Virginia Tech. Last night, advertising their airing of the video that Cho sent them, NBC ran a promo saying something like, "Inside the mind of a killer," which is absurd on any number of levels. To begin with, a video he made specifically to send to the media is little more "inside" his mind than anything else. It's a performance, a presentation of an on-camera persona which may or may not bear any resemblance to reality.

Here's my question, though: Why do I want to get "inside the mind" of this lunatic? Frankly, I'm glad that I don't understand the mental state that makes someone murder 32 people. I'd rather that this sort of thing remain incomprehensible to me. If you could easily understand the "why" behind Virginia Tech, or Columbine, or the Amish school shooting, wouldn't that worry you a little? It would cause me to doubt my own sanity, at least a little, if the actions of a lunatic made sense to me.

The world very rarely makes sense, and tragedies like these make the least sense of all. But it seems to me that the most rational response to senselessness is to accept it for what it is. Assigning blame to Marilyn Manson, "Grand Theft Auto" or Oldboy achieves nothing. It gives the talking heads on TV something to argue about, and I suppose it satisfies the need for a convenient scapegoat. It provides something to gaze at so that we don't have to gaze long into the abyss of human nature.

People like to quote that bit of Nietzsche - "When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." But almost no one knows the line that directly precedes it: "He who would fight with monsters must take care, lest he thereby become a monster." The monster here is the inherent incomprehensible and arbitrary nature of murder. Fight it at your peril.

Just Because I Don't Care Doesn't Mean I Don't Understand

"You just don't get it."

Are there any words more irritating on the internet than these? Well, other than meaningless l33tspeak gibberish, anyway? It has become the standard refrain of every movie's defenders.

The first time I really recall hearing this absurdity is from the defenders of The Matrix Reloaded. This was a crappy, crappy, crappy, crappy movie, in my opinion. Yet when I said so, both online and in real life, there were those who leaped to its defense - "No, actually it's a great movie. Obviously you just didn't get all the philosophical stuff in it." No, I "got" its fortune-cookie-Descartesisms just fine, thank you. And they were wrapped up in a badly-written, badly-directed, badly-edited mess of a movie.

It's popped up recently as a defense of 300 (which I liked, but can easily see how it might not be someone's cuppa) and Grindhouse (which I am only very vaguely interested in seeing, i.e. it'll probably hit the Netflix queue when the DVD is released, and I'll see it eventually). If you didn't like 300, according to a certain population of internet geniuses, it's because you didn't "get" that it's supposed to be mythology, that it's supposed to be a live-action comic book, and so on and so on. They can't conceive of the fact that maybe you don't like it because it's pretty cheesey, often poorly acted, and swimming with homoerotic subtext underneath the "This! Is! Sparta! We! Are! Manly-man! Badass! Soldiers!" text.

Similarly, if you don't like Grindhouse, it's because you're incapable of appreciating how it is not itself actually bad, but merely paying loving homage to bad movies. Here's a riddle - if you make a movie that is an imitation of bad movies from the '70s, have you made a bad movie? No, of course not! It's brilliant! It's, like, satire, or homage, or something anyway, whatever it takes to make it artistically valid instead of yet another bad movie.

Here, for example, is one brilliant comment from a nerdy message board:

I went to see "Grindhouse" in New York on Saturday, and found it to be a massive tsunami wave of awesome, blissfully drowning me in its shear joyous excess.

No small contributor to this cinematic orgasm was the crowd I got to share the experience with, a crowd so vast the management needed to form a line outside the theater an hour before screentime, hundreds long. The theater, a full modern stadium set-up, was packed and enthusuastic. The crowd laughed, hooted and yelled at all the right moments. No small portion sat through the whole credits just telling each other how awesome it was, something I don't often see. Knots of people stood in the lobby afterward, merrily restating their favorite lines.

"Boy," I thought, "this film has got to be a major hit."

I open up the paper Monday morning, and it is reported that "Grindhouse" is officially a flop. The producer is in a panic and proposing drastic reeditting of the film to salvage it. Apparently, though its doing wellin the urban East and West, middle America just doesn't 'get' what "Grindhouse" is about, and audiences in the suburban center of the country just haven't bothered to see it. According to the numbers, they'd much rather see a forgettable by-the-numbers suspense flick like "Disturbia".

Dear America: What the Hell is your Problem?!
Yes, because the rest of America doesn't share his exact tastes, they clearly have a problem. Those hicks from Flyover Country are clearly too stupid to understand great cinema. Of course, many of those idiots from Flyover Country probably know the difference between "shear" and "sheer," but I digress.

Ultimately, this is a symptom of America's ongoing "My Opinion Can't Be Wrong" problem. When it comes to taste in movies, it's true. Watching and judging the quality of a movie is an entirely subjective experience, and there are no wrong opinions. But the mistake that many people make is to apply a twisted sort of logic to that idea. "My opinion can't be wrong," they think, "and is therefore objectively right. Since my opinion is objectively right, any opinion that disagrees with mine is therefore objectively wrong."

I think a lot of people like confirmation. They want everybody to like the movies they like, and want to be seen as smarter or more insightful than the people who don't share their tastes. They can't be satisfied with their own enjoyment of the movie in question - they have to have their enjoyment validated.

If it's Before Christ, why is it all Jesusy?

I haven't really given "B.C." more than a cursory glance when I read a newspaper since I was about ten years old. In my memory, it's never been all that funny - though folks older than me say that it was pretty funny back in the '60s and '70s - and you always had at least a 50/50 shot of reading about Jesus, or thinly veiled swipes at Islam and Judaism. So Johnny Hart's recent death didn't affect me in the same way as Charles Schulz's.

His death has raised an interesting issue for some comics readers, though: should a strip end when its creator retires or dies? Many folks out there are saying that the strip needs to be retired once the last of Hart's comics runs, rather than have it taken over by Hart's family and former assistants. Mark Evanier, a comc strip fan and somebody who knows a thing or two about the comics biz, has some (okay, lots of) thoughts on the matter. He makes several valid points.

Newspaper comics are at least as much a business as an art. The comics in the newspaper are little more than useful commodities for the syndicates, little different than the daily sudoku, the horoscopes, the chess column, or any of the other content syndicates provide for newspapers. It's in the best interests of the syndicate, which far more often than not owns the comic strip in question lock, stock and barrel, to keep it running as long as enough papers carry it to keep it profitable. There are endless examples on any newspaper comics page of strips that are on their third, fourth or fifth generation of creators, and still have a broad audience.

Where I really can't agree with Evanier is this fairly lame analogy:

It's interesting that there is this recurring discussion about whether comic strips should end when their creators die...or even when they've been around for a certain, undetemined amount of time. I can't think of another art form where this kind of thing is even considered. No one is suggesting that now that Vonnegut's dead, we get all those copies of Slaughterhouse-Five off the bookstore shelves to make more display room for new authors. Or — and this may be a better analogy — that today's musical performers should not record old songs, thereby creating more opportunity for new songwriters. Should great movies not be remade so as to make it easier for today's screenwriters?

Now, that just doesn't make a lick of sense.

The thing is, "B.C." will continue under Johnny Hart's byline. "Dennis the Menace" still runs under Hank Ketcham's byline, even though Ketcham has been dead for six years. But there's not a house out there publishing Slaughterhouse-Six under Kurt Vonnegut's name. The publisher of Scarlett didn't publish it under Margaret Mitchell's name, but rather gave credit to the book's actual author. When Madonna made that limp cover of "American Pie" a few years back, she released it as Madonna, not as Don McLean. The Steven Soderbergh-directed Ocean's 11 was not billed as starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

It is unsavory at best that the syndicate will make its money by trading on the goodwill that Johnny Hart developed working on his comic strip for 40 years. It is unsavory that his assistants and his family, rather than hiring somebody else to continue drawing the strip, plans simply to produce "new" material by slapping new text onto images from the extensive computerized archive of Hart's work. To be fair, Hart grew increasingly lazy in his later years and reused his own art extensively. It was, however, his right to do as he pleased with something produced under his own byline. It does not seem right that Hart's name, like Ketcham's, will be attached to something that is not truly his own.

There's no particular reason to end "B.C." as long as readers want to read it and papers want to carry it. But continuing to put the byline of a dead artist on a strip is an insult to artist and reader.

The Waiting Game Sucks. Let's Play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

Wil Wheaton - blogger extraordinaire, former Wesley Crusher and as always, in the running for the coveted title of King of All Nerds - has once again written about something near and dear to my heart. Wheaton's a gamer, and this week he's writing about his favorite "analog" (i.e. non-video) games (This is on SuicideGirls and may or may not be work-safe, so click with caution). In that spirit, here are a few of mine:

Munchkin: I started Emily playing Munchkin well before I ever managed to get her to play D&D with us, so you don't have to be a huge RPG nerd to enjoy it. It's hours of goofy fun, whether it's classic Munchkin, Star Munchkin, Munchkin Fu, Super Munchkin, you name it. To some people, bickering about the rules seems to be the entire point - though certain friends of ours would probably bicker about the rules of Old Maid for hours on end. Anyway, backstabbing, thievery and general shenanigans are the order of the day for this one - it's not for the thin-skinned.

Fluxx: The best thing about Fluxx is that it's entirely portable, and a nice change when you're tired of standard-deck card games. Between a Fluxx deck and a standard deck of cards, you've got hours and hours of gameplay in the space of a few cubic inches, so it's a great thing for backpacking, plane rides, or other such things where size and weight might be a concern. The built-in variability ensures that each game will be different, which creates replayability. Sometimes a hand will take two minutes, sometimes half an hour.

Axis & Allies: This is a great one if you've got all night - like Risk, only moreso. Yeah, it's both tough to win and extremely unsettling when you're playing Germany. But if you've got the time, this one's a blast.

Monopoly: Yeah, I like Monopoly. The sad thing is, every other person I know hates it with the fiery passion of a million hells, so I can never get anyone to play with me. Still, it's a fun mix of luck and strategy, and if you don't play with all the lameass house rules that everyone assumes are actually part of the game (e.g. the huge prizes associated with Free Parking), it's not necessarily an all-nighter.

Carcassonne: Easy to teach and learn, tons of fun. I'm amused by the way the box advertises "Includes free river expansion pack!" as a selling point. The river tiles are included in every box, always has been - why doesn't the box just say, "Includes all the pieces!"?

MindMaze: I would so dearly love to find a complete set of this game. My brother and I found this buried in the back of the game cabinet one summer when we were about 7 and 9 or so. Basically, it's a two-sided plastic board that stands vertically between the two players. Each player uses plastic dividers to create a maze that the other player can't see, and then both use magnets to try to navigate a steel marble through the maze. First one to finish the maze wins. We played it all the time, and it wasn't long before several crucial pieces were lost. I would love to play this again to see if it's as much fun as I remember.

Plagiarists Are Stupid, Throw Rocks At Them

I am hereby doing my bit to spread the word as far and wide as possible that Todd Goldman is a rat-bastard plagiarist.

He included the piece shown here in a recent gallery show, passing it off as his own original work. He apparently never mentioned to anyone that he blatantly ripped it off from a webcomic published in 2001.

I grabbed the image, and learned of the story, from Scott Kurtz's PVP website. It is not my own original work, and I would not like for you to pay me $300 for it.

"Looking worse than Cinderella after midnight..."

I used to go to the library pretty frequently, back in the days before I returned to school and before we had internet access at home. The public library attracts a pretty strange mix of people. These days, one of the major populations at any public library in a city of any reasonable size is, of course, the homeless. It's warm in the winter, air conditioned in the summer, there's public bathrooms, and if they're lucky, they can even maybe find a quiet corner and take a nap without being hassled by the security guards.

Here is a fascinating piece by the former assistant director of the Salt Lake City library about the new role librarians find themselves playing in the ongoing linked problems of homelessness and untreated mental illness. Suddenly, people with no training are expected to be social workers, paramedics, police, and still help people find a biography of Henry Clay or "that one book by that guy who wrote the other one a few years ago."

As fervently as we might wish this problem would just go away, it won't. The way we treat those who cannot take care of themselves says a lot about our society. And expecting somebody who's got a Bachelor's degree in English Lit and a Master's in Library Science to handle it when an unmedicated schizophrenic starts screaming and threatening people just because she's there is less than a bad solution, it's no solution at all.

If You Can Find a Better Man, I'd Like to Meet Him

Our friends Chris and Amber are getting married in September. Back in January, they said they wanted us to be in the wedding party. A couple of weeks ago, Chris offered me the serious and important post of Best Man. I'd always suspected that I was, in fact, the Best Man. But now I have proof.

My one real disappointment with my brother's shotgun wedding was that, due to its impromptu nature, I didn't really get to do the whole Best Man schtick. I didn't think I'd get the chance to be anybody's Best Man after that. But, rather than be forced to choose between his two brothers, Chris asked me to do it. And that totally rules.

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the post of Best Man originated with the German Goths in the Days of Yore, and his primary job was to fight off the bride's family while the groom was busy kidnapping her. So I guess I have to fight Amber's Dad or something. I think I can take him.

Other things I know about being a Best Man:
1. I'm supposed to take Chris to a strip club or sumpthin. They're getting married near Colorado Springs, though, and I think that at the strip clubs there, the womenfolk pull back their sleeves and raise their skirts to expose their wrists and ankles.
2. I'm supposed to make the first toast at the reception. I hope no one minds that it isn't going to be all canned and stupid like I gather they're supposed to be.
3. Jimmy Olsen was Clark Kent's Best Man when he married Lois Lane. I guess it would have looked kind of weird if it had been Batman.
4. According to this idiotic website, I'm supposed to provide cigars. I would be thoroughly pleased to do so...except that Chris has lousy taste in cigars, and would prefer a Swisher Sweet to a Macanudo. Maybe I'll get something good for people like myself with good taste, and some Dutch Masters or White Owls or some used coffee grounds wrapped in cardboard for others.
5. I look fuckin sweet in a tux.

That's all I got. Just remember, y'all...any man you can name is probably a pretty good man. But me? I'm the Best Man. And I have proof.

The Wonderful World of Color

That mass of colorful dots you see represents the bane of Little Miss Sunshine's Older Brother's existence. It's a part of the Ishihara color blindness test. What do you see? If you see the number (45, by the way), you're probably not color blind. If you don't see the number, you're probably red/green color blind, like me.*

Every now and then for some odd reason, the subject of my vision will come up in a social setting. Maybe a friend has tried on my spectacles, idly saying, "Just how blind are you, anyway?" and quickly pulled them back off, fighting off that cross-eyed headachey feeling wearing somebody else's specs always induces. Maybe it's because I've made yet another mistake in identifying an object's color - it happens pretty frequently. Anyway, in cases like these, I frequently lament my genetic curse. "I got my mother's eyes, but I got my father's vision," I say. My eyes are blue, like hers. I'm nearsighted, just like him. And I'm color blind, just like him.

Color blindness is one of those things about which people have a persistent misconception. When I say I'm color blind, a lot of people assume that it means that I'm unable to perceive color, that I see the whole world like a black-and-white movie. But I do see nearly an entire spectrum of color. Like most people who are color blind, I have difficulty with hue shifts in shorter wavelengths - the red/yellow/green end of the spectrum. The right combination of red and green can blend seamlessly with one another in my eyes. When they hit my cones, greens can quite easily turn themselves into blues. In low light, any subtle variation in color is essentially completely lost on me.

My mother once gave my father a lamp for Christmas. He was a little puzzled by it. "That's for a specific purpose," my mother said. "I want you to put that on top of your dresser, so you can tell which color socks you're pulling out of the drawer in the morning." That's why I have only three colors of socks - white, black, and brown that's light enough to clearly be brown to my eyes, even in low light.

Here's a typical scenario - let's imagine we've forgotten where we parked, and I just spotted our car...
Me: "There it is, between those two blue cars."
Em: "Where?"
Me: "Right there! Between the blue ones!"
Em: "Um, those cars are both green."
Me: "Oh."

I used to argue, but I've accepted that my eyes just don't perceive color in the usual way. It can be frustrating - especially as, you know, an artist - but I think it makes me pay more attention to color than a lot of people do. I know a lot more about how and why I respond to certain color schemes than I would otherwise. I know that subtle, muted palettes are wasted on me, and I'll be likely to go nuts for high-intensity, prismatic colors.

But trying to tell if something is really black or just navy blue drives me insane.

* The computer monitor isn't the ideal way to see this, as changes in viewing angle, brightness and other factors can alter the way the colors are perceived.

Bat-White Russian, Anyone?

Yet another Bat-meme, once again courtesy Brandon's Random Panels.