Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

February 4, 2012

Dare to be Stupid

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge,the interweb she provides,trolling — lexifab @ 1:36 am

These days when I delve into the pages of that venerable commentator on American music and culture, Rolling Stone Magazine, it’s invariably for the political analysis, which is a bit like claiming to only read Playboy for the articles. Nevertheless there are rare occasions when it manages to pierce the rigid carapace of indifference to music I’ve built up over a couple of decades or so of inattention. There is one musician out there about whom I continue to Have Strong Opinions.

I’m speaking, of course, of my hero and spirit guide, Albert Matthew ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, the undisputed comedy folk-rock piano-accordianist champion of all time. To celebrate the release of his landmark intermittently-outstanding 13th studio album AlpocalypseRolling Stone recently ran a reader’s poll to ascertain once and for all which songs – from a catalogue spanning more than a hundred songs over more than 30 years – are his top ten best songs.

Unsurprisingly, they mostly got it wrong. If I may smugly namecheck a Weird Al song in order to score a cheap internet-point, ‘Close but No Cigar’, people.

Oh sure, they managed to display the odd patch of good taste and common sense amongst their so-called “best of” picks. So why of why did they have to go and despoil a perfectly good list by rounding it out with the bland, the obvious and the tediously popular? See, this is why crowdsourcing is going to ruin culture.

You know what it means when there’s someone wrong on the internet, right? I’m gonna have to school them ignoramuses, track by track. Listen up.

Number 10: One More Minute. Okay, look, tens-of-thousands-of-RollingStone-readers. Here’s where you went wrong right off the bat. Al’s doo-wop ballad lamenting the breakdown of a relationship is NOT the tenth-best thing he ever wrote. It’s THE best. Come on, people. Now, there are going to be people who argue that this is not Al’s best song, nor even a good one. What can I say? There are people who will argue that the sun’s not coming up tomorrow if someone else asserts it on the internet. Those people are unaware of – or conveniently forgetting – that ‘One More Minute’ selflessly contributes one of modern culture’s finest entendres – I’m stranded all alone at the gas station of love/And I have to use the self-service pumps – and that this is the least of its comedic achievements. I will say no more. If this song cannot find a place in your top five, your education is sadly incomplete.

Number 9: All About the Pentiums. Oh. My. Meh! This is just ridiculous. There are times when Al can effortlessly demonstrate what it takes to be at the top of the parody game. This inexplicable hit is not one of those times. First rule of sound-alike novelty songs: start with a good song. Puff Daddy’s inferior doggerel about the shallow pursuit of the appearance of wealth may have been rather popular in 1997. Is it still a respected classic of the hip-hop genre? I haven’t heard it on my shitty local FM golden oldies station recently! Getting back to Al, there’s certainly good material here – making fun of nerds and being a nerd is a rich vein to mine, and not particularly one I have a problem with. There’s some good jokes – What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito? and You’re just about as useless as jpegs to Helen Keller – but the rapping’s sketchy and the jokes are scattershot and fail to build to anything. Everything weak about this song he got right ten times over with ‘White and Nerdy’.

Number 8: Smells Like Nirvana. This is more like it. Starting from a strong base – the so-called anthem for an entire generation – and working from a good premise – nobody understands any of the words of the so-called anthem of a generation – Al turned Nirvana’s crashy slacker masterpiece around on itself. It’s hard to bargle nardle zous/With all these marbles in my mouth. Al’s (insane, contrarian) critics often make the claim that all his songs are about food, but really only a handful are. It’s just that these happened to have included two of his biggest hits, ‘Eat It’ and ‘Fat’. (Kurt Cobain famously almost declined his permission for the parody because he thought it would be about food). This, arguably his best parody, aims a little higher, making fun of the original song and its performers, with outstanding success. The recent ‘Perform this Way’, sending up the fact that Lady Gaga is a dead-set loon, succeeds at this as well, though not so sublimely. The ‘Nirvana’ lyrics are perfect – Well we don’t sound like Madonna/Here we are now, we’re Nirvana/Sing distinctly, we don’t wanna – the instrumentation is a precise recreation of the drums-and-feedback Nirvana sound and the shot-for-shot video clip manages to ridicule and laud the original at the same time. This is a great song about a great song that sounds just like it. Meta.

Number 7: Dare to Be Stupid. Nearly everybody knows that Weird Al Yankovic is famous for comically substituting his own lyrics to a well-known piece of music. This other thing he does is to parody a famous band’s signature sound, producing a song that is likely to be indistinguishable from the rest of that band’s output (except those bands that are unlikely to be singing jokes about food, the internet or being a terrible relationship partner). ‘Dare to be Stupid’ is a sharp imitation of Devo at the height of their fame (i.e. post-‘Whip It’) and stylistically it sticks the landing. But the joke – bad advice offered to stupid people – wears out fast. There are many better examples of Al’s style-parodies. He’s done at least  of them (three on the latest album). The best include ‘Dog Eat Dog’ – which would be one of my favourite Talking Heads songs if they had anything to do with it – ‘Germs’ (Nine Inch Nails, as if Trent Reznor hadn’t passed the point some years ago of self-parody), and ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’, which really could be a They Might Be Giants song. He’s even done two songs in the style of the Beach Boys – ‘Trigger Happy’ apes their early surfboards-and-hotrods style and ‘Pancreas’ is a lost track from Pet Sounds. Here’s what I think – it’s the cheesy direct-to-comedy parodies that attracts Al’s wider audience, but it’s the style parodies that the fans come back for.

Number 6: Yoda. A contender for top three, without a doubt. Al’s first foray into Star Wars filk-singing was to convert ‘Lola’, The Kinks’ classic song about picking up a transsexual in a bar, into a recap of Luke Skywalker’s Dagobah training montage. Sure, it was dated almost the minute came out, but it still holds up (possibly because it calls back to the one inarguably good movie in the entire Star Wars series). Al’s been finishing his shows with this song one and off for 25 years. That’s because it’s great. And because everyone loves chanting the Yo-yo-yo-yo-Yoda bit.

Number 5: The Saga Begins. Oof. First up, it’s a terrible name, yes, but it would have been more terrible to try to cram one of George Lucas’ awful planet names (Coruscant or Tattooine would have been the contenders, I guess) into a joke renaming of ‘American Pie’. Forget that, though, because by Al’s standards this is a pretty ordinary parody. Considering the Maclean song is one of the most recognisable dirges in American music, many of Al’s lyrics don’t match up with the scanning of the original. Worse, it’s just a retelling of The Phantom Menace, which is bad because it’s a retelling of The Phantom Menace, a story we could really have done without being told even once. TSB does score points for its great final verse, which sums up in four lines what it takes George Lucas nearly an hour to depict onscreen – And in the end some Gunguns died/Some ships blew up and some pilots fried/A lot of folks were croakin’/The battle droids were broken. Lucas could wish he still had that kind of storytelling economy. It perhaps deserves some admiration too for being released just after the movie premiered – Al wrote it solely on the basis of what he could pick up from preview trailers, internet spoilers and sheer guesswork. But there’s no need for more than one Star Wars-related song on the list of any right-thing Al fan. ‘Saga’ falls well short of ‘Yoda’.

Number 4: Eat It. Here’s what I think happened with the Rolling Stone survey. I think it’s just faintly possible that the vast majority of people who responded to it had never listened to a Weird Al album at all! I know, right? They remember seeing this on TV back in 1984 and thought “Yeah, that was funny I’ll vote for that.” Because…durrr.

‘Eat it’ is the crass and obvious choice of the ill-educated oik who thinks parody songs need to be about food and contain belching sound effects. On an unrelated observation, ‘Eat It’ was number one on the Australian music charts and nowhere else in the world. Let me tell you – not only is this not the fourth best Weird Al song, it’s not even the best song on the ‘Eat It’ album (‘Midnight Star’ is). Hell, it’s not even the fourth best parody song on the album: ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Theme from Rocky XIII’, ‘King of Suede’  and ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’ are all flat-out better, funnier songs. Go to hell, ‘Eat It’.

Number 3: Albuquerque. Then again, there’s this – an insane, 11-minute rambling anecdote about starting a new life in New Mexico, boxes of weasels and…hell, I duno. It’s weird. Go listen to it. I’ll give the Rolling Stone readers this much, when they’re trolling an online survey, they really commit to the gag.

Number 2: White and Nerdy. Good parody, sharp lyrics, and surprisingly adroit rapping. ‘White and Nerdy’ is basically a reprise of the ‘All About the Pentiums’ joke, but with more serious commitment to the dorkiness, which is what makes it funny. I wouldn’t necessarily have it in my top ten, but it deserves a special mention for being the flagship song on the return-to-form Straight Outta Lynwood album, which broke the curse of the 90’s (during which Al’s popularity was in a bit of a slump, by which I mean not even hardcore nerds like me would listen to him).

…which brings us to

Number 1: Amish Paradise. You’re kidding me, right? This is one of those Oscars-envelope-mixup things, right, where the award for Best Song got mixed up with the award for Most Adequate Reinterpretation of Some Garbage Coolio Ripped Off from Stevie Wonder? Is that what this is? I mean, I guess ‘Amish Paradise’ is funny, but it’s not that funny.

I would have accepted an out-there selection like ‘Christmas at Ground Zero’ or ‘Bob’ or ‘Hardware Store’. If one of the slightly-less-popular parodies like ‘Living with a Hernia’ or ‘Like a Surgeon’ had gotten over the line, I would have nodded with no more than one eyebrow raised. If you’d randomly picked one of the medley polkas – a joke that started out funny, got less and less funny with each successive album, until it finally came around full circle and became funny again – I could have gotten behind that. This, though? This toothless poke at all the obvious jokes that anyone would think of five minutes after watching Witness?

That hurts, Rolling Stone Magazine readers. It’s like you’re not taking this seriously at all.

 

December 3, 2011

Patrons of the arts

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 11:14 pm

It seems like this year has seen a massive rise in enthusiasm for the patronage model of supporting the arts. Sites like Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com have enabled artists – across a breathtaking range of fields ranging from small handmade crafts to feature-length films and more or less everything you can think of in between – to directly gauge whether their ideas will find an audience. How it works in a nutshell: the artist comes up with an idea for a project/product and solicits pledges, usually with the help of a short video showing off a prototype or early concept art or what have you. The artist sets a financial goal that will let them make the product and (if they know what they are about) provide a return to them commensurate with the effort involved. The potential audience for the product pledges some amount of money towards the goal. If the goal is reached within the pledging period, then the patrons are charged and the product is released. If not enough money is raised, nobody is charged and the artist goes back to the drawing board. The artist may encourage patrons to make bigger pledges by offering a range of related products or higher-quality versions which can only be obtained with a more generous pledge.

As I said, I’ve become a fan of the model. It connects the audience with the artist in a direct and meaningful way by saying in effect “I like what you do and I am prepared to give you my money to keep doing it” in a way that more traditional product distribution models don’t. From the artist’s point of view, it’s a much more direct conduit of audience appreciation than sending out a manuscript or releasing an album, and then fretting in misery on the eventual reviews.

As an audience member, in particular for the stuff I like including small press roleplaying games, humorous nerd-music and genre fiction, I get a lot more out of being able to show my appreciation for an artist by giving them my money (and perhaps an encouraging comment or two) than by merely buying a product from some third party. If there’s some doubt as to whether a product has a wide enough appeal to reach an audience large enough to support the artist’s efforts, because I’m sure they like to eat and pay rent) then  the patronage model is kind of ideal.

So that was an overlong introduction to the following list of very cool pledge drives going on at the moment that I want to draw some attention to. Some of these I have supported and some I am thinking about supporting – my discretionary bucks are limited, like anyone else’s – but I commend them all to your attention:

Matt Forbeck’s 12-for-12 Kickstarter: I’ve tweeted about this one a couple of times because it tickles my imagination and I want to see it happen. Author Matt Forbeck has committed to writing one 50,000-word novel a month during 2012. That’s one NaNoWriMo-equivalent a month [1]! This Kickstarter is soliciting for the first novel of a trilogy, with the second and third thrown in as additional pledge-bait (the second is unlocked at the time of writing and there’s a slim chance that the target for the third might get hit as well). It’s such mad ambition that I can’t help but be interested. The Kickstarter is in its last two days, so chances are by the time you’ve read this it will have finished.

The other thing that appeals to me is that Forbeck is opening with a trilogy set in his Brave New World roleplaying setting, which was one of those paranoid superhero dystopias from before they were popular. I never actually played that game, but it’s a genre that I’m fond of. As an aside on the topic of Forbeck’s work, I am ridiculously excited about the high concept for his forthcoming (traditionally-published) novel Carpathia – which is that the Titanic survivors, rescued by a ship called the Carpathia, find themselves trapped with, one presumes, that particular mountain region’s most famous resident. I can’t wait for that one.

Next up is a local fundraising effort. Good friends and gaming buddies Emma and Gavin are comic illustrators who have come together with a small army of fellow Canberra comics luminaries (plus a few ring-ins from about the globe) to produce Beginnings: A Comic Anthology. 100 pages of full colour illustrated stories (around a ‘beginnings’ theme, whatever that may mean to the various writers and artists). This one hit its target today with a few weeks still to go, so I wish them well in taking that one even further. They’ve offered some rather spectacular incentives for fellow artists, including portfolio reviews by people who’ve already made names for themselves in the industry.

This next one is another Kickstarter, and another roleplaying game: Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now. Another gaming Kickstarter that underestimated its appeal and made its target in less than 24 hours. This one appeals to me because of its pedigree – it’s an adaptation of John Harper’s sublime Lady Blackbird – and its subject matter. I’ve been looking for a good game of cybered-up mercenaries to scratch my Shadowrun itch for years (ever since I realised I could never go back to the original game itself, having parted company with its design philosophy years ago). The promotional film is worth a look – good narrative intro to the game, excellent use of stock imagery and a personalised appearance from the designer himself. It’s an excellent example of how to sell a concept to potential patrons. And it has some killer writing: “We imagined superspies and corporate wars, injected memories, and a clandestine network of half-metal freelance action heroes who made the world a better place by fighting bastards and driving fast.”

And the last one I want to point to is a fundraiser, hosted at a blog but using a similar concept to the patronage model. Ryan Macklin has committed to releasing Mythender, the god-killing game he’s been developing for several years, in return for donations to support a friend diagnosed with cancer. Several other small-press game designers have thrown their lot in for the cause. As a result the Random Kindness Encounter Bundle contains several extremely interesting and (if you go for that sort of thing) cutting-edge RPGs. You’ll note that the campaign has already blown way past the original target. That’s the other thing that’s good about this model – when it fails, nothing happens. But when it works, it really seems to go to town.

Edit: No sooner did I finish writing this up than Gareth-Michael Skarka, principle author of a rather successful Kickstarter campaign himself, posted a very informative essay explaining the benefits of the patronage model to creative types. Well worth a look.

[1] Except, you know, hopefully edited and readable 🙂

November 1, 2011

Not gonna NaNoWriMo. No no no.*

Filed under: the interweb she provides,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:55 pm

Even though I’m in the middle of writing a novel [1], I am not marking this first day of November with a reckless declaration of participation in National Novel Writing Month. Recent stats tracking had demonstrated that a productivity rate of 1667 words per day – the minimum effort required to hit the target of 50,000 words by the 30th of November – is far beyond me at the moment. Yesterday I managed 1900 words on the novel and a few hundred more on other things, but that was an all-day affair. Hitting those kinds of numbers every day, during the couple of free evening hours which typically comprise my writing time, seems like a shortcut to a gibbersome breakdown.

In October – a month when I worked on my novel around one day in every two – I punched out a bit over 15,000 words (not counting planning material, character notes, half-baked worldbuilding etc). That won’t get me to my target of having the whole 80,000 (ish) thing done by the end of December. But it is a good foundation, and I can feel myself accelerating as I go. In October I wrote almost three times as much on the novel as I had in September [2]. While I expect I will find a plateau soon and while I definitely expect it to be short of the 1667 NaNo mark, I’m confident that I’m stepping it up a gear.

Some quick links:

– I assume by now that you, like the entire internet, have seen this video clip of the cast and crew of the final David Tennant Doctor Who story singing The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles”, right? You should, it’s triffic (especially for the ridiculous expression on Timothy Dalton’s face and for the dancing Ood).

– I thought I had another thing that I wanted to link to, but I can’t remember what it was. Go and watch the Ood again.

[1] Another 750 words written today, which felt like a real achievement given some of the other stuff I had going on, like the three-hour platelet donation that took a big bite out of the middle of the day and left me stuffed for two hours more.

* Too soon? Nah.

October 20, 2011

In the absence of content, several links

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 8:53 pm

I am procrastinating on ploughing back into the novel while I try to figue out what the next couple of scenes will be about. When I finish this blog entry I’ll get started and presumably something will come to mind. Of moe pressing urgency is the occasion, coming up in a couple of weeks, of having several child-free days, when both Joey and Wombat will be ensconsed in day care. I’ve already decided that these will be devoted to writing – though I may take a couple of hours off on one day to go and give blood – so I want to be as prepared as possible. Between now and then I need to spend some time furiously preparing a scene-by-scene outline for the remainder of the novel, so that when I get to the actual writing I don’t have to spend as much time slowing down and thinking.

At least, that’s how it will work in the pristine, virtuous image in my head. Reality will no doubt come crashing through in the form of interruptions, unwanted household duties, sudden power cuts and caffeine-deprivation pangs. And procrastination, of course. Shitloads of procrastination.

Anyway, here’s some linkage:

Author Matt Forbeck is taking the National Novel Writing Month idea to the next level – or ridiculous extremes, perhaps – by committing himself to writing 12 novels in 2012. I’m more familiar with Forbeck’s game design work than his fiction, which includes stuff in the Warhammer and Blood Bowl settings in which I am not that interested, though his Amortals and Vegas Knights are both on my ‘to be read’ list. This is such a ballsy ambition that I cannot help but be impressed, and if even half of them turn out to be reasonably good, it will have been an impressive achievement. I understand that there will be a Kickstarter launched in a couple of weeks to support the attempt, which I will certainly consider supporting.

This rant in defence of Generation X speaks to my heart, especially the bit about earning trophies. The list of dead rock idols makes me emotional (Elliot Smith is playing on the stereo as I type this). Apart from anything else, it’s beautifully written. And screw those weak Gen Y gits, amIright?

Oh, and just a warning with that last one – it’s obliquely a response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, so for the love of all that’s sane DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. You have been warned.

I have no idea what the hell quantum locking even means (isn’t that the random collection of technobabble that the Doctor uses to describe the Weeping Angels?), but these films of superconductor/electromagnet levitation looks a hell of a lot like The Future (especially that “frictionless” bit). Hypnotic. Watch both of them – the second one uses as-lay-as-possible terminology to explain what the holy-crap-indistinguishable-from-magic you’re looking at.

Right. I must now go and do some work. Or maybe I just need to concentrate more on my powers of procrastination, before they get a real workout.

August 31, 2011

The Dreaded Linkfest

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 5:04 pm

Look, let’s just be open about this. Nobody likes a blog that just throws up a bunch of links to things that the author found either amusing, disgusting, provocative or all three. And yet we all do it, because the only thing an RSS-junkie like me likes even less is a blog that goes more than a week without an update. Right?

Say, is that the sound of coyote-whippoorwills chirruping at some tumbleweeds blowing past?

Well, anyway, this week I’m working on my short story (Teeth still grinding. Words still emerging at an unusability ratio of four- or five-to-one. Proceeding as expected) so I haven’t spent too much time pondering the sort of blood-scorching topics that compel my usual waffling commentary.

I thought about taking cheap shots at the dire quality of what passes for politics hereabouts. However between the Convoy of No Confidence (daft and inconsequential and considerably less representative than most things that get protested in Canberra) and the Craig Thompson affair (which is vanishingly unlikely to bring down the Government, unless there are actual dead hookers yet to be revealed) and the minimalistic reporting about the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office (which should constrain participants of future election campaigns to boring policy-based debates), my heart wasn’t in it.

Instead, here’s some crap from the internets:

Via writer Cam Rogers, The Lonely Island are those incredibly rude young chaps who had that song about being on a boat. Here they present another nautically-themed number, which features Michael Bolton taking the absolute piss out of himself. Warning: contains further swearing, though not nearly as much as pertained to that motherfucking boat.

What with all the walking I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been listening to a lot more podcasts (I have not quite picked up an audiobook habit yet, though I suppose it’s only a matter of time before I add them to the long list of cultural artefacts for which I have an unhealthy and time-consuming appreciation). Two of the better gaming-related shows that have hit their stride over the last year or so are The Walking Eye podcast and the Jennisodes.

TWE is an excellent round-table discussion ‘cast in which the principles first record several of their play sessions of a particular game (usually but not always a recent small-press “indie” publication). They follow this up with a review episode in which they pull the game apart and figure out what did and didn’t work for them, and then finally they get the game’s author(s) on the show for an interview. If you can develop the stamina and tolerance for listening to someone else’s roleplaying session – the actual play recordings sometimes go for a couple of hours – then these recordings are an excellent introduction to games that are sometimes (often) best taught orally. Which is not to say that they don’t sometimes (often) get rules wrong, but they are usually conscientious about correcting their mistakes. It’s a fine show – the presenters are thoughtful and assured, the discussions are free-ranging but rarely stray off-topic, and the combination of actual play – review – interview provides an excellent overview and more than enough of a game’s flavour to inform a decision whether to purchase it. I picked up Apocalypse World on the strength of the TWE review and will likely get Fiasco on the same basis.

The Jennisodes is another roleplaying game-focused show. Its format is a slightly more traditional interview show, but host Jenn has a real knack for (a) getting interesting people on and (b) getting them to say interesting things about themselves well beyond whatever the topic at hand may be.

Getting away from the gaming, I’ve also started listening to War Rocket Ajax, which is a comics-related podcast that sometimes strays into esoteric subjects about which I comprehend little (such as nerdcore hiphop and the varieties of barbecue available in the southwestern USA region). Nevertheless the hosts Chris Sims and Matt Wilson are engaging interviewers possessed of truly inhuman depths of knowledge about Superman, Captain America and even some comics that don’t have superheroes in them. This is a good show – their recent interviews with Mark Waid and Greg Rucka were music to my nerdy ears.

Inspired by the DC relaunch about which Ihave recently opined at length, the DC Fifty-Too blog depicts covers from an alternate universe relaunch with some of the artists and characters that didn’t get invited to the party. Many of them are far more compelling than the actual relaunch titles (I would pay handsomely for a Mignola-style Big Barda series).

Apocalypse World is yet another roleplaying game I would desperately love to play if I could find the time. Instead I console myself with vicarious entertainment like this short instructional animation explaining how the game is played, which I have mostly linked to because it is oddly beautiful.

A good caution on the dangers of writing outside your culture and immediate experience in this ABC Drum article: How to Write about Aboriginal Australia. I have a great fondness for sarcasm borne of weary exasperation. In the past few days a work colleague of mine also posted this inspired rant about the declining  Australian backbone: Snobs and whingers. There’s some good writing on the Drum at the moment, especially now that they seem to have dispensed with the occasional services of Bob Ellis.

June 17, 2011

Back to the Island 1.24 – Exodus Part 1

Filed under: back to the island,friends,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 3:18 pm

Meagan has arrived, having single-handedly wrestled the controls of her ailing Virgin flight through the deathclouds of molten pumice billowing forth from the malignant heart of the Chilean Inferno-Mountain. Or something like that. I didn’t really catch all the details. The important part is that she is here for a couple of weeks of dinner parties, bad movies and discussing how good/bad our favourite television shows are. Just like old times. [1]

I am feeling dull-witted and out of sorts today. There are hockey fans rioting in Vancouver, the creator of Dilbert has gone screeching and flinging faeces off the brink of Misogyny Falls, and the Greek economy is collapsing so fast an event horizon has formed around it – but I couldn’t care less.

Help me manage my ennui: If something has you riled up or excited or pancreas-squeezingly bilious, tell us all about it in the comments. I crave novelty! Especially if it’s something good. Perhaps involving baby pandas or a new kind of caffeinated beverage. Or something good to read, perhaps?

I’ll be done with the Season One Lost reviews by tomorrow, so I will be looking for a new side project to supplement my other writing for the next month or so. I think I may solicit some writing challenges, or issue some myself, if anyone is up to a public game of ‘Write or dare’. Let me think about that.

Random wonderful thing from the internet for the day: here’s a 24 hour comic done by Australian artist Canaan Grall that mashes up Thor and the Muppets. He has some other long-running webcomics that I haven’t had time to check out yet, but based on how good this is I certainly will.

[1] Speaking of which, the Game of Thrones series is gloriously, sumptuously good, as long as you can keep up with the spectacularly vast cast and seemingly-disconnected plotting. It’s worth watching for the costuming alone. And the beheadings, of course (of which there have been at least four that I can recall). Man, they love them some decapitation in Westeros.

Behold now: the first half of the first season finale of Lost:

(more…)

June 2, 2011

Dawn of the Bacon Age

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 11:53 pm

I hereby resume my regular post-parental blogging with a shotgun-blast of unrelated topics cherry-picked from random corners of the new media. I’ll start with yesterday’s brush with internet superstardom.

The Bacon Age of Comics is here!

So I kind of said something that seems to have gained a little traction, thanks to my saying it to someone famous (well, someone more famous than merely internet-famous, at any rate). One of the comic writers I follow is Gail Simone, the tremendously talented and funny writer of Birds of Prey and the current incarnation of the Secret Six (amongst many others, including an apparent metric shit-tonne of Deadpool, about whom I know next to nothing…).

During the week it was announced that, as a result of reality-bending time-travel shenanigans (or something like that), the entire DC comics universe is going to be completely rebooted in September. There will be entirely new versions of all their iconic characters (this is the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green lantern school of comics, not the Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America et al universe. You follow?) in slightly modified costumes, with 52 new titles launching in the space of a month. This was pretty big news [1] so of course everyone and his dog leapt immediately to Twitter to voice their outrage or whatever.

Into the swirling maelstrom stepped Gail Simone, who pointed out that there have been several “ages” of comics before now – the Silver Age (roughly from the mid-fifties to the early seventies), preceded by a Golden Age and followed by a Bronze Age and probably several other ages – all distinctive and recognisable  periods in the development of the mainstream comics industry and the superhero genre. Gail made the sensible observation that this was a little bit like that, and instead of doing work like I was supposed to be doing, I flippantly made the suggestion that this should be dubbed The Bacon Age of Comics. Being a discerning genius who knows a really stupid idea when she sees it, Simone ran with it and for some reason it seems to have taken off.[2] Simone herself described it thus: “Guys, it’s the Bacon Age of Comics. It’s terrible for you but it’s a thousand times more delicious. It will kill you, yes, but happily.” Heh.

That’s my ten seconds of fame, right there. I must say it was far more successful than my now-abandoned goal to inculcate the word ‘lexifabricography’ in the common vernacular. For reasons which are, I concede, obvious. What’s really strange is that, despite being kind of cool on reading monthly comics for the better part of the last decade, I must admit I am kind of interested to see what’s included in the (ridiculous) 50+ titles launching in September. I’ll almost certainly read whatever Gail Simon is writing, for one thing.[3]

Internet patronage

There’s a new trend emerging (or at least a new version of an old trend which has only recently caught my attention) for new creative projects to get upfront funding through pledges at sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. A project is proposed, and backing for some quantity of funding is sought – if a funding target is reached before a deadline, the pledged funds are leased and the project goes ahead. It can be used to fund everything from kid’s playgrounds to malaria treatment programs in the third world to independent films – but it’s caught my attention recently through some spectacular successes in roleplaying games – the kickstarter for Daniel Solis’ game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple achieved its goal six times over – and fiction – podcaster-author Mur Lafferty’s quest to get the bucks together to publish her Afterlife series of novellas pulled in nearly ten times her original target.

The model of gauging interest through sorta-quasi-preorder-donations is a compelling one: if you’ve done your maths right, such that your target will actually fully fund your project in at least its basic form, then this patronage approach gives you a clear picture of whether there is an audience for your artistic work, before you commit to (expensive) production. It’s not quite that simple, of course – it’s quite apparent to me that these and other such success stories owe their big numbers at least in part to the effort that the creators have put into self-marketing. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but rather to suggest that establishing a good reputation is an important first step in building the sort of support base that will lend this sort of business model its initial momentum.

On my radar earlier this week was Graham Walmsley’s Stealing Cthulhu, a preorder for a book of advice on designing roleplaying stories in the Lovecraftian style. The preorder has closed (another one that surpassed expectations by a considerable margin) or I would recommend it unreservedly (inclusion of margin notes from other authors is a stroke of genius). The other one I am looking at right now is Technoir, a cyberpunk game that seems like it might actually produce something resembling a William Gibson novel.

Western wire-fu

Another thing I’ve been following for a while now is Gareth-Michael Skarka’s incremental development of his Wild West/Wuxia/steampunk mashup setting, Far West. At one point it was going to be an RPG setting, then a series of novels, and now it’s evolving into a transmedia property, which is a creative approach that seems to mean different things depending on who is talking, but Skarka at least appears to have a clear picture in his head of what he wants to do with it, judging by his first design blog entry. It looks like an interesting setting to me, but regardless of that I commend it to your attention because they intend to release the Far West roleplaying game for free. At one point a while ago I was keen to pay for it, so obviously this is an approach that works for me. I’ll be interested to see how well it succeeds as a promotional tool though – and, for that matter, what exactly it will be promoting.

 

[1] The actual big news about this announcement is that all of the new titles will be released simultaneously in dead tree and e-readable formats , which represents a stunning shift in the prevailing attitudes of the big publishing houses and a genuinely transformational moment for the industry – but never mind the real-world implications when we can have a good old-fashioned meltdown about whether Superman looks a bit dorky with that collar on his costume.

[2] Following all those links will give you a pretty good cross section of mostly-sane responses to the announcement, but for my money the best one is the one by the Good vs Evil podcast writers, which cleaves pretty closely to my mildly-informed opinions on the matter. Hence they get two incoming links instead of the usual one 🙂

[3] By the way, consider this a recommendation for her Secret Six [4] title. I’m catching up on the series in trade paperbacks now. It seems to draw from the same well as John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad from the early nineties, down to the presence of one of my favourite villains, the depressive assassin Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton. Secret Six achieves the remarkable – nay, astounding feat of making DC Comics D-list villain Catman into a well-rounded character.

[4] The downside of the reboot of the DCU is that titles featuring marginal characters like Catman and Deadshot and for-gods-sake Ragdoll are – no matter how well-written or fondly-regarded they may be – wholly unlikely to be early inclusions to the Bacon Age titles. On the upside (for me) it should be relatively easy for me to assemble a complete collection in trade paperbacks very soon. At least, I hope it will.

April 14, 2011

Pertaining to the pokies ‘debate’

Filed under: political sniping,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 10:32 am

Grog’s Gamut has fast become one of my favourite blogs on Australian politics. The author, Greg Jericho, has a standard of analysis and research that puts far too many professional journalists in the shade. If you have a taste for the ridiculous argy-bargy at the centre of the collision between politics, the media and whatever social crisis happens to be splashed with fervent apoplexy across the covers of the Murdoch rags on any given day, I highly recommend adding him to your blog diet.

As a taste, here’s the best piece of analysis I have ever read concerning poker machines.

February 24, 2011

Sad losses

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 3:58 pm

Yesterday was not a good news day. There was the obvious horror of the Christchurch earthquake, the news from which seemed to worsen with each unfolding hour. The earthquake seems somehow like the latest leg of some summer tour down under of a band of travelling natural disasters. On the tail of four months of floods and cyclones, this is just the latest episode in a season of one damned thing after another. When commonplace events like storms and cyclones and earth tremors all seem to have been turned up to 11, you have to wonder whether some unhinged weather god has suddenly decided to throw an apocalypse. Volcanoes and tsunamis, on stage in 3…2…1…

Except of course, much worse things happen elsewhere in the world, and it’s only the relative uncommonness and proximity of the recent disasters that makes them loom so large. Bad things are always worse in proportion to familiarity. How well you know personally or can identify with people caught up in a crisis will dictate your emotional response to that crisis? At least that’s how it feels to me.

Which brings me to news from yesterday of two deaths that made me feel acutely awful, despite having no genuine connection to either person.

First up came the news that Dwayne McDuffie had died of complications from surgery earlier in the week (details still seem sketchy). McDuffie was a writer of comics and, later, a film and television writer/producer. An African-American writer who championed racial diversity, he wasn’t afraid to call his employers out for their smug ignorance of race over the years. To be honest while I respect that, it’s not for that or for his more famous work – Milestone Media, the Static Shock and Justice League cartoon series, and a hoard of comic and cartoon credits – that I admired him. It was for the little-remembered Marvel series  Damage Control, which was about the New York cleanup crew who dealt with the aftermath of superhero battles. It was a brilliant piece of post-Watchmen (and obviously pre-9/11) metacommentary on superheroes (especially the Marvel version, whose personal lives were supposedly more ‘realistic’ than their DC counterparts’) and it was funny as hell. The link is to McDuffie’s original pitch for the series. I haven’t had a chance to check my comic collection yet – it’s boxed up in several different parts of the house – but I hope like hell that I haven’t thrown my copies of the series away over the years.

Shortly after that came the less unexpected but still unwelcome news that Nicholas Courtney, better known to me for my entire life as Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, had passed away. When I started watching Doctor Who – which you need to understand is the single most influential cultural touchstone in my life – the ABC was constantly showing and reshowing the Jon Pertwee and early Tom Baker seasons. The Brigadier was a near-constant presence in those years, second only to the TARDIS and the Doctor himself, and the show would have been the poorer without the character’s wry humour and Courtney’s subtle performance. He will be missed.

In all, it was a bit of a misery-guts day – but out of all that there were a couple of shining lights. The gaming community have done themselves credit a couple of times over. First of all was the fundraiser by Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat of Two Scooters Press to support a friend with a genetic disorder that results in blindness. (Get six whole games in PDF for a ten buck donation now). I’m pleased to see that they’ve raised quite a lot already.

The other fundraiser I took note of was a similar offer over at RPGNow, which is bundling 45 PDF products for twenty bucks to raise funds for victims of the New Zealand earthquake (they did a similar one for Haiti last year). There are some real gems amongst the inevitable dross, like Cold City, Beat to Quarters (the Hornblower/Jack Aubrey-inspired Napoleonic naval war RPG I’ve been dying to check out) and the creepy vampire game Annalise. Well worth checking through the list to see if there’s anything you want there.

Tell me something that made you feel a little bit happy. And next time I blog I think I’ll make it entirely about things that are making me happy right now.

May 2, 2010

Interesting stuff about the futurewebz, by Stross

Filed under: the interweb she provides — lexifab @ 1:47 pm

I follow Charles Stross’ blog mostly for news about when his next book might be coming out (The Fuller Memorandum, the new Laundry novel, is only a couple of months away, by the way) but recently he’s had a lot of interesting stuff to say about the business of writing and publishing and how new media are going to affect them. Interesting stuff, which you should go and read.

But his very latest blog concerns the near-future apocalyptic shakeup of the personal computing market, and it’s a fascinating. (There’s some more good analysis and some thoughtful disagreement in the comments too – though of course there are also the ravings of a number of gibbering nutweasels as well).

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