Friday, February 27, 2009

They Say It's Your Birthday...

It's my birthday, too, now. Bah duh duh duh dumm dah!

There's a true grandeur to having a February birthday and living in the northern hemisphere. It's basically the ass-end of the year. It's still cold, generally miserable, and even the people that love winter are longing for spring. Kids are two-thirds of the way through a school year, which means the thrill of a new grade has long worn off and they're getting a glimpse of what it's going to be like to work as adults: tedious, repetitive, and mind-numbing.

By the end of February, cabin fever has mutated into some form of malign virus where your attitude is in direct correlation to the amount of space you're sharing with other people. As one of the few American families who choose to live within our means, we have a small house, which means by the end the month when my birthday rolls around, I'm hiding the sharp objects from my kith and kin.

Most people say your birthday should be the one day you get to do what you want, just for yourself. If by that they mean, "you should do what we think you should want to do, regardless of your preference, birthday boy! And we're tagging along," then, yes, that's exactly what you get on your birthday.

How to counteract those February blues? The American way: I spent a huge amount of cash in my own private stimulus package, buying a ridiculously expensive piece of audio equipment. I hope the economy appreciates my sacrifice on my birthday. I don't think my neighbors will understand my new decibel levels of patriotism, but then they didn't wish me Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Writer's Block

"I've got writer's block."

I've heard this complaint from numerous places this week, mostly from students who won't be handing in projects. It's been so familiar recently that I just have to go on public record:

There's no such thing as writer's block.

Here's a weird conundrum for you: you actually have to be a writer to claim writer's block, but no real writer actually ever claims to be blocked. You know why? Because writers write. If you aren't writing, you're not a writer.

"Writer's Block" is a euphemism that non-writers use when then want to say: I'm too lazy to do that work you wanted, but I'm creative. If you're working as a writer, you're usually under some sort of deadline or another and if you use the blocked excuse - or any other - it's a euphemism for "I really don't want to ever work again." Being blocked is simply not an option for a professional writer.

If you're too lazy to do the writing you're getting paid (or a grade) for, maybe you should stop posting all the crap on your facebook page, your blog, and any other electronic hidey-hole you have. Even if you're tweeting, you're writing, so then you aren't blocked.

Better yet, stop thinking of yourself as a writer and start facing up to the fact that you should get a real life because claiming to be a blocked writer is like claiming to be a steroid-free ball player: nobody believes you any more and no one cares. Except, of course, those ball players enjoy a level of celebrity no writer - unblocked or not - ever enjoys.

Anyway, stop whining, do your work. We don't care about how tortured you are - that's for the biographers - we only care about what's on the page. Oh, wait, there's nothing there because you're blocked...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Fallout

Well, it's Bad Hangover Monday after the Oscars. Was it just me, or did it look more like the Tonys? I'm glad Hugh Jackman has declared that musicals are coming back, but maybe he should have looked at Broadway ticket sales before he announced it. If there's a sector of the economy that looks worse than banking, it may be the musical theater.

It would be easy to mock the Oscars, but all the entertainment shows will be doing it non-stop for the next week, so I'll set my sights a little higher: Sean Penn wants all of you to get on board the gay marriage band wagon! Now, let's gloss over his own personal history in the nuptial area, which makes him the less-than-ideal spokesperson for any kind of weddings. His heart's in the right place, yeah? He's an angry little bugger, but then so am I.

For the most part, I agree with him, but I think I may have a better argument than he was able to articulate. It goes like this: why not?

It can't possibly screw up the economy any worse than it already is, could it? No economic objections, then.

Marriage is a religous concept, is it not? Last I checked the government was supposed to stay out of religious matters. No serious political objections, then.

So, what we come down to is religious objections, right? Well, we're guaranteed freedom of religon under the constitution, so if there's a religion that wants to marry homosexual congregants, your objection is unconstitutional. Yes, you're Un-American if you oppose gay marriage.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, as a way to put everyone on constitutionally equal footing what we should probably do is remove any kind of inequalities not by protecting gay marriage but by taking away any marriage benefits from those already married. As a religious concept, it probably has no place in our government, and should be purged. So, let's nullify all existing marriages as far as the government is concerned.

All the sudden, the inequality is pretty clear, isn't it? If domestic partnerships are equal to marriage, then you won't mind giving up your marital status, will you?

And before you fall back on the Bible, and tell me how homosexual marriage isn't mentioned or condoned in the Bible, let me point out that you can't use that logic selectively. So, if you're banning things that aren't mentioned in the good book, you better be prepared to give up some other stuff as well. Pick-ups. Assault weapons. Little flag pins on your lapels. Nascar. Oh, yes... Nascar.

If the Oscars showed anything last night it's that it's a big ole world out there with plenty of other views and you need to just scooch over on the couch and make room for everybody.

Friday, February 20, 2009

On Meetings

At some time in the past, someone smarter and funnier than me - well, sure that's false modesty, does anyone really think there's anyone smarter or funnier than they are? - must have written down the universal time-suck equation as it relates to meetings. If you have a reference to it, please e-mail me immediately.

In the meantime, allow me to point out some of the complexities the equation must acknowledge. First you start with an inverse proportion whereby the number of people involved in any meeting simultaneously lowers the aggregate IQ and extends the length - in minutes, or hours - of the meeting. Note that this is actually a recursive function, because as IQ is lowered, meeting time is also increased because you have to keep explaining things for the dimwits. It's like calculating compound interest.

Next, you factor in the newbies that need to be brought up to speed. Multiply the introductory time factor by the number of people who have never attended any meeting on the subject, but who are now insinuating themselves onto your project because it might look good for them, or they want to generate the appearance of doing work by glomming onto yours.

Don't forget to account for the time/salary/availability relationship. This is a function which states the lower your salary, the move vulnerable you are to being "made available" to any wing-nut above you who decides to drag you into a room with other clueless people. A general rule of this function also states that the lower your salary, the less time you actually have at your disposal for this kind of crap because you spend your days doing the work of the people who spend their time in meetings.

Finally, you need to adjust for the politico-sexual modifier, which means that anyone deliberately trying to (a) kiss ass or (b) get ass during the meeting also impacts meeting duration. In case (a) meeting duration is increased indefinitely because public ass-kissing is usually the root instigator of all meetings. In case (b) the duration of the meeting can actually decrease depending on the potential success of the operators of the function.

I will refer to this only as my special theory of meetings. Only after more exhaustive testing will I be able to create a more useful general theory of meetings.

Until then, I've got to go to another damn meeting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Phrase of the Day

This morning on the way to work I heard NPR discussing "Zombie Banks," thus simultaneously sounding the death knell for financial institutions and for any latent cool associated with those mythic monsters. Let's face it, if NPR is coining phrases using them, zombies have lost all street cred.

The financial system, though. I mean, wow. Who knew? Where did all these dead banks come from? And so quickly? I mean, like, out of the blue.

Okay, yes, I'll take my tongue out of my cheek. Anyone with a pulse has known most of the big banks were dead for a long time now, despite the life support system of the first bailout. Use the Dow Jones as your heart rate monitor. In the last couple of months, if your beats per minute dropped by half, you'd be the living dead also. Well, probably not living. Just dead.

Let's keep going with the analogy, though, because it's so much fun. Instead of shooting the banks in the head, the government has been giving them some sort of anti-zombie drug called "unlimited, unrestricted cash" and given the zombie bank leaders free brains to boot. Now, what would you expect a good zombie to do? Come back to life and give away some of their zombie-medicine to people who are in danger of becoming zombies themselves? Hell no, they took all the medicine and are coming back for more brains.

But wait, there's more: Nosfer-autos. They suck the blood from the planet, resist all attempts to kill them (efficiency standards, safety legislation, opec), and still manage to screw you. From the mythical land of Detroit, where shoddy and irresponsible products are only equal to protectionist mentality and predatory business practice, come the soul-sucking conveyances of the un-dead. Instead of dragging them out into the sun to burn the evil away, we're supposed to give them another $39 Billion worth of sunscreen?

No way. Just... no. Get ready for the head shots and the wooden stakes, people, or they're going to drag us along down with them.

Better yet, let some people with practical experience take over. How about George Romero for Commerce Secretary? Since my bud Judd bailed (see My Guilt Complex for more on that), The President is looking for someone. Romero knows how to deal with Zombies and he's used to working with small budgets. I'm sure Ralph "Van Helsing" Nader can take care of the Nosfer-autos. Let him take a crack at it. Remember the Corvair? He staked that baby pretty well. Really, can anyone make it worse at this point?

Or maybe, just maybe, we should all stop making funny little jokes (especially NPR) and the people who are responsible should man up and fix this shit. If the bankers who caused the problem can't be sent to jail (where you and I would be sent if we performed as badly as they have) then they should be forced to fix their own mess. Congress and Commerce and Treasury should shoulder the mantle of responsibility and dig in to do the dirty work. It's not going to be pretty, but it beats having your brain eaten.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kid Approval

In one of those moments of domestic chaos, in an effort to keep the screaming and yelling to a minimum, I cracked off a quick pencil sketch of Captain America to amuse my kids.
The thing I love about it is not my own dubious artistic abilities (although it impressed the 9-year olds), but that my daughter immediately gave it her stamp of approval by putting the valentine's heart sticker on it that reads "One & Only."

Some days, you just gotta love your kids.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Guilt Complex

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I usually don't talk politics. Many might mistake that silence for a couple of different things: indifference, disinterest, or ignorance. This week, however, I'm finally moved to break my silence. The impetus, oddly enough, comes from Judd Gregg and his bailout on the Commerce Secretary post.

Here's why. This guy claims he can't be part of the administration because he can't be 100% supportive. Well, isn't that what the whole "team of rivals" concept is about? Why doesn't anyone seem to understand that? We've had a lockstep administration for the last eight years and look where that's gotten us. (And by "lockstep" I mean "goose-step.") Somehow, Gregg's pull-out has left some perceived negative smear on the Obama administration, which is ridiculous. The President makes an attempt at a bipartisan group and the other side won't come to the table, and that's his fault. Sure, that makes sense. In some alternate universe. Yeah, I thought I was done blogging on comics, too.

Still, you may be wondering what the connection is to me talking politics. Well, I don't want anyone to mistake me for being indifferent, disinterested, etc. What's really kept me quiet has been a healthy dose of my own liberal guilt. It's not the common "I feel bad about every world oppression ever, so yes, hold the foam on my latte," kind of liberal guilt. Nor is it the Ann Coulter version, where every bad thing ever done in the history of the world - and to her personally - was perpetrated by a pony-tail wearing, graduate-degree holding, ACLU guy in the democratic party.

My guilt is more fundamental. Many times over the last eight years, I've held my tongue when confronted with smug conservatives denigrating liberals, democrats, and good people in general, because I believe that in this country we're allowed to speak our minds and even opinions I don't agree with have a right to be aired. Somehow, that turned into me holding my own opinions close to my vest; maybe too close.

I'm guilty. Guilty of not getting right in every one of your conservative, closed-minded faces and saying, "you're just fucking wrong." Tax cuts for the wealthy have not helped the economy; there were no WMDs in Iraq; Intelligent design is neither; the Bush administration will go down in history as the most venal, incompetent, and despised group to ever hold their respective offices; screwing the poor is not in the national interest; you're not more patriotic than me because you watch football and get drunk every single Sunday between mid-august and mid-february; being louder doesn't make you correct, it just makes you a bully; and being richer doesn't make you smarter.

I'm guilty of being tolerant, of respecting differences in culture, ethnicity, religon, and opinion. As long as we're not talking about children, I don't care whose pee-pee you want to play with. I like Europeans, because they see the big picture, and they don't suck up every ounce of fossil fuel on earth. Since we're talking about all the big stuff, I may as well get it out there: I don't dispute your right to life, I dispute your right to legislate it for everyone else in the country, the majority of whom don't agree with you. And yes, I read the New York Times and the New Yorker. More importantly, why aren't you? Ask the liberal in the corner, the woman without makeup and the really aggressive haircut, she'll explain the big words.

So, I'm going to get rid of the guilt, I hear that's healthy. I'm not keeping my opinions locked up any more. For starters: Judd - buddy - lead, follow, or get the fuck out of the way. Nobody cares about your interior struggle or your willingness to only march if you've already memorized the tune. You missed the boat on that bullshit; it sailed back in November. It's time for serious people, because there's a hell of a lot of work to do.

Wow. That felt good.

Next time we see each other on the street, don't mistake my smile for ignorance, or for disinterest. Ask yourself, do you really want to talk politics with me?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pros of Cons

Continuing my thoughts on NYCC... yes there were plenty of good things about the con. Top of the list: Ghostbusters. These guys in the pic were humping the soon-to-be-released video game from Atari. Great costumes, nice proton packs, even better game demo. Can't wait to slime my way across virtual NYC in June.

Top of the list for free swag -- the magnetic S.H.I.E.L.D. insignia from Marvel. Looks great on my desk drawers, right next to the magnetic hula girl and magnetic Mach 5. Good on you, Marvel.

The absolute bestest part of the con, though, were the professionals in attendance. While this may sound like an obvious suck-up, I'd merely point out that this isn't self-evident, because comics, like every other industry, has its share of douchebags. Any of the really bitter blogs can dish on those people. Besides, none of the people I'd be sucking up to are ever gonna read this.

I was on a bit of a mission to find qualified writers to teach a comic writing course at Drexel University in Philadelphia and met some really fantastic industry guys who were not only helpful, but immediately responsive. Randy Stradley at Dark Horse not only put me in contact with someone almost before I got home, but I swear the man was on the floor every hour on Friday looking at artist's portfolios. That's a lot of hours and a lot of pencilled boobs.

Steve Wacker, editor of Amazing Spider-man, who manages to turn out an (almost) weekly book, was on hand and also generous with his time. Perhaps that's because we were sharing jokes about Tom Brennan, the assistant editor on the book, and and an old friend of mine. Yeah, I'll betray old friends for career advancement. But it'll always be in a funny context. Simperin' Steve (his name for himself, not mine), also hosted a pretty hysterical panel on Story Structure in Comics, along with Pete Tomasi and Frank Tieri. Imagine a hot, sweaty room full of wannabe writers and artists. Actually, overfull. Spilling into the hall. All of them after that magic bullet-point template for stories that they can just fill in and be whisked away into comics super-stardom (your own Twitter feed!). The panel basically told them the truth: the story dictates the structure. They couldn't handle the truth. I love watching other writers panic.

One final pro at the con, actually even before I got there, was an old friend and former student who now professionally blogs about comics (which sounds like something you take medicine to correct). Paul Montgomery was much nicer to me in his blog than I have been to him, so you should go and read it here.

More? We'll see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jabbas, Leias, and Venkmans: NYC Comic Con '09

First, let me get this off my chest: I should really be reading student essays. The little parasites - theoretically - put a lot of work into it, and I should respect that. But... they mostly suck, so I'm blogging instead. Is this wrong? Sure, it is, but that's me and if you don't like it, there's a little x somewhere on your screen and you should piss off, right now.

That being said, let me talk about New York Comic Con.

This would be the point where most people put in some Star Wars quote (yeah, you've already seen those blogs). Why is it that people who seek to rag on the comic scene are criminally deprived of originality? That is to say, how scathing a critique are you issuing when you quote the number one geek fanboy of all time, a guy who is not particularly known for his writing? Scum and villainy? If that's really the best you can come up with for this event, stop blogging. Ditto any "clever" word pun that ends in -gasm.

The way I'm going to start my con-commentary is with my own coined word - notice the lack of "gasm-ing" but the way I still work in the sexual connotation - here it comes, wait for it, okay tah-dah... I want to talk about swag-hags. These are the con attendees who show up with the biggest bag and proceed to fill it with anything and everything they can get their hands on, provided it's free. Now, you can tell the pros from the fanboys because the pros bring their own bags, usually emblazoned with the specs of some previous, "superior," event. I'll see your NYCC and raise you a SDCC. The fanboys take whatever receptacle they can get their hands on in a frenzy of hoarding.

The swag-hags are notable for taking any piece of garbage and putting it in their bag, regardless of the quality of said object. Or, as a not-to-be-named source from one of the big comic houses put it, "do you know how much of that free stuff was just piled up under my desk last week?" Yeah, folks, there's a reason it's free. I don't want to get all high and mighty, because that leaves you with the wrong impression. I myself had a bright yellow swag bag, but it was from Dark Horse, which is a mondo-cool group. I kept the side with the Hellboy II logo turned in ('cause mondo-cool isn't a phase I'm willing to attach to that film). But in my bag, you wouldn't find multiple copies of comics that no one would buy, I was carrying my coat. Of course, I needed to take the coat off because the ambient temp in the Javits was set for the comfort of those costumed conventioneers pictured at the top of the page.

The really hysterical part of that picture is that those people didn't arrive together, so the girls actually came to the con looking for stormtroopers. Unfortunately, with the temperature so high, and those guys completely encased in neoprene and plastic, I'm sure they were so dehydrated by the end of the day that erectile function was simply not an option. That's okay, though, because there were plenty of guys released on a day pass from a suburban basement somewhere who looked an awful lot like Jabba...


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Welcome... sort of.

Okay, so I'm breaking down. I had a few hours when I wasn't under deadline for something, and I hit the damn button and now I've got a blog. Why are you reading it?