Thursday, September 14, 2017

Waydown #17.09.14

Well, six months isn't too bad.

Note: It wasn't done on purpose to prove what I said two zines ago about "write drunk, edit sober" but most of this was written while fairly drunk then edited while sober.

REVIEWS


Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (audiobook). In college, I was assigned Moby-Dick, probably more than once (and probably in high school too). And every time I faked my way out of reading it. Yeah, it’s something that any English major is required to read and appreciate, but there was too much other stuff, and I figured out who to get by without it at the time. But it seemed like an obligation and I knew I would return to it one day. (What does it say about me that I seek to experience this book in my own free time outside of school: curious adult or grown nerd?) I discovered audiobooks, but when I ran out of stuff that I had in print that I wanted to get through, I had to go further afield than my usual comforts. EMusic has a good selection so I had my pick, and if I was going to read anything, I might as well start at the top. Reading anything but a classic would seem too casual, like I wasn’t using the time and effort for something substantial, if I was going to make the effort and could get the same out of it from listening. And there’s not much that could top Moby-Dick, the granddaddy of them all. There are plenty of abridged versions but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it. I even followed along with cliff notes (or an equivalent, of what I found online) to make sure I got out of it as much as I could. And I feel like I got it down as much as in any other form (without having to study it for writing a paper or discussing it in class), maybe even better since I wasn’t reluctantly trudging through it, but listening to it so I could actually make it through (as apparently I’m a better aural learner than visual). It’s certainly a classic, and it deserves that designation. This isn’t a modern evaluation of it that treats it more as a document than a story -- it really is that good. This is the novel to which any other novel could be compared.


There’s nothing I’m going to say about the book that will add to its study. There are entire classes devoted it (they’re called American Lit 101). There was more than enough written about it before my parents were born. At a used bookstore recently I came across a biography about Melville that was even longer than Moby-Dick itself. There’s no way anyone could be expected to bring much new to its study, but we can always enjoy it. A classic novel that heavy can’t much be expected to be enjoyed as entertainment, unless it's a nerd study, which is commendable but rare outside of school. Me personally, if I’m going to read a book for study (and come on, you should know by now that every book I read is up for study -- it’s why I’m here and maybe why you’re here) I might as well go to the meatiest of them all. Surely anything must be lighter than this (save maybe The Holy Bible). Yeah, there are as many metaphors that run through it as you could pick. There are metaphors upon metaphors, metaphors for metaphors, metaphors because metaphors. The book wouldn’t be taught in school if it wasn’t so rich. It’s a bit of a textbook (literally, since it's usually assigned as such) for picking out meaning because it’s anywhere and everywhere through every fiber of it. Make up a metaphor for what is about what and you could be right (as well as that someone probably coming up with it well before you). No one is going to tell you you’re wrong unless your grade depends on it, and even then you could probably wiggle your way out of it. (That’s why it’s so easy to get a good grade in college English classes.  Whatever you come up with doesn’t necessarily have to make any sense as long as you do the work. My trick was always to write so much that teachers wouldn’t want to read the whole thing, and to write slightly less than legibly on in-class exams.  But I also didn’t go to a great college.) It’s not much of a book to read for fun (unless you're just trying to get the Simpsons references) but it’s something to search for meaning. It earns its rightful name as the Great American Novel, to this day, and it’s likely its reign will be undisputed well beyond the rest of our lives.

One of my college professors who assigned the book to us also gave us a cheat-sheet that permitted us to skip the chapters only about whaling (even half-chapters, the sheet was so considered). Those sections might not be necessary to the overall narrative, but they’re still important, and perhaps more than Melville showing off what he knew or the research he did. If no one else has already said it, I would venture to state that those chapters are more for pacing, to slow down the story to simulate the time at sea, which was a hard, long, and lonely period. Especially in those days without ready stimulation at one’s elbow, the days stretched on almost into infinity. A proper story would skim that period of time, making minor mention at best but mostly getting on with the action, so we know it happened but we don’t have to live it. Melville forced us through the tedium, slowing down the story nearly to a crawl to immerse us in what it was like, showing not telling, with as many details as he could cram in. He’s not so concerned about the story itself but perhaps more about the experience, and the story that comes from living through it. It’s a clever trick, and one that's caused confounded, bored students to put the book aside before really getting the meat out of it. There’s still a story in there, whether you want to give yourself over to it or not. It’s a good story, written with a crackle whether you dig into the metaphors or not. It’s dense so it takes some time to settle (though that may not be a problem when you’re listening to it and can plow through it to get the bigger picture instead of dwelling on certain passages, which may be leading you down a dead tunnel because they’re about whaling and don’t have as much of a greater meaning to the whole (except to make you feel like you’re really out to sea, whether you want to be or not)). You’re going to decide your own way to read it, if you’re committing to getting through the entire tome. To spend that much time with such a thing, you have to come up with your own system. But it’s worth it. Once the climax begins -- and you’ll know when it happens (at long last) -- you’ll feel it’s worth it. All that time at sea (or muddling through endless chapters about the nuances of whaling) will pay off with the most explosive ending that you probably have ever gotten to and through. Most books have crap endings, but this one actually pays off, and it’s something any author can learn from. If you can get there, you’ve earned it… if you’re one to survive the voyage.

There are more than a few versions of it, abridged or otherwise. The one I read actually had a voice-actor doing the reading, and he switched up voices between characters, which added texture to it, especially since there aren't that many characters but a few of them melt into each other after a while.  It's also staggering to think that someone read that entire tome for an audiobook but I commend the team who did it, and glad they did (since they made it easier to hear than to read).

Jack Cross (DC). Warren Ellis was doing the Millarworld thing before Millar did, even if Millar was able to sweep in and get the flashier artists later on.  Ellis put out a clutch of creator-owned books, of which DC was able to grab a number, even if they went nowhere, an inverse of what Millar was able to do across every publisher available (besides DC), as if by design. Not that a good, motivated creator should have limits on who publishes their stuff, but the fact that Ellis’s stuff didn’t go far with DC only showed that DC didn’t feel the need to put their resources into pushing it, or that he didn’t have flashy-enough artists. But credit DC for repackaging the single issues of series like Jack Cross in a single “80-Page Giant” issue a la one of the original floppies, even if they were bunting their way out of collecting it as a proper trade paperback (since even Ellis’s name couldn’t get it a hardcover). Maybe it was a contract thing and they were holding on to publishing rights by collecting it, even though it wasn’t worth going through too much trouble. The main draw is art by Gary Erskine, a collaborator with Ellis who did a few projects, among the other notable British writers, but seemingly never enough to get him the prominent or regular work that he deserved. Erskine’s work grabbed me the first time in fill-in issues of The Chain Gang War (a series forgotten right after it ended but worth digging up, if only for the art), even over the original series’ artist Dave Johnson (only showing that he did interior work and not just covers at one time), then on to Robinson’s Firearm a little later. His art was solidly structured and the lack of flash appealed to me at a time when all the Image look-at-me stuff was pushing me to the end. I’ve followed his stuff in the time since, what little of it there is, but just his inking stuff, while getting work where he can, didn’t draw me to a project any more than I might have already been (even if Morrison wrote it). But going back a bit to when Erskine was still doing full art, and something written by Ellis, I at least picked it up, even if I passed it by the first time (and still only read it because it looked like it would be an easy cruise through). This book is boilerplate Ellis: conspiracy theories, main characters that know more than they need to, sudden explosions, a sampling of a life that might have been more interesting in the past they allude to or later on. Not bad on its own but it wouldn’t sell if Ellis wasn’t already known. The Erskine art is as much as it needs to be, but an artist who isn’t known for his flash also can’t be expected to bring more electricity to a story than there already is, which is precious little in this case. There’s a section of Ellis work that isn’t sci-fi and/or stuff that Avatar publishes easily or superhero, but he’s on shakier ground when he gets into the dark corners of American government. It’s probably due to his own fascination with the country’s inner workings (especially if the English counterpart is as deadly dull as anyone would think it is) but the story he’s mining has already been done enough, by anyone else or by himself. The Jack Cross character himself might even be interesting if he hadn’t already created him as Jack Hawksmoor in The Authority (and count it against Erskine that he couldn’t come up with a character design that at least would make an effort to differentiate the two characters. It’s bad enough that Ellis couldn’t even come up with different first names). This, like Millarworld, was an easy play at properties that could more easily be sold into TV or movies by beginning as comics, after Ellis got a taste for it with the almost-Global Frequency adaptation, which probably shouldn't have happened in the first place, especially if it led Ellis to putting out material less than his talents should be able to command; he could be commended for foreseeing comics becoming a breeding ground for options, but just because he got in early doesn’t mean he could actually sell some of this stuff. Assuming there’s not a brilliant, easy high concept (vampires where it’s night all day!), the source material needs to be good enough to be adapted. This isn’t it. Ellis could have been better served with extending Transmetropolitan and waiting for a producer to finally pick it up for what it’s worth.
We3 (DC). Like most comics fans, I’ll read just about anything Grant Morrison writes, and I’d heard for years that We3 was one of his great works. I was hesitant, only because the superhero work where he had limits to push was usually more compelling than the creator-owned stuff where he could do whatever he wanted and would too often skitter into a head-scratching abyss, to say nothing of editors who would crumble under his capacity. We3 fell into the latter category, though it helped having art by Frank Quitely (an unknown when the series came out, so I could wait a while). As it turns out, I was right: this is another Morrison work that gets by on his name and his artist. Not to say it’s bad: it’s probably his most accessible work, and that can be enough, to carry a story or win over new readers (even those new to comics). But most of the story, such as it is, is given over to the artist to do as he sees fit; it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was written in the Marvel style (though that's not even a negative function). Luckily, that artist is Quitely, showing a glimpse of what he would clobber the industry with a short time later. This doesn’t feel like the ultimate statement by this team but rather a dry run of what they would accomplish to a much greater degree with All-Star Superman (an effort great enough to even win me over) and doing whatever they wanted so they could gel and get their symbiosis together. The limits to which Quitely pushed himself visually are hesitant here, only a glance at what he would come into later in, pretty much, anything after this (and only pushing more these days (when he can be bothered to finish anything)). It’s still solid work, years beyond what could be expected from a newcomer, so maybe it’s better they started with their own thing rather than having to fit the art style into a more familiar property, and Morrison’s name could float someone who wasn’t a giant in the industry quite yet. As its own work, it’s a slight effort, one of the lighter Morrison reads, as the words get out the of the way of the art, but not giving it much more weight than a read quicker than pretty much anything he's done. Morrison books usually have more meat, but that shows how much he let the artist take over. As a Morrison book, it's less a shock for him to write cute animals than that he couldn't do more with it. Yes, there’s that heart-wrenching moment at the end but it’s telegraphed, especially if you’ve ever read any story or seen a movie with pets as characters (we’ll say it’s easier for them to meet their fates than a human character). This story could work much better as its obvious endgame, a feature-length, animated movie, which might not be able to match the brand of visuals (though it might be great to see them try) but at least they could flesh out the story and with 100 minutes could be more fun to watch than read. As a book, it’s a middling story, more an effort by Quietly than Morrison, and to see how animals as main characters, even as bad-ass cyborgs, would work in a comic (which is to say, no more or less than they ever would). This is for Quitely fans who want to see where his greater work began.

DC: Rebirth (DC). DC reset their universe, yet again. The New 52 didn’t work out -- as many said it wouldn’t -- so they just scrap it and start over again. It’s now such a semi-regular thing that barely even gets an eye-roll anymore. Possibly the only reason why the New 52 was a big deal at all was that they didn’t bother to explain it in continuity -- a show of either being above messing with it or laziness. Now they try to work within the continuity -- not a bad idea but it seems too easy for them to just start over anymore. Not that they ever needed to stay with such a poor concept as the New 52 (if there was even a concept behind it beyond turning everything into another Ultimate universe -- which Marvel only recently showed was a concept that wouldn’t go forever, too) but for giving up on so many times, they could at least follow it with something worthy of ditching whatever anyone -- creator or fan -- had invested into what had come before, or something that attempts to go beyond what was there before. “Rebirth” just seems to reset to pre-New 52, which is wise, but Didio has some balls to stick around with that hanging around his neck. The DC Universe becomes something recognizable again, and with this new initiative they’ve had another stage of filtering out poor talent (since those bold, new ideas for projects don’t go far without a majority of able creators, which the New 52 seemed to have overlooked). They might have even kept the new fans they made such a big deal out of pursuing with the New 52, but any goosing their numbers got with another big event, no matter how fundamentally changing it is to the continuity, should show that these things get more sales from readers thinking they might miss something and from the promise of what will follow (whether that promise is fulfilled or not), not because it’s a great idea. The level of the creators is not always clearly signaled, but usually their names have some indication.  With the New 52, DC was driven by editors and it didn’t work, but now that they’ve loosened up (or gotten some creators good enough to do the work and/or to stand up to their bosses), there seems to be some decent stuff coming out. I’ve actually bought a few issues recently, which I haven’t done since before the New 52 (and I don't even count the new Kamandi among that). Even if it’s another stunt, maybe “Rebirth” is turning things around. There’s always the hope that this reboot will be the one that actually sticks, but they’ve shown they’re spineless enough to scrap what they have and start over yet again when they get the whim. Even if there was a reason to change the continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, there really wasn’t any after that. What should have been was what should have been. Didio should try to make his name on something else -- as it is now, it’s probably just this side of infamy. If “Rebirth” is worthy of an icon status for him, more power to him. But he’s also going to have to outlive Before Watchmen.

As for the issue itself, there’s probably only so much they could do with such a loose concept and of course without trying to too-blatantly redo Crisis (which is what any of these ever is anyway, even Marvel’s recent “Secret Wars” (a concept even more muddied but with less work to do)). They might as well do a story and try to work something out with it. They didn’t bother with making a story out of the genesis of the New 52 but here they could milk their audience with another comic. They still don’t really explain it -- maybe there’s something that has to do with “Flashpoint” -- but they at least introduce the characters and concepts that they’ll build on for the foreseeable future. And they get to boisterously say that they're actually going to try having a plan for it (and put Goeff Johns at the head of it, which they apparently think is a grand statement). Crisis is still a landmark because even if you have no interest in seeing how the continuity was changed or you’re far enough from it that it doesn’t matter (which it didn’t before but doesn’t now even more), it’s still a story (and one frequently coherent). You can still experience it as its own work, and not just for the pinnacle of George Perez’s career.  “Rebirth” hatched the egg but it's doubtful there will be reason to go back to it (except for the hidden clues and references spurted in there, another annoyance). The biggest deal is that the Watchmen will eventually be brought into main DC continuity, a move as unshocking as it was inevitable (they've already milked it post-Alan Moore, you knew they'd keep going). There’s no need for it but it’s no surprise when they need an event to turn up more money. It’s just more characters blended into a shake that gets more bland, but hopefully they’ll do better with the Wildstorm characters (which just got pulled back out of the main continuity.  Sigh -- it just keeps going). The story is just an Easter egg scene in a Marvel movie (but better than one in a DC movie), alluding to something coming up but not standing on its own. Of course DC thought it was a big enough deal to assign it to some considerable talent, and they got Gary Frank from wherever he's been (hopefully those original graphic novels have made up for his name disappearing), and that would be worth the price of admission if he’d had a more engrossing story to draw. But all in all, at least DC is trying to atone for a huge error (even if they'd rather pave over it with more merchandise rather than admit what they did). Admitting it wouldn’t do much but at least they can start to atone by just making good comics, which should have been, and should always be, the starting point, before the continuity, not the other way around.

Heroes of Power: Women of Marvel (Marvel). A treasure-sized edition featuring first or early stories of their biggest female heroes. It’s a shot at getting those characters in front of a new audience, and it’s a noble effort. They’re good characters, most of them very recent, that deserve the recognition. As if Marvel would pass up a way to work any character they have, and at least a few of these were designed expressly as part of the new guard of heroes to show that they could have some range, which is to say generally non-white and non-male. It’s a noble effort, and some of these have paid off. This volume is reaching out to a few more, even if they’re not the best showcases for the characters (in particular the Gwenpool story is sillier than it needs to be, and the Wasp story is so slight, even as an introduction, that it’s hard to believe that Waid wrote it). Its format is its most confounding feature. The larger size will mean (self-)serious fans can’t fit it into their comics boxes, though they probably have these stories already (if those white, middle-aged males have an interest in non-white, young, female heroes in the first place). It would stay off the racks of the regular books in the first place, not even on the graphics novels and trade paperbacks shelves, instead shuffled into the section of the shop where the special editions go, wherever that is.  While younger (read: pre-teen) readers might be drawn to the larger pictures, there’s some stuff in it that’s just a little racy for that age. In particular, the Gwenpool story has some cursing and if her short-shorts aren’t an alarm, the fact that she’s on the cover with her butt up in the air would be.  Some of the material could be great for kids and girls, as if it wasn't designed specifically for them, but for something like this need to figure out exactly what age-range they're aiming for, and present the material appropriately (which could be this size, but not for the outrageous price). So this is a failed attempt, but the Ms. Marvel comics on their own can be enough to hook smart girls and good readers, and they probably won’t have a problem with the size of a collection of stories.

Fight Club 2 (Dark Horse). A sequel to Fight Club must have seemed like a good idea at the time. It would be easy enough to cash in on it in any format and, as a comic, it wouldn't have the same harsh criticism that a movie would. And Palahniuk, who stepped up to write it fully as well as giving his permission to do it (though he would be the one getting a lot of that cash), at least gave it an effort. As it is, his first comics work might not have been best served by carrying on his biggest creation, and while a movie sequel doesn’t affect that world’s continuity, this new comic is now canon. It’s a lot of ideas, the chaos of which made the first one, book and movie, so much fun, but trying to fit those into a comic shows only how they don’t all work, and certainly don’t fit together, and definitely not with these new versions. Palahniuk doesn’t know enough of the limits to know how to defy them effectively (you have to know the rules before you can break them), and seeing him try is a bit embarrassing. It’s possible that the original story might not have flown in a comic format (both the book and movie turning the limitations of their mediums into strengths for the story), but this one isn’t helped by a story that is barely more than the good parts of what’s already been done strung together by assumptions that anyone will follow its attempts to break any kind of new ground. The characters didn’t need to be resurrected, as doing so nullifies the great, tragic ending of the movie that any viewer could have read into, and it needlessly reveals details we didn't want or need (like a name for the narrator). The new story also fails to build upon what came before, instead Palahniuk tries to make a statement about the dullness of domestic life, then lamely exploding it, as if that hasn’t been done before and better, and cements a fate for these characters that was more fun when it was in our imaginations (if they even survived the first one, which worked best when they didn’t). His ambition is commendable but his execution is almost an embarrassment. It's already not working by the time he writes himself into the story. However, just giving it a shot alludes to a possible future, better if he can come up with a property that can be fashioned as exclusive to comics. It’s not a promise, and lightning rarely strikes twice, but he’s a good writer, even in the bad parts, and anything else he could come up with would be better than this. It’s only helped by art from Cameron Stewart, a solid artist who is a good fit for the story, as he would be for most anything that isn’t superheroes, and actually pulls off some of innovative storytelling tricks that Palahniuk can only attempt in the story. Stewart at least has a grasp of how comics storytelling works, and he accomplishes the herculean task of wrenching the words into something that can be followed (if only just so). It’s a crime that Stewart’s work hasn’t gotten out more, though this might have been the payday he deserved and he can continue doing the off-the-radar works he wants to do. Some good covers by David Mack that might even be more fitting (which might have been even more fitting as interior art, though probably taking it in a different direction, and something even farther beyond Palahniuk). This series got some promotion at first -- Dark Horse landing the coup of getting the sequel to Fight Club! (with Palahniuk involved and maybe being actually something that people might want to read) -- but after it became their Free Comics Day offering for that year, it seemed like it fell off their radar. Maybe they assumed that anyone who would find out about it had and they would carry it along without being reminded, but it could also be that they knew it hadn’t turned out like they thought and they would just as well sweep it under the rug. That could have been an editor not wanting to stand up to a name like Pahlniuk, or blind trust that he was going to pull it off by the end. But it didn’t, and as it will likely go down in history, a footnote to the Fight Club saga that does not need to be pursed, explored, or considered.  So then again, no, a terrible idea. (But also the first Dark Horse book I've picked up in ages.)

Daredevil: Dark Nights (Marvel). A companion Daredevil series, presumably to cash in on popularity brought by the Netflix series, but it’s not like Marvel has ever backed down from milking a property that is suddenly hot (except for, confoundingly, the current Star Wars stuff). This was wise enough to get out of the way of Waid’s monumental run on the character, but apparently there were other stories to tell. Marvel could give DD over to creators for short stories out of continuity, creating an anthology series, which never do well but maybe they thought that the character was hot enough at the time that it could be an exception. It was not. It wasn’t helped that these stories were harshly driven into the shadows of the main series, even if they were done by often-solid creators. DD seems to do best in longer story arcs where he and his world can breathe, rather than short spurts that rely on the reader picking up on whatever he does in a quick amount of time. This is evidenced in the Miller and Bendis/Gaydos and even Smith/Quesada runs, which is what anyone remembers before forgetting about anything that came in between, such were the heights of those landmark runs and the lows of most anything else. This series falls into that gutter of stories that would be fill-ins if they had to be shorter, and won’t be recollected anywhere but here. The first one is by Lee Weeks, a fine artist and storyteller when he’s paired with a good writer, but here shows little by writing on his own. His story aspires to a struggle in the hero’s mind while what’s outside of him struggles with him, and a lot of it doesn’t connect, in a way that tries to achieve a higher level but instead comes out as lazy craft. The art is good enough, and at least he pushes himself enough to come up with a few things to look at. But even in his past DD work, though early in his career and with a writer who fell even further from his aspirations, was a better use of his talents than this. The second story is a lot lighter, but easier to disregard. It’s basically a DD team-up story, with a third-tier character that’s good elsewhere but doesn’t need to work here. It’s all the DD surface details that say nothing about and do nothing with the character, as shallow a comic story as they’re stereotyped. Then a third story that I even forgot, though it deserves such by being a poor vehicle for time that Dave Lapham could have spent better elsewhere (even if he was selling to Marvel and DC as much as he could during this period). The whole book is a quick read, maybe two sittings if you want to take a break, but giving a substantial amount of time to these throw-away stories might turn feelings negative toward the good ones (outside of this series), which would be better served re-read than trying to get through this. With anthology series there’s always a chance a good story could come up at some other point -- later, maybe at the end -- but there’s always the chance that this is already the best that it got. Maybe that’s another reason why anthology books don’t work, and why Daredevil, who does better the longer the story goes, is a poor choice for something like this, and why it came out as lackluster as it did.


My Top Beatles Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "The Fool on the Hill"
19. "Cry Baby Cry"
18. "Hello Goodbye"
17 ."Nowhere Man"
16. "Penny Lane"
15. "All You Need Is Love"
14. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"
13. "Eleanor Rigby"
12. "Help!"
11. "I Am The Walrus"
10. "Taxman"
9. "Old Brown Shoe"
8. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
7. "The Ballad of John & Oko"
6. "Get Back"
5. "Revolution" (single version)
4."A Day in the Life"
3. "Helter Skelter"
2. "I'm So Tired"
1. "Drive My Car"



RAVES

Grapes. I've been eating a lot of grapes lately.  Over the summer I was staying up  until about 4 each night and I needed a snack but it's not a good idea to eat anything heavy, especially processed carbs or anything real salty, which I gravitate toward.  But grapes are filling, you can eat them while doing something else on the computer, they taste great, and they're $2.50/lb. for decent quality at Smart N' Final (a little more at TJ's). See also: Cherries (when in season and cheap).

Shorts and flip-flops. My entire summer (save for work, the one day for the San Diego con, and my shoes when I went to work out).

Clif bars. I'm actually not a big snacker but sometimes I also go far too long without eating, as I'm busy with other stuff. These might be closer to candy bars than any real protein, but they're tasty, cheap, easy to eat (especially while doing something else), available at the Sleven, and they're better than not eating. Beware ones that have caffeine.

Update on a Rave from last issue: Steel-cut oatmeal is much better, making me even rethink oatmeal in the first place, but it's more work (and also worth it).



Next? Maybe December?



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waydown #17.03.22

Trent Reznor took six years after 1999’s The Fragile to make another album. Then he had With Teeth in 2004 and albums came nearly every two years after that (a break-neck pace for rock albums in the modern age). Once you get started again, it can be hard to stop.


REVIEWS

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis (audio-book). I'll follow a favored comics writer from comic to comic so I’ll likely follow them to other writing endeavors, like a prose novel (though confoundingly I still haven’t started on Neil Gaiman’s books). Ellis’s first book, Crooked Little Vein, was a fun read, with a lot of his own conventions — frigid characters, tons of research, pissy dialogue, the theme of the threat of technology — but re-purposed into a form that probably got out to more people than his comics. There’s probably more cred in it too, something better than writing a G.I.Joe cartoon, so to justify however long he stays with pursuits that might be seen by more of the world, he might as well push out as many novels as they’ll let him do, which is probably a lot since it’s easy to publish and nothing sells anyway so it’s no more a risk than anything else. Though he should have stopped at Vein. This one is a cop story -- as if it could be anything else, since his first one wasn’t -- that acts like it’s intimidated by technology but is secretly turned-on by it, with a good-vs.-evil plot that would be beyond hackneyed in a comic and doesn’t do better in prose. While Ellis may have pioneered the too-cool-for-school hero, this book could have only benefited from any kind of awareness since its main characters are buffoons, which is a risk, manipulating the reader by way of limiting narration but also making us wonder why they’re following such boneheads. The story attempts to make a point every once in a while, though never trying too hard to make any of them stick, and enough that it’s hard to follow what the point of any of it is. The story is over-researched just like the rest of his stuff which usually isn't such a bother since comics are rarely researched too much in the first place, but in prose where it could have been put to good use, instead he uses it as fool’s errands that keep the heroes running but boring the reader. Ellis has written better comics using the same tropes. He might go down the same roads too often but he's had more hits than misses. At least with the comics an artist save a poor story (even if Millar scoops up the best ones before he can). It’s just a shame that the time Ellis spends writing novels is time he isn’t trying to come up with something to match Transmetropolitan (if he’s not just going to give us a sequel to that), comics or otherwise.

The audio-book is narrated by Reg. E. Cathey (Dirty Dee from Pootie Tang but you probably know better as Freddy from House of Cards). He’s got as low and gruff a voice as could be allowed to read a book, and while he’s not an accomplished voice actor, making every sentences seem to trail off with ellipses and not giving much modulation, but his voice alone evokes a dark atmosphere with more dread and danger than the words do. The whole thing is a pretty quick listen, maybe 10 hours, so the book is probably a relatively quick read; I’d be pissed if I had to give it more than that to get through.




Battleworld: Red Skull (Marvel). I was researching the Red Skull for a project and I figured I might as well find a recent story (after The Uncanny Avengers didn't really work out), preferably one that wasn't connected to anything else. It had been a while since I’d read the 'Skull in a comic, especially since the last few years of Captain America issues have seemed insurmountable (though still something I’d like to dive into at some point). My plan for the Red Skull was as a zealous maniac but that seemed one-sided and far too easy for a mastermind villain. I hoped that this book would feature a voice I could grab on to, even though it was in the "Battleworld" event, which I knew very little about (though enough to enjoy the jumbled mess of Squadron Sinister), but they could be playing the character like the original version. As it turns out, it read a lot more like a Marvel Suicide Squad, more than likely a calculated move considering how well that book has done lately for DC and since no one would probably notice when Marvel included it in their deluge of tie-in books for Secret Wars. It doesn’t cop the idea entirely, especially since it’s just a gateway to knock off a lot of characters right away -- a lot more like the Suicide Squad part of the Suicide Squad/Doom Patrol Special. It’s a lot of characters whose main-Marvel Universe versions no one would care about, and there’s not much point about killing them off so early in the story, but then the whole thing wraps not much longer after that. The story could have been longer, at least building up to the characters meeting their fates, then when it got cut for length they just left out the build. It's less concise than truncated. It’s another corner of the Battleworld, as if there needed to be more. But these villain-based stories are an easy sell for me, so I was in for the ride. I went through the whole thing in exactly one sitting, which is significant considering how long it takes me to get through any book. The whole thing barely makes a trade paperback -- they have to fill it out with an old Captain America reprint, but not only was it nice to revisit one of my favorite periods of that book (despite the Ron Lim art), it also did more to help me capture that voice of the bad guy, going back to the original as an afterthought but more valid than the modern-day, other-world clone.



Transformers vs. G.I.Joe (IDW). One of the most ridiculous comics ever made. Qualify that even farther as being from a mainstream publisher and it’s the same. It’s completely wacky and often doesn’t make much sense at all. Imagine a 9-year-old kid making the most epic G.I.Joe/Transformers story that his imagination could produce, with every one of those toys at his disposal. And it’s actually a lot of fun, even when, maybe even especially when, it doesn’t work so well. Tom Scioli takes his Kirby-biting style to out-Kirby Kirby (or maybe what Kirby would have come up with if he had ever done anything with the characters... and was on drugs) and drops both teams into it, mangling them into a story that no one ever could or ever want to come up with. They all break out into a dance at one point. It starts straight off with a #0 issue, one that might be lost if you didn’t get the trade, which marks the tone for the rest, setting a certain stream of continuity, establishing a sort of origin story and proclaiming that it has no concern for anything that has come before. If you don’t want to read the hundreds of issues of either of those teams, across at least four publishers and certainly with no lack of bum stories, this is all you need; anyone who knows those toys and the cartoons (which is to say, dudes currently in their 40s) would be able to drop into it and go. It’s far out there, maybe more than it needs to be, but comics are only rarely made to be this fun (fun, not funny) with characters we know. From the explosive first story it slides slowly, to plot-lines that make little sense and confounding jumps in the narrative. Surely the editor (such as anyone would be) had enough work to corral all the characters and elements into making a few pages here and there make sense. But there’s no reason to read it close enough to get more sense than fun out of it. The art also comes apart gradually, getting looser as it goes along until it almost seems like it will fall apart entirely -- an ethic that wouldn't work if it was used more often.It’s part of the charm but it works best earlier on when there's some kind of panel-to-panel structure holding it together. (And there’s often no excuse for coloring outside of the lines, especially when it seems to want purposely to get sloppy, after not being so earlier on.) It’s some low art but there can be glory in such a thing, and it revels in it. This is all on purpose. Clearly the creators have a great love of the characters and they had a blast making it. There’s no reason that anyone wouldn’t want to let go and have fun with it. It’s a silly thing. Even more ridiculous that this thing needed a co-writer, since it doesn’t seem to gel any better with a second pair of hands on it, but it would be sad to have to play with all those toys alone.



Modern Masters Volume Five: José Luis García-López (TwoMorrows). I get to about one of these a year, and this was this last year’s. Out of all the artists profiles in these books, Garcia Lopez may be the one closest to my heart, as it was his art that I remember liking in my earliest days of looking at comic books. I may have been too young to know to seek out an artist’s name but I recognized his style and remembered it growing up. It might have been easier to remember his style since it was always so straight-forward and structured, nothing overly stylized but probably more solid than any other artist working at the time, more than Kirby in his heyday -- just straight-up superheroes. The style may not have been explosively imaginative but it was clear and obvious that the man was at least as good as any other storyteller around. Even better a few years later when he did the art for DC-tangential products, in particular the Super-Powers board game and the DC Heroes Role-Playing Game, both cornerstones in my personal history, that cemented his art in my mind. (And if you want to play that Super-Powers game, let me know and we’ll get together.) He may never have gotten the recognition he deserved -- that was for flashier artists -- but he got plenty of work, and being from a generation of journeymen artists, that was good enough, he’s said. The book is the usual for this series: An interview that runs out before it can gets deep, never going too far on any particular projects, and a frustratingly small selection of art, considering the width and breadth of what he's done. But considering Garcia-Lopez is only rarely ever interviewed (I don’t believe I’ve ever in my life read an interview with him), with no widely available art books dedicated to him, and for the relatively-small range of projects he’s done over the years to get short shrift just because there are only so many pages, the book does well enough, as a sampler of his work and a biography of his life. There’s actually a good deal of attention given to his Atari Force work, which may be the most accomplished project he did as a regular series for DC, even though it’s increasingly forgotten today, completely so if not for his involvement making it a landmark, and might even have been unfairly disregarded back then as a hokey video-game tie-in (I bought the series for myself years ago on eBay and probably got a deal on it). I would have preferred more space given to his DC Presents issues, since those were my gateway to his work, but to go through that series and all those characters he drew could be a book on their own. This one is as good as any of the ones in this series I’ve gotten to, and I’m sure they all continue on that level. If you’re a fan of these artists, there’s no sense in not picking up as many as you can.



Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers (Marvel). There have been a number of books or series that I pick up because it gives me background for my Marvel Heroic game.  Especially in the case of Drax, I was trying to get a character’s voice just right and where better to get it than from the comics?  (Often better than the movies, especially in this case since Drax talks a lot more in his comic than in the movie.) Marvel pushes out potential book-sellers Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to re-brand them, at least in name, as an adjacent Avengers team, which they’re not but they might as well be, and unnecessary after their movie was huge enough to cause no regrets in its comparative success. They put Bendis on it, not necessarily the right choice but because he would eventually get to the characters in his tour of long runs on every Marvel book available. He does well enough, as rarely is there anyone who makes space books into much of anything great, even when sci-fi should translate to comics better than it does, but the main draw is pairing with McNiven, which was also why I gave it a shot. At the time I needed the reference for playing Drax but I also needed a McNiven book to make up for Nemesis, and Bendis isn’t a turn-off for me, even if I know I’m not going to pick up all 263 issues that he does of a series. This one jumps right into adventures with the Guardians then digs into their histories, in particular Star-Lord, so there’s an assumption that anyone already knows how they came together, which it gives no time for, since we’re probably supposed to assume that’s a story, probably through “Annihilation”, that was too grand to sum up in a lurching catch-up panel, or, just being a fan of the characters getting into action scenes, that no one cares. It works well enough for both of those but not much beyond it. It’s just a run-through of the team doing stuff, focusing some attention to Star-Lord’s backstory, and probably existing just to set up the bigger stuff that comes next, as Bendis is always interested in the longest game possible (though credit him with never taking it to Claremont levels), so it’s hard to get a whole lot out of the book other than action scenes.  At least they’re drawn reasonably well, better than Nemesis but not as good as Civil War, which leads to thinking that McNiven just needs a better inker he can stick with or a bigger event to be a part of.


Squadron Sinister (Marvel). Anyone knows I’m a nut for the Squadron Supreme. The team is everything I want from superheroes. It’s a distillation of the superhero concept, as minimal as possible, even without being an analogue of the Justice League (which I actually didn't pick up on until much later than I should have). It’s the DC heroes without the baggage, even though that baggage brings interesting history with it, but with most of the personality and magic stripped from it, then of course in the Marvel Universe, which contributes its own fun to the concept. Of course most of it comes down to the ‘80s Squadron Supreme mini-series, the Justice League as The Authority years before, and played straight instead of as a satire. It was even in its own universe, so it could have more than easily been an air-locked DC Universe redux, but they swerved from that. Even more, it came down to the last issue of that mini-series, one of the best superhero fights ever in comics. It was pointless, barely even serving the story, but superhero action at its finest. And so Marvel dredges up the concept again, jettisoning that broken post-mini-series version that hobbled around for years, including through a graphic novel that blew its chance at doing something substantial with the characters. So it comes back to the original concept, of the Justice League as villains gently rampaging through the Marvel Universe, thrown into their Battleworld concept.  There didn’t seem a reason to follow that except to see the characters resurrected and mixed together just to fight -- and bloodily, since not a lot of them survived, to serve whatever story -- but didn’t seem to do them or Marvel much good, except to weed out and get rid of as many as possible within the story, which is as close as Marvel gets to adjusting their character continuity within a story continuity, a la DC (when they’re bothering to do it).  So the New Universe and the Howlin’ Commandoes and the Frightful Four (apparently someone else already snapped up Crystar) show up for little purpose but to have someone for the antagonist/protagonists to fight and for characters to die so that they can mimic some kind of consequence from the story. It’s also a murder-mystery, which brings out the villainy of the main characters. Yet it all works, well enough. They could probably do more with the Squadron Supreme in this form as villains than as heroes, but seeing them in any form can be enough (and maybe it’s where they’re headed with the current, main series). It’s as relevant as any of the Battleworld tie-in series were, which is to say not much but since they didn’t connect to much of anything else they could be picked up just for the characters and seemed to be dropped when Marvel started a new-but-not-really-new version of their universe, but as a side-bar four issues with those characters it’s an easy ride, and not an embarrassment to writer Marc Guggenheim, who can be counted on for solid writing. Also good to see the reliable superhero art of Carlos Pacheco, who is too good to not get more regular work, since he shines more on a consistent schedule rather than high-minded projects.


Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra (Marvel). The concept for the story is a day in the life of a Hydra agent. Totally a bad guy, and a goon at that, just how one could live with that vocation. That’s the whole thing. And it’s nearly genius. There’s no redemption with the character, just a wild romp through how a life like that could be in the Marvel Universe. One of the best single issues Marvel put out that year, and a complete story in itself (though it pays tribute to other high points of Marvel history). Marvel does fun done-in-one stories every once in a while, usually a parody, which can be a bit much after a short while, or connected to an event so it becomes just another tie-in, but sometimes when they do one of these it works well enough that it’s frustrating it doesn’t happen more often, considering the number of other, contrived projects they push out. There might be more gas in this character and maybe in the concept but it’s valuable on its own, leaving us wanting more rather than wearing out its welcome (which Marvel has done much too often when they find something that works). 



I finished the first two Injustice trades but I’m going to get more of that series before I write about it (though the fact that I’m pursuing more of it should be a good sign).


Top Albums Of 2015 (In This Order):
10. Head Carrier- Pixies/Super- Pet Shop Boys (tie)
9. Leave Me Alone- Hinds
8. Lost Time- Tacocat
7. Blind Spot- Lush
6. You Want It DarkerLeonard Cohen
5. The Hope Six Demolition Project- PJ Harvey
4. Strange Little Birds- Garbage
3. Post Pop Depression- Iggy Pop
2. A Moon Shaped Pool- Radiohead
1. Blackstar- David Bowie

My Top Radiohead Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "High & Dry"
19. "Fake Plastic Trees"
18. "Just"
17. "Stop Whispering"
16. "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box"
15. "Planet Telex"
14. "You"
13. "The National Anthem"
12. "Karma Police"
11. "Talk Show Host"
10. "Electioneering"
9. "Reckoner"
8. "There, There"
7. "Idioteque"
6. "Everything In Its Right Place"
5. "Airbag"
4. "My Iron Lung"
3. "I Can’t"
2. "Prove Yourself"
1. "Killer Cars"


RAVES

The beard. Almost famously, I'm growing a beard. I never have before. What started as an unemployment beard -- growing it out because I wasn't working and didn't care -- became an employment beard -- growing it out because I was working and didn't care. I could never get past the first two or three weeks, when it's really itchy, but once you get over that hump, it's kinda nice. It's just become a thing and it would be weird to not have it. I don't have an end in mind: some folks shave it off at some point, maybe once a year, maybe the start of the warm season, but I don't have a plan. I'll just keep going with it until the wife is tired of it, since she has to suffer it but she's also the one that encouraged me to grow it out. Since beard oil is an obvious gift, I now have a lot of beard oil.

Oatmeal. But made with water, not milk. Yeah, it sounds gross, and even I wouldn’t have tried that just a short time ago, but a while ago I gave up milk (it’s really not good for you, and it acts more like a solid than a liquid, so when drinking it, it’s just more food you’re putting down) and I was desperate one time and found that oatmeal made from water actually wasn’t horrible, and instead of being so heavy made with milk, it packed even more energy being lighter. I still have to put some brown sugar in it, which I know isn’t good, but I just can’t eat it without some kind of flavor to it. I’ve found slicing up apples doesn’t work like it does in instant oatmeal (might as well be cereal) but blueberries in there aren’t bad.

On the elliptical. After my weight-lifting class among the house-wives, I get on the elliptical. I don't know how much good it really does -- it's maybe 400 calories in 40 minutes -- but it's cardio, and I get reading done. Mostly Weeklys or magazines, so mostly trash reading but I can let my mind go and maybe I'm burning some fat. It's very zen.

Not wearing deodorant. When I’m working nights, I’m only around one other dude. And in my older age, I’m getting more cautious about chemicals, and stuff in ‘pits have a direct route right into the body. I’ve always felt uncomfortable wearing deodorant, enough that I would often wear a T-shirt just so my ‘pits wouldn't come in contact with a button-down shirt, so I decided to let it go for a while. And it worked. I don’t seem to reek, as far as I know or anyone would (or wouldn’t) say. I don’t sweat a lot anyway and it's colder months now so we’ll have to see how it is in the summer. But if I’m not around many people anyway, it probably won’t matter. Though on the weekends, when I’m around anybody, I certainly put it on, and lately I’ve been getting back into the aerosol stuff (though that’s then chemicals in the air that go into the lungs). If it's good enough for Bradley Cooper and John Cusack, it's good for me. But rest assured: If I’m around you in person, I’ll be wearing deodorant and smelling fresh as a flower.

Update on a Rave from last issue: I leave my main iPod on shuffle (albums) now. I roll a 6-sided die to pick what radio station I listen to at night. I leave my choice of shirts to whatever order I washed them. I don't have to decide when to shave anymore (see above). I try hard to stick to the same routine every week. I defer to my wife as much as possible. In N' Out has only two things on the menu. I’m doing whatever I can do to take as many decisions are possible out of my daily life.There’s way too much wasted on making a choice, usually an insignificant thing, when you can just leave it to fate and probably come out the same, without the guilt of knowing you could have chosen something else. The less I have to spend making decisions, the more time and energy I can put toward writing and creating and making blog-zines and communicating and living.  



With my current schedule, I'm reading a lot more, enough that I got into two big books (an Avengers Essential and a Love & Rockets tome) just to slow down how much I'm burning through. Right now I've got seven books on deck for review, then five more from before I went on this schedule, then whatever else I get through by the next time. Hopefully the next issue will be on May 22 or when I finish the next novel (which may be -- but probably won’t be -- Moby Dick), whichever comes later.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Waydown #16.12.09

Well, not all of a year but most of it.  But at least it's here.


Writing Process: “Write drunk, edit sober” was mis-attributed to Hemingway but it’s still advice I’ve taken.  (And I think it was Arnett who posted that on Facebook, and if that was the case and he’s reading this, I very much appreciate it, my friend.) 

I like writing drafts, and I even like editing (where the real writing work is), but I don't often care to edit my own stuff.  My work-around: I write my draft one day, as much as I can get out, even if it's not a lot (though it's usually more than I thought it would be) and even if it's not great (though sometimes it's better than I remembered it being), then I sleep on it and edit the next day.  When I edit, it's like I'm looking at it fresh, I've had the time between writings to let it roll around in my head (though I usually don't think much about it once I get it out), and I can be more critical about it, even making drastic cuts that I hadn't thought I would take from the writing.  And with giving it that much effort, I can be more confident in knowing that I got out what I wanted to get out.  That way I also don't sweat it if I was in some less-than-ideal state when I wrote it (tired, drunk, hung over, distracted, frustrated, etc.), as long as I work it out in the edit.  This has gone really well for me lately.  I've probably been writing like this for years but didn't realize that I was actually consciously doing it until recently.  Usually I'd wait until the next day just because I ran out of time to edit.  I might have even thought I was lazy for letting it go for so long once I started.  Of course this is for when I can afford the time to do it like this, but generally my writing isn't so urgent that when I'm writing something that matters so much that I have to get it written and sent in the same sitting.


REVIEWS

Unknown Pleasures by Peter Hook.  I’ve been an obsessive New Order fan since high school (a bit before they released Republic or so) but I didn’t get into Joy Division as much.  In the mid-’90s there was a Joy Division best-of released and I picked it up, just because there was a connection to New Order.  I didn’t even know about Ian Curtis and the legend of his suicide until I read the liner notes of that CD.  But I couldn’t get into the music then.  There were a few tracks that were okay -- “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Dead Souls” (more because Nine Inch Nails covered it) -- but I took a pass on it.  I was okay with that for a while but of course there was a furor about Joy Division in circles around me and what I read, possibly even a bigger deal than New Order, which was crazy to me, so I was drawn back to them.  Then one weekday night I was rummaging through a used-CD store and came up upon the Heart and Soul box set.  At $30 I figured I could take a chance on it, and since it was everything Joy Division had ever done, I could definitively decide that I didn’t want to go anywhere with them and their music and move on.  Yet I put the discs on and was instantly drawn in.  Pretty quickly, I got it.  I even got how they could be separated from New Order (even if not revered more than my favored band, but in their way they were a really different thing).  It might have happened so swiftly because I’d already had a primer, but regardless I was in, and have been since.

You already know I get obsessive about rock biographies and anything having to do with New Order is an easy sell for me.  Books are always my favorite thing to ask for for Christmas, especially since I can let it go if I don’t get one I wanted (since I have so much else to read already).  Peter Hook put out his Joy Division book and I figured it would be worth a look, if to provide a context New Order if nothing else.  I thought I could pass on it for a while but somehow I knew I’d get to it sooner rather than later.  I was saving it for a lengthy flight to India but when that trip didn’t happen I shuttled the book to the back in favor of whatever else (which, unfortunately, turned out to be the ultrametabolism one).  Then our honeymoon trip to Europe came up and I took that to be the ideal time to finally get to the book.  I had other things in mind to do on the long trip over there but it’s always a good idea to have a book ready just in case.  I concerned myself with other things on the ride over, and we were busy enough when we were in London and Paris, but on the way back I decided I might as well get to it.  If I wasn’t going to read it there was no point in having taken it along, and since everything that went into our luggage had to count, I didn’t want to waste it.  Besides, I could just read a bit of it and if it didn’t grab me then I could put it off and no love lost.  As it turns out, it grabbed me immediately (even from when I did a quick survey and went over the acknowledgements in the back (which includes a mention of New Order's demise  -- just enough to set the tone of what I was about to read)) and it was hard to get out.  Between the rest of that ride (which, for when I began, was only from London to Scotland), then the ride back to London, and the flight back to the States, I read the main body (the two last chapters, mostly ephemera, I couldn’t get to right away, so couldn’t officially finish it for a while yet).  Three sittings might not seem like much but that’s lightning fast for me.  (Maybe the last time I read that much that quickly was Misery in high school and Count Zero in college.)  Absolutely the best book I’ve read since Kavalier & Clay (even if it’s an utterly different genre) and the best biography I’ve read.  Absolutely dazzling, in its own often morose way.

It’s Hook, bass player and founding member of both New Order and Joy Division, telling the Joy Division story as best he can.  Of course it’s limited to how much he can remember but he recounts a whole lot of it and a great many details.  It’s also his side of the whole thing, which could be suspicious since he has only contempt for his former band-mates now, but if you’re going to get only that part, at least it’s as believable as anything and it’s a satisfying, easy read.  He just tries to remember as much as he can and put it all in story form and in order, all very conversationally, just like he was sitting at a table with you and talking out the whole thing.  Either he’s a very clear writer or he had a capable editor who whipped it all into a good shape, but he got a fantastic manuscript out of it.  He doesn’t shy from naming names and taking grudges out on those who crossed him in the past, but surely those bad bands have long since broken to nothing and that singer from Simply Red probably doesn’t care.  He has a lot of positive things to say too, and all of it reads as honest as it can be.  The only revenge (heh) he could be using this for would be against the current New Order, but he’s as complimentary to them, particularly “Barney,” as he would be if they were still on good terms, and since that lawsuit had already been settled, this could be taken as him just putting his story out because he had nothing to lose rather than picking a bone with those who pissed him off.  It’s not even so much his own life story.  It could have been, and he gets into a little bit of his own pre-band life, but really, as he tells it, his life was pretty much his band(s), so there’s not much to go into besides that and his personal details don't contribute much.  That he only gives passing mention to one love, and assuming the groupies (such as they were, surely) weren’t worth a note (if there were so many to mention), it could be that he’s downplaying that part of his life (especially since that love is not his ex-wife) or he knows that, like the rest of his life, it’s not much that anyone wants to read.  He’s under no illusions: He know that people are reading this to know about the band, not so much him.

He knows that most people are reading it for Ian Curtis.  He definitely hones in on that element, though no more than the rest of it.  He and Barney are center-stage for most of the first half, then Curtis enters the picture and it becomes about the three of them, which is fair since so much of that band was Curtis anyway.  Hook gives his perspective on his band-mate as honestly as anything else, painting him as a normal guy much more than the goth legend he’s been made into since his death.  He concedes the deification, and even notes how Curtis’ widow portrayed him in her book, but Hook knew him only as his mate, a good friend in his band, and knew more than anyone the goofy, charming side that any person has but no one can appreciate in the myth that Curtis has been made into in the time since.  Hook is aware of this as well, giving all involved a much deeper human element than they’ve been seen as having in anything so far.  He acknowledges all of that, even which portrayal was more accurate between the 24-Hour Party People and Control films (he picks the former).  He knows that a lot of readers will get it to get more information on Curtis, and he gives it.  It may not play into what they already know, but Hook had a view on him more separate, different, unique, personal, and closer than anyone had other than literally two or three others.  Unfortunately but sadly predictable, it offers no more light on Curtis’ suicide or his reason for it.  Even when you know it's coming, his passing as described and in its context is still shocking and utterly stirring, and Hook, writing from his heart, is elegant but direct and unflinching about his experience living through it.

Depending on how you come to it, this could be setting up the New Order book or it could be the high point in what he has to say about having a life in music.  In his life with Joy Division, it was hard but he probably had higher points and maybe he was happier.  The New Order book (which has been out for two months from when I'm posting this) will inevitably be harsher and pissier, and possibly less informative since he succumbed to the same thing that makes rock biographies oddly and irritatingly incomplete when they cover the time that the band were at their height: the wholesale loss of memory due to copious amounts of drugs.  The time when they become a successful band was an easier time but it’s also beyond the rich time that they mine for so much of the genius works that they create, and by that time they’re just living through it and seeing their best times only in hindsight, when it was about the music, they say, and they did it because they wanted to, not because they had to, and it’s that post-(relative) peak that isn’t as thrilling a read.  It happens to all of them.  But there can still be redemption, since obviously they lived through it well enough to write about it, and it can make for a story, even if it’s not as much about the rock n’ roll (the concept or the lifestyle).  It’s not often that artists get two significant stories to tell, and even less that they feel the need to make a book about those.  We should be thankful.  Even if I read this book in anticipation for the New Order book (which hopefully I'll get for Christmas), I concede that this could be the real high point.  Though it will be fun to see what kind of shit Hook feels he needs to start in that one.
Nemesis (Marvel/Icon).  Say what you will but I’m usually not impressed by flashy new artists.  There’s something to be said for the exuberance of seeing a young, bright talent breaking new ground but it’s not often that there’s something exciting and genuinely new brought to the form.  This is no different from times past, as looking back it’s just as rare to see anyone bringing anything new to comics since Kirby or at least Moebius, but it’s good to see a new artist doing work you look forward to.  I saw Steve McNiven’s work first on Civil War, as everyone else did, but he hasn’t turned in a large volume of work since then to truly plant his name in the industry.  Mostly he seems known to make a big splash on a new series, starting with a new #1, of course, then needing a fill-in artist or even of the book by #3.  If this is Marvel’s plan, as they've done it repeatedly, it sucks, though it’s not like they’ve ever done anything cheap to get eyes on and dollars to the first issue of a new series, to the possible short-sighted exclusion of the rest.  There’s no point in even considering that McNiven could hold up a new series, and even in collected form you get him for such a limited amount of time that it’s jarring and disappointing when the next artist comes in.  But if he could do an entire series, start to finish, no matter how long, that could be an event to behold.  He finally got that, collaborating with Mark Millar (as if Millar would ever leave any decent artist from the offer of a new creator-owned property).  They still didn’t get far away from Marvel, but at least Marvel have been capable with building their own Image line with their Icon imprint.  McNiven might be a lot of flash and just another hyper-detailed young artist but there’s something about his work that always had me paging through the new issue of Civil War (whenever they eventually came out).  Call it a guilty pleasure, but there’s not many other artists from the last 10 years that I would say I have an interest in going out of the way for.  An entire book drawn by McNiven was an easy sell (especially when I found it in a half-off bin).  Millar is usually a decent writer, even if he’ll let a twist go way too far or when he writes to have the best chance of getting the property made into a movie.  If it’s still a good comic, and he’s written a fair share of them, then all is forgiven.

Unfortunately, Nemesis, story-wise, falls on the under side of the average, and even the McNiven art, which also isn't his best, isn’t enough to bring it back up.  It’s not a bad concept, and it keeps a reader guessing through a break-neck pace, but when it scrabbles to explain itself with a twist that makes no sense and is completely unconnected to what has come before -- breaking the contract between writer and reader by making a plot surprise that could not be guessed -- the rest of it feels like time wasted on a story that doesn’t pay off.  To pile it on, McNiven’s art isn’t an attraction either, as a style that has looked smooth and sexy before looks rough and slap-dashed, probably with pencils that went straight to production, without the Marvel-approved inks that could solidify it to its inherent glory, and with a popping superhero color palette that never works over direct pencils.  The layouts are solid, though, which makes it even more frustrating that they couldn’t polish the art to bring it up to what we would expect from McNiven.  And the main character has a great character design, even if there are no other superheroes in the story, which seems a waste in what could be a superhero story, and a waste of seeing what McNiven could do with other characters, even if they're not established heroes.  It’s a story idea that could fly but Millar is more interested in pulling a twist -- any twist -- at the end than producing a satisfying read that carries to the end.  It’s a grand opportunity wasted but maybe they’ll come up with something better in the movie (assuming McNiven doesn't have the time to do a sequel before the first issue of another series).
Umbrella Academy: Dallas (Dark Horse).  It was easy for me to get on the second book in this series after being so surprised -- heck, shocked, but pleasantly -- by the first one.  There was no guarantee that Way & Ba could turn out as great a book as they had done but it was a better than average chance, and it would be interesting to see what they could come up with and where they would take the characters, at the very least.  Unfortunately, and unfortunately to throw a music analogy out there, after Way’s smash debut album, this one is the sophomore slump (and I have no idea how that compares to his band’s artistic arc).  He might have spent his entire life writing the first one then was out at sea to come up with where the rest of it would go, never thinking he’d have the chance so not bothering to think too hard about the sequels.  It’s a mess of barely-connected ideas, which don’t always need to be clever but could at least be fun and they mostly end up falling flat.  Smash-cuts aren’t so effective in comics and there’s no sense of juxtaposition to all the parts he switches between.  Even the title barely connects to anything, since it’s only a minor part of one of the various threads that winds listlessly through it.  The art doesn’t do much either, as it’s still as solid before but there are fewer electrifying places that Ba is allowed to take it.  It’s a disappointing follow-up but it’s a testament to the strength of the characters in the book that it’s excruciating to see their creator not doing anything worthy of them.  There’s hope, though, as they state in the afterword that they have more stories planned, so this hiccup could be forgiven with a sturdy next chapter, or that this nosedive will make more sense in the context of the rest of the overall series.  There have been plenty of bands that have turned in a stellar third album after a bad second one, maybe even one better than the first.  If the book (whether the first one in the series or the entire thing) can pull off the miracle of being not only good but great, maybe they could do the same with the next parts (still to be put on the schedule, sadly).
Daredevil: Father (Marvel).  One of the hardest tasks as an editor must be editing work done by your boss. (It seems like it would be a conflict of interests but Marvel has done it for decades.)  Even worse when that boss is also basically the head of the company.  Even worse when the boss isn't suited in one of the tasks essential to the project.  Even worse when the project is bad from the first page.  But it shows bravery to do it (the editing, that is), and the project probably sold well.  Joe Quesada heads out on his big, personal story -- a Daredevil one.  The big squabble in the '90s in comics was artists writing their own stories.  Never again being a Byrne, Starlin, or Miller, artists wanted full control of the story, they wanted to write what they drew, and they could come up with an idea for a story so, hey, that must mean they're a writer, right?  But there were so many bad ones, greatly overwhelming the very few good ones (which don't even come to my memory at the moment).  My conclusion was that if they could write -- independent of their abilities as an artist (or personality) -- then they could be a writer.  But the ones from that new breed were few and far between.  And from that greater batch came Quesada.  Being the head cheese at Marvel doesn't show that he has evolved as a writer or that he's capable of doing the job.  But he's the boss so he can do what he likes.  It's a shame he had to abuse that privilege, and make an editor go through it, essentially taking a bullet for him.

So he feels the need to make his grand, personal statement with a Daredevil, which isn't a surprise given the work he did on the character with Kevin Smith, and presumably the story he wants to tell works with that character.  Oh, but what a story that is.  It's basically three stories, none of them actual whole stories, crammed together, and a through-line that jerks into ridiculous twists and a finale that would be lucky to be forgettable.  Then there's the new superhero team that Quesada somehow thought would fly (whether minorities or not).  Even being the head of all stories at Marvel, Quesada couldn't bring those characters back as more than footnotes.  There are so many stat pages that it's bewildering how much original art Quesada actually did in the first place.  Copying images is a far less effective technique when it seems more like the artist is trying to dodge drawing more pages.  Then there's reconciling DD's alter ego with where it was in the ongoing series' continuity, which places it at a very specific point in time and could be confusing if the reader isn't up on what's going on elsewhere (a period which did not go on for very long, relative to the characters).  Then Quesada's art isn't even great.  He's been a good and influential artist over the years (I even bought one of his art books) but some of his worst-ever art is in this story.  His body proportions reach Liefeld-levels of ridiculousness, most of them centered on DD, which makes it only more noticeable and ill-advised.  It's really the artist/writer off the leash, and only bringing bad from it.  The worst part (above a lot of very bad parts) is that it doesn't even seem very personal.  What was Quesada trying to say about the state of fatherhood?  Whatever is taken from it, if you can find anything, is contrived and injected as an alien form into the story.  It builds for a last page which would be memorable if it didn't seem to be from a different story.  Quesada has frequently been an exciting, innovative artist over the years.  It's rare that he does a new, whole project, and it's too bad that he had to throw away all that time and energy and goodwill with a bad project.  All he had to do was get a good writer to at least corral it, and he'd have had a pick of any of them at the time (though hopefully he'd avoid Smith just so he could get it published eventually).  But with poor intention, bad art, and even worse writing, this book is one of the worst Daredevil projects ever.  It's a shame that all the editing couldn't save it, but editors get all the blame when it's bad and none of the credit when it's good, so we'll try to avoid doing that this time.  Then again, the first job of an editor is to take a bad story in a better direction.  Hopefully they at least got to keep their job after having to do this.  At least they got to be in the good graces of their boss.

This is a book I took on numerous airline flights over the years and never had a chance to read but took with me in the hope that I eventually would.  I finally got to it.  I rather wish I hadn't.  Now this has to go into my collection.  Grrr, Marvel.

(And there was a time when I could consider Quasada my boss for a short period.  Unfortunately, after this that may not ever happen again.  But if I had a connection to him and had read this, I would have told him that we need to start again and make something better, worthy of his art and of the time for anyone reading it.)
New Avengers: Sentry (Marvel).  I had read the first New Avengers trade and actually liked it.  I wasn’t completely sold on Bendis doing straight superhero work (mostly because I just didn’t get his Ultimate Spider-Man opus) but he had a grasp on the Avengers (though since he had done so much leading up to that, he really should have).  Finch was an even harder sell, but once I got over my distaste for the early-Image style in general, I could see that the guy has a hand for composition and a straightforward style, even when his work isn't dirtied-up additionally by poor inkers, and he has an eye for interesting new interpretations of the characters.  Bendis set up a decent story for that one, less a tale and more of a brew of interacting, often-clashing personalities and a bunch of superheroes for Finch to draw.  It worked.  I was interested in more but by the time I got to it the series had gone on for a while and I’d be buried trying to get back into it.  Bendis also couldn’t stay with those high-caliber artists, such is the curse of these new-jack guys who learned their style before figuring out how to meet deadlines and turn around more than just a few issues at a time, but at least they could usually (but not always) make it through an arc (and credit to the editors for keeping any of it on track).  Even if I didn't love Nemesis, I was still taken by McNiven's style and his older work was new to me.  Even better, Marvel wouldn't let his work be so rough so he at least had an inker (or inkers, knowing the deadlines) to buff it out on the mainstream stuff.  And again it works.  Bendis doesn't waste any time waiting for a crossover to connect with and he doesn't flinch from putting the screws to as many characters as he can.  After the initial splash of the first story line, this is where the real mettle of the creators comes out.  He may have trotted out Sentry just so he could finish off that character, and he still didn't have an interest in putting Luke Cage in a costume, but he added a new edge to Spider-Woman (soon to be exploited explosively) and he has such a grasp on Cap that it's a shame he hadn't gotten to do his own 30-something issues with him (yet).  The writer and artist push out the monthly issues and it may not be the best work by them, and it may only be work-for-hire that they can keep a distance from, but it still comes out as a satisfying story featuring well-considered characters who are written as well here as anywhere else (outside of classic runs).
House of M: Masters of Evil (Marvel).  I don’t make a secret of loving superhero comics.  If I’m going to read comics, a lot of times I just want to read stuff with superheroes in it.  I’m all for high art and pushing the boundaries and exploring the medium for more than superhero trappings, but sometimes I just want to get down to the straight-forward superhero stuff that I’ve loved for maybe longer than what I’ve discovered from the format.  And sometimes I don’t care how it connects to the greater continuity, from something that happened years ago outside of anything that’s happened now or since.  And for something in the tradition of Suicide Squad, a story centered around a team of super-villains is an easy sell to me.  This was a “House of M” tie-in.  I didn’t read “House of M” when it came out, I still haven’t, I never read any of the other crossovers, and if this story didn’t include explanation enough to get what it was to understand this story's context, it didn’t affect me when I read it.  It’s a team of super-villains, about as straight-forward as you can get.  They’re not even working against a hero, at least not one that’s easily recognizable or necessary to lead the story, or one that’s morally more superior than the bad guys.  It’s all ably done, in plotting, script, and art, but it’s a bit of puff, an unnecessary piece hanging on to a larger, past event, and it’s too easy to forget once it’s done.  At the time it might have made a decent meal but it passes through quickly, especially now.  There’s no encouragement to read more of “House of M” but, out of all their great characters, heroic and villains, it would be great if Marvel did more stories starring bad guys (especially if they make them good).
Uncanny Avengers: The Red Shadow (Marvel).  It seemed like such a ridiculous idea at the time: some X-Men join the Avengers.  Wolverine was already silly enough as a member of the Avengers but we had gotten used to that and maybe it worked after a while.  Scarlet Witch was always more of an Avenger than of the mutant world, so that was never a big deal.  But Rogue, part of the backbone of the X-Men?  Then Havok, who wasn’t ever really much of an X-Man, and always seemed to exist more as a tangent to Cyclops’ and the X-Men’s story than his own?  Then Cap and Thor in there too -- it was such a weird mish-mash of characters but at least they had some big names, so they could have done worse.  And you’d have to buy in on anything that Cassaday was going to draw, not just for his art but the fact that Marvel thought enough about the idea that they would put such a big gun in the mix, especially when paired with a writer who seemed so fresh.  Remender had some acclaim for writing but for Marvel he only really had one big thing at the time, and that was an ancillary X-Men thing -- maybe selling automatically because it was X-Men- (and Wolverine-)related rather than being good -- but he had something that made them want to put him on a big flagship book with an attention-getting premise.  The characters and the art would be enough to sell it but if they really wanted it to have legs it needed a bit more than that.  The main idea was to bridge the Avengers and the X-Men, which had never been necessary in years past when there seemed to be some fortune in purposely keeping them separate (except for big-sell crossovers), but Marvel apparently saw capital in blending their worlds, maybe to the point of an uneasy fusion where every hero ended up being an Avenger at one point.  It seemed like a silly idea just outside of being outright bad, but Marvel has rarely shied from doing something just because it began with an ill-advised proposition.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it's the entire '90s.  The book also throws in a ludicrous plot for the mastermind villain, one that might not be so bad if it wasn’t thrown in with such a precarious set-up.  But for all the ridiculousness, it’s not a bad story and they've kept going with the Avengers/X-Men mash-up long enough that it seems silly now that it seemed so silly in the first place.  But it didn’t all work by the force of the story, which is not extraordinary.  This could as easily have been a lull point between more monumental story arcs.  At least Bendis would have made it consistent with what it connected to.  The biggest problem is the art.  Not because the art is bad -- it’s predictably fantastic, by the great talent of Cassaday.  But it’s running at such a different speed than the story and the characters, it just leaves the rest buried in dust.  It’s also the most uninspired Cassaday art probably ever, showing that he couldn’t pull anything more out of the plot so he just put down characters doing stuff then forgot about it.  It’s a crime to waste such a talent (especially since he didn’t engage in so much output again.  It would be a sin if this was the book that stopped him from doing ongoings forever more).  For the time Cassaday spent doing this, he could have been paired with a writer with more of a drive and an editor with more of a vision.  As it is, the whole thing plays out like they’re trying yet again to make a big deal out of Havok, which, to be fair, actually does happen, even if it meant forsaking better elements for too narrow a focus.  If the idea was to develop Havok as the character he deserves to be they could say they did that, until no one else decided to pick him up and do anything with him after that.  So now the book exists not as something to be noted fondly but rather as a historical record of when Marvel swirled their universe once again.  Until the next ridiculous thing, which has more or less even odds of working out.
Catwoman: When In Rome (DC).  I’ve always been a sucker for Loeb/Sale collaborations -- much more for the Sale art than the Loeb writing, though I admire Loeb for knowing the limits of his abilities and letting the art be the star.  It’s irksome that Loeb still rides those coattails to the acclaim these books always get but if he facilitated it all coming together, there are worse things than getting a story too weak to properly service the art -- at least the art gets out.  After all their splendid Batman work, this comes as the least of the pair's bunch.  It’s still great Sale art but with only a pinch of Batman to anchor it, it’s just a bunch of less-interesting characters.  Catwoman doesn't have to be rely on being sexy to be a character worth looking at it but it’s a spice that is frustrating when wasted.  Sale reaches a few notes of making her visually appealing in an obvious way but mostly focuses elsewhere and doesn’t give much other visual flare to the character.  She’s also consistently inconsistent, which is usually a mark of Sale’s art and part of the excitement of it, but with her base image being so all over the place, it marks a lack of visual stability and not every panel stands up as its own work of art without context.  The rest of the characters can’t make up for it, not limited to just a constantly-changing and ugly Riddler, and the story doesn’t give them much either.  But this isn’t to say that it’s a bad book.  It just can’t stand anywhere near the hallmarks that Sale and, yes, Loeb created with their Batman stuff.  They ventured out without relying on the crutch of that character but it also handicapped them and left them out too far.  It also doesn’t match up to their Marvel books, even with the nauseating sentimentality of those.  But there’s some nice graphic design to pull it together and the coloring looks great in the format.  If you found it for half-off like I did, you could do much worse (which would be the first Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder hardcover).

Top Albums Of 2015 (In This Order):
10. Currents- Tame Impala
9. Star WarsWilco 
8. Chasing YesterdayNoel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
7. Sound & ColorAlabama Shakes
6. Music CompleteNew Order
5. No Cities to LoveSleater-Kinney 
4. Viet Cong- Viet Cong
3. I Love You, Honeybear- Father John Misty*
2. To Pimp a ButterflyKendrick Lamar*
1. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit- Courtney Barnett
(* To be fair, I got into these in '2016.)

My Top Replacements Songs Of All Time (In This Order):
20. "Answering Machine"
19. "Waitress in the Sky"
18. "I.O.U."
17. "Left of the Dial"
16. "Unsatisfied"
15. "Fuck School"
14. "Favorite Thing"
13. "Portland"
12. "Birthday Gal"
11. "Androgynous"
10. "Achin' To Be"
9. "Kids Don't Follow"
8. "They're Blind"
7. "The Ledge"
6. "Another Girl, Another Planet" (cover)
5. "Talent Show"
4. "Alex Chilton"
3. "I'll Be You"
2. "Bastards of Young"
1. "Can't Hardly Wait" (any version)


RAVES

My Chromebook.  I had a gig last year that wouldn’t let us have e-mail and Internet on the company computers but they had wi-fi.  My laptop had seen better days (bought used so it was already on its road toward the end) and it was too much for what I needed even when it was at its best (as well as being big enough to take up more desk than I wanted to give it).  I had bought a new heavy-duty laptop to replace my desktop computer just the year before so I knew what I was looking for when I went poking around for a light-weight thing.  I didn’t need anything for video games or watching shows or even holding music, just something to check e-mail and write on.  I found Chromebooks, which are super-stripped-down laptops that pretty much just exist to run a browser (and of course it’s Chrome, which I would have picked anyway).  Everything is on the cloud.  I don’t think it even has a hard-drive.  But it’s minimal, easy, quick, and everything I need it for.  I even found it’s not bad for watching shows and videos and such if I want to (we used it to watch Kimmy Schmidt in Europe when we were avoiding figuring out their TV).  It’s basically a cheap iPad but with a good keyboard attached (and, even better, it’s not Apple).  Once that job got done it became my main work-tool, as I could take it with me wherever I went and as long as I could get a wi-fi signal, it would work as well as any bigger laptop I could lug around.  I don’t write at home, so only rarely do I do that with the big laptop, so most of what I’ve written in the last year has been done on the Chromebook.  And it was about $150 (on Amazon, and maybe with Groupon or something and/or it might have been a refurbished model, but I know they’re not much more expensive than that).  So if it got broken or crapped out or got stolen, I’d be out less than a couple hundred bucks, and since everything is on the cloud, I wouldn’t lose any work, and entry into it is automatically password-protected so a thief wouldn’t get any of my stuff either.  It’s so cheap that it may not last long (though it's going strong after a year and a half of heavy use) but I’m so pleased with it and it’s so great and cheap that I wouldn’t even mind so much if I had to buy a new one every year.  Just for its ease and flexibility of use I would recommend it to anyone.  It’s as useful as anything by Apple and a fraction of the cost (and, best of all, not Apple).  I don't know why everyone doesn't already have one of these (or has an iWhatever instead).

That said…. Turning the wi-fi off.  I’ve had a few times over the past few months, particularly the flight to and from Europe, that I wasn’t sure about the state of the wi-fi and if I’d be able to use my computer during that time.  Well, of course I could use my computer.  I’m usually using it to write anyway, and I don’t need the wi-fi for that.  I figured I’d suffer through it but then came to realize that I didn't really need the wi-fi in the first place and might even be better off without the distraction.  Generally I just want to sit and write, and I don’t need the wi-fi to do that (especially since I can get that with my phone, and I can usually get a signal for that and it’s good enough).  Sometimes I just need to get some writing done.  I’ve been reading studies about multi-tasking and how it’s horrible for productivity, and I have to agree.  I can get so much more done when I can just sit down and focus on one task and just get that done without having all the other things on the periphery.  I just get more done.  (And if you think you're the one who can multi-task well, you're one of the ones who does it worst.)  So now I almost purposely go to places where I won’t need to use the wi-fi, like a favorite coffee-shop that I couldn't work at after they closed up the electrical outlets.  Problem solved -- I don’t need it.  So now my laptop has even more versatility, since I can take it literally anywhere with me and I don’t have to worry about connecting to the Internet.  I can just get my writing done.

Yoga.  My littlest brother was a muscle-head a few years ago, as dedicated to working out as anyone I've seen.  On a goof out of boredom when he was cruising some YouTube videos, he tried out some yoga and found he loved it and recommended it to me.  I thought he was crazy -- I’ve seen it done and I never thought it was my bag.  But my 24-Hour Fitness had some classes (not a lot but at least a few a week) and, on my own goof, I tried one out.  And loved it.  It’s a work-out both physically and mentally which is perfect for me, or anyone, really.  I push myself as hard as I can when I work out so pulling it way back physically is a challenge and also a great exercise.  The mental aspect is great for me as well, even though my anxiety is helped when I'm able to work out regularly; it helps rewire my brain so that maybe I can avoid them in the future (and boggles my mind at the thought of the kind of good it could have done me when I’ve gone through those times).  I’d recommend it to anyone, those who work out or don't (though if you don’t, you really ought to get some kind of exercise).  This is also currently as close as I get to meditation, which is still a level beyond me.  Maybe one day.

Cashews.  I’ve had a thing with cashews lately.  I like to eat nuts because they’re healthy and they’re always at the store and they don’t go bad and if you eat enough you’ll hate food for a while, so they’re great for a snack at work.  I try to avoid peanuts because they’re actually not great for you and I get burnt-out on almonds too easily, then I’ve realized that my favorite part of the deluxe mixed nuts packs is the cashews, so I just get bags of those now.  And they’re great.  They don’t even need salt so I can stay away from that too.  I love when I have nuts in my mouth -- WHAT?  (UPDATE: I kinda got over cashews.  But my taste for certain foods usually comes and goes anyway.  One day again I’ll probably love having nuts in my mouth -- WHAT?)

Shuffle mode.  If you know me, you know I agonize over decisions.  It’s where most, if not all, of my anxiety comes from.  Fear over making the wrong decision can paralyze me like crazy.  Even deciding what to listen to can freeze me.  A few months ago I started a thing where I put the iPod I listen to on the way to work on shuffle.  Still the albums I want to listen to, but I don’t have to pick which ones or in which order.  It stays within a playlist, so I can rotate stuff in and out, and I can put on mellow stuff for the morning then faster stuff for the drive home, but I don’t have to concern myself of what to listen to next.  A great side-effect is that it takes these songs out of the context of the album that I'm so familiar with and I’m listening to some of them in a fresh way, some like they’re new.  On the iPod I use while I’m working and the one I use while I’m cooking dinner, if I;m just using them as background music, I’ll put the albums on order, so I can still get into the groove of an album like I’m used to but I don’t have to pick the next one.  It’s usually not a big deal when I'm with someone so I’ll let them decide.  I’m just trying to figure out how to take decisions out of my life (what to eat, what to wear, what to cook, what to do) so I can free my brain for the bigger choices.  At least there’s one thing I can let someone else choose for me.

Keyboard hotkeys.  I dreaded using a track-pad when I got my first laptop but Boring (from whose wife’s brother I was buying it) told me I’d get used to it.  Instead, I got a mouse (and I’ve gone through a number of them, usually travel-size since it’s easier to get around with them).  That’s worked well enough but recently I had a crowded desk and I wasn’t navigating around different areas in different browsers, and for the writing I was doing there wasn’t much I needed to do with my cursor but it's always nice when it's easier.  Along the way, I don’t even remember how, maybe completely on accident, I discovered some great hotkeys:
CTRL + Arrows = Jump word-to-word instead of space-to-space.  Useful for having the cursor get around a line quickly (like when you want it to keep up with where you're reading), with more accuracy than a mouse can give.  Up/down jumps from paragraph to paragraph.
SHIFT + Arrows = Highlight what your cursor goes over.  Useful for covering words you’ll delete or cut/copy n’ paste.  Up/down can highlight a whole line.
CTRL + SHIFT + Arrows = Quickly highlight blocks of words.  Of course you have to put them together.  I probably use this one most of all.
ALT + Up/Down Arrows = Jump page-to-page.  I haven’t used that a lot yet but now that I’ve tried it, I might from now on.
These might be common knowledge but it’s not the first time it’s taken me a while to discover something everyone else knew.  Whatever, I’ve been able to retain control over my cursor, and these work like a charm for getting around a text document (in Google Docs, of course).  But, to be fair to say, I am using the track-pad more often.

Pomodoro Technique/my version of the Pomodoro Technique.  I discovered this work process a while ago and it blew my mind: do 25 minutes of focused work with no distractions, then break for 5 minutes and do whatever you want, then 25 minutes of work again, then 5 minutes of a break, then after 5 or so of those cycles take a 15-minute break.  It’s a great idea, and one that could work for many folks, but everyone has their own process that works for them.  For me, I get into a zone and sometimes I have a flow that could go longer than 25 minutes and I suffer more from breaking it.  And sometimes I can’t even start whatever I want to do and stop in 5 minutes.  And just keeping track of it can be exhausting (though there are phone apps that help).  Eventually this just became an excuse for me to take breaks when I didn’t need to and it broke up my work-flow when I knew it wasn’t helping.  So I went back to my usual process: Listen to a whole album (as I listen to music as I work), then take a break once that’s done.  I usually have no choice since I have to pee after that time anyway.  Maybe I’m trying to be more permissive in allowing myself to stop, which I need to do more of when I work (that zone can be a deep place that’s hard to get back out of), but I know what works for me (well, most of time).  Generally I just need something that will keep me on track to take my lunch at a reasonable time but maybe I’ll come across an app for that eventually.


My Marvel Heroic RPG online game is still going, stronger than ever:
http://rpol.net/game.cgi?gi=65044&date=1479915241
I also posted a video with the fundamentals of playing, so anyone who is interested but has never played before, whether MHR or any role-playing game, can watch it and you'll have enough to get up to running and join us:
https://youtu.be/3hOxZQ9hnl4

Something that's been bugging me lately: one of Stephen King's rules of writing is to never use a thesaurus.  I live by my thesaurus.  It's gotten me out of more than one jam (just writing this zine alone).  I just don't see how it's sound advice.  It's there, I use it.  Everyone has their own thing that works for them, and mine is using a thesaurus, S. King be damned (as much as I admire him.  Enough to respect his rule even when I want to dispute it vehemently).  I just hate the thought that I'm doing something wrong.  But it feels so right.

Did the pictures in my last zine get dropped out?  I've no idea why, especially since the ones from the one before didn't.  Grrr.  Well, I have to let it go, I guess.  Just when I start figuring out the tricks around HTML, it finds another way to be irritate me.  Oh well.

I've got a few things to get a head-start on the next one again.  Anymore I'm just dropping in reviews and a lists and that doesn't take much more of an effort other than just writing it out.  So I'll have something, hopefully not taking too long.  Maybe by then I'll even have finished Moby-Dick (even though I haven't picked it up again since the last time I mentioned it).