Friday, November 21, 2014

In which I am (indirectly) inspirational.

So of course I ran out to buy Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham the day it came out last week because come on (and I also got a cool Plastic Man minifigure because I pre-ordered at GameStop and I can't begin to explain all the evens I can't as a result). And I was playing it that night when I came across a part in which there's a joke about Robin thinking Batman could breathe in space (you can see it at around the 22:50 mark in this video). Being a longtime fan of David Willis's webstrip Shortpacked!, I immediately remembered this strip:

So I tweeted at David Willis to tell him, and I think I broke his mind a little:

This was followed by much retweeting and replying and David continuing to add "a's" to the word what, and then we jump to Wednesday and this strip appears:

So basically if you enjoyed this strip, well, you don't have to thank me, per se, but...  I'm kidding. Mostly. But it's awesome. Is it as awesome as Pat Loika appearing in every comic ever? Well, no, of course not, but a.) Pat Loika might be the nicest dude in the comics world and he deserves all that; and b.) I still made comics happen in a very indirect way and believe you me, Sonny Jim, I'll take it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

THE END - RIP R.A. Montgomery

R.A. (Ray) Montgomery, original publisher and one of the chief authors of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, passed away November 9th.  I desperately wish I could turn back a few pages and make a different choice, because this is not an ending I like at all.

I consumed the Choose Your Own Adventure books like they were life-giving substances as a kid, particularly between grades 3 through 5.  I can still remember the very first one I ever bought, Montgomery's own Escape, purchased at my school book fair.  I'm not sure what it was about it that caught my eye, nor why I opted to start the series with book #20 as opposed to going back to book one (The Cave of Time by Edward Packard, the format's inventor), but I bought it, I read it, and I was instantly hooked.  Most kids adventure books at the time were pretty safe.  Even when the Hardy Boys managed to fight a spy right or something, you knew their dad would rush in at the end, and then they'd all go have pie and make fun of Aunt Gertrude. Escape, though, was another animal altogether - an American splintered by a second Civil War, totalitarian dystopia, espionage, and life-or-death situations.  Mostly death.  Oh, so many deaths (many of which are cataloged at Andrew Weiss's awesome Tumblr, You Chose Wrong).

Plus, an awesome-looking airplane dogfight on the cover:
Actually, looking back, that might have been what originally caught my attention at that Book Fair.

Anyway, from that first read, I was hooked and through libraries and copious bookstore visits, I read a ton of CYOA books.  I loved that they were books but also role-playing games that didn't require special dice or tedious stat keeping.  As the format's fad took off, there were a lot of imitators - your Find Your Fates, Time Machines, and whatnot - but while those could be fun, CYOA was head & shoulders above the rest.  And for my money, Montgomery was at the top of the CYOA heap (only Packard challenged him for the title in my eyes, but it bugged me that he'd sometimes break his own rules... I'm looking at you, Inside UFO 54-40). Ray's stories were always very detailed, and that gave them a lot of extra weight.  In an interview he did with the Comic Geek Speak podcast a few years ago (recently reposted on their feed), he said he would always do a ton of research for every book. Every location, each piece of equipment... it had to be as plausible as the situation would allow or else the kids wouldn't buy into it.

He respected his audience. I respected him back for that. Thanks, Ray.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


I got too busy with life and work and all manner of other things to point it out on the day itself, but yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Trusty Plinko Stick.
No big backwards-looking, clipshow post, no pronouncements of things to come, just a thank you to everyone who has read this thing in the past, reads it now, or may read it in the future. This has never been one of the big comics / pop culture blogs, and it hasn't led to much in the way of big, exciting changes in my life or career, though to be honest that was never really the point here. Mostly I just wanted a little soapbox to rant at the world from, and I'm thankful for any of the time you have spent indulging me with your attention this past decade.  I thought it would last maybe a month or two before I got sick of the foolish thing. I love proving myself wrong.

Thanks, folks!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cosplay isn't hurting cons, don't be ridiculous.

So, is cosplay killing comic cons?

No. And suggesting otherwise is, frankly, pretty stupid.

Don't get me wrong, I feel bad if talented veteran creators are losing money when appearing at cons. But blaming the enthusiasm of fans - any fans - is shortsighted, misguided, and just plain rude.

You want to get fans' money? Then maybe you don't attack, blame, accuse, or otherwise malign those fans.

As cons and the geeky culture they celebrate have grown in popularity, they have also grown in size, scope, and number. There are more shows with more things competing for fans' attention and money. Fans' bank accounts haven't grown in proportion with the shows themselves, however, so something has to give somewhere. It's too bad that anyone has to suffer as a result, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Blaming any one enthusiastic subset of people  is just trying to find a convenient scapegoat to hang larger problems upon. And by the way, cosplay has always been a part of convention culture, so it's not like this is a new fad or anything; if more people are doing it now than before, it's because they've realized it's like getting bonus Halloweens, who can blame them for wanting to jump on that?

Cons have always been as much about the social aspects as about the retail ones, and now that you can buy comics and toys and whatever else very easily in person and online, socializing plays a bigger part than ever. They're a chance to get together with likeminded folks and, yes, maybe be someone else for a few hours. When you rail against that, it's hard not to come off looking like Abe Simpson.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All this stuff is supposed to be fun, you guys.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm sure I'm not alone in the fact that I got into geek culture - and I mean really got into it, absorbed it, made it part of my being rather than just casually watching Star Trek or reading a Superman comic once in a while - as a respite. As a way to retreat from the rest of the world and the problems it presented (whatever they happened to be at any given moment). It was a way outside of all of that, as well as a way to bring out all of the imagination and wonder that was going on in my head and give it some sort of exterior existence, however brief and/or otherwise immaterial.

There was always a certain... we'll say misanthropy (to be charitable) involved with certain segments of these various worlds (and let's be clear here, geek culture is not any one thing, more of a loose confederation of various universes joined together by the fact that most of the rest of the world just doesn't get 'em), but the trolls were usually pretty easy to spot (or smell, let's be honest here), and you could either let them spew on until they eventually made enough verbal rope to hang themselves, or you just ignored them until they wandered back to their little caves. It could be annoying sure, but it seemed (mostly) harmless and seeing as most of it was driven by a passion for X (where X = any nerdy little thing your heart desires), so as misguided and wrongheaded as it may have been, I could maybe almost kinda-sorta relate to the passion that drove it.

In the past few years, though, it looked like something had changed. The trolls seemed to be more widespread, they upped their games in all the worst ways possible, and I both saw and heard about a series of offputting events occurring both online and in person. Cosplayer harassment, the "fake geek girl" memes, ever-increasing invective aimed at the members of certain fandoms (like Twihards or Bronies to name but two), dedicated social media campaigns to discredit and demean creators and/or commentators due to differences in opinion, threats of sexual assault or even death... the list goes on and on.

I was horrified.

I became even more horrified, however, upon learning that for a lot of people out there, particularly women, members of the LGBTQ communities, people of color, people with disabilities, or any combination there of, these were disturbingly commonplace occurrences. As more of these events happened, increasing numbers of people let it be known that for them, this was all just a part of the background radiation of their lives, and all because of how they were born or who they like to sleep with or their political beliefs or or or...

I just never noticed it because, let's face it, as a straight white dude in his late 30s with a job, a family, a roof over his head, and three squares a day, almost none of this is directed at me. I've been bullied sometimes in my life, sure but there's not a whole lot in society that's actively standing against me.  The worst I've gotten are a few "buy a real game system, fag!" comments on Twitter when I've talked about liking the Wii U, but it's easy to block and ignore a handful of 13 year olds in desperate need of closer parental supervision. It doesn't come close to comparing to the sorts of things so many of my fellow geeks are dealing with on a sadly regular basis.

And here's the thing: I don't know what to do about any of it. I don't know one thing.  But we can't just ignore these people anymore. We need to talk about it.  We need to talk about it, get it all out in the open, identify and side with our allies, stand against all this, and protect each other.

Okay, I guess I do know one thing: we need to talk about it.

This weekend, I'm getting the chance to do just that. I'm going to be at BangPop!, a comic convention in my home town of Bangor, Maine, and I'm going to help run a panel discussion I'm calling "Don't Be a Dick: Keeping Fandom Fun, Safe, and Inclusive" (at least that's the Wheaton's Law-fueled title I gave it in the proposal... we'll see if that's what it's called in the program). I'm hoping it will be a chance to talk with a panel of people from various backgrounds and interests - and with the audience -  about what they've experienced, how they've dealt with it, what we can do together, and sing the praises of some groups and individuals who really seem to be getting it right.

(And yes, I know it might seem a little crass to plug my own thing in the midst of an otherwise heartfelt... whatever this is, but this is a chance for me to pull together my thoughts on this, so indulge me a bit more, please.)

I cannot and will not claim to know any of the answers, and any attempt to prove otherwise is just going to look like me trying to mansplain my way through this, which would probably get me chased out of town with torches and pitchforks (and rightly so). But discussions need to be had, and I'm happy to start one.

I was talking on Twitter recently with my friend Molly about this topic, particularly as it relates to the stuff going on in the game community right now.  She has a daughter (about my son's age) who is into comics and gaming and so on, and Molly said she's really worried about her daughter encountering all of this, and sooner than she'd like. My son is just as geekily inclined as either of us, and has anxiety issues and is on the Autism spectrum, so I'm terrified but the sorts of things he's on the verge of encountering, too.  Our kids deserve better than that. We all deserve better than that. This is our refuge.

If we don't at least start talking, though, nothing will change.