Wednesday, October 01, 2014

10

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.
(via)
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.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

This photo contains too much awesome. It could be dangerous.

Come on, Groucho Marx and Ernie Kovacs together? No mere picture - no mere room, for that matter - could contain that much creative, clever, comedic genius safely. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for a conversation between these two. All that cigar smoke would probably make me ill, admittedly, but it would be worth it.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Context, not content : admiring Atari box art

All of the unpleasantness online of late about the video game industry and its fans has made me nostalgic for a time when video games were simpler, more colorful, and free of rampant, violent misogyny. Or at least for a time when there wasn't an easily accessible internet on which a certain breed of people could anonymously spread their rampant, violent misogyny.  And having recently discovered 2600 Game By Game Podcast (thanks to a recommendation on my friend Stover's own show, Please Like This Podcast), I've been thinking specifically about the Atari 2600, where the games were definitely simple and colorful. Positively "stone knives and bearskins" (to borrow a Spockism) compared to today's games, but considering how many of them were just squares shooting smaller squares, they were really fun.

And the box art, particularly in the early Atari releases, was almost always amazing... gorgeously rendered little movie posters to help provide (and occasionally invent) context for what we weren't seeing on the screen. I used to feel a little cheated that the cover only featured a small illustration and the rest of the space was given over to single color, text-filled uniformity, but I've come to appreciate that as I've gotten older; it adds to the "future by way of the 70s" vibe, particularly that font. It's easy to imagine the crew of, say, Moonbase Alpha from Space: 1999 kicking back in their snazzy flared jumpsuits and playing Super Breakout or something when they weren't worried about the moon hurtling through space.  Here's a larger-than-intended assortment of some of my favorites, because it was too hard to limit myself to just 5 or 10.  Click to make Asteroid size, of course:

Man, that is one smug dragon! "Oh, is this the key you need?"

Obviously the game doesn't look like this, but it's probably the closest representation to what the game actually entails, so there's that.

Mars Needs Women (in Hiphuggers)!

I never thought of The Great Raceas needing a video game, now I wonder why we've never gotten one.

Title sounds like Video Gym Class, but the box art makes it seems so much more fun.

The best Burt Reynolds movie never made?

Really takes your mind off the fact that it's basically Nuclear Armageddon: The Home Game.

Not only does this make it look like the most high stakes Othello game ever, but that you're actually playing against Iago. Nice touch.

Nope. Definitely not The Outlaw Josey Wales. Don't know what you're talking about.

The box swaps out a more traditional Pac-Man than the one depicted on the cart itself. I like them both, but the traditional Pac-Man that's front and center looks out of place when compared to the ghost monsters also in the foreground.

How good a likeness is this? I hope they gave the original art to Pele and that it hangs in his home in a place of honor.

The Tron / Death Race mashup you never knew you wanted but now can't live without.

Always loved the looks of these domed cityships. Not one thing remotely Space Invaders about it, but it's a great looking design.

This helps sell the tangential Atari Forcetie-in, and that's not a bad thing at all.

What is it about these Atari racing game covers? They all look great!

In space, no one can hear you Pong, I guess? Also, Super Breakout was a space thing?  Really?

I don't care what you say, I love everything about the Atari Superman game, even the pretty generic cover.

How do you liven up a checkers video game? Making it look like a BBC costume drama starring a young Mark Hamill as the smug prince is a good start.

Wait, we get to play chess against Steve Wozniak? Cool.

Right now is the first time I ever noticed that it's Yars' Revenge, not Yar's Revenge. Huh.