Monday, January 26, 2015

On Jury Duty

(Image from:  12 Angry Men)

Today will be my first day on jury duty.

So I'll be off-line for the rest of this week, and possibly next week, depending on how the court schedule and jury selection turn out.

Best wishes to all of you during these final days of January 2015!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative



Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative is Book #2 in Will Eisner's how-to series on the principles of creating comics.

I liked this book as much as Book #1, Comics and Sequential Art.  Probably more so, because this one focused more on storytelling than art.  I think the reason why this book had better appeal for me is because I'm more of a writer than an artist.

While the focus of Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative was in writing, its just as lavishly illustrated as the previous book was.  Eisner even used comics from other writers to fill his pages and make his points.

My only complaint about this was that some of the narrative and dialogue print was so small, I had to break-out my bifocals, instead of using my usual reading glasses.

Otherwise, this is another 5-star work from the grand master of comics.

Copies are still available on Amazon.com, ranging from $10.97 to $38.50Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative has earned an average 4.5-star rating from 25 reviewers:  20 x 5-star ratings, 4 x 4-star ratings and a solitary 2-star rating. 

The 2-star rater thought you could learn as much by "...watching movies and reading a lot of comics and then analyzing them..."  Probably.  But it's nice to read a mentor's words on why these principles work.

The 4-star raters thought the book was good, even excellent, but had some shortcomings, such as, lack of detailed instructions, typos and illustrations that dragged on.

Everyone else, including me, thought Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative was awesome.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Seahawks Superbowl Bound!



This past Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks pulled off an amazing down-to-the-wire win against the Greenbay Packers for the NFC Championship in overtime.

My wife and I had to run several errands that day, but we turned on the TV when there was 6:53 minutes left in the game and Greenbay was leading 19-7.  The Seahawks made a spectacular come-back, but Greenbay didn't quit, scoring a field goal, tying the game 22-22.

All it took was a few minutes into overtime for the Seahawks to score a touch-down and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, with a final score of 28-22.

Here's the nine biggest moments of the game.

Now the Seahawks will face the New England Patriots, who defeated the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Championship Game, in Superbowl XLIX.

To say us 12th Man fans are excited to see the Seahawks return to the Superbowl is an understatement...

(Image found on Etsy)


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: Comics and Sequential Art

 
Ever since I started delving in to the how-to of making comics, I've heard a lot about Will Eisner and the Eisner Award.
 
So when I saw a copy of his Comics and Sequential Art at Merlyn's, I snatched it off the shelf without hesitating.
 
Originally published in 1985, and adapted from his course while at New York's School of Visual Arts, this instruction book from a comics master is now nearing it's 30th printing.

Comics and Sequential Art, is not a book on how to draw and letter.  Instead it is a "...treatise on the theory and mechanics of modern comics" (page ix).  But this is a theoretical book packed with practical application regarding:  Imagery, timing, framing, expressive anatomy (a new term I learned!); along with writing and applying the use of sequential art, as well as comics as a form of reading.

Plus the book is packed with examples of Eisner's lively art and stories.

I can see why there's an award named after him.

This landmark comic artist's guide is available on Amazon.com and is the first of a trilogy, which consists of the subsequent works:

Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative (which I'm currently reading), and Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative (which I don't own, but plan to order).

This latest edition of Comics and Sequential Art, which includes some material on webcomics, was published in 2008 and has earned an average 4.5-star rating:  Out of 31 reviewers, 26 felt this was an amazing book (23 x 5-stars and 3 x 4-star ratings). 

Four reviewers liked the book, giving it 3-star rating.  Two of these reviewers felt this book was "...more for professionals..." or for "...hardcore students of the art.."

These comments are true.  Comics and Sequential Art, is not for the casual reader of comics, but for those who want understand the key components in creating effective artwork.  But having said that, I think even a causal comics reader would enjoy Eisner's stories and artwork if he skipped the instructional narrative.

Meanwhile, the lone 2-star rater thought the book was "...sloppy and self-congratulatory."

I didn't notice any sloppiness in either the writing or the artwork.  And as for being self-congratulatory; well, the material is based on Will Eisner's own teachings.

So I'll give this teacher an A+, in the form of a 5-star rating.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: The Webcomics Handbook


Almost as soon as I finished How to Make Webcomics, I delved into The Webcomics Handbook, by Brad Guigar

The author makes two distinctions about his book right away.

First, it is a compilation of notes, posts and articles gleaned from his site Webcomics.com as a one-source guide, even for subscribers.

Second, The Webcomics Handbook is not an art manual.  You'll find no guidelines on writing or drawing.  Instead, this book covers the business and social aspects of running a webcomic.

Some of the material can found in How to Make Webcomics (printed in 2008), but it has been updated, or revised. 

The Webcomics Handbook hit the shelves in August after a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.  It's so brand new that no one has written a review on Amazon.com yet

Aside from a few typos/syntax errors in the first two chapters, and the last chapter; I'm happy to give The Webcomics Handbook it's first 5-star rating.  I found the book informative and about as entertaining as How to Make Webocomics.

I say "about as entertaining," only because I enjoyed the cross-talk and banter between the authors in the previous book.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: Willie and Joe--The WWII Years

 
I've always admired Bill_Mauldin's work, but I've only managed to read about the antics of "Willie and Joe" in a sporadic manner. 
 
Then, several weeks ago, I stumbled across a paperback copy of Willie and Joe--The WWII Years at Half Price Books for about $20.  I almost didn't buy it.  This hefty tome of life-on-the-front weighs-in at 704 pages, and just over five pounds!
 
I decided my bookshelves could stand the strain and I'm glad I didn't pass up this 5-star deal.
 
Willie and Joe--The WWII Years is chock full of drawings and cartoons, like this Pulitzer Prize winner:
 
 
Although as a former US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) member, my personal favorite is this one of our hapless heroes at an Observation Post (OP)--attempting to call artillery fire on a target that's just a little too close for comfort:
 
 
Willie and Joe--The WWII Years, contains a wide-range of Mauldin's works, from his submissions to 45th Infantry Division camp paper, to some of the demobilization issues faced by veterans re-integrating back into civilian life.  The bulk of the work though, centers on Willie & Joe's wartime experiences.  There's a footnote for every cartoon, which provides some background information to help the reader understand the nature of each vignette, and the humor behind it.
 
A short biography of Bill Mauldin can be found in the front of the book.  Despite being a tad over 700 pages, Willie and Joe--The WWII Years, is a quick an enjoyable read.
 
The book has earned a 4.7 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.com:  48 x 5-stars, 8 x 4-stars, 3 x 3-stars and a solitary 2-star rating.  Of the 3-star raters, one thought the book was repetitive, another thought this wouldn't "...mean much to younger people..." (and he's probably right), and the last wrote an enthusiastic review, but was going to give the book to his son.  The lone 2-star rater was disappointed in the quality of Bill Mauldin's early work.
 
Amazon.com currently has 14 issues left in stock for $26.03.  This book can also be obtained via other outlets selling through Amazon for $17.82--$29.88 for the paperback, and $45.00--$87.99 for the hardcover.
 
Whatever copy you buy, hopefully you'll be able to read it in more comfortable surroundings than Willie and Joe found themselves in...
 
 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What Would Thorin Oakenshield Say?

A few days ago, I posted about the goodies I got for Christmas. 
 
 
Since his outfit was too dark for "Elf on the Shelf" parody pictures, I took some photos using a green army blanket and a sky-blue backdrop.  I substituted various terrain pieces, but settled on the two sets of ruins flanking Thorin.  Both images are done-over with an ink-sketch program to make them look hand-drawn.
 
After finagling with the images, I set out on a cyber-quest for some suitable quotes that would match Thorin's fighting stance.
 
The top image contains Thorin's challenge to Smaug.
 
My favorite though, is the following one from the Rankin/Bass animated film:
 
 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Comparing The Hobbit Movies




Yesterday, I posted my review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Now that Peter Jackson's trilogy (based on one book) is complete, it was inevitable that someone would compare it to the animated film, produced by Rankin & Bass, back in 1977.

"Evilx180" compiled just such a comparison, just over a year ago and posted it on YouTube (see above).

Reading through the comments, one thing is for certain:  There is little--if any--middle ground about "that seventies Smaug," voiced by Richard Boone, in his last television role.  Folks either love or hate the old-school Smaug.


While Jackson's trifecta of films is a grand epic, I'm still a fan of the Rankin/Bass cartoon.  I think the animation still holds up when compared to other productions in and around the same time period. 

The same goes for the voice-over acting, especially with an all-star cast consisting of: 

Orson Bean (as Bilbo Baggins), Hans Conried (Thorin), John Huston (Gandalf), Otto Preminger (the Elf King/Thranduil), and Brother Theodore with his chilling performance as Gollum, that still gives me goose bumps.

Also, despite my admiration for Jackson's treatment of Tolkien's work, Rankin/Bass did a better job with dialogues, monologues and soliloquies in these scenes:

1. Smaug's boasting, shown in the above comparative video. 

2. Bard's Black Arrow soliloquy.  I understand there was no room for this in Jackson's version because the black arrows were giant quarrels launched from a ballistae.  But it would have been cool for Luke Evans to say something similar prior to letting fly.

Even with vintage animation, this is still an incredibly heroic image:


3. Thorin's farewell to Bilbo is still a tear-jerker.  True, Richard Armitage said something similar, but it didn't make me reach for my hankies.

 
 
Now, to be fair, the one thing I don't like about the Rankin/Bass cartoon is that the elves were portrayed like this...

 
...instead of this:
 
 
Overall though, I like both films.  Each one has it's strengths and weaknesses.

The 1977 version is much shorter and more family-friendly.

The 2012--2014 epic is made for binge-watching, especially if you get the extended version DVDs/downloads.

Happy viewing!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Movie Review: The Hobbit--The Battle of the Five Armies

 
 I missed a lot of movies last year.  But the one film I was bound & determined to see on the big screen was, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
 
I tried to go to a Saturday matinee--10 days after the movie was released in the US--and it was sold out.  My luck changed when I attended an earlier Monday matinee.  Only about 16% of the theater's seats were occupied. 
 
 The Battle of the Five Armies is the grand-slam finale to An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug.  I can easily give this movie a 5-star rating. 
 
This portion of the original book is my favorite and I consider it to be the most moving moment in literature:  Three groups of essentially good people set aside their differences at the very last moment to fight--and defeat--a common enemy.
 
Stirring stuff indeed! 
 
Anticipation among Lord of the Rings fans have been high and Peter Jackson did an admirable job of fulfilling their expectations.
 
The movie starts off at a gallop with Smaug's attack on Lake-town and doesn't let up until the battle is over.  In between, are preliminary skirmishes, an attempt to rescue Gandalf from Dol Guldur, and tense drama between characters.
 
And speaking of characters:  While I didn't care for Bard being downsized from bowman to smuggler in The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson & Crew more than made up for the demotion in this movie.
 
 
The stories that resonate with me the most are of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. 

Which is why Bard is my favorite minor character in literature.  He's just an average guy who ended up facing a powerful foe--and killing him.  But Bard is no mere dragonslayer, he also goes toe-to-toe in negotiating with Thranduil and Thorin, not to mention leading the rag-tag survivors of Lake-town against the Orcs once the battle is joined.

Basically, Bard is the John McClane of Middle Earth.

Now just because I loved the movie, doesn't mean the film is flawless.

Many film critics and viewers thought turning J.R.R. Tolkien's story into a movie trilogy, was two movies too many.  I can see their point, especially since Rankin/Bass did a credible cartoon back in 1977.



Over-done or not, I still enjoyed the show despite some of the head-scratching moments that caught my attention (plot spoilers await):

In Peter Jackson's re-imagining of the Battle of Five Armies, the Orcs sneak-up on the good guys with the help of giant burrowing worms, like they were Sandworms imported from Arrakis.  If Azog really had such creatures at his disposal, you'd think he'd win any battle quite handily.

I didn't mind the inclusion of non-canon character Tauriel and the love sub-plot between her and Kili


Their romance was tragically short-lived, as I predicted, but I was surprised Tauriel survived the battle.  Since she's an immortal elf, I found myself wondering what became of her during the War of the Ring

There's studio scuttlebutt that Jackson might make more Middle-Earth movies--if, that is--he could get the thumbs-up from the Tolkien Estate. 

And that's a big "if." 

I can deal with more movies, even non-canon ones, better than having Jackson trying to "improve" the Lord of the Rings, like Lucas did with the original Star Wars Trilogy.

Anyway, while I'm still on the subject of elves:  My "aw c'mon!" moment occurred when Legolas was stepping on falling boulders while fighting Bolg.

In the book, the big Orc was crushed by Beorn.  Now this would have been an awesome heavy-weight bout worthy of the big screen.  But instead Bolg got bested by a fleet-footed elf.

Other deviations and/or additions abounded in the movie, but I either didn't mind them, or actually liked them better than the original work.

Despite these cinematic sidesteps, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is an epic film worth venturing to the multiplex multiple times.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Product Review: Stalin's Tanks


Back in the late '70s, a company called Metagaming sprang up with a new product concept called Microgames.  These were popular because as teenagers subsisting on our parents' allowance money, we could buy a portable game for about $3 to $5. 
 
Some of these Microgames fell into two categories:  MicroQuests and MicroHistory
 
Stalin's Tanks was the third game printed in the MicroHistory line. 
 
The game includes a 22-page rule booklet, two counter sheets, a small 6-sided die (1d6), an errata sheet and a map.
 
(The rules, counter sheets, die and errata)
The rules appear to be fairly simple, with the last several pages of the book devoted to various combat charts scenario lists.  I haven't read the rules yet, but Kent Reuber came up with an errata and made some rule suggestions, while Vin Maresca created more graphically pleasing scenario cards.
 
(A close-up of the counter sheets)
The 126 playing pieces are thin, and the quality of the images--well--looks like something $3 would buy you in 1980.  Thanks advances in computer graphics and printing, people like Brian Train, can make nicely detailed, color counters to replace the flimsy originals.

(Somewhere in Mother Russia...)
 
The map measures 14" x 12".  Since it's unmounted, there are several folds in the map, which are needed to store it in the small box.  Playing on it will probably be easier, if the map is placed under some clear plexiglass.  Or better yet--print a copy of Alois Schimmerlos' updated map (along with additional counters).
 
Additional information and support for Stalin's Tanks has been provided by The Maverick with his overview and component manifest and Marcrogamer's YouTube review and tutorial.
 
Conclusion
 
Stalin's Tanks appears to be a quick & easy game to play.  However, the graphics on both the map and counters are dated.  Gaming enjoyment should be enhanced by downloading and utilizing the updated map and counters mentioned above.
 
My printer is currently low on ink, but I printed-off a set of Brain Train's counters.  They're a tad too big, so the images will have to be reduced, maybe between 10-25%. 
 
For additional information on mini-games of the '70s & '80s, check out The Maverick's Microgames Museum.