Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review--Comic Books 101



Did you ever wonder who created Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man?  Or how did Marvel and DC come to dominate the comic book business?

If so, then you can find the answers to these, and a host of other questions, in Comic Books 101.

In this slick, glossy tome, authors Chris Ryall and Scott Tipton take the reader on a journey through the history of comics, the current crop of comic book companies, the origins and backstories of the most well-known superheroes, the bios of the writers and artists; along with the good, the bad & the ugly of Hollywood adaptations. 

They do so by dividing this expansive topic of comics into the following seven parts:

Part I--The Way it Began:  The history of comics.
Part II--Breaking it Down: The nuts & bolts of creating a comic.
Part III--Give Me DC: A rundown of DC's line-up of superheroes.
Part IV--Make Mine Marvel: A similar rundown of Marvel's superheroes.
Part V--Around the Four-Colored World:  A discussion of several indie comic companies, like:  IDW, Dark HorseImage ComicsTop Shelf ProductionsBone (now Boneville Comics), and even Disney.
Part VI--The Creators:  Short bios of the most well-known comic writers and artists.
Part VII--Hooray for Hollywood: The famous and infamous movie and TV adaptations.

Comic Books 101 is based on a compilation of blogposts from Scott Tipton's similarly titled Comics 101 website, and was published in 2009.  Their engaging banter is informative, without being pedantic; which is great for newcomers, or for readers with just some "beginner-level" knowledge of the pantheon of superheroes.  Their side-bar reminiscing about discovering new comics, conventions and encounters with comics creators, is endearing and demonstrates a life-long love for comics, which shines through in the book's narrative.

The only drawback one might find to Comic Books 101 is that it focuses on superheroes, and only gives passing mention of other genres.  Keep in mind though, the comic book medium itself is dominated by superheroes, so it only stands to reason most of Comic Books 101's page space would be devoted to this.

Despite the fact that I hardly read superhero comics, I still found this book entertaining and informative, and so deserves a 4-star rating.

There are currently 14 reviews of Comic Books 101 on Amazon.com, giving it an average of 4.5 out of 5-stars:  9 x 5-stars, 4 x 4-stars and 1 x 2-stars.

While everyone else loved Comic Books 101, the 2-star reviewer felt the book was a "...shallow treatment of  comics history..." and that "...there are more comprehensive volumes about comics out there."

That may be.  But at the time of this writing, there's only only one copy of Comic Books 101 is left in stock on Amazon.com.

So hurry!  Place your order now, before it's too late!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review--The Will Eisner Reader


Here's another quick-read graphic novel classic:  The Will Eisner Reader.

I love Will Eisner's artwork and story telling skills.  In a medium dominated by superheroes, Will Eisner creates slice-of-life masterpieces that resonate with readers.  Characters are drawn in a realistic manner, while the story arcs place ordinary people contending with ordinary circumstances, even extraordinary ones, the many people can relate to.

My only issue with the book is that nearly all of these stories can also be found in one of the author's Instructional Series books or another: Comics and Sequential ArtGraphic Storytelling, and Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative.

Had I known these were stories I already read, even in part, I probably wouldn't have bought this book.  On the other hand though, I don't regret buying it; nor do I consider re-reading these stories a waste of my time.

So I'm happy to give Will Eisner Reader a 4-star rating.

The book can be found on the Will Eisner website and on Amazon.com.

Only three people have written reviews, giving it an average of 3.7 out of 5 stars:  1 x 5-star, 1 x 4-star and 1 x 2-star.

The 2-star rater complaint wasn't on the content, but on the pricing system compared to similar works, but with more pages.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

College Humor Presents: 21 Steps to Making an Oscar Movie




We'll find out tonight if any of the Oscar-Nominated movies incorporated any of these 21 Steps.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Celebrating Presidents Day!

(Image from:  IVN--Why Do We Celebrate Presidents Day?)
Of course, I'm old enough to remember celebrating George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays separately.

This meant two days off from school--which was two reasons enough to celebrate.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review--Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative



Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative is the last of the instructional series trilogy written by Will Eisner.

This was, by far, the quickest instruction manual I've ever read.  That's because Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative is mostly composed of artwork illustrating--well--expressive anatomy.  In other words:  How to convey emotions through facial expressions and body language.

I was able to finish the book in one sitting, which is rare for me, even when reading graphic novels.

Not only was the narrative short & sweet, so are most of the reviews on Amazon.com.

Out of the 14 customer reviews:  Most thought the book was great (10 x 5-stars and 1 x 4-star), a couple folks thought it was okay (2 x 3-stars) and one didn't like it (1 x 2-star).

The 2-star rater considered the book uninstructive.  This in fact may be, to someone who is an artist, or aspiring to be one.  But for someone like me, who can't draw a straight line to save his life, I still found Will Eisner's posthumous work to be lively and informative.

Even just having Eisner's complete instructional series is enough for me to start off by giving Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative a 4-star rating.

But since it was so easy and entertaining to read, I'll bump up my rating to 5-stars.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review--Reinventing Comics


I should have read this book 15 years ago.

Reinventing Comics was Scott McCloud's call-to-arms for revolutionizing comics, primarily by way of the internet.

While some of the author's then-revolutionary ideas seem dated now, I still found the book, written in comic book format, interesting from an historical and business perspective (for printed comics). 

Even though the title is called Reinventing Comics, the first half of the book actually looks at the past.  Mr. McCloud charts the rise and fall of the comic book industry of the 20th Century which culminated in the imposition of the Comics Code Authority.  Comics then enjoyed a resurgence, but suffered another downturn due to the increasing popularity of video games and increased access to the internet.

Despite the look backwards, I actually enjoyed reading this part; along with the examination of the process of making, distributing and selling comics. 

As to the looking-to-the-future part, the author had one good idea:  Creating comics on-line, which he called "digital comics."  Mr. McCloud was certainly on the right track back in 2000, but I wouldn't exactly call him a visionary in this regard.  His concept of digital comics (now more commonly referred to as webcomics), seemed to favor a pay-per-view method for on-line consumption.  Fast forward to 2015, and this is a business model that doesn't work, at least for self-publishers.  (See my review of the Webcomics Handbook for more details).

The author's remaining ideas for revolutionizing comics calls for more gender, racial and sexual orientation diversity.  For folks living and working anywhere in the western world, these concepts have existed for quite some time, prior to the publication of Reinventing Comics--even in the tradition-heavy military.  Such calls for diversity in comics is therefore, blended into of the tapestry of modern life.

Some of the book's critics felt the author strayed into the realm of political correctness (PC).

And speaking of critics, Reinventing Comics has been nowhere near as popular as Mr. McCloud's seminal work Understanding Comics.  If Amazon.com reviews are anything to go by, Reinventing Comics has a mere 43 customer reviews, with an average 4.0-star rating, compared to Understanding Comics 263 customer reviews with an average 4.7-star rating. 

True, Understanding Comics was published in 1994, but Reinventing Comics has had 15 years to catch up.  Despite this disparity in ratings, Mr. McCloud is still considered by many to be the go-to guru of comics theory and application.

Overall, I liked the book, primarily for its historical content and peek into the business aspect of comics:  I give Reinventing Comics 3-stars.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review--The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels


During my stint of jury duty, I read a few how-to books on comics and graphic novels.

One of the first books I finished was The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, written by husband & wife team, Mark Ellis and Melissa Martin-Ellis.

This guide is just one out of the plethora of The Everything Series.

The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels contains a little bit of--well--everything about graphic novels.  As such, the book covers a wide range of topics in 211 illustrated pages, just not in any great detail. 

The 20 chapters discuss:  The history of graphic novels, assessing one's ability to produce a graphic novel, the concept/plot, the various genres, the writing process, team dynamics (if you're collaborating with others), the writer's requirements; artistic contributions made by the penciler, inker, letterer and colorist; the use of a production flowchart, cover design, storage and shipping, advertising, distribution companies and finally--legal issues.

Only seven people have reviewed the book on Amazon.com, giving it an average of 3.4 out of 5 stars.  Just over half of the reviewers liked the book, giving it 3 x 4-stars and 1 x 5-stars.  Two reviewers thought the book was okay, but one of them noted the Kindle edition contained numerous typos. 

The 1-star reviewer disliked this book for a variety of reasons:  Too short, not enough information, and too many illustrations--primarily from the author.

While I feel that The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, is indeed, short on information, the book makes up for this shortcoming by providing an extensive number of links to websites.  Nor did I have any qualms about the author using illustrations from his own graphic novels.  It wasn't like he was bragging about them.

I'll give The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels another 4-star rating.  It was exactly what I expected, and is a good place to start one's research into creating graphic novels.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review--Up Front


Prior to my stint of jury duty, my tendonitis-prone shoulder started acting up.  Since my normal workout routine was disrupted by my civic duty, I focused on stationary-machine cardio exercises. 

This along with the hurry-up-and-wait environment of the county courthouse gave me plenty of time to read.

The first book I chose to bring along was the one recommended to me by several folks after posting an earlier book review:  Up Front by Bill Mauldin.

I can't say enough about this book, which already has a near-perfect 5-star rating.  By his own admission, Bill Mauldin said he was a cartoonist and not a writer.  But Mauldin's lack of literary skill actually enhances, rather than detracts, from the book.

Bill  Mauldin's simple observations, comments about his cartoons, and honesty, is spoken from the heart and resonates with readers.

I don't own the current edition available on Amazon.com

Instead, my copy is a first edition that I inherited from my dad, who was a Korean War combat veteran, and passed away in 2004. 

The infantrymen who trudged up and down the hills of Korea were pretty much wearing the same uniforms, along with lugging the same weapons and gear as the dogfaces of World War II did.

I can't look at one of Bill Mauldin's Up Front cartoons without thinking of my dad.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Reluctant Juror and the Case of the Banished Baristas

(Image from:  Obvious State--Paris Noir)

The Backstory:

This isn't the first time I received a summons for jury duty.  The previous occasion was about eight years ago, when I first started working for WA State Emergency Management Division.  I was in the middle of my training, so my boss at the time wrote the Pierce County Court asking that I be excused.

Fast forward eight years.  My current boss happened to walk in to the Alert and Warning Center (A&WC) when I was busy...

(Image from:  FStoppers--Beautiful Film Noir Inspired Portraits)

...and informed me it was department policy that we all fulfill our civic duties.  So there was no exemptions for me this time.

My wife on the other hand, loves jury duty.  She was actually disappointed she didn't get to sit-in on a trial during her stint... 

(Image from:  Picture Correct--How to Use a Snoot for Portrait Lighting)
...and was wishing she could join me on this case. Unfortunately, the Pierce County Court System wouldn't allow for substitutions.

So every morning for nearly a week-and-a-half, I would kiss my wife good bye, go to a gym near downtown Tacoma for a quick workout...

(Image from: TV Tropes--Noir City)
 ...and then make my way to the courthouse for the trial, which I'll refer to as:

The Case of the Banished Baristas

(Image from:  Pix Good--Femme Fatale Fashion Trend)
Our jury was composed of myself, six other guys and five women (one woman was an alternate, who was dismissed prior to deliberations).  When we weren't listening to testimony, we were cooped-up in the courthouse's smallest Jury Deliberation Room.

Here's the best summary I could come up with for this convoluted case:

Two plaintiffs, I'll unimaginatively call "Barista A" and "Barista B," were suing The Owner of The Cafe for sexual harassment and being wrongfully fired back in 2013.

I'll start with Barista A...

She was seeking monetary compensation for the pain & suffering she endured for her unjust termination.  She already won a case against The Owner for sexual harassment and was awarded compensation for lost tips & wages.

During her stay at The Cafe, she was constantly harassed by her ex-boyfriend.  According to Barista A, The Owner promised her he'd be able to protect her from The Ex.  However, the harassment continued, even when Barista A complained to The Manager--who just so happened to be The Ex's mom.  After about a week of constant texting, The Ex appeared to have been promoted, while Barista A got fired.

Now here's where the plot thickens...

It didn't seem like The Owner was doing much to contain the toxic relationship between Barista A and The Ex.  That's because The Owner--who was married--was having an affair with Barista B.  This all started back in 2011.  However, by 2013, The Owner was leaning on Barista B to have a threesome with him and his wife.  While Barista B entered into this relationship knowing The Owner was married, she drew the line at being the third wheel in a threesome.  When she flat-out told the Owner "no!" she found herself unemployed.

The Owner (aka the defendant) had a predictably different version of this story...

Barista A was previously employed at The Cafe--twice.

She was fired the first time for mouthing-off to another female employee.  But eventually, The Owner hired her back.  Her second round of employment lasted until she whipped-up a batch of weed brownies and was handing them out/selling them to employees and customers.  Both The Owner and The Manager complained that Barista A was often late, called-in sick, or didn't show up at all for work.

Now Barista A said she was fired by The Manager every time she broke up with The Ex for cheating on her.  Sometime between her second and third round of employment she hooked-up with another guy and got pregnant, later giving birth to a baby girl.  So her daughter was often sick.

By this time, The Ex was working at The Cafe, and The Owner decided to give Barista A yet another chance--despite the fact that her and The Ex got along like a mongoose and a cobra.

As for Barista B:  The Manager complained she often came to work hung over, was uncooperative and all-round poor performer.  The Manager often complained to The Owner about Barista B, while Barista B complained to The Owner about what a so-and-so The Manager was.  The Manager told both of them (separately of course) to "work it out with (The Manager/Barista B)."

The Manager also complained that as time wore on, Barista B became more confrontational.  Finally she had enough and fired Barista B.

Throughout the trial, The Owner's lawyer continued to point out that his affair with Barista B was a consensual relationship, so therefore, no sexual harassment was committed.

Jury Deliberations:

(Image from:  Movie Diva--Bright Rock)

After hearing all this, we were issued a set of Court Instructions.  We were to determine:

Did The Owner sexually harass Barista B?  If so, how much should Barista B be awarded for lost tips & wages?  How much should Barista B be compensated for pain & suffering?

And:  How much should Barista A be compensated for pain & suffering?  (Remember, she already won her case and was due to receive an award for lost tips & wages).

We spent nearly the entire day deliberating.  Unlike a criminal case, which requires a unanimous vote to reach a verdict, for a civil case like this, we only needed 10 jurors to agree.

When it came to determining whether or not The Owner sexually harassed Barista B, the initial vote was: No-1 to Yes--11 votes.  But once it was explained to the no voter, that despite the consensual origins of the affair, The Owner kept pestering Barista B for a threesome, it became sexual harassment.  Even more so after she was fired.

Now Barista B's attorney thought she deserved nearly $63 Grand, which included an alleged $5/hour pay raise for a total of 104 weeks.

One of the jurors re-read the instructions and reminded us that any monetary damages were assessed from the day Barista B was fired until the first day of the trial.  This totaled 87 weeks--not quite the 104 weeks the Barista's attorney was asking for.

Another juror pointed out that Barista B was making a mere $10/hour, at tad over minimum wage here in WA State (currently $9.47/hr), which didn't add up to $63 Grand.

The question of "how big were her tips?" came up and became a topic of a lengthy debate.  We all noted, especially The Owner's attorney, that Barista B stated--under oath--that she only claimed 10% of her tips on her 1040 Tax Form.

The only physical evidence we had to go on were provided by the Baristas' attorney in the form of the hard copies of text messages from the Baristas' phones.  We didn't have any pay statements, W2s, bank statements, tax forms.

The Owner's attorney provided--nadda.  The only written performance reviews of the two Baristas were written by The Manager--over a year after they were fired--and these documents weren't included in the evidence package.  According to both The Manager and The Owner, they were in the process of establishing written procedures for performance reviews and complaints.  Nor did we see any of the racy selfies The Owner exchanged with Barista B, that the attorney claimed was initiated by Barista B.

So based on what we had--and didn't have--we came up with a lost tips & wages figure of just over $24 Grand.

As for pain & suffering:  Zilch.

We all felt Barista B willingly entered into the affair with The Owner and that she knew what she was getting in to.  It was curious that neither The Owner, nor Barista B fessed-up to starting the affair.  The story they told, during their separate testimonies, went something like this:  "We met at a bar, had too much to drink, then ended up in a hotel room..."

Now for Barista A, half the jury felt differently.  Myself and five others felt she was aware she was entering a hostile work environment, because she knew ahead of time that The Ex was already working there.  We felt she should have stayed away from the place, like Superman avoids Kryptonite.  One juror was of the opinion that most of harassing text messages were sent by The Ex when they were away from work, so it was a personal issue.  Others asked why didn't she block his number, change hers, get a restraining order, etc.  Another juror read some of Barista A's not-so-pleasant responses out loud.

But the other six jurors felt The Owner broke his promise of shielding her from any harassment by The Ex.  One of the in-favor-for jurors wondered how long did she endure this, because of Barista A's and The Ex's toxic relationship predated her third round of employment at The Cafe.

For this, our foreman came up with a great idea:  She pointed to one text message, where Barista A clearly states to The Manager "...this is harassment..."  Then, a week later, Barista A was fired.  So based on our foreman's recommendation we voted, unanimously, that based on the timespan between messages, Barista A was subjected to seven days of on-the-job harassment.

The question then became, how much do we award her?

Besides the six of us who still felt Barista A should get zip, just like Barista B; figures ranged from a mere $70 to over $42 Grand.

At some point during the deliberation, I blurted out a suggestion for $100/day.  After another round of debating, four "no voters" agreed, some even said "against my better judgement," to change their vote from $0 to $700. Me and another guy kept our votes at $0.  But to be honest, if my vote was needed to reach this verdict in a timely manner, I would have changed it to $700.

The Verdict:


(Image from:  12 Angry Men)

Once the attorneys for the plaintiffs and the defended arrived, we filed into the courtroom and Judge Chushcoff read the verdict.

Normally in TV/movie courtroom dramas, the bad guy/gal is found guilty and hauled away amid applause.  In our case, both attorneys and the Baristas remained impassive, while The Owner didn't show up at all.

Another thing you don't see in the courtroom dramas:  After the verdict is reached, both attorneys have an opportunity to ask the jury questions, and even poll the jury.

(So reader take note:  If you find yourself on jury duty, you may be asked to explain and defend your verdict, even if you didn't agree with your fellow jurors).

Judge Chushcoff again thanked us profusely for our service as jurors, and as we filed out of the courtroom the Baristas were outside thanking each of us.

My fellow jurors and I felt we reached a fair verdict.  Everyone contributed some insight into the case.  The Owner didn't get away scott-free, but the Baristas didn't "cash in" either.  We thought we reached a decision without hurting a fellow juror's feelings, and we could all go home and finally get a good night's sleep...

(Image from:  Camberwell Studios--Film Noir Lighting)


Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Reluctant Juror

(Image from Someecards)

I must admit I was dreading jury duty.  I received the summons in the mail last month and I thought of it only as a great inconvenience.  While my supervisor would have to fill-in for me for the first three days, and my daily workout routine would be disrupted for the entire two-week stint.

Fortunately, Pierce County does an excellent job of accommodating jurors and making them feel appreciated.

Normally, jurors would call-in the night before to find out if the group they're assigned to has been called.  Because of my rotating shift, I was instructed to show up whether my group was called, or not, and be placed on the day-to-day schedule.

Showtime for the very first day of jury duty is usually 0800 hours (8 AM)

How-e-ver:  Since I wanted to take advantage of the jury duty free parking, I learned it was best to arrive before 0730 hours.

(Image from:  Tinley Park Public Library--not the Tacoma, WA Courthouse)

Once I got through the Courthouse Security, the first official step in this hurry-up-and-wait process was to report to the Jury Assembly Room.  Here, I was treated to instructional video--and then had to wait some more--with over 100 other would-be jurors.

The good news about all the waiting throughout this is I was able to get a lot of reading done--like finishing four books and starting a fifth one.

(Image:  Link to site defunct)

Names were then drawn at random, in groups of up to 30, or so, to begin the Jury Selection Process.

Of course, I was called right away, along with my "gym-rat" friend, Andrea, whom I hadn't seen in years.  Once we were lined-up as if we were in a military processing station, we proceeded up to Judge Chushcoff's Courtroom. 

Here, we were introduced to the judge, his assistants, the plaintiffs and their attorney, along with the defendant and his attorney.  Judge Chushcoff briefed us on the generalities of the case, a civil lawsuit, and then the jury selection began.

This consisted of the plaintiff's and defendant's attorneys asking various questions to the group at large, in order to weed out anyone with strong biases.  One woman said it was against her religious beliefs to judge anyone, while one man had strong feelings against awarding money for "pain & suffering."

Lo-and-behold, my name was called to be one of the 13 jurors (one would be an alternate).  Andrea wasn't selected, so I'm not sure what her fate was.  Afterwards, we "lucky 13" were sworn-in and then adjourned to the Jury Deliberation Room, where the Judge's Assistant briefed us on what was to come.

This took the entire first day.  Though it all, Judge Chushcoff and his assistant "Winnie" continued with the trend of accommodating us and making us feel appreciated--minus being consigned to the smallest deliberation room in the Pierce County Courthouse.

The trial itself took a week to resolve.  Judge Chushcoff was sick one day, a witness couldn't make it on another day, and normally trials aren't conducted on Fridays, so the courthouse staff can catch up on paperwork. 

The details of the trial I'll save for a later post.  However, there's a couple of observations I'd like to make.

A real trial, or at least this particular one, wasn't like any of the courtroom dramas I've seen on TV, or in the movies.

(Image from:  Perry Mason TV Series Wiki)

First of all the atmosphere was very pleasant.  No one shouted.  There was no melodrama, or verbal confrontations.  Objections were made in a conversational manner, so much so, that a couple of my fellow jurors had trouble hearing what was being said.

In other words, no "you can't handle the truth" outbursts...

(Image from:  A Few Good Men)

Courtroom dramas also edit out a lot of mundane issues, especially when the jury is excused and has to wait in the Deliberation Room, while the attorneys and the judge discuss some legal point-of-order in private.  So there was a lot of back-and-forth during each session--several times each day.

After a week of listening to testimony and viewing evidence, my fellow jurors and I spent most of the day deliberating and then delivered our verdict.

In the end, I have to say my feelings towards jury duty have changed.  My stint as a juror was a pleasant experience; so much so, that we shared contact information with each other and hope to get together socially someday.  After we rendered our verdict, Judge Chushcoff, again expressed his appreciation for our attendance.

Attending jury duty gave me a first-hand look of--and greater appreciation for--our judicial process.