Sunday, December 21, 2014

Movie Review: 13 Going on 30

 
 
I haven't seen a made-for-the-big-screen romantic comedy in years.  For the past few months, any time we're trying to decide what to watch for an evening in, my wife would suggest 13 Going on 30 (IMDB)  I, of course would recommend something else, and we'd watch that.

This worked--until I ran out of alternatives. 

We finally watched the movie shortly before the Holiday Season and I'm glad we did.

While not a Christmas movie, 13 Going on 30 (Wikipedia) is an endearing, but cautionary tale, of wish-fulfillment. 

Jenna Rink is humiliated by a pack of popular girls at her 13th birthday party, and she wishes to be "thirty, flirty and thriving."  She wakes up to find her life has been fast-forwarded 17 years, and she has everything she's ever dreamed of.

Or so it would seem.

But, as everyone could probably guess, things aren't what they appear to be.  Because Jenna has no knowledge of the intervening years, she's slow to realize her life isn't what she appears to be.  She isn't who she thinks she is.  Jenna is no longer the adorable girl-next-door, but a vindictive, avaricious, "witch." 

She tries to make things right, and even win back the boy-next-door (when they were 13)--and fails on all counts.

When all seems lost, she's granted another wish, this time to be 13 again.  She wakes up in the midst of her 13th birthday party and gets to a do-over.

While I've know of Jennifer Garner and the show Alias, but I've never actually seen either the actress or the show.  I thought Miss Garner did a charming job of portraying a 13 year-old in a 30 year old body. 

I give this movie a 4-star rating.  In fact, I liked it better than Big, to which it's compared to. While 13 Going on 30 is predictable, it's a sweet 98-minute experience for you, your partner and your family--if your children are 13 years, or older.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

College Humor Presents: The Six Christmas Movies You Live Through




While College Humor's humor tends to be risque and guy-centric, some of their videos have their endearing moments, like this one.

Best wishes to you in whatever "Christmas Movie" you're currently living through.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: How to Make Webcomics

 
My quest to change the format of my webcomic, Breakout from Bongolaan has begun.

A couple months ago, I attended the How To Be A Nerd For A Living panel discussion at Geek Girl Con.  Afterwards, I had a nice and informative chat with Rebecca Hicks (author of Little Vampires) about formatting webcomics.

She recommended the book How to Make Webcomics.

I took her up on her advice, ordered the book and have finally finished it.

How to Make Webcomics is a collaborative how-to manual written by four webcartoonists--

--Brad Guigar, author of Evil Inc. and editor-in-chief of Webcomics.com;

--Dave Kellett, author of Sheldon;

--Scott Kurtz, author of pVp; and

--Kris Straub, author of Starslip.

I found How to Make Webcomics informative and entertaining, which made it enjoyable to read.  Especially since the term "enjoyable" is something I normally don't associate with how-to manuals.

The book is divided into 13 chapters covering:  Your webcomic, your characters, formatting, image preparation, writing, website design, branding & building, interacting with audiences, monetizing your webcomic, books (print versions of your webcomic), conventions, next steps (once your webcomic is up & running), and final thoughts (on making your webcomic work).

Past the final chapter is a section on Scott Kurtz's studio, to illustrate what a successful webcartoonist's work area looks like.  The Additional Resources section contains two pages of reference material listed under the sub-categories of:  Cartooning, artistic inspiration, web design and maintenance, and small business.

Even though I've been writing Breakout from Bongolaan, at glacial speed, since 2008, I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to webcomics.  Probably because Breakout's blog-style format isn't like typical webcomics.

So reading How to Make Webcomics was fun and new to me, and therefore easy for me to give it a 5-star rating.  The book has earned a 4.4 out of 5-star rating on Amazon.  An overwhelming number of reviewers loved the book (39 x 5-stars, 9 x 4-stars).

Five raters, some claiming to be experienced in business or art, thought How to Make Webcomics was okay (3-star ratings), but consider various aspects of the book to be vague.  Another feels this was too focused on 4-panel humor strips.

The 2-star rater doesn't think webcomics to be true art forms and being self published means one isn't a serious writer.

Of the 2 x 1-star ratings, one can be considered a throw-away.  Mr. Throw-away claims he can't rate the book because he gave it to his brother.  This begs the question:  Why post anything at all?

There are some who try to torpedo a book's rating with a bad review.  The lower a book's rating becomes, the less visibility it gets, based on Amazon's algorithms.  (And thereby maybe elevating their own book?).

I certainly don't know what the motivation behind this low rating is, but no other reason makes sense to me.

The second 1-star rating is more extensive and generated four comments, along with 28 out of 47 browsers who found his (her?) review helpful.  In a nutshell he considers the authors' business model to be "...unprofessional and unreliable...," backed up by "...shaky, or non-existent "...key data."  Apparently, this person has also has exchanged some virtual volleys with the authors, and consider them the "...most pugnacious authors since Norman Mailer was throwing punches at cocktail parties."

Now, I'm no sketch artist, and my business acumen equals the square root of zero.  But I love comics, both print and web variety, so I don't care whether they're "true art" or not.

I'm sticking with my 5-star rating. 

I enjoyed the book and didn't think their business advice to be pie-in-the-sky.  Not even a slice.  In fact, the authors warn that if you want to get rich, then find something else to do.  I've heard similar recommendations in all the writing workshops I've attended.  Basically:  Don't quit your day job, until the income from your writing meets, or better yet, exceeds that of your current salary.

In the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about webcomics, be sure to save $14.99 (currently $11.18 on Amazon) for a copy of How to Make Webcomics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Reviews: When The Tide Rises


It's been over three years since I read and did a review on a "RCN Series" book by David Drake

I've been focusing on webcomics and graphic novels for so long, I figured I'd better get back into reading a print-only book.

So I decided to see what misadventures Commander Daniel Leary and his signal officer/spy/librarian friend, Adele Mundy, get entangled with in When the Tide Rises (book #6 in the RCN Series).

In this story, David Drake borrowed from Lord Cochrane's exploits while serving in the Chilean Navy.

Leary and his ship, the Princess Cecil, are ordered to the frontier system of Bagaria, which just revolted against Cinnabar's enemy, The Alliance. The purpose of the mission is to relieve pressure from an important star system besieged by Alliance forces--and to get the well-connected and upstart Leary as far away from Cinnabar as possible. 

But Daniel, with the help of his fellow "Sissies" (as the crew of the Princess Cecil call themselves), manage to inject some esprit de corps into the Bagarian "navy," foil a mutiny, uncover treachery among the Bagarian oligarchs, and finally take the fight to the Alliance.

When the Tide Rises has earned an average 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com (25 x 5-stars and 12 x 4-stars).  Two common themes among the less-than-5-star-raters are: 

1. The characters aren't as fleshed-out as some readers would like them to be.

2. The story arc seems repetitive.  That is:  The hero is given an impossible task (and even expected to fail), but manages to pull off a stunning victory, with awards--and more importantly, prize money--showered upon the heroes.

Yeah, when reading a series of any sort, a certain repetitiveness and character arc flat-lining may creep in.  But I still enjoyed When the Tide Rises and give a 4-star rating.  I still find the age-of-sail method of space travel to be fascinating and well thought out.  I think by not binge-reading this, or any series, may help lessen the feelings of deja vu.

 Since this book is just over the half-way point of a series, my words of caution would be: Read books #1-5 first, before diving into When the Tide Rises

Currently, there are four more books after this one, so as long as most readers enjoy David Drake's work, the RCN Series tide will continue to rise.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

 
 
If I had to limit my movie reviews to six words or less, I'd say this about Fury

It lives up to it's trailer

The story follows the crew of a Sherman Tank (an M4A3E8) during the allied offensive into Germany.  (A plot synopsis (with spoilers) can be read here).

If I had only two words to describe the film, they'd be:  Gritty and graphic.

The combat scenes are some of the most realistic--and graphic--I've ever watched in a movie. 

I had a couple quibbles on how the American tanks always seemed to be too bunched up, and about the mad-dash assault on the town, with the tanks in the lead.  But my friend Tim pointed out in an e-mail exchange that; terrain, weapon capabilities, operational imperatives, and inexperience often resulted in actions that were less than "field manual" affairs.

And this is a movie after all.  As is often the case, historical accuracy takes a back seat in favor of what looks good cinematography-wise.  But in Fury's case, it's great cinematography.

The American GI's are portrayed as "rough around the edges," to say the least.  Some are rough naturally, while others become so after "...fighting Germans in North Africa..." and are "...now fighting Germans in Germany."  The GI's harbor a special hatred for the S.S. (Schutzstaffel), which is understandable given the S.S.'s reputation for brutality.

But not every German is a Nazi Party member.  Fury portrays the Germans as a mixed lot:  From civilians desperate to see the war end, to die-hards, who are willing to kill their own people for not maintaining their loyalty to the crumbling "Thousand Year Reich."

Fury has earned 8 out of 10 stars on IMDb's rating system, and 4 out of 5 on the traditional system. 

I certainly agree with both ratings. 

Fury is a must-see-on-the-big-screen film and will be a must-own DVD, when it comes out.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hill Fort Acquisition

 
(A front gate view of my new hill fort)

Several months ago, I purchased a set of Dark Ages Welsh figures from my friend Dan.  

This motivated me to raise a warband, so I could compete in this year's SAGA Tournament at Enfilade.  And thus, the contemptible actions legendary exploits of my warlord became known to all who read the The Chronicles of Culhwch y Drewllyd.  

All has been quiet on the Dark Ages front since the sad business valiant stand against the Viking raiders.

Then, a couple weeks ago, Mike posted on NHMGS's Facebook page that he was selling a 28 mm (millimeter)-scaled hill fort.

I thought this would be perfect for Culhwch and his warband, so I put in an immediate offer to buy it.

Since the fort was too big to ship, I met Mike for the first time at a strip mall half-way between our residences.  After getting the hill fort into my Jeep before it rained, we chatting for a bit about gaming, painting, and some mutual gamer friends, before parting company.

With just two days before Thanksgiving, and before I went back to work, I managed to snap some photos:


(A front gate view with Culhwch's entire warband manning the fort)

(A view facing the left wall)

(A view of the rear gate)

(A view facing the right wall)

Now, what to call the place?

Well, since Culhwch is the lord of Biswail Swp Tyno (Dung Heap Dale), I figured his new fort should be similarly named.

Using the University of Wales' English-to-Welsh on-line translator, I came up with two Welsh words for castle:  Caer and castell (or cestyll).  

Yes calling a hill fort a castle will fit-in with Culhwch's delusions of mediocrity.  I'm rather partial to "caer," unless anyone fluent in Welsh has a better suggestion.

So now Culhwch can boast that his fiefdom's new bastion of power is:  

Biswail Swp Caer (Dung Heap Castle). 

(The Biswail Swp Caer's "PR Tapestry")

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Micro-Terraforming 2/3rds Complete

(Anyone remember this at "American Eagles," Tacoma, WA?)

I've resumed a project I started--gads!--four years ago.

Back then, my friend Adrian gave me a great deal on the micro scale terrain board.  He acquired it from a silent auction when the game store American Eagles went out of business.  Apparently, this board was a fixture in the store's upstairs game room for as long as most gamers remember.

The board is divided into six sections.  Just before my divorce from my second ex-wife, I managed to finish "terraforming" the first two sections.

After the divorce, I moved, met my new bride, and then moved again.  The terrain board moved with me and now resides in the backyard shed.  In the interim years I didn't have the space in my interim house to do anything constructive with any part of the board.

Finally, this year in the late spring, I began work on the two middle sections, Boards # 3 &  4.  I finished the flocking just before our first cold snap.  Now all I have to do is cut out some appropriate cloth to make "river fillers" in case I want to set up a game without a waterway running through it.

Here's the results so far:

(A full view of Board #3)

I painted and flocked Boards # 3 & 4 in the same "alpine valley scheme" as I did the first two boards.  

(A close-up of the river on Board #3)

Before I started I had to obtain more flocking material. 

(Board #3's cross roads)

This set me on a quest.  When I first started this project, I purchased a bunch of terrain stuff from The Game Matrix.

(A full view of Board #4)

However, they no longer carry the flocking in same brand, nor in the bulk quantity I needed.  

(The plains of Board #4)

The cashier on-duty was very helpful and recommended Hobby Lobby.  But during my phone call to them, I was referred to Tacoma Trains & Hobbies.  

(Board #4's snowy ridge line)

Fortunately this was the last leg of my local voyage of discovery.  Not only did I find a new hobby store, but I bought the flocking I needed, along with additional terrain material as well.  (Gamers always walk out of a game store with more than they intended to buy--or even budget for).

During these winter months, I'll finish cutting out cloth, "river filler" pieces, in the warmth of my home.  My "cunning plan" then, is to resume work on the final boards when Spring returns to the Pacific Northwest.

Board #6 contains the large mountain piece and promises to be the most challenging terraforming project yet.  
Hopefully, it won't take another four years to finish, especially since I have have plenty of other unfinished projects--like painting figures...

(An aerial view of a German armored car section)
(A ground's-eye view of German armored cars)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Webcomic Chapter 9 Posted


Breakout from Bongolaan's Chapter 9 is available for viewing (pages 243-273).

While looking for a suitable Soundtrack Interlude for this chapter, I stumbled across the impressive music from Two Steps from Hell.

I felt their song Juggernaut best expresses the relentless advance of the battle droids.

As I start my work on Chapter 10, I'll be exploring new format options for this webcomic.  I've been getting the feeling that using a blog format for this webcomic is becoming unwieldy, if it isn't already.

Normally, webcomics are formatted like Christopher Mills and Gene Gonzales' Perils on Planet X, with the most recent page displayed and an archive section, along with a cast of characters and other interesting side-sections.

I'd like to reformat Breakout from Bongolaan in this way, but I want to do it right--and only once.  So for now, I'll be researching webcomic set-ups and templates.

Webcomic writers usually post 1-3 new pages per week.  Due to the nature of my job, with its rotating shift, I won't  be able to duplicate this kind of schedule.  I'd rather continue my updates in chapter-sized chunks.

Your patience is appreciated and I hope you enjoy the story.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Breakout from Bongolaan Book Trailer II




For the past several weeks I've been working on Chapter 9 of my webcomic Breakout from Bongolaan, which I hope to post within the next couple of weeks.

During this time I also took a look at Breakout from Bongolaan's "book trailer," and decided some renovation was in order.

After spending more time tweaking it than I originally planned to, I posted it on my YouTube Channel.

Thank you for watching.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Alan Moore's Writing for Comics


I can't recall reading stories by Alan Moore, one of the leading writers in the comic book industry. 

So I must confess that I picked up his 48-page booklet, Writing for Comics, because it was an inexpensive addition to my Amazon.com order. 

Hey, I've spent $5.95 on worse things. 

It's not that I think I wasted my money--but the booklet didn't exactly wow me either.  I guess my review will fit in with the eight other 3-star ratings other readers gave it.

The chapter titles make it sound like the aspiring comic book writer will be treated to detailed instructions on how to create a successful comic.  Instead, what you get are generic narratives that go off on tangents about the tepid state of the comic book industry. 

Chapter Four is an exception.  In this section, Alan Moore discusses at-length how he fit a Superman story into a 40 page comic. 

But then there's the Afterwards, written 18 years after the original articles.  This parting shot pretty much says:  Forget-everything-I-wrote-earlier-on-this-subject-and-write-whatever-you-want-any-way-you-want.

Oh-kay.

Anyway, the cover art, along with the 22 black and white illustrations by Jacen Burrows, are top-notch and eye-catching.  Unfortunately, they're not enough in quantity to elevate the booklet--originally articles published in a British fanzine--from decent to great.

Keep in mind, my feelings about Writing for Comic is in the minority.  Out of the 42 other reviewers commenting on Amazon.com, 28 of them rate the booklet 4-stars or higher.