Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Trimming the Sails"

I haven't been too creative this past week, primarily due to a high operations tempo at work and moving preparations. 

However, what I did accomplish was a lot of on-line "sail trimming."  I discovered several links were no longer functioning, or active.  So I trimmed down the number of side-bar tabs and deleted non-functioning links.  I also deleted blogs and websites that haven't had any activity for the past year.

One of the tabs I deleted completely was the Radio Stations tab.  Just because they were my favorite stations, doesn't mean they're my readers faves.  So "over the side" they went.

I changed the Humor tab to Comic Strips and moved the non-comic strip sites to Entertainment.  I also changed the Webcomic tab to Webcomics and Publishers.

What's the difference between Comic Strips and Webcomics?

Not much really.

I didn't use any strict literary definition, just my personal observation and personal preference in organizing.  The comic strip sites usually display a 1-row, 3-panel of sequential art, as seen in the daily funnies.  Often these strips are episodic, that is, each strip encapsulates a complete story.  On the other hand, there are strips that have a story arc that spans several days, or weeks.

Wheras, most webcomics have a full-page appearance, much like a printed comic or graphic novel.

Like I said, not very scientific and I know there's one, or more exceptions to my organizational criteria.

Since blogs aren't suppose to be static, but continually evolving, I may do some tweeking to my reorganization.  And I promise I'll keep a better "weather-eye" out for defunct links.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Noteworthy Blog #4: Lord Ashram's House of War

(Image:  Lord Ashram's Game Room)
Comics and wargaming seem to go hand-in-hand.  I read comics when I was a "tweenager" and re-discovered graphic novels about 15 years ago.  Upon reaching my teen years, my brother introduced me to wargaming and my interest in comics fell by the wayside for nearly 3 decades.
I've done no scientific polling, however, I've observed a lot of gamers also like comics and graphic novels. 
These two interests reached a convergence point when my friend Adrian introduced me to Comic Life a few years ago.  Since then, I've fallen in love with presenting After Action Reviews (AARs, also known as battle reports, or game reports) in a comic format. 

I'm not the only gamer who uses, or at least dabbles in, using a comic format for his AARs.  One such personage experimenting with the comic-gaming format is "Lord Ashram." 

I can't remember when I started following Lord Ashram's House of War, but I remember being attracted to the pictures of his elegant game room.

Yesterday, he posted what he said was his second comic style report of a session of X-Wing

But be forewarned:  This encounter "deviates from the Star Wars script!"

(Image from a Rogue Squadron Comic)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Product Review: Assassin

Hot on the heals of my review of Trigger Men, I thought I'd continue with the "hit man theme." 
Last spring, I got together with two of my friends, Tom and Terry, for an impromptu gaming session.  With little time to prepare, nor to re-familiarize myself with some complex rules, I decided to give Assassin a try, especially since Terry's a James Bond aficionado. 
I won this used game for $5 at an auction during Consimworld's Expo four years ago.  I was the only bidder and that should have been the first clear indicator that something was amiss. 
The second indicator was the lame, Parcheesi-style playing pieces.  Fortunately, I have a plethora of role playing game (RPG) counters from Fiery Dragon, that I cut and mounted on mat boards.  So instead of looking like this... 
...our game looked like this: 
But upgraded counters don't necessarily make for a great game.  Oh, we had a pleasant time alright and I think Tom won (and wound up being the assassin to boot).  But we ended up struggling with the game mechanics more than we did with each other.
Assassin is Mille Bornes--with guns.
Each player is dealt several cards, which he use to travel to various Euro capitals to collect points.  Nothing exotic like top secret files, just "points."  At least there are a couple of twists.  First, there is an assassin card, which one player may use to "make a hit" against another player.  The targeted player may utilize a card to thwart, or avoid the assassin. 
Second, there are four "machine gun cards."  Once the fourth machine gun is played, the game ends.  So no one knows how much time they have in order to win, a "ticking clock" in a sense.
The most frustrating aspect of the game is the inability to go anywhere, for extended stretches of time, before you get the right cards. 
If you end up at end-points with limited Travel Card options, you could be languishing in places like London, Madrid, Athens and Kiev for a  long, long time. 
I'm being somewhat generous in my review, because I don't regret acquiring this game.  I usually buy boardgames with other uses in mind.  I can incorporate Assassin's map, along with the Fiery Dragon counters, into one of the modern-ish role playing games I own.  Plus, I've spent $5 on worse things and this game doesn't take up too much space on my shelf.
While regular wargamers hold this game in contempt, Assassin can be played as a "compromise" game for a mixed group of wargamers and non-wargamers.  At least until whatever novelty there is, wears off...
(Image of the Carrom Family)

If you want to read a real scathing review, check out Richard Berg's post on Boardgamegeek (BGG).
Copies of Assassin can still be found on sites like BGG's Marketplace and Noble Knight Games.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: Trigger Men, Volumes 1-4

I hate organized crime.  To say criminals--organized or otherwise--are a blight upon civilized societies would be stating my opinion mildly. 
Because of my animosity towards the criminal underworld, I'm not interested in books, movies or TV programs centered around mafia bosses, drug kingpins and their ilk.  I've never watched the The Sopranos...
...nor am I tuned into Boardwalk Empire
Heck, would you believe I haven't even seen The Godfather
However, a year ago I wouldn't have considered watching an on-line adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, either.  (See my April 1st blogpost for all the details).
So I guess I am capable of exploring new genres--occasionally.
One such occasion was this year's Emerald City Comicon, where I stumbled across the folks at Triptych Books.  The company launched a Kickstarter Campaign two years ago and snagged over 60 backers to fund their first project:  Trigger Men
I chatted with Kyle Winters, the company's manager, who described Trigger Men as a "a dark comedy buddy story about hit men, instead of cops."  I was intrigued, but held off purchasing the graphic novel until the last day.
Big mistake. 
The graphic novel was sold out, so I had to settle for buying the four individual volumes instead.
Trigger Men is a tale of two life-long friends, Matt Whit and Jason McCarthy and their misadventures as hit men.  Don't let their metrosexual appearance fool you.  By "misadventures," I mean the circumstances they find themselves in, along with their friendly and not-so friendly banter. 
Jason's devil-may-care attitude is often (always?) the cause for the predicaments the duo find themselves in.  However, this doesn't mean he's shallow either.  At one point his friendship with Matt is tested in a small, buy highly significant way.
Matt on the other hand, is the more serious and contemplative of the two.  He feels protective of those he cares about and therefore, appears to have the most to lose.
Which makes him the most dangerous of the two.
This doesn't mean Matt is without flaws.  He's incapable of expressing his feelings to those he cares about (except for Jason)--even to the very people he feels need his protection.
While Trigger Men is indeed a black comedy, it's not what I like most about it. As I read the story, I kept asking myself:  Why did these two become hit-men?
There are several hints--and only hints--about Matt and Jason's past.  And this is what I admire most about Trigger Men:  The author's deft handling of backstory.
Too often, writers become enthralled with the characters they create, so they want to explain EVERYTHING to the reader.  This usually manifests itself as flashbacks or exposition ("data dump"), just to name the two most infamous types.
Such literary devices bring the forward momentum of the story to a screeching halt. 
Just about every writer is, or has been, guilty of this sin at one time or another.  (I'm typing this one-handed because I have the other one raised).
Mike Andersen does an excellent job of tossing out tantalizing nuggets of background information, without bludgeoning the reader with details.  This is the best way to keep the reader reading, because it fuels the desire to learn more about the characters.
I have a hunch--but only a hunch--on what some of these catalysts were that drove Matt and Jason down the dark path they're treading.
Heather Brinesh's stark, black and white artwork enhances the noir feel of the story. 
The violence in this graphic novel can be--well--graphic, but it's not gratuitous either. 
Despite my misgivings about crime-lit, Trigger Men is a 5-star read. 
Speaking of reading, you can check out Chapters 1 & 2, offered in PDF from the Triptych website. 
And if you're interested in how Kyle and Mike got started, here's an interview conducted by Jason Vaughn of Meltdown Comics.

Friday, April 12, 2013

100 K Views!

I've been off-line for the past several days.  During this time, two momentous events occurred.
First and foremost, my fiance and I got married!  We had a small wedding, which was officiated by a friend and attended by 27 other close friends and family members. 
While my bride and I were preparing for our wedding day and playing host and hostess for visiting family members, Stern Rake Studio received over 100,000 views!
 I'd like to extend my thanks and appreciation to the Studio's subscribers and occasional readers for your support.
Your encouragement inspires me to provide quality content for you to enjoy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Program Review: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Now, I'm not the kind of guy...

...who reads Jane Austen novels...

...but ever since I discovered The Guild (belatedly), I've enjoyed several other webseries; all of them the sci-fi and fantasy genres. 

That all changed several months ago, while watching an episode of The Flog.  During these preliminary programs, Felicia Day would open her show by recommending various sites she found on the internet that week.  In Episode 5 (30 Apr 2012), she gave rave reviews for a webseries called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  

The program puts a modern spin on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in the form of a "vlog" (video web log--an internet diary) and sprouted its own website, along with a Facebook Page.  So there are several ways to get caught up.

And speaking of getting caught up, I must admit, I was hooked right-off-the-bat watching the first episode.

The story starts off with Lizzie complaining about her mom's attempt to see her and her three sisters...

...married off to eligible (i.e. rich) bachelors... 

...mayhem ensues. 

From what I've read on Wikipedia Based on my extensive research, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries follows the source material rather closely.  So if you've read Pride and Prejudice, you know how it all ends.

The moral of both stories:  First impressions can be deceiving.

Unlike the other webseries I've watched, which often take place in far-off, fictitious lands, I was drawn into Lizzie Bennet Diaries by the impression that this was, indeed, a young lady's video diary. 

In other words--the show seems--real.

But this "vlog" stretches to 100 episodes, along with three spin-offs (to explore the sub-plots) and won Best Comedy Writing category at the 3rd Annual Streamy Awards

Not to mention boasting a legion of fans, some who are talented artists...

My favorite moments are when Lizzie imitates her mother...

...and gets her sisters, friends and relatives involved in "costume theater." 

But this dramedy has its poignant moments too.  The finale between Lizzie and Darcy (Episode 98), is one of the most tender and romantic scenes I've seen in any medium. 

Now, despite all this "mushy stuff," guys--you don't have to worry about getting your Man Card revoked for watching this show.

If confronted, all you have to say is that you're watching a program featuring several attractive women...and before you can explain the plot-line, your inquisitor will be satisfied with your answer.

(Yes, I'm speaking from personal experience here).

What's more, is that you're wife/girlfriend/domestic partner won't mind you watching either, because:

a)  It's an on-line version of a classical piece of Chick lit she's probably read, and

b) There's no overly sensual, not to mention explicit, sexual imagery during any of the episodes.

Talk about a double win!

True, some of the conversations veer into adult themes, especially towards the end, but the show is safe enough for teens to watch--who've probably been exposed to far worse within our school system. 

I give the Lizzie Bennet Diaries a 5-star rating and consider it one of my favorite webseries.