Archive for November, 2020

Happy Safe, Socially Distanced Thanksgiving!

Heya, it’s Turkey Day once again, even in the middle of a global pandemic, and I’m gettin’ a mite tired of listening to Covid-denying dumbfucks insisting that if they don’t get together with 30-50 mask-hating relatives to eat too much, argue about sports, and work grandma half to death to serve you turkey and pie, it’s an affront to America its own damn self.

Listen, I’ve had plenty of jobs that required me to work on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve been stuck in my grungy apartment because blizzards blocked the way home. I’ve made do with a frozen lasagna, a bag of M&Ms, and a diet Dr Pepper for my all-by-myself Thanksgiving dinner. And I survived it just fine. It made me appreciate my time with family all the more the next time we saw each other.

And I know only a few decades or a century back, when you left your family, you might never see them again. You might live across the country or across the ocean, without no speedy travel to the people you’d left behind. I’ve got an ancestor who left Ireland with her sister, got separated from her in New York City, and never managed to find her again. Now that’s a real tragedy, not “Trumper nihilists didn’t get to kill their grandparents for FREEDOM.”

We live in the modern world now, and we can communicate with distant family by phone, by emails, by Zoom and Skype meetings. Even when we’re apart, we can be together — and we don’t have to run the risk of infecting our loved ones with a potentially fatal disease.

Hey, kids, let’s look at some comics book covers, okay?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and save me a slice of rhubarb pie.

Comments (2)

Disney Must Pay

Well, here’s something utterly dreadful, something that hits on multiple levels. Not just concern for a writer who’s dedicated decades of his life to science fiction and fantasy, both original and adapted — but concern for the future of every other creator, writer, artist, and musician. And concern for the future of the entire concept of copyright.

Check the link above for the full details, but the general summary is this: Alan Dean Foster, who has been writing great fiction for as far back as I can remember and who has written lots of tie-in fiction for “Star Wars,” “Alien,” and more, hasn’t been receiving the royalties he was owed by Disney, which has mostly ignored his requests to get paid. They offered to negotiate once, but told him he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement first, which just isn’t done during contract negotiations. He asked the Science Fiction Writers of America for help, and Disney stiff-armed them, too.

Disney’s argument is apparently that when they acquired LucasFilm and Fox, they purchased the right to publish an artist’s work, but they did not purchase the obligation to pay artists for their work. In other words, they say they can publish a book, but they don’t have to pay the author.

This is, obviously, lunacy. No contracts are set up that way, except contracts written by crooks. Reputable publishers pay authors for the right to publish.

It doesn’t make much sense, on the surface. Disney has a near-monopoly on the entertainment industry. They’re worth, at the minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars. The amount of money they owe Foster — who has been diagnosed with cancer and whose wife has serious medical issues — would be a drop in the bucket for a multinational corporation like Disney.

So what’s the motive? Partly because they can, and no one can stop them. If Foster fights them in court, Disney’s lawyers can wait him out ’til he’s bankrupt or dead. If the SFWA helps out, they can drain the organization dry with not much more effort.

But it’s also an attempt to rewrite the rules of copyright. If Disney can prevail, any publishing or entertainment company can break a contract to give themselves no obligation to pay their employees by simply having the rights purchased by a sister corporation. If they can get the courts to bow for this, it means that copyrights will be a tool only for the largest and most powerful corporations. Anyone who publishes a book or an artwork or a piece of music or film could find their rights stripped away with ease.

How can this be stopped? I really don’t know. The SFWA is recommending using the hashtag #DisneyMustPay — but that may be hoping Disney will pay any attention to a social media campaign. The legal system may be of no help at all — besides Disney’s ability to wait out other legal teams ’til they’re out of money, the courts and legislatures have a tendency to roll over for anything the Mouse wants.

We can hope justice will prevail. But in the real world, outside of fiction, comics, and film, justice rarely makes an appearance.

Comments off

Puppy Love

So I was expecting November to be busy, but not quite this busy.

We’re fostering a dog ’til sometime around the Thanksgiving holiday. It was largely unexpected — the paper has been running Pet of the Week features for a while, and I expected my primary contribution to the project was taking photos of dogs at the shelter and then writing short blurbs about them. But I’m realistic — I know not every dog can be rescued.

But my sister made some calls to friends and relatives about one specific dog, and when a cousin from the Big Bend area decided he’d like the dog, we ended up agreeing to foster him until we could get him transport down south.

Anyway, this is Baxter.

He’s about three months old, and he’s a handful. We’ve kept my sister’s and brother’s dogs occasionally when they went on vacation, but this is our first time having to raise up a dog from a very young age. We’re trying to get him to learn his name, and how to recognize important words. We’ve taught him to accept being on a leash. We should probably be trying to teach him some commands.

We won’t have a lot of time to teach him anything — he’ll be taking the first leg of his trip to his forever home during the Thanksgiving break (unless we get snowed in, or unless we all get the ‘rona, which is a serious danger right now).

We’ve only had him for a few days, and he’s already very good at annoying me by chewing on my fingers and my shoes and my pants legs. And he’s already got me loving him for his enthusiasm and intelligence and loving, playful nature.

So basically, remember when I said I probably wouldn’t post a lot this month? It goes double or even triple now, ’cause I got this big baby to love on and/or suffer through…

Comments off

Building Character

Y’all, after the marathon review-fest before Halloween, I’m almost entirely out of stuff to review, so I’m going to start posting a bit more lightly for a while. November and December are some of the busiest months for me anyway, so I’d benefit personally from a bit less time blogging.

But I don’t want to go radio silent either, so here’s a bit of frivolity I ended up cooking up last week on Election Day.

Let’s go through some huge amount of backstory first. Back in the Ancient Days, right after I got out of college, I had a job in Levelland, Texas. It wasn’t a great job, I didn’t know anyone in town, I didn’t have cable TV, and personal computers weren’t a Thing yet. So to fill time after work, I’d sit down with a legal pad and make superhero and supervillain characters using the GURPS RPG system for as long as I could. I knew they weren’t going to get played, ’cause I didn’t know anyone who played GURPS, but I loved their character design system, and I liked getting to make up new characters.

Now flash-forward to Election Day. I didn’t want to pay attention to election news on TV or online — I already knew how badly the stress wrecked me in 2016. So I decided I’d see if I could still fill some legal pads up with GURPS characters. I figured the process of making characters in the early ’90s was more than absorbing enough to keep me entertained and distracted.

Well, I wasn’t entirely right. Part of my problem was that I hadn’t made any GURPS characters in about 15-20 years, and I was really out of practice. Plus I had trouble with the math. And really, when you get down to it, I wanted to go get online and see how things were going. So I only made one full character, plus a partial second one before my inspiration ran out.

Before we get to this guy’s stats, let’s do a quick summary of GURPS for those of you unfamiliar with the system. It’s a point-based character system — stats over 10, advantages, and skills cost you points; stats under 10 and disadvantages get you some points back. Quirks are worth a negative point each (and limited to five) and must be roleplayed. Numbers in the square brackets are how many character points were allocated to each item. This is all done in GURPS 3rd Edition, ’cause 4th Edition was garbage.

In GURPS, 100 points is considered a good starting point for beginner-level, unpowered characters, being significantly above the average person, but not strong enough to power through every obstacle. Some campaigns, particularly those dealing with high-level fantasy or superhero games, can be much stronger, up to 500 points, 1,000 points, or even more.

This is Jimmy Watchill, an aspiring gunfighter in the Wild West.

Name: James “Jimmy” Watchill
Total Points: 100
Appearance: White male, 20 years old, 5’7″, 140 pounds. Sandy brown hair, brown eyes. Wears old, dusty, but generally well-kept clothing, including a battered hat.

ST: 9 [-10]
DX: 14 [45]
IQ: 10 [0]
HT: 12 [20]
Speed: 6.5
Move: 6
Dodge: 6

Alertness +2 [10]
Charisma +1 [5]
Danger Sense [15]

Lecherousness [-15]
Overconfidence [-10]
Poverty: Struggling [-10]

Quirks: Hates cold weather; Wishes he were a superstar gambler; Early riser; Brags about his cooking; Enjoys singing with others. [-5]

Skills: Animal Handling – 9 [2], Bard – 10 [2], Brawling – 16 [4], Cooking – 12 [4], Detect Lies – 9 [2], Fast-Draw – 16 [4], Fast-Talk – 10 [2], First Aid – 11 [2], Fishing – 11 [2], Gambling – 10 [2], Guns – 16 [4], Jumping – 15 [2], Lasso – 14 [2], Pickpocket – 14 [4], Riding (Horse) – 15 [4], Singing – 12 [2], Stealth – 14 [2], Streetwise – 10 [2], Swimming – 15 [2], Tracking – 11 [4]

Languages: English (Native) – 10 [0], Spanish – 9 [1].

Biography: Jimmy grew up a Kansas farm kid with fast fingers, a lot of skill with guns, and not a lot of patience with farming. The family hit a rough patch when his mother died of fever and his father was killed by bandits — bandits who Jimmy managed to kill just a few minutes too late. His older brother inherited the family farm, and Jimmy realized he didn’t want to grow old in his brother’s shadow — and he wanted to escape his feelings of guilt over failing his father. He hit the road, hoping to turn his skills with a gun into enough money to let him buy his own property in the distant Northwest.

Design Notes: Jimmy probably has more points in Skills than he ought to, considering his young age. But I kept screwing up my math while I was building him, and the easiest way to fix him was always to add another couple points into Skills.

Also, for the record, I’m kinda proud of giving him the Overconfidence disadvantage. It means he’ll rarely hesitate before stepping up to any challenge. That’ll probably turn out well for him when he’s shooting down a bad guy, picking a pocket, or twirling a lasso. But it’s gonna get him in a lot of trouble — fun, adventure-filled trouble — when it comes to his low-ranked skills in Detect Lies, Gambling, Streetwise, and Animal Handling.

Why a Wild West character instead of a superhero? Partly because I didn’t want to dig out the GURPS Supers book, partly because Western characters are nicely archetypal, so it’s fun and easy, and partly because the gunslinger was what popped into my head when I sat down with the legal pad.

So there’s my boy Jimmy. I’ve got a few more in reserve from back in the days when I had a personal webpage, and I’d really kinda like to make a few more new characters, too, though I feel like I need a nice long weekend to work on ’em. Eventually, I may post more of ’em, if I feel like it.

I’ll try to be back with some more posts soon-ish, so y’all stay safe and sane ’til then.

Comments off

A Nation of Monsters

Is the election over? I can barely keep track anymore.

Whatever the result — even if the good guys win — it’s still bad news. Because the bad guys — the people who looked at four years of open corruption, hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, police violence, and Nazi bullshit — still did a hell of a lot better than they should’ve.

So 2016 showed that far too many Americans were comfortable with the Klan, the Nazis, and white nationalist violence. But 2020 showed that they’re not just comfortable with it — they’re eager for more.

On the bright side, of course, is the fact that American voters have strongly rejected Trump twice — Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes than Trump, and Biden is on track to get even more than that. But because the Electoral College is an outdated joke implemented solely to appease white slaveowners in the 1880s, America gets to be the only democracy that periodically tells its voting majority to fuck off.

Of course, Tyrannus Tiny-Thumbs may still figure out a scheme to steal the election, but we’re rapidly approaching the point where only the maddest of the mad will accept that. When even the quivering cowards in the national media are willing to call him a liar, and the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court are fine with telling him to get lost, you’re no longer fighting from a position of strength.

If this were a comic book world, it’d likely be more depressing. In the comics, the supervillains are generally feared by almost everyone. In the real world, however, if the Red Skull or the Hatemonger or the Joker or Lex Luthor tried to take over the world, we know that a lot of people who used to be all about small government, low taxes, and family values, would now follow the villains, ’cause they OWN TEH LIBS or because they want to put non-white people in camps or because you gotta run the government like a murderous, destructive megacorp, or because they just want to cheer as a lunatic murders innocent people.

If Mephisto, the Devil his own damn self, offered up an Antichrist who demanded people brand themselves with his mark to show their loyalty to him, it’d be a heavy-handed summer crossover event that ended with most people refusing to embrace evil. But in the real world — well, we already know how many people agreed to wear the mark in 2016 and 2020. They had hats to show it off, didn’t they?

We’ll be back to doing proper comic book content soon enough, but for now, let’s remember an eternal truth that remains no matter who runs the White House, something agreed upon by Captain America, Indiana Jones, Jack Kirby, and every other good American:

The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.

Comments off

Fight for Democracy

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, and if you haven’t been paying close attention, this might be our last chance ever to vote.

The Mango Mussolini in the White House plans to cheat his way to victory, and he’s got the Supreme Court, the Senate, more than a few state legislatures, a few million crooked cops, and a bunch of Nazi-affiliated dumbfucks on his side.

And I’m a bit pissed about that.

I bet a lot of y’all have already voted — through mail or early voting — and your country thanks you. Democracy is worth fighting for, and we’re lucky that we get to join that fight with something as simple as voting — and voting against a fascist, at that.

But if you haven’t voted yet, I feel like it’s important to express just how desperately important that civic duty is, and as a comics blogger, I know the best way to get an important point across is through cartoonish, brutal, furious violence. And so:

Again: Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. And vote Blue all the way down the ballot.

Never forget, friends: The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.

Comments off