Archive for June, 2012


Furtadofest: No Hay Igual con Residente de Calle 13, 2006

June 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it, but the one thing that runs through all of Nelly Furtado’s singles are that they’re fun. They’re upbeat smiley face music, whether she’s doing fun anthems or throwing bedroom eyes at you.

One thing that’s always interesting about R&B and rap collabs, which I generally think of as being lady singer + dude rapper, is how the two musicians are portrayed in the video. Meth & Mary’s “All I Need” portrays the two as musicians solely, since Meth already has a lady in the video. Nelly Furtado’s “No Hay Igual” is the other one, as it suggests that Furtado and Residente of Puerto Rican group Calle 13 are in some type of flirty relationship.

I can’t find it now, but a few years back, 2008 or 2009 I think, there was an R&B girl group, maybe a duo, that released a single. It was pretty okay, and the rap feature was solid. It was probably Fabolous, but I think Maino or Pusha T might have been the dude. I don’t know. I swear I’m not making this up. Anyway, it came out on rap blogs, and then it went. A few weeks later, a different version of the same song came out with a different MC. It was an earlier cut, one that was leaked from the studio, and it was grimey. It was easy to see why it was shelved. Dude spent his whole time talking about how much he wanted to do the singers, which was kind of on-topic, but it was a bit much.

I only mention that too-long story because my favorite part of this song explicitly addresses the tension that comes along with these types of videos. You see a lot of Furtado and Residente dancing and flirting, and then you hit the bridge at the end of the song:

“Te vo’ a sacar a pasear (¡Wey!)”

You wanna take a walk? Cool.

“En una nave espacial (¡Wey!)”

In a space ship? Hm, aight. Kinda weird, but let’s roll.

“Cosmodrogado yo quiero surfiar (¡Wey!)”

Okay, so there’s a space-drug thing he just made up, but surfing is cool. This is getting weirder though.

“Por tu órgano genital (¡¿Qué?!)”

¡¿Que?! Even I know, judging from the wreckage of my Spanish knowledge, that you don’t need to be talking about any part of a lady’s ladyparts!

But this part is my favorite because Furtado’s response, and the reaction in the video, are so perfect. “Bro, you crossed a line and you’re about to kill a fun thing.”

It also gets at another fun part of these videos, which is that if they’re big enough, if they turn into real deal anthems, then the singers become audience stand-ins. There’s a reason why TLC’s “No Scrubs” blew up so huge, and why Sporty Thievez felt like they had to answer back with “No Pigeons.” Especially in songs with a lot of call and response, the singer is her and the rapper is me. I love that stuff. Something like Missy’s “One Minute Man” with Luda and Trina got a lot of play because it has both that raw girl power flavor and whatever the guy equivalent of girl power is. It sets up this competition, kinda like Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” between the sexes, that’s a lot of fun. Everybody gets a chance to be brash and dirty. Everybody’s got something they can scream at the boils and ghouls across the room.

In thinking about it, Trina’s done more than a few of these songs. “Five Star Chick”, the wild scandalous and NSFW “Look Back At Me” with Killer Mike, and of course the unforgettable “Nann Nigga” with Trick Daddy Dollars. Do you know how many girls I heard yelling “You don’t know nann hoe!” on the bus to and from school? It’s not just songs that are boys vs girls, tee hee. There’s a competitive aspect that’s gotta be there. That’s what makes it fun.

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before Watchmen: Conway & Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man 122

June 27th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

This is the last page of Amazing Spider-Man 122, the issue after Gwen Stacy dies. It’s right in the middle of one of my most favorite runs on any comic ever. Gerry Conway on words, Gil Kane on pencils, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro on inks, and Dave Hunt on colors.

The first 140 or so (I’ve never done a real count, but around there) issues of Amazing Spider-Man are my Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, and this is one of my favorite single pages out of that entire run.

Steve Ditko gave Spider-Man a creepy outsider feel. When Ditko left and Jazzy Johnny Romita became the principal artist, the tone changed to something more influenced by romance comics and soap opera. Peter became a lot more handsome, the clothes were swinging, and the girls turned from pretty to supa dupa fly. The comic got a lot sexier, is what I’m saying, and Mary Jane Watson had a lot to do with that.

The usual line is that Mary Jane was the party girl, while Gwen was the wholesome girl next door. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it’s a fair enough starting point if you want to branch out into a deeper understanding of the characters. MJ was definitely a popular girl, the type you’d describe as “hot” instead of “pretty.” Lesser writers took that to mean that she was an airhead or vapid, but that was never true. But she definitely represented a somewhat edgier kind of excitement than Gwen did.

Part of the mythos of Spider-Man is that Peter Parker is an extraordinarily selfish person. Or maybe just regular selfish — it’s hard to tell when everything in cape comics is so heightened. But he takes everything personally, and he tries to walk around with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He snaps and buckles under pressure before regaining his strength, but that snapping is the important part. Peter Parker needs support. He needs someone to tell him things are okay or to have his back in a pinch. Spider-Man is a role Peter Parker plays, not Peter Parker himself.

What I love about this page is how it shows the quiet strength and determination that Mary Jane always had underneath her party girl exterior. She’s been waiting at Peter and Harry’s pad for hours, praying for someone to talk to. The problem is that it’s dumb ol’ Petey, a guy who never met a problem that wasn’t his fault. He lashes out at her in his grief, ignoring her own grief, and instead of doing what anyone else would do, MJ turns to leave, pauses, and chooses to stay.

There’s something about the choice she makes between panels here that really, really sticks with me. MJ isn’t just a supporting character, a prop for someone else’s grief. Not when she’s written well, anyway. This choice feels significant, for both her and Peter. It’s one of my absolutely favorite scenes in Spider-Man comics, and I don’t know that I could tell you exactly why. There’s just tremendous emotional resonance there, and a certain finality and acceptance, that I really appreciate. She chooses to share her grief, whether Peter wants her to or not.

It’s like — does she recognize something in Peter? Is it something she also recognizes in herself? Why does she choose to forgive him for his anger? I think she recognizes how people run away from love and support, in part because she herself is also guilty of that.

There’s something deep lurking around here, right below the surface, and I love it. It’s like Spider-Man is shifting (or continuing its shift, really) from childhood to adulthood, transforming directly on the page, and making permanent decisions that other comics wouldn’t, and modern comics don’t. Part of the fun of the first 140 issues of Amazing Spider-Man grow from a 15 year old kid to a college-age adult, and this scene is a milestone moment.


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Furtadofest: Promiscuous, 2006

June 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I was watching Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” a few weeks back and jotting down notes. I wrote that I might like pop crossover Timbaland more than I like rappity-rap Timbaland. You know what I mean — Nelly Furtado versus Jay-Z, with Missy Elliott being the only person to successfully split the difference. I haven’t done any hard research but that idea feels right to me. Timbaland’s greatest strengths are making catchy and weird tunes, these sort of things that are great pop songs until he layers in baby noises or frog croaks and then they’re memorably great pop songs. In “Promiscuous,” Timbaland doesn’t have a dog barking or anything, but those synths that come in over the chorus are amazing. I thought that it was maybe a sample or something, but knowing Timbaland, he probably just hammered them out on a keyboard one day. But they’re the perfect ’80s touch, trading on the same nostalgia as the soundtrack to Drive, and they elevate a pretty good song into a memorable one. And I don’t think all of this could add up to a great rap song, going by my preferred definition of “good rap song,” as well as it adds up to a good pop song. So yeah: probably indefensible because the boundaries are so vague, but Pop Timbo > Rap Timbo. Argue that.

The video’s cute, too. Where “Maneater” was about submitting to your queen, oooooohohohohoho, “Promiscuous” is a tease. It’s dancing and flirting, and it’s actually a little funny. Furtado and Timbaland trade drum and vocal duties in some scenes, which I think is funny. My sense of humor is stupid though. But overall, the video’s really about getting as close to somebody as possible and teasing them all the way. It’s sexy, but it’s not… explicitly sexy. It’s a love spell. It gets across the erotic urgency of dancing, I guess is the best way to put it, in a cool way. There’s this bit at 2:40 or so, where the guy tries to kiss her? And then it comes back after flashing to another couple of scenes and he tries to kiss her again, and then it flashes away and back and one more time, this time his kiss attempt is a lunge. When it comes back around, Furtado is on him, instead of vice versa, and he’s holding back. That’s nuts, and it’s totally perfect as an example of what I mean. There’s a back and forth tease, a wanting, that comes alongside dancing with someone else, and I like how this guy’s wanting spills over before he has to rein it back in.

The conversational structure of the song is great, too. It sells the song as a booty call negotiation anthem. It’s not catchy so much as undeniable. You don’t really need to sing along with it to know it, barring a few money lines (that Steve Nash line, “How you doin’ young lady?, and I really really like “Chivalry is dead but you’re still kinda cute”). The weird thing is that something about Furtado’s delivery on the verses reminds me of Hot 97’s Angie Martinez, especially her style on “Live At Jimmy’s”. I don’t know what it means, exactly, but the comparison won’t go away. Furtado sells it, though, even if she isn’t from Brooklyn. There’s a playfulness to it, a flirtiness, that enhances the song.

I also love the weird harmonizing she does on this weird beat at the end of the song, but I don’t even have anything to say about that but “Yes, more please.”

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The UCB Improv 201 Graduation Show: Improv Harder!

June 26th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

With Sunday came my second improv show and my second time performing on stage. This was the graduation show for Improv 201 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Another eight weeks of fun-as-hell learning went by and here’s what I have to show for it.

201 is a lot different from 101 in the sense that it’s a lot more challenging. 101 is about building you up, almost making you believe that you can do no wrong. 201 breaks you down with its rules and at times it becomes taxing on your confidence. It pays off in the end, but there are times when you get interrupted by the instructor mid-scene more times than you’d wish and it gets in your head.

The format of this show is different from the 101 show from two months back. 101 was suggestion, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes. 201 is suggestion, three monologues, three scenes (four in my team’s case due to having eight people, so everyone could get a scene in), second beats and third beats. Plus, unlike the random end-of-scene blackouts in 101, we’d “edit” ourselves, as the people on the back line would choose when to cut off a scene. This is a guessing game in itself that’s awkward at times in that you can edit too fast so that the performers don’t even get to the point or wait so long that the performers run out of gas and get a little desperate. Both of these happen during the show.

As for the whole “second beat” concept, the main focus of 201 is “game”. “Game” is the term for what’s funny about the scene. What’s the unusual thing being explored? Sometimes it needs to be said out loud to fully establish it and for both performers to agree on what they’re working towards, so they’re in full agreement. The “second beat” is when you return to that game later on and give it a different spin, whether you’re playing the same characters or not. For instance, during a practice run of the show, me and Matt were doing a skit where I made his favorite dish – spaghetti with meatballs – and it was a ruse, as I was trying to get him to enjoy my pot roast, which he hates. Later on, we did another scene where I acted like we were going to a baseball game, only to reveal it was an intervention as me and the others in the class aggressively got on his back about how he doesn’t enjoy the Sopranos. Then later on, he’s sitting in a chair, relaxing and we talk up how great this Jacuzzi is… until asking a priest to come into the room and give Matt a baptism against his will. First beat, second beat, third beat. Same theme.

So here’s the show. Up first is the Beetles with Two Es (Steve, Ray, me, Geoffrey, Sam, Megan, John and Dan) followed by Six Pack Abs (Kelsey, Jaimee, Norma, Nancy, Matt and Sean).

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Breaking the Wednesday habit

June 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

How I consume comics today is markedly different from how I consumed comics a year ago. Around this time last year, I was probably buying around twenty floppies per month. I don’t remember the exact number, but twenty feels right. A big week would run me around twenty bucks, maybe six comics, and I hit the shop every week. There weren’t a lot of DC comics on my list, I don’t think, but I did buy a gang of Marvels. I didn’t have a huge stack every week, but I got by. I read a lot.

Time passed and a lot of series I liked got canceled. Around the same time, I decided that I was spending too much time on bad comics. Comics have two components — writing and art — and if one side is lacking, the entire product suffers. So I decided to do a better job of only buying comics that clicked on both levels. I’d read Morrison’s Batman-related stuff based on who was drawing it, but I wasn’t applying the rule evenly. Last year, I made the conscious decision to look at everything I was buying and make sure I wasn’t wasting my money on things that would make me grimace. More comics got cut.

Late last year, I made another decision. I wanted to buy more digital comics because I want to use the space in my apartment for something other than stacks of paper. Luckily, Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse were ramping up their day & date digital comics releases. Pow: more floppies gone. I just checked my emails and by January 2012, I was just buying Hulk, Thunderbolts, and Hellblazer in floppy form, with all the other comics going directly to my iPad.

Somewhere around the border between February and March, I quit Marvel and DC and started buying 2000 AD in print. I had the option of going digital with it, but something about reading it in print seemed attractive. There’s a 2000 AD experience, I think, that I wanted to get a taste of. As of this moment, 2000 AD is the only comic on my pull list. Everything else I’m interested in is either available digitally or the sort of book you buy from Amazon on a whim, rather than subscribe to.

On top of all that, and I hope you’re sticking with me through all this preamble, I recently realized that I hate paying 3 and 4 dollars for digital comics. I don’t own them, I don’t get to keep them, and if I’m paying as much as an entire print comic, and two dollars less than an album on Amazon MP3, then I need something more than a permission slip to read a comic in exchange. So I made the decision to stop buying new digital comics. I buy them a month behind now, when the price drops to $1.99. $1.99 is still a bit much for ~20 pages of funnybooks, but it feels better. Easier on the wallet, too. There are a few exceptions — Prophet, and honestly I’m probably going to break on Saga soon because issue 3 was so good and I hear 4 is better — but for the most part, I’m reading new comics a month late.

So, the funny thing about buying 2000 AD in print is that Diamond, the biggest comics distributor in the country, is borderline worthless when it comes to 2000 AD. I started with prog 1765 (they call them progs, roll with me here, it’s not that weird) and picked up prog 2012, an anniversary issue, and progs 1766 and 1767 around the same time or a week later. Cool, right? It’s a solid start. But I’m looking at my stack now and I’ve got 1765-1767, 1768-1772, 1774, 1775, 1777, and 1778. See the gaps? I picked up 1775 before I got 1774, too, and a few other issues came out of order. According to an email I got this week, progs 1779-1781 all came out this week.

2000 AD is a weekly serial anthology. Diamond makes it very hard to read it in order, and you can’t even rely on the shipping lists. I bought 1778 three weeks ago, and 1779 came out this week? Really? As a result, I go to the comics shop around once a month now, hoping against hope that 1776 and the other missing issues have shown up in the interim. Sound aggravating? You have no idea. I’ve been looking forward to reading Al Ewing & Brendan McCarthy’s Zaucer of Zilk for months, and then I couldn’t even do that because the issues progs don’t show up.

The Wednesday comics experience is pretty well broken for me. 2000 AD‘s slipshod schedule got me out of the habit of going to get comics and immediately reading them every week. I stockpile them now, and read them when I have two or three I can pore over. I buy digital comics on Wednesday still, usually while I’m having breakfast, and I’ll read one or two of them at lunch if I’m excited. But usually, I’ll wait until I’m ready to read them over the weekend or the next week. I bought Chaykin’s American Flagg last week, and Xander and Kevin Cannon’s Double Barrel and haven’t touched either, even though I’m really into them. It took me a couple weeks to read Brubaker & Phillips Fatale 5. The only comic I reliably read on release day any more is Viz’s Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, and that’s because it’s uploaded immediately before lunch on Mondays and has Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece in it.

It’s sorta weird not being plugged into the Wednesday cycle. I was part of that crowd for a long time, and without weekly mainstream comix blogging, 4thletter! definitely wouldn’t be what it is today without being plugged into that cycle. I already watch TV on a delay — which means that Legend of Korra was thoroughly spoiled for me before I got within spitting distance of the finale, thanks Tumblr — and now I read comics on a delay, too.

It’s weird, but it’s also less stressful. I don’t feel compelled to chime in on things. I’ll still throw out a joke if I see some dumb-looking news, but I don’t have to chime in on the latest story about Wonder Woman’s stupid pants any more. I relapsed like an idiot a little bit ago, but for the foreseeable future? That side of reading and talking about comics is dead to me. I just get to read what I like, write about it if the spirit moves me, and enjoy things at my own speed.

There’s this feeling, an impulse, that part of being a good writer about comics means that you have to be timely. I find myself pushing away from that impulse lately, if only because snap judgments are growing increasingly unsatisfying. I want to let something marinate before I try to dig into it. I need that time to sit and just let my mind wander over the folds of a book, rather than reading it and immediately cranking out how I feel about it. I know my writing well enough that I can do either/or, but I vastly prefer the stuff I’ve written that leaves me at the back of the pack, but with a stronger argument than the front-runner.

I’m curious to see where the evolution of how I read comics goes next. I like where I am now, but a significant part of me bristles at the fact that my friends are a book ahead of me. I hate the idea of being behind, even if behind is a fake idea in this situation. I may loosen the $1.99 digital rule at some point, but I’m enjoying my newfound freedom. I don’t miss the Wednesday grind.

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This Week in Panels: Week 144

June 24th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hey, folks! It’s time for ThWiP, the weekly segment where we take all the new stuff we’ve read in the last week and whittle it down into an essential panel. I got a lot of people helping me out this week, including Was Taters, Jody, Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa, Brobe, luis and VersasoVantare.

Highly recommend this week’s Avengers Academy. Fantastic issue. Wonder Woman is a close second.

Astonishing X-men #51
Marjorie Liu, Mike Perkins

Avengers Academy #32
Christos Gage and Timothy Green II

Avengers vs. X-Men #6
Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman and Olivier Coipel

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Who benefits from DRM? (Not the consumer.)

June 22nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been thinking about DRM again lately, especially Diablo III‘s ridiculous always-on DRM and ComiXology shutting down a script to download comics you’ve purchased. It’s fair to say that I’m pretty much anti-DRM, but I still want to talk this out.

The Diablo III thing is painfully obvious to me. If you buy a single player game, you should be able to play it whenever you want. This has been true all the way back to Nintendo days. It’s basic. You shouldn’t need to be online or communicating with someone else just to get your game on. But, when Diablo launched, the servers went down, and folks who dropped sixty on their shiny new game couldn’t do a thing. As it turns out, the always-on DRM was to protect their auction house. It doesn’t matter if you’re not using it or if you’re just playing alone. You have to be connected, no matter what, and if the servers are down, you’re screwed.

The ComiXology thing is different, but still related. If you buy digital comics, you’re probably paying full retail for those comics every week from ComiXology. You can read those comics in their (pretty crappy) Flash-based web reader, on the (average, but sometimes janky) iPad reader, on iPhone, or on your Android device. You don’t get a file, exactly, so much as access to the files. If you want to read your comics in ComicZeal, which has a remarkably clean and smooth reading experience despite a less-than-feature-rich library section, you’re out of luck. If you want to read your comics on a PC without being online, you’re out of luck. If ComiXology goes out of business, which isn’t a crazy idea at all, you’re super out of luck. You’re locked to what ComiXology chooses to allow you to use.

What I realized is that DRM has a lot of benefits for the publisher, but next to none for the consumer. Blizzard can track exactly who plays Diablo III and when, which is valuable for gathering demographic data, off the top of my head. ComiXology can tell publishers exactly what contexts their comics will appear in and on what devices. DRM is about control, basically, rather than being a value-add. It’s a limiting service, rather than one focused on expansion, and the people most affected by it are consumers who actually want to consume this stuff.

DRM is a restriction. DRM doesn’t say what you can do. It says what you cannot. That’s the entire point. It’s about controlling information and access. It’s often used for anti-piracy reasons, but the funny thing is that piracy entirely sidesteps DRM, save for one or two steps that the actual pirate has to go through to make something available for downloading. Not being able to download comics directly from ComiXology doesn’t stop people from putting up ComiXology-derived scans. Not even close.

The script ComiXology shut down was called cmxget. The Reddit thread has been wiped clean of instructions and info on it, and I have yet to find a copy, even though I spent quite some time poking around. I’m really curious to see how it works, because a 2kb bash script isn’t a hefty bit of programming, I don’t think. cmxget allowed you to download comics you already own, and presumably you’d have to run it in a Terminal window, which already means that it’s not a viable piracy method. That’s too much work for too little gain when I can hop over to usenet or Rapidshare and get any comic ever in about five seconds.

DRM is meant to limit what you’re allowed to do, but the very nature of the Flash app means that that limitation is, at best, perfunctory. It’s not going to stop anyone who wants to break it, and it’s not even really gonna stop anyone who once half-thought about breaking it. I got curious and figured this out ages ago. It’s like if… Macrovision on VHS tapes was something you could turn off by pressing Volume + and Volume – on your remote at the same time, or if a DVD included an off button for its copy protection. It’s simple. Simpler than the conversion from CD to MP3, even.

But ComiXology still shut down the script, even though the script can’t be used for downloading free comics. You have to have access to the comics legitimately, which means that you paid for those comics. cmxget is probably pretty tedious, and definitely much less efficient than just hitting up a sharing site. You’re essentially downloading things that you already own via an extremely boring route… but that’s not really true, is it?

Here’s section 6 from the ComiXology Terms of Use (which they reserve the right to modify whenever and however they like without warning you beforehand):

Digital Content:
The Service enables you to download, display and use comic books and other digitized electronic content as made available by comiXology from time to time (individually and collectively, “Digital Content”). Upon your payment of the applicable fees (if any) and subject to any further restrictions in the EULA, if applicable, comiXology grants you the non-exclusive right to view, use and display the Digital Content as part of your use of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by comiXology. ComiXology reserves the right to revoke your license to Digital Content at any time for any reason. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content. You acknowledge and agree that Digital Content may not be available to view, use or display under certain conditions, such as due to restrictions made by licensors of Digital Content or if the publisher of Digital Content no longer retains the rights or other licenses, consents or permissions to that Digital Content. ComiXology reserves the right to modify or discontinue the offering of any Digital Content at any time. If a unit of Digital Content becomes unavailable prior to download but after purchase, your sole and exclusive remedy is the refund of the purchase price paid for such Digital Content.

I’ve bolded the relevant bits, which is a lot of the paragraph, I guess. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but I want to reiterate what’s going on here. You’re not buying comics. You’re buying a license to view the comics at ComiXology’s discretion. You may not discuss how to circumvent their copy protection. You may not to let your friends use your account to read a comic. If a publisher associated with ComiXology goes out of business or loses the rights to a comic, you have no remedy. You’re paying for a permission slip, not content, and you are most certainly not paying for comics.

I’ve personally sunk a lot of money into ComiXology. I generally wake up on Wednesday, do morning workout stuff, and then browse for comics while I eat breakfast. I’ll read comics over lunch if I’m really excited about them, and then mop up the rest over the rest of the week. The website says I have 151 separate series in my collection, and that ranges from one-shots to full runs. I dunno how much money that is, but I’ve been buying comics exclusively from these guys (more specifically, through the Isotope affiliate store, since Sime is my dude) for the better part of a year now, and off and on for a couple years, so probably a lot.

What happens when ComiXology goes away? I lose the license and my comics go away, along with my money. ComiXology is emphatic about not giving out refunds. My comics go away because I never actually bought (for example) Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman. I bought the rights to view it at the discretion of someone else. When they go away, so does their discretion. And that sucks. Companies close all the time. Yahoo! is in the process of running Flickr into the ground. Google Video is gone. All those early ’00s music vendors we thought were great alternatives to Napster? Dead. Blockbuster, Sam Goody, every game store that isn’t GameStop… why should ComiXology be any different? They’re a very big fish in a very small pond. But at one point, Flickr was on top of the world, too.

This isn’t rabid paranoia. It’s simply being careful about where and how you spend your money. Look at what happened to the manga and anime industries. Look at MySpace. Companies close.

The thing that’s particularly odious about ComiXology’s approach to DRM is that ComiXology really is the biggest fish in a small pond. So why not offer DRM-free files? The benefit of being a big fish is that you get to dictate to the market. Always-on DRM for video games is a terrible idea, an idea that definitely hurts consumers, but Blizzard is such a big dog that they got away with it. Why? Because people won’t do without Blizzard. They won’t do without that Diablo III. So Blizzard gets away scot-free. Why would Blizzard introduce always-on DRM? Who knows. (No, we all know: it’s about money. It’s always about money. Everything is about money.)

Why not push that in the other direction? ComiXology’s DRM is about as effective as tissue paper is at stopping bullets. Piracy is happening regardless of the DRM. Savvy programmers figured out how to reliably backup their comics already. The DRM is a smokescreen, a nod in the direction of security. It’s not a locked door. It’s a screen door with the glass up during a storm. Piracy and DRM are clearly two separate issues, so why not flip the script and push something that would please customers?

“Starting today, every file you purchase or have purchased on ComiXology will be available in an optional DRM-free CBR file, which are readable on every major platform.”

Being able to continue to access your files, the comics that you’ve bought, in perpetuity is a big deal for me. Maybe not everyone, but there’s a significant subset of us who feel that way, I’d wager. Making this change, which is minor when you consider the problems with their DRM system, is a goodwill get. It wouldn’t dramatically change the user experience (that’s the point of it being optional), and you could even do it Amazon MP3 style and tag each download with a specific code tied to the downloader’s account for security’s sake. Even with that, fans will go “Wow, these guys really get it!” and feel more comfortable with purchasing, since they know that they’re actually paying for comics and have recourse if ComiXology goes away. It makes ComiXology look smart, and it makes the comics industry look like it’s dodging the same traps and pitfalls that the comics industry fell into.

The music industry avoided DRM-free MP3s for years. It didn’t work. Why not leap ahead of the wave that’s inevitably coming and benefit from that perceived prescience? Obviously it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and adjusting a TOS, and publishers would need to be convinced… but I think if you’d compare the benefits of DRM, which are entirely on the publisher side, and the benefits of openly shunning DRM, which puts consumers first, you’d find something workable.

This isn’t just about ComiXology, either. They’re just the biggest target. Dark Horse, too, needs to bite the bullet. I liked this post on their forums about DRM and the benefits of ditching it. DRM will not and does not stop piracy. I don’t know any other way to say it. It just inconveniences people who actually pay for things. Pirates sidestep DRM. Downloading comics can’t get easier, and the small number of people who are ripping comics right now will continue to do so.

Why don’t digital comics companies quit it with the fake idea that DRM is good for us, for consumers, and catch up to the music industry? Why don’t the digital comics distributors start selling comics instead of permission slips? Why don’t they at least offer the option of a DRM-free file? Every MP3 I buy from Amazon is stored on the cloud, but I also have the option of downloading it. People are already hyped for digital comics. I can’t see how this would change that any way but for the better.

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Furtadofest: Maneater, 2006

June 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The video for Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” is basically a back-alley warehouse orgy masterminded by a queen who dominates everyone else with her very presence. The warehouse is set up as this very dangerous place, the type of place an innocent lil lady like Nelly Furtado shouldn’t visit at night. But, like Michael Jackson, whose videos often portrayed dancing as rebellion or violence, Furtado can move, and that means she rules the roost.

That bit in the first verse, the “I wanna see you all on your knees, knees/ either wanna be with me or you wanna be me”? I love that. Her delivery in this song is so plastic that it comes off as the most “Call me Queen, worm” thing ever, especially when combined with her vaguely zombie-esque dance moves. I love how it instantly creates a story, too, because suddenly the warehouse orgy turns from subtext to text. Everyone in there is on their knees, and they all want her in one way or another. She’s the queen bee.

Those two lines front-loads the sex oozing out of the video, too. The only person that’s alone in this video is Furtado. Everyone else is confined (ooh!) in some way or gyrating against someone else (oh my!). It’s a very intimate video, the sort that makes you think about sex without just focusing on somebody’s boobs or butt.

I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate video for “Maneater.” It’s a thematic, rather than literal, translation of the lyrics, which are all about being so obsessed with Furtado that you completely destroy your life. Timbaland’s beat is pretty undeniable, with a solid rhythm and what I’m pretty sure is the sound of a cymbal sliding instead of clanging. The angry buzz of the melody during the verses kicks things up a notch in a really pleasing way, and the reversals sound great. Furtado’s voice is more nasal than I usually expect, kind of like a loose whine, but it fits so well with the beat and it’s great to sing along to, which is pretty much all I ask out of pop music.

I’ve liked Nelly Furtado since her first album, but I think that this song and video were her take on Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” The rap collab, harsh beat, and overtly throbbing sexuality shifted how I thought of both of these sings. That sounds way more filthy than I wanted it to, but what I mean is that “Dirrty” was the point that I noticed that Aguilera shifted from “Genie In A Bottle” passive high school sexiness into “Dirrty” sexy as she wanna be sexiness. I got the same feeling from Furtado’s “Maneater.” This was when I realized she’d shifted from the softer shade of pop on her first album to something with more of an edge. There’s an axis for this thing, it goes Michael Jackson to Prince, and both of them looked around and took a giant step toward Prince and owned it.

I think it’s interesting that both went with the warehouse orgy for a setting, too. It’s not what I’d go to, but it’s a solid visual.

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Help The Hero Initiative Help Robert Washington III One Last Time

June 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I keep trying to write about this in different ways, but the whole situation seriously, seriously bums me out and I can’t quite find the words. It’s terrifying, in a way. Instead:

-Robert Washington III died on 06/06/12, at the age of 47 years old.
-He wrote the first year and change of Milestone’s Static, a book that is way more near and dear to my heart than I had realized.
-He died poor, having depended on the Hero Initiative for help for a while.
His final interview is rough.
-He died alone.
-He’s going to be buried in an anonymous grave because he was so broke.

-Please donate to the Hero Initiative in Robert Washington III’s name.
-When you donate, please put his name in the “Add special instructions to the seller” field to make sure that the money is earmarked for his funeral.
-Once his funeral is paid for, I believe that the funds will go to help out other creators in need.
-Tell your friends.


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before Watchmen: Star*Reach Classics #1

June 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I want there to be some kind of cute narrative behind my discovery of Star*Reach Classics 1 like there is for my introductions to Michelinie and McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man 316+317 (my first comics) and Miller’s Sin City: The Big Fat Kill 5 (my first adult comic), but there isn’t one. It was just a book I pulled out of a quarter bin six or seven years ago that I thought was really weird-looking and awkward and therefore must-reading.

I grabbed it for a couple of reasons. I knew and liked Jim Starlin’s work, especially his Adam Warlock-related stuff. I also knew of Neal Adams’s work, though I don’t think I’d had any direct experience with it beyond covers. I’m pretty sure I knew of Dave Sim, too, but I didn’t know that Cerebus was actually an important comic. It looked like a stupid talking animal parody book. So, hey, a quarter? For a book featuring art by one dude I knew I liked, one guy I figured I was supposed to like, and one guy whose name kept popping up? Why not? It turns out that Star*Reach Classics is a weird little time capsule of a comic, some of it great, some of it… strange.

Even though the vast majority of my experience with Starlin comes from reading Marvel comics, even today, I still have this really firm image of what I think his shtick is. There will be a battle between equal numbers, dialogue that’s as much a call-and-response speech as a conversation, amazing starscapes, ankhs, and at some point a close zoom on an eye. Sometimes the eye reveals the universe, sometimes the eye reveals a screaming skull. That’s Starlin in my head. It’s sort of funny how these things build up over the years and we place guys in these boxes. Sometimes it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s right.

“…The Birth of Death!” delivers, in terms of what I expect out of Starlin. “…The Birth of Death!” is a bedtime story delivered by a kid’s Uncle Mort (hey, something about that name…). Starlin remixes the Christian creation story, documenting the creation of angels, humans, immortals, and finally Death. As I was rereading this, I realized that it reminded me of nothing but “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia. They both have that kinda dark and gloomy but still majestic and horrible feel.

I really like how Starlin draws the story. Instead of the bedtime story just being a framing sequence, with Uncle Mort’s words transitioning to captions instead of word balloons, Mort stays in the story every step of the way. His face, or parts of his face at least, is attached to every panel in the story. It’s a technique I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but very cool. His expressions, from anger to awe, really sell the story, which is heightened in a space opera/high fantasy kind of way. Mort’s sneers and wrinkles elevate a basic story into something else.

I really like how Starlin renders God, too, as a pair of eyes (with ankhs, skulls, and the infinity symbol) floating in crowded space. It’s original and abstract enough to get across the idea of an ever present higher power. Some vague nudity in this one:

I think it’s notable that Starlin’s version of Death hangs out with two topless Conan the Barbarian looking chicks and holds some kind of weird squid-thing that he refers to as “the Dark Thing” in his hand. Starlin’s Death has the same kind of overwrought nobility that Dr Doom bears, but a physicality more fitting for a pulp hero. He’s the kind of villain that would drink wine out of a goblet, throw that goblet against the wall, and then casually bury an axe in a hero’s skull. He looks like he writes poetry about murders between murders, is what I’m saying.

In the end, of course, Uncle Mort is revealed to be Death, and the child he’s reading to is dead. A Longfellow poem and a pale child’s body close out the story.

There’s another story by Starlin in this one, “Death Building.” Was it Matt Fraction who said that the rise of Jim Starlin was the point when nerds discovered acid? Something to that effect, at least. Here’s the bottom two tiers from the first page of “Death Building”:

And here’s the last tier from the last page:

One thing that used to bug me about Starlin was that it seemed like he was always going back to the same well. I eventually got it. It’s not that he was out of ideas or whatever it was I used to think. It was more that he was interested in a specific thing, and working out his feelings about that on the page. Or maybe he was working out the various angles of that specific thing. I don’t want to assume anything about his feelings. Regardless, Starlin has spent a lot of time examining existence, from death to power to destiny and back again.

I like seeing people working out their thoughts in public. I’ve done a lot of it here, obviously. It’s like watching someone rub their chin and mull over a point in person. Starlin married his conundrum to his artwork, and the results are pretty great. It’s not going back to the well at all. It’s trying to solve a puzzle by recreating that puzzle in several different configurations.

There are a few stories in this issue. Starlin has another one-pager called “The Origin of God!” (I love that he uses punctuation in his titles so, so much) that’s just four panels long and pretty solid. Dave Sim supplies the four-page “Cosmix,” which is about suicide, criticism, and art, and still doesn’t manage to be interesting or particularly good. It has a last-minute stinger that isn’t really earned at all. (I just started watching Black Mirror, and the “Welcome To The Twilight Zone” moment in “Cosmix” is similar to a twist in the (pretty solid) second episode, but with a bit less brutal irony, maybe.)

The last story is “Flightmare,” with words by Neal Adams and art by Frank Cirocco, who I’m not familiar with at all, though he apparently drew an issue of Power Man and Iron Fist that I undoubtedly have kicking around somewhere.

“Flightmare” is pretty interesting. Its main thrust is about a man feeling frustrated with training women to fly commercial airliners, and yearning for days gone by. He travels through a series of dreamy sequences as he searches for peace. He sheds the woman, first of all, as he pilots a jet, because ladies these days, am I right fellas? But the jet moves “too fast to enjoy the ride,” so he transfers to a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, and then a biplane, and then… a giant naked blue woman? He’s naked, too, and he says that “This is the way flight was meant to be!” But look! Coming out of the sun! There’s that dastardly woman piloting… a giant naked blue man? So they have a big naked dogfight in their big naked airplanes, the lady shoots the male pilot down with hand lasers from her big naked dude, and then we flash back to reality and she gives him the finger guns, a wink, and a “Gotcha!” Sure. Okay.

It’s one of those stories where I can’t quite figure out if it has a certain point to make or if it’s just a fun lark. It’s pretty and fast-moving enough to get wrapped up in, but I don’t know if it’s about women’s lib or the futility of nostalgia or the cruelty of women or just some weird sex dream. But I liked reading it, even if I couldn’t tell you what Adams and Cirocco were trying to express. The craft and storytelling are really entertaining in a way that transcends the ambiguity. (Cirocco also draws nice airplanes.)

I like Star*Reach Classics 1 a lot. It’s the only one I’ve read, even after years of owning it, but it’s an interesting artifact. I say that I like ’70s comics the best, but that’s not really true. I like ’70s Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man, anything Heroes for Hire related, Doug Moench/Paul Gulacy, and Steve Gerber. There’s this whole other world of ’70s comics that I missed out on that — judging by Star*Reach Classics 1 — are probably pretty great.


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