With the first day of StocktonCon completed, Kyrun and D. Bethel begin the second day by getting in the car and driving down the 99 to Stockton. It’s early, they’re tired, they’re going wherever the conversation takes them.
While this morning conversation doesn’t touch on conventions or marketing strategies, they dive deep into a major aspect of comics culture: continuity. It’s at the heart of a lot of stories and in the hearts of a lot of fans, often to the point of taking despicable actions when a creative team makes changes that they don’t like.
They examine their own thoughts about the importance of continuity as well as why, it seems, so many people hold continuity with the highest possible value. Also, for some reason, the conversation dives deep into D. Bethel’s own biases when it comes to mainstream comics and how––and if––he overcame those biases.
Con Artists #01 – StocktonCon, pt. 1 : The drive home from the first day of the show. Kyrun and D. discuss making sales, confidence, and the comics they grew up reading and enjoying.
“Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift”: An episode of A Podcast [ , ] For All Intents andPurposes where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund have a long conversation about the necessity of (or problems caused by) continuity in fiction.
“Shortcast 68 – Swinging Gates”: An episode where D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund discuss “ComicsGate”, the vitriolic (and dangerous) reaction of some fans at attempts by the industry to include more diversity and modern sensibilities in mainstream comic books.
Special thanks to Kyrun Silva for agreeing to this experiment (and for driving us to and from the convention). Thanks to Ben Schwartz of Empire’s Comics Vault for hosting the table.
E3 2018: This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo has wrapped up and has brought a lot of conversation around the games announced and/or shown at the show. Andrew and D. talk about E3 as an expo/convention and the target it seems to be aiming at for the future as well as games they saw and were intrigued or excited by (including Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Cyberpunk 2077, and, yes, Fallout 76). Let us know your thoughts about the games from this E3, if you’d like––we’d love to hear what you thought of this year’s show.
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel doubles up this time to talk about a personally exciting moment he experienced while at this year’s Alternative Press Expo in San Jose, CA, as well as seeing the new cinematic version of (half of) the Stephen King classic, It, while Andrew discusses playing SteamWorld Heist.
D. Bethel’s comprehensive recap of his time at APE 2017:
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew pauses his walk down the Star Trek Nostalgia Trail and attended a day of PAX West (starts at 2:14) while Dan dips into the history of his favorite comic book franchise by reading Marvel Epic Collection Vol. 5: X-Men – Second Genesis which collects the early issues of the great X-Men reboot from 1975 when the “All-New, All-Different” X-men were added to the team (Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler) and started the 16-year run of writer Chris Claremont (18:17).
FINAL FANTASY VII AGAIN: (28:23) September 7th marked the 20th anniversary of Squaresoft’s (at the time, now Square Enix) breakthrough hit, Final Fantasy VII. Dan and Andrew talk less about the game itself and instead talk about the impact the game had on gaming and nerd culture.
NOTE: Sacramento’s Crocker Con | Art Mix is happening September 14th at the Crocker Art Museum at which D. Bethel will be exhibiting with his wares. Come by and say hi!
Despite having missed last year’s Free Comic Book Day celebration at Empire’s Comics Vault, this year’s event passed like no time was lost. I’ll be honest, the main reason why I like to go back is to hang out for a day in a room with a bunch of people I know––some of whom I’ve known for years, a situation in which I rarely find myself. Personally, I looked at the event as a welcome reprieve as I had just collected about a hundred final portfolios from my writing classes (my day job) and had no problem delaying my head-first dive into them.
I was tabled between old friend and fellow webcomicker, Melissa Pagluica (who makes Above the Clouds), and artist Julie Okahara. All of us in our row were pretty much chit-chatting the entire time which made the time pass somewhat quickly (most of us had arrived by 7:30 am; it was a long day).
Because of the early hour, Ben (the owner of the shop) had allowed us to set up the day before the event. I fretted quite a bit with my table setup, but I ended up pretty happy with the final layout. Tabling at a show is an art in its own right, relying on visual rhetoric and some fundamental grasp on 3D design; I know a little about the former and go by feel for the latter. Ultimately, I was pretty happy with how it ended up.
This event marked the debut of the Logan-inspired print, “Legacy,” as well as my sketch collection, BackMatter (which is now on sale in the store!) and though “Legacy” may not have been the most appropriate piece for this all-ages show, most people got a chuckle out of the Long John, volume 1 cover with kids pointing in shock, joy, or horror as they waited in line to grab their free comics.
Ben also allowed us who setup early the chance to grab what we wanted from the FCBD offerings, so I picked through having only glanced at what the titles would be.
So far, I’ve only sat down and read through Skottie Young’s I Hate Image, a short story featuring the protagonist from his hit Image book, I Hate Fairyland, and it is hilarious especially if you are familiar with some of the faces of key players at Image Comics. I’ve read through the Doctor Who book as well and found it a rather clever use of art to delineate different Doctors within the story. Bad Machinery was a surprise for me because I have been a fan of creator John Allison’s work for years back when he did a webcomic called Scary-Go-Round which he shuttered and replaced with a spinoff, Bad Machinery. While still doing webcomics, he has found success with the print comic, Giant Days, which he writes for Boom! comics. So, it was nice to see webcomics represented in the mix of Big 2 (Marvel and DC) and other major publishers.
I also picked up the most recent two issues of Melissa’s comic, which you can also get from her Etsy store (where issue 6 is on pre-order).
Lastly, I indulged in the very generous sale the store was having and picked up some books I had my eye on for awhile but never had the guts to take the plunge. I have not been shy about my love for the work of Becky Cloonan. I first really saw her work when she did a fill-in issue on Batman during the New 52 run and was blown away by her style. Soon after, I found her store online and bought her stuff, focusing on her single-issue short stories that are rather opaque but beautiful. These comics were called Wolves, The Mire, and Demeter. Opaque may be the wrong word for it; they’re just very sparse and open for interpretation. Reading her work is challenging and begs for re-reading. However, she has done work in more mainstream comics (as with Batman) in between her creator-owned passion projects. One of her early forays into sequential art was a series called Demo for Dark Horse Comics. Written by Brian Wood, it is a series of 18 stories each about a different teenager with a power of some kind. Since finishing, it has been made available in a big omnibus collection which I picked up at reasonable discount.
Also, with the Wonder Woman movie arriving in June, I figured I should not be a poser and actually read some Wonder Woman. Of DC’s initial “New 52” launch (many books were cancelled and new ones introduced later in the New 52 lifespan), I remember hearing very positive things about what Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang were doing with Wonder Woman. At the time, I liked keeping my net shallow and the only New 52 book I read was Batman. But now that the New 52 is done and that story is completed, I figured that (with a sale, to boot) it would be the perfect chance to go back and check out this run on a classic character. I haven’t dug into it yet but Nicole––my spouse––has thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
I came away from the day exhausted with some good sales and even better conversations. With luck, I look forward to doing it again next year.
This weekend was Star Wars Celebration Orlando, the twelfth instance of the Star Wars Celebration experience. Star Wars Celebration is usually an opportunity for fans to get together and talk about their love of Star Wars. Of course, it’s also a great opportunity for the people that make Star Wars to unleash new content onto the world. This year was no different.
Perhaps the biggest news is the revelation of a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
The Internet is already abuzz over the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode 8: The Last Jedi. Mark Hamill drives the trailer as Luke Skywalker, providing the overall narration and a lot of heavy context to the “Last Jedi” aspect of the title. It sounds like the film will address the “balance of the Force” theme that first appeared in The Phantom Menace and has been further explored in Season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels. I’ve already spent an undue amount of time trying to determine if Tom Baker found his way on to the cast list, given his role as the Benduin Star Wars: Rebels. With a release expected this December, there’s already a lot of fan excitement developing for this title.
In addition to the Episode VIII trailer, a preview for the upcoming fourth (and final!) season of Star Wars: Rebels was also released:
For those not following Star Wars: Rebels, it is the story of a cell of rebels fighting the Empire that become an essential part of the Rebel Alliance. The show has continued to provide a background for the formative years of the Rebel Alliance, and this final year appears to be no different. Season 3 villain Admiral Thrawn makes an appearance in the trailer (with what appears to be a silly General Veers style helmet) as does Katee Sackhoff’s character Bo-Katan, who was previously seen in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Forest Whitaker’s character Saw Gerrera also appeared briefly. With regard to thematic content, it appears that they will be addressing both the “balance of the Force” theme and the battle for Mandalore (which was an element of Sabine’s storyline from Season 3).
Probably the only character not featured (despite claims that her fate would be addressed) was Ahsoka Tano. As /Film’sPeter Sciretta points out, showrunner Dave Filoni seemed to tease the audience with a clever t-shirt swap during the Rebels event last weekend.
Given everything Star Wars that was unleashed in Orlando, it looks like 2017-18 will be a relatively big year for the franchise.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watched the live action remake of the Disney animated feature, Beauty and the Beast and D. Bethel discusses his experience at this year’s Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo.
REGRESSIVE RESURRXION: First, the comic book news cycle went nuts because the first post-Inhumans vs. X-Men book was released, X-Men Gold, which was then subsumed by the fact that people seemed to like it, which was then subsumed by the likelihood that X-Men Gold artist, Ardian Syaf, may have placed possibly intolerant symbology in not-so-hidden places throughout the book. Then it turned out that he definitely did that. It has been a roller coaster of news and insight into Indonesian politics (where Syaf resides) that has been mostly very sad and upsetting for X-Men fans.
*Extra Bit: Marius Thienenkamp of Comicsversewrote a thoughtful analysis and retrospective of this entire affair.
THE TWO MASTERS: On the threshold of the debut of Doctor Who‘s Series 10, it was revealed that actor John Simm would be returning to the show in his former role as The Master, the longtime foe of the show’s titular hero. Last seen at David Tennant’s departure from the lead role, he returns during the tenure of his successor, Michelle Gomez as Missy. What this means for the episode(s) in which they appear together (the last one or two of the season), we can’t yet say, but both Dan and Andrew are pretty excited about it.
In what may be a first for the website, a Week in Geek post will go up before its associated episode. When writing up responses to an exposition or convention, however, timeliness is key. For the second year in a row, I attended the Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo which is held in West Sacramento (a different city than Sacramento, believe it or not; in fact, it’s in a separate county). It’s still a small show but they are able to cram a lot of developers––40 in all, both video game and tabletop––into the two large rooms (and then some) dedicated to the event. A variety of game styles and platforms were on display; the most numerous were mobile/tablet games with a fair VR representation as well.
Though there were a lot of games, the few that really drew my attention are discussed below (games are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of judgement nor preference):
Described as an adventure game meets a music sequencer, what caught my attention was the visuals, which reminded me of a comfortable amalgam of Double Fine’s Psychonauts and a Tim Burton creation. The build I saw seemed very rough still, but its ambition was clear and impressive.
Ostensibly, the player character travels through this apparent open world collecting music samples that are inventoried. Once a set amount is collected, the player must arrange the samples in a way that pleases the gatekeeper/boss (I have forgotten who it was that judged you) in order to move forward.
I was told that there was also a kind of “free play” mode where you could arrange the samples in any way you wanted for an in-game, virtual audience. Though I don’t remember the details, the awareness and availability of the primary game mechanic for use as not only a narrative-progression tool but also for personal expression intrigues. I wonder if you’ll be allowed to mix down and export the sequences you arrange, which would definitively be a bringing together of the two disparate genres.
This was the first game I saw at the show and despite it being, I would guess, about 50-60% unfinished, it looked impressive. Like a lot of the games I stopped at, this game takes a retro, sprite-based platformer and tries to plug some interesting mechanics into what is possibly a tired format. Aesthetically, it looks like a cyberpunk Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with some very expressive animation for the player character.
The premise is that the character needs to ascend the Monolith, a tower whose authored rooms are procedurally arranged as the player progresses upwards.
What’s unique is how combat works, though once you become aware of Bellenger’s inspirations it makes a lot of sense even if initially not, perhaps, for a 2D platformer. The character is armed with a gun and a secondary weapon (more guns) and varieties of firearms drop from defeated enemies along the way. However, there is no “fire” button. Instead, the game works more like a twin-stick shooter like Enter the Gungeon or, if we’re relying on my frame of reference, Smash TV. But putting that mechanic into a 2D platformer is novel and seems to work quite well. The mechanics for shooting in this game feel tight, visceral, and fast and I want to say it may be due to its lack of a button-press to shoot. The shooting in Black Future ’88 is less about holding the right stick in the direction of the enemy and more about flicking the stick in the direction of the enemy. The player doesn’t really have time to plant and send out a barrage of ordnance; you have to keep moving much like you would in a bullethell game like Enter the Gungeon or, what it also brought to mind for me, something like Gradius or R-Type, which is another aspect of that genre the game integrates pretty well.
Like the space ship shooters I mentioned (“shmups” if you will), the enemies in Black Future ’88 send out less waves of bullets meant to kill you quickly and more slow-moving mazes whose walls can hurt you and through which you must find the opening (or, if left with no other choice, dash through). These come at you from all directions, so you must keep the character moving, sending out attacks when you can. With these different pieces coming together in a very functional manner, it created––even in its unfinished state––a frenetic and stylish experience.
Of the games I saw at the show, Frauki’s Adventure took me most by surprise. The Sacramento Indie Arcade Expo is still a fairly small event with the majority of developers spread through two large rooms––basically two large multipurpose rooms––where tables are crammed together leaving a fairly small avenue for passersby. When I first arrived, I snaked my way through both rooms before heading up to the blackbox theater to see who the next speaker was and as I walked through the first room, I passed by Frauki with nary but a glance. There was no signage nor patient person waiting beside it, eager to explain the game to a potential player. It was kind of just…there. It was set up spread between two small monitors, from beneath each wormed a knockoff USB Super Famicom controller. I have to say, the initial glance didn’t do much for me.
Frauki’s Adventure is, like Black Future ’88, a 2D pixel sprite-based action-exploration platform game, again in the vein of something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Metroid. Unlike Black Future ’88, Frauki was bright and colorful and didn’t have the grimdark edge that a lot of other games had. Nor did it have any of the irony that other games who go for the more twee-cute aesthetic often have, either. Frauki’s Adventure is actually quite earnest.
So, I walked by.
Later, I walked through the rooms again to see what the crowds were like and if any games were open to poke at. The VR stations clogged up much of the traffic and I was left standing in front of Frauki and, on a whim and out of boredom, I pushed a button on the controller. In all honesty, I did so out of curiousity for what the quality of the gamepad was like; if it had been solid, I would consider buying one for my own uses (it was not very good quality). But when I pushed a button, Frauki jumped. It was a good jump. It had the right response off the button-press and, when she landed, her stylish bob danced at her jawline for a few frames. In animation, we call this “secondary animation” or animating a reaction (in the clothes, hair, anything loose on a person) to the primary movement of a character. Secondary animation is viewed mostly as the key to unlocking believability in your characters. It’s a subtle form of exaggeration that makes a figure feel more real because it’s interacting with gravity in way that a body mostly does. In video games––especially a lot of 8/16-bit sprite animated games––it’s rarely done. Symphony of the Night has some. When you make Alucard crouch, it takes a second for his cloak to hit the ground, for example. And in Frauki her hair simply bounced as she landed on the ground and it had my undivided attention.
It speaks overall to the careful attention the developer puts into the game. Admittedly, a lot of it still kind of looks unimpressive at first glance, but if you move around, the world breathes, metaphorically, and you kind of don’t care if anything doesn’t immediately match your aesthetic.
Mechanically, the developer said it was inspired by his two favorite games, Mega Man X and Dark Souls, so I assume punishment and/or extreme challenge is in order.
What stuck with me as I played it, aside from being surprised at how much it charmed me, was that it felt good to play. There were some performance issues––it’s an alpha after all––but I found it eminently and immediately playable and it became the game I was thinking most about after leaving the show, even though I know if I showed people screenshots or perhaps even video of the game, it may not be enough to persuade anybody. The game sells itself when it’s played. The earnestness, craft, and gameplay of Frauki’s Adventure hit an open chord in me, and I look forward to playing it again.
This game was at last year’s Indie Arcade Expo and although I somehow missed it, it is a high-gloss puzzle-platformer that is very much in line with a lot of the interesting puzzle-platformers released in the last five or six years. I’m not saying it’s not original, in fact I mean the opposite. It is exactly as creative and interesting as the rest, which puts it in good company. It’s incredibly stylistic, relying on storybook art direction than on the jagged edges of pixel art sprites. Its mechanics are simple––jumping, lever-pulling, some cursor work. It’s goal is simple: get The Rabbit and The Owl to their respective goals.
It’s a two-player cooperative game where one player controls The Rabbit––the white figure––and the other player controls The Owl––the black figure. The screen is broken up into light and dark avenues which criss-cross each other; the white Rabbit lives in the dark realm, the black Owl lives in the light realm and they can only travel within those realms, never crossing over (as far as I saw). The specific goals each one has to get to is often blocked by the intersection of the other character’s world, but those are moveable by way of pulling a lever. So, if the Rabbit is blocked by the bright wall of the Owl’s world, the Owl is most likely able to reach a lever that, when pulled will move it out of the way (usually for the Rabbit to reach her own lever to pull it and open a path for the Owl).
It’s this clever puzzle solving that reminds me of everything from Braid to Monument Valley to even LIMBO and this game fits right into that milieu.
Unearned Bounty was another game I judged or, more accurately, codified on first glance before trying to walk past it (again, blocked by traffic). It is a game with a very slick aesthetic: cartoony, bright, silly sounds and a slick user interface (UI). It seemed like a mobile game; it had the low-poly/high-style look to that seemed like it could easily be a mobile game aimed at micro-transactions and fun but unchallenging gameplay. As with other games this year, I ended up being quite wrong.
Instead of being a on-the-toilet game, it’s actually best described as an arena shooter, a related but distant cousin to something like Nintendo’s Splatoon, but instead of being team-based––though that can very well happen––it’s a free-for-all timed shootfest where the player is trying to accumulate as much booty as possible. Instead of being first-person with a gun sticking out the bottom of the screen or a third-person run/cover/gun shooter, you’re a pirate ship on the high seas trying to blow up other pirate ships. What the developer wants––and I could see it happening––is with so many ships on the board (I forget the player count), and for the fact that the game tags the ship currently in first place (which, if you take it out, you get a bigger bounty), players will form temporary alliances and break them and backstab and do all the things pirates do in order to end as the richest scallywag.
What intrigues about this choice is that it automatically modifies traditional third-person shooting tactics because your main weapons shoot sideways, so your direction and physical alignment is key and so incredibly different from most (all?) shooters out there. Secondly, because you’re a sailboat on the water, movement is much slower (though not boring) than most people are used to. Controlling the movement––slowing players down––I found increased the tension and excitement of the gameplay rather than stifling it. With accumulated money, the player can upgrade the ship to do more damage and, I assume, protect from it, but it’s mostly a game about hunting down other ships and laying your cannons into them.
The developer mentioned games like League of Legendsnot necessarily as inspiration but for the type of crowd he was going for––online competitive multiplayer fanatics. I immediately thought of Assassin’s Creed IIIandAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, remembering how enjoyable (and similar to this) their ship combat was. They were likely the best parts of both of those games, so it’s nice to see people recognizing that and doing something with it. I do wonder if the game will find its intended audience, though; I’m guessing it’ll skew a bit younger because, with the cartoony aesthetics and sense of humor, I think the young and pre-teen crowd are going to find consistent solace in ships helmed by the likes of “Captain Toots” and “Captain Hornswaggle,” but I hope it finds who it’s aimed at because it’s a game with a lot of strategic possibility if only because of its complete uniqueness in a sea (apologies) of shooters.
This year’s Arcade Expo yielded a more satisfying experience for me than last year. I went this year having seen the speakers list beforehand and intended to basically sit in the blackbox theater the entire day watching people talk intelligently about games (the speakers’ talks have been archived in audio form by the International Game Developers Association of Sacramento). Instead, I found myself on the floor talking intelligently about games with people whose hands were in the mud, making clay. The point being that it wasn’t that I was particularly surprised by the games I wrote about above; it’s more that I allowed myself to realize that––to an obvious extent––the true discourse of independent games cannot be summarized by sitting in a rather comfortable folding chair in a black box theater, watching people sweat under a bright spotlight; it’s down in the multipurpose rooms where asses accidentally get pushed into the faces of people sitting in front of monitors, where people swinging wildly wearing VR headsets cold cock the PC tower that’s running the game, where you have to lean in to hear the soft-spoken developer who has been slowly crafting his small game on the weekends for the last year and a half tell you, “No, it’s not a whole lot like Zelda, actually.” It’s into this mud that I, as a player and intellectually curious critic, hope to wade a bit deeper next year.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew finds zen in the indie hit, Starbound, while D. Bethel finds zen watching the Syfy procedural, Haven.
DANCING WITH THE DEVIL: For a variety of reasons, Andrew had Dan watch an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine of some renown, from season 6, in which Benjamin Sisko struggle with making huge decisions throughout “In the Pale Moonlight.” In parts a war story and a character study, it is an episode that showcases not only the narrative depths DS9 hit but also how we can use television and movies and other narratives as talking points for what we’re dealing with in the world around us.
UNPLUGGED BUT UNBOWED: The Penny Arcade webcomic/nerd moguls announced a new convention to add to their already impressive PAX roster: PAX Unplugged, a tabletop-focused exposition to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in November. Dan and Andrew discuss the implications of this announcement.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Theme (From ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’)” by Dennis McCarthy (as performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra)
-“Layla” by Eric Clapton
-“Law & Order Theme” by Mike Post (as performed by The Hollywood Prime Time Orchestra)
PHOENIX FALLING?: The Phoenix Comicon has come under scrutiny recently as it became public that, essentially, people would have to pay to be volunteers at the show by paying dues to become members of the Blue Ribbon Army Social Club. Dan and Andrew discuss the issues surrounding this controversy, such as “Why is this a controversy at all?”
MINDING THE NUMBERS: In a Bleeding Cool article covering December’s comic book sales numbers, Andrew and Dan dive deep into 2016 sales by Marvel and DC and compare their respective performances and draw some interesting (if very not scientific) conclusions from the data.