My Top-5 Trades of 2016

Continuing on from last week’s post, here are my top-5 comic trades that came out in 2016.

5. Black Road Vol 1

Written by: Brian Wood

Art by: Garry Brown

Publisher: Image Comics

Black Road is a cold, brutal look at the spread of religion through swords and power told more through visuals than words. It’s a story of vikings, theology, and desolation, and while it is never once happy, it is always compelling and great to look at. Brian Wood is a fantastic character writer, but more than that, he knows that writing a comic means letting the artist do just as much as the storytelling as the author. Black Road is a drought of words, the kind of story where the Black Road speaks volumes while the characters trudge along in silence. Their facial expressions and posture say more than their words could. You can feel the wind blow across the pages. You can hear it howl. I don’t know where the story will go, but I’m very much along for the ride.

4. Negative Space Vol 1

Written by: Ryan K Lindsay

Art by: Owen Gieni

Publisher: Dark Horse

It’s not every day that an author can perfectly pair comedy with depression, but Ryan Lindsay managed it with Negative Space, a dark comedy with a Lovecraftian twist. The series opens up on a writer struggling to finish his suicide note. It’s a brilliant idea that continues on in a mostly-brilliant way that is, above all else, unforgettable. The middle sections of this book are somewhat strange to be sure, but it’s beginning and end are perfection: utterly bleak yet forcing you to crack a grin all the while. The way this book ends will haunt you. When it comes to the artwork, Owen Gieni is carrying just as much weight as Ryan. Depression is hard to get right without coming off as too extreme, but Owen nails it on every page. The sorrow is real, and so are the Lovecraftian monsters.

3. How to Talk to Girls at Parties

 

Written by: Neil Gaiman

Art by: Fabio Moon

Publisher: Dark Horse

It’s Neil Gaiman at his most Neil Gaiman. To say anything more would be redundant.

2. Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

Written by: Dave McKean

Art by: Dave McKean

Published by: Dark Horse

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash might be the most important comic to come out in 2016. It’s a strange story to be sure, a surrealist mix of historical fact (artist Paul Nash as a real person and painter) and historical fiction (his paintings, and what happened to him during World War I); the surrealism makes it hard to tell one from the other. Plot points meander in and out of focus as Dave McKean treats us to an absolutely stunning array of surrealist art that seems to shift in style ever handful of pages. Nothing ever looks the same, and hell, almost nothing ever looks traditionally pretty. That’s on purpose though, and the effect it has is nothing short of profound. This is a story of one man attempting to cope with the horrors of WWI through his artwork. Pretty is not the way to cope with war. This book really has to be experienced to be believed, but it’s the kind of book everyone should experience.

1. Troll Bridge

Written by: Neil Gaiman

Art by: Colleen Doran

Publisher: Dark Horse

One of my favorite things about 2016 is that Neil Gaiman wrote us a fable. Troll Bridge is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Jack meeting a monster that wants to eat him and twisting his way by making a deal: He’ll come back when he’s older. He’ll be a better meal that way.  The rest is a character study of Jack and the bumps in his road that turn him into a cynical monster not worthy of a troll’s dinner. The rest is a hopelessly realistic portrayal of growing up and losing your childlike fantasy. The rest is about depression. The rest is about monsters and how they’re people too. The rest is, well, about life. Like all good fables, Troll Bridge has more to say about the world than it first lets on; it’s a kind of intellectual food, and it would be remiss if you didn’t take a bite.

Spiderlight: Book Review

Reviewer’s Note: My copy of Spiderlight was provided by Tor. The novel releases on August 2nd, 2016 and can be preordered here

It’s probably fair to say that anyone who likes fantasy as a genre has a long history with high fantasy as a part of that genre. Heroes off to save the world from evil gods, warlords, or, in some cases, both! It’s fun stuff, or at least was. My high-school days were filled with Warcraft and Dragonlance and probably other examples of big magic, one-dimensional villains, and Mary Sue heroes doing what Mary Sue heroes do.

As an adult though, I really have no time for it.

Unless…unless an author can really change things around, play with expectations, and in general, have fun with the absurdity of five rag-tag heroes off to save the world from a badguy so big that armies can’t topple him. I might be on board for that.

Oh hello Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky, how are you this fine day? Off to tell a story about five rag-tag heroes on a quest to save the world by transforming a giant spider into a man and forcing him on your journey? That’s different. Are you also not going to take your story too seriously because let’s face it, high fantasy is absurd? Good. How about playing with my expectations? Wonderful!

There are a few key things that make Spiderlight a joyful and interesting experience, but the biggest one is Nth. Nth is a spider with limited sapience. He doesn’t like humans unless he’s eating them, and he loves his brood mother. That’s about it. Or it would be had our wizard character Penthos not twisted and contorted him into the shape of a man and given him more intellect than he knows what to do with.

On first glance, Nth is your standard fish-out-of-water character; however, Spiderlight messes with that trope by making him as pitiful as possible. He isn’t a hero; he’s a slave to the heroes. He hates being a human, and he hates these new concepts and emotions he’s now forced to endure.

It doesn’t help that everyone hates him too.

The setup makes it very easy to sympathize with Nth and downright revile his companions who are supposed to be on the side of Light. Dion is a paladin! Harathes is too! The other three are…well, less heroic, but still on the side of righteousness. They should know better, and in your typical high-fantasy world where good is good and evil is evil, they would have. This isn’t your typical high-fantasy world though, so Penthos looks at Nth like he’s his property, Dion thinks it a necessary abomination and wants to kill it, Harathes hates it and wants to kill it, Cyrene finds it revolting and wants to kill it, and Lief… Lief doesn’t really care. He’s a thief though, and they have to be aloof.

However, it is the above thoughts that turn our five ragtag heroes into an interesting bunch of characters. Each one is struggling with something, and Nth acts as the catalyst to bring that out. Penthos is the most gifted mage in the world, but he doesn’t understand people or the general concept of right and wrong. He does like fire though! Dion is overcome with guilt over her quest for a variety of reasons, Nth being the big one. Cyrene is a bit of a misanthrope because of how she’s treated as a warrior woman, and Lief is…well, Lief. But I like him so that’s fine.

Harathes is the only character who doesn’t see any real development throughout the novel, but when you have five others that do, that’s okay. Five protagonists in a novel is a lot.

Spiderlight isn’t a big novel (also a departure from high fantasy), but it is packed with character from start to finish. I went from hating most of the aforementioned “heroes” to liking and respecting all of them (save Harathes) over a very short amount of time. They’re all defined by their flaws first and change by either overcoming or at least acknowledging them. That’s a lot of character work.

It’s also all handled seamlessly. You don’t notice it until a bit after it’s happened, and then you go, “oh wow!”

All of this might sound pretty meaty and dour, and in a way it is, but Spiderlight is also fine with levity and having fun. Penthos is hilarious in how he talks and presents himself, Leif is charming and enjoys himself a drink, and Harathes and Cyrene have some pretty amusing drama and banter. Whenever the novel feels like it’s getting too dark or serious, it moves into a scene—seamlessly at that—that kills some of the nasty. It never gets dark or edgy.

Dion is the only character who constantly stays serious, but her emotional turmoil is perhaps greater than Nths in a way. She’s also never included in any of the jokes because she’s the hero and the hero has to be heroic and on task. It’s tragic and makes her just as sympathetic as Nth.

I suppose there are some flaws to Spiderlight, though they aren’t anything major. I wasn’t a fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing style at first. It’s very simple and streamlined, and I’m used to more flowery prose and descriptions in my fantasy novels. He also likes his adverbials. None of this breaks the immersion though, and after a few chapters, I grew to appreciate the way he turned out a sentence. Brevity is the soul of wit and whatnot.

And despite busting a bunch of expectations and being a different kind of high-fantasy novel, Spiderlight does fall into some pretty standard tropes. Our party is built of a tank (Harathes), a healer (Dion), a mage (Penthos), a thief (Lief), and a ranger (Cyrene). I found this clever when I first read Dragons of Autumn’s Twilight in high school, but at this point, it’s just kind of boring. Thankfully the characters all drastically elevate themselves over their base roles, but still, I’d have liked something a bit different.

The ending too is…somewhat of a problem. It is unexpected, but it also reads like Tchaikovsky thought himself very, very clever. It’s its own joke, but now I’m the one being made fun of and not someone in the story. I also feel like the more I think about it, the more holes I find in it.

That being said, it is satisfying, and it does fit with the tone and parameters set within the novel. It isn’t a bad ending, yet it…well, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

On the whole, Spiderlight is a great little book in a genre I had written off quite some time ago. I had a blast with it, and the few little things I dislike are pretty minor and may not bother you at all. It’s brimming with character, and while the world or quest themselves aren’t all that interesting when compared to bigger, flashier fantasy novels, they aren’t really the goal here. This is a character book first, and a good cast of characters will always trump plot and world building.

Unshelfish Lovers (Aquaman Porn)

Okay, so the long and short of this is that I do a comic book podcast called Comics Dash, where I and two other people talk about comic books for about an hour and ten minutes each week. One of our running jokes is that Aquaman and Black Manta have tons of sexual tension in the new run of DC books–because they totally do–and if Dan Abnett wasn’t going to make them have sex, then someone had to.

Well, that someone was me!

So yes. I wrote Aquaman porn. No, it’s not good. Yes, it is a vessel for tons of fish puns. That’s…literally all it is. If you want some sexy fish puns, then the next ~1000 words are for you!

 

Aquaman closed his chamber door sporting a wide grin that would soon have a dick in it. His wife knew something fishy was going on, and that’s why he had taken a hook out of Bill Cosby’s hat—who once terrorized Atlantis as the Morerape Eel—and asked Mera to toast the recapture of Black Manta. She had taken the bait. Now she was sleeping with the literal fishes, but in the metaphorical sense since she’d wake up tomorrow with probably a bad hangover and wondering why there was seamen on her back. But probably not. Being a man of the sea, Aquaman was prawn to wet dreams.

The king of Atlantis made his way through his castle, descended a bunch of steps, and walked through a few gloomy hallways, stopping every so often to make sure he wasn’t being followed. His conchubine … oh wait, no, conchubrine! was in the dungeon, which meant he had to be careful. It would be one thing if Atlantis found out he was cheating on his wife, but a whole coddamn mess if they found out his lover was Black Manta.

Still, that made the whole thing all the more fun. Something about keeping your friends close and your anenemoies closer, though at this point, Black Manta was neither. What should one do with his lovers?

Aquaman rubbed at his crotch, which was stiffer than a sturgeon’s nose, and knew exactly what he should do with his lover.

“Halt! Who goes there!” the two soldiers stationed to guard the undersea terrorist asked as Aquaman approached. They looked on edge because Black Manta always escaped. Always. It was all part of the clam.

“I am here to question the prisoner,” Aquaman said in his most offishal voice. “Please let us be until I call you back.”

“Yes sir” both said, urchin to be free of the most cursed post in all of Atlantis. Aquaman watched them round a corner, their shoulders relaxed and their spears clanking against the stone floor as they headed for the break room. Aquaman listened, herring their footsteps fade into the background.

“Please tell me you aren’t wearing orange and fucking green,” Black Manta said sharkastically. He was facing the wall and not wearing a shirt.

“Have to.” Aquaman said as he closed the door. “I look krilliant in orange and green.”

The undersea terrorist laughed, his voice deep and sexy because he was deep and sexy. “You look like a clownfish.”

“Shut up and kiss me.”

Black Manta tuna round, and soon he and Aquaman were wrapped in a pike embrace and staring into each other’s walleyes. Black Manta’s were like green pools of ocean water, and Aquamans were blue or some shit. Back Manta then kissed his lover, so gently that it was like a ghost upon Aquaman’s lips.

“I missed you,” the scarred terrorist said.

“Always. But did you have to kill eight people this time?”

Black Manta tugged at Aquaman’s crotch. “You know it’s more fun this way.”

Aquaman grabbed at Black Manta’s ass with both hands and brought him close so their ol’ dicky dicks were rubbing together. Even with his pants still on, he could dophinatly feel Black Manta’s black manta throbbing … uh … lustily! Aquaman leaned in close and whispered into his lover’s ear: “It is better this way.”

Black Manta knelt and unbuckled Aquaman’s ugly green pants. He then placed his finger on Aquaman’s tridick and ran it from the tip to the dace. It didn’t take very long because Aquaman had a small penis. Though he didn’t consider it small; he just had a bad case of the shrimpage. Plus, it was still much bigger than the Flash’s who fucking sucks and should be ashamed for existing.

“That feels good,” Aquaman said.

“This will feel better.”

Black Manta opened his mouth and began salmonating all over Aquaman’s member. Aquaman groaned.

“Don’t even think about it!” Black Manta warned between suckerfishing. “I’m just lubing this up so you can stick your hotdog flavored water it into my chocolate starfish.”

“Never!” But Aquaman blushed because it totally happened one time. He had a hair triggerfish when it came to ejaculating.

When Black Manta finished, he shifted anglers and pulled his own pants down, exposing his tight basshole.

“Stick it in where the sunfish don’t chine and oyster it around,” he said in his deep, sexy voice because he was still deep and sexy in case you forgot.

Aquaman obliged. He thrust his throbbing member into Black Manta’s halibut, forcing it in so far their balls slapped together, which made it totally gay. It’s hetero if the balls don’t touch. His lover made a face, and Aquaman knew it would stringray a bit. Black Manta was still getting used playing the role of powerbetam. It had to be this way though, because Aquaman was a king and, despite having a small penis and suffering from premature ejaculation, could not be a bottom. That would just be orcaward.

It only took a few quick threshes before Aquaman was breaching his salty chum into Black Manta’s tight carphole. “Ugh,” Aquaman groaned, pleasure shivering through his loins.

“My turn,” Black Manta said, turning around. His penis was huge and already dribbling precum.

Aquaman knelt down and opened his mouth, goblin sharking as much of the penis as he could. Like Black Manta with anal, he wasn’t very good at deep trouting.

“Just relax,” Black Manta said. “You don’t have to take the whale thing. And if it gets uncomfortable, let minnow.”

Aquaman wasn’t normally koi, but Black Manta could somehow make him blush with ease. He felt his face heat up, and Black Manta began to laugh.

“You’re cute like this.”

On his knees and with his ugly green pants still around his ankles, the king of Atlantis suckerfished the worst terrorist the sea had ever known to completion. A salty, warm spray filled his mouth, and now the last question was: Should be squid it out or swallow?

With a light shrug, Aquaman gulpered it down. It wouldn’t do to have the guards come back and find an empty cell filled with cum. That would raise some strange questions and make the custodians crabby.

Black Manta sat back down on his cot, and Aquaman sat next to him. For the next twenty minutes, the two cuddlefished together, happy to be in each others’ company. Then it was time for Aquaman to leave, though not before hiding the key to his secret lover’s cell underneath the cot.

“Until next time,” he said, wondering if Black Manta would be cool with taking a huge crappie on his chest.

“Until next time,” Black Manta repeated.

 

FIN (get it?)

Game Development: Viper’s Bite

Progress continues with The Regret of Viterran, this time in the form of a new song. I’m quite happy with this one.

“Viper’s Bite” will be the battle theme music for the Sekhtus Desert.

This song started off as the night-time, rock tune for our Global Game Jam 2016 game. I created the original draft in around five hours on little sleep, and it featured some okay-sounding electric guitar and organ. It was mostly unmixed and unmastered because I ran out of time to do those things.

I liked it then though, and I wasn’t going to just let five hours worth of work sit there like that. So I loaded it back up and re-purposed it.

The okay-sounding electric guitar is now an acoustic guitar–actually two of them, each sounding a little different from each other–and the organ is now a ney flute. Wikipedia says that instrument is prominent in Egypt and the surrounding area.

Like the last song I made for Vitrerran, there was a nice amount of collaborating at work here. I built the basics, and my brother helped me fix a few things up, partly in pointing out which areas were horribly out of key. I’m a hair tone deaf and have problems with some of that.

And like all my other songs, this one has a nod to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Red Viper being a character from the desert city of Dorn. It’s a bit less in-your-face (and not as clever) as “When Winter Fell” or “A Storm of Sounds,” but it’s the best I managed to do without getting overly wordy.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Global Game Jam 2016: On Making a Game in 48 Hours

“So is this it then?” I asked one of the Herzing University professors leading the 2016 Global Game in Madison Wisconsin. “We just play each others’ games for two hours and then you kick us out?” By this point, my sixth wind was gone and all I wanted to do was crawl into a small, dark place and sleep forever.

“That’s it.”

“Why the hell do we do this? It’s crazy!”

The professor, whose name I don’t remember and who I’m strongly paraphrasing because I was rocking maybe seven hours of sleep over a 48-hour period, grins and says, “There’s something off or broken about game designers, but the fun thing is, it’s always the same thing. I dunno why we do it. But we do, and we love it.”

I laughed, because it’s true.

My brother is a programmer, and a damn good one at that. This is his third or fourth Game Jam, and the wait leading up to them is basically his equivalent of yearning for Christmas. Given the people I worked with and talked two over the weekend, I’d say he’s not the only one who thinks that way. These are people who live to draw, to color, to design, to create music, to program, to…well, make games.

There were around 40 of us in all, perhaps a bit more. We first crammed together into a small classroom to get a rundown of how things would go and what this year’s theme would be. As I looked around, it really hit me how diverse gaming and game making is. Interacting with people online is faceless and text voiceless, so it can be hard to tell what kinds of people play and make the things we love.

As it turns out: anyone and everyone.

But though us 40 or so people acted as a colorful, diverse cast of characters, we were hardly different. The lot of us are nerds. Big nerds, small nerds, white nerds, black nerds, European nerds, Latin American nerds, girl nerds, male nerds, nerds, nerds, and more nerds. Or geeks if you prefer. The words are honestly synonyms in my eyes.

The very first conversation I got into at the Game Jam was about the new Star Wars movie. There was no, “high my name is…” prior to this; it was just, “Hey, we need to talk about Star Wars right now!” We did.

Everyone wore their passions on their sleeves here, and it was absolutely awesome.

With a brief presentation concluded and our theme given (this years was Ritual), those with teams left and those without assimilated into groups. My brother and myself already had a team put together, so I followed him to what he assured me was the best room for this event. At this point, there were only two of us; Courtney would show up later and Trent was going to remote in from across the country. Both are artists, and both are really, really talented. It was an absolute pleasure working with them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The room we entered was, like most of the rooms at a school with a game development program, filled with computers. It was also surrounded with glass. The students at Herzing collectively refer to it as the, “Fishbowl,” and it’s the only computer lab with a view of the outside world. If the sun is out, you get real sunlight; if the sun has set, you get starlight.

I am no stranger to locking myself in a dark place and working, but having honest-to-god windows available really helped with morale. It’s easy to feel trapped or suffocated when in a basement or window-less office room.

The problem was, the computers in the Fishbowl weren’t as up-to-date as many of the others throughout the school. The room was deserted, and we had to track down an IT guy (super cool dude and the unsung hero of the event) to help us out. This cost my brother an hour and myself two, since the first computer I grabbed had a bad habit of turning itself off without my permission.

Once we were set up, we got started!

It was around this point that what I thought was a tickle in the back of my throat due to dust exploded into a full-blown cold complete with loss of appetite and a low fever. Two hours in and already I wanted to go home.

It was also around this time that the Fishbowl got some company. Two Herzing Alumni showed up, ready to work on something. They weren’t really sure what. They logged into their respective computers and were dismayed by the lack of any useful programs. They didn’t know what to do, since neither brought their own PCs.

I assumed they would either work with what was available or simply head home and call it a jolly good try. That latter was what I would have done and what I wanted to do at that moment. Instead, they left for home to grab their rigs. They returned at around 5:00 in the morning and set up.

These two were not going to miss this Jam for anything, and if that meant a four-hour drive and a completely sleepless night, then so be it.

And in the end, neither made a game at all. They had lost too much time retrieving their computers, so instead they worked on artwork and models for their own projects. The Jam was never about making a video game but about hanging out with friends, meeting new people, and creating for 48 straight hours.

Even now, I have no idea how someone stays in creative mode for so long. I had to take a ton of breaks, and I even made an effort to get sleep. That effort proved completely futile because these Game Jams are the equivalent of living like savages, but at least I tried. There’s not much one can do with a simple sleeping bag and a rock-hard floor though. Well, that and all the talking, ambient light, and energy going on around you.

Sleep really is not an option here.

Our team had a slight advantage in that we knew what kind of game we wanted to make. My brother and myself have shopped the specifics a few times, of a pair of cowboys defending a speeding train from monsters, and we wanted to prototype it. It sounds fun in theory, but is it in practice?

We were determined to find out, illness be damned.

I came to this specific Game Jam to work on sound. Normally I’m a writer and storyteller, but the kinds of games made at these Jams usually aren’t big enough for a narrative. I do know my way around FL Studio though, and sound design can make or break a game. My first night, then, was spent working on what would be one of two original songs for our game.

The night went by as a strange blur. My normal sessions with FL Studio usually end at around two hours, but here I worked seven straight. I got to a point where I really didn’t know what was going on, only that I had to stay in key. I’m sadly not always good at that. Only when the song was finished and properly mixed did I go to bed.

Day two opened up with worse cold symptoms and a heaping pile of sleep depravation. I went to the nearest gas station and got some Dayquil, because like our companions in the Fishbowl, going home was not an option.

Day two was also devoted to sound effects. With one song out of the way, it was time to give our guns some bangs, our train some chugachuga, and our monsters some angry snarls and howls. I don’t like making sound effects. They’re boring and kind of awful, but that day I churned out nine or ten of them. I’m happy with almost all of them.

Unlike day one which was nonstop work, day two consisted of lots of random conversations with anyone and everyone who would listen. I learned more about Gundam than I ever thought I would, was told to check out some strange anime, and found out that one of our Fishbowl companions had more video game music on his computer than I have non video game music on mine.

It was awesome.

I got to know our Fishbowl companions pretty well over the last 48 hours. Both are more passionate about video games than myself, and both are extremely talented. Sadly, one has some questionable views on Halo 4, but not everyone is perfect. We talked a lot, and before bed, stopped working and loaded up a video game my brother made for school a few years ago. It’s a top-down, multiplayer shooter with some really unique weapons, and we killed each other for about an hour.

We then decided not to sleep just yet and spent the next two hours watching Dragonball Z Abridged.

Bed—finally—came next, though had I stayed up, I would have been treated to a crash course in Magic the Gathering. I kind of regret not staying up for it, to be honest. Maybe next time.

I feel like I should back up a hair and talk about supper. Herzing ordered in 30 pizzas for us 40 or so people to eat, and watching everyone line up and devour all of them is something that will haunt me forever. I suppose since we were living like savages it gave us permission to eat like them too, but god damn.

Thanks to some Nyquil, day three greeted me with actual sleep and energy. Our team was sitting quite well at this point, with a fully playable thing and most of the artwork we needed done. It was time for one more song and some last-ditch programming to get in a few more enemies/mechanics.

I got the song done with no time to spare, and it’s mixing is awful because of it. It’s still a nice lil tune though, and I’ll be fixing it up at a later date.

We sadly didn’t get the last enemy in. There’s only so much that can be done in 48 hours.

And now I circle back to where I started, because with the games all done, the Fish Bowl turned into a place of Show-And-Tell. Everyone set up in it, and I remember looking around and thinking, “How are these people still functional?” None of them looked like they should be standing: unshowered, hair a mess, massive bags under their eyes, and enough junk food and soda to have their digestive systems plugged up for the next week, but there was more energy in this crowd now than when we all started.

Passion is a strange drug, one that can cause untold depression when it isn’t being used properly yet one that can also cause better highs than anything else. Passion is the thing that gets a team of three together, all with zero experience, and having them finish with a playable product. Was their game good? No. But I have more respect for it than any other project at the Jam. What that team did is downright insane.

At five, we were kicked out. My team and my Fishbowl companions headed to the nearest mall for food, enjoyed a few last-minute nerdy conversations, and then departed for home. They all plan on showing up again next year, and I think I’ll join them. I might lack some of the passion, and I might not be as broken as everyone in that room, but I think I’m unhinged enough to fit in.

Plus, there was a very disturbing lack of sound designers. Someone has to do it.

As to our game, it’s hard to know if it was a real success given the attachment. I like it, and I think it’s fun to play, but that’s to be expected. However, during Show-And-Tell, a younger kid showed up, someone’s brother perhaps, and he did not want to stop playing it. We had to kick him off to give other people a chance.

I think that means we did a good job.

For those curious, here’s a quick video of our game, which can be downloaded here