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Name: Garth Cameron Graham
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Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Captain America: Avengers Part I

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

I saw Captain America last night and I have to say it was a wonderful experience.  Phenomenal cast, exquisite performances by EVERYONE on screen, great sets, visuals, story, dialogue, the works.  I highly, highly, highly recommend this film.  It’s just such a wonderful pulpy slice of old-school American apple pie.  Steve Rogers (played brilliantly by Chris Evans) really manages to capture the American ideal without being hokey about it.  I have but two little criticisms of the film:  there wasn’t more of it, and the ending.

BEYOND THIS POINT ARE SPOILERS (more…)

Katsucon and Friends Review

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

So my problem with this blog thing, I think, is simply that all the stuff that I normally would talk about I actually talk about with friends.  Thus eliminating the urge to talk about it in the blogsphere.  Feels like I’m repeating myself at times, but for the sake of posting I’m going to be reviewing some random stuff I’ve encountered as of late.

First off, Katsucon!  Katsucon this year, like every year, was a lot of fun.  I always get to see good friends, shmooze with fans and pros alike, and in general Katsu has treated me better than any other con I can think of.  It’s nice when you’re treated like a real guest instead of a lowly webcomic guest.  I was saddened that I didn’t get to do more panels than I did, and it was disheartening in the least to find myself in the back corner of the alley facing a wall… so if you find yourself thinking “wait… you were there?” now you know why you didn’t find me.  But despite the issues that were had, it was a fun weekend all around.

I recently watched Eagle Eye, and really it was a very solid film for what it was.  The only problem was that it was a predictable technophobic sci-fi thriller.  And you know… the idea of “man builds smart machine to protect him/make his life better and the machine decides that because man doesn’t listen to the superior machine the machine must kill man, it’s just bollocks.  To think that it’s a logical conclusion is just inane.  No machine, no matter how smart or how capable, would give two shits if we listened to it.  Even assuming that it’s a true AI and not super clever programming, why would it care?  And even if it did care that we didn’t follow its sage advice, how is overthrowing man, killing us all, or any of the other usual bullshit technophobic drama a logical answer?  It’s an extremist response even for a human being, let alone something bound by logic the way a computer is.

For a brief moment in the film I thought, “hey, maybe the computer (I had figured out it was an AI running the show maybe 15 minutes in) is actually doing all this gross manipulation of random people for some kind of greater good that we just can’t see.”  And then I was disappointed immediately to realize, nope.  It’s just an evil machine doing evil stuff.  Way to go.  And not even like GlaDOS evil, in the name of perpetuating research, just evil temper tantrum ‘you didn’t listen to me! so I’m going to kill you and replace you with someone who will!  See if I don’t!”

Despite having to work hard (and repeatedly) to suspend my disbelief at the inanity of this computer, I rather enjoyed the film.  Also that hand-launched spy-glider drone thing at the very beginning of the film?  That actually amazed me more than any of the “what do you mean you can turn my cellphone on from remote at follow my every movement?”  Sign of the times, I guess.

Speaking of the times, there’s an iPad2 now.  Hooray another sequel!  I dunno what to say really.  It’s more awesome than the original for sure, and people seem to really dig the original iPad despite the stupid name.  And it is a stupid name, so no I will not get over that.  I have to say I like the concept behind the whole tablet phenomenon.  I may well end up with an iPad of my own at some point, unless I can find me a better tablet alternative.  However, I feel this is unlikely.  I still feel like tablets should come with a stylus though.  They’re supposed to be like digital notepads right?

One last thing:  there’s a bunch of awesome movies out right now, one of which I had heard not word one about:  The Adjustment Bureau.  While it’s yet another movie based on a book, this one is based on a book by Philip K. Dick, and I loves me some … wait… lemme rephrase that.  Philip K. Dick is a cornerstone of everything dark and not-to-distant-future.  Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, Minority Report, Total Recall, Screamers, A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck all are movies based on his works, and all of them (even the ones that weren’t that great) are just the kind of stories I love.  The Adjustment Bureau is hitting theaters this weekend and I only just today STUMBLED across its existence.  How is this possible?  How have I heard NOTHING about this film until it’s hitting theaters?  Whomever is in marketing for this film is DOING IT WRONG!  Regardless, I’m excited about it, and it’ll be interesting to see if Matt Damon can do a Philip K. Dick story better than Ben Afleck did.

Chapter Break

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

And there you have it folks.  Not a single missed update through the end of the chapter.  Just like I said I would.

You haven’t heard much out of me the last couple of weeks as I’ve been very busy.  I’ve been working hard on a really exciting project that I can’t say a whole lot about right now.  Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you all about it soon.  However, I can tell you that this project has proven to me that I can work much more efficiently if I make some minor changes to how I go about things.

That being said I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to get the next bit of Finder’s prepped and good to go.  The timing isn’t bad, really, as I’ve mentioned before there’ll be some fairly extensive updates to the website going on, and this way it won’t interfere with your reading!  I’ll post some sketches and the like in the meantime, and I’ll aim to talk more down here in the box, so there should still be things to keep one entertained.  Chapter 5 should start up just before Thanksgiving, on the 23rd, and we should go without interruptions until the chapter is over.

Incidentally, I did see last weeks episode of Castle, the one with the steampunk in it.  It was a good episode (as always), and I felt the steampunk was fairly well done.  Not too over-the-top and got the basics pretty solid.  It was kinda funny in that I could point out a lot of the various props and tell you who made ‘em.  Amused me greatly.  I will say, however, that the best way to have a duel without any actual chance of you know accidentally killing the other dude?  DON’T PUT THE GOD DAMN BALL IN THE GUN!  Reenactment troops fire off blanks all the god damn time.  Zero chance of accidental death.  I swear, some people are just asking to get shot dead.

Recap and Rethinking

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

It’s always strange being in the Baltimore Convention Center for anything that isn’t Otakon. It’s like walking through a house you grew up in, but is now owned by a different family. It’s all old hat and yet so very different. Baltimore Comic Con proved that different is good.

I went to BCC several years ago when I was still in the early years of Comedity. It convinced me that the comic-con crowd just wasn’t a good match with my work. And so I stuck to anime cons for years. Now that I’m doing a pretty solidly “standard” format comic (complete with books) and upon the advice of some good friends and peers, I figured I’d give the comic-con scene another go.

I have never been to a more professional, friendlier, or smoother-run event in my life.

From load-in to packing up, the staff were helpful and informative, the convention center staff who usually haven’t clue one what’s happening or give a damn were equally helpful. People I had never met before in my life said good morning to me and asked how I was. Not just fans either. I had a blast, a great time, and came home pumped to work, never surer of myself or what I was doing with my life. I am officially putting EVERY OTHER CONVENTION OUT THERE ON NOTICE: figure out what Baltimore Comic Con is doing right, and follow suite.

However, as awesome as the con was, apparently there was a bit of a scuffle at the Harvey Awards (which I did not attend). The short of it is that comic creators Mark Waid and Sergio Aragones got into a heated discussion immediately following Mark Waid’s speech about copyrights and the internet. The short of it something along the lines of “kids are sharing scans of comic books. Instead of trying to keep a hard and fast hold on distribution, we should figure out a way to make money off of digital (free) distribution.” Just google “harvey awards” and you’ll find a bunch of opinions and reviews of exactly what was said. However, here you can find a pretty good summary and even better discussion of the issue in the comments. I actually really recommend reading the comments here, for once.

It is an interesting debate, and even more interesting to see how people feel it’s impossible to make money on a product that is given away. “There no money in digital distribution,” seems to be a common theme among many. Which is stupid. Plenty of webcomics have proven you can do it. It is, granted, rare that a webcomic becomes so successful as a fount of money that one can retire to the Bahamas, but it is doable. I wish I could give you a secret key to success, but I don’t know what it is. I suspect it has to do with the realization that one doesn’t make money on the content (comic). There is no money in online content, but it is an excellent mechanism for attracting an audience and playing the age old game of merchandising. But even that is only half the truth. The truth is, that people will pay money for online content, even the content they get for free (I’m looking at all you wonderful people who donate to your favorite webcomics or buy their books). They just won’t buy it sight unseen.

I’m reading a book right now called The Four Hour Work Week which, regardless of content, is the most compellingly written self-help book I’ve ever encountered. In it, it mentions the way to sell puppies (this makes perfect sense in context). The way to guarantee a puppy sale is not to tell the customer how awesome the puppy is, but rather to let the customer take the puppy home and tell them that if it doesn’t work out they can always return the puppy. Once they have the puppy home, you can pretty well guarantee that they won’t be able to bring themselves to return the pup. They’ve already become attached to him. Who could return something so cute! Look at those big brown eyes!

The same is oddly true of comics. Let a man read the first issue of an awesome comic, and he’ll pay you for the rest. Hell, webcomics have shown that if a reader likes a comic enough he’ll pay to have his own copy of something everyone can get for free. Also their favorite comic artist also sells that pretty swanky t-shirt…. oh and has arts to hang on your wall… oh my… and plushies!!! EEEEE!!! *fangasm*

One can, of course, argue that it’s not fair that creators aren’t compensated for all the hard work they put into actually creating their works, that it’s unfair that they must work to create a comic to draw an audience and then harder still to make merch to make a living. Well… then donate to your favorite creator. I’m sure they’ll happily take your money. I’m sure they could use it. And in an ideal world, all readers would contribute financially to the creators who provide them with hours of entertainment at no actual charge. Maybe one day, we’ll live in that world. Maybe one day we’ll all be able to do whatever it is that we yearn to do without having to worry about whether or not it’ll pay the bills and keep us fed and clothed. That’ll be a mighty fine day. But for now, I think that whatever the answer is, it involves seriously re-thinking this concept of being paid for ideas.

I run a panel on copyrights at a lot of the conventions I go to. And one of the things that I have to stress is that copyrights do not protect ideas. That’s not a copyright’s job. Copyrights protect tangibly recorded instances of ideas. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, look it up. I have an idea for a story. I write down the story. That story is protected by copyright. But if someone else were to go and write a story that was the same in essence but not the same in detail (wording, characters, style, etc etc) they’re allowed. I can go create a comic about a billionaire playboy who witnesses his parents being tragically murdered and uses his billions to fight crime to sate some fucked up psychological need for justice. DC comics can’t stop me from re-inventing Batman, so long as my story isn’t so similar as to be mistaken for theirs. My story and my art are mine. Their stories and their art are theirs. The idea is free to everyone. That’s what copyright is. Copyright exists to protect works, not ideas. Copyright is there to keep me from taking Batman verbatim and passing it off as my own. That is theft, plain and simple, and I don’t think anyone is seriously advocating the total abolishment of copyright. The stories you write, the art that you draw is still yours, and just because it gets passed around the internet doesn’t make it any less yours (yes, I know that distribution without consent violates copyright). Countless forum threads exist of people trying to find out where they can find more of artist X’s work, based on a random image they found somewhere else.

This debate could go on forever. I think that anyone who picks a “side” on this one is a fool. There are no sides here. It’s not a question of “give it away” or “lock it down.” It’s a question of “in a world where ideas are free for everyone, how does one make a living?”

Why Did No One Tell Me?

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Ok, the title is a slight misnomer. I have actually been informed of the existence of the following awesome webcomics, I just wish I had known about them sooner. So, without further ado and in no particular order I give you awesome reads:

Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name
While having the most obvious, and most non sequitur, title ever, “Hanna is Not a Boys Name” is an utter delight. What’s it about? A hopped up supernatural investigator that makes most little brothers look calm and reserved, an exceedingly tall zombie who doesn’t remember much about his former life but is otherwise pretty chill, the world’s worst vampire, and the the most squish-able adorable werewolf I’ve ever seen, among other exceedingly eccentric beings of questionable mortality and their bizarre adventures. The colors are deliciously vibrant, the style is so incredibly full of life, and the characters are truly characters of the first water. I wish my art had half as much energy.

Oh Perilous World
I’ve actually known about “Oh Perilous World” for some time now. Nick Borkowicz of Dead of Summer and Super Art Fight fame has been plotting this comic for more than a few years. I’ve had the honor of having heard tidbits of what it is all about during its development, and I am truly excited to see it finally put to paper as it were. What’s it about? Heh, well, half the fun is finding that out. But I will tell you that it’s about monsters and demons and a world that is not what it once was. Is that vague? Maybe, but I’d hate to spoil the adventure. If you’re a fan of the dark, twisted, and disturbing, you’ll enjoy “Oh Perilous World.”

The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal
“The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal” really defies description. If you were to tell me that it’s about two guys driving across country, stopping at gas stations, being caught in traffic, and having heart felt discussions, well, I just wouldn’t be that interested. And it IS about two guys driving across the country. And it is possibly the most touching comic I’ve ever encountered. The artist/author really shows us what comics can do, as she conveys just as much, if not more, information about the characters and story with just the art than she does with words. The art is simply beautiful and the story, while no more epic than your last road trip, artfully shows the human condition in ways that I seldom see. Imagine Normal Rockwell creating a Manga and you have some idea of what to expect out of “The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal.”

Yellow Peril
“Yellow Peril” is done by another friend of mine, Jamie Noguchi the original artist for Erf World. I suspect that “Yellow Peril” is more fun for me than some because I look at it and say to myself “so this is what Jamie’s day job is like.” Which makes sense as Jamie is a graphic designer for Nasa, and the comic is about a nerdy, irreverent, hilarious, over the top, kung-fu kicking, boogie nights in-house graphic designer. It’s not strictly auto-biographical, but it definitely draws from the real-life experiences of a creative type working for the Man. It’s like Dilbert but, you know, funny.

From Connecticut to Asgard

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Connecticon this year was a blast as always, full of merriment, good friends, phenomenal fans, and delicious beers! I can hardly wait for next year, but I must first focus on the upcoming behemoth that is Otakon. There is a legit segue in here, btw. One of our traditions at CTcon is the great gathering together and taking over of one of the local breweries every night and consuming vast quantities of delicious beer. It’s much like Valhalla I think, long tables full of good company and all you can drink for all eternity. Good times.

Which leads me to the latest image releases from the upcoming Thor film:

Now I’m not going to bother discussing the news that Thor and the First Avenger movies will be in 3D, I’m sure I’ve made my feeling clear on how little I like 3D movies. Rather, I’m going to talk a bit about the costume designs here.

One should bear in mind that I’ve never read Thor. I have never had any real interest in him as a superhero. He always struck me as basically Superman with an even funnier costume: i.e. the boyscout who doesn’t really have much of a personality to speak of and is just there to kick ass, chew bubblegum and be a good guy to thwart the villains. And that’s just not the Thor I know and love. See, I’m a huge fan of the Norse Mythos, and being predominantly norse in descent this is not terribly surprising. I’ve always loved the fact that of all the various religions that have sprouted up over the centuries, the Norse Gods are the only ones that I can think of that are pre-destined to loose the great battle at the end of all things. There no happy ending for anyone. The best you get is to die in combat, chill in Valhalla for a time (there’s my segue again) and then fight alongside the gods in a battle they are are destined to lose and the world all ends in entropy and darkness. And then starts over. This really says something to me about the Norse culture, and about humans in general. I like that struggle against odds you can’t beat, know you can’t, and in the end don’t, but you do it anyway because trying and losing is a hell of a lot better than never trying at all.

Anyway, I never read Thor because he and the rest of the Marvel AEsir just weren’t interesting. They were all flash and no substance. I mean, look at Loki’s horns and tell me that man’s wallet says “bad ass mother fucker” on it.
look at my hat!  it means I'm eeeeeeeevil!
“But Garth,” you might say, “the original Norse stories weren’t all that… you know… deep to begin with.” To which I would counter with, they are perhaps basic in their delivery, but they have a gravitas to them that I just never saw from Marvel’s Thor. Anywho, so the point is that I’m quite vested in anything that deals with the Norse myths, and here we have yet another adaptation this time on the big screen!

So what do we think of the still? Well, it’s hard to say. I REALLY like the concept of Anthony Hopkins playing Odin (a man so bad ass he hung himself from a tree for three days just for kicks). My first thought is “it’s too bright.” Which is strange as most of the colors in this shot are dark grey. I kinda like the armor designs, very Too Human in their design, which I kinda dug. I wish they weren’t so plastic-y. However, Ironman managed to make the plastic suit look like metal so maybe in post-production these’ll look good too. I’m glad they ditched Loki’s ridiculous horns. And I’m not sure what’s up with Odin’s eyepatch. It doesn’t appear to be the same gold color as the accents in his armor, and so it really stands out, obnoxiously so. I do like that there is a slight raven shape in it, but I could be imagining awesome where there isn’t any. I’d also have liked to see some runes carved into that shit. Seriously, there is nothing that says “viking” more than runes everywhere. Well, runes, and horned fur-lined helmets.

Asgard (i.e. the background) looks cool, but a little too clean cut. All around it says to me “ancient alien tech” more than it does “viking hall.” And perhaps they’re running with that. Maybe the AEsir really are crazy powerful super alien beings who came to earth to wage great wars and fight off terrible monstrosities to protect the hapless primitive native life. Stargate did it, why not Marvel?

So, in summary? Is it awesome? Hell yes. Sure, I’d like to see the AEsir be less polished and grittier. I’d like to see more drinking contests that end in the consumption of the local ocean. But! As long as Thor throws Mjolinir with such force that he is physically hauled off his feet, sent flying through the air after the less-than-perfectly forged thunderbolt, I will be one very happy citizen of Midgard.

Sooo… Games in Motion

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Sorry guys. I just haven’t gotten this shit done. How’s that for a first eh? A Webcomic that just tells you the page isn’t done on time rather than making excuses? I could tell you that there’s been some chaotic upheaval in my personal life and that I’ve been a slackass and let it affect my professionalism, or that I’ve been working on other tasks (moving, commissions, new art pieces) and it’s just eaten up my time, or that I’ve been having horrible writers block and the scripting is slowing me down. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. The end result is the same: comic ain’t done. As bad as I feel about being a slackass, because being a slackass sucks, I’m not pulling my punches on this one. The next quality awesome installment of our epic adventure will be posted as soon as it is done. In the mean time… play some kickball, the comic will be here when you come back.

In other news, I’m going to talk about gaming for a bit. Holy shit! I know! You thought I didn’t do anything but sleep and draw stuff, didn’t you! Ha! Fooled you! I’m something of a gamer, though a casual one at that. Used to be pretty hardcore FPSer back in the days of Day of Defeat. I was killer with my k98 back in highschool. Alas, I’ve gotten slower, and the kids who play those games now keep getting faster, and everything looks to be the same shade of hyper-textured brown to me. You know, when shit ain’t exploding. But I do enjoy me some gaming now and again. I’ve been a stalwart PC purist for a long time now, but despite my stance that your computer is a better gaming machine and far more useful than any entertainment/gaming console the gaming industry has embraced consoles as the heart of it all. Every year more and more excellent games come out for consoles only, and on the rare instance where they’re available for PC as well it is quite obvious that they were meant for consoles. I played Prince of Persia (not the most recent sands of time one, the one before that with the headscarves) on PC and despite it being a mind-blowingly awesome game, the game play was less than stellar because all of the moves were mapped specifically for the xbox. Hell, the PC port was so bad that they didn’t even change the graphics. When those quicktime events came up it’d be all “PRESS A!” and I’d be all “shit! what key is mapped to A? Oh right! Spacebar” but by the time my brain finished that, it’d be too late. So consoles are here to stay. And the way they’re looking it looks like your console will one day be the hub of your household entertainment. It’ll be your media player, replacing DVDs, blu-ray, crystal matrix, whatever, and simply access media content through the great NET. Oh, and you can link your far more useful and multi-purpose computer to it as well. It is the future, I fear.

But something interesting has happened. The Wii came about and it was awesome. Motion control! Sweet! Virtual reality is here and it doesn’t suck! Sorta. The Wii is a great system, I wanted one since they announced it, but really I just can’t think of anything I’m dying to play on the wii. My roommates had a Wii and a 360, and I never played anything Wii-ish. I tried Zelda and didn’t care. Tried Metroid and got bored. Nothing engaged me on the Wii. Ah well, nice attempt, maybe next round. Well now, of course, Microsoft and Sony are trying to get in on that motion-sensitive casual gamer market that the Wii has been printing money off of for the last several years. And you know what? I’m not impressed. Not for gaming anyway. As awesome as it sounds to have you know a “gun” to play your FPS with, point and click and all that, until you make it totally immersive and figure out a decent movement control, it’s gonna suck. Go play yourself some airsoft or paintball, way more fun. And I have to say that while some of the manipulative abilities of the PS move are pretty sweet, the wands you use are some of the goofiest looking things ever. They make wiimotes look hardcore. The 360′s Kinect system I actually have more interest in, because unlike the PS move it actually takes motion sensitive technology to its logical conclusion: remove the controller. Why do you need it anyway, right? If you can make a gesture and have shit happen, why do you need to waggle a remote? Now, I don’t think the Kinect is going to be especially great for gaming. I could be proven wrong, but I don’t think it’ll really catch on. However, for baseline menu control and interacting with the BOX as opposed to the game, I think it has epic potential. Picture this:

You walk into your living room, power on your system, and plop down on your couch. With a swipe of your hand you quickly scroll through your Netflix que, decide there’s nothing new you wanna watch. A quick flick upward and you’ve shifted over to the Xbox live to see who of your gamer buddies are online and to see if that new demo finally downloaded. It did! So a quick verbal “play demo” statement sets it running. You grab your controller and play through some awesomeness for 15 minutes until a message from Frank saying that they’re getting a CoD game going and if you want in. Another quick hand gesture swaps out the focus from the demo you were playing to the chat window. And you voip Frank that you’re ready to go, as you quickly swipe your way through menus to boot up CoD. Or conversely, maybe Frank’s pissed you off and you angrily swipe the chat box off your screen and get back to your demo.

Maybe I’m just too much in love with Tony Stark’s 3D modeling computer, but that sounds pretty awesome to me. Maybe the Kinect can give us the start of that. Maybe not. Time will undoubtedly tell.

So, I have seen Avatar now…

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

And I have to agree with just about everyone else: James Cameron’s Avatar is fucking amazing. Seriously. Hollywood hasn’t made a movie like this for over a decade. Despite the things I didn’t like about it, the couple of plot holes, the seriously important shit that was kinda hinted at and missing, the brilliant parts that got buried in the “noble savage” and “yay nature” nonsense, I love this movie. It is a movie that I will gladly watch over and over and over again without ever tiring of seeing it. I can only watch the Dark Knight so many times, but Avatar will never tire.

Cinematics wise, it was a visual cornucopia that was so amazingly nuanced that I can hardly believe it happened. The CG, for what I think is the first time ever, is so real I forgot it was CG. Here, truly the virtual and the sets are blended together in ways that are so seamless that the only thing that you can use to tell them apart is the “can they build that?” test.

Yet the cinematics, no matter how captivating, are not what really did it for me. What sold me on Avatar was the phenomenal cultural barrier between the Humans and the Na’vi. And it’s not the indigenous people vs. greedy corporate invaders part. I actually found the Na’vi “noble savage” shtick to be a detriment to the film, but more on that in a moment. The cultural barrier is not in the environmentally harmonious vs. masters of environment, it is in the separation between consciousnesses. The Na’vi, and the entire Pandoran ecosystem for that matter, have the ability to directly connect to each other, mind to mind. They have an external neural linkage that lets them bond directly with all the life I could figure out on the planet. Really the only reason they need a spoken language is out of some sense of privacy I’d imagine. They can know the minds of the people and animals and even plants around them. The very forests become a neural nexus and depository of the minds of all the people that came before. They have tangible proof that they are not alone in the world, trapped inside their own skulls, that there is more to life that mere survival.

Humans don’t have that luxury. We can’t. We can never truly know one another like the Na’vi can. We have to communicate, through imperfect means, through body language and spoken word and pictures, and none of it is ever exactly what we see and know in our own minds. We can never truly connect with another individual directly, let alone the environment around us. We have to take it on faith that there is more to life than our own needs and desires. Frequently that kind of faith is hard to come by, especially when the world itself seems out to end you. Life is a terrifying thing. We are fragile creatures that die with extreme ease, and the world is very good at killing us. Natural disasters, disease, hunger, simply falling down, even the plants and animals around us can be deadly. It’s no small wonder that humans turned to changing the environment to make it less likely to kill us. Eat or be eaten. If the world is out to get you, beat it down until it no longer can. It makes sense, as long as you don’t empathize with the environment.

The Na’vi are such a part of their environment because of that neural connection that taking a human stance would be akin to punching yourself in the face until you weren’t suicidal anymore. It’s an alien concept. And seeing that was beautiful. Having two cultures that truly could not understand each other because their ways were so utterly foreign that they were inconceivable was awesome.

There are no bad guys in Avatar. Don’t let the hollywoodisms fool you. The humans are not evil, and the Na’vi are not without flaw. They’re just trying to survive with their way of life in tact. Humans are mining Pandora because it has a mineral that is undoubtedly a primary key to keeping civilization as we know it running. Why else would you fly out to the stars and set up a major mining operation? Sure because you make money at it, but why do you make so much money? Because it’s vital, and people will pay for critical elements. I think many of the performances are delightfully nuanced. Most of the humans don’t like the idea of wiping out the indigenous population, even the corporate liaison gets a sick look to him when relations fall to war. If the corporate scum-sucker’s stomach churns at the thought of murdering hundreds of sentient beings for fun and profit, there’s probably hope for us as a species yet. Even the Colonel who is all for killin’ folk isn’t really evil. He’s just surviving. The planet he’s on has tried to kill him every day since the day he set foot on it, can you really blame him for not caring about killing it back a little? Conversely, the tree-hugging Na’vi are no better. Sure it’s their planet, but they’re just as stupid and stubborn as the humans. The movie spends forever teaching Jake (our human/na’vi go-between) about the Na’vi way of life, but the blue catfolk never bother to consider learning the human way. They pick up the language, sure, but they never once ask the outsiders why they’re here or making big holes in the ground. In truth the final battle is amazing, and not just for the explosions. I found myself rooting for both sides at different times. When the human marines were blowing the crap out of the Na’vi and their winged beasts I was all “boo humanity!” but then when those ten foot tall blue bastards landed on the airship and slaughtered an entire marine crew I thought to myself “holy shit alien monster, kill it!” Whether intentional or not, the fact that both sides were wrong and right all at the same time was astounding. It really helped hammer home how all of the violence was simply because of a break down in communications.

As I mentioned earlier, there are more than a few things about Avatar that I was not overly fond of. The most obvious was the “noble savage” image plastered all over the Na’vi. Fuck that shit. Point at an indigenous people and tell me that you’d rather have their way of life. Tell me honestly and truly that their way is better than the way you live your life right now. You can’t do it, can you? You know why? Because it’s a crappy fucking lifestyle. I’m all for being balance and harmony in ones life. Balance within oneself, balance between work and play, balance between give and take, balance between man and nature. I am 137.5% for that, but I’ll be damned if I’ll claim that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle is one that appeals to me. For some reason though we have a mindset that simpler times are better times, even when it’s vehemently not true. That strange nostalgia helps paint lower-tech cultures as being “good guys” where as higher-tech cultures remind us of the stress and bother of daily life and become “bad guys.” This is unfair at best. I would much rather have seen the Na’vi be a culture and civilization on par with the human race. Less mysticism around their ways, if their technology be low make it be a choice of the people rather than to make them look like an easy victim. I’d love to see an advanced Na’vi culture. I doubt that they’d ever form the kind of metallurgy and industrialization that humans have simply because of their intrinsic tie to their ecosystem. However, I can easily see them developing a finely tuned ability to use that neural connection to shape the world around them. The planet would become a massive supercomputer. They could influence the growth and shape of the trees and plants to form buildings. I’d even be willing to bet that they could have an amazing breeding program, influencing the shape and mental capacity of the animals in utero. They would be an advanced, intelligent species, having developed a culture that makes them as much a part of the environment as the environment is a part of them. Humans meeting them in that state would be a different ball game, and yet the same. The cultures would still not be able to grok each other, but they would be on the same playing field.

I also felt that for all that was in Avatar, a great deal of the story was left out. The biggest parts being “why is the unobtanium so damn important to humanity? Why’s it so vital?” and “did the initial contact crew ever bother explaining to the indigenous folk how important it is?” Ok, perhaps why we need unobtanium is irrelevant; I mean it’s called unobtanium for God’s sake. I bet it builds starships, makes interstellar travel possible, makes the economy work, cures cancer, and makes you bacon omelets for breakfast. However, if a ragtag ship of aliens were to land on Earth, discover sand and tell the nearest human beings that sand was vitally important to them and they needed as much as they could get, wouldn’t you think people might help? Even if the aliens had not a single thing humanity wanted (unlikely), I’d like to think we’d just give ‘em some sand just ’cause. Did humans not explain to the Na’vi how critical this mineral was? Did the Na’vi not care that it was the key to another species’ survival? Does obtaining the mineral come at too high a cost? How much value can you put on the lives of strangers? These are important things to consider, but admittedly answering them requires a different movie.

I also felt that Avatar started a lot of sub-plots and threads but never went anywhere with them. While I applaud Cameron for acknowledging that these threads would exist in this scenario, I am disappointed that they never developed or were resolved. We assume a resolution because, that’s what happens. For instance, right after Jake comes out of his first mad-cap Avatar driving experience and everyone’s talking about how awesome it is that he’s gotten into Hometree and the Na’vi have sorta taken him in, his driver/buddy Norm gets this fantastic look of “god damnit, that should have been me. it’s so unfair, untrained jarhead gets the glory…” I was expecting this envy thread to go somewhere, it was perfectly fitting, and excellently introduced. Yet the thread never went anywhere. In fact that was the only sign of tension between the two ever. I would have loved to see more on-screen development of the human characters, and all of the secondary characters in general. I would have loved to see all the subplots and threads explored and wound together. Sadly that would make the movie like 5 hours long.

The other big thing that bothered me was the ending. So stop reading now if you haven’t seen it and care about spoilers. For the rest of you, I’m talking about Jake’s body swap and the death to humanity. Jake Sully can never truly be one of the Na’vi, no matter how much they accept him. He is not Na’vi, and I feel it cheapens his accomplishments and realizations and sacrifices to make him literally one of them. Conversely he can’t be fully human either. Not after shipping his planet’s one hope of survival back home in shame that they have failed. Oh, didn’t catch that? Yeah. After saving the Na’vi, Jake ships all the other people that were against him (including some people that did help out a touch) back to the dying Earth. Good call there. Yeah, call me a speciest, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to betray my own kind like that. No matter how wrong they were. Regardless of that, Jake is a man between worlds. One foot on each side of the fence, caught in the middle, and the middle is where he needs to stay as a character in my mind.

Despite any shortcomings, Avatar manages to do something I haven’t seen from hollywood in over a decade I think. It’s a film full of heavy issues and thoughtfulness that is amazingly fun to watch all at the same time. Avatar remembers that its primary goal is to entertain, and it does so in spades.

Murder She Wrote 2

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Hey guys, I have been super busy lately prepping for Animazement which I’ll be at this weekend. I had a blast there last year, and hope to have a resounding repeat this year. I’ve also finally managed to get something vaguely resembling a normal sleep schedule going. I’m awake during daylight hours. I’m not a vampire! Hooray! However, to keep this cycle I’m enforcing a strict “no staying up until dawn finishing pages” policy. So from now on sleep comes first. I can’t afford to throw myself off only to spend the time getting back on.

Also, have you people been watching Castle? I suppose I’m actually the one behind on this. As the last episode of the short first season aired last week, you’re probably not watching it any more. I’m still catching up, but seriously, this is damn good TV. For those who don’t know, it’s basic premise is that of Murder She Wrote: murder mystery writer helps police solve actual murders. It manages to do something rather impressive. The show has a good balance between the “the crime can’t be that simple, it wouldn’t make for a good story” and the “this is how police work really goes down.” The mysteries are convoluted and fantastical enough to make the writer character (Rick Castle) appropriate to the stories, but the way the crimes are examined and investigated is down to earth enough to be believably real. And if that weren’t enough reason to watch (genuinely interesting crime drama), the character interaction is simply brilliant. Nathan Fillion is charming and roguish as ever and Stana Katic is a super sexy fox. Even all of the secondary characters are interesting and charming and have their own quirks. There isn’t a single character I don’t enjoy. Why is it so hard to write good and interesting characters? Pay attention to this show. It’s already one of my all time favorites. I hope it continues to great things for many a season to come.

To Boldly Go…

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

So I saw Star Trek Friday. It’s bloody amazing. It is quite possibly one of the best relaunches of a series ever, certainly one of the best if not the best sci-fi movie in recent memory. The movie stays unwaveringly true to the source material without actually feeling obligated to follow it to the letter. Which is what any adaptation should do. Every character was brought to life in amazing ways, every actor breathing new life into classic characters without actually changing who they are fundamentally. Chris Pine is a great Kirk. He’s brings all of Kirk’s high-seas captain sass and boldness, his unending confidence and unwillingness to accept defeat without bringing the cheese Shatner (God love him) is known for. Quinto is a dead ringer for Spock, as I’m sure we who saw the trailers were quite assured of. It was Karl Urban’s performance as McCoy that impressed me the most. I swear to God it was like they resurrected DeForest Kelly and put him back on the big screen. It was an amazing performance. The rest of the cast was also great, even if we didn’t get a great deal of screen time. Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty were all great. I was somewhat disappointed that despite Sulu claiming to be trained in fencing he has a crazy sci-fi katana and mad flippy kung-fu moves. That was a mild disappointment. But otherwise, the cast was spot on and I can’t wait to see more of them.

There were dozens of little nods to the original series and the films but none of it seemed forced. It was beautifully natural. Redshirts died (first of course), Bones was a doctor not a physicist, Scotty gave her all she’s got, Kirk banged the green chick. It was everything that made Star Trek awesome, new and updated, and shiny, and amazing.

I did want to kick JJ Abrams in the teeth and give his cameramen steady cams, and tell them to cut back on the lens flare a bit. Though I have that complaint with really anything action-oriented that holywood puts out these days. So, the film is well worth price of admission. I hope to see it a second time on the big screen.

In other news, I’m going to be at Animazement down in Raleigh next weekend. I should have some sweet new prints in time, and with a little luck a really sweet unveiling (more on this mystery later). Regardless, I hope to see more than a few of you there! I’ll be doing sketchcards, so do stop by and say hello.

Also, we’ve got a new wallpaper available:

And I’m hoping to be able to close the pre-orders for the Bubblegum Death T-shirt by the end of the month, so make sure to get yours reserved. Remember, without pre-orders we have a hard time bringing you cool new stuff like these shirts.