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Webcomics I Read (2013 Edition)

It felt like this was going to be a skimpy entry this year, until I actually sat down and drew up the list of webcomics I started reading since last year, and there are quite a few of them! Some of them are brand new and I still don’t have a feel for them, while others already feel like I’ve been reading them forever. Lots of variety in the webcomicsphere these days!

You can find my past entries here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

For the tl;dr folk, the strips I would recommend from this batch are Connie to the Wonnie, My So-Called Secret Identity, Namesake, Nimona and Ultrasylvania. Some brand-new strips that I’m looking forward to are AHTspace, Maralinga and Rock and Tin.

  • AHTSpace, by Paige Halsey Warren: “Rampaige” was the creator of Busty Girl Comics (which ended its run a year ago), and this year she launched AHTspace, about an assortment of twenty something artists sharing studio space. Drama! Crushes! Humor! The first loose arc of the strip is just about done, in which the characters get gathered and we learn a little about them, but where it goes from here anyone knows. The art is more polished than in BGC (to be fair, I think Warren always felt the earlier strip was just sketches, not finished work), and it’s a promising start.
  • Anything About Nothing, by Kelly Angel: Gag-a-day humor, sometime off-color, art is decent, no continuity. If you enjoy strips like Internet Webcomic (see below) and Savage Chickens then you’ll probably like this. For me, it hasn’t yet distinguished itself from the competition, and it revels a little too much in its irreverence. (I have the same problem with Cyanide and Happiness.)
  • Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski: In the future, a girl named Ava is haunted by a malicious apparition only she can see, but which sometimes forces her to do wicked things. No, it’s not split personality, there’s something really going on here. Digitally illustrated in panels of the same size (you only view on at a time), this is a long-form science fantasy yarn which is already pretty far in, but clearly still has a long way to go. The art style is not quite to my taste (sort of like Dresden Codak with more manga influence and less polish), but it’s growing on me.
  • Blindsprings, by Kadi Fedoruk: A fantasy yarn about a girl who lives in the forest and refuses to go when a boy tries to take her away. It’s just starting up and there are ominous rumblings about why exactly the girl lives there. The art seems to have influences of manga, Disney, and celtic stylings – perhaps a little too cartoony for my tastes in a serious strip. Otherwise, I’m sticking with it to see how it develops.
  • Cat and Girl, by Dorothy Gambrell: A friend of mine introduced me to this strip by asking me about the strip “The Unreliable Narrator”, which I found very clever. Unfortunately I haven’t really been able to connect to the strip otherwise; it’s very metatextual, and not particularly funny. Maybe I’m just not interested in spending that much think-time per strip to enjoy each one of them, but I have tried and it generally hasn’t been my thing.
  • Completely Serious Comics, by Jesse: Simply-drawn gag-a-day strip, sometimes leaning towards being profound or shocking rather than funny. I think “Ghosts” was the first strip I read, and it’s one of the better ones. Otherwise I’m lukewarm towards the strip as a whole.
  • Connie to the Wonnie, by Connie Sun: Another one for the slice-of-life/gag-a-day bucket, but this (semi?-)autobiographical strip about its Asian-American creator is charming and one of my favorite finds of the year. Mainly, because it’s got heart.
  • The Firelight Isle, by Paul Duffield: Duffield illustrated FreakAngels from Warren Ellis’ scripts, and he’s a superb artist. This new strip is all his own work; it’s just begun and appears to update only every few weeks. I believe it’s going to be a YA coming-of-age story in a fantasy world without any actual fantastical elements, and honestly I have a hard time warming to such settings (it’s why I’ve basically stopped reading the Game of Thrones series after the second volume – not enough fantastical content). So I’m reading it solely on the strength of Duffield’s past work, but so far without much enthusiasm. If I drop it, I think it’ll be just because it’s not my cup of tea, because it looks beautiful.
  • Hinges, by Meredith McClaren: An ambitious strip about a young woman named Orio who wakes up in a city named Cobble, in which everyone appears to be artificial. She bonds with an “odd” (apparently an imp or animal attached to a person) named Bauble, which leads to some degree of trouble. The strip was immediately intriguing on first reading, but I feel like the story is both a bit slow and a bit too intricate for its own good, as I often scratch my head trying to figure out what the emotional hook is – Olio is quite a cipher so it’s hard to relate to her, but she’s unequivocally the center of the story. The art is simple but very good, but I wish it would move along a little more. I think it’s similar to Jason Brubaker’s Remind in many respects.
  • Internet Webcomic, by Mary H. Tanner: A cat-oriented gag-a-day strip with an erratic update schedule, and loosely based on its creator’s day-to-day life. I like it a little better than Anything About Nothing (above), but I’m not bowled over. Seems to update erratically.
  • Love Me Nice, by Amanda Lafrenais: Soap opera strip about humans and cartoon animals living in the same world, not unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with stronger themes of relationships and sexual undertones. Very well drawn (and gets better as it goes along), but the story is a bit meandering. Updates irregularly, as it’s a labor of love and the artist has other work that pays the bills.
  • Maralinga, by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate: I think this strip is going to be the winner for strips I discover this year that drive me crazy, because I suspect it’s going to update very infrequently (“We’ll be updating Maralinga with one 10 page chapter every three months”). But the first chapter, which is all that’s up right now, is killer: A girl in the year 2256 is living in the ruins of Melbourne in the ruins of civilization. The artwork looks gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories anyway (c.f. Derelict, which is one of my favorites). The update schedule is gonna hurt, though; one page a week would be preferable.
  • My So-Called Secret Identity, by Will Brooker, Suze Shore & Sarah Zaidan: A superhero comic about an ordinary woman, Cat Daniels, who decides to become a superhero. The daughter of a cop, Cat is smart and sees how things fit together, and she smells something not right among the (with-real-powers) superheroes of her city, and becomes a hero herself to try to figure out what it is. The art is in a realistic style emphasizing the real world (background! clothing!), though not too different from a superhero comic style – in a sense, it looks like a golden age DC comic if those artists had more solid fundamentals. Unfortunately it updates erratically, which can make it hard to get into after a hiatus.
  • Namesake, by Isabelle Melançon & Megan Lavey-Heaton: An epic strip about “namesakes”, people who learn they can travel to fantasy worlds, in particular a young woman named Emma who ends up in Oz as “the newest Dorothy”, but her strong sense of self throws things off a bit since she refuses to fill a specific role. The story is somewhat meandering (there are intrigues in Oz involving some of the principals and their children, digressions into other lands – notably Wonderland – and some larger machinations involving the namesakes and people who want to control or use them), but at times it’s quite good (the sequence where Emma visits a shrine to previous Dorothies is chilling). The art is good, although I find many of the characters’ faces look very similar which can make it hard to follow. I think the strip would be better served with more structure and working through its subplots as a series of stories that come to a close, since keeping everything moving on simultaneously makes it even harder to follow what’s going on.
  • Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson: Possibly the best strip I discovered this year, it’s about Ballister Blackheart, a “super villain” (in a world of high fantasy, albeit with some high tech mixed in) trying to demonstrate that the establishment is actually the corrupt side of his conflict. He’s tilting at windmills until a girl named Nimona hooks up with him; as a shapeshifter she can accomplish a lot, and she has ideas and motivation which Blackheart seems to have run out of. But of course it’s not all as easy as it seems. Snappy and wry writing, and an interesting style. Nimona is I believe nearing the end of its run, so this is a good time to check it out.
  • Perils on Planet X, by Christopher Mills & Gene Gonzales: An adventure strip with a strong Flash Gordon feel, right down to the hero ending up on an alien planet and hooking up with a beautiful space-babe. Honestly it could just be Flash Gordon updated for modern audiences, which makes it enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t go much beyond that, which makes me wonder: Why bother? Gorgeous art, though.
  • Plume, by K. Lynn Smith: Western frontier adventure featuring a young woman being protected by a ghost as she seeks her fortune and to avenge her father. The line work is simple but conveys a lot though the characters’ expressions; not as strong on the backgrounds. The story is intriguing but something about it feels slightly off, perhaps because the characters don’t quite feel real to me. It feels like the story is still just getting underway, though, and if so then there’s plenty of time for it to grow.
  • Rock and Tin, by Tom Dell’Aringa: Known for the long-form strip Marooned (which recently completed and the collection of which I’m reading, as I missed it during its serialization), this is his new strip. It’s really just getting going, and it so far involves a robot and a bird wandering across a landscape until they come across… something. Dell’aringa has a simple but attractive art style, and a whimsical writing approach (which reminds me just a bit of Wesslingsaung). So far so good, and hopefully to only get better.
  • Ultrasylvania, by Jeremy Saliba, Brian Schirmer & a cast of artists: Illustrated by a variety of artists from the Academy of Art University, this concerns an alternate history of Europe in which Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy emerge in the 19th century and become major world leaders. The first volume completed a while back and sets the stage among the three principals, while the second volume is in progress and is taking place in the present day – and some dramatic differences there are after 150 years of influence by immortal supernatural beings. The art ranges from good to iffy, though one could just as easily say the iffy work is just not to my taste. But overall it’s an entertaining and enjoyable story. I’m not sure how long it’s going to run, but it could go for quite a while.
  • You’re All Just Jealous of my Jetpack, by Tom Gauld: Gauld does strips for the Guardian newspaper, and they’re simple line drawings with nonsensical stylings reminiscent of Edward Gorey. I happen to like that sort of thing, but it might not be for everyone.
  • Zen Pencils, by Gavin Aung Than: Cartoons illustrating inspirational quotes, often trying them into a story told through the art and illuminated by the quote. Than has a clean, simply style, but more expressive than (say) Tom Gauld. The quality can be erratic, depending on whether you can connect to the quote, or you feel the story matches the quote. For my money, his best strip is this Roger Ebert one.

The Time of the Doctor

I’m hard-pressed to think of a less distinguished, less inspiring, and just plain less-fun final episode for any of the leads of Doctor Who than “The Time of the Doctor”, this year’s Christmas episode and Matt Smith’s swan song as the eleventh Doctor. While the 1996 TV movie was not great, and I’m no fan of “The Caves of Androzani” (a favorite of many fans for reasons I don’t understand), both of them are better than this mess of a story was.

Spoilers after the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

Lazy Christmas

It’s been a quiet, nay, lazy, Christmas holiday around here. Both Debbi and I have Christmas Eve through New Year’s off from work, and I took Monday off as well.

Tuesday we went up to California Academy of Sciences for the fourth time this year, getting a lot of value out of our annual memberships (which we decided to renew for next year). We saw a planetarium show we hadn’t seen, and also saw their two live reindeer. Also the penguins were very active for a change! After lunch we headed to Borderlands Books where we picked up several items and sat in their cafe for a while.


Female reindeer

Male reindeer

(click for larger images)

We have a quiet set of traditions here at our house. We put up Christmas lights outside the house in early December (well, weekend after Thanksgiving this year), then put up a pair of artificial trees (a big one in the living room, and a small one in the family room so we can have some lights in there where we sit to watch TV). Christmas morning we come down to open presents, then we have breakfast, then shower, and talk to family somewhere in there. For dinner I make bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Variations this year included grilling baked potatoes with the meatloaf, and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special (about which I should write its own entry, but the short version is that I didn’t like it much – especially compared to “The Day of the Doctor”, which I adore enough to have watched about ten times since it aired).

I “won” at Christmas presents this year, as I bought Debbi a replacement for her “cat hair is a condiment” mug, which I broke (and later glued back together) earlier this year, and also bought her a stand-up mixer, which she’d expressed an interest in (but didn’t expect to get nearly this soon). Specifically I bought her a red KitchenAid Artisan mixer, which got good reviews. It comes in a variety of other colors, some of which are a little odd but would probably fit some personalities or home decor well.

Debbi bought me a Hubsan X4 quadcopter, which is gonna take me some practice to get use to. Jackson was fascinated by it.

Speaking of Jackson, we learned that he’s our wrapping paper cat; he doesn’t so much as pounce on it, as burrow into it and lie down.

My sister and I did a video chat, which I suggested so we could show each other around our respective houses, since she hasn’t visited me since we moved here in 2011, and I’ve never visited her and she bought a place last summer. I did this with my friend Jim a year ago when he was in the hospital over Thanksgiving and it seemed to work well. So Katy and I carried our iPads around the houses to show everything off. While our house is quite modern, hers is almost a century old and she’s been doing a lot of work on it (with her own two hands!), so we got to see the rooms in various stages of refurbishment, which is pretty cool. Once she has most of the major work done, it’s gonna look really nice. They don’t make ’em like that anymore (which has its good points and its bad points).

Otherwise we spent a quiet day at home, and didn’t go 20 feet away from the house until we went for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner.

We don’t have a lot planned for the rest of our break, so I expect we’ll mostly hang around the house for the next week. Which is fine, since I like our house. 🙂

Three Days at Disneyland

Last weekend we drove down to Disneyland and spent three days there. Other than our trip to Disney World in 2007, I think this is the longest we’ve spent at a Disney park. But, we haven’t been in several years (thanks to our vacation moratorium due to Newton and Blackjack’s conditions), and Debbi was missing it, so we added the extra day.

Unfortunately, on Saturday when we drove down, snow closed both the Grapevine into Los Angeles and its main alternate route. After lunch at Harris Ranch, we learned of the closure in time to reroute from I-5 through the central valley to Hwy 101 on the coast, but it added 2 or 3 hours to our trip. We had 6:30 reservations for dinner and were worried we wouldn’t make it, but we got to our hotel around 5:40 and made it to dinner in time – where we met Mark and Yvette, whom we hadn’t seen in a while. They introduced us to the bar & lounge at the Grand Californian hotel, which has some killer drinks and some good appetizers.

Disneyland Main Gate

A few rides were closed at the parks while we were there, but the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster was the only one we really missed. Otherwise we rode all of our favorite rides on Sunday, and went around the park in the railway train. In the evening we had reservations for dinner to get the preferred seating for the World of Color show, which was nice since it was getting pretty cold and a sit-down dinner was a good way to get out of the chill. (The restaurant also had the same drinks as at the bar Saturday night.)

Paradise Pier

One of the bummers at the park is that Starbucks is apparently taking over coffee services there. I don’t loathe Starbucks, but I do find them to be below-average coffee (especially drip coffee). They’ve replaced the old coffee ship on Main Street, which was wonderful, not just because you could get a free refill, but because the drip coffee was genuinely tasty. I realize that Disneyland’s relentless commercialism is just a part of the park, but this is definitely a big step backwards.

Monday was inexplicably cold and windy, which was awkward since this was the day we decided to try the Radiator Springs Racers, which is the hot new ride at California Adventure. We got a Fastpass for it and then stood in line for 90 minutes for an extra ride. And holy cow the main feed to the ride is the coldest spot in the park, and the staff don’t even have heaters to keep them warm! But we got to ride it twice. It’s a good ride, but not perhaps worth waiting that long for a go.

Radiator Springs

In the evening we had reservations at the Blue Bayou restaurant, and despite somehow having been forgotten about for a while after checking in, we ended up with a water-side table. The food was good as always. Just as we were finishing up and looking at the dessert menu, the manager of our section told us the fire alarm was going off and everyone had to evacuate. She told us since we were done we could just leave and not come back to pay. Strange! But surely a much smaller hassle than for people who were halfway through their dinner (especially since it was c-o-l-d outside).

Tuesday we had a “magic morning”, getting into Disneyland an hour before regular opening, so we went to ride several of the classic Fantasyland rides (which don’t have Fastpasses and are often jammed with long lines during regular hours). This was the warmest day of our trip, and of course we had brought warmer clothes on this day – oh well!

We rode Pirates of the Caribbean in the afternoon, and as our boat came up out of the underground ride we noticed that there was no line and the front doors had closed. Sure enough, the fire alarm had gone off as it had during dinner the night before – but we made it through the ride anyway! That building was having a rough weekend. As did the Indiana Jones ride, which was closed for most of Monday and Tuesday, so we only got to ride it once.

Somewhere along the way we went into Innoventions in Tomorrowland which I’d understood had been overhauled from the rather dated “future of the past” look from when we went 10 years ago. If anything, it’s actually worse than before. While there are a few vaguely interesting exhibits, some of it is a shambles: There’s currently an exhibit for Thor: The Dark World which we waited in for 20 minutes without much idea of what it was or how often it ran; eventually we gave up. (As best I could tell it was some sort of film presentation.) And the first floor is a sort of “house of the future”, but with an outside ring which is basically completely empty – it felt like we were trespassing backstage. Very bizarre. And the house exhibit itself was no nicer than the house we actually have! Innoventions has to be the place in Disneyland with the least imagination. Bizarre – and entirely skippable.

On the other hand, Star Tours, which I was also underwhelmed by when I rode it a decade ago, has been significantly refurbished and is a lot more fun. We only rode it once on this trip, but I’d certainly go again.

While we in the parks there I took some pictures and texted them to my nephew, which my sister had suggested I do after I sent her a picture on our first night. She says he enjoyed getting them; I haven’t seen him in a number of years, so I’m glad he did!

Haunted Mansion Holiday

After the fireworks show on Tuesday evening we did a couple more rides and then called it an early evening. Wednesday we drove back home, and fortunately hit no snags other than a couple of slowdowns on the LA freeways (and, honestly, “a couple of slowdowns” on the LA freeways is about the best you can hope for). Our kitties were happy to see us and very snuggly, and we were glad to collapse into our own bed.

Alas, Tuesday afternoon I started coming down with a cold, and driving home didn’t help it any, so today I stayed home sick. Still, a fun trip all-in-all.

Alastair Reynolds: On The Steel Breeze

On The Steel Breeze is the sequel to last year’s Blue Remembered Earth, although you strictly speaking don’t need to read Blue to follow Breeze. It takes place starting in the mid-2300s, so about 200 years after its predecessor. Thanks to life-extension technologies, a few characters from Blue are still around, but the book centers on Chiku Akinya, daughter of Sunday Akinya, one of the two principals of the first book.

Chiku has had herself cloned into three identical persons, memories evened out among them, and who then followed three different paths: Chiku Red flew after their grandmother Eunice’s ship, which had left the solar system at high speed at the end of the first book carrying Eunice on it. Chiku Green travelled aboard the Zanzibar, one of a fleet of starships (hollowed-out asteroids moving at more than 10% of light speed) heading to Crucible, a planet about 25 light years away which has what looked like evidence of alien intelligence on it, in the form of a strange object on its surface called Mandala. And Chiku Yellow stayed on Earth.

Most of the action takes place on Zanzibar, where Chiku Green has risen to a position on the council, but where the fleet is endangered by political turmoil and a more physical possibility that they won’t be able to stop before they fly past Crucible. She contacts Chiku Yellow on Earth who unearths some of the secrets that her sister has suspected, but at significant cost: Something threatens not just the fleet, but possibly every in the solar system as well, and there are surprises waiting at Crucible assuming humans manage to arrive there.

On The Steel Breeze, like its predecessors, is focused more on grand world-building than on clever plotting. The story is more sophisticated than Blue, the first book having disappointed me a bit in its fairly simply “quest” story. Breeze has more nuance in characters – mainly in the fleet – pursuing different agendas that are largely incompatible. Chiku Green makes some large personal sacrifices for what she feels is the good of her ship and her family. The characterizations are not Reynolds’ strong suit, and Chiku seems a bit too calculating in making her decisions. On the other hand Reynolds’ hand at politics is more deft than before.

The pieces of the story involving Chiku Yellow on Earth are the most exciting parts of the book, with a tense adventure on Venus followed by a hair-raising return to Earth. Her character arc is stronger, too, although as her tale fades into the background the closure her story achieves feels a little thin. The storytelling gimmick of telling the tale through the eyes of the two aspects of Chiku is clever in the first half, but doesn’t perhaps serve the characters the best in the second.

Of course there’s the alien presence at Crucible, which is not really the focus of the novel but plays some role at the end. It seems likely that it will be the focus of the third book.

Taken together, the two books feel like a modern take on Heinlein and Clarke styles of the future of humanity, expanding the world-building considerably. They’re very well-crafted works, but they do require some dedication as their pacing seems calculated to emphasize the world-building, and thus they’re not likely to be for everyone. I don’t count them among Reynolds’ best work, but I’m enjoying them so far. I’m hopeful that the next novel will bring a larger leap in technology and ideas content.