I think I have been to 3 cons in about 40 years… and for one of them, I went to support a friend who was premiering a video at the con (I was in it — I was the guy who got stabbed through the eye socket with a crowbar in one scene and stabbed through the chest in another scene — that was fun). But U-Con will be happening in Ann Arbor on the weekend of October 28th… Ann Arbor is just a short drive away… and someone I have done some illustration work for (Goodman Games) has asked me if I want to go to the con and run a few games as an event to help promote DCC stuff. He’s a good guy and I want to do him a good turn, so I am seriously considering it — but I just never really liked ‘cons’ much like I never really liked going to the local comic book shop.

Maybe I have the wrong idea about them (cons)?

Maybe it will be different if I have a ‘task’ there?

What the Pluck?

Is this chicken going to grill himself?

People are getting agitated because the crusty old bastard who owns ‘Chick-fil-A’ opposes same sex marriage (or, in his words, he supports the “biblical definition of a family”).  (If either one of my two readers is not from the US, ‘Chick-fil-A’ is like McDonalds, but they serve breaded chicken patties on a bun instead of beef.  The name is pronounced, “Chick-Filet.”)  As far as I know, Chick-fil-A has not refused to hire gay people and has not refused to let gay people eat their crappy food.  But people from both sides are mad anyway.

The gay people and their friends (mostly lefties; the folks I usually end up self-identifying with) think that Dan Cathy, president and owner of Chick-fil-A, is ‘an intolerant bigot’ and are encouraging a boycott.  Aldermen, mayors and other bottom feeders in the political arena are threatening to make things hot for Chick-fil-A in their districts.  On the other hand, the ‘Chick-fil-A’ kerfuffle has become red meat for the likes of right-wing opinionators like Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin, who are holding up the idea that people would boycott a restaurant because of the owner’s  opinions on gay marriage as ‘un-American’ or are impinging on Dan Cathy’s religious freedoms. Even ‘The Muppets’ have weighed in on the controversy; Henson Studios recently backed out of a deal to provide promotional muppet themed toys for Chick-fil-A’s kid’s meals because they didn’t want to be associated with the Chick-fil-A brand due to the owner’s comments.
I will have no problem in stopping myself from eating ‘Chick-fil-A’ because I think their food is absolute crap. But I do think that it is wrong for mayors and aldermen to threaten to refuse to allow ‘Chick-fil-A’ to open in their districts or interfering with the business as a ‘fuck you’ to the owners simply because of what the owner said in order to score points with some of their liberal base, much like I think it’s wrong for political operators in Rutherford County, Tennessee to attempt to stonewall the opening of a mosque in order to score points with anti-Muslim conservatives. However stupid I think the opinions of the owner of ‘Chick-fil-A’ may be, having opinions should not be illegal (maybe calling Chick-fil-A suitable for human consumption ought to be illegal, but I digress).  Besides, if McDonalds and Burger King can serve crappy food, Chick-fil-A ought to be able to as well.
That said, I think boycotts are as American as succotash*,  and, as Americans, we should feel free to boycott whatever we want whenever we want for whatever reason we want.  Speaking of ‘biblical principles,’ Reverend  Jerry Fallwell encouraged his followers to boycott ‘Teletubbies’ because, in Fallwell’s opinion, the ‘teletubbies’ encouraged kids to ‘turn gay’ (His evidence? One of the Telletubbies carried a purse and had a triangle on its sexless head — case closed!). In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney because Disney Corporation offered same sex partner benefits to their employees. What’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander.  If consumers don’t want to eat ‘Chick-fil-A’ because they don’t like the cut of the owner’s jib, they should go for it. If the owner of Chick-fil-A doesn’t want to have gays and their friends boycotting his store, he might want to keep his opinions to himself.  It’s not as if there is any shortage of crappy fast food in America, anyway.

*The usual phrase is, “American as apple pie,” but I understand that ‘apple pies’ have been served in England since at least the middle ages (if not earlier), making them not very “American” at all, so I went with succotash, which was introduced to the pilgrims by the Narragansett Indians and was apparently one of the first ‘Thanksgiving’ foods).

Smart ads that are not

So I was looking at an online story about that dude who threatened to shoot up his coworkers and had a bunch of guns at home this morning and check out the ‘smart ads’ that popped up:

Ads for bullet proof vests and armor plate embedded in a story about someone who apparently threatened to duplicate the Aurora theater shooting? I don’t know if the content server’s analytics are genius or shit… I mean, reading about someone shooting up the movie theater or workplace might make me want to buy body armor, on the other hand, if I were to be in the bullet proof vest business, do I really want customers associating me with people who go ballistic (oops a pun) and shoot their coworkers or fellow movie watchers?  Probably not.

Dungeon Alphabet Re-Released by Goodman Games

Pole and Rope’s Michael Curtis recently announced that a new edition of his popular ‘Dungeon Alphabet’ book is being released (soon) by Goodman Games (product description and pre-order info on Goodman site is here). The new edition increases the page count to 64 from the original 48 pages and I did a couple of new interior pieces as well. 

If you are not familiar with the original, “Dungeon Alphabet” started out as a series of blog posts by Michael Curtis at “The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope.” For every letter of the alphabet, he came up with a post dealing with that letter and then generated tables of cool, creepy, interesting stuff — good not only for fantasy role playing game fans, but also just a fun read.  Someone observed, “This ought to be a book!” and Goodman eventually published it, which is really cool since it is like a book that just grew organically out of blog posts that Curtis made just for the hell of it.  If I remember right, I illustrated “C is for Caves” and “X is for Xenophobia” as well as “M is for Maps.”  The new edition has a few more entries and some new artwork (I haven’t seen the whole thing, just the pages I worked on).

Other well known artists/illustrators whom you may know from their work in Goodman products illustrated the book; the list includes Russ Nicholson, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Peter Mullen, Doug Kovacs, Michael Wilson, and Brad McDevitt.

I think you can get it with either the original Otus cover or a new gold foil cover by me (that features an ‘A’ on the front and a ‘Z’ on the back).  The gold foil cover will look something like this, but more shiny:

Goodman DCC Art Previews

I just got a package from Goodman Games with my artist complementary copies of some of the adventures I have been working on, so, since these things are shipping I guess I can let you have a peek behind the curtain.  All three of the below pics are “title page” illos — they are not the cover, but are the first page you see after you open the cover and list the author, artists, etc.  For more info on Goodman DCC Adventures, go here.  These pics are from People of the Pit, Doom of the Savage Kings and Sailors on the Starless Sea.

This may be the worst book I have ever (tried to) read

I might read this Kilgore Trout book.

I got a free download for my Kindle of William Bebb’s novel, “Valley of Death, Zombie Trailer Park.” I don’t know who William Bebb is, but a quick search of wikipedia tells me that “William Bebb” was a whig who served as the 19th Govenor of Ohio and died in 1873.  Something tells me that ‘Zombie Trailerpark’ was not written by the same William Bebb.

A few posts ago, I opined that if one wanted to write a shitty book, one way to stack the odds in your favor on this quest of ‘shitty bookness’ is to write a zombie novel. And I think ‘Zombie Trailerpark’ could serve as exhibit A if one wanted to prove that proposition. Despite its 5 star rating on Amazon, Bebb’s book is pretty damn bad. 

I haven’t managed to read the whole thing. I have pretty low standards — it’s not all Gogol and Shakespeare on my bookshelf — but I enjoy my pulp and genre fiction (and even manage to read them without having to assume an ‘ironic post modern manner’ — I sometimes read shitty, lowbrow genre novels because I sometimes LIKE shitty, lowbrow genre novels). But “Valley of Death” failed to amuse.  After a few pages, I kept reading because I didn’t believe that a book could be so bad.  I wasn’t laughing WITH it or AT it — it was like watching a literary car crash — I was reading with disbelief. I think I got about 1/2 way through when I threw in the towel.

I previously thought that “The Cannibal Within” by Mark Mirabello had to be the worst book I ever failed to finish reading… and I might have read more of ‘The Cannibal Within’ if the Kindle edition I had of it had not had so many formatting problems that it was close to impossible to read simply because it was entertaining in a ‘John Waters Pink Flamingos meets Richard Shaver’ kind of way. And, despite the worship heaped at the altar of Lovecraft, his prose is pretty awful… which doesn’t stop me from enjoying it (on the contrary, the ridiculous piling on of adjectives can be delightful — and, no, I don’t make any claims for my own skill as a writer).

Weekend Work

Several years ago, we were at a street art fair and Annie fell in love with the sculptures of Andrew Carson. we talked about buying one for years… it wasn’t until recently that actually making the purchase became realistic.

The sculpture is custom made (variations on a design, each one is slightly different) and is made of brass, hand-blown glass, steel, copper, etc. There are 13 different pivot points on the thing, it’s really much more like a cross between a mechanical bird and a weather-vane than anything else, and when the breeze is blowing it spins and twirls, so still photos don’t do it justice. Right now it’s bastard hot and the air is still; I’m waiting for a windy day; maybe I can get a video of it in motion with my cellphone. It doesn’t make any sound (at least none that I can hear); it just spins.

I just spent a part of yesterday and part of today installing it.  The artist shipped it out in a series of big boxes that arrived via UPS — the curvy stand was wrapped from top to bottom in packing material and the rest was disassembled and packed in boxes.  I sunk a concrete footing about 2 feet deep x 18 inches wide with threaded bolts embedded in it and the stand bolted to that. The rest was fairly easy to put together with an allen wrench and a box wrench — it was 90% assembled, one just had to attatch the wings, the fan, etc.  Actually unpacking it was harder than assembling it. I think the threaded rods on the base poke out too much and may want to eventually cut them down; Annie thinks that the grass will make it a non-issue.

I haven’t measured it, but I am guessing it is about 9 or 10 feet tall from the ground to the little red arrow-thingy at the top.

Artist removes halo, adds blue ribbon

OK, there is this mural of all sorts of important people including Joe Paterno in downtown State College PA. The artist who painted the mural added a halo over Joe’s head after Paterno died earlier this year. Now that it has come out that Paterno was apparently aware that Sandusky was abusing kids and protected the molester (or, at very best, failed to act on the reports or allow others to intervene), the artist has painted the halo out again. He also added a blue ribbon to Paterno’s coat in the mural.*  I was not aware of this, but apparently a blue ribbon means you support the victims of child sexual abuse.

Artist Michael Pilato working on the mural

I don’t have a horse in this race, being uninterested in football, not a victim of sexual abuse** and not a Penn State fan, but, seriously, what the fuck?  Isn’t adding a blue ribbon to the image of Paterno kind of adding insult to injury since he helped keep Sandusky in a position where Sandusky could keep molesting kids? Isn’t that “accessory to the crime” or “conspiracy to conceal a crime” territory?

The whole colored ribbon thing starts to make me suspicious anyway since it seems to be a way of looking like you are doing something without doing something.  I mean, I guess I can stick a yellow ribbon on the back of my car and it means I want you to know I support the troops or pin a pink ribbon to my lapel and it means I want you to know I support breast cancer research — and maybe that’s helpful because it might spread awareness of the cause. But the cynical side of my nature thinks that it can also be a ‘heart on my sleeve’ gesture done primarily to show others that “I’m a swell person who cares about this cause so you should like me.”  

I think there ought to be a special color of ribbon for people who knew someone else was doing something really fucked up and they had the power to stop it but decided not to do anything about it. And that’s the color of ribbon that ought to be painted on the portrait of Paterno (and a good portion of the Catholic clergy) and other people who look the other way. 

It’s fine to have heroes, I guess, and if you love Penn State or “Paterno-ball,” then maybe you will want murals and statues and libraries named after him. But please don’t try to imply that he was ‘sympathetic to the cause’ of preventing child sex abuse by painting a blue ribbon on his lapel like some kind of a medal. He wasn’t. Paterno chose football and the school’s image and his friendship with Sandusky and the fact that he probably didn’t want to deal with a scandal over protecting the kids of people he didn’t know from sex abuse. He shouldn’t get to wear the blue ribbon.

* Apparently Sandusky used to be in the group portait and was painted out. Source.

**Yeah, I’m against it — who isn’t? I just can’t claim the cause has greater personal resonance for me than many of the other ways in which humans fuck one another over.

How to write a book that sucks 90% of the time…

How do you write a book that sucks 90% of the time?  Write books about zombie survival scenarios.  I shit you not. Those books suck 90% of the time (or maybe more — I’m being conservative here).  And there are A LOT of them.  A fucking shitload.  And they multiply faster than the walking dead.  It seems that anyone who ever took a creative writing class is cranking out an ‘apocalypse scenario’ book involving zombies or ‘infected’ and the like. Most of them include cute lingo that survivors employ or more detail about firearms than NRA gun porn.

Let me back up a bit.  I have a Y chromosome, therefore it can be safely assummed that I am 90% likely to enjoy movies where people are running around shooting the undead in the head while trying not to get bitten or eaten or swarmed or whatever. Annie hates those kinds of movies; she finds them that awful combination of “gross and boring and scary,” which is kind of how I feel about TV shows like “Sex in the City.” Shoe obcessed narcissists prattling on about their man problems make me want to become a knuckle-dragging pig purely as a defensive mechanism.  But it’s OK.  I don’t make her watch “a really good headshot!” and she doesn’t make me watch shows about relationships. You don’t have to share everything.  In fact, it’s probably good if you don’t. But I’m off topic here — back to zombies.

Keyless entry becomes a selling point.

For decades now there have been zombie apocalypse* movies and some of them are good and some of them are bad and most of them are somewhere inbetween… but they all shared one thing in common: they feed my deep rooted desire to see the whole world of corporate culture and work and school and parking tickets and putting up with douchebags all go to hell in an afternoon by introducing a scenario in which you can murder your fellow humans and it’s OK because they are not humans anymore — they are zombies.  So, not only are you free from guilt about shooting your zombified co-worker in the head, you are also freed from having to go to jail because of it — as everyone knows, in zombie scenarios, the cops are the first to go because they get calls telling them to go to infection central before anyone else knows it’s infection central.  Imaginary mayhem without moral or social consequences.  Who can resist?

Unfortunately, no one.  Which is why all things ‘zombie’ are being rushed to the production stage whether they are ready or not and whether they are worthy or not.

A notable exception is Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One.” Whitehead is apparently a ‘real author’ who has made waves by dipping his toe into ‘zombie genre fiction.’  I don’t know what other fans of all things undead think of it, but I think “Zone One” is great. I enjoyed Max Brook’s “Zombie Survival Guide” but thought his other Zombie book, “World War Z,” was weak.  But, almost without exception, every other book I’ve tried to read about zombies has been shit.

A funny things happens when you finish reading a book on an Amazon Kindle.  After you hit the last page, your Kindle tells you, “People who enjoyed ‘Zone One’ also read…” and then it gives you a list.  And you can just click on them and it will let you read the first chapter or two for free.  I know they say that ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover,’ but I would suggest that one could make an educated guess by the first chapter… and I read a lot of these first chapters the other night while I waiting for some software to download (another sad story)… and, without exception, they SUCKED (except for “After the Apocalypse” by Maureen F. McHugh, which is great but doesn’t really count because even though it was in Amazon’s auto-generated list, I read it before I read Zone One… and McHugh’s is a collection of short stories, only one of which deals with zombie matters anyway).

*For purposes of this rant, “Zombie Apocalypse” movies can include movies where people are getting infected with some sort of virus and becoming ravenous cannibals or whatever that are not ‘undead.’  Let’s just say that ‘infected’ movies are a sub-category within the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ genre and leave it at that.

News from The Icelandic Ministry of Elven Affairs

Elf lover.

An MP of the Independence Party in Iceland has had a 30 ton boulder relocated to protect it because the boulder is home to several generations of elves.  He decided to move the boulder after a 2010 accident in proximity to the rock left him unharmed due to elven intervention and he realized a future expansion of the road would disturb the location.  I assume that since it is Iceland, those are metric tons.  Metric tons are slightly smaller larger than US tons, but that is still a fucking heavy boulder.  I’m sure the MP is hoping to have the elf vote all sewn up in future elections.

As the MP, Arne Johnsen, explains it, “I had Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir, a specialist in the affairs of elves from Álfagarðurinn in Hellisgerði, Hafnarfjörður, to come look at the boulder with me,” recollected Árni. “She said it was incredible, that she had never met three generations of elves in the same boulder before.”  The article goes on to state the measures taken to make sure that the elves will be happy in their new location.

I don’t know what part of this story makes me happier — that Iceland has MPs who care enough about keeping the elves happy to move gigantic boulders from one island to another, or that ‘specialist in the affairs of elves’ is a job title there.  More on elf expertise and the boulder here… including pictures of the elf home (but none of the elves, unfortunately).  That this degree of whimsy  is seemingly publically accepted makes me want to move to Iceland.