Happy Belated Free Comic Book Day!

Hey, folks. Yesterday, North American comic fans celebrated the annual Free Comic Book Day. Basically, you could go to a participating comic book store and receive a bag of free samplers (or a selection of stuff on display) while enjoying whatever other promotions or sales going on. Since I live within reasonable traveling distance – the BART subway system has proven immensely useful – I decided to take the plunge for the first time. I don’t like being in huge crowds, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. Besides, the weather was perfect for a little urban exploration.

I got to Fantastic Comics in Berkeley around 11:15, and the line was out the door and almost to the street corner.  It was a drastic change compared to my previous visit; last year I ducked in there for the Graphic Canon, and bought it seconds later. The wait this time was made bearable by the swift pace of the foot traffic, as well as all the awkward, sleepy kids in their little super hero costumes. There were also some cosplayers:

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Things were a little more hectic inside. The setup was simple: the incoming line hugged the wall, browsing the shelves until reaching the counter at the back. Everyone was given a plastic bag filled with comics, then a choice of four other assorted comics on display. Once that was done, people could split off from the line and explore the store for more stuff. And man, did they have a lot:

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^That’s only about half the store. The Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man, Marvel Compendiums, Game of Thrones, Batman, Ghostbusters, My Little Pony, Gundam, Dexter’s Lab, Usagi Yojimbo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avatar…pretty much every graphic novel you could possibly think of. A shame they didn’t have any of the Street Fighter art books, though. I ended up settling on Battle Royale; I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while, and I’d like to see how it influenced The Hunger Games.

From there, I browsed a couple more stores on the block, particularly Half Price Books and Games of Berkeley. One of the local sandwich shops apparently broke bad for the occasion:

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I got back on BART and headed to Collector’s Haven in downtown Oakland. Due to its location, most people would probably miss it. I certainly did; I had to double check the address just to make sure. It’s sandwiched within the vicinity of a tattoo parlor and a psychic, and at the top of a narrow flight of stairs. It was much smaller and quieter – there were maybe 4 people, including the staff – but they had a good selection of figurines and had an X-Men cartoon playing. I got a few free volumes that I missed at the previous store, then got back on the train. My next destination: San Francisco. Today was supposedly California Book Store Day, but the Alexander Book Company didn’t seem to have anything special going on…I left without getting anything, then ducked into the Cartoon Art Museum. The selection certainly changed since last year; they had Studio Ghibli art books for some of Hayao Miyazaki’s films! I ended up getting the Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, then promptly left before temptation could overwhelm me. I wandered around the city for a couple more hours, then finally made the trip home.

So, final count for Free Comic Book Day:

Battle Royale

Art of Howl’s Moving Castle
Mega Man Archie Comics #36: The Trial of Doctor Wily (including what has to be a Phoenix Wright knockoff at the beginning!)
A promotional pamphlet for The Clear Case by Stephanie Edd

Free comics/previews/samplers for:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Rocket Raccoon
  • Mega Man X/Sonic The Hedgehog (Snatched this up the second I saw it)
  • Street Fighter (I’m a huge SF fan, so this was a very nice surprise!)
  • New 52: Futures End
  • Teen Titans Go
  • Far From Wonder: Volume 1
  • Uncle $crooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity
  • Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan
  • Les Miserables: The Fall of Fantine (Art by SunNeko Lee. Dunno how I feel about Les Mis manga-style…)
  • Entropy
  • Courtney Crumrin

That’s aside from walking four or five miles, getting 28 tags on my 3DS StreetPass, and having a much-needed day out in the city. Now that I’m back home, I know I’m going to regret all this activity in the morning. But at least I’ll have plenty to read…

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Daily Prompt: To Boldly Go…, Or: I DON’T Have A Dream

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about contemplation. Specifically, about goals for 2014. This one’s pretty difficult for me to answer, especially as of late. One of my biggest problems is playing the long game. You’ve probably heard the phrase; it’s about long-term plans or objectives. I’m really good with daily schedules and problem-solving – going from Point A to Point B happens in seconds – but the long term? It’s like this nebulous entity, an endless and terrifying expanse of possibilities. It’s like being stuck on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, with no paddle or land in sight. Or tiger, for that matter. What do you do when you don’t have a dream? I don’t know. I’ve never known; I never thought I’d live this long. I’ve just been existing. After college, tangible achievements seemed to vanish as I let myself be consumed by my career. The normal stuff – you know, a family, house, retiring, and the rest of the American Dream – seemed utterly alien to me. Years of dismally working to maintain some kind of overblown standard of living and stressing over finances, and for what? Retirement? Right. Maybe they’d give me a cake before I left the office. Taking care of elderly relatives left me disillusioned over the prospect of living to old age. Why would I want to end up like that, shunted off into obscurity, a forgotten character in a picture, a remnant of a story that only gets told half-truthfully at Christmas dinner?

Yeah, think about that when your elders visit for the holidays.

See, that’s the thing. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t fear death. I’ve long acknowledged and accepted my mortality. I fear living a normal, meaningless existence. Looking back at the last few years I’ve been doing exactly that. It’s very easy to let yourself become complacent and comfortable. To play it safe. Nothing changes, but nothing improves. You let yourself get mired in the daily grind, and you get by well enough. Maybe you get some modicum of satisfaction out of it. But there’s always that lingering doubt, the sense of frustration, the implicit understanding that you could – and should – be doing more. If that goes on long enough, it’ll consume and ruin you. I think Captain Picard and Q summed it up best.

So, how do I avoid that? It’s a matter of living with purpose…Or something. Sounds kind of bland, doesn’t it? I much prefer Nietzsche’s take on the matter. He basically argued that life was indeed meaningless, but that every person could determine their own meaning. The concept of the Übermensch has always fascinated me; how far can an individual go in defining their own morality and world view? It’s harder than it sounds. I’m not sure if it counts as a goal, as opposed to a long-term process. But how does that work in the everyday scheme of things? I think I need to stop worrying so much about the high likelihood of a bland, meaningless future, and start making my own. I don’t have a dream, but I can live and die on my terms. Improving and capitalizing on my skills, instead of settling for something safe but unfulfilling. Studying and enjoying things that interest me, not trying to meet others’ personal expectations. Developing and defining myself as an individual, not cultivating a wonderfully complex but ultimately fake persona…

Yeah, you probably get the idea.

It’s scary, though. As any writer will tell you, good character development is hard. Doing it in real life? Much, much harder. It’s also possible to go overboard with it, resulting in a loss of identity and focus. Rather than being stuck in a lifeboat, it’s like being on sailing ship in the middle of a storm. All you can do is hold on and hope you don’t drown…Okay, enough with the ocean metaphors. You were probably expecting a list of realistic goals, anyway. Here are some (in no particular order) for 2014:

-Find a practical, well-paying writing job. Marketing or copy-writing, perhaps?

-Further develop my writing skills. (This does include an honest, non-NaNoWriMo attempt at a novel.)

-Expand writing subjects (and thus audience) to cover all interests, not just games. (This blog has certainly been a good start.)

-Obtain reliable and affordable health care.

-Travel more. (Iguazu Falls is currently on my radar. Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay by extension.)

-Further expand my literary repertoire. (The fantasy genre and graphic novels are at the forefront.)

-Learn a third or fourth language. (I’m thinking Chinese and French. Esperanto and Latin as well.)

-Learn how to drive.

-Pick up a new skill. Most likely drawing. Guitar, perhaps.

-Obtain a better camera.

-Start working towards my Master’s degree, or at least a second Bachelor’s.

-Have more self-confidence and better maintain interpersonal relationships. Work on shyness.

-Stay introverted, but don’t reject people outright. Romance a possibility, though highly unlikely.

-Start a review/commentary channel on YouTube.

-Watch every Hayao Miyazaki film.

-Complete at least one more jigsaw puzzle.

…I’ll think up more later.

Daily Prompt: Playtime, Or: Work Hard, Play Hard!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about playtime. I’m going to assume that this refers to when I’m at home, and not traveling abroad. This one’s actually kind of tricky for me because I tend to combine play and work. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a prolific amateur game reviewer. Video games have been a part of my life from the start; I learned how to play Yars’ Revenge and Kaboom! before I could run. I didn’t have many games growing up, but I started building a collection once I entered college. Between all the on-disc anthologies, ports, and stuff I’ve acquired from publishers or acquaintances, my library includes somewhere around 800 titles. Over the years my tastes have refined; I look at everything I play with a critical eye, and it’s certainly not limited to just 7-9/10. The company or gaming platform is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if it works, and how well. I also don’t play into the politics that a lot of mainstream review sites have succumbed. Getting free swag and advertising is nice, but that has no impact on the game itself. A good product should be able to stand on its own.

Also, I always actually play the game I’m reviewing. Some reviewers play only a few hours before making their decision, which means that any important storyline twists or gameplay developments (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3 and God Hand!) are overlooked. A lot of reviewers are pressured into covering games as quickly as possible; I recall one holiday season in which five AAA titles (each of which was at least 20 hours long) showed up on my doorstep in a week. How is a person supposed to deal with that kind of workload in a timely manner without sacrificing quality? What’s worse, some game studios use such biased review scores as way to determine the bonuses – and livelihoods – of its designers. Review scores are not objective, so basing an entire studio on them is impractical, if not dangerous.

No wonder the game journalism world is such a mess.

Wow, rereading that was pretty depressing. For a second there, I wondered why I even bother reviewing. It’s because I don’t have to deal with the same kind of pressure as the mainstream guys. I’m not getting advertising, the swag is relatively limited, I can cover more obscure stuff, and I’m not constrained by time. That way I can approach the game at a better pace, figure things out, and come up with something that isn’t a rushed, overgeneralized excuse of a review. I don’t think it’s possible to fully quantify an experience with just a numerical score. Instead of focusing on the #/10, I focus on purely persuasive writing. That’s what reviews are, after all. If I can argue my perspective well, then a number tacked on at the end isn’t needed. I’ve conveyed my idea, and it’s up to the reader to use his/her own reasoning to agree or not. I’d like to think people have enough rational thought not to be swayed by just a number, even I am disappointed constantly.

Enough about reviews. I can go into that later. When I’m not reviewing a game, there are a few old standbys that I always fall back upon. I love puzzles, so the Professor Layton series is always a pleasant distraction. I’m practically obsessed with any game that uses nonograms as well. I fell in love with Persona 4 partly due to its adherence (and accuracy) to Jungian psychology. I start up a new game of Symphony of the Night just so I can explore the castle – which is still one of the greatest works of art in gaming history – and try to find some little detail I missed the last time. Chances are, I will. Not to mention its amazing soundtrack, which I will be posting here all too soon. While Metal Gear Solid 3 is a superior game from nearly every standpoint, I have a soft spot for MGS2 and its use of postmodernism. You could teach a course on postmodernism with that game. However, the top spot on my most-replayed list is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I’ve been playing it frequently since its online release in 2011, so much so that I’m currently the 8th ranked Chun-Li on PSN. Seriously, look me up.

Gaming aside, I usually read and/or study. I spent this summer reading through Haruki Murakami’s bibliography. I’ve been making a lot of headway with the works of Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Roberto Bolaño, H.P. Lovecraft, Cormac McCarthy, and Gabriel García Márquez. I also acquired all three volumes of The Graphic Canon, which is absolutely stunning in its range and style. I’m also a fan of the annual Best American Series, particularly its short story volumes. There are far, far more examples I could post, but I’d be typing this entry all night. I’ll post a full list of my list here soon (pretty sure it’s around 600 physical books by now), but I’m open to any suggestions. That goes both ways, too; given my obsession with books and criticism, my foray into literary reviews is inevitable.

When I’m not reading, I’m typically watching movies or anime. I’ll say this right off: if you want to get someone interested in anime, have them watch Cowboy Bebop. This was my generation’s introduction to the genre, and what an introduction it was. Interstellar bounty hunters, film noir, crime drama, science fiction, mystery, action, comedy, clever writing, superb voice acting…this has it all. Even if you don’t watch it, listen to the soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Trust me. If you like something a bit more subtle in its surreality, check out Haruhi Suzumiya. A brash and self-centered high school girl wishes her life was full of adventure. What she doesn’t know is that she can warp reality, and that her friends are aliens, time travelers, and espers. What happens when someone has the power to rewrite the universe and doesn’t know it? Things get…interesting. Same goes for Death Note, which focuses on a villainous protagonist that gains the power to kill anyone with a few pen strokes, and the famous (but eccentric) detective determined to catch him. I’ve also made a point of finding Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. On the 3D side of films, I’ve got a huge soft spot for The Shining, so much so that I can quote pretty much any scene verbatim. Same goes with Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, The Thing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When I’m not doing all that…well, I’m trying to learn how to draw using an digital tablet. It’s really hard, because I’m much more used to brushes and paints.  I wish I was good enough of an artist to make my own web comic, like El Goonish Shive. Or even a graphic novel adaptation, like Don Quixote. I don’t have the screen presence to become the next Nostalgia Critic, but I can snark Rifftrax-style with the best of them. Nor do I have the voice (and amount of friends) needed to copy Two Best Friends Play. Oh, and you may have noticed I have a thing for LEGOs

What do you do for fun?

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion, Or: The Unseen Party

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt involves confusion. Or rather, a time when you felt out of place. This one’s kind of hard for me because there’s too many moments from which to choose. I’m really self-conscious in social situations. I’m what you’d probably consider a textbook introvert. I could write novellas just on what that’s like. I’m utterly unflappable in dangerous situations or when traveling abroad. I try to be polite and congenial to anyone that strikes up conversation with me, even though it leaves me exhausted. And for whatever reason, people like talking to me. But in a closer, more personal setting with a large group of people? I’ll carefully, stealthily slip into a corner, whip out a book I’d smuggled past the watchful eyes of my peers, and try to avoid making contact with anyone. It’s not that I despise people outright, it’s just that I find such situations insanely uncomfortable and tiring. Nor is it about arrogance; I just have a soft voice (which strikes people as odd given my appearance), and most of what I talk about goes right over peoples’ heads. Let’s see you try to explain the latest news from CERN or the finer points of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and not be met with blank stares. My interests aren’t what most would consider ”normal”. Whatever that means. The ensuing silence is awkward and makes me wish I hadn’t bothered at all. I think and work way better when I don’t have to juggle it with reading facial expressions and cues. The fact that introversion is considered to be abnormal by current social expectations makes it even worse; I’m all-too aware of the confused stares and contemptuous mutterings of people who just don’t “get” introversion.

Double standards, anyone?

However, I’m not blind to the necessity of social interaction. No man is an island (more on that later, I promise); human beings are wired for interpersonal communication. It’s how innovation and culture develop. It’s totally possible to come up with findings on your own – just read up on the discoveries of Henry Cavendish – but the process is much easier when you can bounce ideas and thoughts off of other people’s perspectives. I think it ends up being more of a matter of pacing and exposure than anything else.

So how do people balance it?

I’m not sure. I’m still really uncomfortable in social situations, but I don’t completely shut people out. This is probably best exemplified in a party I recently attended. It was the birthday of a young boy of a family friend, aged maybe 8 or 9 at most. What I noticed – and this a trend common in pretty much any kids’ party I’ve ever seen – was that all the adults tended to congregate together. They’d sit around drinking, watching a game on the TV, etc. But no one was talking to the kid. You know, the entire reason for the party in the first place? He wandered near where I was reading, with the unmistakable grimace of boredom and loneliness plastered across his face. I felt bad for him, so I decided to put the book down and talk:

Me: Hey, dude. What’s going on?

Him: (sighs) There’s nothing to do.

Me: What do you mean? Where are your friends?

Him: (dejectedly) We just moved here, so I don’t have any.

Me: Yeah, that sucks. What would’ve you done if they were here?

Him: (sighs) I dunno.

Me: Aw, come on. What do you like to do?

Him: (glances at my copy of The Geeks’ Guide To World Domination) …I kinda like to read…

Me: Uh huh. What else do you like to do?

Him: (shyly looking down)...Well, I have this big box of LEGOs. But I don’t know what to build…

Me: Hey, cool! LEGOs are awesome! If you bring them out, we can build lots of stuff!

Him: (confused)You want to play LEGOs with me?

Me: Sure, dude. Let’s see what we can make!

Him: (a huge grin on his face) Okay!

Over the course of three hours, the two of us dug through his box of LEGO bricks. He had plenty of ideas, and he excitedly showed off his creations to any adult who would give him a second glance. In the meantime, I focused on building a single, massive spaceship for him. By the time it was time for me to leave, I had crafted something so huge he had to carry it with both arms. He proudly showed it off to his parents, who were shocked what the nearly-silent bookworm they had ignored the entire party had done for their child. I may have disliked being in that situation, but the grin on that kid’s face made my awkward efforts worth it.

I’d still rather read, though.