Spring Forward

It’s been a good week, despite my son falling ill for much of his March break, spending half of it prone on my couch and the other half propped up in his mom’s basement playing video games. I managed to be reasonably productive without feeling a lot of stress about it, which is a good zone to find and stay in.

As I write this I have just come back in from my third excursion of the day. The first was skating on the Emera Loop with my dear wife this morning. The second was a walk to the waterfront, by way of the central library to return a book and DeSerres, where a thick pad of their watercolour paper and a pad of their mixed media paper made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My ultimate goal for the waterfront was to pick up this week’s comics at Strange Adventures, and it was most of my pull list: new issues of Assassinistas, Black Bolt, Captain America, Giant Days, Jughead: The Hunger, and The Wicked + The Divine, plus a Harley and Ivy comic with a cover by Tula Lotay, whose work I buy wherever possible. A few of those titles are ending soon or have ended already, so I added a few upcoming books to the list to try out.

The third walk was in the opposite direction, to the Anchor Archive zine library on Almon street, in the Radstorm space. I donated some copies of recent zines and comics after meaning to for ages. I also gave them some extra copies of what I have in my inventory for sample zine packs that they were talking about putting together. If you’re in the Halifax area and you are interested in zines (making them or reading them), you should pay them a visit.

The new episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 is up. Do check it out, won’t you? And speaking of movies, I realize that the new Tomb Raider is probably the destination for most moviegoing manchildren next weekend, but if you want to see a film that is genuinely special, one that is fresh and smart, I urge you to check out the teen dramedy Love, Simon. It’s directed by Riverdale showrunner Greg Berlanti, based on an excellent YA novel called Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli, a child psychologist turned author. Nicole and I saw a sneak preview of Love, Simon last night and absolutely loved it. I am so glad that gay kids and their allies will have it, however it does at the box office.

And speaking of Albertelli, the sequel to Simon, called Leah on the Offbeat, comes out next month. Her second book, set in the same book-universe, was called The Upside of Unrequited, and I also recommend it. I love good YA fiction, the more of it kids have to choose from, the better.

I was feeling glum after taking my son home, as I usually do, and I decided to cheer myself up by spending some time working on one of the card games I hope to publish sometime this year. It’s called Story Mode, and it will be an open source project. I plan on working on its alpha website after this blog post, so if you want to read more about how that would work, I’ll explain there.

Anyway, I had a couple of little breakthroughs, both in terms of the game taking shape in my mind and in technical terms. I was able to map out a development strategy for the game, basically taking it through alpha and beta editions before publishing a true 1.0 release for public consumption. I’ll go into that in more detail on the Story Mode website too, if you are interested in downloading a copy of whatever I have ready or playtesting. Or both.

So it has been a pleasant surprise to work on that at the end of the week, and my new goal is to have the alpha version posted online and printed for a limited distribution. The game will always be free to download online, but if you want a physical copy that comes from me, the easiest method to ensure you get one is to join my Patreon.

I am going to be doing my first mailout to patrons at all levels in the next few weeks, as an orientation package. It will include a new exclusive minicomic, the alpha version of the Story Mode game, a little bit of original art, some small prints and probably a mid sized print, a holder to put it all in, and my eternal gratitude. So don’t miss out!


Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

I’m off work this week because it is my son Jack’s March break from school, and he is here to visit for some of it. Unfortunately he has come down with a 24-hour flu that has about 6 hours left, so he’s prone on the new couch binge-watching The Last Ship. It’s good to see him in any case.

My wife hosted an Oscar party last night and we were all like zombies this morning due to the lack of sleep. I sat in a corner, facing away from the TV, snarking at the many things I hate about the Oscars, and I fear I overdid it. Snark is, I think, like wasabi. Best in small strategic doses, not an Axe body spray of sourness.

I also recorded the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 yesterday, and I had some things to say about the Oscars, including:

What a perfect summary it is of Hollywood that on the same weekend they meet to hand out gold statues and jerk each other off, they release a remake of Death Wish, an NRA member’s wet dream, about a good man with a gun who decides to take his country back from the lowlifes. I don’t care how many gay films or black films or women’s films they greenlight to make themselves feel better; as long as they keep greenlighting shit like Death Wish, because they know it’s a sure sale in red states, Hollywood is complicit in the suffering of hate crime victims.

And for that matter, as much as I respect the #timesup movement and the many actors who have come forward to tell their story of being abused by powerful men, there is a giant gap in that story as long as no one is talking about the “Church” of Scientology, which enslaves its members, threatens them, sexually abuses them, and who knows what else. If anyone’s time should be up, it is Scientology.

But by all means, Hollywood, enjoy your annual celebration of yourself.

Jeez, chill, past-me.

I’m actually starting to think about how much “knee-jerk negativity just never got me through,” like the Psychedelic Furs said once. The snark, the anger, the little splashes of jealousy; I think I need to get my nose closer to the grindstone of my Buddhism. Concentrate, in other words, on what I say and do so as to avoid wearing a trench of negativity in my brain.

I’ve been a Buddhist for about 20 years now, and while I would never claim to even have my shit together, never mind be enlightened, I feel like I am managing my dosage better than I did in my initial fervor. My poor friends back then, listening to me jabber on about the dharma and the noble eightfold path. These days it’s more like a radio station that plays in the background of my thoughts, and it’s time for me to turn it up a little.

Lately one of those things I have been thinking about working harder on is the concept of “right speech” from the Noble Eightfold. It doesn’t mean conservatism, or censorship, or being “politically correct”, or any such thing. It simply applies mindfulness to how you interact with others, be it in person or online.

I think the fastest way to fill in that trench in the mind that we make from knee-jerk snark or negativity is to be the opposite. To love everything, at least insofar as that is possible. Do I really need to angrily retweet shit about the current “President” several times a day? Could I be encouraging or supporting someone else in that same amount of time? Can I take my brain out of the bath of bad news and unhappy social media shares where it normally swims?

Again, this doesn’t mean ignoring the bad shit or pretending that everything is great. It’s more a matter of letting go of the small stuff, and concentrating on a better balance of information coming in. It’s just another expression of one of the core concepts of Buddhism, which is to see the world as it is, without the filter of a largely imaginary self-image, cultural baggage, and other obstacles. It’s similar to what I try to do with my spare time, which is divide it equally between creative work and relaxing.

For those of you who follow The Insult, I’m a few comics behind but I plan to catch up on that and some other things after I take the boy home. And hopefully, by next weekend if not this one, I will slap together the first episode of a new podcast that I’ve been ever so slowly working on.

And A Dollar Short

Because I’m posting this a day later than I intended to. You know?

Last week was busy, but good. It was a long weekend so I drove to Saint John, hung out with my son, watched Black Panther, checked out a boardgame cafe, ate a donair. Pretty typical trip. That was followed by a fun recording session at the Central Library back in Halifax with my friend Alison, for a second podcast project. The remaining weekdays were spent sketching a new mini-comic and scanning the results.

Saturday was full of errands, and one of them took me to Clayton Park, where I visited the vintage game store. My son has my copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS3, so when I noticed a copy for $5 I had to pick it up. I spent the rest of my Saturday screwing with AI cops, riding the back of a flatbed train car and shooting down their helicopters.

On Sunday I went to see Annihilation, which is trippy as hell but also a really smart SF concept once they explain what is going on with “the shimmer”.  The visuals and the score are amazing. In that regard it reminds me of the Soderbergh remake of Solaris, which is in my top 10 of films, so yeah, I liked it.

The new couch is finally being delivered tomorrow morning apparently, and we can finish with moving our shit around and upsetting the cats. Except that Jack is visiting next week during his March break, but they’ll like that. And I am taking the week off, so I will probably spend some of that time catching up on creative projects and trying to put together the first episode of the aforementioned second podcast.

With the Olympics on television it seems like the main American cable networks ran as little new content as possible, so it gave me a chance to catch up on some things, like the last few episodes of The Walking Dead and Star Trek: Discovery. The first has been a well-oiled machine that I continue to watch, gratefully accepting its peculiar zen nutrients. The latter is like a drunken Viking, staggering around wrecking the place and creating a scene that no one will forget. I love it. It’s the best Trek to date, so far anyway.

All of this unusual activity put me “behind schedule” for the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast, but the latest episode is up now for your enjoyment. I will also post my vocal warmup to my Patreon and I plan on posting a bunch of stuff there in March after a relatively quiet February. February is always so quick, isn’t it? 2-3 days less than the others doesn’t seem like it should feel like much of a difference, but it does.

Anyway. I won’t take any more of your time. But thanks for spending a little of it here. I appreciate it. Have a great week.

Resistance, Zen, and The Last Jedi

It’s been a weird week within a weird month. Family stuff, holidays, work stuff, stress, highs and lows. Life, right?

I’m a Zen Buddhist, which means a lot of different things, but within the world of Buddhism it generally means that I prefer to follow the Japanese flavour of Buddhism, which makes sense, since that is the one that has really taken hold here in the west. There are probably hundreds of flavours to choose from, each choosing a different aspect of the Buddha’s teachings to focus on, but I like Zen because it is reasonably simple, and doesn’t come with some of the cultural baggage that, say, Tibetan Buddhism does. Zen doesn’t feel like much of a religion compared to what they’re doing in, say, Myanmar.

Anyway. I mention all of this because my religion (or lack thereof) is on my mind a lot lately, as I remind myself to be mindful and patient with myself, with those who ask things of me. Buddhists are, after all, supposed to be egoless! And be of service to everyone! I half-jokingly think to myself sometimes “you hate yourself anyway, why not destroy your ego and spend the rest of your life doing as many small good deeds as you can for others?”

We’ll see. I think I might have to make a comic about my idea of Buddhism sometime. I have written some notes for one but they are pretty scattered, and on top of that we Buddhists are not really supposed to proselytize to others, but… we’ll see.

I think a lot of us who get into Buddhism are attracted by the initial rush of feeling at peace that we might feel once we start meditating, before the horrible truth of meditating becomes evident- that there is a lot of shit in your mind that wants to come out. If you go to a meditation group long enough, you will feel other people’s suffering around you. It is not the relaxing thing you might expect. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s more like going to Crossfit for your brain. You (might) feel like shit afterward, or you might feel strong and ready to take on the world. The trick is to keep going, and to learn to simply let yourself BE, instead of constantly fighting with yourself, constructing imaginary arguments and dramas in your imagination that wind up influencing your real actions.

I am reminded of a scene from the latest Star Wars movie (minor spoilers follow)- where Luke, on his remote island, has been protecting the sacred old texts of the Buddha – sorry, I mean the Jedi. He sees the Force-ghost of Yoda and expresses his worries to Yoda, who Force-ignites the tree of knowledge or whatever the hell it is that Luke is fixated on. It’s such a stereotypical Zen moment, and a great encapsulation of the theme of the film, which is to forget the artificial structure you have built for yourself- all that stuff that you surround yourself with so that you can look at it and say “THIS IS ME.” I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud at that moment.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for all that. It’s a work in progress, like everything else in this world. So I’ll leave you with this week’s production report:

I am also going to post a Patreon-exclusive new installment of The Insult, probably tomorrow night. I made some good progress on a new print, had a few fun ideas for other things, and had some good conversations with people about another podcast. More details as things come into focus. Until then, have a good week and thanks for  reading.

What Time Is It?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time, something both so natural and so artificial, that we bend intentionally and that bends us. One of my favourite books is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; it is a collection of short vignettes about the early life of Einstein when he was a patent clerk in Vienna, and the dreams that Lightman imagines might have inspired the theory of relativity. Each of the dreams posits a scenario where time works differently than the way we are used to.

Anyway, remember how I was writing about stress last week? I was thinking about it some more and analyzing where stress comes from, for me. It often comes from the fear of being late- I am generally VERY punctual- and that could include deadlines for work or for my own projects.

When you are a self-publisher, I don’t think it makes ANY sense to create deadline related stress for yourself. We already have enough of that in our day to day lives. This is something I was especially thinking about as I fleshed out the timelines for projects I want to get done this year. Some of the tasks were viable, others would be charitably called stretch goals (64 pages of comics from me in a year? Yeah right).

Once all those deadlines and checkpoints were laid out for me, I could feel the stress wanting to rise, but thankfully the Zen side of me put a firm hand on its shoulder and invited it to sit. I decided to try a different approach for a while, one which is sometimes used as a mindfulness exercise for Buddhists. If I started to feel stressed, or paralyzed by too many choices of what I could be doing, I would simply stop, take a breath, and ask myself, what time is it?

We have many times of day, and they don’t all have hard strict limits, but they tend to have fairly regular patterns. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, for example. Some days I might not sign in until 9, or I might work a few hours late at the end of the day. But the general “work day” pattern is there. So if it’s 3PM on a Tuesday and I ask myself, what time is it? The answer is: time to work, dummy.

Those answers could come from commitments (like work), habits (running or the gym), biological need (eating, sleeping), psychological need (relaxing, recreation), and more. So there are many possible responses to “what time is it?” at any given time of the day, but I think it’s asking the question that kicks the answer into our heads, because deep down we know what we ought to be doing, if only we did not fear the prospect of doing it.

Anyway. Give it a try, if you think it would be useful for you.

What else to talk about this week? I watched a lot of Bones, which is still possibly the worst thing ever made, and yet I cannot stop. I will ride all fourteen seasons down to hell in the name of distracting my overactive brain in the afternoons at work.

I’ve been reading the latest novel by Tom Perrotta, called Mrs. Fletcher, which alternates between the point of view of an entitled white kid from the Boston suburbs and his mother who has just seen him off to college and who is coming to embrace the idea of being a MILF. Like everything Perrotta does (The Leftovers, Election) it’s a little twisted, but compelling.

I guess I could sum up what I have done this week creatively. I worked on a new print and am just about ready to start the artwork in Clip Studio. I had a cute idea for another print and sketched that out. I published two new installments of The Insult., and two new installments of Faith of the Heart, one of which is exclusively on Patreon. I reviewed some of the manuscript of 4 of a Kind, my soon to be finished novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo. And, I published the latest episode of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and have applied to have it listed in the iTunes store… cross your fingers.

Lots to do, as always, but the technique I described above is helping. Hope you have a great week.


In The Not Too Distant Future

Every day the experiments continue, unending, as they have for over a thousand years. What started as a test on a human administered by other, evil humans has evolved so that I am at the mercy of self-administering, self-aware artificial intelligences, playing their roles as they were designed, “torturing” me by forcing me into an old theatre on a rickety satellite, with no company save three badly malfunctioning robots, a drone camera that points in seemingly random directions, and a computer voice that sometimes announces “movie sign”, sometimes pleads with me to kill her, sometimes screams in terror and then is abruptly silenced.

And I play my role too, enduring one terrible movie after the next, movies that are generated from the final moments of humanity based on algorithms that the M.A.D.S. have been given. For example, I watched a romantic comedy yesterday where 1970s ingenue Karen Valentine feasted on the still-beating heart of former Vice-President Spiro Agnew, while he looked on and screamed; and she seemed to know that what she was doing was wrong, but she was unable to stop herself. Such is the dilemma of anyone in a romantic comedy, I suppose.

I gave it three stars out of four and then tried once again to open the airlock of the satellite I am trapped on, but once again I lost consciousness when I touched the airlock release, as I always do, and when I woke it was a new day at the same time I always wake up, and I wondered once again if I am even real anymore- if I am just another artificial intelligence automatically and imperfectly generated from decades of data left online, blogs, tweets, status messages, email, videos, photos, everything you ever recorded in any way, parsed and assembled by a program that does not know how or when to stop, so it endlessly remixes and reassembles all the components of the known universe until it finds the magic combination that will continue on its own, intelligence no longer artificial.

Saga, vol. 1

Brian K. Vaughn (Runaways, Y: The Last Man) returns to comics with a very clever SF/fantasy fusion called Saga, illustrated by Canadian artist Fiona Staples. It’s the tale of Hazel, newborn daughter to soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war; father Marko is from a race of men with horns who wield magic, and mother Alana is from a race of winged humanoids. Hazel narrates the story of her own birth as her fugitive parents try to escape from soldiers, bounty hunters and other dangers.

If this sounds a bit like Star Wars, it should; Vaughn first conceived of the series when he was a child, and has described it as “Star Wars for perverts” due to its adult content. I was initially lukewarm about the fit of Fiona Staples’ artwork for this series, feeling that the style of a P. Craig Russell or Charles Vess might be more suitable; but Staples quickly grew on me for her rendering of the various alien races that she and Vaughn have designed. It’s a hell of a ride and I am looking forward to the next volume.