Andy's Art and Whatever

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Comic Cons

I wish I could go to more comic cons, and more specifically to an Anime con of some kind. But I never know about cons until like a month before they’re about to happen and by then it’s too late. Not to mention flying out, renting cars, hotels, food, gas, the table fee, etc all add up to A LOT of money to spend at one time, which I never have. Nor can I plan very far in advance because I never know what I’m gonna be doing a year from now.

So far, the only comic con which is convenient for me is the Minnesota Comic Book Association’s Comic Con. It’s free for comic artists such as myself to attend. That means I don’t have to pay $150 or more for half of a table. Seats are provided, and there’s even food for us too. Every other comic con I have gone to have not had tables and amenities for free.

I really like going to comic cons too. It’s the one time where it’s ok for me to just geek out over comics/movies/games/art/etc. It’s fun and I get to meet a lot of new and interesting people. I want to go to more of them, but I never have the time or money to attend. There’s a con I’m going to attend in October, but after that I have NO IDEA what I’m gonna do next.

I wish comic conventions would give us artists a bit more of a break and let us attend these things for free or relatively cheap. I mean, we’re the reason people are COMING to the comic cons (well, us and the crazy merchandise) so we should be treated with a little bit more aplomb.

This all came about as I was looking over the list of Anime Cons for the rest of the year and thinking how I can’t attend any of them. I find it interesting that they listed my old college’s Schoolgirls in Mobil Suits class as a “con” when it’s decidedly NOT. If it were, I’d go back there cuz it’s easy to get to.

You know, people always talk about the EVIL of money... but honestly... money makes things SO much easier... If I had the money, I’d be advertising the HELL out of my work, I could attend comic cons and see my family more often, I wouldn’t have to scrape pennies for dinner each day, I’d be stress free from bills, and I could indulge my gaming interests to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t get depressed. I don’t need A LOT of money to be happy... but just a smidgen more would be very helpful...
My books in Print:
Formera Volume 1 - $9.95
Formera Volume 2 - $9.99
The Adventures of Alex Ze Pirate on - $19.99

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Monday, August 24, 2009


I just saw Ponyo the other day, finally! I might have some spoilers, but I’m gonna try to not, so read at your own risk.. lol

First, I want to saw that as usual, the animation is top notch. It’s also a little weird too. I mean I know most of his movies are weird, but this one is pretty darn weird if you ask me... Right up there with Spirted Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Story-wise I was a little bored with the movie. It’s sweet and cute, but it’s never all that scary or intense. It also takes it’s time going from beginning to end. This is certainly not a movie you want to show a kid with attention deficits disorder. At one point we even heard one of the parents in the back of the theater snoring. Also, nothing really climatic ever happens in the movie. I kept waiting for there to be some tension but there never was.

Miyazaki makes movies for the age group of the main character. Since the main character in this movie is only 5 years old, this movie is just a lot more sweet and innocent I guess. I guess it’s kinda like Totoro in many ways in how innocent and sweet it is, but even still... Totoro had some tension with the girl getting lost. I left the theater feeling just kinda... blah about it. I liked it, but it certainly won’t be making my top 10 Miyazaki films list.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice movie and I did enjoy it. In fact I noticed a lot of interesting little things which I doubt anyone else would. For example, the backgrounds looked almost like colored pencils, and a lot of the “straight” lines were very crooked and wobbly. There also didn’t appear to be any extensive use of computer graphics in this film. And what I mean by that is that all of the ships and the effects looked to be hand drawn. In an American film, those would’ve all been done as 3-D models with a cel-shaded effect. But here, you can see the line width vary and wobble as the ships move slowly by. Things like that remind you of the craft of the film and it gives it a special little charm.

The English dub is alright. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s not horrible either. Some of the voices felt a little weird, and there was a weird mixing of proper Japanese speaking (san, sen, sensei, etc) and American references (“let’s go to LA”). For some reason, dubbing girls in Anime is either hit or miss. I wonder why that’s so hard to do?

Overall... It’s a sweet film, and it’s fun and cute, but it’s not exactly mind blowing. Lol. It’s imaginative in a way that most kids movies aren’t anymore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unsure what to do with pictures

I’ve noticed that a lot of the times when I make a new picture, I tend to have problems with backgrounds. See, when working on a comic I understand the importance of backgrounds and I do include them in the panels even if I don’t want to draw them... But when I work on just a picture of a character or a fanart or something, I tend to focus on the characters themselves and completely forget about the background until I’m done. Sometimes I get so far into a piece that I actually finish coloring it before I realize the background is missing. I’ve tried fitting in backgrounds digitally, or by whipping something up quickly, but it never really “works” you know what I mean? Unless the picture was started with the background clearly in mind, it’s always hard to fit a background around an already drawn character. The perspective, camera angle, and image constraints are all there and it just makes things more challenging.

So quite often I end up with nicely drawn pictures of characters, with no backgrounds. I’m in such a boat right now. I’ve got several pictures that I’ve done at work the past few days and they’re all of characters in poses... but no backgrounds for them. I feel kinda “cheap” about throwing in a colored square or pattern or something arty like that. I wanna post the pictures, but I don’t wanna post it if it’s not “complete.” I hate having to go back and retouch up a picture once I’ve finished/posted it.

That brings me to my question. What should I do? Should I post them incomplete, or should I post them with a background “of sorts” to fill the negative space, or should I actually work really hard and make up a background to fit each individual picture in excessive detail?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nyx Quest: KindRed Spirits

WiiWare has been getting some really great games lately. Nyx Quest (originally titled Icardian) is a beautifully crafted masterpieces of a game and it’s only $10 for download. Not to be confused with Nintendo’s own Kid Icarus, this game tells the story of a friendship between a god and a mortal in ancient Greece.

Icarus is a man from Greek mythology who made a pair of wax wings and flew up to meet the gods. There he met the lovely Nyx and the two became close friends. One day, Icarus sensed that something wasn’t quite right on earth. He descended back down, and was not heard from again. Nyx decides to go in search of him and discovers that the wold has been laid to waste by the blazing sun, controlled by the god Hellion. And so begins the Nyx’s quest to find her lost friend.

Because she’s mortal on earth, she can be hurt by all around her. The scorching sands, the flying harpies, spikes, and crumbling ruins all stand in her way. She can fly, but only for short distances and she has very limited abilities at the beginning of the game. But Zeus and many of the other gods help her along the way and grant her special abilities to help her in her quest.

The game is a 2.5-D sides-crolling platformer puzzle game. That’s kinda a mouthful but it’s the truth. The characters and environment are all 3-D, but you operate in a 2-D plane. You move Nyx with the nunchuck and jump and fly around the stages like a platform game, but you also solve puzzles move heavy blocks, flip switches, and all sorts of things while you platform. It’s as much a puzzle game as it is a platformer and it does the job splendidly.

Some of the abilities the gods give you are to be able to move large blocks by pointing at the screen and holding a button. There’s a strong vibe of an earlier WiiWare title “Lost Winds” throughout this game (and indeed later on you even get to control the wind to a degree). It’s very unique to be solving puzzles by pointing at the screen with one hand while you move your character and navigate them through the puzzles with the other. For example, to cross a stretch of burning sand you might have to stand on top of a large block and drag the block through the sand with the WiiMote, while your character jumps and dodges obstacles which get in the way by using the Nunchuck.

There are only 12 levels (with a 13th level hidden for expert players) and though that might SEEM small, the levels themselves are broken up into sections (with save points) and are immensely huge. It’s not uncommon for 1 level to take a good 15-20 minutes to get through, and you’ll probably be redoing some parts a lot until you figure out the puzzles. So on average I think overall it’s a 3-8 hour gaming experience depending on your skills. If you’re like me you’ll keep coming back to it in short breaks and that could take you longer.

The gameplay is also very relaxed, while being tense at the same time (if that makes sense). There’s no time limit rushing you, and you can explore and work your way through the levels at your own pace... but there are traps and obstacles (especially in the later levels) which will really test your reflexes and ingenuity. So while you can be very calm while playing, you can also be very nervous and tense inside.

I would like to point out that it’s very refreshing to see a female character being used as the only player. I do not think that I would have enjoyed this game quite as much if it had been a male lead to be honest. Nyx is very tiny on the screen so you never really get a good look at her, but her movements are very fluid and well animated.

The environments are gorgeous too, in a somber depressing sort of way. All of the worlds have a lot of depth and character to them, and the particle effects, depth of field, and bloom are used creatively and do not overdo it. It’s a simple game with a simple style and it’s just very pretty to look at. The music is an eerie piano/harpsichord-like melody which blends well with the ruins of ancient Greece.

My gripes are very few. But they’re all very minor gripes.

I wish that we could see Nyx in the game a little bit closer up. It’s such a personal journey for her character so it feels a little odd to be controlling her from so far away. The only time you can really see her detail is on the channel screen on the Wii Menu (not in game).

The text on the screen is difficult to see on a standard TV because of the font they chose, and because sometimes they fade in and fade out too quickly to read. The in-game text is controlled by the A button, so you can read and re-read it until you’re satisfied. But the text for the cut scenes are not and I frequently found myself only a few words into the sentences before it faded away, forcing me to guess what was going on. Very seldom I found the text reaching so far to the sides that I actually couldn’t see the first couple of letters of each line. I imagine this is not a big deal on a wide screen or flat screen TV. But on my little standard TV it was kinda a burden.

The levels themselves are each different from each other visually (the final level looks NOTHING like the levels at the beginning of the game. However the desert sand, the ruins, and the blazing sun and heat kinda make everything feel very much the same. You won’t notice the changes in each level until you start to compare mid levels to previous ones. The progression is very subtle. I kinda wish there was just a tiny bit more variation in the visual design.

There are boss battles periodically throughout the game. Each one is slightly different from the last, and some of them will repeat later in the game, but with your newer abilities they feel different (which is good). While the journey through the game gets harder and harder, I found the final boss battle to be rather easy by comparison, which left me feeling a bit disappointed.

The only other thing I can think of is that I wish there were a little bit more in side quests. There are ancient artifacts of the gods sprinkled throughout the 12 levels which offer some challenges, and collecting them all unlocks the hidden 13th level... but aside from that there’s very little to do once you’ve beaten the game.

Thankfully though, this game does not leave you hanging. Lost Winds, which has a lot in common with this game, felt more like it was only 1/4th of a game. Almost like they just allowed the first level for download. You fought 1 boss and that was it. Game Over. Nyx Quest is not like that. This is a complete game from start to finish, and I applaud the efforts of the developers to achieve so much in such a small amount of space.

The game is so well polished I really can’t think of anything else to talk about. The puzzles are challenging but not insulting to your intelligence. They gradually get more and more complex and challenging over time, but the challenge never rises sharply and you never really get stuck. The animations are smooth and fluid. The graphics are crisp and clear and well rendered. And the story is sweet and heartfelt. Overall this is a fantastically amazing game. Buy this one if you have the points for it... it’s WELL worth it.

Graphics 8
Music 7
Gameplay 9
Story 8
Replay value 6

Nyx Quest is a WiiWare title available for download on the Nintendo Wii’s Shop Channel for $10 (or 1000 WiiPoints).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Watchmen... ooookayyy...

I missed seeing Watchmen in the theater, so when I saw it available for RedBox Rental, I was overjoyed. Everyone around me said how fantastic a movie it was and how great a comic book adaption too. Nothing but praise from the fans. It’s technically stunning with visual feasts for the eyes and a moral message too. It’s epic, it’s edgy, and it’s smart. It’s everything that I should enjoy in a comic book style movie...

... so why did I not like it?

Well... here’s my breakdown of why I think it didn’t strike a chord with me...

1. None of the characters were likeable. You have to have SOMEONE to root for during a movie, because if none of them are enjoyable then there’s no emotional connection with the audience. Just when I thought I would like a certain character, they did or said something which completely pissed me off. None of them were redeemable.

2. It was overly graphic and violent. I’m sure the reason behind that was because it’s trying to make a commentary on society’s violence at large, but some of the stuff I saw I really didn’t need to see. It was just plain disgusting in it’s graphicness, and it was violent towards animals too (which is an immediate gut dislike reaction.) “If you kill an animal in a movie you’ve automatically lost 50% of your audience” as someone famous once said.

3. It was slow. The overuse of slow motion throughout the entire movie made it feel like it was longer than it actually was. Within the first 15 minutes I was getting bored with it already. I can understand using it from time to time to punctuate important pieces of information... but for almost the entire movie? That’s far too much. When everything is important, nothing is.

4. Lost allegory. The story takes place in a “what if” scenario (an improbable one at that) which didn’t really connect with today’s social feeling. I dunno, this is the hardest one for me to pin down... but the closest I could find to anything relating to today’s news topics was someone mentioning socialism towards the beginning. I guess it just didn’t feel “relevant” to me. Maybe if this was made in the 80's when it was set, it would’ve been... but for today.. I dunno...

So... that’s my verdict. There was a lot of stuff that could’ve been trimmed, edited, cut, and simply not used at all. None of the acting was bad, and the special FX were top notch, and the writing was good and the story was epic. By all rights it should’ve been an awesome movie. But in the end it just left me feeling empty.

I’m not trying to be negative... I just didn’t like it. And I don’t understand why so many comic book people were holding this movie up to such a lofty pillar of accomplishment. It was so-so, and nothing more. Am I alone in this thinking? Am I just overtly cynical? What did you think and do you agree with me?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I’m back!

I’ve actually been back for a couple of days now, but oh well! If you wanna know how our concert went, check out my last journal.

It was really nice going back home. I had a book signing at the local public library, where I met a couple people I hadn’t seen in close to 15 years. I sold a lot of copies of my book, and generally just had a good time.

I got to visit John Adam’s tomb. How many people can say “I got to see a presidential tomb today?” lol. Also got to see his birthplace and summer home too. It’s kinda sad how much civilization has encroached around those buildings... back in the day it was just open field. Now the street comes right up to almost in front of their door and there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across the way. Sigh...

My cat was cared for while I was away, so he wasn’t TOO annoying when we got back. He did wake me up yesterday at 7am though...

It was also right back to work for me. The very next day after the trip I was back at work. No rest for me. Sigh... I’ve got so much I need to catch up on and get done.

Anyhoo... I’m back... I’m working... and I wish the trip was longer...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Depeche Mode Concert

I know of Depeche Mode through my girlfriend. It’s one of her favorite bands and this past weekend we got to see them live in Boston. Actually it wasn’t in Boston, but for Londoners like them it’s close enough to consider it so.

We arrived fairly early, bought a coupon for a CD of the show, a T-shirt, a large pretzel, and a beer (which I didn’t drink). We found our seats pretty easily, and we got a very good view of the stage from where we were. We intentionally bought seats on the left side of the stage knowing that Martin Gore would be on that side, and we both like Martin more than Dave.

The band that opened is called Peter Bjorn and John, and they were pretty good... just not exactly the “Depeche Mode” type of music. The people there really didn’t give a crap about them, which made me feel bad because they weren’t awful or anything, just more happy go-lucky. At one point the singer jumped off the stage and ran through the isles singing. My girlfriend stood up to take pictures and since she was the only one standing up he looked at her and smiled, which was cool.

After the opening band we waited for 40 minutes before Depeche Mode finally came on. I’m not as big a fan as my girlfriend is, so there were a couple of songs I had never heard, but for the most part I knew them. They played a lot of their best hits and really got the crowd going strong.

The stage was rather small, as was the outside theater we were at. They had a huge TV like backdrop which displayed either pre-recorded videos for the songs, or used the camera crew there to show the group for all to see. The backdrop also had a round half circle which also was a TV and was kinda part of the larger one behind it, so sometimes there were interchangeable elements going on which was kinda cool.

The crowd got so worked up, they had 3 encores, which seemed to me to be a lot but I guess is pretty normal. Dave really did his best to work up the audience and several times during a couple songs tried to get everyone to sing along. Martin looked stiff as a board from his shyness which was funny and cute to see.

Overall, it was a great show. I just had a few minor problems which were more personal than anything else.

The first problem was the group of 3 people sitting in-front of us. They were SO into EVERYTHING. Even just the temp music playing between the opening band and Depeche Mode, they were grooving to that too. When Depeche Mode finally came on they were almost uncontrollable. They were waving their hands, jumping up and down, and being just downright obnoxious. I mean, I understand it’s a great show and all, but seriously... 3 hours of that? Calm down and let us enjoy the show already.

Also it was really confusing because there was a young girl, a young man, and an old man and I was trying to figure out what the heck their relationship was. The young woman seemed to have come with the old man, but she was dancing and being very provocative and suggestive with the young man AND the old man. I dunno what was going on but it annoyed me a lot. I’m such a prude.

The second problem I had was with the music itself. It was far too loud during the middle songs. It started off just fine and I had no problem with it, but about halfway through someone must’ve ramped up the audio because the bass was just unbearable for me. The concrete floor was shaking like jello and my heart felt weird and several times I had to sit down and cover my hears because of a splitting headache. I’ve never really been to a “rock concert” before so I guess I didn’t understand what I was getting into. Next time I go to one, I’m gonna bring some earplugs so I can enjoy the music without all the trouble.

Aside from that, it was a really good show. We’re trying to order the CD of the concert, and maybe I’ll be able to listen to some of the songs I had to cover my ears for. I did enjoy it, I just didn’t know what to expect since I’ve never been to a concert like this before. I’d upload some pictures too, but my camera had a really hard time focusing and they come out very blurry. Le Sigh...