Archive for October, 2008

One More Political Post For The Road

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

It’s déjà vu all over again! We previously reported on a bunch of comic books being put out about important politicians involved in the upcoming election; namely Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. While there still appears to be no Joe Biden comic, you can add two more Obama and McCain comics to the fold.

 

These two are being put out by Antarctic Press, a company which up until now has focused more on fantasy and manga and less on biographical content. From the Previews posted on their site, I will say I am enjoying the art on the Obama book, which is done by Chris Allen. Both the cover and interiors are striking and manage to evoke an image of the man that looks and feels like he does in real life. The same can be said for the McCain comic, done by Allen along with co-collaborator and President of Antarctic Press, Joeming Dunn. The comics try to capture as much of both candidate’s lives as possible in 24 pages and they do not pull any punches, bringing up anti-Obama sentiment by some and McCain’s involvement with The Keating Five.

In an interview with The San Antonio Press News, Allen explains that they tried to stay as close to the middle as possible with these comics, even though he identifies himself as on Obama supporter.

“Again, we’re presenting biographies of people who have gotten to a very important place in American society,” Allen says. “We want to give a balanced picture, as balanced as you can in 24 pages. But at the same time we don’t overly dramatize one thing or another.”

What’s also neat is that when you stand both comics next to one another, the covers form one connected image. Unlike the IDW books focusing on McCain and Obama, these ones are in black and white instead of full color. Nevertheless, the comics are available for order on the Antarctic Press website for $4.99 a piece if anybody is interested in checking out a second take on these two individual’s life experiences. And thanks to Blog@Newsarama for bringing the comics to my attention!

Steal Back Your Vote

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

A common assertion—among Democrats, at least—is that the 2000 and even the 2004 US presidental elections were “stolen” by the GOP. In many cases they’re referring to voter suppression, of which there is substantial evidence. In many cases, it only seems to be getting worse; Time magazine has a feature article outlining 7 Things That Could Go Wrong on Election Day. It’s a bipartisan problem—one only needs to look at the recent ACORN scandal to see the Democrats stumble the same as the Republicans.

Recognizing that this problem isn’t going away before such a crucial election, Greg Palast and Bobby Kennedy Jr. have created a comic (and film) to educate voters on what shenanigans they’re likely to encounter on Election Day, and how to avoid them.

Head over to the website to download the comic by either making a donation or filling in your e-mail address, or order print copies for a group. Next Tuesday is Election Day—make sure your vote is counted!

Female Force

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The Presidental Material comics featuring the life stories of U.S. presidental nominees John McCain and Barack Obama went on sale October 8, but the political fun doesn’t stop there. Bluewater Productions announced their intention to release a series of “Female Force” comics, a continuing series spotlighting influential women in modern history. Note the “modern” part—no Susan B. Anthony or Harriet Tubman. Their first subject? Senator Hillary Clinton.

“Female Force: Hillary Clinton” will explore both sides of the issue, from her positive contribution to the new feminist ethos to the detractors who argue against her attempt to secure the nomination to the bitter end. Though the battle for the presidency now comes down to John McCain and Barack Obama, interest is still strong and steadfast for what might have been the first female presidential nominee in history. Join Bluewater Productions as we examine the enigma of Hillary Clinton.

The cover design strongly evokes the imagery of the IDW comics, though they’ve already had to redo the cover once—the flag had the wrong number of stripes.

The mistake has been corrected, but they’ve gone and done it again, putting too many stripes on their upcoming Sarah Palin comic:

Palin’s life story from PTA president to the Alaska governorship to her surprise nomination as John McCain’s running mate is scheduled to be the second story in the recently announced “Female Force” comic. A final chapter is yet to be written.

“Regardless of your opinion, Governor Palin is a phenomenon. Her historic nomination has helped shape the national debate of arguably the most important presidential election in over 75 years,” said Bluewater president Darren Davis. “No matter what happens in this election, people will still be talking about Sarah Palin, she is indeed a female force!”

For both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Palin, they better hope interest is high—Hillary’s comic isn’t due for release until January 2009, and Sarah’s will be released in February.

Drops of the Gods

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Food-themed manga is not new to Japan, but talking about wine? Certainly a new thing in a country known for its sake and beer. That all changed with the publication of Kami no Shizuku (Les Gouttes de Dieu, “The Drops of the Gods”). It follows the trials of a young man tasked with finding 12 legendary wines so he can inherit his father’s collection of rare vintages.

The comic has become so popular that restaurants and wine sellers adjust their stocks according to whatever wine is featured in the latest installment of the manga, because those are the ones sure to sell out. Kami no Shizuku has helped raise the profile of wine in the Far East, spurring sales in Korea, China, and Taiwan. The manga has been spotlighted in the Japan Times, the Daily Mail, and today, a feature in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times.

Unfortunately, though a French translation has been produced, the same can’t be said for English no release is planned (yet).

Dvorak Does Typing

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Right now, I am typing. While I’ve never been one to use the traditional method of putting both hands to keyboard and going to town, I do pretty well using the tried and true “two finger method.” Even though I know where the keys are by heart and have for years, I still usually look at the keys as I type. Might not be the most professional method, but whatever works, right? Like most of you, I use a QWERTY keyboard, since it’s what came with my laptop. It was the first keyboard I saw when my mother used let me experiment with her old typewriter, and the layout transitioned over to computers when they became popular. Still, I’ve always wondered, “Whose bright idea was it to put the letters in this layout I’ve been typing on so frequently?”

Before I checked out The Dvorak Zine, I had no idea there were other options out there. I mean, I had heard random spattering of information about a Dvorak Keyboard from friends of mine, but nothing too intensive; quite frankly I’m more familiar with John C. Dvorak than the keyboard that shares his last name. Even the name QWERTY was foreign to me, but the designation makes sense. The keyboard we usually use starts with the letters Q-W-E-R-T-Y on its top letter bar, so what else would you call it? But why is A next to S and I next to O on a completely different letter bar? Do we really need to place B next to N? The Dvorak Zine explains the answer to us and why we still use it today. It breaks down to three familiar factors; experimentation, familiarity and fear of change.

Originally, typewriters would jam if you tried to type two letters on the same bar in succession right next to one another. This was due to a defective “type bar.” So the guy who created the type bar and the concept for the typewriter, Latham Sholes, began work on a keyboard that would avoid this problem. How do you do that? Yup, by making the key arrangement totally freaking random! When the type bar issue was fixed by a better design, typewriter sales were already through the room, making QWERTY the norm! It sucks, but what comes first is often what is accepted by the majority; iPod anyone?

Is this still the only option out there? Far from it. Dr. August Dvorak invented the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard Layout in 1932 based on careful research into what keys we touch the most when typing. His design put the most popular letters all in the same row, giving you a familiar, safe spot to put your fingers. The Dvorak is supported by Windows and Mac operating systems; all you need is to either buy a keyboard with the layout for as cheap as $20, put the layout onto your keys yourself via stickers, or put a printout next to your compy and look at it for reference.

Obviously, I recommend checking out the full webcomic at DVZine.org to get the complete scope of Dvorak and to see if it is right for you. As for the Zine itself, The art is as fun as the information being told. And hey, you might even walk away with a new outlook on a very familiar task.

Fair Use – Use It or Lose It!

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

October 28, 2008 represents the tenth anniversary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, while October 27, 2008 is the tenth anniversary of the Copyright Term Extension Act. These among other changes have made copyright law a complicated legal minefield. And yet, ordinary people are finding themselves entangled in this net more and more, what with things like blogs and YouTube and BitTorrent to facilitate the sharing of information which may not necessarily belong to those individuals.

But information should be free, right? Well, depends on how you use it. There is a little thing called fair use which allowed limited use of copyrighted material in order to create new works, though it depends on the nature of the new work in particular. But even fair use can be confusing, so what’s a humble creator to do?

Well, if you’re a documentary filmmaker, the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain has come to the rescue with a special comic titled Tales from the Public Domain: BOUND BY LAW?, which will walk you through the things a documentarian needs to know when it comes to all that messy IP law that might interfere with their vision.

The comic gives a brief explanation of current copyright law and how you determine if a particular work is copyrighted. It then delves into the particular issues that documentary filmmakers have to deal with, and the best part here is that they give real examples of when a known documentary film was compromised because of outrageous licensing fees, or cases where the filmmaker exercised their rights to fair use.

Unfortunately, the comic provides no easy answers. It isn’t a handbook to tell you what to do—Step 1, Step 2, Step 3—it’s merely a guidebook to tell you what you CAN do. Luckily, documentarians still have options, the CSPD just wants them to know what they are.

(Bound by Law is available under a Creative Commons—Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 license, so feel free to download a PDF copy, print it out, post it elsewhere, translate, or of course, use excerpts from it in your own work.)

Wired Gets It Backwards

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Maybe this is a bit old, but quick! Before the manga craze dies down like so many people have predicted time-and-time-again over the past seven years let’s take a look at the feature Wired magazine did on manga last year.

Maybe it’s a little late to the party after all, as we pointed out, manga has been big for a while, consistently taking prime slots on the USA Today booklists and earning its own section in large chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders but to their credit, they don’t do a half-assed job of it, showing a comprehensive understanding of Japan, comics, and manga itself.

There’s a great article about manga culture in Japan, explaining the ubiquity of manga and how it feeds into other industries like film and television. But it’s the complimentary manga that we’re going to take a look at, since that’s our expertise here.

You have a choice of reading the manga in Flash, or downloading it directly from their site, but the latter is not recommended, because true-to-format, the manga reads from right-to-left, a fact that was not taken into account when the PDF was assembled. So you have to scroll to the bottom and work your way up, which makes the whole thing almost unreadable. The Flash application is marginally better, where you use your mouse to “turn the page,” but you have to literally drag the page over just like a real comic, which is pretentious and annoying (and sometimes buggy). If we wanted the feel of paper, we could have bought the actual issue of the magazine.

As for the comic itself, it’s actually pretty good. The writer shows a thorough understanding of the manga market in both Japan and the United States, even taking the time to interview various industry figures, giving the whole piece a credibility that even many major news outlets who report on manga lack. There’s also a good understanding of the American comic market, which means the piece avoids the usual finger-pointing and conceit that plagues articles written by insiders (usually fans) who think of the American market as “crappy superhero books.”

Maybe they need their own special online manga to explain American comics. Now wouldn’t that be the ultimate cultural exchange?

A Kaleidoscope of Images in My Mind

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Generally anyone who reads comics has probably come across a Chick tract at least once in their life. Heck, even people who don’t read comics might across one, as they’re distributed in churches, Christian bookstores, and evangelical folding tables set out in public places (like the one in the Times Square subway station, in the 7 train passageway leading to the Port Authority). They’re ubiquitous and controversial (especially if you’re Catholic). For that reason, Chick tracts are some of the most parodied publications on the Internet, especially the Dark Dungeons installment, in which we find out that Dungeons & Dragons is a gateway to occult worship.

A panel from Dark Dungeons, and the corresponding parody from Darque Dungeon, in which role-playing is a gateway to the goth scene.

Less of a parody and maybe somewhat of a homage is Chemical Salvation?, which uses the Chick tract format to tell the story of Lysergic acid diethylamide—popularly known as LSD.

The comic is fairly straightforward, outlining the origins of LSD in a lab, the early research, and the initial positive reaction to the compound—including the more religious applications of LSD usage. However, the comic is somewhat biased, as it briefly skims over the “casualties” of psychedelics and pretty much condemns the anti-drug movement without the same careful deconstruction that it gave to the drug’s positive effects.

However, that makes it even more of a spot-on parody, all the down to the final page, where it proudly displays the logo of “Trick Publications.”

Spider-Man’s Biggest Challenge

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Breaking away a bit from our usual fare here at Nonfiction Comics, Web comic artist Andrew Farago provides us with a gem via his LiveJournal; yup, a comic book featuring a mainstream hero facing a mainstream issue. “Spider-Man Vs. The Prodigy” was put out in the 1970′s in a partnership with The Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Yup, after tackling drug addiction and adultery (depending on who you ask, Peter Parker might have slept with a married Betty Brant), Spider-Man takes on planned parenthood!

The main plot of the issue centers around an alien villain by the name of The Prodigy, who is looking to bring thousands of babies back to his home planet of Intellectia! With that plot, I can see why writer Ann Robinson didn’t have much of a career outside of being a Marvel Executive for a few years. Anyway, to achieve his vicious scheme, The Prodigy intends on telling teenagers that they don’t have to worry about having babies through sex. His lies include things like, “You can’t have babies before the age of fourteen” and, “Pregnancy is good for you. It clears up acne!” Had he simply given the kids Power Thirst, he would have received as many babies as he desired without hassle.

Prodigy has a magic voice that makes teens everywhere believe every word he says, so off to the radio station he goes to spread the word. Of course, Spider-Man tries everything in his arsenal to stop The Prodigy before he can spread his baby-making magic to the masses. Yes, this includes trying to pose as a gargoyle to avoid detection from guards. Ever see a red and blue clad gargoyle with webbing under his arms? Yeah, I thought so. Out of the pages posted by Farago, one panel stood out to me as particularly amusing considering the status quo of Spider-Man comics after the recent One More Day storyline. There is Spider-Man, lamenting on how he is ridiculously lucky to be single and without child. I mean, can you imagine what Peter Parker’s life would be with a child? Neither can he! Spidey would much rather have Twinkies and jive turkey for dinner. Mmmm…

Once the world is safe from Prodigy’s influence, we get a page reviewing facts about pregnancy and human sexuality. I’m pleased to see Marvel touch on homosexuality, making clear that the way someone acts, sounds or dresses does not make them gay. That’s somewhat proactive for the time, even for the 1970′s.

Even with the hoaky storyline I’ll admit I dug the art, which was done by Spider-Man veterans Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. And hey, the comic did manage to be somewhat informative. All I really want to know is one statistic: how many unwanted pregnancies were stopped from happening by Spider-Man? The world may never know.

Running for Office in the Internet Age

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

With Election Day less than a month away now, maybe it’s time to check back with Sean Tevis. Mr. Tevis is running for Kansas State Representative in District 15 (downtown Olathe, KS). His big campaign issue appears to be eliminating the sales tax that Kansas charges on food (less than 15 states charge sales tax on food, not counting prepared food at restaurants). Sounds fair enough, but let’s face it, most of us would never even have heard of him we barely know who our own state representatives and senators are if not for a little xkcd-style comic he put together to ask the Internet for donations.

Called Running for Office: It’s Like A Flamewar with a Forum Troll, but with an Eventual Winner, the comic briefly touched on Mr. Tevis’ positions, but most importantly it made a call for donations, reasoning that if 3000 people donated just $8.34 each, he’d have enough money to run a competitive campaign.

In less than two days, the Internet delivered. He not only got the $26,000 he asked for, but people kept on donating, some giving even more (much more) than the requested amount.

That isn’t to say that the campaign isn’t without its detractors, most notably the representative that Mr. Tevis is running again, Arlen Siegfreid:

Arlen Siegfreid’s liberal, Mainstream Coalition-endorsed liberal Democratic opponent has gained national attention raising tens of thousands online from out-of-state donors. You can visit his report here and add up the out-of-state numbers yourself — plus an additional $67,000 of his donations are unidentified as they are under the $50 limit required by the state.

He actually used the word “liberal” twice in one sentence. But anyway, back to Sean Tevis. He eventually followed up on his first two comments with a new comic strip and a blog post, vowing to focus on voters and contributors. He’s done some media appearances and marched in a parade.

Whether Mr. Tevis will continue to make comics if he takes office remains to be seen, but one can only hope.