Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Steve Jobs and What Was NeXT

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

News has been trickling out over the past month about Caleb Melby’s upcoming 60-page graphic novel, The Zen of Steve Jobs. In it, we get to see parts of Mr. Jobs’ life very few have been able to see before. Specifically, what he went through during the 1980s after he left Apple and was about to start NeXT, the company which was later purchased by Apple and is now the backbone for parts of OS X. Back then, Steve Jobs was in an in-between state and was looking for guidance; he turned to Kobun Chino Otogawa, a Zen Buddhist priest to learn meditation and to uncover design aesthetics that he still uses today.

Forbes is releasing the graphic novel along with the help of JESS3, a creative design company based out of Washington, D.C. The book looks to give fans of Apple, and even casual onlookers, a further view into what makes one of the most important men in the history of computers tick. Caleb Melby states that he put mounds of research and reporting into the graphic novel to try and get it as close to historically accurate as possible while still maintaining a narrative flow. It also informs us all that Buddhist monks enjoy Denny’s.

A release date for the book has yet to be finalized, but Melby says it will be out sometime in the fall. For now, there are five pages released; one here and four more here.

(via The Beat)

Arduino at a Glance

Monday, September 12th, 2011

For those of you looking for some do-it-yourself work or a new programming challenge, Arduino might be a good place to start. It is an electronics scripting and prototyping platform that can allow programmers and inventors to take their ideas from the design stage to the testing stage. Jody Culkin put together a very descriptive how-to comic giving plenty of information for beginners and experienced programmers alike to understand just how to handle this process.

Everything from microcontrollers to switchers, sensors, voltage, and the ever-important Ohm’s Law are defined and explained. Links to both Windows and Mac Arduino software and user guides are also included once you are ready to learn more about the project. What lends itself nicely to this step-by-step tutorial is the incredibly descriptive art; everything looks the way it does in the real world including shots of MacOS, circuit boards and the solderless breadboard. The comic can be found in PDF format here. You can read it in a browser or download the file and put it on a portable device if you’re looking to program on the go.

(via Boing Boing)

Telling a Story in 5 Panels with G+

Monday, August 15th, 2011

So Google+ is the new “hot” social network that everyone’s jumping aboard, though it’s not without its flaws—chief among them being that Google continues to insist that people use their “real” names, even when there are many good reasons why people might not want to. Putting that controversy aside, the site has many benefits, and some comics creators have even found the site’s “about” page to be yet another creative outlet.

A user’s about page on Google+ has a space to put up some pictures, presumably pictures of themselves, but instead Scott McCloud and Stephen Hitchen have used the slots as comic panels, telling (very) short stories.

Aside from being really informative about what they do (pictures really do speak louder than words), it just looks cool. Now I’m just staring at that empty slot on my own Google+ page, and pondering the possibilities.

(via The Ephemerist)

Laika Lives!

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Laika may have been the first animal to orbit the Earth, but there was no way to bring her back down safely, which also makes her the first to die in space—meaning that Nick Abadzis’ graphic novel account of her life doesn’t have a happy ending, upsetting a great deal of people. Some, including filmmakers, have questioned if the book needed to end that way, if there wasn’t some way to make the ending less depressing:

Filmmakers often get in touch, wondering whether there might be a way of presenting a version with a more positive spin to it. Well, of course there is, but then you’d be changing history, or at least blunting the truth of what took place that day in 1957, and unfortunately, you can’t change history, not one line.

Though history can’t be changed and the book will stay true to events, Abadzis is willing to play a game of “what if?” with Laika, honoring the 25th anniversary of Big Planet Comics in Washington, DC with a series of alternate endings dubbed “The Alternate Endings to Laika Show.”

So far two strips have been put up, both presenting stories that aren’t entirely implausible, but still vary widely from the truth in ensuring that little Laika survives.

(via The Beat)

Citation Needed

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I just finished reading Scott Westerfeld‘s novel Extras, the fourth book in the Uglies Trilogy. Putting aside discussion of the proper definition of “trilogy” for now, the book was interesting to me partly because the characters in it operated in a “reputation economy.” A reputation economy is one where a person’s worth is defined not by their material wealth, but by the deeds they do and how well-known they are. Extras is not the first work to explore such a concept, as Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom also runs on a reputation economy, and it has real-world applications on the Internet: Twitter calculates a reputation score for each user, and many sites like Digg allow you to vote on comments left by other users.

In order for a reputation economy to work, people have to receive credit for the things they do. Online, this usually means linking back to the source with proper attribution. Easy enough with articles, but images can be a tricky matter. Cool images often find themselves linked, e-mailed, uploaded to new sites, watermarks added, downloaded and uploaded again, and so on. Many artists don’t receive credit for the cool things they make.

Sick of this misappropriation, H. Caldwell Tanner and Rosscott have prepared a helpful flowchart to assist the average Internet user in crediting things properly. But this is no dry flow chart of text and funny shapes. This flowchart has illustrations. This flowchart is a comic! A very cool comic, indeed, one that you  might actually feel the need to share with others. With proper credit to the original creator, of course.

(via Boing Boing)

Manifested Destiny

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Last week the popular computer game The Oregon Trail made its way to Facebook, courtesy of The Learning Company and Blue Fang Games. For those too old or young to have experienced it, The Oregon Trail was a computer game created in 1974 where the player assumed the role of a settler in 1848 traveling on the historic Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. The game was well-known among students as it seemed to be installed on every single school computer (which were usually Apples) and teachers often had students play it during computer class instead of actually teaching them anything. I suppose it had the virtue of making it so that kids learned a handful of basic computer skills with some American history on the side, but what people really remember is dying of dysentery and writing funny things on their headstones.

I’ve been playing the Facebook conversion and it’s not bad. Because this is Facebook, it’s had some of the mandatory social elements tacked on—you can use your friends as members of your party (and subsequently watch them suffer from scurvy) and you can assist friends who are playing the game by fixing their wagon or hunting for them. Hunting, by far the most popular gameplay element of the original, is no longer limited by how many bullets you have (bullets are actually unlimited), but by how much energy you have. Energy refills over real time, so you can log off and come back to a full energy bar. Because time stands still in the game when you log out, it’s actually far easier than the original computer versions. So far no one’s died of dysentery or cholera, my wagon only turned over once in a river, and I only actually lost the game once, when I failed to reach Oregon before winter came. The game stacks, so items and money earned in a previous attempt carry over when you restart in Missouri, and it’s actually easier as you level up.

There’s also a real life monetary element to the Facebook version, where you can use your real money to purchase “Trail Notes,” which are used to buy really useful items and favors in the game. However, the game is easy enough you’ll never really need these extra perks.

The Oregon Trail is one way to make westward settlement come alive for today’s youth, another recent interpretation is Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel adaptation of the journey of Lewis and Clark. The book is set for release next week (February 15), but right now you can take a look at his overall creative process on the First Second Blog. He goes through five overall steps: writing, layout, penciling, inking, and digital manipulation. It’s really interesting to see a page go from a rough layout to a finished page, and it will be even more exciting to see the entire work when it’s released.

A Not-So-Wee Ad for the Wii

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

When the Nintendo Wii came out, it was marketed as a system for everyone—old people liked it, little kids loved it, and even your mom didn’t mind inviting it to Thanksgiving for a few rounds of bowling and tennis with Wii Sports. But even with this newfound crossover appeal, the execs at Nintendo recognized they still needed to grab that “core audience” of adolescent and young adult males, so what better way than to make their appeal with another medium with a “core audience” of adolescent and young adult males?

Running in various superhero titles throughout late 2006 and early 2007, this comic-style ad features a plucky, blond boy (and his black cat) extolling the immersive nature of the Nintendo Wii. The first page is a little exciting, but the second page becomes more explanatory, talking about storing Miis and downloading games with the Virtual Console and all those other things that seemed pretty exciting at the time and got most of us to buy Wii consoles. They certainly sold a lot.

Because it is two pages of advertising content in a comic format appearing inside an actual comic, the spread had to be labelled as a “special advertising section” in order to avoid consumer confusion. Which makes perfect sense, you know, considering how often writers keep inserting the Wii into stories of their own accord.

(via Kotaku)

How to Make an 8-Bit World

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

deviantART is host to quite the thriving comics community; you’ll find everything from one-panel cartoons to comic strips to pages from full comics, as well as a plethora of fan art and original art. The art includes pencil sketches, paintings in watercolor and acrylic, photography, and even more modern media such as tablet drawings and computer-generated artwork.

Anyone can create an account and anyone can upload artwork (even written materials), but it’s still easy to be intimidated. Which is why Metal Shadow X has posted this handy guide to making sprite comics. Sprite comics are comics that take the character pixel art from various video games and rearrange them into new situations. A popular example is 8-Bit Theater.

The instructions are simple and contain the occasional typo, but he does his best to illustrate every step of his process, and it doesn’t seem too hard. The comic really only covers placing the characters and creating the dialog bubbles, and doesn’t cover creating the actual panel framework or obtaining the sprites in the first place, but I suppose it’s a start.

Metal Shadow X does venture into actual drawn artwork as well, but it’s very rough and beginner-level, and a lot of it is very NSFW.

Hi Five, Leads Man!

Monday, October 25th, 2010

When making a nonfiction comic, creators have a whole toolbox of genres to choose from—romance, action, science fiction—but there’s something about the business world that makes the creators of comics for that market gravitate toward the iconography of superheroes. Maybe it’s because businessmen feel like superheroes when they find a solution that helps their clients, or maybe it’s just that they wish their life was far more exciting than being stuck in an office all day, answering e-mails and attending countless meetings. I can’t say for sure, but do you get some interesting examples of one-off nonfiction comics from them:

Aside from the “contact us” link and the offer of “4 hours free business analysis,” this comic is presented without context and I have not seen similar offerings on any of their other pages. Perhaps this really is the entire gist of their marketing. This might be the first and only outing of “The Super Dynamic Partners,” which is a bit of a shame, because I do dig The Scrambler’s crazy hair.

Out of Sync

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

There’s a pretty big divide between what we know as mainstream comics (mostly superhero books) and the small press/indie stuff. Not to say that there aren’t people who read both, or that creators don’t cross over from one to the other, but comparing the crowds at say, New York Comic Con and Alternative Press Expo; they’re very different. And there’s mutual disdain—a mainstream fan might find indie/small press stuff boring or pretentious, and an indie/small press fan might find a superhero book idiotic or uninspired.

The disconnect is a real shame, because sometimes it feels like the people on the indie side of things have dismissed all superhero books outright, without looking at what they have to offer. I’m not talking about plotting or characters—let’s face it, sometimes they are pretty stupid—but the actual construction of the comic, the way they use panel layouts to create pacing, the way they integrate the text and images into a cohesive whole. The nuts-and-bolts that hold the medium together. The superhero genre has been around a long time, and they generally have the “how-to” part down.

The “how-to” part is the biggest problem with Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays, edited by Brendan Burford with a very diverse field of contributors. The term “picto-essay” is perhaps more correct; it is Burford himself that uses the word “comics” in his introduction and on the back cover. Many of the stories in this volume are reminiscent of photo essays, which are generally slideshows where each photo is accompanied by a caption. I have nothing against photo essays, or even these picto-essays, I just find the actual “comics” component weak. Two of the segments (“Portfolio” and “Subway Buskers”) don’t even have text; they’re simply sketch galleries of Washington Square Park and subway buskers respectively.

It also feels like the definition of “essay” gets muddled at times; a few segments lack a solid narrative structure that would have strengthened what they were trying to achieve. “What We So Quietly Saw” by Greg Cook presents segments from prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo without making the transitions from incident to incident clear. “Like Hell I Will” by Nate Powell presents various scenes from the Tulsa race riot of 1921 in a confusing jumble, not clearly connecting the captions to the panels with dialogue; what exactly are the latter type of scenes showing us?

Even with its weak points, Syncopated does have its bright spots. A few of the stories integrate text and images and follow a cohesive narrative flow, the result being some very excellent comics work. “West Side Improvements” by Alex Holden made for a very strong essay, teaching the reader a bit of New York history while also making a point about urban renewal. “A Coney Island Rumination” by Paul Hoppe and “An Encounter With Richard Peterson” by Brendan Burford also follow similar threads and themes. My favorite story is “The Sound of Jade” by Sarah Glidden, where she accompanies her father on an adoption visit to China. Another strong point was “Dvorak” by Alec Longstreth, who we’ve covered previously here in the blog.

For an early attempt at a comics essay anthology Syncopated isn’t bad, but it is wildly uneven.  Most essay anthologies follow a theme, something that ties all the disparate contributors and narratives together, something that this volume lacks. Future editions of Syncopated would definitely benefit from more direction.

Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays
edited by Brendan Burford
published by Villard Books (New York, 2009)
ISBN 978-0-345-50529-3