Thursday, December 18, 2008

Diamond 300, More Snow, The Final Cover

The Helm #4 made it onto the Diamond top 300 list for November, which pleased me all out of proportion with being number 268. I don't know when the list came out, but I just stumbled across it today. Well, stumbled very purposefully, as in I was actively checking for it.

Anyway, we've had more snow here--although we somehow avoided the apocalyptic ice storm the weathermen were predicting for us. Based on what they said, people stayed home from work in droves on Wednesday, but then nothing materialized. Turned out to be a really nice day even with some decent flurries of snow. Today was pretty much more of the same. The biggest trouble has been that the scaredy cat schools have cancelled out every day this week, leaving lots of parents struggling to work little people into their work schedules. Our two little people generously prevented almost anything productive from happening this week--all while remaining perfectly delightful.

And then, this afternoon, my editor at Dark Horse sent over a proof of the finished cover for the Trade Paper Back collection of the Helm. It's not much changed from the one I was gushing over yesterday--except that now it has the title and the logo and the tag line and all that good stuff. I expect they'll start posting it to the various websites advertising the book pretty soon so that they can replace the current posting which shows the cover of the first comic rather than the cover of the book. What that means is that, hopefully, you'll get to see the cover for yourselves soon and judge whether it looks good for yourselves.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Days and the Helm TPB Cover

So, I'm at work today! Hooray!

Yesterday I couldn't make it in because of snow. Not a lot of snow, mind you, just a couple of inches--but here in Portland, Oregon, two inches is enough to shut down the town. So, school was out and buffoons were skidding into parked cars and smashing up real estate. It was chaos.

Anway, I had to put chains on the car to make it in today--the city was requiring them--but it was worth it because the cover art for the Helm trade paper back was waiting for me in my email! What with the Helm series being finished up for a while now, I haven't seen any new art from Bart in months and I've been going through withdrawal. So, this was a good fix. And it's really pretty. I can say that, with italics and everything, because I didn't draw it, so it's not bragging.

Also, thanks to everyone who's been writing in and saying they want more Helm! I'm all for more Helm too! If you are feeling really proactive about it, go ahead and send your emails directly to Dark Horse. You could cc me if you want.

Okay, I think that's it for now except that we're expecting more snow tomorrow. That should shut the town down for a month.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chuck Action, The Helm Trade Paper Back and a Shout Out to Gloria!

Last night I had to catch up on a few episodes of Chuck that I've missed over the past few weeks. I was up until 2:00 am. I didn't feel that kind of devotion was out of line because I love the show Chuck (I think the character is nice too, but I don't feel any kind of romantic spark between us--nor with the wonderful actor, Zachary Levi--although I think he's great as Chuck). Anyway, I think the show is really funny and smart and charming and I am highly likely to keep watching it as long as they keep making it, even if I have to stay up really late to do it.

But (and there's always a but) they really need to do a better job of directing their action scenes. The clumsy action direction started pretty early on--remember episode #2, Chuck versus the Helicopter? And it's still going strong (or weak, to be more accurate) think episode #24, Chuck versus the Sensei.

Now this clumsiness is kinda weird. It's consistent enough that you'd figure there was maybe one really clever dialogue and relationship director in charge of the whole thing and he/she just wasn't that great at action--except that there are at least five different directors credited on the series and each of them has directed at least one episode with at least one really bad action sequence. And yet, based on their other credits, they seem to be pretty competent directors. Hmmm. Also, between the five credited directors, there are only fourteen shows listed--but, there are twenty four episodes produced and aired so far. Where are the other ten episodes/directors? If I was the intersect, I could figure that out just by looking at the line I just finshed typing. Unfortunately, I still have to use Google to find stuff out--just like everyone else on earth (Google Earth).

Okay. So after searching, I discovered that you can find them--guys like David Solomon who directed episode #5 of season one, Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp, but they aren't listed as Series Directors. Maybe that's because they've only directed single episodes? Like susbstitute teachers? Or is there some other, darker, more mysterious reason? Probably not. Or is there?

Regardless, there pretty much hasn't been any really stellar action directing on the show, whether it's a series director in charge or a substitute--and some of it has been really darn flat. Not that it derails the show for me. Like I said, I love that show.

In an attempt to be fair, I will now invite the creators of Chuck to read the Helm and criticize the things that I do poorly and/or defend what is going on with the direction of action on their show. I mean, who am I to criticize without knowing all of the issues? Well, I'll tell you who I am. I'm me, and even I can tell that the action is clumsy on Chuck.

Okay, enough Chuck.

I was just looking at a mockup of the front and back cover for the Helm Trade Paperback! The cover art's not in from Bart yet, but the mockup is looking pretty cool. I would buy it, if I was me. Which I am. It's cool to have all of the issues collected together--and it's also nice that the four "chapters" will have the titles of each of the issues in the series (which aren't printed on the actual issues because they were imaginatively titled Issue #1 and so on). I mean, I don't know if the titles being there will be nice for anyone else, but I appreciate it because of how I went to all the trouble of coming up with titles for each issue.

I also want to take this blog entry to say "hi" to Gloria.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thoughts? Feelings? Questions?

The final issue of the Helm is finally out! What did you think? Liked it? Hated it? I'd love any feedback anybody wants to send my way, positive or negative. Email me, or post your thoughts, feelings or questions here. Either way.

Here's a sample question--similar to something an actual reader of the Helm might post:

Jim. What the hell were you thinking?
Yours, Don Bumbernicker

And a sample answer to show how I'll probably respond to an actual comment from a real person:

Don, I have no idea.
Yours, Jim

So, go ahead and comment! Don't be shy! I can tell from my Google analytics that at least two people have read this blog and one guy from the Ukraine has looked at it by accident. If those three people were to comment, that would be FOUR comments (including my fake one). Four comments and only one of them fake! That would be something.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Exciting Conclusion!!

The final installment of the Helm comes out tomorrow! Writing the series has been a strange, fun ride! I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who read the series, to all the wonderful folks who sent letters and comments and especially to all the people who made the book possible.

Sara Kaine, who introduced me to Dark Horse
Dave Land, my excellent and wise editor
Bart Sears, the awesome breakdown artist of the series and a huge part of the Helm's draw (no pun intended)
Randy Elliott, magnificent finisher (what a great job title)
Dan Jackson, superior and tasteful Colorer
Dave Lanphear, master of letters
Katie Moody, erudite Associate Editor
Josh Elliot, stylish Designer
Patrick Thorpe, essential Assistant Editor
Jacquelene Cohen, gregarious Publicity Coordinator
Dirk Wood, rockstar Marketing Director
Mike Richardson, white haired giant and lord of Dark Horse Comics
All the folks I haven't met who make Dark Horse run
Maria, Clara and Eleanor--who keep me going
And Janet--who made me want to write in the first place.

Thanks everybody, it's been fun. Now all I have to write about is the coming trade paperback version. Look for it in April of 2009!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Baby Alligators, Toilet Seats and the Helm #4

I was just in Miami and saw a wild baby alligator in a lagoon. Not that it was particularly impressive or anything, but alligators are deadly creatures and I don't expect to see them swimming around outside of high rise office complexes. That would be like seeing a wild baby tiger running around in the mall, or having a baby great white shark bite your foot while sitting at a public fountain.

Okay, maybe not exactly.

Anyway, I was standing in the bathroom at work, thinking about baby alligators, when it suddenly occurred to me that the toilet seat was U-shaped rather than a complete oval. Now, I've seen this particular toilet seat hundreds of times over the last several years and never really noticed how it was U-shaped rather than oval, but for some reason, it registered this time. Which got me wondering why some toilet seats are U-shaped and others are oval. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that I mostly saw U-shaped toilet seats in public restrooms and mostly ovals at people's houses. So, my first thought was that the U-shaped seats were probably cheaper to make and consequently more attractive to the folks putting together public bathrooms. A quick survey of a handful of public restrooms revealed that ALL of them had U-shaped toilet seats--even one in a really expensive and upscale restaurant. That made me question the validity of my "cheapest option" conclusion. So, I did a little Internet research and discovered that United States plumbing code specifies that public restrooms have to used "open front" toilet seats! Yes! It's the law!! But why?

Well, apparently, they are considered both more sanitary and more comfortable. I'm not sure exactly how the sanitary thing works out--especially in women's public restrooms--nor am I really clear on how the comfortable thing works out--but those are the given reasons.

Anyway, while researching the issue, I stumbled across a site with details of the first time a toilet was ever shown on American broadcast television. It was on what was supposed to be the first episode of Leave it to Beaver, "Captain Jack." The episode actually got shelved for a while by the censors who refused to let a toilet be depicted on television. It aired after they compromised by shooting a single tight shot of the tank only. And why was a toilet part of the story at all? Well, the plot involved Wally and the Beaver trying to hide a BABY ALLIGATOR from their parents by keeping it in their toilet tank.

That's right, a baby alligator! Holy crap!! Too much for coincidence.

Oh, and the Helm #4 comes out next Wednesday! No alligators, no U-shaped toilet seats, no episodes of Leave it to Beaver, but it is the exciting conclusion of the mini-series! Be sure to check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mi Amiga, mi amor

Amiga computers changed my life.

Back in 1990, I was an aspiring filmmaker--fresh out of film school and working on a super-low-budget feature film. Then I ran out of money and decided to do freelance work to continue financing the feature. I probably would have continued with that route except that one day, while driving through Aurora, Illinois, I happened to take a wrong turn and pass a sign that said, "Computers for Video!"

The sign was advertising a place (Microtech Computers) that sold Amiga computers with Video Toasters. After stopping in for an impromptu demo of the editing capabilities, I reformulated my plans and wound up starting my own production company. Although the initial plan was just to do live action production, the Toaster came with a 3-D animation program called Lightwave. I'd minored in animation, so I started messing around with the 3-D animation features just because they were there and free. Two years later, more than half of the work my company was doing was computer animation--all of it programmed and rendered on Amigas.

Ah, how I loved my Amigas. They seemed like they were only about 30% scientific machine and the rest was just magic. You couldn't always tell when or how they were going to work, but with the right combination of strange work arounds and mysterious software, you could get them to do almost anything. They were light years ahead of both Macs and PCs in terms of performance, speed and sheer voodoo power. And they were far more financially in reach (and faster to boot) than the Silicon Graphics machines that were the computer animation industry standard at the time. My company started off with one Amiga--with a built in 500 meg drive (the largest money could buy at the time)--and ended with more than a dozen of them. We did 3-D and cell animation, film resolution rendering, music composing and production, off and on-line editing, morphing, accounting, script writing and a hell of a lot of video game playing on those machines.

Amigas built the computer animation reel that eventually landed me a job directing animation at Will Vinton Studios. I started off doing mostly M&M's commercials but then segued into some animated television series work and eventually found my way into character and story consulting. Which is what I do now--and which turns out to be the best job I've ever had. I think it's absolutely safe to say that none of that would have happened if I hadn't taken a wrong turn and run straight into Amigas back in 1990.

Of course, Amiga went out of business back in the mid 1990's and I had to migrate to other platforms (none of which are half as fun or a quarter as dynamic) but I still miss my magic machines.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Helm #4 Release Date Set!

For any of you interested, I just heard from Dark Horse that the release date for issue #4 of the Helm will be November 19th, 2009.

Now, working from past experience, that's not a guarantee or anything, but it looks pretty solid at the moment.

The End is Nigh

I reviewed the final pages for issue #4 of the Helm yesterday! That means the final issue is off to the printers. No word yet on exactly when it will hit stores, but it's likely to be in the next few weeks.

Looking at the final pages, I was again impressed by the tremendous talent and effort on display by Bart Sears, Randy Elliott, Dan Jackson, Dave Lanphear and my editor Dave Land.

So anyway, the final countdown has begun, the end is nigh, we are in the end times. Whoo Hooo! Bring on the apocalypse!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fruit Flies, Genocide and Human Ingenuity

So, we've got fruit flies in our house. I think it's mostly because we don't have any screens on our windows because the painters took them out and put them in the basement and then the movers buried them under seventy two tons of our boxed possessions. But hey, I'm not blaming anyone.

Fruit flies are massively annoying for such little beasts. It's partly because they are so tiny--which makes them hard to shoo away--but it's also because they fly around in swarms and they land on anything you might be eating or thinking of eating. And then they lay eggs on it. Apparently, the average fruit fly can lay 500 eggs, each of which can hatch into larva (on my food) and lay their own 500 eggs, all within the space of a week. Given those numbers, I'm not sure why there is any space in our house not packed to the exploding point with fruit flies, but so far the swarm has been relatively minimal (although no less annoying.)

I've mostly been thwacking them out of the air with dish towels--which is not only not very effective, but causes my oldest daughter to scold me for being, "mean and inhumane." I've tried explaining how the fruit flies are unhygienic barbarian invaders, locked in a life and death struggle with us for the household food supply, but she says they are, "tiny and cute and all creatures deserve to live." Despite her protests, I have begun researching means of inflicting genocide on them.

[DISCLAIMER] Okay, not genocide really. Fruit flies are not a national, racial, political or social group and, just to be really clear, I in no way support the systematic extermination of any peoples based on anything. Crap. When I run for president of the United States--the only country I currently qualify to be president of--I'm sure this blog will be quoted out of context by my esteemed opponent's propaganda machine despite my disclaimer and everyone will believe I support and/or actively participate in genocide. [END DISCLAIMER AND PARANOID TANGENT]

I suppose what I want to inflict on the fruit flies is actually speciecide. Regardless of what you call the total extinction I envision for my fruit flies, I have been able to quickly find an abundance of devious and ingenious ways to accomplish it. Most of them take gleeful advantage of the behavioral weaknesses of the flies. For example:

The Wine Trap: put out a glass of wine. Add one finger tip touch of dish soap to reduce the surface tension of the wine. Fruit flies are attracted to fermentation--but the wine will kill any eggs they manage to lay and the lack of surface tension will drown the flies.

The Oven Trap: Put a piece of fruit in your oven over night--a slice of banana works well. Leave the oven door open. In the morning, sneak up and slam the door closed. Turn the oven on to 400 for ten minutes. Clean the oven thoroughly.

The Blow Drier Trap: Sidle up to a swarm of fruit flies with a plugged in hair dryer in your hand (sidle up because the flies are alarmed by quick movement). Turn on the hair dryer and put the back end of it near the flies. They will be sucked into the heat chamber and fried!

The Vacuum Trap: Suck up entire swarms with the upholstery or crevice attachment. They cannot escape the suction and it will destroy them as they are sucked in.

I could go on for pages, but I think you've got the picture. All of them seem like deeply satisfying and even enjoyable approaches to eliminating my flies. But, of course, my daughter would be inconsolable if she stumbled across my blueprint for a final solution to the fruit fly problem.

The abundance--the over abundance--of speciecide suggestions readily available to anyone with an Internet makes me glad that I am not a non-human living on Earth. We are devilish clever at doing away with things or seeding their downfall by dissecting their behavior. We're really good problem solvers and very good at thinking of anything that bothers us as a problem to be solved even if it is actually another living creature that is part of a much larger living system way more complicated than we can begin to fathom.

So, I'll probably wind up using the Open Jar Trap. It's what it sounds like--an open jar with a piece of fruit in the bottom. When a bunch of flies land on the fruit, you slap a plate over the top and then you take the jar outside and let them all go. That's right. Catch and release. I'll probably turn it into a father/daughter project.

And then the little buggers or their teeming progeny will undoubtedly come back in through the screenless windows. Damn fruit flies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cat, Dog, Stock Market, Whatever...

So someone wrote to me, not about the Helm, but about my post about the dog alarm clock. Apparently, this guy has been scouring the Internet looking for the dog drill sergeant alarm clock that shouts "WAKE UP! RISE AND SHINE!" because he had a roommate who had one in college--and of course, Google led him to me. He's been looking for one of these clocks for his kids but has been unable to find one anywhere. So, having recently recovered mine from the Borg Cube (I couldn't take it anymore and finally dug it out) I examined mine and discovered that it was made by a company called Rhythm in Japan and sold by the Chicago Clock Company. That gave me enough info for my own Google search--which eventually turned up an image of the clock. Only, lo and behold, it was described as a CAT drill sergeant! That's right. All these years I have been laboring under the misapprehension that the most annoying alarm clock on earth is shaped like a dog, when in fact, it is supposed to be a cat.

Then I discovered that these things sell on eBay for $180 each! I think mine cost me $15.99 when I got it! Damn! I should have been investing in these Cat alarm clocks all these years instead of the stock market! What was I thinking?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three, the Economy and the Urim & Thummim

The Helm #3 finally came out today! Whoo Hooo!! It was originally supposed to come out in September, then it got moved back to October 1st, and now it is actually out. So, there's that.

Oh, and then there's the fact that the world continues to collapse into economic ruin. Well, I guess you can't have everything. But, and just to be clear, the third issue of the comic book is out now!

In other news, I was driving late at night, listening to Studio 360 on NPR when they did this story about the Urim and Thummim--you know, the ancient biblical divinatory devices. Apparently, some guy thinks he's found them. Only thing is, he believes the Urim and Thummim are a cup which he bought at a Goodwill superstore for 69 cents. Oh yeah! That just feels pretty darn Blurdyesque to me.

You can check out the story at where they also have a trailer for a documentary about the whole thing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spice Cake, Trans Fat and Tim Curry

We made spice cake a couple of days ago--from a box, with frosting from a can--you know, the way I like it. We haven't done this since the girls were born because of how just about all of the spice cake mixes in a box contain 1 gram of trans fat per serving. Seems like everybody else in the entire world has wised up and taken trans fat out of their products, but not the damn cake mix people. Even Crisco has taken out the trans fat, and as far as I was aware, all Crisco was was trans fat. So come on you cake mix people! Wise up already!

Anyhow, trans fat and all, we had the cake and we ate it too. Technically, that isn't particularly hard. I've always felt that expression, "have your cake and eat it too," ought to be reversed. Anyone can have their cake and eat it too. What's hard is to eat your cake and then still have it. You can't do that--which seems more to the point of the old saying. However you slice it, and we sliced it with a special cake knife, spice cake is awesome. The girls mixed food coloring in with the white frosting so that the cake actually came out a nice shade of pale blue. We used to let them mix in as much color as they wanted with frosting, but then you get the whole inside of your mouth dyed and you look like you've got some horrible disease or something. And also, my oldest still can't eat any kind of desert without getting it all over her entire head--even on the back of her ears. Not too problematic when you're talking about a ginger cookie, but progressively worse when it's chocolate, something with frosting or something with food color augmented frosting.

As I was eating my piece of the cake, the shuffle on my iPod turned on the song "I Do the Rock". I love that song--in a different way from how I love spice cake, but it's still love. In case you are unfamiliar, you should check it out. It's by Tim Cury from his second album, "Fearless".

So, check out the song, get yourself a piece of cake and relax. 1 gram of trans fat probably won't kill you. Not immediately anyway.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Inviting Disaster: On Raising Lemons, Pseudo PALK's and Best Sellers

I have a lemon tree that I have nearly killed three times now because it is hard to grow lemons in Portland Oregon. They do fine in the summer, but as soon as it starts getting cold, my poor lemon tree starts dropping leaves and lemons and looking all mangy. I swore that this year I was not going to let it suffer, but then we moved a short time ago and left the tree at the other house. So, of course, there was a cold snap. Now the leaves are all yellow and half the tiny little lemons have dropped off and I feel like a shoddy tree keeper again. It's a good thing there isn't an anti-cruelty to plants society or I would be in some serious trouble.

I don't know much about raising lemons, but here's something that strikes me as odd. There's been one particular lemon growing on my tree for well over a year. It's not a particularly big lemon, and in all that time, it hasn't turned yellow yet. What's up with that? Do lemons just take forever to ripen, or is this a peculiar lemon? Anyone with advanced lemon knowledge should feel free to comment and let me know.

I guess that is an open invitation to the various fiends in the world posing as people with advanced lemon knowledge but who actually have little to no lemon knowledge. That's right, I'm talking about the despicable pseudo PALK's. I know you're out there, just itching to spread false lemon knowledge, and I dare you--no, I double dare you--to try to leave a fake comment without me knowing. Chickens.

Apart from that, the Helm issue #2 has made the Best Seller list at Dark Horse and the Diamond top 300 for August! Whoo Hoo! I'm two for two! But now I know I'm just inviting disaster for issue #3 by gloating about the first two.

I guess that's what I'm doing with this whole blog entry--inviting disaster--if not from pseudo PALK's, then from the gods of the comic book best seller lists. Oh well, that's just me. That's just how I roll.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moving, the Total Collapse of the Economy and the Borg Cube

I don't like to appear egotistical or anything, but I'm pretty sure that the completion of my new house triggered the collapse of the global economy.

We've been working on remodelling a house for the last year and that whole time I've been joking with people who asked when it would be done. I'd tell them that the new house wouldn't be finished until the real estate market totally collapsed so that I wouldn't be able to sell the old house. I guess I should be more careful what I joke about. We moved on Saturday and on Monday the market plunged into the toilet. Maybe we'll rent the old place for a while.

Apart from triggering the total collapse of the world economy, I've been kind of unproductive lately--probably due to the frenzy of moving into a new house and dealing with the fact that everyone in my family got sick and we don't have phone service, Internet, mail or anything. I haven't been doing much writing--just surviving--but it's starting to make me feel a little listless. So I suppose I should get my butt in gear and start working on some things--like figuring out what move I can make to trigger the recovery of the economy. Maybe unpacking boxes in the basement? That's a frightening idea.

Our basement (a brand new basement that we had to lift up our house to build) is currently packed with everything that used to be in our old house. The bulk of it is in this giant 12 foot cube of packing boxes--what we've been fearfully referring to as the Borg Cube--you know, that big deadly cube-ship that the Borg used to fly around in on Star Trek the Next Generation. Anyway, somewhere in the Borg Cube, right near the back of the bottom row (the most inaccessible part) is an alarm clock. This particular alarm clock is shaped like a doggy drill Sergeant holding a bugle, and when it goes off it play reveille and shouts "WAKE UP!!! RISE AND SHINE!!!" at tremendous volume. It's an alarm that is impossible to sleep through--the very reason I bought the clock fifteen years ago and the same reason that I eventually stopped using it. It was just too harsh to wake up to.

Anyway, we know that the alarm clock is in the cube at the center of the bottom of the back because it goes off twice a day--at 5:30 PM and 5:30 AM--for a solid hour each time. Dinner time and just before the sun comes up. It is very annoying--particularly because we can't figure any way to get at it to shut it off short of actually unpacking all of the rest of the boxes. You'd think we could simply throw the other boxes aside to get at that one, Incredible-Hulk-style, but there's just no room to move the boxes. The rest of the basement is too full of other junk that is not in boxes. So, to turn off this clock, we actually have to get all of our stuff in order.

It feels kind of like a metaphor--the kind I hate.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cheerio Soda Pop Burps

I was talking with Wayne today (of course, you all know Wayne) when Cheerios were mentioned in passing and he said, "Cheerios give you nasty burps if you eat them while drinking soda."

That there is a fundamental human truth you can only discover from experience--and the fact that Wayne knew it made me aware of how powerful a tool it is for identifying like minded individuals. You see, most people eat Cheerios for breakfast and they eat them with milk on them. Again, most people would never drink a soda while eating something with milk on it--that's just a bad and unattractive idea. The two curdle because of the whole acid versus base thing. So, to know that Cheerios produce stanky burps when combined with soda, you have to be a person who has eaten cheerios without milk--either dry as a snack with a soda--most likely while watching television--or, if you are truly hardcore, dry out of the bowl or box with a soda for breakfast. For me, the combination is most often Cheerios and Dr. Pepper either super late night or super early. And just to be clear, I don't pour the Dr. Pepper on the Cheerios, although I can't vouch for Wayne on that issue.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wacky Packages

I was cleaning out my basement over the long weekend in preparation for moving to a new house and I came across my framed, uncut sheet of Wacky Packages. I love Wacky Packages and I was really pleased to see that they'd started doing them again a couple of years ago--and that they'd gone back to including gum in the packages.

My memories of Wacky Packages are intimately connected to the smell of the stick of gum that used to come with them. Getting a whiff of that gum smell instantly takes me back to grade school and stirs feelings I don't have any language to articulate. Of course, my original collection is long gone--lost in the mists of time with all the other cool stuff that would be worth a small fortune today if only I knew where it went.

Years ago, right after I first found out about eBay, I discovered a thriving market for Wacky Packages. The first thing I bought was the uncut sheet of original Wackies I just rediscovered in my basement. It was my first successful bid and I was thrilled--I could barely wait for it to come. But then, when it finally arrived, I was irrationally disappointed to find that it didn't have that gum smell. Of course, an uncut sheet wouldn't have the smell. They were never packaged, so they were never exposed to the gum.

So, I delved further and actually found some people selling unopened boxes of Wacky Packages. I think I bought five boxes. This was, you understand, before I had kids--back in the days when I had disposable income and free time. Now, I didn't expect that the gum would still be edible, I just wanted the smell of it on the cards. Imagine my surprise when I opened the first box and discovered that there was no gum! These were re-issues from the 1980's rather than from my childhood in the 70's. Apparently, Topps had determined by then that collectors were only interested in the cards and didn't care about the gum. Me, I was heart broken. I consoled myself by going through the cards and reliving some of my memories of the great Wackies.

Then I had kids, and my Wacky Package collecting got put on hold. I shelved the remaining unopened boxes and buried my "no gum" heartbreak. The uncut-sheet poster came down to make room for alphabet flash cards--A is for Apple, and I forgot about that gum smell.

And then, about three years ago, while browsing the Internet, I came across a reference to new Wacky Packages. Topps had started up the line again. And there were rumors of gum!! So, despite the protests of my wife, I started buying them. And there was gum, and it was good. The gum was thoughtfully packaged in a plastic sleeve to stop it from damaging the stickers--so the stickers didn't have the smell--but the gum had the smell, so everything was fine. I could sit there, pouring over the stickers and sniffing the gum like a glue sniffing junkie and get that weird rush of half memory, half emotion. I dutifully bought each new series as it came out.

Until the most recent one. They've stopped putting gum in again! Bastards! I still don't have time to keep up with all the details of what's going on in the Wacky Packages world, but I can't help but feel that this signals another end to Wacky Packages. At least for me--because for me it was never just about collecting the stickers or chewing the gum. It was about being eleven and buying my first candy with my own money and making fun of the products my parents bought (even if I didn't really understand what they were exactly) and sharing a new currency with my peers. All of which flooded back to me as I stood in the basement holding my Wacky Packages uncut sheet poster. Which is where my wife found me.

"You're not taking that to the new house, are you?" she asked, with that tone that suggests the question was rhetorical rather than legitimate.

"Of course I'm bringing it," I answered.

"You're not thinking of hanging it in the new house, are you?" Same tone.

"Above our bed," I answered.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Four Great Movies and The Gone Away World

Somebody asked me for my top ten favorite movies. I hate trying to pin down my favorites like that. There are so many great movies that have affected me deeply. Anyway, while mulling the top ten thing over, I thought of four movies that I love:

Big Trouble in Little China
The Last Dragon
Fight Club
Buckaroo Banzai

These are movies that have impacted what and how I write. If you haven't seen these movies, check them out.

I recently ran across a book that reminded me of all four--that seemed to crystalize the essence of what I love about each one. It's The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway. If you've seen and liked one or more of these movies, do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Of course, the book will probably appeal to lots of folks who don't like these movies too, so don't screen yourself out based only on my feeble comparisons.

What is it I like about these movies (and The Gone Away World)? It's the invention and breathless fun they have with otherwise dire circumstances and the way they convey deep messages while making me laugh. These stories make me feel young.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bulgaria, Toilet Tides and the Death of Argument

I'm feeling all international because somebody from Bulgaria has looked at the Helm comic website! My Google analytics tell me so. For those of you feeling kind of creeped out by my use of Google analytics, particularly my one Bulgarian friend, don't worry--I'm using the disabled free kind of analytics that won't really tell me anything juicy about you like your credit card information or your sexual preferences. For example, I know that one person in Germany looked at the site. I don't know who it is specifically, but I think I have a pretty good guess.

And now, on to the toilet tides. On numerous occasions, I have stood before a toilet and observed small ripples or fluctuations in the water height that occur without apparent source. For those of you about to suggest that these are the after shocks of having used or flushed the toilet (and I know some of you were just about to do that) I make these observations prior to use of the toilets in question. Anyway, I have occasionally wondered what causes these disruptions. Today, I looked it up. According to my friend, the Internet, toilet tides are caused by changes in pressure in the toilet's vent stack pipe. Yes, you read that right. For those non plumbers in the massive audience of this blog, the vent stack pipe vents to the roof of the house and when wind blows across the opening of this pipe, it lowers the pressure in the pipe, causing the water to rise up the pipe and evacuate the toilet.

Apparently, you can duplicate this effect by putting a straw in a glass of water and blowing across the top so that the pressure in the straw goes down and water sucks up the straw out of the glass. Haven't tried it myself yet, but just wait until lunch rolls around!

Finding this answer so quickly led me to a thought. I used to while away countless pleasant hours in heated argument about subjects like the ripples in toilet water, but lately I've noticed that such arguments have dropped off precipitously. I think it may be because the correct answers to so many questions are now so easily, almost instantaneously, knowable. What is the point of pointlessly arguing something when you can discover the answer with the click of a mouse?

Should I worry that the art of pointless argument will fade? Should I assume that pointless argument will simply become more refined by being limited to things that are actually unknowable? In the end, it's hard to say--but at least I know how many Bulgarians are looking at my website and why my toilet water is moving.

Bestseller at Dark Horse and Microwave Diamonds

I just found out that the Helm #1 made the top ten bestseller list at Dark Horse and the Diamond top 300 for July! Whoo Hoo!

Okay, sure, it was #9 at Dark Horse and #274 at Diamond, but at least it cracked both lists. That's got to be worth something.

In other news, someone sent me a link to a video of guys claiming to make diamonds in a microwave oven by coating charcoal briquettes with peanut butter and nuking them for an hour. It's a pretty funny idea until you try it and destroy your pyrex tray and your wife gets mad at you and you don't even really get any of the diamonds you thought were going to make up for smoking up the whole house and kind of trashing a perfectly good microwave. Not that I tried it or anything.

If you'd like to see the video (theirs, not mine) here's the link:

Is there some connection between trying to make diamonds in a microwave and having a best selling comic book? Apart from the obvious one?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jack Black as Matt and Ben Stiller the Animal Killer

I got another letter today recommending Jack Black should play Matt Blurdy in the Helm, so I figured I’d use my blog to say thanks to everyone who has written in with a suggestion about who should play Matt in the movie version of the Helm. And also, thanks for thinking that the Helm should be made into a movie. That’s always nice to hear.

Basically, everyone recommends one of three guys. Jack Black is clearly the forerunner, but I’ve also gotten multiple votes for both Seth Rogen and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Please feel free to post your own suggestions below.

On the subject of Jack Black, I just saw Tropic Thunder over the weekend. Very funny. But, it confirmed something I’ve been noticing for a while. Ben Stiller likes to fight small, cuddly animals in his films (and often kill them). He fights that dog in Something about Mary. He has trouble with the ferret in Along Came Polly. He fights the monkey in Night at the Museum. Of course, there’s the big animal battle in Tropic Thunder (but I don’t want to give anything away.) Please feel free to post your own Ben Stiller the Animal Killer observations here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Helm #2

Whoo Hooo! I got my preview copy of the Helm #2 this morning. And that means that issue #2 will be hitting stores on the 20th of this month!

And, in unrelated news, I've also noticed the oncoming resurgence of Neil Patrick Harris. He was mentioned in three unconnected emails I recieved this morning, leaving me with the impression that he is sweeping back like a dark tide. Well, not a dark tide really.

I guess the emails were actually connected by all containing Neil Patrick Harris references--but otherwise they were unconnected. And then, glancing over at a coworker's computer screen, what should I see but Neil Patrick Harris riding on a unicorn. It was an image from the most recent Harold and Kumar movie. So, there you go. That is certainly enough circumstantial, coincidental evidence for me because I am a human with a poorly crafted brain that drips with perceived significance and connection.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Pros of the Con

So, as you may have read, I'm just back from visiting the San Diego Comic Con--my first big Con ever. I'm curious to hear from any of you long time comics fans out there about whether you pick up new books and get introduced to new material at cons or not. I got to meet lots of wonderful folks during my signings, but it was pretty clear that the number of people who hadn't read the book out numbered those who had by at least a factor of ten. I'm curious about whether anybody who hadn't read the Helm prior to dropping by the signing actually checked out the Helm afterwards, and just in general, whether folks who attend cons regularly tend to get exposed to new material that way.

So, leave me a comment if you get a second and let me know what you get out of the Con experience.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Wrath of CON

I’m back from the San Diego Comic Con and I still have a bit of a headache. Must be the Wrath of Con.

What an interesting experience. This was not only my first time attending, but really my first time attending any major convention. I did go to the Stumptown Comic Con in beautiful Portland, Oregon, but that was really a different thing, scale-wise. Nice, but different.

So, here are some impressions from a newbie:

The first thing is, COOL. What a great and friendly bunch of people comic fans are. As I walked into the elevator of the Gaslamp Marriot, clutching my “Watchmen” door keycard, a woman immediately commented on it, talking to me like we were old friends.

“You got a Watchmen?” she asked, her voice tinged with envy.
“Uh, yeah,” I answered, always Mr. Suave.
“I only got a Batman.”
“Batman’s cool,” I said.
“Do you want to trade?” she asked, hope writ large on her features.
“Uh, I think it actually opens my door,” I demurred.
Her face fell as she realized the cold logic of it. “Oh well, see you in the Con!” And she flounced out, the broadsword slung across her back clanging on the elevator door.

Next, WOW. We showed up on Wednesday—Preview Night, assuming that this would be the slow night of the whole thing. Wrong. We were nearly crushed in the tide of costumed humanity as it surged about the floor in search of collectible swag. For example, while heading for the Dark Horse area, we were snagged in a riptide of Con-goers that dragged us back and swept us into the WB booth. There we were adorned with Wonder Woman bags the size of barbeque aprons and then spit out next to the Nerd Herd car from Chuck. Had it been a literal ocean, I would not be alive to write this.

Finally, WEIRD. The Con is a strange phenomena. Where else do people not notice Kiefer Sutherland because a Princess Leia (in that loincloth outfit from when she’s a prisoner of Jabba the Hutt) is walking by? Where else do rock stars, movie stars, TV stars and one-hundred-and-fifty-nine-thousand, nine-hundred-and-sixty-four irregular, abnormal people brush shoulders because of a shared admiration of superheroes, fantasies, aliens and limited edition collectible bobble heads? Nowhere else, that’s where.

Anyway, thanks to everybody who showed up for my signings! It was great to see you and I hope you enjoy your Helm posters (everybody who told me they’d actually already read the comic got one.) Keep on the lookout for issue #2 of the Helm, hitting stores on August 20th!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

At the San Diego Comic Con

Well, I just finished day two of my first big comic convention--the San Diego Comic Con. Very interesting.

There was a signing for the Helm today at 4:00 PM at the Dark Horse booth and there will be another one at noon tomorrow. It was a pretty good turnout, considering the book's only been out a week--quite a few people who stopped by had actually read it.

Of course, it's also nice to be at a place where you can see Indian Jones, Batman and a Storm Trooper all standing around eating muffins and having a conversation--not to mention the hundreds of other people wearing costumes of characters I don't know. Least wise, I assume they are wearing costumes and I just don't know who they are supposed to be.

Anyway, a very interesting and entertaining experience so far.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One day in

Well, the Helm has been out for one day and I've gotten my first scathing review and a couple of really nice emails from folks who read the book and liked it.

Scathing reviews are always interesting. I know you're not supposed to read reviews, or care about what they say if you do, but it's hard not to read them when people go to all the trouble of putting them out there.

So, here are my thoughts on negative reviews.


Good thing I've also gotten a really good review so that I can keep some sense of perspective. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens next.

Actually, negative reviews are useful. They either give me a good idea of what I need to work harder on next time, or they solidify my resolve that I did it right despite what the reviewer complained about. Also, I guess, if bad reviews really bother you, you shouldn't be writing for other people to read.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Helm is out TODAY

Issue #1 of The Helm is out today!!!

Actually, it's slightly anti-climactic. We celebrated the release about a week ago when we got four advanced copies. Today I'm just sitting at work, working on things. The rest of the advanced copies that my company, Character, ordered won't be here for about a week.

It is cool to see it in print though. Makes it more...real...

I haven't had a lot of time to anticipate the release as I've been travelling a lot lately, but just one week from today is the San Diego Comic Con and I understand from those who've been before that I won't be able to think of much else once I'm there. I've only been to one comics convention before this--the Stumptown Comic Con here in Portland. It was cool and quirky, although everybody tells me it's small in comparison to SDCC. I wonder if SDCC will have the same funky smell--kind of a cross between body odor and hamburgers.

If you happen to be at the Con, stop by the Dark Horse booth and say hello! Maybe I'll give you a poster for The Helm. It's possible.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Helm

Hello! This is my first official blog entry--not just for my new comic book, "The Helm," but ever. New to comic books and new to blogging. So, first thing is please check out issue #1 of "The Helm" coming out July 16th, 2008. Here's a link: ttp://

So, here goes the beginnings of some musings about "The Helm." Hopefully I'll have more stuff to post shortly.

The Concept:

What if you had a superpower that hated your guts? That’s the question that gave birth to “The Helm”.

Every superman needs his Kryptonite or his love of Lois Lane in order to keep the possibility of failure open and some suspense alive for the audience. “The Helm” came out of the idea of pushing the flaw to the point where the main character was so unsuited to be a hero that his own superpower was disgusted by him.

While the subject is handled with a sense of humor, “The Helm” plays with some deeper issues as well. What makes someone a hero? Being brave, invincible and superhuman would certainly make it easier to act heroically—but what if you were cowardly, soft and all-too-human? How much more heroic would you need to be to act heroically then?

That’s how Mathew Blurdy was born—as a sort of epitome of the slightly-below-average, average guy. He’s cowardly, out of shape, unemployed, undisciplined and morally “flexible”. What happens when a guy like that finds out that the fate of the world and the lives of those he loves rest in his fairly incapable hands?


When I first pitched “The Helm” concept to my editor, Dave Land at Dark Horse, I told him I was looking for the drawing style to really build the contrast between the superhero genre and the reality of Mathew Blurdy. I referenced Conan as an example and Dave immediately started showing me Bart Sears’ work. As a new-comer to comics, I had no idea who Bart was, but I loved his stuff and knew he’d be perfect for the book. It was only later, as I Googled him, that it started to sink in what a really big name in comics Bart was. I’m glad I didn’t know more at the outset because I never would have imagined that he’d work with a first time comic writer.

It’s been totally cool getting to work with Bart Sears on this project. He’s gone so far with the Brutes and Babes approach that it seemed perfect to have him drawing Mathew in all his chubby glory. It took a little back and forth to push Matt out the classic hero model but once he got comfortable with Matt’s flaws, Bart really nailed it. He’s got such an eye for detail—like the occasional exposed bit of Matt’s butt crack—that I can’t wait to see the new panels as they come in.

The Helm:

Mathew is the hero of “The Helm,” but he’s really only half of the story equation. The helmet after which the book is named is a personality all its own. It’s basically an ancient, magical Norse artifact that’s been secretly handed down from champion to champion for over a thousand years. In all that time, the warriors it has aided have been cut from essentially the typical heroic cloth. They’ve been big, muscle-bound dudes with nobility and morals to match their powerful physiques. Until Mathew. Matt is absolutely not what the Helm was expecting—but the Helm doesn’t really get a choice in the matter. The Gods themselves designate who the next Valhalladrim will be, and there can be only one alive at a time, so the Helm is stuck with Mathew until death do them part.

Of course, there’s a lot of backstory to how and why Matt and the Helm come together—but for now, it’s as big a mystery to the Helm as it is to Mathew. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to explore that territory over time—but for now, the mismatch is the engine that drives the relationship between the two and hopefully keeps the story engaging and funny.