Rocket Bomber - reviews

Quick Webcomics Reviews - Megan Kearney's Beauty and The Beast

filed under , 23 May 2014, 12:05 by

[written 22 May 2014, for folks who find this at a later date]

Webcomics Roulette! Today’s target (chosen at random from a very long list) is…

Megan Kearney’s Beauty and The Beast
URL: http://www.batb.thecomicseries.com/
Writer & Artist: (not surprisingly) Megan Kearney

From the Site: [about page: http://www.batb.thecomicseries.com/about/]
“The story of Beauty and The Beast first appeared under this name in 1740, and was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot Gallon de Villeneuve, a French noblewoman. Villeneuve based her lengthy narrative on a number of other fairy tales and myths, reaching all the way back ancient Greece, and likely much earlier.” + lots more on the site

About the Author:
“Raised with a healthy love of books and storytelling, and an unhealthy love of comics and cartoons, Megan’s twin passions led her to earn her BA in visual arts, with an English minor, from the University of Windsor (during which time she also self-published her first comic) and then to Sheridan College, where she earned her BAA Honours in Animation, and produced her fairy-tale inspired short film, Once Upon a Winter Wood.” + more on the site

Tags: New Classic, old classics, not-so-Grimm
Format: multi-panel full page comic, “graphic novel style”, black & white
Vintage: first comic dated 1 September 2012
Current? – Yes. Most recent comic was 20 May.
Update Frequency: Tuesdays and Fridays
RSS Feed? – Yes. There’s also a Tumblr.
Archives: looks like …223 pages
Monetized? – Free-to-you, and ad-free as well, but yes – supported by a web store and Patreon

“Where Do I Start?” – For a fairy tale, there’s no better place than the beginning: Once Upon A Time…

Quick Take:

It looks like (from what we’ve seen so far) that Kearney is going for a classic Shakespearean Five Act Play — but the breakdown of ‘Acts’ into scenes (or chapters) and how ‘scenes’ play out in comic pages still leaves a lot of flexibility on how the story unfolds. (plus, you know, it’s not done yet – so I may be reading into things.)

“Husbands are easy to find! A good plowhorse is a whole other story!”

The sisters are named Beauty, Virtue, and Temperance — which means we’re already well outside the city limits of Disneyland, as well as providing (in context! show don’t tell!) a damn good reason why our heroine is named ‘Beauty’ to begin with.

“I’ve incurred a debt that cannot be forgiven. In seven days I must offer my life…”

Already we can see that this story is going to unfold much differently, even for those of us familiar with both dizneyfied fairytalez and the acting prowess of Ron Perlman. The Grimm scholars among us will already be lost, because Beauty v. Beast is a tale *outside* the ‘canon’, never collected by Los Dos Bros Grimm.

“…A Rose in Winter …You know not what it cost me.”

Characters are already questioning the coming narrative. The setting — to start, a single home in the unnamed woods — is made real by the common details and trivial actions of everyday life. The plain bricks of the hearth and the plain boards of the common table speak volumes about what this story is, and where it came from.

“A promise made—even to a monster—is a promise kept.”

And character interaction, and motivation, is more important than the plot we are all overly-familiar with.

“We can’t let him go back there.”

So, to give this webcomic a thumbs-up or thumbs-down is immaterial: Here’s a damn fine version of a once-familiar story, and after reading the first chapter you’ll either be captivated, or not. I myself am holding my breath that this adaptation is not only concluded, but that eventually we’ll be able to own a book version of it.

Nuts&Bolts: nav buttons, an archive, the basics — runs on ComicFury
Bells&Whistles: strip-by-strip comment system, + there’s a sparsely-populated forum (it’s a nice add-on, tho)
What’s that URL again?www.batb.thecomicseries.com

* I won’t upload art, images, or screencaps unless I see explicit permission given (Creative Commons or similar) so you’ll have to make do with links for many of the quick webcomic reviews – but I trust you remember what the mouse button is for. —M.



Quick Webcomics Reviews - NPC: Non-Player Character

filed under , 21 May 2014, 12:05 by

[written 20 May 2014, for folks who find this at a later date]

Webcomics Roulette! Today’s target (chosen at random from a very long list) is…

NPC: Non-Player Character
URL: www.npccomic.com
Writer & Artist: Mary Varn

From the Site: [about page: http://www.npccomic.com/about/]
“Welcome to Non-Player Character! NPC is a comic that revolves around the gaming lives of Lisa and her two blue cats Chloe and Bink. It’s part situational comedy, part geeky goodness, and a lot of bizarre feline fantasy.”

About the Author:
“I’m a freelance animator in New York City. I started NPC (Non-Player Character) in Feb 2009 when I realized I was playing too much World of Warcraft and wanted a creative outlet between freelance jobs. I don’t make a living off the comic, but it supplements my freelance income and makes me very happy.” + more on the site

Tags: gamers, geeks/nerds/fans, anthropomorphic cats, slice-of-life, New York
Format: 3-4 panel comic, “classic newspaper style”, color
Vintage: first comic dated 19 February 2009
Current? – Yes. Most recent comic was 21 May (this morning).
Update Frequency: Monday-Wednesday-Friday
RSS Feed? – Yes. (There’s also a Tumblr.)
Archives: looks like …695 strips
Alt-text? – Yes! don’t forget to mouseover for an extra punchline.
Monetized? – Free-to-you, but yes – supported by ads, web store for merch, and Patreon

“Where Do I Start?”somewhere in the middle

Quick Take:

For me, NPC is more of a grinner, able to generate smiles and the occasional chuckle, and a lot of the appeal operates more on a “I know that sitch” level [see: Subway Reads, Stuff You May Have Forgotten to Clean, 3 Signs You Spend Too Much Time on Twitter] than on gags, pranks, and wild goings on — talking cats notwithstanding. If I were more of a gamer (or a cat owner) then I’m sure more of the jokes would hit home for me.

Running through the archives was a pleasant way to spend an evening (hey, I got the Hearthstone jokes!) and the balance of gamer-life with cat shenanigans keeps either from getting too stale. Overall, I give it a thumbs-up; it’s worth your time to try.

Nuts&Bolts: Archives, blog, clearly labeled nav buttons — running ComicPress for WordPress so you’ve seen this layout before.
Bells&Whistles: ‘random comic’ button, chapter-based archives, strip-by-strip comment system, strip transcipts, active social media presence
What’s that URL again?www.npccomic.com

* I won’t upload art, images, or screencaps unless I see explicit permission given (Creative Commons or similar) so you’ll have to make do with links for many of the quick reviews – but I trust you remember what the mouse button is for. —M.



Google Reader Refugee

filed under , 9 April 2013, 17:42 by

Google Reader gave me the illusion of both connection and containment. I could read every last post, I could ‘read’ all of it. The End of the Internet wasn’t a punchline anymore, I could get there — usually every other day. If I got too far behind, I could mark everything as “read”, go to bed, and start over again fresh in the morning.

I didn’t use the sharing feature on Google Reader (and then later, Google Plus) at all, because then as now I’m in Twitter as my network-of-choice — and I’m a snarky bastard so I often prefer to spin something, pull a quote, or leave a commentary: not just a flag and a link that says, “this is cool, I read this, you should too” but rather “this is cool and I am clever, ho ho!

So a like button, or a +1, or a simple share wasn’t for me anyway.

I did appreciate the ease of subscription in Google Reader (just drop the URL in the box) as well as it’s flexibility: at various times I was subscribed to news websites, personal blogs, various specialized feeds (Wired and Smithsonian magazines, in particular, do a good job of maintaining multiple topic-based feeds) — as well as other RSS magic, like subscribing to Flickr groups or lumping a bunch of Tumblr feeds into a folder marked “distractions” — to be enjoyed at leisure or skipped, as a group.

RSS seemed so important to me (at the time) that I delayed launching my own “official” blog in May/June 2008 until I had it straightened out. (note to self: RocketBomber has a 5th anniversary coming up) (and the web hosting bill – more important, that: we’ll need to budget for it in May). RSS was also great for how invisible it was: feeds are baked into Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, and many other packages/services/platforms, so individual writers didn’t have to think about it, and we could all follow their output, seamlessly and as published. Even for that One Great Really Interesting Blog that only updates once a week and where the author neglects to post something for months or years at a time, with properly functioning RSS feeds and a decent reader, each new post shows up like an unexpected present. [note: Eric and Wednesday are on a tumblr now, at new.websnark.com — their posting schedule & frequency are as random/nonexistent/capricious as ever]

Much of my web consumption was taking place in Google Reader; I’d say that by the time Google announced its imminent demise, I was spending 85% to 90% of my web-reading-time inside of Reader. It was only in January or so (of this year) that I’d added the last of my bookmarks (those sites with RSS feeds) to the carefully-maintained-and-organized feeds and folders. I was caught. This is a web experience that was “sticky“ in ways other sites and services would kill for, perhaps literally — especially when one considers that Google didn’t have to write any of the content (the users picked their own) and except for a few RSS feeds that only offered a “digest” or teaser or headline view: all of the content was viewed in Reader. Total captive audience. Instead of launching Google+ — Google should have added features and “improvements” to Reader until it was the same thing, basically, as Google+ but with an installed, committed user base that had been building for years. We would have complained (we always complain) but damn, Google: serious missed opportunity here.

##

My point in visiting this topic wasn’t actually about me waxing nostalgic about the web 5-years-past — or giving free business advice to Google:

We’re discussing alternatives, now that Google Reader is destined for the scrap heap and we’ve only 82 days left to make the transition.

First: yes, go ahead and use the Google Takeout functionality to “export” your GReader settings and links. It’s easy (much easier now, at this date, as opposed to the mass-refugee-flight that occurred right after the announcement and bumrushed the servers). I would also go to your Reader page, open up ‘Settings’, click the 2nd tab, ‘Subscriptions’ and then select the whole damn page [ctrl-a] and copy it all [ctrl-c, ctrl-v] into a text file using the editor of your choice. (obviously you Apple folks are used to the clover-looking-cmnd-thing and figuring out equivalents)

The resulting text file has a lot of cruft in it, and is by no means elegant, but this handy maneuver not only gives you a 2nd backup of your current Google Reader feeds: it also lists folder assignments, and a plain-text URL that can be copy-pasted into any application or later service, whether they choose to use Google’s formatting or not.

(In that eventuality: why, yes, it is a lot of hassle and work. But a plain-text backup will be much better than relying on memory in that worst-case-scenario. Unless one enjoys fresh starts: I can see the appeal in declaring link-bankruptcy and starting all over again. We were all new to the internet once.)

I briefly tried Feedly, and The Old Reader, and nosed around NewsBlur enough to realize I’d have to pay their annual fee to get the use out of it I would need.

The Old Reader is… not adapting to the new user load well. They may quickly fix that problem (indeed, may already have fixed the problem) but there were enough other issues with their interface that I’m not going to follow up: as stated, I don’t use an RSS reader for one-button sharing, and The Old Reader’s primary claim to fame is they’re just like the old Google Reader with all that sharing intact.

Feedly is clean, polished, geared towards skimmers and just-give-me-the-headline readers, and obviously an iPhone app that reluctantly admits some folks use a pc/laptop to use the web. They default to a ‘magazine’ style view, with images given precedence over content, and Feedly is going to be the option most-if-not-all Google Reader refugees are going to use. Feedly is already committed to reverse-engineering the Google Reader API so, yeah: anticipating no new roadblocks or speedbumps and given the 90-day time frame, This Is Your Solution.

Except: I don’t like it. [*ahem*] “Feedly is clean, polished, geared towards skimmers and just-give-me-the-headline readers, and obviously an iPhone app that reluctantly admits some folks use a pc/laptop to use the web.”

That wasn’t praise.

Actually, the one reader that I liked was so feature-poor and clunky, the raw clunkiness of it was/is its most endearing feature: http://www.purplegene.com/reader

Where do I start? The awful-1994 design aesthetic? The one-lump-fits-all user interface? The obviously-tacked-on ever-present sidebar with its incomprehensible buttons?

What the PurpleGene Reader does right, however, is the full-screen one-article-at-a-time reader experience, with incorporated keyboard shortcuts, easy OPML imports, and configuration options that will not only seem familiar to those used to CSS/HTML: you might just squee at the option to ‘code’ the page formatting your own damn self. I won’t call it the linux of feedreaders, but will forgive others when they make that comparison.

##

Eventually, my Solution to the RSS reader ‘problem’ was to ignore it. No matter how “inconvenient” this proved, I found it better to go back to bookmarks. Informed by Google Reader’s folders, and enabled by both tabbed browsers and the ability to bookmark multiple tabs: it’s a 2009 solution to a 2013 problem. If Mozilla, Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s IE, or their eventual successors abandon tabs, why: I suppose I’ll just have to code my own plain-html launch page, with the links organized however I’d like, 1994 style.

In other words: Google, by decommissioning Reader, just reminded me that I don’t need any service (or particular browser) to make use of the web. They reminded me that Yahoo, an index, predated the Google search bar: and so also reminded me that the original web discovery process was curation — not algorithms, no matter how complicated.

I now have a bookmark folder named ‘feed’ with 23 sub-folders, each of which contains 3-9 links, each of which I can right-click to open (as a group) as browser tabs. These links go direct to the sites I’ve so carefully collected, so instead of a Google-layer on top of the web (through which Google could have injected ads) I’m reading the articles as formatted as intended by their authors, and with the ads (where applicable) that directly benefit the sites.

Instead of a single timeline (collated by Google, and read only via their app) I’m free to experiment, explore, and discover: instead of merely ‘catching up’ with my Google Reader subscriptions and feeling that sense of accomplishment when I’d ‘read everything’ — once again, no matter how I try: there is no ‘end of the internet’.

As pissed off as I am at Google (and I’m still pissed off they killed Reader, dammit, the service, [*ahem*], “just worked”) I have to thank them. Dear Google, Thank You for reminding me that the internet works just fine outside your ecosystem of apps, and for giving me the kick I needed to re-assert my independence.

##

So, while I have reverted to bookmarks for most of my former “subscription” reading, in this wreckage I have also discovered two new sites that have a lot of promise.

[though there is nothing particularly new here either: fark, reddit, metafilter and others have made link-blogging its own thing — even BoingBoing, one of my personal favs (and a ‘daily-read’ bookmark under the new regime) is just an aggregator.]

One site I keep going back to is Prismatic. I originally found it in my search for Reader replacements: but it’s not Google Reader. It’s not even a good replacement for Reader. You can “subscribe” to “feeds” in Prismatic but what you’re going to see is a pale imitation of the news-timeline you were once used to.

In Reader, you subscribed to RSS feeds, you got exactly that, and you were glad: every article from every site in your list. Prismatic offers something different. Initially, you have to connect with one of your social media accounts: either twitter or facebook.

So — long aside: This is annoying, and problematic (in many ways), and surperfluous (dammit why does everyone want to be social, and crosslinked?), and has nothing to do with web browsing, or reading, or advertising for that matter. Lazy, Lazy, LAZY developers. My interactions with my local pub differ from my interactions with PopCap, differ from my interactions with Battle.net, differ from my interactions with Twitter, all of which have nothing to do with what I do for a living or what I blog about. NO ONE SOCIAL GRAPH CAN CONTAIN ME.

Long aside, continued — Dear app/web developers: instead of asking me to ‘log in’ via twitter, facebook, or google, so you can ‘discover’ my friends and interests — how about just asking me? Give me your own quiz, or a list of interests I can click. Build your own damn profile of me, and own it. I guarantee that after the so-called-easy crosslogin I’m digging deep into your settings to fix things, and if you don’t provide any settings for me to adjust, I’m dropping you faster than Klout.

SO. after getting that off my chest:

Yes, Prismatic asked me to log in via social media. I did so, and it auto-generated a fancy graph of my supposed interests, which was graphically impressive but useless (honestly: there were no instructions, the ‘plus signs’ I could click did nothing and while the whole thing was animated, it was quickly annoying) – and I only started to get traction after I closed it and started stumbling/mucking-about on the site itself.

Prismatic would be much stronger if they allowed you to drop URLs directly, like the subscribe button on Google Reader. As it is, the available sites I can follow seem to be limited: only to what has been previously identified/green-lighted (presumably by Prismatic). With that hefty handicap admitted, and allowed for: where Prismatic excels is the ability to follow topics, not just individual sites. I can sign up for ‘ebooks’, the ‘book trade’, ‘gadgets’, ‘comics’, ‘graphic novels’, ‘book reviews’ and [presumably] get a feed of content the same as if I’d just added a site’s RSS.

Except it doesn’t quite work that way: even when I’ve added a site to the Prismatic feed, I don’t get every article in real time. I have to rely on Prismatic’s suggestions for new topics: there is no way to pull up an index of every tag and topic to set up my new account. And also: I have to log in with social media to get started, and then Prismatic decides what my initial topics are.

Prismatic is doing so many things right — including their content algorithms — but they’re still bound by the myths and practices of the current content ecosystem: They [like many others cited above, and I hate them for it too] insist on an “app” interface, even in a web browser where it is not only superfluous but annoying, and they insist on being “social” (including the twitter/facebook login) when the service they provide obviously isn’t, and instead of giving us tools and options, they fall back on “recommendations” and “suggestions”.

It’s all very limiting, especially right after one has rediscovered the Web outside walled gardens.

What I love about Prismatic, though, is the ability to follow topics: no matter how gimped the execution nor how difficult they make it, once you’re following a topic feed: you’re going to discover new sites in a way you’d never be able to otherwise.

For example, this past week Prismatic pointed me to ProfHacker, “Tips about teaching, technology, and productivity”, Women in SF Month, as advocated by Fantasy Book Cafe, A Book Club Brunch (all me, twice over), and even a way to earn academic credits while attending Comic Con.

None of this would normally be in my feed. All of it is of interest. I had to ‘game’ Prismatic a bit, peel it back from what it thought I was about and redirect it. The controls are neither easy to find, or really, all that easy to intuit [you guys have a lot of work to do] and once again: my primary complaint is that is is a phone app adapted-ever-so-slightly-and-grudgingly to also work on the web — but of the many services I tried: Prismatic has the most potential.

I’m also keeping an eye on Newsana, which I would describe as a cross between The Global Post and Reddit: we’ll see how it works going forword. I’m willing to lurk there for quite a while. Like Prismatic, this isn’t a replacement for a good RSS reader, but when it comes to discovering new content it has much promise.

##

what i’ll miss about Reader:

- webcomics. damn. RSS is still the best tool for following webcomics. Here’s an opportunity, folks: a “comics page” that lets you add RSS feeds of your favs to your personal “page”, updates with new strips when the sites update, revenue-shares with the linked artists based on subscribers/views/included-ads/added-advertising, or even: includes the ads from the original sites in the combined feed. WOULD BE AWESOME. for business reasons: WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

- “everything”. No matter what RSS feed reader I find, there is no sense of completion, no sense that I’d “read everything”. Not sure what it was about Google that made me feel that way: maybe the interface?

- ease of subscription: drop a URL in the box, if it was possible, at all, Google made it happen.

- formatting. So if Google Reader had a full-screen option like PurpleGene, I would have been all over that, but the balance between articles & necessary navigation was fairly fine: This is something Feedly (for browsers) needs to work on.

- all-in-one: This is the one thing I really miss. With Google Reader, I didn’t feel the need for multiple websites, work-arounds, or more-than-one reading experience. This is, as previously noted, Google’s loss. They had a solution but for whatever reason chose to discount it, ignore it, and eventually: discontinue it.

Good luck getting that back, Google.

##

So.

My recommendations for other Google Reader refugees?

1st. if you were going to consider NewsBlur, you’re likely already ahead of me and are already using NewsBlur. I still balk at paying a fee to read free stuff, no matter how good you are.

2nd. Feedly works, and for most, will work well. If they reverse-engineer the Google Reader API as advertised: well at that point they are Google Reader, moving forward.

3rd. Go back and wallow in primary sources, rediscover the sites that excite you, determine your own reading timetable, roster, schedule, and catalogue, and keep reading.

4th. Determine what you “need” to follow daily, and set these up as bookmarks, perhaps even bookmarks that auto-load when you open your browser. Don’t rely on ‘feeds’ that might stop, if these are Truly important to your business or interests.

5th. Consider sites that not only allow you to “follow”, but give you opportunities to Find the Leader. Prismatic has many faults, but they’re on the right track.

6th. An overall survey of your “information diet” will likely be illuminating: Do you over-rely on just one or two news sites? Do you ignore the news and skip directly to fan sites? Expand your horizons, either by using new sites, or paying more attention to the links in blogs you follow.



BookNom.Net Book Review Summer Challenge

filed under , 19 May 2011, 00:06 by

It’s an idea that occurred to me yesterday morning, before I had to go to work:

And that’s about as simple as I can make it — 101 Days, 101 Book Reviews.

Some clarifications and caveats:

Yes, I’m doing this for BookNom.net. It’s my other site, the one I just launched 3 months ago. I’m not posting this announcement over there because RocketBomber is my chosen venue for drunken posts of all types: from rants to data analysis [you wouldn’t believe how much beer that takes] — to bravura boasting and throw-down-style blogger challenges.

Yes, this is a Stunt. But it should be fun anyway.

##

I’ll will now open the imaginary floor to supposed questions from theoretical readers:

Why are you posting this challenge here?

I answered in part above, but let me fill in some some more blanks: I personally would like to keep BookNom.net as focused as possible on its mission, with the possible exception of one tiny little fiction exercise just because Lissa’s art concepts for the site were, honestly, really damn good (I felt inspired) — but past the occasional instalment of an ongoing illustrated story: it’s all about the book reviews.

And if you all were reading BookNom, we wouldn’t need a summer publicity stunt, now would we?

I’m looking to bookstrap bootstrap new content for BookNom, build up it’s archives, and populate its tagcloud while also giving search engines lots of toothsome content to index, to increase the ‘nom’s profile and overall exposure. Even if I’m the only blogger who accepts the challenge, that’ll still be 101 new reviews—posted daily—and I think both I and the blog will be better for it.

Wait, is this actually a real thing?

Serious as a heart attack. Look, I even have a graphic:

Can I participate?

I *said* we have a graphic — ↑↑↑ — and that makes it a participatory web-like-thing, right? Am I right? Amirite?

I don’t write for BookNom, though. Is that a requirement?

Ah. well. [mumble, mumble] …no. [/mumble] – You could post to facebook, honestly. I’m not on facebook, so I couldn’t read your reviews, but use whichever platform you have

BUT your lack of participation at BookNom is a temporary handicap, a lack that can easily be fixed!

[shameless plug]

I’ve several resources already posted to BookNom, so take a look. When developing the concept and building the site, my first thought was to make it as easy as possible for my fellow bloggers — we all have a blog already (or two, or three) plus facebook, plus twitter, plus actual human contact and friendships and family and obligations and crap [should you insist… ludite] so BookNom is meant to be an extra — a place to review things that you still enjoy but which might not fit on your own site, and a handy platform to post synopses of previously written material that fit the BookNom mission [http://booknom.net/about/] and which could use a little extra exposure.

Drop me an email at either site — matt @ rocketbomber or matt @ booknom.net — and I can get you set up with a login [END /shameless plug]

What are the ground rules?

101 Days. 28 May to 9 September — Memorial Day Weekend [Saturday Next, in fact] to Labor Day — ah, those are the US holidays. …sorry, forgot to mention that. Kind of US centric as these are the laws and holidays provided to me.

Post One Book Review a Day.

That’s it.

I might go one step further and say that *I* certainly don’t plan to write long essays or analysis or much more than 5 or 6 paragraphs for each. At BookNom, I’ve proposed a ‘friends recommend’ review style — casual, to the point, & only the stuff you like.

Do I have to *read* 100+ books?

Only if you want to. Please feel free to recommend/review old favourites, though — especially if they’re books that you enjoyed.

Can I repost old reviews?

Hm. Tough call.

I’ll allow it, if
1. You wrote it for another site but said site is now defunct. In this case, I think you really should repost old reviews where someone can now read it. I’d almost call it an obligation on your part. or:
2. You merely link to an older post, but take at least a few minutes to revisit the work, explain why it’s still a good book, and put the old review in context. OR:
3. You find yourself in a situation where there’s just so much other fun stuff to do and you want to keep up with the Challenge but you need a ‘free pass’ and here’s this old review, just sitting there…

fine. So long as you post One Review A Day, I’ll give you 3 free passes to repost old reviews. But only 3. And you should feel guilty, and maybe feel compelled to make up for it with a truly fabulous new review when you have more time.

If it doesn’t start until 28 May, why bring it up now?

While I could just drop this on you alongside my first review [“Oh btw there’s this thing and I’ll be posting daily kthxbye”] well, at that point it’d be too late for you to join in.

I would have given you more than 10 days notice, but I just thought this thing up yesterday morning.

The other reason to give all of you a little advance notice is so everyone can start writing now. The Second Corollary to what I’d previously called The Tayler Principle [see note] is that if you need to post something once a day, you’re going to need a buffer.

Say you go gangbusters, write at least a review a day for the next week—and 2 each on your days off—by the time Saturday next rolls around you can post your first review and have ten or even 12 posts in the queue, ready to go should you slip a day or forget or whatever.

##

I personally need the challenge, and the structure, and the deadlines — and a really good excuse to get off of my butt and actually working […or onto my butt, in a chair, at a desk, at the computer writing; but anyway…]

I love books, I have at least 30 things already knocking around the apartment that need to be reviewed, and another 30 that need to be read.

I’m looking forward to the BookNom.Net Book Review Summer Challenge, 101 days of books [Books I Love — or at least those I like, as I won’t bother to write about the bad ones] and while yes, I’m sort-of-joking and tongue is planted firmly-in-cheek:

I Dare You to Try It Too.



MMF Appetizer: Three for Kids.

filed under , 30 August 2010, 11:40 by

[Here’s a digest of reviews, re-posted mostly verbatim, previously written for and posted on Comicsnob.com (Dec ’06-May ’08, now defunct) – the first three were originally posted 5 May 2007; the follow-up review for Kilala Princess vol. 2 was posted 16 June 2007]

##

Warriors, vol. 1, Dragon Drive, vol. 1, & Disney’s Kilala Princess, vols. 1 & 2

Now, we all know that I have a decided preference for properties aimed at a more adult audience — or at least, those items wrapped in plastic so the kiddies can’t (supposedly) get into them — but since I like comics, I try to read a little bit of everything… particularly when I can get a free copy of something.

Some of my own readers (I know for a fact) are parents — and while they stop by this blog for their own edification and weren’t expecting these recommendations — I just so happen to have a small stack of “all ages” stuff handy so let’s surprise the readership and review a few manga for the shorter set.

##

Warriors, vol. 1: The Lost Warrior

Published by: Tokyopop/HarperCollins
Created by: Erin Hunter (she gets her name on the cover)
Writer: Dan Jolley
Artist: James L. Barry

112 (90) pages.
Original Language: English
Orientation: Left to right
Vintage: April 2007
Editor: Lillian Diaz-Przybyl
Publisher’s Rating: Youth, Ages 10+

Rating: eh, 3 out of 5

##

Premise: You always knew your housecat resented you; let’s look at why.

Synopsis:

The forest is being clearcut and bulldozed to make way for even more suburban housing. This displaces some of the resident feral cats, including Greystripe and other cats of the Thunderclan. (Wild cats have a hierarchical and feudal society; didn’t you know that?) In a “humane” gesture, the contractor clearing the forest hires some animal control types to capture the strays, presumably to give them homes.

This doesn’t sit too well with the cats, however. The feral cats — proud members of a clan and warriors true — do not consider themselves to be an infestation problem and so fight back. One of their number, Greystripe, bravely rescues many of his comrades, but gets trapped in the animal control van in the process.

Some weeks later, he has been placed with a family, in his terms now just a “kittypet,” and merely a shadow of the noble wild warrior that he was. Will the stifling care of the “twolegs” reduce Greystripe with the beckoning call of its free food and warm, dry, and wanton ways — or will he break out of his comfy prison to once again become a proud and self-reliant cat?

Review:

Now, if I want a cat-manga fix, I’ll likely re-read Azumanga Daioh, or something with catgirls in it, but the recent bestseller lists are telling us that either there is an untapped market for cat comics, or perhaps that the books of Erin Hunter have an enthusiastic and motivated fanbase.

The story is just getting established in this first volume, but already our noble hero has been pulled from his home and begins to hear the first Call to Adventure. I could get even more Campbellian on this, but the epic quest is I think secondary to the “aw cute” factor. Cats being cats has an appeal that goes beyond story fundamentals and myth, particularly if one loves and owns the critters. Of note as well is how artist Barry manages to differentiate his characters, since they’re all cats you know.

Me, I can’t stand having a cat around. I prefer to be the laziest, most arrogant thing in my house, thank you, and I don’t need the competition. (oddly, cats love me — especially as a place to sleep; just part of the other furniture, you know.)

Much like Inubaka is the prefect thing for dog lovers, here we have something for cat people, or perhaps for those unduly enamoured of Hunter’s novels. Not having read Hunter’s originals, I’m not too impressed but will give the book 3 marks, judged on it’s own merits as a decent character- and story-intro and overall solid first outing. (As an extra after the manga, the publishers give us a 6 page excerpt from the first Warriors novel, and 4 pages from the most recent — out of the kindness of their hearts, I’m sure)

##

Dragon Drive, vol. 1

Published by: Viz Media’s Shonen Jump
Writer & Artist: Ken-ichi Sakura

202 (188) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: 2001. US edition April 2007.
Translation: Lucy Craft, Corinne & Kohei Takada, Honyaku Center Inc.
Adaptation: Ian Reid, Honyauku Center Inc.
Retouch & Lettering: Jim Keefe
Design: Sam Elzway
Editor: Urian Brown
Publisher’s Rating: suitable for all ages.

Rating: 3 out of 5

##

Premise: There’s a new game in town! Oh. yeah, I guess you’ve heard that bit before.

Synopsis:

Our hero Reiji Ozora is a generic-issue loser, never able to succeed at anything, or even stick with it for long. Though when he is introduced to the new Dragon Drive game by childhood friend Maiko, he finds something that not only engages his interest, but for which he may have an aptitude.

The wildcard is his new dragon, assigned to him for the game supposedly based on his own skills and abilities: while the dragon “Chibi” (as Reiji names the poor runt) doesn’t seem like much, in match after match Chibi manages to surprise everyone, even the creators of the game…

Review:

DD cannibalises quite a few bits and pieces of other titles: It’s a computer game, but you get cards for game elements. You play in virtual reality, but you have to train your dragon to get it to level up. The owner and fighter have to be in sync, and the control depends on mental effort…

Yes, this is in fact a re-hash of every other proxy fighter released for the past 9 years. So far, it manages to succeed despite that, though I think our manga-ka, Saken-sensei, owes a vast unacknowledged debt to CLAMP’s Angelic Layer, which Dragon Drive most closely resembles. (Angelic Layer is an excellent anime, which I recommend —a personal favourite of mine, in fact— but only a so-so manga title which is fine for fans of CLAMP or the show but not worth seeking out otherwise.)

This is a fine title to give to young fans who have already “caught them all” or collected all the super-rare whatever-eyed-whatever-coloured dragons of Yugi’s. It’s more of the same, but different, and that’s all a lot of fans are looking for.

##

Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 1

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: January 2007
Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Jennifer Carbajal
Graphic Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: 3 out of 5

##

Premise: Young girl with an over-developed imagination and princess-fixation gets to put her Disney trivia to use, in an effort to save her best friend.

Synopsis:

Kilala and her best friend Erika attend a school with an odd tradition: each year there is a princess contest (…seems like a beauty pageant to me) where a prime example of young-girlhood gets chosen as princess, and awarded the school’s tiara. We can’t be sure what else the honour entails because soon after winning, Erika gets kidnapped. Oh… that should be “kidnapped, exclamation point. [!]”

Kilala has recently made the acquaintance of two handsome young men: the likeable but slightly abrasive Rei, and the slightly older, less likeable Valdou. It seems these two are on a quest, to find the princess who can save their alternate realm. In an odd twist, it may be that Erika, winner of the trifling pageant, was in fact the princess they sought. Now Kilala and Rei (and Valdou too, I guess) must embark on a mission to rescue Erika, and find the fabled Seventh Princess. exclamation point, !

Review:

The best thing I can say about this title is that it would have been a much better manga without the cumbersome Disney tie-in. I can see how writer Tanaka is going to use the Disney properties to good effect, even with just the hints dropped in this first, slim volume (and given the setup and pacing, they’re aiming for at least a dozen of these) [edit: though only 4 ever came out in English] but while I like Rei and Kilala and the supporting cast (so far) I don’t know that I necessarily needed to see Disney’s Snow White brought back as a character in any form, let alone as one merely there to provide a little colour to someone else’s story.

I think later Disney princesses (Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine) will translate better, while the classics (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) aren’t going to do so well with the manga treatment. I’ll give artist Kodaka some praise: the art almost works; the transitions from original to borrowed art are OK and not as jarring as one might expect, but there is still a disconnect — These differences might be mitigated as the story progresses to newer Disney titles but certainly not the one that dates to 1939 …but here we are.

No doubt, I wouldn’t have read this at all if a promo copy (through my bookstore, not sent to me personally) weren’t available, but I find Kilala and Rei likeable enough characters, and might even be tempted to buy a few more of these (depending on the story).

And honestly, that should be praise enough. If I’m tempted, then the Princess fans at your house will eat these up wholesale, with or without sugar. You might even wait a few months (or a year) so that more of Kilala is available, before giving this crack-like substance to the young Disney otaku in your home.

##

Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 2

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Vintage: May 2007
English Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Star Print Brokers
Production Artist: Courtney Geter
Cover Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: still 3 out of 5

What’s up:

With the help of the Seven Dwarves (yes, those seven) and Snow White (yes, that Snow White) Kilala and Rei manage to defeat the Evil Queen, acquire the means to find Kilala’s kidnapped friend Erika, and rush back to the “real” world to save her before it’s too late. And so begins the second half of the book…

The Disney tie-in is a fine gimmick, for what it is (i.e. cheap ploy to sell books) but the new characters that Tanaka created are what drew me into the story, at least far enough to spend six bucks on the second volume. The plot gets surprisingly complex before we end volume two on a bit of a cliffhanger. I expected the chaste, sweet romance — but here it is as a plot point, not just an eventual goal for our young heroine. In other books she might have pined away in silence for volumes, eventually getting closer to her beau, and not confessed until the final chapter. As it turns out, the pair may be split apart and there is only one night (and a dance, naturally) for the two to share.

Of course, to find out what happens after the dance, and why it was so easy to find Erika, the lost friend, after the flashy kidnapping in volume one, we all get to wait four months for the third installment.

I have to wonder if the the writer and artist had the idea first, and then had to sell it to Kodansha, who then had to pitch it to Disney. I suppose it’s much more likely that Tokyo Mickey had the idea, and then went looking for the manga-ka to make a cheap knock-off in the ol’ Princess line, but there is a surprising amount of heart here.

Kilala is a fairy tale by-the-numbers, nothing really original, but even a plain tale will be a pleasure, if it is a plain tale well told.

##

Postscript:

Since these reviews were written (two years ago, I’ll remind you) Dragon Drive was finished (at 14 volumes), Warriors continues to be published (10 volumes and counting), and Kilala Princess was abandoned by Tokyopop after 4 chapter books (corresponding to only the first 2 of 5 Japanese tankobon) — I don’t know what the licensing fees were like but given Kodansha’s current relationship with Tokyopop I think we can write off Kilala as a nice trifle but unlikely to see completion.

Though if the [relatively new] Kodansha USA were looking for recommendations on what to publish: Disney’s Kilala Princess is just sitting there, waiting, and quite likely to make money. Maybe quite a bit of money, if marketed correctly.



Manhwa Moveable Feast: The Color of Earth

filed under , 27 June 2010, 10:50 by

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

Published by: First Second

320 (306) pages.
Original Language: Korean
Orientation: Left to Right
Vintage: 2003. US edition Mar. 2009.
Translation: Lauren Na
Adaptation, Lettering, and Design by uncredited staff.

No publisher’s age rating was given, but I’d put it at 13+ (for this first volume) assuming the kid knows where babies come from and can handle brief nudity in context.
isbn 9781596434585

##

Two more notes on the publication history of The Color of Earth: according to the publishing info at the front of the book, the original title (as credited in the copyright notice) is “The Story of Life on the Golden Fields, vol. 1”. Also, First Second negotiated English translation rights directly with the author — by itself, not that unusual for books, but I note it because of how it differs from most US manga publication.

##

The Color of Earth is a depiction of small village life in a pre-war Korea — likely pre-1910, though it’s hard to put an exact date on the book. If the author’s forward is to be believed (“little gems from my mother’s life at sixteen”) then this is Korea (or at least a small part of it) from just four and maybe three generations ago, which doesn’t quite jibe either. Modes of dress are traditional, though the use of patterned textiles by residents in a rural Korean village points to cheap, imported, machine produced cloth — so sometime after 1800, and probably before 1895. The existence of things like steam rail but the lack of war or politics points to a very narrow range: 1885-1895. One might also consider some later dates, but to go as far as 1910 without any mention of Japanese occupation or international politics—even in a rural village— would be remiss. [these historical details may be in later volumes, but a cursory glance through both didn’t reveal any]

Granted, this is far, far from a historical account. The Color of Earth is soaked in nostalgia, perhaps, for a simpler time and views village life through a widescreen, rose-colored Cinemascope lens:

The book is beautiful, in it’s depiction of nature

and other key detail, like the simple but obviously crafted buildings, or the aforementioned locomotive

obviously, Kim Dong Hwa knows his way around a piece of paper, and the care taken shows in the art.

As a story though…
well, I guess that’s why we review these things

##

Let me start out by saying: I thought farm kids grew up with animals and the like and so had a much better idea where babies come from, what males and females tend to do to procreate the species (whatever species) and probably also have a better idea of what the block-and-tackle look like and why guys have it while girls don’t. Granted, Ehwa when first introduced is only 7, so the childish games and curious questions are part of that learning process — and her mother runs an inn, it’s not like they farm — but still I thought the first few chapters of the book were gratuitous.

If we’re telling a romance story, we start with the romance (age 16? earlier?). If this is to be a slice of life tale, I’d expect a lot more of the day-to-day, a better development of friendships, kids being kids and the like. If we’re going to explore human sexuality, I’d like to see more couples, more points of view, even more characters who better represent the whole of human nature and needs and compromises, and not just this one-note homily of waiting-and-wanting.

Wuthering Heights or other Victorian-era romance did the chaste courtship-and-marriage bit and they did it better.

At best you can credit The Color of Earth for being honest about the sex, but at worst it comes off as very crude: The boy with his hands always down his pants; Ehwa’s “friend” Bongsoon who seems to revel in highlighting all the things she knows (and has done) that (chaste, pure) Ehwa hasn’t.

##

So, these kids need a sex education program, and they needed it 2 years ago.

##

The book could use something, anything, to do besides having characters sit around and talk about sex and relationships in flowery metaphor. …makes me wish for a giant robot or alien invasion to turn up just so this book would have a plot…

What about a bad harvest? Or a flood? Or a government official coming to collect the overdue taxes, or an honest love-triangle for any of these characters? Not that every book needs heaping helpings of drama — there is something to be said for quiet reflection, or a slice-of-life story that isn’t about anything in particular.

However, The Color of Earth isn’t a consideration of life or the small joys to be found there; even considered as ‘one girl’s coming of age story’ this is weak sauce. The heavy and heavy-handed insistence on sex makes the book a tad depressing. There is a whole world out there, and as a child I was curious about all of it, and yet whenever Ehwa is shown walking through the countryside — the beautiful countryside, as the art in this book is quite lovely — she is always staring down at her feet, and fretting over woman’s lot in life.

The author made a choice, both to begin the story when Ehwa was only seven, and then to show only those moments in her life that had to do with her education into the ways of men and women, and the moments when she herself seemed obsessed with them. We miss out on years of her life that are not shown, and on the rest of her world, and on the opportunity to see her as a real person, and not a caricature.

The most interesting person to me is Ehwa’s mom, in that she at least has a job, a business to run, a daughter to raise, and a life – She also has a lover, who seems to care for her even if he is a wanderer who only appears infrequently. She’s a complex, rounded character —

Or at least she would be if she weren’t in the story merely to explain things to her daughter, and to fret as her daughter grows into a woman. It would also help if she had a name: in the book, she’s just “Ehwa’s mom” when referred to by others.

##

The “Color Trilogy” (of which this is the first volume) is worth a bit of your time, to consider the craft that went into the art, and to gawk at the artwork itself. It’s also of note as manhwa that has received the full-on indy graphic novel treatment: First Second did a fine job packaging the books, 300+ page volumes in a larger trim size (6×8½ in.) with french flaps and uncut, deckle edge pages. These are fine, handsome volumes, and your library will look better for having them.

Even considering all my reservations about the story and characters, this is also a view into a culture that just doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how narrow the window provided, it’s still a glimpse into a time (though just a century ago) long past.

For other opinions and takes on the title, please visit the MMF Index Page for the Color Trilogy over at Manhwa Bookshelf. This is just about the last day of our week-long look into these books, so a final wrap-up is likely to post tomorrow at Melinda’s site

##

A free review copy was provided [second-hand] by the publisher, via the kind offices of a friendly librarian. [thanks, Eva!]



A Commentary on the Manga Moveable Feast, and of course a review.

filed under , 12 February 2010, 23:35 by

If you’d rather skip my long commentary-slash-introduction, I’ve set up a link for exactly that purpose

My first thought was to define “Movable Feast”, since it was selected as the title for this grand exercise (and hopefully future, similar collaborations).

A Movable Feast has two direct antecedents, one historical and one literary: The first, and older, connotation is a feast day or celebration that has no fixed calendar date.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moveable_feast

This is the ‘Feast’ Hemingway himself referenced, in the quote that after his death was re-purposed as the title for his posthumous work: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

By extension, and of course since any use of the phrase in our modern day will be an obvious homage to Hemingway’s book, a Moveable Feast can also be considered a collection of literary personages-of-note: in his memoir, Hemingway includes sketches of Joyce, Stein, Pound, Fitzgerald, and even Aleister Crowley.

The Paris of Hemingway’s day also included expats like Aaron Copland, Isamu Noguchi, Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray — to say nothing of the native French authors, poets, literary lights and philosophical minds. In the world of art, Paris between the Wars spawned Modernism, Dadaism, and Surrealism — in the world of literature, the Lost Generation found its voice (and evidently, started signing publishing contracts). It was truly a magical time and place — or at least, it seems that way when seen through the rose-coloured glasses of memory, and presented to us by people who really know how to write.

So our adaptation and use of the term “A Manga Moveable Feast” could be considered as both a celebration with no fixed date (or location) and also a collection of voices and perspectives that may have no other common associations past the fact that they happen to cohabit the same space at the same point in time, and that they engage each other for so long as all inhabit the same moment. (But, of course, with manga.) (and trying to catch a little bit of that Paris magic.)

We can’t all sit around a pair of cafe tables on a sunny Paris sidewalk with fine wine and strong coffee (though that’d be nice) and I think cigarettes will never again have the same appeal and mass acceptance that they did in the 20th century (or the same veneer of sophistication) and I doubt the internet will foster the same conversations on truth, beauty, art, the nature of humanity and the paradox of modern civilization: capable of both uplifting and enabling us all to our greatest potential, while also simultaneously unleashing destruction on a scale never before imagined.

We live in a different time. We also can’t afford to just up and move to Paris, and Paris is no longer a cheap place to live (if ever it was) and so perhaps Hemingway’s Paris is a mythical place, never to again exist in our mundane reality because it never existed to begin with. (I also have growing doubts that every conversation in 20s Paris was pure enlightenment in a carafe — I’m sure most of it was gossip and flirting and grumbling and arguments and weather and politics, same as today)

In the place of interwar Paris, we have the internet — and this truly is a magical place.

It allows people to talk to each other while living anywhere (no need to move to the Left Bank) while simultaneously recording a written transcript of all those conversations — at least, ideally. So much of the talk on the internet is fleeting, and forgotten, and trivial to begin with, but with a little direction and a little planning, maybe it’s possible to bottle some of the internet (just the good stuff, for the most part) so it can be savoured later. All we need is an index and a easily searchable tag.

I’d like to thank David Welsh for providing the former, and of course I’m pleased that the “Manga Moveable Feast” title can serve as the latter.

##

Sexy Voice and Robo
Writer & Artist: Iou Kuroda
Published by: Viz Media

400 (387 net) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to Left
Vintage: 2001-2003, originally appearing in IKKI magazine. US edition June 2005.
Release Schedule: Single volume, done in one.
Translation: Yuji Oniki
Adaptation: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Retouch and Lettering: Freeman Wong
Cover & Graphic Design: Izumi Evers
Editor: Eric Searleman

Publisher’s Rating: T+ for Older Teens
isbn 9781591169161

Rating: 4 out of 5

##

Premise: A precocious teen who fancies herself a ‘spy’ (and who genuinely has great intuition and an inherent ability to read people, among other talents) falls in with some odd people: an old man who runs a shadowy organization from a booth in a restaurant, a mecha-obsessed fan boy who can be tricked into being her mostly-willing henchman, and a string of clients (and cases) that get her into trouble. She is Nico Hayashi, code-name “Sexy Voice”, and she’s only 14 — and soon to be in over her head…

##

Review:

I’d be remiss if I began this review and didn’t mention the art.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Kuroda produced the entire book with a brush, not a pen. Also, the use of screentone is spare and a lot of the art is carried by ink — some pages (the best pages) are nothing but ink work:

Not that every critic (or reader) is going to notice the skill going into the art—or will care, as art is usually just half (maybe a bit less) of the draw of any given work. But “Sexy Voice and Robo” looks so different from nearly any other manga (or comic) — and I think by immediately exploding any expectations a reader might have for the work, it enables jaded manga readers to approach the book with new eyes, and invites new readers who have no experience at all with manga to pick up a manga volume for the first time.

This is a fat paperback (400 pages, just a shade shorter than Watchmen) and in a trim size that is a match for other, American, graphic novels (it’s a quarter-inch wider and only shorter by an eighth, or a sixteenth, or some other odd but small fraction).

Even back in 2005, this was intended to be something different, something more, than the mass-produced market-ready Shonen Jump Viz comics like Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh. Not only did it break out of the mould set by Dragon Ball and other popular Viz properties, it was literally bigger: a thick two-volume omnibus in a larger format, with a distinctive black cover. This sucker popped on the shelf. Even in clearance racks and bargain bins (which, unfortunately, is where this volume ultimately ended up) it still stood out and of course, there was the ready draw of the title “Sexy Voice and Robo” which inspired one to at least pick up the book, and start to flip through it.

In other words, it likely should have sold better than it did. It’s not ninjas, though, or ultimate fighting tournaments, or an action comic in quite that vein, and it also certainly wasn’t a romance comic (the other main thread of manga in the Aughts; note: the first issue of Shojo Beat released the same month as Sexy Voice and Robo, June 2005) — so Kuroda’s work never found the audience that it should have.

Maybe it was too early — if released today it would be just as good (obviously) but also, I don’t think it’d be able to find its audience. In 2005 it was an obvious outlier — in format, in content, in presentation, in that it is a single-volume omnibus of what is often called an unfinished series (it works as is, though of course if Kuroda wants to write a third volume there are a number of readers on both sides of the Pacific waiting to read it) — on the one hand, now five years on, the market would be more accepting of the book as a lot of similar work is out there and does quite well, but that also shows that the market in 2010 is more crowded than the field in 2005, and Sexy Voice and Robo would not only be lost in the shuffle, but discounted as ‘old’ (even though it isn’t even a decade old yet, and it’s aged quite well).

##

I’ve said a lot about the surroundings of the book without talking much about it’s insides.

Really, Sexy Voice and Robo is a great story, and moves quickly from it’s premise (14 year old genius-of-a-type Nico, and her odd circumstances) to strong action plots: kidnapping, death threats, terrorism, hit men, corporate espionage, stolen millions…

But then it loops back around from action plots to character studies: of the perps, of her employer, of Nico and Iichiro (the Sexy Voice and Robo of the title) — Since Nico is only 14, there isn’t a romantic subplot (though human relationships, including sexual relationships and their complications, are covered in the book) and while Robo gets co-billing he’s hardly a heroic figure. Though it is odd: Iichiro is an under-employed, toy-obsessed slob at the beginning of the book, and at the end, he’s the same slob — with the same flaws — but through his friendship with Nico (and it does seem to be genuine, no matter how it started or the, um, odd circumstances of all their interactions) he actually grows as a character.

This sort of nuance, though, is one of the reasons I love the book.

It’s a great mix of art and story and character, and I can only imagine what it’s reception would have been if Kuroda had been an American comicker in 2008 rather than a manga-ka in Japan in 2001. For the life of me I can’t imagine why this book isn’t better received, or why it tetters now on the very edge of being out of print, to the extent that some bloggers & fans who wanted to participate in the Manga Moveable Feast had to demure (or barely made it in by the deadline) because they couldn’t quite get their hands on a copy in time.

(I bought my copy 9 months ago — but I plucked it out of a clearance bin at a local bookstore. Special Bonus: I bought it for $3. Alas: that means it was already on it’s way out of the regular distribution chain last year. Such is the fate of all print, but a scant four years to prove yourself? —well, actually, four years is a pretty good run…)

The work is undervalued and so I’m happy to be a part of an effort to focus attention on the book.

I don’t know how, or if, this kind of exercise might promote similar works, or even what the impact might be on Sexy Voice and Robo — sure, it’d be nice if this led to a spike in sales, maybe even going so far as to inspire a second printing of the Viz edition. But I love the fact that we can have this conversation on the internet, and I look forward to the next property to be considered by the Manga Moveable Feast roundtable.

##

Conclusion: Sexy Voice and Robo gets 4 marks out of 5 — only 4 marks because it’s not quite for everyone (only for those folks who, you know, like mysteries and character studies and smart, saavy heroines who still have flaws; and who can appreciate some really excellent art, and who don’t mind that occasionally a story is about the now, and about the process and the journey, and that the story may not have an ending. yet.)

And Sexy Voice and Robo has my strong recommendation, whether you like manga or comics or not. In fact, now that I’ve rediscovered the book and pulled it out of its storage box, the first thing I’m going to do is take it into work and start passing it around. Several of my co-workers are also going to love this book, I’m sure.



A Year with Rosetta Stone -- Week 2*: Procrastination

filed under , 28 September 2009, 11:42 by

A semi-regular reader of this blog will note 3 things:

“Wait, wasn’t this feature called 26 Weeks with Rosetta Stone?”

“Um, that last update was six weeks ago, dumbass, you’re actually on week 7.”

“That reminds me: You are such a slacker, slackass — you haven’t posted an update in seven weeks. Did you blow $500 to post a few pictures, kinda-sorta-take the first lesson and then drop it?”

##

Yes, and yes, and no.

Like anyone else, there are other demands on my time. While some of these are common to almost all [work] and others more idiosyncratic [blog, beer, anime, manga] I have to say that, yeah, I’ve been ignoring RS Japanese almost as assiduously as I used to avoid class, back at uni. Since I’m the only one who suffers, one has to wonder why — and I’ll be able to answer that question after I go in to work the 3pm-11pm shift at the bookstore, down a couple of beers while reading a hundred pages of text (or 200 of manga) and fall asleep after an episode and a half of Le Chevalier D’Eon. Again. (It’s a good show; I’m nodding off because I’m tired — and the beer doesn’t help — so don’t take my comments as an indictment.)

You’ll note there’s not much room there for writing blog posts, even, let alone the amount of time necessary for language lessons.

I need to find, or make, an hour’s worth of time in my schedule every day for Rosetta Stone, to make the most of the both the product and the opportunity it provides. As far as a review of the product, though: Isn’t an amount of hesitancy and procrastination to be expected from most users?



Rosetta Stone, Week 1: Install, and First Impressions

filed under , 18 August 2009, 13:14 by

Armed with a blatant disregard for the included documentation (which I’m sure is lovely and to which I’ll resort when I get stuck, but one of the things I’d like to test is how idiot-resistant the product is) along with my preferred means for ripping audio CDs to mp3, and also a stopwatch, the first thing in my nifty new Rosetta Stone Japanese Box that I tackled were the audio CDs.

Personally, for my mp3 needs I like an older, free program called Audiograbber [link] which uses LAME mp3 encoding [also free, link, and which can be downloaded from either sourceforge or the Audiograbber site] and when running on a computer with modern CD/DVD optical drives and a decent (3 year old in this case) processor the two in combination can rip a CD in about a fifth of the time it takes to actually listen to it.

(Audiograbber can also use different encoders but I’ve had no problem with LAME, and as stated: free)

Audiograbber connects to freedb.org [wiki] to check for the track titles and other disc info [thankfully Freedb is still under GNU, which is nice considering the CDDB/Gracenote/Sony debacle, and so this free search function still works — and so Audiograbber is able to ID the discs, track info and all, at a click of a button]. Some other user or users (or perhaps, Rosetta-chan herself) have entered all the requisite info for the Rosetta Stone discs, but naming conventions on Freedb are inconsistent — I had to do some minor tweaks to ensure file-naming consistency (and so that a mp3 player would be able to default to playing the tracks in the proper order) but that only took a minute. After that, it was just a matter of swapping the CDs and figuring out what else to do for the next 65 minutes. (hint: I started writing this post)

And Please Note: Did you hear me complain about DRM or restrictions or hassles in converting the audio to mp3 or anything like that? The answer is no. Straight up, no problems. At no point was I prompted for a code or a password. All it took was about an hour of my time. Kudos to Rosetta Stone Ltd. for making this matter this simple: a technical problem rather than a legal one.

Also: 12 discs, no errors — I know there are occasionally manufacturing errors (though nowhere near as many as claimed by customers when they attempt to return product in stores) and while my laptop stuttered slightly while reading the last three tracks on level 2, unit 3, it wasn’t a irrecoverable error and it stalled the whole process for all of 5 minutes, before I could correct it.

And of course, someone who doesn’t have an mp3 ripper (let alone a preferred program) can still listen to the CDs — that’s 30 year-old technology right there, and nothing wrong with it; I’m just weird in that I haven’t played an actual CD for 5 (or maybe 6) years — I always rip them to mp3 files first.

At 128kbps, the 249 audio tracks found on the 12 CDs (4 each for the three levels) take up 612 megs and constitute 11 hours and 7 minutes of audio.

Installation of the base software took just a few minutes; adding on each of the three Japanese language levels took a bit longer. All in all, I want to say it took just a half hour but I was tired (this was right before bed) so I wasn’t as assiduous in timing this portion; nodding off (half-asleep, and smidge over half-drunk) I still managed to install the program without touching a single piece of documentation. …OK, so I had to touch one piece of card stock: the one with the activation code on it.

##

The following evening I finally had a chance to try out my shiny new toy.

There are options for allowing more than one user on the software (just create another user name and sign in) which is handy — if you’re planning to travel it would be nice if your chosen travelling companions could also speak the language (or at least bothered to learn some basics). RS has set things up so everyone can learn at their own pace, with independent tracking — even if they’re all on the same machine.

For my needs, it might be interesting to set up two ‘users’ so I can run two tracks simultaneously: one for learning the kana and kanji, and one for speaking Japanese — a thought that hadn’t even occured to me before I saw this popup window while starting the program the first time

So if all you want to do, say, is read Japanese Manga in the original you could just take that fourth option “Reading and Writing” and go with it. Similarly, if you only had two weeks before your flight and wanted to rush through the speaking/listening portions without getting bogged down in the convoluted writing system, it looks like RS anticipated that use as well.

Concerning the hardware: The included headset is plug-n-play, a breeze to install (Windows recognized it right away) and additionally,

the Rosetta Stone software picked up my current mic, so if I wanted to I could use whatever I’m most comfortable with. Even if you are currently using a headset for the pronunciation lessons, but would rather skip it (maybe you’re dragging the laptop to the coffeeshop or library for an afternoon) there is the option to turn off the feature temporarily. I’ll leave a review of the speech-recognition-part of package for next week; for now, let’s go over some first impressions and post a few images.

Each level is split into units, and each unit into at least five parts that deal with five language competencies: Pronunciation, Vocabulary, Grammar, Reading/Writing, or Speaking/Listening — or some combination of these.

(The very first time you run the program, RS runs a nice little intro video explaining the course)

The lessons are immersive: the only language in the lesson is Japanese, and you either pick it up fast or learn by guessing (given the solo, self teaching aspect: many questions in the first Vocabularly unit were multiple choice). While a straight line graph (like on the ‘title page’ pictured above) may make the course seem short and fairly linear, let me just point out that this is the first unit of four in Japanese Level One, and each little check box is a bit more involved than the included time-estimates would indicate. Sure, they say a grammar lesson is ‘about 10 minutes’ but my guess is we’ll be coming back to this several times before we ‘get’ it.

Fortunately, you can repeat each lesson as many times as you’d like. At least to start off with, the concepts are presented clearly and repetition and reinforcement make it easy to pick up the gist of what’s being taught. Retention is a different matter, and how each lesson builds toward overall language proficiency is one of those things that no one would be able to tell from just a day — or even a week (which is why I’m willing to give this 6 months).

Since the very first part of Level 1 > Unit 1 > Lesson 1 is a pronunciation exercise, we’ll cover the included harware and speech recognition next week. Following that, I’ll see if I can describe how learning a language with a logographic writing system and a syllabary rather than an alphabet differs from, say, learning a western European language (or even Greek and Russian).

(I’ll try to have these posted on Mondays, but as you’ve already guessed it depends on my work schedule.)



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