Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NY Comic Con Updates

It actually surprised me that the New York Comic Con managed to draw lots of people in the anime/manga industry. I expected that some of the announcements that were made there would have been reserved for the more dedicated anime/manga conventions.

Anyway, since my tastes are weird, here are some choice bits from topics that interests me:

The Old Ones Beckons

I expect that one of these days, I'll wake up and find myself at Arkham, discover that I'm enrolled at Miskatonic University, and be one of those cultists who can't speak proper English. Haven't met up with Cthullu yet but I've probably run into Nyarlathotep in disguise.

So here's the latest "dream" I had ten minutes ago (and you know, these things are always good mines for ideas) but it hasn't been the first nor will it be the last. In a Resident Evil/Biohazard atmosphere, I find myself to be one of those people who's out hunting infected humans (nothing original there!). Of course the twist is I wake up from unconsciousness and find pale-skilled zombies in front of me. Luckily I am not a trigger happy person and discover that my vision has been skewed for one reason or another and so normal people look like zombies. My paranoia getting the better of me, I tell no one about it and do my job as usual. And then we enter this building that's supposedly infested with zombies and after careful treading, I find myself separated from the group. Eventually (after dodging some real zombies--how I know they're really zombies I don't know), there's this crevice I find and I manage to squeeze through it. And then I find myself in my grade school gym. (Hey, these are dreams... no one ever said they'd make sense.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Retailers Like No Other

Comic book shops in the Philippines have a special place in my heart and not necessarily because of the comics. Take for example my current predicament—I’m a pen-and-paper RPG fan yet the hobby store that’s supposed to stock them (Neutral Grounds) simply hasn’t obtained any new books for the past five months at the very least. My only alternative if I want to purchase them locally is to get them from Comic Quest. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Comic Quest. I just find it strange that I’m getting items from them instead of the shop that’s supposedly dedicated to the products I buy.

I bring up the phenomenon of the Philippine comic book shop because few comic shops are run the same way and are a hodgepodge of various interests. Take for example one of the oldest chains of comic book retailing: Filbar’s. To begin with, Filbar’s roots wasn’t solely in comics but for a time in the mid-80’s and early 90’s, if you wanted the latest comics, you went to Filbar’s. Currently it’s embraced more of its roots—you’ll likely find the latest magazines just as you’ll find the latest comics. And yet that’s not all you’ll find there any more that you’ll only find books in National Bookstore: posters, romance novels, knock-off toys, model kits, toys, etc. It’s simply a bizarre amalgam.

Yet Filbar’s isn’t alone. I mean I’ve visited the newly-opened Comic Odyssey in Robinsons Galleria, Comic Quest, CATS, and the now defunct CCHQ in Katipunan. Aside from comics, they also have different product lines but one thing common to them is that they stock collectible card games (CCGs) that is more reminiscent of hobby shops. In fact, back in the 90’s, perhaps the reason the CCG phenomena hit the Philippines hard was due to the various comic shops who carried the product, everything from Magic: The Gathering to Legend of the Five Rings to Pokemon. And looking at it from a business perspective, the CCG business is quite lucrative: high profits for little shelf space.

Of course CCGs isn’t the only product comic shops have dabbled in. I mean Comic Quest has toys and RPG books, CATS DVDs and anime, Comic Odyssey busts and sculptures, and CCHQ authentic manga, plushies, art books, and Japanese trading cards. Aside from their main demographic, namely comic fans, these comic shops also had other subcultures trickling in. For a geek like me, the comic shops are like a second home, not just because of the products they sell but because of the kinds of people they attract.

Unfortunately, this phenomena isn’t necessarily all good news. I mean as much as I appreciate variety, I have to ask, why can’t comic shops just sell comics? I can’t help but feel it’s like the predicament with National Bookstore two decades ago—they can’t sell books alone because it isn’t profitable. Of course the environment with bookstores decades ago is different now—we have chains like Powerbooks and Fully Booked wherein books do comprise most of their sales, as well as independent bookstores like A Different Bookstore, Booktopia, and Aeon Books surviving (I presume) on simply selling books. But what about comics? Is it simply the owner’s wish to expand to other fields of interests or do they really need that extra something to supplement their business?

Perhaps another sign of troubling times for comic book retailers is the encroaching of bookstores into their territory. As a fan, I’m happy that comics are getting more shelf space in bookstores. That, after all, means that hopefully there’ll be more comic book fans. On the other hand, that’s also drawing some business away from comic book shops, especially when it comes to sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks. Here’s a fact some of you might be aware of but not necessarily fully understand: bookstores sell their comics cheaper. Since I love whole numbers, let’s work with Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. It’s $100.00 and sells for P5,000.00 in Fully Booked and P6,000.00 in most comic book shops. Why is the former cheaper? Well aside from ordering in bulk, the real money savings for bookstores is shipping. Bookstores usually have their stocks delivered by boat while comic book shops by plane. That’s how consumers get the latest titles every week instead of simply every month. Comic book reailers get new stocks every week while bookstores every two weeks at best.

I don’t think it’s the end of comic retailers. They’ve survived difficult times in the past although at the present, they are thinning out. Nonetheless, it’s far from the brightest of moments for them, and I expect in the future, local retailers will have to compete with online vendors. But in the meantime, I really appreciate my local comic shop and more importantly patronize it. It’s not just about the comics but rather everything else.

The Moleskine Hoarding Begins

Fully Booked ran out of the "good" Moleskine notebooks by mid-January but I passed by Fully Booked Greenhills last Saturday and I saw them again along with their new stocks. So I guess for Moleskine fanatics, now's a good time to grab 'em.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Goodness for Its Own Sake

One of my more memorable philosophy classes during college was when our teacher tackled the ethics of Aristotle and Kant, not because it was a huge epiphany on my part, but because I already had a mental debate with myself over their philosophies seven years prior — before I had even heard about Aristotle and Kant. This is an oversimplification but Aristotle was more concerned with actions rather than intent while Kant placed more of an emphasis on the latter. It would seem that considering I’m more of a practical bent, I’d side with Aristotle because his side delivers results and as for Kant, we all know that the best intentions can sometimes lead people to ruin. But to be honest I’m more Kantian in my belief. For me intent plays a crucial role in morality which brings me to my next point.

There are lots of good people in the world, don’t doubt that fact. What I am concerned about, however, is what leads them to be good. There is a prevalent philosophy which can be summed up by its motto: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a selfish philosophy but then again, people should be selfish on one level or another. What might confound people is that such a philosophy can bring about much good. Here are two examples. Following that philosophy, one could donate to charities, not because it’s purely altruistic on our part but because it gives me tax breaks and improves my reputation (in addition of course to giving us an ego boost or soothing our conscience). There’s also the practice of recycling and other nature-friendly policies not simply because it’s eco-friendly, but because it’s actually more efficient to do so and it is actually preserving our very lives. Don’t get me wrong, “What’s in it for me?” isn’t a bad philosophy. It’s actually a good start for people to start doing good. My problem with it is its limitations. In the end, there will be some good acts which can’t be justified by “What’s in it for me?” Just because something stops being profitable to us doesn’t mean we stop supporting it.

Another prevalent philosophy is that of divine retribution. It can best be summed up by what parents tell their children: “Be good or you’ll go to hell.” Again, much like the “What’s in it for me?” philosophy, it’s something to start with (and in fact most of us, I think, begin with this incentive). Unlike the “What’s in it for me?” philosophy however, the concept of divine retribution is inconsistent at best. Let’s be honest with each other – divine retribution doesn’t always work. First off, the only certain punishment in divine retribution is in the afterlife. And even then, that fact can’t be proved. The other incentive there is that the just will be rewarded and the unjust punished. But let’s face it, that’s not how it works in real life. There are good people who suffer and evil men who succeed. That might not always be the case but it happens. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being caught. And that perhaps is its biggest flaw. Divine retribution needs an omniscient corporeal entity to police its policies but we usually end up with mortal proxies such as our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our law enforcers, our government. And they’re not doing a good job of it. Simply put, divine retribution works because it’s a threat and it stops working because the threat can’t be perfectly enforced. At least in the “What’s in it for me?” philosophy, the incentive to do good comes from the self rather from an external source.

Of course if you’re thinking divine retribution only applies to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, you might want to take a fresh look at your own belief system. Some people don’t believe in God but they believe in karma. Under these circumstances, they’re really one and the same. Karma may not originate from a divine entity but it is still of divine origin. Just because you act good doesn’t mean you’ll be treated with goodness. People might feel predisposed to act good towards you but that’s still not a guarantee. For others, acting good means you’re a susceptible victim. Again, it could go both ways. And just because two “good” people believing in karma meet doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get along with each other. It’s even easy to suppose that they’ll get into conflict with each other. Suffice to say, karma for me is the same as “Be good or you’ll go to hell.” Except it’s shrouded with better words and sounds more appealing. You’re still trapped in the negative reinforcement philosophy which can be limiting.

So where does that leave us? Well, people who do good because it’s simply good. It’s not an easy path – in fact it’s the most difficult and it’s hard to imagine that people would embrace this kind of philosophy. Even I don’t do good deeds simply because it’s good. There’s a part of me that’s tinged with selfishness and expecting something in return. Another part of me might be thinking I’m racking up karma points or at least letting God jot me down in his book of good deeds. But I do believe that if man wants to transcend his current state, to live a better life, he needs to practice this kind of philosophy not because it simply benefits him but because it’s simply the right thing to do. Of course adherents of other philosophies will find this shocking. The “What’s in it for me?” man might claim one’s following this philosophy because we’re getting something out of it. And that’s true but I’d like to think that the benefit we get doesn’t necessarily extend to our individual selves but to humanity in general. It’s what makes self-sacrifice and martyrdom possible. Adherents of divine retribution, on the other hand, might reply that goodness must have a source such as faith or religion to make it more meaningful. But the problem with that is what happens when one discovers that there’s no divine will? Or worse, a divine will exists but he either doesn’t care, isn’t omniscient, or simply impotent. In the end, divine retribution is akin to a parent watching over his child. What happens when he isn’t there to watch him or her? Some children continue to do good. Others start rebelling. That’s not the kind of environment I want to nurture goodness.

Of course this only works if you subscribe to the Kantian philosophy. To Aristotle, results are results no matter what your motivation is. In the end, this is a dilemma only Kantians will probably ponder about. Or people who believe in morality.

Friday, February 23, 2007

SD Avatar: The Last Airbender

Remember the Avatar: The Last Airbender game/online comic I plugged weeks ago? Well aside from that pre-season 3 promotions, Nick also released an animated short here but you need a secret code. There's three shorts planned and this is the first so far. Got one of the codes from Marco: KOH. Hope it still works. =)

Vignette: The Price of Soul

Four days of visiting Manila left Trevor Baker baffled. It was a surprise to him that one of the purportedly happiest countries in Asia was also a den of vice and corruption. A dollar bought you a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of beer. Two dollars paid for either a pirated movie or a bootleg album. Five dollars was sufficient to bribe any traffic enforcer while twice that amount got you a whore. The natives didn’t live in nippa huts but their makeshift homes along the streets certainly reminded Trevor of their tribal origins. For one reason or another, it was all too easy to imagine the locals retaining their barbaric roots especially when they ate with their hands or did not remove the heads of fishes from their dinner or had fertilized duck eggs as delicacies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Online Comics and Beyond

More of a spin-off from my previous post, the phenomenon of online comics isn't new and in fact, it's been tackled by several people before, especially Scott McCloud (not to be confused with Connor, Duncan, or Quentin McCloud). Scott pointed a lot of possiblities from web comics, everything from near-infinite strips to "choose-your-own-adventure"-style comics where by clicking hyperlinks you enter a new panel, to something as practical as microcurrency. A lot of his ideas are innovative. Some, like the 24-hour comic strip, has taken off. Others, not so much.

Why I'm interested in the online comic format is because it provides a neat solution to DC's attempts at a weekly comic (and if the rumors are true, the same can be said for Marvel). Or perhaps even going beyond the weekly comic and delivering the daily one (or most likely somewhere in between). Daily strips aren't new of course -- we see them regularly in the newspaper. But the power of online comics is that it gives this in the hands of the creator instead of looking for a third party to publish it. And as a consumer, it's a quicker and more direct way to receive it.

Let me backtrack and talk about the weekly comic format. What makes the format difficult aside from the production process is the printing and distribution process. Experienced creators might not find printing difficult -- but it takes time. There's no circumventing that. Well, time and capital. So if you have seven days in a week, that's at least one day (I expect it takes two to three days in the real world) off your timetable. And then there's distribution, bringing it to retailers and into people's homes. Unless it's through the Internet or you have your own shop (and just one shop), shipping it takes manpower and time. If you plan to deliver to the entire US for example, that's taking lots of manpower and time. Again, it might take a day for you to do so (again, reality is less conservative). So that's five days left to produce your comic. And that's assuming you're involved in the entire process, no coordinating with an artist or an inker or whatever. Online publishing significantly saves you time, manpower, and money on those two steps.

Of course web comics isn't as progressive as people want it to be, at least not yet. Perhaps one of the biggest online comic success stories is Scott Kurtz, especially considering he's been picked up by a mainstream comic publisher (no, Image does not count as an independent comic publisher). Yet Scott's success isn't one that's solely dependent on online content. His comics goes to print via Image for example. The real money I think (but since I'm not privy to Scott's financial records, take this with lots of salt) is his partners, the ads, and the merchandising. Don't get me wrong -- Kurtz isn't as rich as Bill Gates. But he has made the transition from having a day job and doing comics on the side to making comics his day job.

Another success story is my personal favorite, Rich Burlew. Rich's name might not be as popular as Scott's, but he revolves around a niche market: D&D. His comic, Order of the Stick, is a meta-D&D strip. To some people the numbers might not add up but it did. Rich's strategy was publishing his strips in a book which fans got to order (again, the revenue is still in purchasing print copies of a comic instead of simply micropayments) and that's how he was able to quit his day job and focus on the comic and his game writing. Oh and the occasional merchandise as well. For me Rich's story is interesting because the comic isn't necessarily mainstream, or at least perceived by people as mainstream. But because he has a focused market, it sustains him. (Again, by no means is he rich, but at least it's paying for his living expenses.)

But all that aside, perhaps the biggest potential for online comics isn't necessarily the hyperlinking (although it would be interesting to read one) or the near infinite space one could use. I think right now it's in the ruthless efficiency, of publishing comics in a short period of time. Kudos, of course, to DC with pulling a weekly comic in print in the US. Right now people are still attached to the print medium. It'll be interesting to see how it'll develop a decade from now. Maybe McCloud's idea of purchasing comics via the micropayment scheme comes to fruition (think pay-per-view comics). Or maybe some guy like Elbert Or will come along and think of something else.

The Format Wars

A John writes to John August about an article an article from the New Yorker by David Denby. The two articles talk about the new video format, namely watching movies on your iPod. There is, undeniably, something lost in the movie experience when you're watching it from your palm -- that is what David Denby mourns. John August, on the other hand, is a bit more optimistic, accepting the possibilities that might emerge. (And indeed, just look at the Green Arrow spinoff from Smallville that will be released only in Sprint phones.)

Format affects form, no doubt about that. Although perhaps people aren't necessarily making the most out of it at the moment. I do think there's an "optimal" show to be viewed on the iPod, to be posted on YouTube, videos on mobile phones, etc. (Check out Ze Frank as he doesn't overuse his small screen.) It's just not maximixed, I think. And in terms of entertainment, it is important. Because more and more people are exploring these mediums without necessarily giving it the right form. (Trailers for the US run of Death Note will be released at the New York Comic Con for example and fans will view in on their phones -- hopefully it'll be presented in the right way.)

An example of format not matching form occurs in comics. The format isn't necessarily the size of the sheet but when it's released. To a US comic fan, manga might appear decompressed. To a manga fan, Western comics might seem like the opposite: compressed (especially with those huge chunk of text). That's because both markets are used to different formats. The manga format works because it's released on a weekly basis. (There are manga titles that are released on a monthly basis as well but their stories are more tighter than the weekly manga titles.) US comics, on the other hand, are typically monthlies. Which is also why US comics usually cope with large chunks of text as exposition (instead of just huge chunks of text in dialogue, which manga has no shortage of). It's about as different as watching a 30-minute episode from a 1-hour one: one has more freedom to tell the story while the other must make do with what he has.

Prose, I think, hasn't truly caught up with this problem yet, simply because there's too many formats running around. In print, prose has no problem -- that's the job of the graphic designer. In other formats, however, such as web pages and eBooks, that's a different matter. The publisher of eBooks, for example, has no control where you'll be reading the document: will it be on the computer which has a larger screen? On the phone? On an eBook reader? The dimensions are fluid and vary -- it's far from consistent yet. The same goes with web pages: heck, I don't know how many times you've scrolled down to be reading this part. Blogger's tools aren't up to part to give me an idea on how many "screen units" I've consumed, and perhaps any web designer knows the true problems of publishing on the web: there's no consistent resolution size. The best they can do is recommend the "optimized resolution" for viewing a certain web page. Seven years ago there was consistency in the 800 x 600 resolution but no one uses that these days. The thing with resolution is that it quickly scales up with the video cards and monitors that get released (granted they're not as fast as breakthroughs in processesors and memory but they're still fast). Which is something to consider especially when you're in advertising.

The possibilities I see for fiction, for example, is something that's faster than "fast food fiction" or "short short stories" -- perhaps a story that fits one screen (given of course a reasonable font size). Maybe it's something online writers should consider. But again, unlike iPod screens and YouTube, there's no "universal" resolution yet and screen sizes remains fluid (and in the end, one could always reshape the browser window).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Before you Spam, Think!

I just got this in my Inbox today:

"Subject: Patronize Pirated DVD's

This is a text message currently circulating within the Philippines.

PLS patronize pirated DVD's so that the Filipino movie industry will die & we will no longer have actors, actresses, nor their spouses running for public office. Pls pass."

I hope that was forwarded in attempts at humor. Because it's so wrong on so many levels.

1) Perhaps I'm non-elitist in my view that just because you're an actor/actress doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a horrible politician. Herbert Bautista, for example, seems to do okay as vice mayor of Quezon City (but then again, it's usually Mayor Sonny Belmonte who's in the limelight). In the US, Governor Arnold Schwarzanegger (sorry if I spelled that wrong) seems to be doing well. Oh, and Ronald Reagan was a professional actor before he got elected as a president of the United States.

2) The author is assuming that just because no actor/actress is running for public office that the country will be a better place. No it won't -- we just end up with less scapegoats. I'm sure that there are other politicians who are worse that the so-called actors/actresses. The latter just draw more attention to themselves. And in the end, what perpetuates "corrupt" and "immoral" politicians aren't necessarily the politicians themselves but the system that contributes to it and the citizens that vote for them. That, my friends, is what it means to live in a democracy.

3) The point of patronizing pirated DVDs, according to the forwarded email, claims to do two things: to kill the local movie industry and so that no more actors/actresses will run for public office. First off, even assuming it does what the author wants it to do, what does that say of our country? That we need to resort to non-lawful means to achieve the results we want?

4) Again, assuming that it does what it's supposed to do, killing the local movie industry hurts a lot of innocent people and not just those planning to run for public office in the future. Who will feed the families of the various actors/actresses, directors, make-up artists, stylists, cameramen, stuntmen, extras, etc.? If the original writer could reply, he or she might say that's a "necessary sacrifice". But isn't that the state of the Philippines right now? Comfort for a privileged few in exchange for the suffering of the many? Aren't we simply trading one evil for another?

5) A spin-off of #3, it's honestly not the current actors/actresses who are running for public office. It's the actors/actresses who have retired from acting that are running for public office. In fact, what we should do is to encourage these people to keep on acting and leave the politicking to politicians. Killing the local movie industry will only motivate them more to run for office because they think they can fix things now that their life is more difficult than it was before.

If you don't want to vote for a certain politican -- don't. If you want to run an anti-campaign, fine. But please do not make broad, sweeping generalizations that simply do not work and floods my inbox.

D&D-Related Posts

D&D Best of 2006

D&D's New Cash Cow

Wednesdays

In grade school, I looked forward to Wednesday, mainly because we were dismissed from class by lunch time (we called it a "half-day"). Xavier stopped that practice a few years ago although Ateneo still has their half-days, except it falls on a Friday (TGIF!).

Wednesdays, I think, is a day in the week that people should look forward to (no it's not pay-day, although it will be next week). Wednesdays is usually when the new movies come in and replaces the old set (because of this, a particular movie might be shown earlier here in the Philippines compared to other countries).

Before Comic Quest, Filbars usually displayed the latest comics on Friday. However, the new stocks were originally released by Wednesday in the US and Comic Quest has typically tried to emulate that schedule, bringing in the newer batch by Wednesday evening barring any complications.

Ack! Another Weekly Comic from DC

Following on the heels of 52, DC Comics will apparently be releasing Countdown, another finite weekly mini-series.

Now if only Viz could tap into DC's system, we'd be getting Shonen Jump on a weekly basis instead of a monthly (as it was originally in Japan and dictated by the format)...

Of course while Japan has been doing monthly comics ever since, there are three significant factors that hampers the US from replicating such a feat.

1) Japan has a well-oiled, efficient machine that's been in existence for the past few decades. While the US has done weekly comics before, it wasn't always sustainable (i.e. not meeting deadlines). And Japan's comic production process is completely different from America.

2) US comics are colored. Those in Japan are usually in black and white, with the occasional splash page that's in color. It's another step in the production process but when you're talking about a weekly comic, you honestly only have a few days to create the comic. (And we're not even counting the days allotted for actually printing the comic.)

3) Japan occupies a significantly smaller geographic area than the US. While this has no bearing on the actual production of comics (or it might if you're coordinating with authors and artists from various states), it does have a bearing on distribution. And it doesn't matter if you produce a comic in time if it doesn't get distributed in time -- it seems late to everyone else.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Helpful Guidelines on Writing

If you want actual helpful guidelines on writing, skip to the last paragraph -- the link's there. I'm not in a position to lecture. If you're bored or have nothing else to do, read on.

Writers are a diverse bunch. Simply saying you're a writer could mean a lot of things: do you write novels? Plays? Short stories? Essays? Columns? Poems? Speeches? News? The list goes on. The written word is a medium and one that has many applications.

Exposition done, I'll talk about me. When I decided to sign up for Creative Writing as my undergraduate degree, I wanted to create stories. (By the way, don't let what "you took up in college" confuse you: your undergraduate degree is just a guide. Your career is what you make of it. There are people who took up Management only to be a well-known writer later on and there are people in the Humanities who end up as successful businessmen. Heck, there are people who didn't even finish high school and are CEO's of various companies.) Unfortunately, while I will go as to arrogantly say I have a talent in writing, my talent doesn't necessarily extend to fiction.

I'll be frank with you: I'm better at telling rather than showing. Perhaps that's why you're reading this blog entry in the first place. I'm not creating mood or showing you a vivid scene from my childhood, I'm telling it to you flat-out. That's my natural disposition towards writing. Which doesn't necessarily make me a bad writer but certain fields of writing suit me better than others.

If I were to rank my "writing skills", they'd follow this heirarchy:

1) Blogging. (Not a real "writing skill" yet because blogging has no fixed form as of yet. It's too easy, too fluid. Although maintaining a compelling blog takes skill.)

2) Essay writing. (In a way, my blog entries are really essays. So maybe #1 and #2 is really just the same, at least in my case.)

3) Feature writing. (Although it's a writing skill I haven't "exercised" lately.)

4) Fiction. (Which is to say I suck at it.)

5) Poetry. (If I suck at fiction, I have no ear for poetry.)

Perhaps some skills I'll manage to sneak in after #3 but before #4. Or maybe there are some things I'm worse at than fiction (such as writing a comic script for example). But you get my point.

Of course even fiction has many factors. The horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, for example, was great at setting the mood and evoking terror. He was horrible with dialogue however but that didn't stop him from being one of the recognized writers of the 20th century.

As for me, I suck at dialogue too. Or rather banter between characters. I was exposed to crappy Tom Swift books as a kid and they used adverbs extensively. Including in dialogue. You known the likes of "he quickly said", "he angrily shouted", "he stuttered", etc. These are things I should avoid and up until recently, I didn't really know how to solve. There's also the fact that synonyms aren't -- they're close approximation of the original word but they're not the same. In Japanese, the word Watashi might sound similar to Boku but anyone who's familiar with the language will know there is a subtle but significant difference between the two. In Tagalog, it might be the words kuya and kapatid. In English, scion and descendant, son and heir. Close but not quite.

Oh, as for the helpful tip, check out the writing guidelines from Weird Tales magazine. (It's in PDF!) I got the realization from the previous paragraph based on their writing guidelines (which is fun and entertaining, and doubles as an exam for proofing/editing).

Submit!

Just a note to aspiring writers, Palanca season is upon us so write, write, write, and better yet, submit, submit, submit. There are millions of Filipinos in the country and we won't know you have such great work unless you submit. There are stories of writers who become famous post-humously but that assumes your family (or whoever you're staying with) has access to your manuscripts once you're dead and not, say, throw it in the trash thinking it was just "scratch paper" or worse, format the hard drive thinking it's all junk.

If the Palanca's is not your field of interest, might I interest you in Philippine Genre Stories? Or just buy the damn digest if you want an interesting read. I mean it's one of those few publications that's actually dedicated to stories instead of the magazine/fiction hybrid (not that there's nothing wrong with that--it's just nice to see both types of publications proliferating).

There's also the foreign market. Wildside Press is looking for cat stories. Be sure to read the guidelines though. Either that or you could pose as the author of "The Lunch Thief".

Road to the Komiks Congress

I should have posted this sooner but anyway, Gerry has been plugging about the upcoming Komiks Congress. According to his recent post, it's been moved to March but in the meantime, there'll be an art exhibit in the same venue that'll serve as a sort of prelude to the event:

"An art exhibit will be held at the venue of the Congress, at the lobby of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or the NCCA, located along General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila. The art exhibit will be officially opened on February 22 at 10:00 am (formerly 2:00 pm), and will serve as a lead-in to the congress itself. The list of artists included in the exhibit are:

NAR CASTRO
VIC AURE
JOMARIE MONGCAL
JUN LOFAMIA
AL CABRAL
STEVE GAN
JESS JODLOMAN
CARL COMENDADOR
PERRY CRUZ
FLORENCE MAGLALANG
RENN MAGLALANG
ROD SANTIAGO
RENE CELEMENTE
RENE CORTEZ
DING ABUBOT
YONG MONTANO
AL SANCHEZ
HANNIBAL IBARRA
REY ARCILLA
FERDEEE BAMBICO
DANTE BARRENO
LAN MEDINA
RUDY VILLANUEVA
ALFREDO ALCALA
FEDERICO JAVINAL
MAR SANTANA
ERNIE PATRICIO
NESTOR MALGAPO
ARNEL AVETRIA
MANDING DE GUZMAN
JUN DE FELIPE
TONY ANCHETA
RANDY VALIENTE
NAR CANTILLO
VIC POBLETE
ABE OCAMPO
MARIO MACALINDONG
JOEY CELERIO
JUNE GABRIEL
TONY ANCHETA
JOSEPH VILLAMAR
VAL PABULOS
DON SANTOS
RUBEN YANDOC
NAR CANTILLO
JOHN BECARO
DANNY ACUNA
BERT GABIANO
JOJO GALICIA
JIMMY PABULOS
LARRY GALVEZ
NAR DE MESA
ARTURO DOMINGUEZ

Greater emphasis was given to the work of the older generation of artists, and it’s nice to see that artists who have passed on like Alfredo Alcala (Voltar), Ruben Yandoc, and Mar Santana (Lastikman) shall be represented by their artwork.

Notable on this list is Lan Medina, who is old enough to have been actively involved in the old komiks industry, and is now enjoying much international recognition for his work on DC’s Vertigo and Marvel."



Postponed!



From: Komikero Comics Journal

An Aside

Occasionally, I'd get asked some friends and acquaintances if I know any good artist (insert what kind of style you're looking for here) for a comic they plan on making. The good news is that the Philippines has a lot of great artist. The bad news that's not the only question you're supposed to be asking.

Do I know any good artist? A lot. Do I know any who can meet deadlines? In all likelihood, the ones I know are probably taken (or busy with their own projects). That's the disparity, I think. I might theoretically know a hundred artist yet only ten percent of them can submit a comic on time (unless you know, you're paying them really really high or you're a foreign comics company). Of course you can expect that these ten percent are those already out in the field, hired by someone else or releasing their own comic.

Yes, this is one of those posts wherein the author is begging to be proven wrong.

The Art of the Paragraph

One of the things I don't think I got taught in grade school/high school was how to cut my paragraphs. The usual routine was that the teacher would ask us to take out a sheet of paper and write a one-paragraph essay on a certain subject matter (i.e. "your summer vacation"). While not horrible in itself, it left an imprint that paragraphs are these long, clunky blocks of text when they needn't be so.

A paragraph can be as short as one sentence.

Or as long as you need it to be. It all depends on what you're trying to evoke, on what you're trying to accomplish. The one-paragraph rule for essays isn't bad but it limits what you can do.

Another reason to break up your novel-length paragraph is to make it easier to read. Books are intimidating as it is. Even a veteran reader like me feels threatened when I see a huge block of text that has no end. It's hard to find the perfect place to break one's line of thought. It's about as difficult as reading a sentence that has no period or comma. And perhaps that best describes the role of chopping up paragraphs: it's about as integral as the period of the comma. It's not simply about pacing the reader. It incorporates a lot of things, from subtlety to emphasis. The uninitiated might think text is text and whether I end the paragraph here or I end it there won't make a difference. In some cases, the change is minute. At other times, it's not. So it's quite important to pay attention.

My other experience with paragraphs during high school, aside from writing those one- and two-paragraph (they increased the requirements!) essays, is writing the news articles for the school paper. Now what's interesting about news articles is that when it comes to paragraphs, it's the opposite of what's usually required in English class. A news article is composed of several paragraphs, each one short but concise. My favorite part was the lead, the first paragraph in every news bit: it's usually just one sentence but must contain all the important facts, namely who, what, where, when, why, and how. Everything else after that is just icing on the cake. (There are two schools of thought when it comes to news writing however--there's the inverted pyramid where a bulk of the information is on top, and the pyramid where you slowly dish out the important information. I'd go for the former though considering the nature of the newspaper and the fact that not everyone will read the article to the end. They shouldn't find out only at the end that Soylent Green is made of people.)

I'm not proposing people's paragraphs be as short as news articles. In the end, how long or how short your paragraph is best left to you. I've seen paragraphs that are three pages long and it works. I've also seen a paragraph that's merely one sentence and it's successful in the context that it's used in. But the thing is, they don't teach you this at school (at least not back then and not in the school I went to). You'll have to figure out the perfect formula for yourself. And more often than not, it'll come naturally to you by reading, reading, and doing more reading.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cities in Flight by James Blish

Another hard science-fiction story, Cities in Flight actually compiles four books by Blish. I checked the publication history and Cities in Flight is older than Star Wars yet it remains readable despite its datedness. And unlike some archaic fantasy writing, Blish for me is quite readable, even when he throws scientific terminology, formulae, and other mystery-like ideas at you. The characters are compelling and is probably the heart of the series. What’s admirable about Blish is that Cities in Flight is an epic and the final book tackles the most menacing nemesis mankind can ever face. Much like the writings of Pohl, make no mistake, Cities in Flight is treading on the realm of hard science-fiction and if you’re uncomfortable with the subject, you might be daunted by the book. Still, it’s as an enjoyable read for those can muster their courage to delve into the realm that only Blish can narrate. Just be sure to remember the era that this was written in and you’ll do fine.

Rating: 3/5.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

While I consider myself a science-fiction fan, I’ve honestly read little hard SF, those books that flood you with scientific terms and gives science-fiction its rep as inaccessible and geeky. Well, Gateway is one of those books. Technical jargon is thrown at you and there’s this enigmatic alien race which don’t make an appearance in the book but are responsible for the entire premise of the novel. I thought I’d drop the book quickly in boredom but I was wrong—it was a good, compelling read although admittedly, it’s not for everyone. Still, there are neat “tricks” Pohl employs throughout the novel, from fictional excerpts from various reports and lectures to ads that you’d expect to see from a newspaper. What makes the book work, however, is the protagonist who is undergoing psychiatric therapy and draws in the reader’s sympathy even if he’s not the best human being in the world. If you want to test the waters of hard SF, Gateway might be a trip worth taking. It was an enjoyable read for me but then again, I’m not exactly your everyday layman.

Rating: 3/5.

Ubik by Philip K Dick

For me Dick was always the accessible science-fiction author: concepts and a nod towards humanity rather than overwhelming you with sheer science. Ubik isn’t a departure from that model of Dick-ian prose but what sets this novel apart is the plethora of ideas that’s thrown at you from the beginning: pre-cogs, time-altering characters, reanimators, and a mysterious product advertisement that graces the beginning of each chapter. I’ll set the record straight—Ubik is one of those O.Henry-type stories that Dick has a preference for and it doesn’t disappoint. Ubik messes with your head in good way and it is a good, enjoyable read. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride!

Rating: 4/5.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

One of a series of books that was beautifully repackaged by European publisher Orionbooks, The Sirens of Titan drew the attention of my friends who weren’t necessarily science-fiction fans thanks to the author’s popularity. Vonnegut, after all, has gained literary acceptance thanks to his novel Slaughterhouse Five. Having no preconceptions of what to except from this famous writer, The Sirens of Titan surprised me because of the satiric prose which one doesn’t expect from a serious writer like Vonnegut. The Sirens of Titan isn’t hard SF any more that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is hard SF. Yet the charm is there and I’ll be honest—I liked The Sirens of Titan more than I liked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I can already hear Douglas Adams fans screaming “treason!”). It is in that frame of mind that one should read the book and in that sense, it doesn’t disappoint even if the ending is a little more than ambiguous.

Rating: 4/5.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Even before reading Lord of Light, I was already a fan of Zelazny thanks to his Amber fantasy series. Of course the transition from fantasy to science-fiction isn’t always smooth—compare le Guin’s Earthsea and Left Hand of Darkness for example and no two pieces of fiction could be farther apart. In a way, Lord of Light is a big departure from Amber but it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless, one that requires more sophistication from the reader and actually uses the in medias res technique of storytelling. The protagonist is just as compelling as any Zelazny hero and perhaps what motivates me to continue on reading is the author’s interplay of fiction and philosophy, religion and science, all presented in a way that seems light-hearted at times and serious when need be. Great book and a must-read although that might be the fantasy-fan in me talking.

Rating: 5/5.

I'm Due for a Trip Abroad

I was taking a break from all the reading/writing I've been doing and caught an episode of The Amazing Race All-Stars. I find it amusing that what caught my attention was the Borders bookstore at the airport. Trust a bookworm to find what's relevant in life.

Anyway, for that split second I saw the bookstore (and Rob and Amber actuall buying books there), I miss traveling. I'm not as well-traveled as some people but I have left the country and visited places like Hong Kong, Australia, and America. Of course I gave it up a decade ago, thinking that a trip not spent abroad is money saved (not that it should matter as my parents don't give me the money they would have spent on the plane ticket or accomodations). Presently though, my perspective's changed. Probably because I've run out of steam visiting the various bookstores in Metro Manila: I'm seeing the same books over and over again. Yes people, what motivates me to go abroad are the bookstores. I'm a huge deviant. Well my other incentive is the fact that I finally have disposable income! No more being dependent on my parents if I want to purchase something abroad.

As an aside, during my visit to Perth, Australia (which actually is still in the same time zone as the Philippines), I looked at the prices of the books and discovered that it was more expensive than the books at home (National Bookstore does have cheap books and by my last count, the equivalent exchange rate was P40.00 = $1.00 for import books). When I told this to my cousins, they wouldn't believe me, thinking that all stuff imported must be cheaper than what's being sold locally.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Election Season

It's finally here and one realizes it when the topic of discussion at the dinner table is politics. Who's running, who's not running, and what's changing in the status quo.

Also over the weekend, I've been receiving text messages from various entities about their political platform. And the radio seemed to be talking about boxer Manny Pacquiao running for political office but perhaps the bigger shock to me was crossing our street and seeing stickers of "Goma for Senator"--not that I have anything against actors/actresses running for public office of course. It's just becoming all too common (but is similarly an effective method) here in the Philippines.

My brother has also been pondering what the message on Binay's T-shirt means: "Best in Asia, 4th in the World." See World Mayor for the answer.

Oh, and I remember my political science teacher telling us what the Greeks called people ignorant of the political climate: idiot.

Hospital Visit

There is something about a trip to the hospital that scares people. It is one of those urban horrors that has become as primal as the fear of the dark, of confined spaces, or of heights. For some it is because hospitals reminds them of their mortality—the fact that they’ll someday die and sometimes in the most gruesome manner. To others they fear what the hospital contains: microscopic viral agents that might infect you due to sheer proximity. I remember my brother telling me once that after I returned from the hospital for me to change clothes and take a good long bath.

Of course I don’t share their fear. For me a trip to the hospital is just like any other trip. I don’t relish the journey of course, not because I’m frightened of it but rather because it’s boring. All of my experiences with hospitals entail long minutes or even hours waiting for your turn in line or simply too much idle time. These days I’ve resolved that problem by bringing a book.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t fear death nor is it as mysterious as it appears to some. Unlike most people, I know what will eventually kill me. Barring some unforeseen accident or a quirk of fate, I will die due to my inability to breathe, phlegm clogging my nostrils. Between the diseases I inherited from my father and the genetic flaws I got from my mother’s side of the family, I will not live a long life. I hear my father coughing, screaming his lungs out at the bathroom trying to rid his body of mucus. I’m suffering from the same ailment and I am at the very least half his age. Of course my respiratory problems began earlier, as early as age seven which had me and my hankies wet with phlegm and mucus.

Unfortunately for me, man’s modern-day panacea, antibiotics, is something my body rebels against and actually worsens my condition. Nearly everything has been attempted: strange Chinese prescriptions (and when I say strange, I mean everything from cockroach remains to tiger eggs to grasshopper entrails), acupuncture, weekly injections with who-knows-what chemicals, the spray which you insert into your nostrils and hurts like hell, air purifiers, a basin of water, and prayer. Suffice to say, it did not solve the nights lost to struggling to breathe, the towels full of wet snot, the red noses and lips, and the general discomfort of living with a perpetual cold.

I faintly remember that back as a child, I couldn’t make a bubble with bubblegum—but I cold with phlegm. It was a malleable substance that I could work with: it could be turned into a web-like substance much like Spider-man or perhaps a simple sticky, blinding spittle. I could play with it like a yoyo or make better bubbles with it than merely saliva could.

No, hospitals didn’t scare me. I’ve had lots of life-or-death situations and it happened at home. If there was anything that remotely bothered me in the hospital, it was the smell of alcohol that permeated the entire place.

On the US Manga Phenomenon

Several days ago I passed by the comic store and the bookstore and one of the things that surprised me was the fact that I was buying various US-translated manga titles. I’ve been an anime/manga fan for more than a decade now but it’s only recently that I’ve taken up such shopping habits. One look at the manga shelf and there seems to be a plethora of titles to choose from—a stark contrast from a decade ago where the choices were minimal. The US manga industry might not necessarily be at its peak right now but it is definitely on the rise. And while many people have speculated as to the reasons why manga has proven popular in the US (and I have my own theories as well), I’ll perhaps tackle one reason that isn’t often cited: the marketing and the industry.

It seems that it’s only in the past few years that manga seems to have picked up steam even if it’s had a presence in the US for more than a decade now. Of course back then, the format is very different from what we know it now to be. Manga didn’t really come in the small digest format nor in the right-to-left reading layout or more importantly, at $7.99 or $19.99 an issue. I think that change made a significant impact in the US manga industry, the popularity of Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh notwithstanding.

If you wanted a glimpse of what manga was back then, then I suggest you look at Dark Horse comics. Dark Horse, of course, has been one of the pioneers in the manga industry. While they’re not limited to manga titles, they have, over the years, published a lot of non-mainstream and mature content. And in a way, they were ahead of their time. A point of contention right now among manga fans is “non-authentic manga” (a.k.a. Ameri-manga), which is manga that was not made by a Japanese creator. Right now TokyoPop, a leading publisher of manga titles (and perhaps responsible for the current manga paradigm shift but I’ll get to that later), is getting a lot of heat for their release of “original manga” but Dark Horse has been ahead of the game in that department. Just look at Adam Warren’s run of Dirty Pair under Dark Horse as far back as ‘98. But getting back to the topic at hand, manga titles wasn’t packaged in its present format but was originally presented in the way most comics were released back then. Instead of the collected volumes we now see or even the anthology of manga titles every month, manga titles were released in the singles format on at least a monthly basis. For those not familiar with comic jargon, singles are those slim, nearly A4-sized comics that had anywhere between twenty plus pages to forty. Pick up any superhero comic and you’ll see what I mean. And in a certain way, that tradition of distributing manga continues on. Just look at Dark Horse’s Blade of the Immortal series, which comes in that format if you want the latest chapter.

Of course Dark Horse wasn’t the only pioneer back then. I’d say Viz is in the same category as well. Much like Dark Horse’s business model, a lot of their comics was released in the same format, such as their Dragonball series. However, I will point out one problem with their business model (and to a certain extent, still plagues them in the present). Some of those manga “chapters” which got released in the US monthly at best was released in Japan on a weekly basis. US comic fans who bought those manga singles will most likely find the stories to be decompressed (to be fair, I find the US comic style to be compressed, but that’s because they have a page limit and it’s released as a monthly), hanging, and perhaps even finding some of the art inconsistent (because the art had to be “flipped” to present it in the left-to-right format). Of course eventually, those singles would be collected into “graphic novels”, a Western comic term that was coined decades earlier. Now most graphic novels back then seems like the manga titles we see now on the shelves—but that’s only for the untrained eye. The manga graphic novels back then were slightly larger in size and more importantly, more expensive. The price differential might not seem as much now—a title could go for around $14.95 to $19.95. Not really so expensive to US comic fans who purchased graphic novels but what the market didn’t realize then that the US comic fans who purchased graphic novels weren’t necessarily the target market of manga graphic novels. There’s also the fact that the manga graphic novels are indeed larger than the present manga titles but they’re smaller than most of the graphic novels back then (think A4!), not to mention that manga graphic novels were in black and white, while their Western counterparts came in color. Suffice to say, the entry point to manga was steep. Also be aware that while there was knowledge of manga back then, it wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, where manga titles can be seen in bookstores and people stop asking you to define what manga exactly is.

In the late 90’s, some of the publishers also experimented with Japan’s anthology format, releasing a phonebook-sized comic anthology that featured various titles on a regular basis. Again, it was plagued by similar constraints with the comic singles—what got released in Japan on a weekly basis got released in a monthly basis. For some publishers, especially the likes of Mixx and Viz, it worked, or at least gave them moderate success. For others, such as Raijin comics, it didn’t. But it did alleviate some of the problems of the singles—instead of just getting one title to read, you got around three or four different titles to peruse monthly. And as expected, some of the popular titles eventually got released as graphic novels.

Eventually Mixx, an unlikely publisher in the scene, managed to gather some steam, publishing phenomenal manga titles such as Rayearth or the lesser-known Parasyte (which has now been acquired by Del Rey). Eventually, they started releasing manga graphic novels not just in the right-to-left format but also in a smaller, leaner package that despite its size, was affordable: the $9.99 price tag. This, I think, gave them the edge of their competitors like Viz, who had similarly great titles like Ranma 1/2 and Nausicaa but were nearly twice as expensive. Of course manga veterans will know Mixx by its present name—TokyoPop. Around this time, anime was also at its peak in the US, with the likes of Pokemon and Gundam hitting the mainstream market.

Perhaps a testament to TokyoPop’s efficiency isn’t just in its popularity, or the fact that it’s still publishing presently. It lies in the fact that others have adapted to its format. Take Viz for example. Its manga collections have been scaled down but are priced more cheaply at $7.99 per issue. And it is gaining popularity—just look at the Shonen Jump line. Of course another strength of various manga publishers right now is visibility: whereas manga was usually found at the comic shelves, now it has a wider presence from bookstores to online. I think the fact that it’s in bookstores has made a big impact, drawing upon an untapped customer base. Of course US comics have made it to bookstores in the form of trade paperbacks (a practice that has been in the US for quite some time but only gained popularity in the 80’s with the likes of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series but is the main comic model in Japan) but I think manga is outselling its US counterpart in that arena.

One of the biggest, most important transition in the US manga industry, I think, is the acceptance that they shouldn’t work with the US-comic business model—their markets are different (although of course there are overlaps, and I’m proof of that as I read both US comics and manga). In fact, only few manga titles right now are being released as a single on a monthly basis—the closest you have are the anthologies like Shonen Jump and perhaps what’s saving it from premature doom is that it is an anthology and thus drawing a diverse crowd rather than one specific fan market (i.e. fans of both Naruto and Death Note are forced to buy the same publication to get their regular dose of translated manga). There’s also the fact that the US comic market has been trying to court half of manga’s readership, namely the female segment and it has made many attempts (they do have good titles that address both female readers and go beyond the superhero stereotype). I think an important part is also the very terminology we use. Manga isn’t called graphic novels any more to gain it credibility and acceptance—manga is simply called manga and it carries with it all the preconceptions (as correct or erroneous as they may be) of the term. It even stopped pretending to be other than what it is as more and more manga titles are retaining more of their Japanese authenticity, not just in the right-to-left format but in sound effects, subject matter, and translation (of course there will be those titles that suffer from lack of time or some other constraint that makes them suffer in quality—look at TokyoPop: some titles have good translations, while others simply don’t).

So the next time you look at the next big thing, whatever it may be, aside from taking the artistic and aesthetic considerations (I don’t think Viz failed in that department yet it bestow upon them TokyoPop’s success), one should similarly play close attention to the business model you’re working with. Arguably TokyoPop’s model might have only acted as a catalyst to manga’s inevitable success, but few people in any industry will deny that having a good business plan isn’t a factor in their success.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Geeky Valentines

For the past twenty-three years, I've just been a spectator during Valentines. The same's still true this year.

Of course strangely enough, the pattern still remains the same. Some friends are breaking up while others are getting together. I seem to be the status quo on which the fulcrum is balanced upon. (I could also be a cynic and say that Valentines is merely commercialist propaganda just like Halloween and Christmas but Valentines is a good excuse to be extra kind to that special someone.)

Anyway, here are various fantasy and science-fiction quotes on love (or lack thereof):

"How ironic it is that our instincts often run exactly opposite from what we truly desire for those we love." - Drizzt Do'Urden, Seige of Darkness

"You can't love anyone or anything until you love your own existence, first. Love can only grow out of a respect for your own life. When you love yourself, your own existence, then you love someone who can enhance your existence, share it with you, and make it more pleasurable." - Jensenn Daggett, The Pillars of Creation

"It is a human failing, to attribute the best of motives to those we know the least, and the worst to those we love best." - Kushiel's Dart

"Maybe, but I'm not a hundred percent sure I've ever held an ideal close enough to trade the people I love for it. Ideals can die, but they don't breathe, they don't bleed, they don't cry." - Anita Blake, Narcissus in Chains

"Pride may bind a man, even when there is no love." - Narcheska, Golden Fool

"Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives." - Dragonsong

"Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles give you by good people, by people who love you." - Valentine Wiggin, Ender's Game

"But you don't love him. You don't know how to love people. You only know how to own them. And because people will never act just like you want them to, Mother, you'll always feel betrayed. And because eventually everybody dies, you'll always feel cheated. But you're the cheat, Mother. You're the one who uses our love for you to try to control us." - Miro, Xenocide

"Love isn't about feeling sure of the other person, knowing what he would give up for you. It's knowing with certainty what you are willing to surrender for his sake. Make no mistake; each partner gives up something. Individual dreams are surrendered for a shared one." - Amber, Mad Ship

"I am simply saying that you should not lock your dreams onto a child or a man. Who loves you or who you love is not as significant as who you are. Too many folk, women and men, love the person they wish to be, as if by loving that person, or being loved by that person, they could attain the importance they long for." - Wintrow Vestrit, Ship of Destiny

"I discovered that the big things don't love you back. They take and take, and never give in return. They'll drain your blood, your soul, if you let them, and never let go." - George Powhatan, The Postman

"I believed in love, but I believed in evil, too. Neither love nor evil conquers all, but evil cheats more." - Anita Blake, Cerulean Sins

"I don't believe in love at first sight. I believe true love takes time to build, like friendship. I believe in instant lust." - Galen, Seduced by Moonlight

"It is an old truth that men and women sometimes miss what they hate as much as what they love." - The Lions of Al-Rassan

"Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places." - Lyo, The Changeling Sea

"Animals try to rear their young, don't they? That's all. How much can a parent's love for a child really weigh in the scales of virtue? It's only love for those not our own that counts for a great deal, surely." - Raule, The Etched City

Monday, February 12, 2007

Read or Die Convention 2007 Reader's Choice Winners

Mainly because it's such a chore finding out who actually won (at least for me), here's the list of winners in the Pinoy Readers' Choice Awards 2007:

Fiction:
Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan
Nonfiction: ABNKKBSANPLAKo by Bob Ong
Poetry: Hunos by Allan Popa
Komiks: After Eden by Arnold Arre

Pulp Summer Slam 7 Deadly Sins







Thursday, February 08, 2007

Memorable Super Robot Moments

Luis has this recent entry on Mekanda Robot which is actually one anime which I've been pondering on for the past decade (I remember a mecha show wherein three vehicles would attach themselves to the robot's back) but couldn't quite remember the details or the title.

Anyway, as much as super robots are cool, there are those moments where you think either the protagonists or the villains are acting stupid. This isn't an entry about those. My memorable super robot moments are when either the heroes or the villains are acting smart. Let's start with...

5) Go Lion (a.k.a. lion team Voltron): Akira Kogane (Keith) is nearly assassinated by Honerva (Hagar) and is instead saved by Takashi Shirogane (Sven) who dies in the process, leaving no one to pilot the blue lion unit. No blue lion = no giant robot.

4) Getta Robo G (a.k.a. Starvengers): The enemy sends several robots that combine to form one menacing beast. Combined, they attack Getta Robo G. After a heated battle near the ocean, Getta Robo G finally uses his finishing move (Getta Beam!) hoping to destroy the monster. The monster disassembles just before it gets hit and flees into the ocean, making it appear as if the monster was destroyed.

3) Voltron movie: The Japanese studio made a Voltron movie for the US market featuring both team-1 and team-3 Voltron (i.e. space team and lion team). Near the end of the movie, the two super robots face off against their enemy: four robeasts who surround and nearly defeat both robots. It is only spoiled by the fact that a few minutes later, Lotor in his own robeast appears and combines with the four other robeasts to form one huge robot which easily gets dispatched (never trade your numerical superiority!).

2) Mazinkaiser OAV: Mazinger Z eventually gets overwhelmed by wave after wave of robots. One of them aims for the spaceship atop Mazinger Z's head, where the cockpit lies and breaks through the glass and nearly harms the pilot. Now that's what every villainous robot should do!

1) Shin Getta Robo OAV: Shin Getta Robo is comprised of three vehicles that combine in various permutations to form a specialized super robot. It faces off against its villainous doppelganger which also has the same capability. The fight goes on, with one robot getting the upper hand until the other robot changes forms to gain the advantage. After several minutes of this hi-tech rock-paper-scissors game, the good guys finally smarten up and just before the enemy finishes combining to form a new robot, they get in between two of the vehicles to prevent them from combining into a new form.

Honorable Mention: Although not strictly a super robot, in the live-action show Justirisers, the alien invaders send in a necromancer kaiju (giant monster) to face off against our heroes. He is accompanied by two previously-defeated kaiju so it is a three-on-one fight. Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Justirisers manage to defeat two of the kaiju, only to be shocked when they get revived. Perhaps the only more adrenaline-pumping moment is near the last episode where the alien invaders act like actual alien invaders and send in wave after wave of paratrooping giant robots against Earth.

Reading, Edutainment, Comics, and Audiobooks

Perhaps in the past couple of days, I’ve been pushing my thesis that people do read. It just so happens that they don’t read books or rather novels. And this is a more striking phenomenon rather than simply stating that people don’t read altogether. Why do people read other stuff but not novels? In my opinion there are two reasons. The first is that novels are intimidating. People can imagine themselves reading one sheet of paper but not four hundred pages from a book. It seems too out of their league. It’s the second reason, however, that I think is the more significant factor: novels don’t appear to be entertaining. For me the second part is the key because once you’ve solved that problem, the first won’t become too much of a problem. Yes, it’ll still be there, but the cliché is where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Not too long ago, the term edutainment was termed. It’s basically fusing education and entertainment. Personally, for me novels are more of the latter rather than the former, but the misconception is that books are supposed to educate. I don’t think some books are so much educational as much as they are boring, at least initially. (Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s lots of things that can be learned from novels. It’s just that their message is left to the reader to decide rather than some textbook simply stating out the facts for you.) Some people say that’s where edutainment comes in: by producing something that’s both education and entertaining, not just simply one or the other. Of course it’s not a perfect theory. Those against it claim that a lot of knowledge isn’t supposed to come out as entertainment. And to a certain point it’s true. If one only keeps reading the books that they’ll find entertaining, they’ve limited themselves to what they can learn. The best example is simply reading books of one genre: you’re limiting yourself to the myriad of possibilities. And this goes for the people who scoff at genre books too, who simply insist on reading just “fiction”. But in terms of getting people to start reading, edutainment seems like a good method as any.

Of course having said that, I don’t think we should limit ourselves to reading books. There are a lot of other venues for reading, one that espouses edutainment. At the simplest level, we can take the formula of children’s books: words and pictures. Honestly between the two, as children, the latter frequently has more appeal. And while some people, as they become older, do learn to appreciate the former, pictures do hold a certain appeal. In my opinion, in adult reading, this best comes out in magazines. Photos and illustrations augment the articles. And perhaps more importantly, the pictures pique your curiosity with regards to the article at best, or at worst simply gives you some breathing room between the blocks of text. I grew up reading magazines instead of books which is why I think it’s a good vehicle to promote reading. And the best part is that there’s lots of magazines of various subject matters, from science to music to nature. That’s not to say that all magazines are good reading—like most things, some are bad but some are similarly good. And perhaps the same rule about books applies to magazines: don’t judge it by its cover (or content). I mean people joke about Playboy magazine: we don’t read it for the articles. But you’d be surprised at the actual articles Playboy has. Or its fiction. The likes of Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. have published stories in Playboy. So you should think twice before gasping in disbelief that people actually purchase Playboy for the articles.

The second avenue I’m proposing will perhaps shock conservatives. Strangely, my youth was filled with reading thanks to video games as well and it’s perhaps more relevant now that two decades ago. I say that not because of the proliferation of video games but because of the proliferation of RPGs. Anyone who’s played an RPG, whether on the console or on the PC, will realize that the game has huge blocks of text. I read in a magazine once that RPGs were once termed as interactive novels. And it does have elements of novels: dialogue between characters, plot, and sometimes even a long exposition. Of course right now the RPG genre is changing, thanks to MMORPGs which is changing the dynamic. But that’s another subject matter altogether. Of course it’s not just RPGs when I talk about video games and reading. There’ve been games wherein reading has been pivotal, especially from PC games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. Again, I’m not saying that all video games encourage reading, but there’s a couple of them that do. And perhaps what makes them appealing is because the reader isn’t merely a spectator but rather seems to take an active hand in plotting the course of the story.

The last fact about video games I think is why back in the day, the Choose Your Own Adventure line were successful. They were books that, aside from the fact were easy reading, had a level of interaction between the story and the reader. You were the hero in the book, not just following somebody else’s journey. And to a beginning reader, I think it’s an important point. It’s perhaps why some people play video games—so they can transpose themselves into someone heroic. And perhaps the best part of the Choose Your Own Adventure line and its derivatives was that it had replay value—we could reread the book over and over again and it’ll still be enjoyable and fresh (an aspect which is now the trend in most video games).

In case you didn’t notice, games are a great way to promote reading, simply because the main point of a game is that it’s fun. Perhaps if reading could be presented in such a method, a lot more people would be interested in reading. Take for example the reality TV show The Amazing Race. A lot of reading goes on, from navigating maps, poring over travel guides, interpreting signs, or simply looking for clues. What makes it all worth it is that it’s a game (well, the cash prize is lucrative too…). Perhaps some of the contestants would even be motivated to learn a new language, either because it will be relevant to the competition, or their curiosity was piqued thanks to an experience they had in the game. Simply put, reading in such an environment is sheer fun.

Some people might point out to me an obvious alternative: comics. Of course as much as I am a fan of comics and manga, I’d also like people to stress the importance that comics are no substitute for novels. Are they great vehicles for reading? Yes. And as much as I’m all for looking for alternative sources of reading such as video games and magazines, they aren’t the same as reading a book. That’s not to say that novels are superior to say, magazines, video games, and comics. All I’m saying is that they’re different mediums, each with its own strengths and limitations. As for comics, its nature varies. Some can end up being as wordy as any book (whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m leaning more towards the latter). On the other hand, I’ve seen comics with no words at all (except for the title). More likely however it runs somewhere in between. But the fact of the matter is, comics aren’t novels. Take for example a mystery story. If it were fiction, one could easily write it from the murderer’s perspective without giving away the identity of the murderer. If this were to be done in comics, we’d either reveal the murderer or transform him into a silhouette, which I don’t think is an effective method. Then there’s the inner voice of the character. In fiction, this would be simple. In comics, you’d end up with a comic with either too many word balloons or narrative boxes. Of course you can also play up the strengths of comics. In fiction, you might give something away to the reader by describing each and every item in the crime scene, giving more importance to some and giving less details to others. In comics, you can easily have an entire page of art portraying the crime scene. Keen readers will either find the clues there or they won’t without giving too much away. But again, the senses being stimulated are different. For fiction, it’s more of our “textual” senses. For comics, it’s both our textual senses and our visual senses or at least some proportion of both.

Having said that, comics is nonetheless a great platform to motivate people to start reading. Much like the children’s book formula, comics has both images and text although a good comic should be able to use one to complement the other rather than a mere substitute. One should also be aware of the diversity of comics—it’s simply not limited to children as depending on the publisher (especially in Europe and Japan), it can cover a lot of subject matter ranging from simple to complex.

Finally is the subject of audio books. They’ve been around for quite some time now, usually in the form of self-help and business books, but novels are starting to get the audio book treatment too. I’m not too confident about my assessment on audio books because I’m relatively unfamiliar with them but I’ll take a stab at it. For me the biggest advantage of audio books is that it’s a time-saver: I can listen to audio books while doing other activities that keep me preoccupied from reading, such as driving a car, jogging, or simply resting my eyes. Whether this can be used to encourage reading I’m not sure. Listening to audio books, after all, is simply just that: listening. Personally, I retain more of what I read than what I hear so I’m not so sure about the effectiveness of listening to audio books. Maybe it’s an acquired skill. It’s a great tool to practice active listening however. The closest contribution I can think of is that hopefully people will be interested in the subject matter that they’ll pick up the actual book. But that generalization applies to a lot of things, including adaptations of novels, be it movies, comics, and video games.

Then there’s the idea of thinking audio books are a substitute for books. They’re not. Sure, you get the same story but again, it’s different senses. Reading is more of a textual sense while audio books are more of an aural sense. Again, neither is more superior to the other, they’re simply just different. Although perhaps less so with audio books. Because unlike the other aural mediums such as radio, which is specifically designed for the listening medium, audio books are perhaps best described as adaptations of existing novels. They work great for self-help and business books because most of them involves stating facts and telling the listener (of course they also lose out on the occasional diagram but…) but for fiction, it’s a different atmosphere depending on the writer. Of course audio books play to its medium’s strengths as well: you don’t just get anybody to read out loud a book. One listens (at least theoretically) to an eloquent speaker who can deliver the lines with right inflection and tone. But it’s similarly not a radio drama either where various roles are picked up by different actors and actresses. In an audio book, most likely you’re just dealing with one speaker, pretty much in the same way your parents might read to a child a children’s book. I think my one biggest complaint about audio books is that it’s a passive act (which, again, isn’t a bad thing but is a big point of contention when it comes to reading novels vs listening to them via an audio book). Reading, for example, begins and ends with the reader. If I stop reading, the reading simply stops. With audio books, I can probably choose not to make sense of what I hear and merely relegate it to as mere “noise” but the audio book will go on playing. In some cases, I just need to listen with minimum effort to understand the story. In some cases, I’ll need to use more active listening skills. So the two aren’t exactly interchangeable although audio books do serve their purpose if what you’re interested in is simply getting the gist of a story or if you prefer to have our stories read to you.

Reading, I think, doesn’t have to be boring, at least not at first. I’ll be honest: I’ve read lots of books and eventually, I’ll come across a good book that has either dragging or boring parts. But I read them anyway. Perseverance is a skill I developed through reading. But I think the important part is that not every reading experience should be like this. Read what you want to read and eventually you graduate to some of the more tougher material. Edutainment is a fine mentality to live by but like most things, if we simply stick to that one philosophy, we’ve limited our growth. Of course having said that, it’s also a good thing to branch out. Reading is not the be-all and end-all of life. As much as I want people to cultivate their textual sense, I’d expect people should cultivate their other intelligences as well. It could be musical sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation, physical fitness, or some other aspect. But perhaps the beauty of reading is that it can be applied to all those things too: I might read about an urban adventure, satiate both my visual and textual appetites with comics, or engross my aural and poetic sense with music and its lyrics.

It's Never Too Late

Ever heard of this phrase? “I’m too old to learn.” My personal variation is “I’m too busy to learn.” I heard it a million times before and I heard it yesterday again while eavesdropping when someone asked the other person if she thought of going to college again. Of course I’m aware of all the other factors into making the decision: time, expenses, and opportunity costs. So maybe let’s narrow it down to something more specific. It’s never too late to start being reader. Got that? Okay let’s move on.

I’m sure some of you have heard some stories about readers (and perhaps even would-be writers), at how they’ve read this much books by age ten and so on and so forth. Quite frankly, I’m not one of those people. At age twelve, I can name you the books I read: some Choose Your Own Adventure books, the modern (at the time) Tom Swift books (for those who don’t know, Tom Swift is pretty much like Hardy Boys except with a sci-fi bent), and Nintendo’s Worlds of Power series (which was adaptations of popular video games like Blaster Master and Bionic Commando). They aren’t exactly books that are required reading for anyone nor are they thick or substantial (by now I could probably read them in 30 minutes). It was only a year later that I’d tackle an actual novel, Jurassic Park, and that took me like two weeks to read.

That’s not to say I never read for twelve whole years, those simple juvenile books aside. And perhaps what I had in common with most people was that I did read—just not books. As a kid, I was a video game fan, so I read video game magazines (FYI they were Nintendo Power and GamePro). I was also haphazardly into comics (which explains the original Dark Phoenix saga in my collection) although honestly, half the time I was reading manga that I couldn’t understand (because it was translated in Chinese). So there wasn’t any “serious” reading done aside from what was required at school (and honestly at age thirteen, there really was little required reading of fiction books in class—in fact I can’t remember any book offhand).

And then at age thirteen, me and a friend on a whim picked up a fantasy book. The problem was that it was part of a series so we had to buy the entire series and perhaps more importantly, read the entire series. So suddenly from my record of reading one book, it suddenly turned into five (I read a four-part series while my friend read a trilogy by the same author). It all pretty much started from there. Once you do one book, you realize that you can do another. And another. And another after that. With each book you go through, you practice your reading muscles. It’s actually a skill. As I said, Jurassic Park took me around two weeks to finish, even if I struggled at it every day. Reading the same book now takes me around two days if I allot time for it. It begins with practice.

At age fifteen, I met other people like me: people who love books. But unlike them, I was a newcomer. I met people who read The Chronicles of Narnia and Xanth and Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings at the grade school library. I didn’t even know those books were at our grade school library (because as much as we visited the library often, it was mainly due to the air conditioner rather than a genuine interest in reading). My introduction to literature took a different course from what was expected. I didn’t exactly read the classics but I read from what was on the shelf in the local bookstore. And that was where my book collection began.

I think people have to remember that if you plan on having a book collection, it has to start from somewhere, even if it’s just one book. I did start with one book. Now it’s hundreds of books (and perhaps hundreds more in misplaced areas and unreturned novels). But it didn’t come easy. Doing the math it took me ten years. I honestly feel like a millionaire: I was thrilled when I realized I had a hundred books… and stopped keeping counting after that. Perhaps what’s important is to remember to take it one step at a time. You’ll get there eventually.

My thoughts on writing even came later. It was probably one fluke after another. When I was thirteen, on a whim, I tried out for the school paper. I failed. The next year, when we all entered high school, I gave it a try again. I got into the news section. After three years of writing nothing but news articles I wanted to transfer to the literary section of the school paper but couldn’t, partially because I was needed in the news section, partially because my writing quite frankly sucked. Of course I don’t think I would have been interested in writing a story if it weren’t for the books I was reading at the time. It struck a chord in me. And for me this is the turning point when I became more than just a reader but a writer. I failed at being a writer but I didn’t give up. Soon I found myself applying for the Creative Writing program in various colleges even if I had no writing background at all aside from the basic English classes we had.

Eventually I went to college pursuing Creative Writing but honestly at the start, I was ill-equipped. To show you how ignorant I was, I applied for the literary publication at school and the person interviewing me was Quark Henares himself. The first question he asked me was what was the difference between prose and poetry. I knew what poetry was. I didn’t know what prose meant. (Imagine a stuttering seventeen-year-old unable to state the differences between prose and poetry.) It’s no surprise why I didn’t make it to the literary organization. It only reinforced into me how much more I had to learn.

I think the important part was that I just kept at it. During my entire first year in college, I couldn’t see myself as a professional, successful writer. The same goes for my second year. It was only in my third year that I caught a glimmer of hope. And then by my fourth year, there was a form of resignation of my fate—I’m not talented but I can still be a writer if I work at it. So that’s my motto: work, work, work. Honestly effort can only take you so far. But even the most brilliant of people are toppled by a lack of effort on their part. And at least effort is something in my control.

So when you have thoughts of being either a “serious” reader or, gasp, a writer, I think one thing to bear in mind is that it’s never too late. It wasn’t too late for me. And one thing going for the former is the fact I sincerely do believe that we all read—just not books. As for being a writer, well, people in general do love telling stories. Even blog entries are stories of some sort, they just don’t have the structure for fiction. The seeds are there and all we need is to nurture it. And some of you might even think I started early. Well I heard stories from my professors of newcomers in the field entering competitions and writing workshops and excelling in them. And these are from people who’ve never written in their entire lives. One story that caught my attention was such a woman in her thirties. When I first heard the story I was filled with jealousy, at how a newcomer could easily write an award-winning story with no prior experience whatsoever (compared to me who’s been struggling for years). But that only goes to show how it’s never too late to start writing… or reading.

Before I end, I’d like to share how going blind is one of my fears. Without sight, I can’t read. But that’s not exactly true. Blind people read: they use Braille. That, perhaps, should show us the persistence of the human will. Reading is both a visual and a mental act. One would assume if you took out the visual aspect it’d be impossible to read. Braille allows us to read by substituting touch. It’s certainly not easy nor is it as convenient as sight but it’s there. So we should take this to heart. Blind people technically shouldn’t be able to read but they do. What more for people like us who have two eyes (albeit perhaps mine has bad eyesight)? I’ll even make do with one if I have to. But it all begins with a choice. It’s not about disposition or upbringing. Choosing to read is much, much easier than choosing what career to pursue. All it takes is some time and effort.