Sunday, June 23, 2013

JAFAX 18 - Out Amongst the Fans

Colorful, peculiar characters were meandering about the crowded lobby floor of Henry Hall on the campus of Grand Valley State University. Cute creatures, guns for hire, and sword-wielding heroes stood out from the hoards of mundane browsers and consumers. Long tables stood out from the walls, bearing impressive loads of artwork, craft work, DVDs, books, collectible figures, and stuffed animals. All of the above, each an aspect of a bizarre festival where Anime, Manga, and general Japanese Popular Culture are worshiped and celebrated with abandon. Such is the event known as JAFAX (the Japanese Art, Anime, and Film Expo).

I found myself wandering into the crowds of JAFAX this afternoon as the sun mercilessly blasted down. Lying in random patches of shade between the parking lot and the entrance to the headquarters of the event were cliques of sweaty, irritable kids in body paint and drooping costumes. Scantily clad girls were giddily chasing each other around hedgerows as somber, darkly dressed pseudo-warriors congregated around the aquamarine fountain outside of the Student Services Building. At times the grounds of the area surrounding the event felt like the neighboring regions of dreams, with the occasional huffing obese guy shuffling his way about, carrying one too many Pikachu backpacks.

Once inside, I spent my time attempting to locate the vendors section of the event, hoping to find some choice Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Mobile Suit Gundam, or Rumiko Takahashi items. After a brief chat with one of the event coordinators and a couple more hundred feet later, I was walking through the Mackinac building, peaking into random classrooms, each of which was stuffed with three-to-four different vendors. With some occasional clever footwork I managed to avoid being overwhelmed by sweaty throngs of wig-wearing children as I stood gazing over the offerings of each of the merchants. Studying their price stickers, I found myself supremely frustrated by the hard truth of expo extortion. Piles of items meant to appeal to the current trends were all that most of the vendors had to offer, though I did occasionally find a few Gundam models or Studio Ghibli films - each extremely overpriced.

Eventually I was able to find some decently priced items of interest, but shortly after I began exploring the vendor area there was a loud call from some event personnel that everything in that section was set to close within the next ten minutes. I hurried about checking and double checking tables in each of the rooms still hoping to find what I've usually found at most conventions or expos - the seemingly elusive "Magical Deal." It proved itself truly elusive as I rounded a corner and found the expo folks locking up rooms and directing myself and others out of the building. The show, sadly, was over.

JAFAX is an event I've visited off and on for many years now. I even wrote about it last year. No matter what I discover during the expo or what discourtesies assail me in those reeking, heated halls, I always find myself returning the weekend after Father's Day, every chance I get. I think what keeps me going back is an irresistible urge to chance fate and hope beyond hope that each year I attend will be the one in which I find that rare collection of sought after, discounted Manga or Anime. Sure, this year allowed me the chance to buy an Adventure Time wallet for my wife and a volume of Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku, but I get the feeling that next year, in spite of what has or hasn't happened for me at JAFAX in the past, will be the year that I strike gold or get the perfect collector's opportunity. Here's hoping that I'll find some cheap Gundam models or inexpensive Miyazaki treasures in 2014.

If you're interested in learning more about JAFAX, visit the website for the event at or read my blog about JAFAX 17 at

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The X-Files - Season 10 Issue 1 - New Comic Book Day

I was confident that I would walk into my local comic book shop this afternoon and grab a hold bag labeled "Sample," in which would be the first issue of The X-Files Season 10. When I finally arrived at the shop I went straight for the hold box. Thumbing through bag after alphabetically ordered bag, anxiously searching for my last name, I found that I didn't have a hold after all. For some reason I was left out, though I'm not surprised considering my past experiences with that particular store. 

Regardless of the neglect I was able to purchase a copy after all. Fortunately there were two copies left, one with the standard cover and one sporting the artwork of artist Dave Johnson. I bought the Johnson cover and ran for home.

After reading through the issue, studying every page including the front and back covers, I find that the long wait has been worth it. This is a fantastic first issue for both a new comic series and a continuing story. Thanks to the writing abilities of Joe Harris it is a perfect jumping on point for folks new to The X-Files and fans who have been waiting for fresh material since the end of I Want to Believe. Accompanying Harris' script, overseen by Executive Producer and X-Files Creator Chris Carter, is the attractive artwork of Michael Walsh, who manages to service the script wonderfully.

Mulder, Scully, and even Skinner make appearances in this quick read of a first issue. The thirty-two pages of this book bring us up to date on the status of the main characters and introduce us to a shadowy new element. According to Deputy Director Skinner, who appears early on in the issue, the FBI has been hacked and the X-Files might have been targeted. Now Mr. and Mrs. Blake (Mulder and Scully's new shared surname under the Witness Protection Program) must question why someone would go to the trouble of seeking out the X-Files and concern themselves with whether or not they're in danger. 

This comic offers conflict, mystery, a nod or two to mysteries left over from the television series, and the beginning of another sinister plot. Will the agents survive for long? Will we have old questions answered? Will the new questions be answered sooner rather than later? Is this the beginning of a beautiful and long-running comic phenomenon? I guess we'll have to wait and see. 

Now the wait begins for the next issue. I just have to find a comic book shop that will actually hold a copy for me. That or I'll have to wait at the store before they open to guarantee that I can easily acquire one.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Lonely Monster's Prom - An io9 Writing Prompt

Artwork by Sam Bosma - From io9 Prompt

Fiery eyes crackled in the corner of the moderately sized gymnasium as a Top 40 song reverberated off of the space's glossy brick walls. Ebengettoraxic sat hunched over on four flimsy, metal folding chairs, staring out onto the crowded dance floor. He could see the bounce of a blonde bob which sat atop the head of the girl, Sadie McPherson.

Sadie was dancing heatedly with Merphoragattet, a tall, muscular, tentacle-faced member of the football team and the bane of Ebengettoraxic's high school life. The way in which she swayed before the imposing jock and the manner in which she ran her fingers through the thick, course, grey tentacles which hung from his square jaw, stung the ember-eyed voyeur. He took a slow sip of green viscous punch, which had been provided by the parent's of the Prom Planning Committee, and seethed.

Between the side-sitting loner and his dream girl shuffled the forms of dozens of his classmates and their strangely dressed dates. To one side of his focal point was the class cut-up, Gorgatheterax, holding both of his dates, two boys from rival Southside High, by the faces and rocking them back and forth as they tried to comfortably do a lazy version of the Twist. Close to them he spied Calibrekket ingurgitating a gorgeous olive-skinned girl who was one year his junior. Above the rest, impossible to ignore, rocked the massive form of Dregoroplazik, the class president and this year's Prom King, who held his long-time girlfriend, and the Prom Queen, Lydia Fernandez in the palm of his gargantuan hand.

This panorama of familiar faces finding joy in the evening deepened Ebengettoraxic's depression. He continued to stare longingly at Sadie. Maybe, he thought, he could sneak a quick dance with her if that imbecile Merphoragattet would go off to the restroom or leave to retrieve some punch. Maybe she would say yes and he'd get a moment to be close to the Helen of this school's Troy.
As if in response to his hopes, Merphoragattet made to break away from his date as a remix of a UB-40 song came to an end. Sadie stood alone, looking about at her dancing classmates with an ecstatic grin as Merphoragattet disappeared into the crowd. Ebengettoraxic's eyes widened, releasing a brighter flame, as he made to lift himself out of the chairs.

Just as this seemingly wonderful opportunity presented itself, it quickly disappeared. As Ebengettoraxic stood, Sadie turned to run after Merphoragattet, embracing him warmly from behind when she found him. Ebengettoraxic's face fell at this sight as his hearts felt the stabs of jealousy and sorrow. His chest sunk heavily as he dropped back carelessly onto his seats. He continued to spy on the happy couple as an obnoxious novelty song blared suddenly from the overhead speakers.

I never get what I want, Ebengettoraxic bitterly thought as he took another sip of the charnel-smelling, chartreuse concoction. Dancers spun about him, a separating sea between this lovelorn onlooker and his ideal girl. Then the majority of dance floor inhabitants slowly halted their dancing to watch the sensational rhythmic jiggling of the serpentine Auroralottrug to the nearly obscene, auto-tuned lyrics.

I hate the Prom, thought Ebengettoraxic.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel - Superman Epically Returns to the Cinema

Credits rolled around 3am at the five-screen theater in Lowell, MI - a location my wife and I prefer for our big screen movie watching because of its low prices and small crowds. Not more than a minute into the scroll of cast and crew did incensed nerds begin to loudly bitch and complain. Apparently Man of Steel didn't uniformly impress that particular audience, but it certainly made an impression on me. 

The character of Superman has suffered through many poor treatments over the years on both television and in the movies. In my opinion, up until Man of Steel, the only decent Superman film in existence was the first Christopher Reeve movie.  Since then, and even before, fans have had to pick and choose moments which "Worked" for them while discarding a considerable remainder. Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David S. Goyer have finally given us a Superman film which can stand alone, as boldly as the Donner film of the late 1970s.

As I think back on the screening, which began a few hours ago at 12:01am, I find that the film was an enjoyable journey through the development and growth of a character who constantly found himself in-between worlds. Focusing on the perspective of this, the titular character is the key to appreciating the journey of the film, I feel. It's a story of a dying people's hope surviving in a boy who comes to terms with his identity over time while becoming the hope for and a part of a new people. It's a movie about making life-altering decisions, finding one's place in a world, and understanding what it means to be a hero. 

The design of Krypton and the look of the film, the actors and their portrayals, the strong rooting of the origin in science-fiction as was originally intended by the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and the methods employed in telling the tale of this film all came together beautifully in the end. As with any Zack Snyder film, the visuals seem to enhance the world in which the characters exist and aid in the progression of their stories.  The design scheme for Krypton was amazing, and it is thus far the best depiction of Kal-El's home world in any medium, as far as I'm concerned. The general casting was exceptional, especially in the case of Henry Cavill who not only handled the part well, he made viewer believe that he was Superman. Russel Crowe's Jor-El surpassed Brando, in my opinion, and Amy Adams' Lois Lane was both ideal and natural. Also, Kevin Costner's Jonathan Kent was as terrific as he was endearing, and (minor spoiler) I challenge anyone who cares about the characters of this universe not to feel as heartbroken as Clark at Pa Kent's inevitable passing. The story terrifically managed to offer viewers a brief and concise origin while giving them an exciting epic which left open the potential for several other films. Though, the possible ties to a future Justice League film are pretty much nonexistent and would have to be established in a later or different DC/Warner Brothers' film.

While I enjoyed various aspects of the movie, especially the way in which the film wonderfully presented the origin of the character, sent the viewer along with him on his journey toward self-discovery, and reinforced his growth with appropriate flashbacks to times during which he was lovingly educated by his constant and caring Earth father, I did have a gripe or two. The items which troubled me were minor, but I found that they made it difficult to continue to focus on the heart of the story. My biggest problem was with the length and scale of the action sequences. While those of us who read comic books are used to Superman thrashing around with villains, while watching a film I imagine many of us have difficulty viewing more than several minutes of continuous building destruction, slugging, and tackling. It all seemed gratuitous and repetitive toward the end. Another difficulty I had concerned the plans of Jor-El, the conflicting plans of Zod, and how Kal-El decided, in a way, to say, "Tough," to both of his senior Kryptonians. When and if you view the movie you might be able to understand what I'm getting at. Maybe you'll find it less conflicting than I did. In the end, sure, I had some issues, but I still understand the importance of suspending disbelief when viewing a film, especially one about a superhero.

For the seventy-fifth anniversary of this beloved hero, the world has been given a fantastic film about a legend, created by two dreaming kids from Ohio, who began the increasingly popular genre of superhero stories. Here's hoping that wherever Siegel and Shuster are now they're proud of the work and love which went into creating this, one of the best screen versions of their immortal character.

As for the nerds in Lowell who seemed to mostly hate the film, they were bitching about everything else there is to bitch about before the movie began, including their feelings on the next generation of video game systems. I think the definition of "Nerd" might read something like this: whiners who occasionally manage to have good ideas but often waste their energy complaining about creative works with which they have no creative association and upon which they have no significant influence (a somewhat general description based on years of evidence). Oh, well. You can't please everyone, right?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Wife and Time Before Our Time

Time to write about an aspect of my life. In fact, the greatest aspect, my wife. There are certain areas related to my relationship with her which aren't easy for me to process, but they're things I live with every day. So, here it goes. 

My wife, Trudy (cool name, no?), is six years my senior. That might seem odd to some or inconsequential to others. Either way, I love her more than I've ever loved anyone. That shouldn't be a surprise. 

Before I entered her life she had adventures and other relationships and life events with no connection to or bearing upon our fated relationship. She had a life before me, and it's taken almost the entire time we've been together for me to cope with that fact. At times I've clumsily handled it like Holden in Chasing Amy. Other times I've been able to take a deep breath, hear her out, and go on focusing on the point of it all - my love for her. 

One fact that always nags at me, though, is that she gave birth to a baby girl in her final year of high school (at the time I would have been around 12 years old - yikes). Due to her irresponsible nature, her complicated living situation, her complicated relationship with her sister (her only guardian since the early passing of her mother and the long-past disappearance of her father), and her less than admirable friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner (it's as complicated as hell) and that person's selfish mishandling of such an important situation, she was forced to accept that she was incapable of successfully caring for a child. From our talks I've gathered that she felt confident when she made the decision to offer the baby to a kind and generous couple for adoption. She was responsible enough to recognize her lacking and the fact that the couple could provide for the child in a way she could not. For whatever that decision is worth, it was probably the most loving thing she ever did for that baby. 

I've been with my gal for the better part of seven years now, and I've known her slightly longer than that. Her long and colorful history may have been troubling to me as I slowly developed the maturity to process all of it, but regardless, I am proud of the woman she is in spite of all that has befallen her. I respect the decisions she's had to make, especially such terribly difficult decisions like giving up a baby to people she scarcely knew. After all this time and all the emotional trials I've had to face to maintain the sanity to be a loving partner to her, I believe that she is the greatest person I've ever know. 

Life is random, and difficult, and sometimes it's just funny. Some days certain issues seem insurmountable. Other days those very same issues seem as insignificant as an age difference between two people who were - based on chance, years together, and too many coincidences - meant to be together.

If that little girl ever reads this (the chances being significantly low), I hope she understands that whatever life she's lived since her birth, it was arranged out of love so that she would always be safe and loved. A caring, complicated, simple teenage girl made decisions, had a kid, and chose a better life for that kid. Sounds cliched but it happened. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The X-Files - Season 10 - Coming Soon

Rumors reached me a couple of months ago of the possibility of a new X-Files comic series. Ever since then I've frequently scoured the internet, searching for details, dates, and any other news related to any other new X-Files developments. What I've learned of the upcoming series has me feeling more than a little giddy, and the event to which I'm most looking forward, the release date of the new comic, is just less than two weeks away from the time of this writing. This is something for which I and my fellow X-Files fans have been waiting for quite a long time.

IDW, one of the best current publishers in comics (publishers of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Transformers, Doctor Who, and many other titles), along with Fox and series creator and executive producer Chris Carter, will be releasing not only a new X-Files comic series but the official Season 10 of The X-Files! Chris Carter will be overseeing the production of the new comic (in a way similar to Kevin Eastman with the Turtles and Joss Whedon with Buffy and Angel, I imagine), which is said to be continuing the canon of the television show and is set in a time after the last film, I Want to Believe. The release date for the first issue of The X-Files Season 10 (god, it feels good to type that!) will be on Wednesday, June 19.

So, in less than two weeks I'll be visiting my local comic book shop right when the doors open so that I can grab a long-awaited copy of the comic which will satisfy my craving for material covering the further adventures of Mulder, Scully, and their continuing quest to seek the Truth. I look forward to collecting this new book, and I hope that it leads to a bright and ongoing future for The X-Files Universe.

In regard to my writing on The X-Files and all things related to it, I will be returning to my "The X-Files - I Believe" blog series (sounds so official) soon. I'll also be posting a special X-Files Season 10 podcast through my "Nerd Closet Podcast" show on YouTube on Wednesday, June 19, after I read my copy of the first issue.

For my previous blogs on The X-Files you can click on the links below, and if you're curious about further details related to the upcoming comic, I've included a couple links for you to peruse.

The X-Files - I Believe - Part 1
The X-Files - I Believe - Part 2

Wired article about Season 10
IDW Press Release/Website Announcement

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Emulators and ROM Files - A Return to My Video Gaming Roots

According to my father and my uncle, when I was very young, sometime in the years before Preschool, I often played with our family's Atari 2600. Naturally, I have no memories of this, but I do remember seeing a joystick and cartridges for Space Invaders and Centipede lying about long after our system gave up the 8-bit ghost. They were such curious relics from a bygone era, and I wish that I could remember the entertainment they once provided me. Alas, such is the nature of the mind of a very young child.

Though I forget the joy I received from the Atari, I clearly remember my experiences with a game system which surpassed and supplanted the 2600 in almost every way. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was gifted to my sister and me on a Christmas morning so long ago. The memory of the room in my grandparent's house in which we opened the gift and the joy which welled up within me as I beheld the box with the highlighted system image backed by a magical star field are unforgettable even now, twenty four plus years later. It was one of the greatest days of my life, and considering the years of gaming pleasure which followed opening that gift I can say that such a statement is completely devoid of any hyperbole.

My time with the NES was lengthy and enchanting. I played through the various Mario Brothers games, Metroid, Timelord, Star Wars, Abadox, Mission Impossible, Wolverine, and several other titles. I took in the gameplay patterns, the game design, the look of the characters and their worlds, the catchy game music, and even the occasional comical glitch or two. I also mastered the process of connecting the system to our family television, expediently surpassing my father's knowledge of home entertainment setup. In many ways my time with the NES created a standard by which I've judged every gaming experience since. Even as I progressed through the systems I've owned at one point or another - including the Gameboy, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the Playstation, the Gameboy Advance, the Xbox, the Playstation 2, the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 64, and the Xbox 360 (every system I've owned in order of purchase) - I still find myself forming judgement for every experience by comparing them to the pinnacle of my greatest gaming pleasures from the NES.

It's been a long time since I've owned my NES, though. Time passes, life changes, things break, family gets in the way of maintaining a collection (especially if you're poor), and treasured possessions fade away. I've recently entertained the notion of seeking out another NES so that I might revisit my old experiences and discover the ones I was denied due to the circumstances (mostly financial) which prevented the growth of my childhood game library, but it's been difficult to find a system with all the necessary accessories intact and in decent enough shape. Thankfully I had the fortune of attending a BASIC Programming course at my local community college and, through doing so, the opportunity to meet a fellow programmer who was kind enough to gift me with a disc of this thing called an "Emulator" and it's accompanying files known as "ROMs."

I'd like to say that the first time I inserted the NES emulator disc into my PC was as revolutionary or as fantastic as first connecting and playing the NES itself but that's just not true. It was a strange new experience for me since I had, at the time, a very basic knowledge of computer software and keyboard game controls. My initial reaction was one of amusement at the realization of the novelty in the fact that so many games, which would have once filled a wall-sized bookshelf, could now fit conveniently onto a single compact disc. After overcoming the awe and confusion I encountered when I first loaded the disc, I spent hours dabbling with dozens of titles, most of them completely foreign to me. The overall experience was powerfully nostalgic. There I was, a "Nintendo Kid" submerged in the colorful glow of my past, sending familiar sprites, digital extensions of myself, leaping over obstacles, firing pixelated munitions into the guts of so many flashing foes. If felt like I had returned home.

These days I still occasionally return to the emulator. Every once in a while I find that nothing will ease my mind or entertain me more than a romp through the digital worlds of the games from my early years. I fire up one of several emulators for one of several classic game systems. I'm able to revisit my NES heritage, explore the mysterious realms of Sega (a range of games which were alien to me throughout my childhood), dabble with the old Atari games, and test systems which would have never before come to my notice. So, I'm thankful for emulators and the available ROM files out there, posted and maintained by others like me. Those who also dreamed digital dreams and time and time again overcame numerous pixelated challenges. They deserve my greatest thanks for keeping those worlds and dreamways alive and accessible.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a date with Satan in the world of Ghosts 'N Goblins. He's not kicking my ass THIS time!