Comics, Cons, and COVID-19

OK, I know this is my third post today, but it’s Leap Day, so I need to get in four year’s worth of posts today. And this one isn’t another obituary-related post. (Well, maybe not. It might turn south at some point.)

I’ve been thinking about going to WonderCon this year, like I did last year. But then I started noticing how Facebook canceled their F8 developer conference, and Microsoft (and other companies) were pulling out of GDC, and how the whole event has now been postponed, and I started getting a little concerned about traveling. And about whether or not WonderCon will still even be taking place this year. So maybe I should just stay home, and hope that this whole coronavirus thing is wrapped up by October so I can go to NYCC without worrying about COVID-19. The Beat has an article about how coronavirus fears are starting to affect comic cons, though it doesn’t say anything specific about WonderCon.

Speaking of cons, C2E2 in Chicago is happening this weekend. I was kind of curious about what kind of news might be coming out of the con from DC, given the recent Dan DiDio brouhaha. The “Meet The Publishers” panel was canceled, not surprisingly. I thought maybe there would be some interesting news from the DC Universe panel, but it looks like that was just about the DC Universe subscription service, and not specifically about actual DC comics. Jim Lee made a few statements about the future of DC comics at his spotlight panel, but he didn’t really say much.

Meanwhile, The Beat has a good postmortem (for lack of a better word) on Dan DiDio’s run, by Heidi MacDonald, and a round table retrospective on him by a few other contributors. Both pieces are good reading, if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

I’m still on the fence about what I want to do about my monthly Westfield subscription orders. I’m still buying Batman and Detective, but I’m not too enthusiastic about the Joker War crossover, both because I’m a little tired of the Joker, and I’m also a little tired of crossovers. I’m still kind of enthusiastic about Bendis’ Legion and Young Justice books, but honestly I haven’t read either yet. Young Justice has more than 12 issues out and Legion has 4, I think, so I do need to catch up. I’m looking at my March order now, and I’ll probably keep it as-is, not adding or dropping anything.

Andrew Weatherall

OK, one more obituary post. This one about Andrew Weatherall, who passed away recently. I’ve been listening to his show on NTS, Music’s Not For Everyone, on and off for the last couple of years. I can’t say that I liked everything he played, but it was always at least interesting. The Guardian has an obituary and an article listing ten of his greatest tracks. And the NY Times has a short obituary too.

Mixmag has an article abut the “Weatherdrive”, a repository of about 900 hours of Weatherall mixes. I might have to poke around in there at some point. You can find a fair amount of his stuff on Mixclould too.

I don’t have much else to say about him; I mostly just wanted to link to a few resources that look interesting to me. I’m generally more interested in ambient music than dance music, so a lot of stuff that he’s done over the years isn’t really my thing, but I did like his NTS show and some of his remixes are really great.

Freeman Dyson

I don’t want to turn this blog into an “obituary blog”, but I want to put up a post about Freeman Dyson’s passing. Not because I know that much about him, but because I’ve stumbled across a bunch of interesting stuff about him, after reading a few obituaries. So I guess I’m going to have two obituary posts in a row. (And maybe three, since there’s one more person I want to blog about.)

First: here are links to the obits from the NY Times, Washington Post and NPR. From the Times obit, I like this quote: “Life begins at 55, the age at which I published my first book.” (I’m not quite 55 yet, so there’s still hope for me!)

The Post obit has some interesting stuff about his experiences in World War Two:

Mr. Dyson witnessed how technology had “made evil anonymous,” as the bombers dropped incendiary explosives that ignited firestorms, destroying whole cities. He wondered later “how it happened that I let myself become involved in this crazy game of murder.”

And observations on religion:

“I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension,” he wrote.

And the Hacker News thread about his death led me to some interesting YouTube videos:

You could really fall into a deep rabbit hole, just watching Freeman Dyson videos on YouTube.

Of course, his views on some subjects, including climate change, were probably wrong, but it’s not a bad thing to have an educated, civil, contrarian expressing his opinions. There was a profile of him in the NY Times Magazine, back in 2009, titled “The Civil Heretic,” which seems like a pretty good description for him.

He lived in Princeton for many years, and died there. I’m really not far from Princeton, but it generally doesn’t occur to me to seek out interesting people and events that might be happening there. I’m sure he must have had a number of public speaking engagements at Princeton over the last 20 years, and I could probably have made it to one or two. So I guess that’s a missed opportunity. (But hey, I can still watch all of those YouTube videos, so that’s something.)

Larry Tesler

I have to admit that I didn’t know that much about Larry Tesler prior to his passing last week. I was generally aware of Xerox PARC, and their place in the history of personal computing. And I probably had heard at some point that Tesler was essentially the inventor of “copy and paste.” And I think I was vaguely aware that he’d worked on the Newton, maybe? But I don’t think I’d ever put that all together in my mind, and realized that this was all the same guy. Over the years, it looks like he’s worked on a number of really cool things, from Smalltalk to Object Pascal to the Newton.

I first saw the news of his death on Hacker News, which linked to an obituary on Gizmodo. The Hacker News thread has some pretty interesting anecdotes and conversation, including a number of comments from Alan Kay. There’s also an obituary in the NY Times, written by John Markoff. And there’s a nice remembrance from Adam Engst at the TidBITS site.

I don’t have anything useful or pithy to say. I’m just here marveling at how much this guy did, and what a good guy he apparently was.

The last 20 years of comics follow-up

This post is just a follow-up to my last post, where I was ruminating a bit on comics, based on an article from Polygon. After I posted that, a friend mentioned that Dan DiDio had just left DC Comics. Dan was definitely a big part of the last 20 years of comics, having started at DC in 2002 and becoming co-publisher, with Jim Lee, in 2010. I’ve seen him at a bunch of con panels over the years. He’s really been the main public face for DC over the last two decades, at least in terms of communicating with the fans. He’s always been a high-energy guy at his con panels, and I generally look forward to them and enjoy them. He and Jim Lee made a good pair at their “Meet the Publishers” panels, with DiDio playing the “carnival barker” and Lee being more laid-back and understated.

DC hasn’t officially said much about DiDio’s exit, but it sounds like he was fired, according to Bleeding Cool. BC also has a couple of articles (here and here) rounding up social media reaction to his departure. Most folks have had only good things to say about him, though of course there’s some negative stuff in there too.

Mark Evanier has a blog post about DiDio’s exit that is really more about how large media companies work these days than it is specifically about DiDio. It does put things in perspective. This may lead to a bunch of changes at DC, or… it might not. This article from the LA Times gets into the business side of things. I occasionally forget that DC is now just a part of AT&T. If you told me 20 or 30 years ago that, some day, my long-distance phone company would own Batman, I’d have laughed at you. But, yeah, AT&T owns Batman now. And there’s probably no one there, above a certain level, that really cares about the comic books. They care about the “intellectual property” and whatever value they can wring from it, and they might see the comics as a key part of that, or they might see them as outdated and unprofitable.

I’m looking at the March Westfield catalog now, and I’m seeing at least one new thing from DC that I’m interested in: a new Batman Adventures mini-series, written by Paul Dini and Alan Burnett! So that’s cool. But, looking at the fine print, I see that it’s a “digital first” series, and also that the main purpose of the series is as a tie-in to a new action figure line. So this does back up my feeling that the comics are, more and more, seen as an addendum to the other stuff being done with the property, rather than the source that makes the other stuff possible. And that they’re continuing to move away from the traditional 32-page physical comic books. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with DC, and the industry as a whole, over the next year.

The last 20 years of comics

I just read an interesting article on Polygon about the last 20 years of comics. They interviewed a bunch of creators about the last two decades, looking at the 2000s and 2010s separately, and then summarized it all. The summary version is here, and a version with the full responses from the creators is here.

There were a lot of different perspectives, though they mostly talked to mainstream creators, so there’s a bit of a mainstream bias and not as much mention of stuff outside the usual Marvel/DC bubble. But a lot of it got me thinking. I thought I’d share some quotes here and add my own thoughts.

  • Amanda Conner, Coleen Doran, and Gail Simone all mentioned the positive changes with regard to women, among both creators and fans.
    • Conner: “Now girls read comics across the table and it’s great. It’s really good. There’s more female creators, there’s more female readers. I feel like this decade has been a very, very girl power decade, which is great.”
    • Doran: “Now, women and girls in comics are not just becoming the norm, but a major creative and financial force.”
    • Simone: “So, yeah, it’s been a couple decades of great superhero comics, but also, the rise of people like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Marjorie Liu and G. Willow Wilson.”
    • I remember how weird it was, early in the 00’s, to start seeing so much more diversity at comic book conventions. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, you’d mostly just see guys like me at cons: white, male, nerdy. Now, you see… everybody. The wide popularity of manga and anime had a lot to do with that initially, I think. At this point, it’s broadened out to include a lot of related stuff that all gets lumped into the “pop culture” category. So comics are just a part of that, but they’re an important part.
  • A number of people mentioned or alluded to 9/11, including Bryan Hill and Tom Brevoort.
    • Hill: “I think the early ’00s were about reconciling with loss, and we needed fiction to recognize it with us. You start thinking about Ultimates, and all that stuff. We needed the fiction to do that.”
    • Brevoort: “This all really started in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, when comics were among the first entertainment media (due to our speed of production) to be able to effectively and emotionally deal with the aftermath of those attacks and the psychic scars that everybody was feeling.”
    • I tend to think of J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man 36 as being a key book early in the 2000’s, dealing with 9/11 in a way that could have been a really awkward failure, but was instead a really uplifting story.
  • Jim Starlin was the only guy to mention something that’s been on my mind: “I think you’re gonna see the pamphlets slowly disappearing; the little 22-page or 20-page books. There’s just not a system anymore where those are profitable. Most of those books are losing money.” I’ve been wondering about that a lot. The comic book store here in town still seems to be doing OK, but I’m starting to wonder how much life the current system of monthly 32-page books has left in it.
  • Kieron Gillen mentions Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority as being a defining comic for the 00’s. I’d agree with that, to some extent. The Ultimates was definitely influenced by The Authority, and that comic became a major influence on how Marvel’s characters were portrayed in the movies. And of course the success of the MCU is a major factor in the place that superhero comics have in pop culture right now.
  • Scott McCloud mentions Chris Ware and Raina Telgemeier, so he was one of the few folks to mention anything outside of the Marvel/DC bubble. I have to admit that, while I’m certainly familiar with Ware and Telgemeier, I still haven’t gotten around to reading anything by either of them. I’ve probably read a few short pieces by Ware somewhere along the line, but I’ve never read any of his longer works. I need to rectify that at some point.
  • Steve Orlando mentions Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which is a series I still haven’t read, despite owning all of the TPBs. I think that may have been (arguably) his first major mainstream US superhero work. (I’m not counting his 90’s DC/Vertigo work as “mainstream.”)
  • I just read a few Fables TPBs over this past weekend. Fables ran from 2002 to 2015, so it’s solidly in the 2000-2019 time frame. I’m not too sure if I’d point to it as a hugely influential series, in the way that Sandman was in the 80s/90s, but it was a popular book that lasted for 150 issues, so that counts for something. (I’ve now read all the trades through to issue 100, so I have a few more trades to go.)
  • Hellboy has been pretty influential and popular, though it started back in the 90s. The two Guillermo del Toro movies came out in 2004 and 2008, so the peak of Hellboy’s popularity was definitely in the 2000s. I think Hellboy’s success as a creator-owned comic that went on to spawn a couple of relatively popular movies may have helped later properties like The Walking Dead. Speaking of which, TWD ran from 2003 to 2019, so that’s solidly in the 2000s also, and has been wildly successful. (I have digital copies of a few of the Walking Dead collections, but haven’t read them yet.)
  • For myself, I stopped buying monthly comics in 2009, then started up again in 2016. I’m thinking about stopping again, just due to the backlog that I’m building up. The stuff I’ve been gravitating to most over the last 20 years has been pretty diverse, though there are certain characters, and writers and artists, who I keep coming back to. For characters: Batman. I can’t seem to quit Batman. And I still love stuff like Hellboy and Usagi Yojimbo. For writers: Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Christopher Priest. (And Neil Gaiman, though he doesn’t do much comics work these days.)

Software and subscriptions and stuff

This is going to be a follow-up to my last two posts (here and here). Sorry. I have some interesting ideas in my head that I want to turn into blog posts, but I’m still plodding through a bunch of largely mundane stuff, trying to see if I can streamline or realign some stuff in my life. Anyway, here’s a brain dump of updates on stuff from those last two posts, plus some new stuff.

Cable TV: I got my February cable bill, with the new rates. My initial understanding of the rate increase was that my bill would go up by about $35. But it actually only went up by $14. The base rate for my cable package is now $85 (plus a bunch of fees) and my internet package is $90 (plus fees), but they’re applying a “special discount” of $42 so the total bill didn’t rise more than that $14. So I guess I’m sticking with my current plans. Any changes to the plans would probably invalidate the discount. So, while I could save a little by changing or dropping my cable plan, it’s not enough to make it worthwhile for me. (I’ll have to keep an eye on that discount and see if they phase it out over time. If they do, then I can think about a change again.)

Web hosting: I haven’t done any more with this. My new contract starts on Feb 12, so I’ll have to review it then. And I have plenty of time to drop my .org domains if I want to do that. They renew in May and August.

AmEx card: I haven’t done much with this either, though I did drop all recurring charges from the card. And I’m planning on using up my rewards points so I don’t lose those. That way, I can drop it cleanly and easily, if I decide to.

Westfield Comics: I did place a February order with them, but it was a small one. And I still haven’t talked myself into dropping Batman and Detective.

Flickr Pro: I took the deal to renew for two more years at the old price ($100 for two years), so now I don’t have to think about that again until 2023.

Quicken: Quicken switched to a subscription model a couple of years ago. I bought a 27-month sub from Amazon for $54 in November 2017, which was due to expire next month. The regular yearly rate to renew it directly with Quicken would have been $50/year, which seems a little steep to me. I found that I could buy a 14-month sub from Amazon for $30, so I did that, and now I’m good for another year. I took a quick look at a few alternatives, including Banktivity, Moneydance, and See Finance, but didn’t find any of them compelling enough to get me to switch.

H&R Block tax software: I’ve been buying their “Deluxe” package every year to do my taxes, for quite a long time, going back to when it was TaxCut. (I took a break for a few years and used an accountant instead, but she was a lot more expensive and not really any more convenient, really.) I generally buy it from Amazon, but this year, H&R Block had a “flash sale” where I could buy it from them for $30, so I did. So now I’m set to do my taxes, whenever I can find the mental energy to sit down and get it done.

Fantastical: I’ve been using Fantastical on my iPhone as my default calendar program for several years. I bought the iPad version a couple of years ago, and the Mac version just a few months ago. And now they’ve just released a new version and switched to a subscription model. (Sigh.) They’re being pretty good about existing users of the paid version, so I can use the new version, but not the new features. So that’s what I’m going to do. The new features are great if you’re really a calendar power-user, but I’m not. I just use my personal calendar to keep track of birthdays and medical appointments, mostly. The MacStories review of the new version is thorough and worth reading, if you’re the kind of person that needs a really powerful calendar management program.

Other stuff I’m subscribing to: This could be a long list, but I’ll limit it to apps and services I probably haven’t mentioned recently and that might be worth reconsidering: Instapaper ($30/year), 1Password ($30/year, with discount), Twitterific ($10/year), Sleep Cycle ($2/year).

Other stuff I’m not subscribing to: In a few cases where an app switched from paid to subscription, I’ve talked myself out of subscribing to it, and either stuck with the “free” version, or dropped the app entirely: TextExpander (dropped), Day One (still using free “Plus” version), Drafts (tried the “pro” version for a week; went back to the free one), Overcast (still using the free version, with some features unlocked from my original purchase).

I recently listened to an episode of Mac Power Users with Greg Pierce, the developer of Drafts. He seems like a good guy, and I do really appreciate the fact that subscriptions give small developers like him a steady revenue stream, and make software like Drafts possible. As a user, it’s frustrating to get pushed into all these subscriptions, and it’s often hard to justify the recurring expense for something that (for me) has limited utility. But I don’t agree with the idea that developers are getting “greedy,” which often crops up on places like Reddit or other online forums, when a developer switches to a subscription model. (On the other hand, I am kind of bothered when a large corporation like Apple or Amazon starts pushing subscription services. But that’s a subject for another day.)

So that’s about it for now, I guess. The stand alert on my Apple Watch has gone off twice while writing this, so I’ve been at it for more than an hour. I have another post bouncing around in the back of my head, similar to this one, but just about music and podcasts. The way I pay for and consume music has gotten a little complicated, and seems to be worth reviewing again. And there’s probably a post about buying and reading comic books in there too.