As I mentioned yesterday, The SDCC folks are going to try to put on an in-person con in November. There’s been a lot of reaction to that online. Mark Evanier has a reasonable blog post about it. Rich Johnston has gone all-in and booked a flight to San Diego (from London) and an Airbnb already. I wish I was optimistic enough to do that. But we’re really not doing great with the pandemic here in New Jersey right now. In the US, overall, we’re looking at a fourth wave, and the director of the CDC is using phrases like “impending doom.” So I guess I’m not going to make any plans that involve traveling more than, say, 50 miles from home this year.
I probably shouldn’t be writing a blog post today, on a Monday, during work hours, but I was poking around and noticed a few things that are too good not to mention. And I just solved a long-standing performance issue with one of my programs, so I think I can take a short break.
- Two years ago today, I was at WonderCon in Anaheim. Yesterday, I was watching WonderCon@Home panels on YouTube, from my couch.
- One year ago today, I was just finishing up my second week of working from home. I’m still using the old office chair that I said, in the linked post, was “OK for occasional use.” And I’m still using a single-monitor setup. If I knew then that I’d be working from home for a full year, I probably would have gone ahead and bought that $1300 Aeron chair. (Honestly, the old chair I’m using isn’t that bad.)
- San Diego Comic-Con has just announced the dates for their November convention. They’re going to try to do a three-day con over Thanksgiving weekend. They’re getting some backlash on that, and I think rightly so. Thanksgiving 2021 may be the first chance that some folks get to have a big family get-together since Christmas 2019. So maybe asking a bunch of people to work a con that weekend isn’t a great idea. And expecting fans and pros to show up may be a bit unrealistic too. On the other hand, this con isn’t supposed to be a full, normal, San Diego con. It’s a “special edition” con. So maybe it’ll be a low-key affair, mostly for locals, with limited attendance, and limited programming. I can’t blame the con organizers for wanting to do something this year to pull in some revenue.
So that’s it for now. Back to work.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts banging around in my head lately that I’ve wanted to write up as blog posts, but I haven’t had the time. I’ve also been ruminating on ways to link some ideas together into a theme that would make for a clever post. Nothing has really come together quite right though. This morning, I started going through that exercise again, while doing laundry, and the title of my favorite Raymond Carver story, Where I’m Calling From, popped into my head, so I thought I’d use that as a title, just start writing, and see where things went. (To be clear, this post has nothing to do with alcohol. I haven’t really been drinking at all over the last year. The link is more to the general idea of evaluating where I am right now.)
I’ve been very aware of this month being the one-year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown. That was the subject of my last post, from a couple of weeks ago. And I guess it’s going to be the starting point for this post too.
I’m almost exactly a year behind in my email “read/review” folder, where I file all of my email newsletters, so I’m just now reading some articles about the start of the lockdown. At the start of 2021, I briefly considered simply wiping out all of 2020 from the folder and starting fresh, but I didn’t do that. I’m definitely tired of reading about Trump, and there’s not much point in reading articles about the Democratic primaries, so I’m skipping those. But it’s interesting to read (or at least skim) some of the early articles about coronavirus, with the benefit of hindsight. A few people definitely saw what was coming, but most people didn’t. I’m reading stuff from early March, where people were still assuming that 2020 would progress normally, with little or no disruption to international travel, movie theaters, comic book conventions, and so on.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to write up some thoughts on various sub-topics, under individual headings. I’m not sure yet if this is all going to come together, or just be random, but here goes…
The last movie I saw in a theater was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, at the end of December 2019. I had been planning to see Pixar’s Onward in a theater, but hadn’t gotten around to it when the pandemic shut everything down. Movie theaters in NJ were allowed to reopen in September, though many are still closed, apparently. Movie theaters in NYC are only just now being allowed to reopen. I’m on the mailing list for Film at Lincoln Center and Film Forum, both of which are reopening in April. I can’t see myself going into NYC to see a movie any time soon though. Over the course of the last year, I’ve had good intentions about watching a film or two from the virtual cinema selections that these NYC theaters have provided. But I didn’t get around to watching even one. Meanwhile, though, I watched a bunch of movies on the various streaming services to which I subscribe, and have also bought a bunch of Blu-rays, some of which I’ve watched. There’s a good overview of the NYC movie theater situation here. That article also gets into the overall situation for movie theaters right now. For me, I guess I’m going to stick to streaming and Blu-rays for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of Blu-rays, I may have gone a bit overboard with them over the last year. (I mean, I haven’t gone too far overboard, but I did buy a bunch.) Near the start of the pandemic, I picked up a box set of all four Avengers movies. And I’ve picked up the Steelbook Blu-rays for eight Ghibli films. and the big Criterion Godzilla box set. I’ve watched all four of the Avengers Blu-rays (including most of the special features). But I haven’t watched even one of the Ghibli or Godzilla films yet. (Or course, I’ve seen nearly all of them before, but not recently.)
Comic Book Conventions
WonderCon@Home is being held this weekend. I watched a few of the panels from last year’s virtual WonderCon, and it was kind of fun, but these virtual cons pale in comparison to the real thing. I last went to WonderCon in 2019. In retrospect, I’m really glad I went. That was the first time I’d gone to the con since they’d moved it to Anaheim. And it was the first time I’d been in Anaheim in many years. After that con, I’d fully intended to go back in 2020, and maybe make WonderCon an annual thing for me again. (I went to WonderCon regularly for a few years when it was in San Francisco. Looking back, I guess that was 2005-2008.) When the 2020 con was canceled, I think most folks assumed that things would be back to normal in 2021, and the virtual con would be a one-time thing. This year, we’re all hoping that the vaccine rollout will go great, and we’ll be back to normal for 2022. Honestly, I’m really hoping for that, but I’m not making any plans yet.
Anyway, I intend to watch a few of the panels for this year’s virtual con. I definitely want to watch all three of Mark Evanier’s panels. And there are probably a few other good ones. I should probably try to visit the virtual exhibition hall, but I haven’t had much luck with those, from the last few virtual cons I’ve “attended.” They’ve generally been poorly organized and underwhelming. But I’ll take a look.
The San Diego con has also been canceled for this year. They’ll do a virtual con again, in July, and they’re planning on doing some kind of in-person con in November. I wish them luck with that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be making it out to any San Diego con, any time soon. Meanwhile, the San Diego Convention Center, which had been used as a homeless shelter earlier in the pandemic, is now being used to house migrant children, apparently.
This isn’t really directly pandemic-related, but I’ve finally stopped ordering monthly comics through Westfield. My last order was in February, so I’ll probably get my last few books from them in April or May. I’m way behind in my reading, and there’s not a lot of new stuff coming out that I’m really excited about, so I guess it’s a good time to jump off the wagon again.
I’ve been keeping an eye on all the recent changes in the comic book industry, and a lot of that is kind of weird and a little scary. The latest thing is Marvel moving to Penguin Random House for distribution. I could really go down a rabbit hole on the subject of the many changes at Marvel and DC, and generally in the direct market, over the last year, but that’s probably not a great use of my time. For me, personally, I have a good supply of comics and graphic novels to read over the next year or two, in both physical and digital formats, so I should just be happy with that, and wish everyone who makes their living creating and/or selling comics the best of luck. I could probably go through the rest of 2021 without buying another comic, and I’d be fine. (But, of course, I won’t do that. I’m sure to be tempted into buying at least a handful of new books.)
Well, that covers a few of the things that were rattling around in my head. I have quite a few that I didn’t get around to here, but they’ll have to wait for another day. It’s almost 11 AM and I haven’t done much with the day yet (aside from laundry). I need to get some exercise, and pay some bills, and stuff like that.
This month is the one-year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown. (Or whatever you want to call it. It was never really a lockdown.) My last day in the office was March 12, 2020. (It would have been the 13th, but I took that day off.) March 16 was my first day working from home. On this day last year, I wrote a blog post about a number of coronavirus-adjacent topics. I’ve been meaning to write a one-year anniversary post, with links to some interesting articles covering the last year, but I’m kind of exhausted, and it’s easy enough to find those articles if you go looking for them. I’ll just link to this One Year in a Pandemic briefing in the Times today. That article has links to a bunch of others.
At this point, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get a vaccine shot before mid-year. (Maybe in June, if I’m lucky?) And I’m hopeful that enough other people will choose to get the vaccine that something like “normal” can resume before the end of the year.
But I’m also pretty tired and worn out. Mind you, some of that has nothing to do with the virus. But the virus isn’t helping. Many of my usual ways of blowing off steam and clearing my head aren’t really open to me right now. No comic cons, no NYC museum visits. (And yes, I could technically go into Manhattan right now and visit the Met and MoMA today, but it would be a bad idea to do that.)
This is turning out to be kind of a gloomy post, and I didn’t really mean for it to be. But I’m a little discombobulated from the daylight saving time switch, and maybe a little messed up from the weather changes over the last week. I think my spring allergies are getting started. I’ve been having trouble sleeping and I’ve got a bit of a headache. Well, at least it’s Sunday, and I’ve got nothing much to do today. Hopefully, spending the day reading comics and watching TV will let me get back to “normal” enough to get through the coming work week.
Working from home for the last year has presented a number of challenges. One of them, of course, is managing distractions. It’s hard to stay focused on work when I’m home, in my own apartment, with nobody watching me. It’s easy to pick up my phone and check Twitter, or open a web browser on my desktop PC and check the news, or wander into the living room and turn on the TV. In a regular office environment, it’s a little easier to stay focused, since you have some peer pressure from other people sitting near you, and fewer available distractions. (I could still get pretty distracted in the office, honestly. But it’s a lot worse at home.)
And, beyond the change in work environment, there’s also the additional mental load of living through a pandemic. It’s easy to let my thoughts wander into worries about that. And there’s a lot to worry about.
At some point early in the pandemic, maybe around April, I started messing around with pomodoro timers. The general idea there is to do a focused burst of work, for about 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. There are a number of apps that support this, though you really don’t need anything special. I tried two: Focus Keeper and Be Focused. (I also looked at Focus List, but didn’t actually try it.) I tried using the pomodoro technique for a few days, but I didn’t stick with it. There was nothing wrong with the apps I was using, but it just wasn’t helping me much.
I think that, after a few months of working from home and living through the pandemic, I managed to get into enough of a groove that I could be reasonably productive. I really haven’t pushed myself to be super-productive though. I’ve decided that it’s OK to take some breaks when I need them, as long as I’m mindful and aware of how I’m spending my time, and as long as I’m being responsive at work.
Recently, though, I’ve found myself having trouble making any headway on some longer-term projects that require sustained, focused, work. And I was poking around on LinkedIn Learning, and noticed a course called Becoming Indistractable. So I decided to watch it. There honestly wasn’t much new in it. But there was a brief mention of an app called Forest which looked mildly interesting. It’s basically a pomodoro timer with some extra bells and whistles to gamify the challenge of staying focused. It grows a little virtual tree while the timer is running. And it also has a feature that will “kill” the tree if you exit the app before the timer finishes. That’s supposed to help motivate you to stay off the phone while the timer is going. It’s pretty silly, but it’s kind of cute.
I think this app could really backfire for some people, as you can get maybe a little too wrapped up in the whole “growing your forest” thing, and waste as much time on that as you would otherwise have been wasting on Twitter. But I guess at least the forest thing would be less stressful than doomscrolling Twitter. Anyway, I tried it today, and I think that doing the pomodoro thing was helping me make some progress. Up until a few problems arose that required me to drop what I was doing to put out fires. Oh yeah, I guess the reason I’m not making progress on the long-term stuff is because there’s too much short-term stuff taking up my time. And the reason I’m not able to sustain focus for long enough to make progress on some of this stuff is because I have too many interruptions, not because I can’t concentrate. (Well, maybe it’s a little of both. But today it felt like it was mostly the “putting out fires” stuff.)
This post has mostly been a rant, I guess, but maybe there’s a link or two in here that someone else might find interesting or useful. And, hey, I’m allowed to rant a little.
I learned earlier this week that Frank Thorne and his wife Marilyn had both recently passed away. Marilyn was my father’s cousin, so, when I was a kid, I would occasionally see Frank and Marilyn at family gatherings. As a comics fan, I always loved getting a chance to talk to Frank. He was kind, and funny, and just a good guy. I remember talking to him briefly about Jack Kirby’s Silver Star, not long after it was published, so that would have been 1983 or 1984. I really didn’t get much of a chance back then to talk to other people about comics, and especially not adults. I hadn’t been to any conventions yet, back then. (And the internet wasn’t really a thing yet, of course.) It was just a great thrill to be able to talk to a real comics artist.
I also have a very clear memory of picking up Savage Sword of Conan #29, which contained an article titled “The Wizard and Red Sonja Show,” about a convention appearance by Frank, dressed as his Wizard character, and several women dressed as Red Sonja, including Wendy Pini! This kind of thing is fairly common now, but back in 1978, it was kind of odd. There’s a write-up on Wendy Pini’s part in all of this here. (Nowadays, it seems like almost half the people who show up at cons are cosplaying. And it’s not at all unusual to see a few Red Sonjas wandering around.)
The last time I communicated with Frank at all was maybe 15 years ago, when he sent me a few signed posters and I sent him a thank you note. I should have tried to keep in contact with him, but, well, I didn’t. (Time slips away from you as you get older.)
I’m just going to share some links here, for anyone who wants to read more about Mr. Thorne:
- CBR’s obituary is the first one I saw.
- Here’s an article from a local site. The Thornes had lived in Scotch Plains for a long time.
- The Daily Cartoonist has an article highlighting some of his early comic strip work.
- Heavy Metal has an article showcasing a wide variety of his work (including a bunch of the NSFW stuff).
- Mark Evanier has a short obituary.
- 13th Dimension has a nice little gallery of some of his Red Sonja covers.
I just recently bought a copy of the new Complete Ghita of Alizarr hardcover. I’m a little embarrassed to read this kind of stuff nowadays, but it’s all in good fun. And I also still have my copy of the Illustrated History of Union County, which I bought 15 years ago, and still somehow haven’t read. I should probably pick up reprints of some of his Red Sonja work. I guess Dynamite still has the rights to Red Sonja, and keeps the old Marvel stuff in print. (Here it is on Comixology.)