Sandman

My Twitter feed has been full of Sandman TV news for the last month or two, mostly due to Neil Gaiman relentlessly tweeting about it. Sometimes, when a writer goes into “relentless promotion mode” on Twitter, I unfollow them, at least for a while. (I don’t hold it against them; it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, given the way Twitter works for most people and the general difficulty in rising above the noise.) But Gaiman is so genial about it that it doesn’t bother me the same way it does when, say, Kevin Smith does it. (Again, I love Kevin Smith too. I just get tired of him sometimes.) There was a lot of promotional stuff about the show at SDCC too. I watched a bit of that on YouTube.

Sandman was one of my favorite comics. I haven’t gone back and reread any of it in a long time, but I bought it issue by issue when it was first coming out, and also bought the first few graphic novel collections. It was first published at a time when I was buying a fair number of old-fashioned “floppy” comics every month, and it was always one of the best.

So I’ve been looking forward to the Netflix TV adaptation. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be any good, but I was at least cautiously optimistic. It was released on Friday, and I wound up watching the first few episodes yesterday. So far, I like it a lot. It seems to me that it’s always just on the verge of tipping over into unintentional camp, but it’s done so well that it just carries you along. Maybe if you haven’t read the comics, it would be harder to “buy in” to it, and you’d just find it silly. But, for me, it’s just right. There’s some humor, but none of the winking self-aware stuff that you see in some other comics adaptations.

A lot of folks have had good things to say about the casting for this show. While I think that it all works, some of it seems just on the verge of not working, in the same way that the whole show almost doesn’t work. For instance, I love Patton Oswalt, but he’s almost a bit too snarky. And Gwendoline Christie is almost too weird to be Lucifer, but she pulls it off. (The whole scene between Morpheus and Lucifer is a bit over the top, really. I think a more cautious adaptation would have toned that down, or made it more conventional, but then it just wouldn’t have been as effective.)

Anyway, my plan for this post was just to link to a couple of interesting reviews of the show, but then the preamble got a little out of control… The reviews in question are this one from the Ebert site, and this one from NPR. They’re almost diametrically opposed. The former seems to think it’s a little too faithful to the comics. The latter think that it’s changed just enough to address some of the shortcomings in the original. I guess I’m more on the side of the NPR one.

And, just for yuks, here’s a link to a Gaiman interview in the NY Times, which I haven’t read yet, and to the NY Times review of the show (which I also still haven’t read).

not at SDCC, day one

Wow, today is the first full day of SDCC. I’ve been so busy this month, since the July 4th incident, that it kind of snuck up on me. I had, at one point, though about taking a few vacation days to coincide with SDCC, and just spend a few days decompressing, reading comics, and absorbing whatever interesting news comes out of the con. But I didn’t do that. And, at this point, if I tried to take a vacation day, I’d probably get laughed at. I’ll try to take a few days next month, maybe.

I never seriously considered actually going to the con this year. I assumed it would be near impossible to get tickets (as it usually is), plus I’m still not comfortable in large crowds, nor am I enthusiastic about cross-continental air travel right now. The con is requiring folks to be both masked and vax’ed, so that’s good. But this BA.5 thing is scary, even with full vaccination. My feelings about COVID-19 at this point are mostly in line with this Jigsaw video from today.

Anyway, we’ve got record heat going on here in NJ right now. San Diego sure would be a nice place to be. Looks like it’ll be mid-70s there all weekend, while we might hit 100 here on Sunday. Maybe I’ll have time to watch a few panels over the weekend, or maybe read the program book PDF. Sigh.

Klaus Schulze & Dune

I’ve been thinking about (and listening to) Klaus Schulze a lot lately. He passed away in April. I’ve been listening to his music since I was a kid, when I first started getting interested in electronic music. I remember buying this 1983 live album on CD, at some point in the 80s (though probably not in 83, since I don’t think I had a CD player yet). I need to dig that out and rip it at some point, since it’s not on Apple Music.

And he showed up in a few Matt Howarth comic books. I think I’ve read both of the comics mentioned on this page. I know he’s been in at least one or two others.

He released an album called Dune in 1979, which is on Apple Music (or at least part of it is). And there’s also Deus Arrakis, which came out earlier this year. The Bandcamp page for that one has this quote from Schulze:

On the one hand this album was created as spontaneously as all my albums before, on the other hand it has a special history: when I produced my eleventh album ‘Dune’ in 1979 I already knew the ‘Dune’ trilogy by Frank Herbert inside out like other people knew their ‘Lord of the Rings’. I was totally fascinated by this monumental story of the desert planet and I read the books over and over again.

He continues on about Dune and his thoughts about the books and movies. It’s interesting.

The 1984 Dune movie had a soundtrack mostly by Toto, which is a thing I probably knew at some point, but had completely forgotten about until I just now looked it up on Wikipedia. There’s one lone track on there by Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, though. I just brought that album up on Apple Music, and it’s quite something. The Eno track sounds pretty much like you’d expect an Eno Dune-related track to sound. (Good!) The rest of the album is… mixed. The tracks have names like “Robot Fight” and “The Floating Fat Man.” A few of them have dialog from the movie mixed in with the music. Some of them are quite nice, actually, but a few are pretty bad.

The 2021 film has a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. There are actually three albums out related to it. The main soundtrack itself, something called The Dune Sketchbook, and another called The Art and Soul of Dune, which is apparently a companion to a book about the film. (The Sketchbook album also has a contribution from Schulze.) I’m not a huge fan of Zimmer, but I generally like his stuff, and his Dune music is very good. Here’s an interesting article from the Times about it.

And one more Dune-related bit of music: April Larson’s You Stand in a Valley Between Dunes, a 2017 album inspired by Dune.

second thoughts, and other distractions

So after spending $300 on NYCC tickets yesterday, today I stumble across this article: Coronavirus wave this fall and winter could potentially infect 100 million, White House warns. So, yeah, that October con in New York is sounding like less of a good idea.

I found that article while going down a slight rabbit hole at work. I took a quick break to look at Hacker News, which led me to this notice on Jason Kottke’s blog that he’s taking a sabbatical. That led me to follow a couple of links at the end of his post, to Dave Pell’s and Craig Mod’s sites. And something at one or the other of those led me to the aforementioned CNN article.

I say all that to illustrate the fact that I’m easily distracted, and I’m trying to get better about that. I’m finding a little guidance on that in some of the stuff I’m reading right now, and in some of the guided meditations I’ve been doing recently. But I’m still really distractable. I think maybe I need to get back to using a pomodoro timer. I blogged about distraction about a year ago, and did the pomodoro thing for a while, but didn’t stick with it.

Oh, and to follow up on the financial stuff in yesterday’s post: that’s getting even worse too. See here: Wall Street, dragged down by tech stocks, racks up more heavy losses. So, yeah, maybe I should just live in the moment?

NYCC 2022 and other comics stuff

In addition to the random programming stuff I was working on earlier, I also decided to jump into the queue for NYCC tickets today. The pre-sale started at 10 AM today. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to bother with it, and I did want to go to the farmers market this morning at 10, so that won out. I came home with some radishes, carrots, and pickles around 10:30, and I checked in on the pre-sale at 10:45. They hadn’t sold out, so I jumped in the queue, just out of curiosity, to see how long it would take to get through, and whether or not they’d sell out of tickets before then.

Well, I just left the queue open in a browser tab while I did other stuff, and noticed that I’d made it through around 11:15. By that time, they’d sold out of “VIP” tickets, but regular 4-day tickets were still available. They were also priced at $210, which was a bit of a shock. (But, looking back at my post from last year, I realize that it’s actually a little cheaper than 2021, when they didn’t sell 4-day tickets, so you’d have to pay $240 for four $60 single-day tickets.) I was prepared to close the tab and say “screw it,” but some wild optimistic impulse got me to go ahead and buy a 4-day ticket anyway.

With a t-shirt added on, plus tax and shipping, my total was just under $300, which seems kind of crazy to me. Especially since I’m not even sure if I’ll go. I’m still pretty nervous about COVID and large gatherings. I did go in last year, but only for one day, and I got sick afterward. (Though probably not sick with COVID.) And I got sick after my trip to Albany in March. (Again, probably not COVID.) So I might punt on actually going to this thing.

We’re nearly at one million Americans dead of COVID now. NYCC is in October. I don’t really know what the COVID situation will be then, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be gone, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of people still won’t be taking it as seriously as they should. So going in to NYC for this will be a bit of a crapshoot.

I guess I’m not as worried about losing $300 now as I would normally be, since I looked at my Merrill statement yesterday. Without getting into specific numbers, let’s just say that I lost more money in April than my  total yearly salary in 2010. And May might be even more volatile. So $300 seems like a fairly minor loss, seen from that perspective. And, with inflation, that might not even be enough money to fill my gas tank at this time next year. So why not spend it on a comic book convention that I might not even attend?

(And yes, I know that I didn’t really “lose” any money on my Merrill statement. My total portfolio value dropped. I still have all the same mutual funds I had at the beginning of the month. The value will likely go back up again before I retire. And I’m not retiring for at least ten years, so I’m not cashing in any of those mutual funds any time soon. But still…)

In other comics news, I was saddened to hear of the deaths of two of my favorite artists, Neal Adams and George Pérez, recently. Adams did most of his most famous work before I was reading comics, so I’m familiar with his best work mostly through reprints. I’ve got the nice hardcover volumes collecting his Batman work, and I really love that stuff. I’ve seen him at conventions a number of times, but never thought to get anything signed by him, and I never actually talked to him, though.

Pérez did his most famous work when I was really in that “sweet spot” as a young fan, in the 80s, with enough money to buy a reasonable number of books, enough time to read them, and the right mindset to really get blown away by his work. I really loved his Teen Titans run, with Marv Wolfman, that started in 1980. and I loved his Avengers run, with Kurt Busiek, in the 90s. And so much of his other work was great too.

One more comics-related tidbit: I went to my local comic book store yesterday for Free Comic Book Day. It was pretty crowded, despite it being a rainy day. They limited people to three free books each. I got Red Sonja, Doctor Who, and Donald Duck! The Red Sonja book was a reprint of an old Frank Thorne story, so I grabbed that, even though I’m sure I already have it in a reprint collection somewhere. And you can’t go wrong with Doctor Who and Donald Duck. Marvel and DC, of course, had multiple FCBD books.  But I have no idea what’s going on right now in either the Marvel or DC universe, and I really don’t have the spare time (or the inclination) to get up to speed on all that. It looks like a few of the other FCBD books are available digitally on Amazon/Comixology now too, so maybe I’ll pick up a few more that way.

fun with file formats

I’ve been reading some random old stuff from an old Neil Gaiman Humble bundle recently, and I’ve hit a couple of snags with files. I thought writing up some notes on that might be useful.

First, I was trying to read two old comics from the bundle. I’d loaded both, in CBZ format, to my iPad in the Panels app. Both were black & white comics, originally published by Knockabout Comics. I think they were probably published in a larger format than typical American comics. And it seems that they didn’t do a good job of scanning them in and digitizing them. So they were a little too blurry for me to read. I first tried copying the PDF versions into Panels, to see if they were better. They were, but not by much, and zooming them didn’t work well. Then I got the idea to try the same PDFs in GoodReader. I bought GoodReader a long time ago, and don’t really use it that often. But it turns out that it’s a much better PDF reader than Panels is. So the lesson here is: stick with GoodReader for PDFs.

Second, I decided to copy a couple of the ebooks from the bundle to my Kindle Paperwhite. The easiest way to do that is to email them to the Kindle Personal Documents Service. This service has changed a bit over the years, but, in general, it allows you to email DRM-free ebooks to a special address, and they’ll get converted to Kindle format and pushed down to your Kindle. I had some problems with it this time.

The service is supposed to support both EPUB and MOBI files right now. I’m fairly sure that it didn’t support EPUB until fairly recently. And the support page for it right now says that it’ll stop supporting MOBI files later this year. I’ve always thought of MOBI as the Amazon/Kindle format, and EPUB as the “everybody else” ebook format. The MOBI format was created by Mobipocket in 2000. The company was bought by Amazon in 2005. The original AZW format used for DRM’d Kindle books is a variant on MOBI.

Anyway, I tried sending both MOBI and EPUB versions of the books to my Kindle and they all failed. That led me down a bunch of paths that didn’t lead anywhere interesting. Finally, I got the bright idea to email the files from my PC instead of my Mac. These days, I don’t think there’s any reason the files would be different on the Mac vs the PC, but it seemed like it was worth a try. And indeed it worked when I emailed the files from my PC. On both platforms, I used the web-based Fastmail interface, running in Firefox, so it can’t be a browser thing or an email client thing. So I’m pretty confused about that. I guess the lesson from this one is to always email docs from my PC instead of my Mac when using the Send to Kindle service.

Overall, I think I’ve now spent more time today screwing around with files than I have actually reading anything. But that happens sometimes. And that’s OK. I’m one of those weirdos who can have fun with this kind of troubleshooting.

Not At WonderCon

I was a little surprised to see a mention of WonderCon in my Twitter feed this morning. I knew they were doing an in-person show this year, after skipping 2020 and 2021, but I didn’t realize it was this weekend. I went to the show in 2019, and that was the next to last time I did any air travel. (The very last time was the Microsoft workshop I went to in Redmond in May 2019.)

It doesn’t look they’re doing anything virtual for WonderCon this year. At least, I haven’t seen anything posted. That’s a little disappointing, since I’ve enjoying watching some of the virtual panels they’ve done over the last couple of years for WonderCon and Comic-Con.

After my relatively short trip to Albany recently, and how sick I got after that, I’m definitely not ready to hop on a plane and fly out to California. Maybe next year!

Presidents Day

I have today off from work for Presidents Day, and in typical pandemic-era fashion, I’ve spent it sitting alone in my apartment reading comics. (OK, that was my choice for random holidays about half the time before the pandemic too, but now it’s my choice almost all of the time…) I’ve actually spent most of the three-day weekend reading comics. It’s all been digital books, nothing physical. I’ve been trying to put a dent in the backlog of old digital books in my library, both in Comixology and from old Humble bundles and other sources. This means that I’ve been reading some pretty random stuff. Today, I read a bunch of stuff from an old Dynamite Humble bundle from 2014.

I’ve been going back and forth between using iComics and Panels for this stuff. I blogged about those apps a few months ago. Both apps work fine, though neither one is exactly what I want. One of my main complaints about both is that they don’t allow for nested folders. They both have a “collection” feature which lets you group a bunch of books into a folder, but you can’t create a collection inside another collection. And I still haven’t committed to a regular subscription to Panels, though I probably should.

For both books and comics, I sometimes think that I’m spending too much time reading stuff that was free or cheap, just to check it off my list, rather than reading the stuff I really want to read. I added an “abandoned” shelf in Goodreads some time ago, and that helps me get past the feeling that I need to read everything I “own”. Sometimes, I can read a few pages, then say “that’s not for me” and mark it as “abandoned” and go on to the next thing.

I started this post thinking I might post some thoughts about the actual stuff I was reading, and it turned into another post about how I’m reading. So I’ll say a few quick things about what I’m reading here.

  • I’ve finally started reading Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga this weekend, and it’s about as good as everyone says it is. I read through the first two volumes.
  • I finally read Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet book. It was fun. Definitely one of the better comics he’s worked on.
  • I have a bunch of self-published stuff from Matt Howarth that I’ve bought from him over the years. I read one of his Keif Llama graphic novels today and really enjoyed it. This self-published stuff is obscure enough that it’s not on Goodreads, so I had to add it. (Because if I can’t log something on Goodreads, then I feel like it didn’t “count”. I may have a bit of a problem…)

I guess that’s about it for my weekend comics binge. It’s about time for dinner, and I have to go back to work tomorrow.

Yet more on Comixology

I know this is my third Comixology post in a row, but I thought I’d write a bit more, since they’ve switched off the old comixology.com site today, and that’s really ticking people off.
Here are a couple of new articles on the subject:

I amused myself for a few minutes today by doing a Twitter search on “comixology” and checking out all the complaints. It was fun. People are angry. (Or at least pretending to be angry. It’s hard to tell sometimes.) For myself, I don’t seem to have lost any books that I’ve already purchased. And the new app doesn’t bother me that much. And I guess I can deal with the new Amazon sub-site for future purchases.

I see that my Comixology wish list has migrated over to a new Amazon wish list now, so that’s nice. I may do some cleanup on my Amazon wishlists, if I get bored later. I already have separate lists for physical stuff and Kindle books, so having a third specifically for comics is a good idea.

One very minor thing that Amazon has done that I really appreciate: They’ve stopped spelling it “ComiXology” and are now just calling it “Comixology”. That capital X in the middle always bugged me.

The new ComiXology app

I updated the ComiXology app on my iPad today to the new version, which I guess got released today or last night. It’s not great, but it’s pretty much what I was expecting. I blogged about ComiXology yesterday, but the app update wasn’t out yet, so I’m going to write a quick follow-up with some thoughts on the app.

Overall, it’s basically the Kindle iOS app, with some extra comics-related functionality added in. The main screen just has two tabs, Library and Discover. The library tab is where you view your comics, and the discover tab lists new releases, recommendations, and stuff like that. You still can’t purchase books in the app.

The filtering and sorting features in the library view are adequate, but (of course) I’d like more. The main filters are read/unread/in progress, and downloaded (vs. all). Sort options are “recent” (which seems to push recently purchased, recently downloaded, or recently accessed books to the top), title, author, and publication date. The “author” one is a bit problematic, since most comics are created by multiple people. They seem to give precedence to the writer, which makes sense, I guess. The old app used to let you sort by purchase date, which was sometimes pretty helpful. That option is gone. I don’t think the old app had a publication date sort option, so that might be good.

Search seems to be limited to titles only. I tried searching for some writers are artist names, and didn’t get any matches. So that’s a bit disappointing. (And it’s clearly not a full text search within the books themselves.)

The actual reading experience isn’t that different from the old app. It’s good enough. I don’t like the way they’ve changed certain things in the interface, but I’ll get used to it.

There’s a good article up on The Beat today with some analysis of the new app and the new “shopping experience.” It’s a pretty negative article, and I can’t really argue with anything they’re saying. I think that the overall effect of these changes, for me, is that I’m likely to spend less money on digital comics via Amazon. That’s actually probably a good thing, given how much money I’ve spent at ComiXology, and how far behind I am with my reading.