Come with me, she said, and forget the springtime
I know a place where everything goes to bloom
We can watch it burst with life divine as it grows

Now come with me, she said, and forget gravity
I know a place where everything goes to die
We can watch it burn with light sublime as it falls

Fly beside me, she said, every direction leads upward
Don’t you ever wonder why people feel so alone
When every atom of the universe spins in song?

Don’t you know that joy and violence
Hate and harmony are verses of the same tune?
And you are my bridge to everywhere

Come with me, she said, and forget the horizon
It never grows any nearer
But I know a place where everyone goes to find it

We can watch them seek, trailing infinite desire as they sail
We are neither masters nor slaves of history
We create it

Privacy in Peril: The Private Eye


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Privacy in Peril: The Private Eye and Recent Developments in Privacy, DRM, and Copyright

One of my classes this semester deals with telecommunications policy in the USA. Now, even though I am late to the party on The Private Eye, I spent an evening devouring all ten issues of the digital comic book series this week. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it deals with many of the concerns we have discussed in the telecom class. Our first discussion centered around two articles on mobile apps that either lack adequate security or mine your device for your personal data and contacts; specifically “Beware of Leaky Apps” and “NSA Spying on Apps Shows Perils of Google+, Candy Crush.”


The Private Eye series addresses relevant privacy and intellectual property concerns not just in its content but in its form. It comes to us from author Brian K. Vaughan (who wrote such critically acclaimed series as Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, and wrote for the TV show Lost for a time) with art from Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente. It is available at as ten individual issues and now in two 150-page volumes which collect the complete story.


First, the content of this science-fiction/mystery adventure deals with privacy and the internet. It proposes a future where all the information people stored about themselves in “the cloud” was exposed through an event called “the flood”. Dialogue reveals that making people’s search histories public destroyed their lives. As a result, the internet exists no more, and people are quite paranoid about protecting their privacy. Just as people do today in online forums and multi-player video games, people in this future use physical costumes and fake names to mask their identity and explore their fantasies, sexual kinks, and other aspects of identity they want kept private. Photographing people without their consent has become a crime, a crime the story’s hero commits for cash as a private investigator. The story’s villain wants to [spoiler alert] bring back the internet.


But besides the privacy conflict at the story’s center, the distribution of this series also ties in with concerns about copyright, digital rights management, and the ease of sharing content through the internet. The series is only available digitally, and it is sold on a “pay what you can” basis. Readers choose their own price, even if that price is zero dollars. This addresses the sales problem of digital content: How do you get people to pay a specific price for digital content when it is so easily downloaded and shared among users? Here, there is no problem. If people cannot or do not want to pay, they can still get the series directly from the creators without skirting the law, and those who can afford to support the work can choose to do so.


The download files, made available upon payment, are given free of Digital Rights Management, a system of protecting copyrighted and trademarked works which has proven problematic for users and courts. Recent headlines have shown how silly DRM takedown requests can get, with Forbes reporting in August that “Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the critically-panned movie Pixels, has succeeded in getting a number of utterly unrelated videos pulled from Vimeo – but the only actual footage from the movie to be taken down is Columbia’s own official trailer.” DRM takedown requests have become the occupation of lawyers who can file them without any actual investigation, leading to such ridiculous outcomes as random videos that mention the word “pixels” in ways unrelated to the film having been forced offline. Headlines in August also revealed UK legislation which is so technologically mis-informed that it would criminalize making a back-up copy of your own mp3 music files library. The creators of The Private Eye have sidestepped this nonsense and simply made their files available without DRM restrictions on the files.


The Private Eye, besides being an excellent and entertaining read, highlights the growing divide between how large, institutionally entrenched corporations are dealing with these concerns compared to the way independent creators are looking for new and more flexible solutions. This is taking place alongside a surge in advance sales (such as Michael Gira’s band Swans releasing limited-edition, handmade concert recordings to fund the production of upcoming studio albums) and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter which help secure funding before a project is finished rather than trying to control “piracy” after the fact. These solutions favor creators who understand the unique technological environment of our time and want to maintain creative control without resorting to the cumbersome and ill-advised measures favored by the industry giants, their lawyers, and our legislatures.


To close on a visual note, I especially appreciate that The Private Eye is the first digital comic I have seen which looked awesome on my monitor due to the horizontally wider aspect ratio. Comics made at the right aspect ratio for print just never look as great on my screen. I have to zoom in to read the text, and thus can’t see the whole page at once, which is part of the joy of comics. The Private Eye fixes this beautifully and lends itself to creative page layouts that take full advantage of its aspect ratio. Go pick up the two collected volumes and pay what you can!

No DRM, no encryption, just plain files optimised for on-screen reading. Available in English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese & French.


library of female pirates 9


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library of female pirates logoIn today’s installment of The Library of Female Pirates, we take a look at a few pages from Angus Konstam’s Piracy: The Complete History. Though we return once again to the familiar subject of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, this book is notable for questioning the romantic yet brutal tale of these two female pirates. Unlike some other texts in our series, Konstam finds fault with the “far-fetched” and “sensationalist” story passed down to us courtesy of Daniel Defoe’s General History of the Pyrates.

Konstam points out that a pirate’s occupation was generally short-lived, due not only to its rough nature but to its being a temporary economic solution for most sailors involved. Thus, Konstam doubts Mary Read would have spent nearly 23 years at sea. He also points out we have little record, other than their trial documents, to verify anything Defoe has told us. Konstam makes these criticisms in pages 185-188, reproduced below.

Piracy: The Complete History begins in the 14th century BC, with a band of sea raiders who troubled the ancient Egyptians, and continues up to the modern time of 2008, when it was published. It’s an enjoyable read, and its modern language makes it more accessible than some of the older texts covered in this series.

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Supergirl vs. Space Pirates


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supergirl space pirates in adventure 415- (2)

In this 1970s story from DC’s Adventure Comics #415, Supergirl gets abducted by evil space pirates to serve as their captain’s unwilling wife while the rest of Earth is destroyed. These creeps find out soon enough that they picked the wrong woman to mess with!

The Saturday-morning-cartoon tenor of Supergirl’s 1970s adventures makes them somewhat dull for an adult reader, but they are occasionally impressive in their portrayal of her character. This story shows of a range of heroic qualities besides her super-cute costume and classic beauty. Supergirl is powerful enough to hand out beat-downs to the pirates, but compassionate enough to try and reason with a misguided member of the crew. She uses her intelligence to deduce their plans, and her might to unravel them. Even the male-dominated Planetary Galaxy Patrol shows her respect, and suggests that word of her “innumerable accomplishments” has spread far beyond Earth. Supergirl is the only female in this story (other than in a panel on page 3), so you won’t find it passing the Bechdel Test. But she certainly commands the stage!

If you would like to see more scans of vintage Supergirl tales from the 1960s and 70s (including Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and her short-lived self-titled series from 1972), then head over to The Supergirl Project!

on asteroids, anarchy, august, and authorship


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meteor mags asteroids and anarchy cover - small for web[UPDATE: This book has been taken OUT OF PRINT as we prepare to publish the next collection of Meteor Mags stories. Thank you to everyone who downloaded it, read it, shared it, and sent us notes about it! Vivan las anarquistas!]

Is it August already? Damn. It’s hard to believe my autumnal semester starts up in a couple weeks, and I’ll have to go back to slogging through academic books about public administration instead of, you know, books that are actually fun to read. But, 2015 has been a good year so far. In addition to working hard as an editor and book designer to keep the lights on (and keep Ellie kitty’s food bowl full) in my ‘secret identity’, I managed to publish a half dozen of my own books on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Last week, it came to my attention I have been missing out, however, on publishing in a format that Apple’s iStore can make available as iBooks. I don’t own a Mac, so I can’t install the proprietary Apple software for iBook creation. But, it turns out you can submit a Word document to Smashwords, and they will take care of the file conversion for you – provided that you follow their strict guidelines for formatting the document.

Well, since I banged out two more 10,000-word short stories this summer, it seemed like a good time to give Smashwords a whirl by having them distribute an exclusive eBook edition of all the Meteor Mags stories completed since beginning the project last year. Yeah, that’s right: In July, 2015, Meteor Mags celebrated her first year as a fictional character, and you did not send her a damned birthday card! That’s alright. She’ll get over it.

The new eBook, entitled Meteor Mags: Asteroids and Anarchy, clocks in at over 54,000 words, which qualifies it as “novel-length” despite being composed of thematically-related short stories. It contains six short stories, three character interviews, and a dozen black-and-white drawings. The eBook just got approved for “premium” distribution, which means it should be available in the Apple iStore, at Barnes & Noble, and wherever else the little elves at Smashwords have magically made it happen.

Smashwords also asks authors to provide a brief interview. So, what the heck. We’ll just post it here in its entirety, below. Enjoy!

meteor mags asteroids and anarchy cover - small for web

What’s the story behind your latest book?

Meteor Mags began her life as an art project, but she ended up becoming my hero. In the majority of action/sci-fi/crime stories, males play the central roles, leaving females stuck in cliché roles as love interests or plot devices for the guys. I thought it would be more interesting to have a leading woman with her own agenda—a woman who would not only prove the equal or better of any man, but also anything life could throw at her.

Some readers might feel Meteor Mags is not a hero at all, but a villain. I think you’ll find Mags isn’t so easy to categorize. She has her own ideas about how things should be done and how life should be lived. Throughout the stories, we get opportunities to see her through other characters’ eyes, and their perceptions of her often contradict each other. Some idolize her, and some despise her. Mags is just too busy doing her own thing to care what they think.

Perhaps Charles Ellms said it best in 1837, in “The Pirates’ Own Book”. In his chapters on Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two female pirates from the early 1700s, he described them as having “a character peculiarly distinguished for every vice that can disgrace humanity, and at the same time for the exertion of the most daring, though brutal, courage.” That sounds like a great description of Meteor Mags to me.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

The poetry and music scene in Ann Arbor, MI, in the 1990s had so many talented, creative people producing their own work independently. In my twenties, I got to meet and interview many of them by hosting poetry readings, volunteering as a DJ, and writing for a local zine. They inspired me to create my own work on my own terms instead of trying to fit into a mold or marketing niche.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

In one of his lessons, American landscape painter Bob Ross explained that on his canvas he could do anything. He could create and reshape worlds on a whim. That freedom and power to make, with words, absolutely anything happen on the page makes fiction writing a uniquely joyous experience.

Do you remember the first book you ever read, and the effect it had on you?

In 1977, when I was four years old, Gramma sent me “The Album of Prehistoric Animals” by author Todd McGowen and illustrator Rod Ruth. I still have that book. Besides beginning a lifelong interest in dinosaurs, it nurtured a love for animal stories and illustration. The flashbacks to Patches’ early life in “Patches the Immortal” pay homage to the many books I enjoyed as a young reader, books which featured animals as the main characters and dealt with their lives in the wild.

What do you read for pleasure?

I am a huge fan of comic books, and not just standard superhero fare. From educational comics like Jay Hosler’s “Clan Apis” (about honeybees) to Brian Wood’s “DMZ” (about a journalist in a New York City torn apart by a modern civil war), I love seeing words and pictures come together to tell great stories.

In fact, Meteor Mags started out as an idea for a comic book, until I realized I would never master sequential art in this lifetime. When writing her short stories, I usually imagine the scenes as comic book pages or panels, and then write what’s happening in those panels.

What are your five favorite books, and why?

In terms of works which may have influenced the Meteor Mags series: Robert Heinlein’s novels, Jack Kirby’s sci-fi comics, Jack London’s “White Fang” and “Call of the Wild”, Mario Puzo’s crime novels, and the “Nexus” comic book series by Mike Baron and Steve Rude. The manga “Lone Wolf and Cub” should really be on this list too.

But because the Meteor Mags timeline covers hundreds of years of history, my bookshelf is rapidly filling with books on pirates, anarchists, billiards, genetics, astronomy, and dinosaurs. Don’t even get me started on what’s happened to my music library, considering every short story has its own playlist and sonic inspirations.

What are you working on next?

The next set of Meteor Mags stories will continue to move the action forward in the year 2029, while also exploring more of Mags’ and her friends’ colorful past.

I have two novella-length stories in progress. “Red Metal at Dawn” is a sci-fi tale that finds Mags, Tarzi, and Patches raiding a secret asteroid laboratory to plunder weapons, meet new characters, and have a major conflict with the “dragons.” The other story, “The Curtain of Fire”, takes us back to Mags’ childhood where she and her mother fought alongside the anarchists in Barcelona. It features an appearance by her Great-grandmother which will reveal how Mags has managed to live so unusually long.

indie comics spotlight: princeless


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princeless coverThe new issue of Action Lab Entertainment’s Princeless goes on sale today at Comixology, and you can also pick it up directly from Action Lab’s site. This second issue of the fourth volume of Princeless is called “Comical Misunderstanding,” and it lives up to its name. Rarely do we encounter a book that keeps us smiling from start to finish and delivers laugh-out-loud humor on nearly every page. Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Emily Martin have mastered comedic timing for sequential art—not an easy feat. Whitley’s dialogue and characters come to life under Martin’s pen, and even the horses are hilarious in this story.

princeless sample page 1

We often see independent releases suffering from poorly done lettering that can turn crisp dialogue into a train wreck. This is not the case with Princeless. Emily Spura’s lettering contributes to the comedic timing by placing all the dialogue in the perfect place to deliver the humor naturally. Combine that with Brett Grunig’s color palette, and you can easily imagine Princeless leaping off the printed page and into full animation. It would not surprise us to see Princeless gracing the big screen someday.

princeless sample page 2

We don’t often find an all-ages comic book so enjoyable as Princeless. Without ever resorting to profanity or graphic violence, Whitley and Martin deliver action, adventure, and engaging characters. Princeless also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. If you’re looking for an entertaining adventure about female characters instead of a comic book that relegates females to mere plot devices for males, then it’s about time you started reading Princeless.

Princeless Volume 4 #2 goes on sale today at Comixology, which has a great selection of the back issues if you are just now joining this series. You can also order digital and print editions directly from Action Lab Entertainment.

indie comics spotlight: ugli studios presents


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ugli studios presents sample coverIn June of 2012, we enjoyed interviewing artist Jason Lenox about his then-new project Ugli Studios Presents. Since then, Lenox has successfully managed several new Kickstarter campaigns to produce ongoing issues of this independent anthology series, and two collections of his artwork. (We were quite pleased to be quoted on the back cover of The Art of Jason Lenox: Volume One.) Most recently, Ugli Studios celebrated the funding of a Kickstarter for issue number three, and we took the opportunity to get print copies of all the issues and both art books for our collection.

ugli studios presents sample page 1

But it takes more than a Kickstarter to make your indie dreams come true, and Lenox has shown great dedication in promoting his work through many convention appearances. As proof, we can read a list of them on the back of the awesome t-shirt we got for contributing to the Kickstarter for Ugli Studios Presents #3, from which today’s sample pages are taken.

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Even so, hard work is not always enough, and Ugli Studios demonstrates the importance of collaboration. By teaming up with other artists and writers, Lenox has broadened the range of stories he can tell through his distinctive visual style and, to compare it to music, shown he can manage a band, not just a solo act.

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If you haven’t seen what Lenox and the Ugli Studios team have been producing, we encourage you to visit the Ugli Studios Store and join Lenox on Twitter to get word about his upcoming projects. In an age where small press comics come and go, Ugli Studios serves as a role model for the kind of dedication, professionalism, and collaborative effort it takes to turn the dream of self-publishing into a sustainable reality.


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