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nine dreams: crime scene

Crime Scene

Chad takes you to Tim’s house. You don’t know Tim, but Chad says he’s going to kill him. The house is empty on the first floor. In the kitchen, you watch as Chad loads a rifle and walks up the stairs to Tim’s room.

When he comes back, you both leave the house and go for a long journey through rivers and forests. The landscape is unknown but familiar. Have you been here before? You find two vehicles and take them separately to Tim’s house again. Why does Chad think this is a good idea?

You get there first and busy yourself wiping down the entire kitchen to erase any fingerprints. You know when the cops find Tim’s body, they will be looking for evidence. You wipe the countertops. You wipe the cupboards.

Tim’s family comes home and finds you cleaning. The people are his mother, perhaps, and his grandmother. You calmly introduce yourself as a friend of Chad’s who is, you say, on his way to visit their son. “What’s your son’s name?” you ask, as if you don’t know.

“Tim,” says one of the ladies.

“Right! Tim.” You talk to them for a little while, all the while growing increasingly concerned you will be the prime suspect when they find Tim’s dead body upstairs. But they never go up the stairs. Finally, Chad shows up acting like nothing happened, and you leave.

Your painting van is outside, but Chad has installed a sophisticated surveillance system inside it. You can see inside the house and monitor all the activity. You can even see into the basement. You can see everything in the house.

It is winter.

*****
You might also like Three Years Dreaming, now a 148-page paperback and Kindle book.


arwulf and the sonnenlicht project: cd booklet

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Arwulf and the Sonnenlicht Project is a limited edition double disc set uniting spoken word from Ann Arbor performance artist, poet, columnist, and DJ Arwulf Arwulf with ambient musical improvisations in a free jazz vein. The album is entitled Reproductive Rights for All Women, and Arwulf is as frank with his cultural criticisms as he is sincere in his reverence for nature, music and the arts, and people who have inspired him.

Some of the members of the musical cast were in a local band called Transmission at the time of this recording, a very groovy but avant garde mix of progressive fusion and danceable beats. They appealed to the young collegiate crowd in Ann Arbor, a vast amalgamation of hipsters, hippies, rockers, nerds, jocks, party animals, and music lovers willing to cast genre to the wind in the pursuit of sonic ecstasy. The mid to late 1990s were a very awesome time to be living in Ann Arbor, and this disc is a fond reminder of those days.

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nine dreams: day job

Day Job

You have a ground-level apartment and a dog to take care of. It seems like too much to handle, this dog, and you don’t want to do it. Then you remember you took care of her before, and everything is ok.

Your girlfriend comes over. You have two beds. The second one is too small, so you put both of the beds together: just right.

You go get a job. Shortly, you get a call from one of the guys at work. He has season tickets for the Cardinals and wants you to take them off his hands. The two of you have a great chat as you talk about this new job. You are laughing at how easy it is, and how it’s totally cool to talk right now—and the phone is ripped out of your hands.

You are fired on the spot. “You are taking a personal call and telling them how dead it is right now!” they say. But there is something they are not telling you. You suspect you are being fired for daring to enjoy yourself and have fun. You suspect you are being fired for having no fear of being fired.

The manager pulls a bottle of red liquid out of your desk. Are they really firing you for having booze at work? It’s not even booze. It’s the red mix for margaritas. But they won’t listen.

You decide to go to their other office, a bar/restaurant in Tempe. Standing around in your bathrobe, you chat with two of the waitresses. They say you have dried semen on the back of your robe. You say, “So what?” and you all laugh about it.

Then you find the guys in charge, the guys behind your getting fired. They give you a ration of bullshit. But one of them turns out to be a girl you went to school with. You put your arm around her and call her your old school chum. You used to have a massive crush on her.

The two of you go outside to sit. She says, “Now they won’t have to call the cops to get you to leave. And, you know, I really wanted to talk to you about something.” She begins to bare her soul. Her eyes go misty. Looking at her face, you realize just how damned gorgeous she is.

You wake up with her face fresh in your mind seconds before the alarm goes off.

*****
You might also like Three Years Dreaming, now a 148-page paperback and Kindle book.


Todd McFarlane Amazing Spider-man TPB Set

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Even though retail prices have come down from their 1990s peaks on Amazing Spider-man issues by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, collecting them all could still put a big dent in your wallet. Those readers on a sacred mission to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-man will overcome this challenge. The rest of us wouldn’t mind having them collected in three trade paperbacks.

Marvel complicated things by publishing the three paperbacks under two different banners. Readers searching in databases at retailers or libraries might find one, but not the other. Let us clear things up for you.

The first of the three is under the “Visionaries” banner. You can find many good stories from Marvel’s flagship characters in various Visionaries collections. The Todd MacFarlane one includes Amazing Spider-man #298-305, notable for taking Spidey’s black suit from the first Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars and bonding it to Eddie Brock to create Venom. Spider-man Visionaries Todd McFarlane #1 is listed at MyComicShop and Amazon.

 
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Marvel then moved the series over to “Marvel Legends” banner. The first of the two Marvel Legends collects Amazing Spider-man #306-314, plus a story from Spectacular Spider-man Annual #10 with McFarlane art. This one may be our favorite of the series. We can’t find it at MyComicShop, but it is listed correctly on Amazon despite not having the right cover currently.

 
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Marvel wraps it up with a second Legends collection that includes Amazing Spider-man #315-323, #325, and #328. Although the listing on Amazon doesn’t have the right cover at the time of this post, it is the right book.

 
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As much as we love McFarlane’s rendering of Spidey’s world, these stories succeed in large part due to Michelinie’s writing. It’s a shame these collections dont say “Michelinie and McFarlane” on them. Marvel remedied that bit of rudeness in 2011 by printing the Amazing Spider-man Omnibus by David Micheline and Todd McFarlane. Last time we checked, you could get one for about $100.

The collections are an enjoyable romp through the Spider-man rogues’ gallery with drama, humor, and interesting developments in the lives of newlyweds Mary Jane Watson Parker and her wall-crawling hubby. Michelinie breaks with the “hard luck hero” tradition of Spidey. Peter Parker marries an incredibly fun, smart super-model. He gets famous for his Spider-man photos in the Daily Bugle and goes on a book-signing tour. Peter and Mary Jane move into a nice place. They have some money for a change, and even Aunt May has a cool boyfriend now. This was a fresh approach to the character at the time. It reminded us that even though Parker has lots of bad luck, he still totally kicks ass.

 
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Despite our defense of Michelinie, Spidey just looks great zipping through these books in a mass of webs with a look McFarlane seems to have invented. They have since been copied, but we don’t recall ever seeing anyone draw Spidey’s webs like McFarlane before these books.

 
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The creative team brings back one of our favorite Spidey supporting characters: the Prowler. In the Prowler’s claws, mask, and swirling cape, you might be witnessing McFarlane getting the ideas for his Spawn character worked out on the page in these Spidey stories.

 
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The bonus “pin-up” was also printed as a postcard by Marvel, and we’ve always loved this image.

 
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Venom’s gleeful sadism and obvious mental illness are good signs he might be a keeper as a Spidey villain.

 
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Another nut job and total loser from Spidey’s gallery of bad guys shows up: the Scorpion. The Scorpion never looked so awesome as he did in this story. Spidey has to rescue J. Jonah Jameson from the guy in green armored tights with a fatal tail. It’s a hoot.

 
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McFarlane made his mark on The Lizard, too. Just a hideous rage ball of claws and teeth. McFarlane would again draw our favorite evil reptile in a lab coat when he started his own Spider-man series.

 
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Spidey looks pretty awesome crouching in the snow in a graveyard.

 
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And that’s all the photos we had time to snap before selling these wonderful books on eBay. We read them not long after they first came out, in their original single issue form. It was fun to read through them again and enjoy them in these collections. It’s a good chunk of Spidey stories that deserves a place on even a casual Spidey collector’s shelf.

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nine dreams: joy ride

Joy Ride

You stand up in your car to take a shower as it races down the highway. You feel total confidence in your car’s alignment, making only minor corrections to maintain your lane as you bathe. Other drivers turn to stare, watching you bathe through the walls of your car.

A long curve looms on the horizon, so you put both hands on the wheel. Cop cars and lights create a confusing flow of traffic. Off to the side, people shoot a movie. Past them, you turn left—straight into oncoming traffic!

Did you take the wrong turn? Are you going the wrong way? You can’t be. You can clearly read the signs. Maybe it wasn’t a wrong turn, but you are certainly going against the flow of traffic! You see an exit on the right.

Now it’s all under control. Don’t be nervous about the cops. You rocket off the exit ramp, unable to hold the turn, and fly off the road, through the air, as your car turns into a rubber boogie board.

You hit the rocks and pavement on your belly on the boogie board. Escaping injury, you start ground surfing. It’s the cutting edge of a whole new sport! It’s wildly fun!

Up and down, all around, circling the buildings and parking lots, performing wild stunts, you catch the attention of onlookers. You zoom off the pavement into suburban yards, coming to rest on someone’s lawn.

Eye-level with the grass, you find yourself staring at a kid’s ID standing up between the blades. Is the kid dead? Is this his lawn? Did his parents put this here as a memorial?

*****
You might also like Three Years Dreaming, now a 148-page paperback and Kindle book.


jimi hendrix voodoo soup: cd booklet

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This album is available on Amazon as Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Soup. Though you can currently find CD or even cassette versions, Amazon does not yet have it available as an MP3 download. Numerous Amazon customers have rated it four and five stars and written reams of praise. So let us simply say, we concur. It is truly awesome.

 
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When Voodoo Soup came out in the mid 1990s, Hendrix fans had fewer posthumous releases of quality than we do now. This and Rykodisc’s stellar album of Radio One BBC recordings, later released in expanded form as the BBC Sessions two-CD set, were among the finest. Few if any of the recordings released since then can match these two recordings for sound quality, energetic performance, song selection, and production choices. Even songs released on The Cry of Love receive superior post-production on Voodoo Soup, and in our opinion sound more like what Hendrix would have aimed for in final mixes than most other “posthumously completed” compilations.

 
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We scanned the CD booklet, including the complete 19-page essay on the context and production of the songs, for our archives, and share it with you now. As our CD copy had a cut out on the front cover, we did not scan the artwork by Moebius, but you can easily find that in any product listing for this album.

 
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sketchbook sundays

In today’s Sketchbook Sunday, we go digital. Yes, put your pens and paper away for a few minutes and take a peek inside the virtual world I use to model the character Meteor Mags.

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Designing a character model in virtual reality gives you several benefits as an artist, but honestly I do it to compensate for inabilities in figure drawing and lighting and perspective. Despite formal art lessons, informal figure drawing sessions, a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and years of drawing, I still suck at depicting the human body under specific lighting conditions in specific poses.

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So, I designed a figure to my ideal specifications. Yes, I do have a notion of an ideal female form even if it is not shared by the general public or mass media. Next, I picked out some clothing for her, some hairstyles and tattoos, and set about posing her in a variety of lighting conditions. By taking screen captures with the viewer’s built-in camera, I create unique photo references.

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The virtual reality I use is called Secondlife, a platform which most often gets media coverage when people using it as an online dating service meet up “in real life” with disastrous results. Although that happens, it never makes headlines when people meet there and end up happily married – which also happens. But Secondlife has a million other things to do besides trying to hook up with random lonely internet geeks. Some people call it a game, but unlike Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, it doesn’t have any missions, objectives, scores, or really any f***ing point to it at all. It’s a blank slate, and it is nothing more or less than what you make it.

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So I made a model. The project began as a joke in 2012, where in a virtual game of truth or dare I was dared to take my old Howard Plutonian avatar and make it female. This is what happens when you play online party games with a six pack. In Secondlife, you can alter your avatar’s form any way you like, and people sell pre-made body configurations called shapes. You can also design your own, for free, but for the sake of this game I bought a pre-made shape. Many LOLs were had that day, but I soon posed this female avatar for virtual photos to accompany some poetry. And thus an idea was born.

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In 2014, I began designing my own female shape from scratch, since the one I bought had limited permissions. This revealed how little I comprehended human anatomy! “She” was terribly ugly. But we pressed on. After several months of adjusting her physical specs, studying anatomy, posing, and adjusting again, I settled on a definite set of specs. I did, however, make her arms a little longer this year.

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When I started this project, I did not foresee how much time I would spend picking out things like hair and clothes and female poses and props. As a nominally straight male with no predispositions for cross-dressing (besides my socks obsession) I have spent an inordinate amount of time on “girl stuff”. Shopping. Adjusting hair. Color coordinating outfits. Customizing shoes. Picking out blouses. Picking out blouses. Lolololol. I never thought obsessing over a woman’s outfit for hours was something I would spend my time doing, but it turns out to be a pretty fun part of the process. I used to play with action figures for hours as a kid, or plastic dinosaurs, and now I play with a digital doll. Whatever.

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Of course, when you spend time in Secondlife, you interact with other avatars. Unless you want to be a hermit, which is completely achievable, you have a social chat room environment where people interact through text. Many avatars use voice, though they are usually playing card games or chatting or reading out loud or singing, as opposed to how people use voice on “missions” in team-based role playing games.

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What’s weird about that? Well, my avatar is obviously female – and let’s be honest, she dances around mostly naked on my second monitor for long periods of time. So other avatars in the game assume they are dealing with a female. Most of the time that is fine, since nothing about my interactions with anyone “in world” depends on gender. But I do end up playing a bit of a character for my digital Meteor Mags model, which helps me get a feel for her dialogue in the stories, develop her fictional persona, and find off-beat story ideas.

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I am not the only Secondlife user treating gender identity as just another element you configure for your avatar – just like age, ethnicity, size, species, and name. Many users have both male and female forms, and they use them for all kinds of art projects. Yes, they do all of the kinky sexual fantasies you might imagine and which get so much press. But they also use them for machinima, which is making movies in-world. Avatars model clothes and other virtual products. Shopping and making virtual reality goods is a huge part of Secondlife economics. People use different avatars for role playing characters in games based on television shows or vampires or pirates or whatever you can imagine.

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Again, Secondlife is whatever you make it, and not like some Facebook platform where you have to BE YOU. You can make your avatar a peacock or a horse or a dragon, gay, bi, straight, flying around with angel wings, a kid, an old wizard, a superhero, a cube of plywood, or WHATEVER YOU CAN IMAGINE. So, some people get hung up on the gender identity thing, and it certainly comes up when people realize who is at the keyboard for my avatar, but most people don’t really give a damn. It only bugs me when other avatars make sexual advances at me in chat. You have no idea how annoying that is, but it happened with a male avatar, too. It is not a uniquely female experience. Just to make it absolutely clear: No, Mags’ author does NOT want to role play your leather mistress or virtual girlfriend or emotional crutch or whatever. F***ing freaks! Anyway…

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Originally, I simply used my Howard Plutonian account and assumed the female avatar whenever I wanted to pose her. Yes, a female Howard did confuse and even anger many people, but we pressed on in the name of art. She was my ongoing art project, and I did not want to have multiple accounts for multiple avatars.

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She actually had a body and style before she had a name. When I started taking virtual photos of her, she was just “Dancing Girl.” Then, for a week I toyed with the idea of naming her “Anne Arkey,” but the internet says that has been done to death already. In the end, I knew I wanted to name her Mags or Maggie in honor of an avatar who inspired her and who taught me almost everything I know about building, modeling, selling, and customizing environments in Secondlife.

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But how to make her unique? Well, I wanted to do science fiction stories with this character, so it had to be something about space… And thus, Meteor Mags was born on July 4th, 2014. Of course, in the stories her birthday is something else entirely, but that’s when I settled on her name, purchased the meteormags.com domain, and set about building an online identity for her as a fictional character. In the stories, I plan to use that as the birth date of her sidekick/nephew.

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So, the images in today’s post come from virtual photo sessions. After picking a static pose or moving animation for the avatar, I customize the lights and colors in the environment. You can move the sun and moon around, put stars out, add haze, make the ambient lighting into different colors, choose the time of day, the direction and thickness of clouds – so many options.

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I also like to add, mostly for my own amusement, what they call “particles” in Secondlife. These are customizable light displays. They have a script you edit to determine the color of light particles emitted from an object, and their direction, shape, burst rate, lifespan, and size. If you have read this blog for any time at all, you know I am a huge fan of Kirby Krackle and other comic book “energy” effects, so particles are something I spent a little time learning about.

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In the photo below, Ceakay Ballyhoo poses in the foreground of the dancing duo. CK to her friends, she has been a source of inspiration and collaboration on Mags projects and other art adventures. She has graciously allowed the use of her private photo studio for Mags photo sessions. One of my drawings was based on a noirish photo she took. That image appears both in the Smuggler’s Edition and on the custom playing cards. Here is CK posing in her studio with an image of the cards based on her original image. It’s the cycle of art! The character Celina in the stories was inspired by CK, blended with some rowdy Australians we know and a healthy dose of anarchy :)

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I should also give a shout out to avatars Brindi and Sorrowen who support the Meteor Mags cause by always being on the lookout for fun and interesting socks for her to wear. Good looking out!

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I should warn anyone thinking of making a model like this that Secondlife is a bit clunky. I can’t think of a single better word for it. Clunky. Feet are always messed up. Hands often look misshapen. Some poses are designed for anatomies within specific parameters, and a chunky girl like Mags has all kinds of visual problems with clothes making jagged lines, tattoos stretching way too much, arms being buried in her ample belly, body curves that get rendered in straight lines and angles, smeared lipstick – the list is endless.

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When you create a photo reference using this method, expect to redraw significant elements. I often discard much of the backgrounds and switch them out for planets or simpler graphic elements. Sometimes I have to break out the John Buscema anatomy tutorial or study photos in books or even comic panels to sort out how the figure SHOULD have rendered, and I still don’t get it right every time.

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Despite the challenges, this method has helped me create the visual aspects of the Meteor Mags character, and inspired more than a few story ideas. My other options would have been 1) spend a few more years learning to draw 2) hire a model for photo shoots and buy costumes 3) pay someone thousands of dollars for character designs and illustrations. Maybe those illustration challenges sound familiar to you, so we are posting about our little experiment in hopes it might inspire you to brainstorm unconventional solutions to your sketching challenges. Good luck!

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