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.

silver eels - Copy

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.

mags in headphones at voodoo

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…

mags gasmask

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.

mags in tux with cyber mantas

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.

mags takes aim

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.

mags with lights and flag

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.

pirate maggie and her sharks

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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a world without men… except for superman and batman

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Alright. This issue of World’s Finest is so incredibly whacked out that we almost lack words to describe it. Perhaps psychoanalysis would better suit this issue than description. You’ve got juvenile versions of Superman and Batman. Yeah, yeah, they’re sons of Supes and Bats… Whatever. Like that makes any sense. Who are their moms?

 
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Then you have this dream-like story about a town filled with women who are NOT happy to see the boys, a giant one-eyed monster on a tower (dear lord, my Freud is aching), a scene where the guys get naked and put on each other’s clothes… You can blame it on author Bob Haney if you want, but maybe this comic book isn’t even real and you are just dreaming about it.

 
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In which case, you need serious psychotherapy.

First, go schedule your appointment, then come back and take a peek inside these pages we photographed before listing this beast on eBay. What? You need your own copy printed on the corpses of trees where endangered owls used to make babies? Well, don’t let us stop you. Buy World’s Finest #233; DC Comics, 1975. It is also reprinted in the collection Saga of the Super Sons 2007 trade paperback.

 
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nine dreams: concert sequence

Concert Sequence

The two of you make love in the middle of the afternoon. You go for a drive beside the bay. Water and skyscrapers reflect the sun and sky. It’s a beautiful day. She pretends the things you say don’t hurt her.

Or maybe they just don’t. You two drive together a lot lately. Just a couple of nights ago, she was in the driver’s seat.

Derek Trucks plays at this club tonight. He sounds great. How does he get all that sound and speed with a slide? Hundreds of people fill long rows of folding chairs on the dancefloor and on bleachers.

You take out the Little Martin and play along. Derek has a three-chord jam going with the band, three major chords hitting B-flat, C, and D. It’s fun, playing along with Derek. You pay attention now to remember the chords when you wake up.

The little kid in front of you turns around to tell you, “A security guard is coming this way.” The kid makes it sound like you are busted for the acoustic jam.

But you look up, and a lot of people are heading for the emergency exit. Somebody might have tripped a silent fire alarm? Security staff helps everyone move out calmly, quietly.

You could say Derek Trucks was on fire tonight.

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


green lantern 195: guy gardner gets the ring

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Wow, do we love that cover. We always have. Boldly simple yet powerful, it’s our favorite piece of Staton artwork. We bought it right off the news rack in the 1980s, at the local Walgreens. Crisis on Infinite Earths was out, and a new Green Lantern with a pissy attitude was shaking things up.

 
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Green Lantern #195 details for us how this surly new GL was chosen to wear the ring, ran into some major problems, and got his ring back in the midst of all hell breaking loose. What Guy Gardner lacked in tact and human decency, he made up for in will power – and staying power. Gardner became a mainstay at DC Comics and even survived the New 52. But it all started here…

 
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nine dreams: surgical sequence & funhouse

Surgical Sequence & Fun House

They remove the skin from your right forearm in surgery, then put it back on. They don’t sew it back. They just put it there in the right place. They say not to worry about it.

Right. It feels like the pieces of skin are ready to separate and detach every time you move. “Don’t worry about it,” they tell you.

Finally, someone in a white coat comes to put a layer of brown, stretchy adhesive on your hand. They don’t coat the whole arm, but at least it feels a little better.

The next night you’re at the fun house. The fun house is named after the Stooges album. More rooms than you can count pile into the air, becoming tree houses at the very top. It’s a fun place to hang out, the fun house—so much so that you have a room there.

In the room across the hallway, a half dozen or so people in various stages of undress share one king-size bed. The door is slightly open. The sun shines into the room. Guys and girls nap the mid-morning away. You see an old high school friend has joined their cuddle party.

Your lover joins you in your room. She’s beautiful. So sad, so beautiful at the same time.

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


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