And They Tell Me I Can’t Work With Others

I’ve been worried about getting down-sized next year, so when a friend and coworker suggested that I start networking in the developer groups around town — I didn’t quite jump in, but I did cautiously dip my toe in the water.

As I already had conflicting plans for an after-work meeting, I decided to attend a “full day” exploration of a JavaScript package. Several caveats here: “full day” is quoted because you don’t have to stay for the entire session, I’m familiar enough with JavaScript to know that I never want more to do with it, and I knew going in that it would involve paired programming. Paired programming is exhausting for me at the best of times, as it takes me conscious effort to be social. At worst, it’s a great way to make me dream of a locked office with a pizza slot in the door.

Fortunately, this was one of the better experiences I’ve had. Everyone was agreeable and we more or less fluidly moved around our table offering input as needed.

The package (Angular, for those who care about such things) was interesting, and by noon I’d started to get my head around its particular elven incantations. The exercises we did were too simple to really demonstrate the usefulness, but a good programmer has imagination, and I think I’m decent enough at it to see the applications.

It won’t make me jump into a JavaScript project willingly, but it’s nice to know that there’s something to help make the script less cumbersome.

I left early, because we’d gotten bogged down in a configuration nightmare on my laptop, but I’d still say that it was a good experience. I’ll definitely try the after-work meeting though. I don’t particularly enjoy having to wear pants on a Saturday.


Bugs and The Loved One are in My Head

I don’t know how old I was when I started reading, but I’ve never stopped. As a little kid I had a small number of my own books, and I read them each many times over. As a teenager I reached the point where I had to be choosy about which ones to re-read, and in college I passed the point where I would ever lack for unread books.

Now, according to LibraryThing, I have 1,218 books that I haven’t read. (Three of them I bought just today.) Keep in mind that I also have a stack of books that LibraryThing won’t acknowledge. It has a feature for adding unknown books — which some wonderful person out there seems to have done for my mini-comic “Dope Fiends of the Zombie Cafe!” — but I am intensely lazy and haven’t entered them.

So with everything I have read and have yet to read, my reaction to the “List 15 Books That Will Always Stay With You” game on Facebook caused me to giggle like Robert Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin before staring uncomprehendingly at my life choices.

After a great deal of thought (I need something to do in all those work meetings) I’ve settled on two books that, while rarely in my thoughts, are always on my mind. They are works that didn’t influence me so much as they crystallized realizations I’d come to during that final transition to American adulthood — joining the workforce.

The Loved One
My first exposure to Evelyn Waugh’s critique of life and death in America came in a high school film class, where I saw the movie of it that starred Jonathon Winters and Jonathon Winters as the high and low-class mortician brothers. Then, what I got out of it was mostly just chuckles.

Reading the book as a young man, I noticed that it was about commerce — particularly it was about the subversion of art and culture through commerce. The main character, visiting from England, discovers that his uncle now dashes off paintings for use in movies. The woman he falls in love with works for a mortician for the elite, who has so aggrandized funerals that he has become the leader of a death cult. Meanwhile, the mortician’s brother makes a mockery of ritual with his bombastic pet cemetery.

For me, this book encapsulates my leeriness of motivations where money is involved. Not perhaps an earth-shattering revelation, but one that is expressed with wit and restrained chaos.

A short, satiric book by John Sladek, “Bugs” tells the story of a man who accidentally becomes hired to manage a project at a high-tech company. Knowing nothing about management, technology, or the project, he essentially keeps his head down and lets his team run wild. The result is that they produce a sentient robot, who promptly escapes.

I bought this from the clearance table (being a fan of his murderous robot novel “Tik Tok”), and while it amused me I promptly forgot about it. Years later I accidentally became a programmer and found myself expected to perform miracles for which I felt utterly unqualified. I spent ten years feeling like a fraud until I realized that in that time I had actually become a real programmer. I looked around and my skills held up fairly well against those of my colleagues.

Sladek’s absurdist tale of success through pretense came back to me, and it seemed to me to be a fairly accurate portrayal of my career, symbolically. For that reason alone I’m certain I’ll never forget it, but there’s more. As a lead developer, I’ve tried to stay out of everybody’s way as much as possible. I’ll never know if they can make an A.I. if I don’t let them direct their own work.

Film Diary: August

August brought me to 270 films for the year. That puts me at ~74% of the year’s goal at only 67% of the way through the year. There’s still a nice cushion for me to work with, which is good; now that I’ve started drawing a weekly comic, I need to spend more of my free time doing things other than watching movies!

We took a rare trip to see a 1st run movie in the theater because Murderously Violent Space Raccoon. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a hoot, holler, and a bunch of other synonyms for ‘fun’. Sure it had too much crammed into one movie, leaving it both thin and unwieldy, but I haven’t had that much cinematic joy in a long time. Even my inner comic-nerd shut up about how they got everything wrong and just giggled like a lunatic. As soon as we got home (we had both taken the day off), we put in “The Avengers” just to keep our high going.

That was at the start of the month, and it took a while to get another decent movie in. The worst, in the meantime, was “The House of Seven Corpses”. Such a waste of a good title! The biggest crime was just that it was dull. Then again, I’ve never had a lot of patience for movies about actors. (See, my utter disdain for “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”, which admittedly has a terrific finale.)

One cinematic bright spot was “Safety Last!”, presented in a glorious Criterion edition. It’s plot rivals many modern films for coherency and tightness, and nearly all of the humor was as funny now as in the 1920s. Harold Lloyd is a delight to watch, and this is a film that I whole-heartedly recommend.

The month closed, as usual, with a mini-marathon. This time, by some miracle, everyone chose good movies. Perhaps it was the theme — a film you haven’t seen from a favorite actor or director — that made us opt for quality, or at least enjoyment. The day’s line-up: “After Hours” (directed by Martin Scorsese), “Cry-Baby” (directed by John Waters), “Easy Living” (starring Ray Milland), and “To Be or Not To Be” (starring Mel Brooks). All in attendance allowed that “Easy Living” had finally broken my streak of showing the worst movies imaginable, so I’ve got that going for me now!

After Hours (1985)
The Avengers (2012)
Count Dracula (1970)
Cry-Baby (1990)
Dead in Tombstone (2013)
Destroy All Planets, aka Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Easy Living (1937)
Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)
Golden Earrings (1947)
The Green Girl (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The House of Seven Corpses (1974)
Pale Flower (1964)
Pearls of the Deep (1966)
Safety Last! (1923)
The Shrine (2010)
Speed Racer (2008)
To Be or Not To Be (1983)

I’ve Never Been to See a Shrink

I’ve mentioned my arachnophobia before. So why do I stop and look at spiders? I wish I knew!

I'll swallow your soul!

I’ll swallow your soul!

Seriously, this thing seemed to me to be about a foot or so in diameter. I swear it laughed at me as I took the picture.

“Think you can prove anything? I’ll only appear to be the size of a dime in your pathetic picture! Mwa-hahahahaha!”

Then it tried to flip me off, but spiders don’t have fingers.

Correcting the Week

It’s tempting to think that last week was a bad one. Certainly bad things have happened. A stupid and avoidable error (partly mine) at work disrupted service on the website for 4.5 hours. I’ve backed out of an event that I had grown to love because I cannot support an organizer who berates and ridicules attendees. This means I won’t be seeing cherished friends from across the country any time soon. My seemingly perpetual sinus headache has been especially strong. Menahem Golan died. And the cat that poops on the bathroom floor switched to the kitchen.

Also, we’re almost out of ice cream cookies with another full week before our next food delivery.

That right there was a joke, and although it was lame it’s important to me to try making with the funny. I have to remind myself that unpleasant events are not the only measure of the quality of life. That should be obvious, but I have trouble being positive.

So here’s why last week was awesome.

My copy of “The Green Girl” came in. You may remember that this is the documentary about Susan Oliver, the accomplished actress who inadvertently launched an entire sci-fi fetish. Also, because I contributed to both funding campaigns, somebody else’s copy came in. I just have to figure out who it belongs to.

In other purchase-related happiness, I managed to find a copy of Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! at only a 50% markup. Considering that the out-of-print collection is usually cheap at $850, that’s a phenomenal bargain.

Lest you think that I rely solely on buying happiness, I also made a lot of headway in creating 3D reference poses for the first set of comic strips. Although I’m beginning to fret about the schedule, the long-term time savings from this process makes my hopeful of catching up quickly. Additionally, this will keep me from avoiding more dynamic layouts.

As if that weren’t enough, I received word that two anthologies I’m in are in the proof copy stage. I even got a PDF of one of them to review. It’s thrilling to have a short story and comic about to be published by others, and to get this news on both at once is amazing. This is what I’ve always pursued, and to let it be eclipsed by a few negative occurrences is lame.

So it was an eventful week. Some of it sucked, but that’s okay because a lot of it was pretty damn spa dominos. You read that right. Spa dominos. That’s auto-correctish for shpadoinkle, and that’s okay with me.

I’m Not Buying What You’re Selling

I don’t trust people readily. In fact, it takes years for me to trust people enough to put myself in a position to find out if I can really trust them.

So when a guy with a clipboard, no vehicle, and a custom polo shirt knocks on my door and wants to offer a quote for any old house project I have in mind, my answer is a decisive “Um” followed by shutting and locking the door. The shirt screamed scam to me; any company that could afford a company polo with a nice embroidered logo that doesn’t bunch the fabric — well, they aren’t small enough to need to send someone hoofing around a lower-middle class village.

Out of curiosity, I looked them up. Lo! the Google returned with a lengthy list of complaints.

So now I’m feeling all smart, when really I just ran into a rare alignment of reality and my natural paranoia.

It’s No Fun Unless You Feel Like You Have Stomach Flu

My dad’s three brothers were all alcoholic, and although he never had a problem leaving the hooch alone he displayed traits of what used to be called an alcoholic personality. I saw signs of it in my own behavior, so when I went off to college I was in no hurry to sample the boozohol.

I accidentally had some freshman year, when someone — of course — spiked the alcohol-free punch bowl at a Halloween party with vodka. I realized what had happened when I suddenly felt comfortable in the crowd of strangers. Friends got me back to my dorm room, and that was the last I had anything to do with demon liquor or parties for some time.

Incidentally, I was a pretty big buzz kill on my hall that first year. When a bunch of the guys chipped in to hire a stripper, I refused to join in. It’s not that I was so moral or lacked raging late-adolescent hormones; I had pretty limited funds and needed to save them for important things like comics and pinball.

A few years later I was spending the summer in a sublet, working for the university housing department. I’ll have to write about that sometime. It was the best worst job I ever had.

Anyway, one of my housemates went out to a bar once a week with his friends. It sounded pretty fun, and I had begun to think that maybe I could put a cautious toe in the fire water. So one night I tagged along. Well drinks were half a dollar for the first hour we were there, so I tried a vodka Coke.

Ten dollars and a few hours later we staggered home.

Now, I certainly didn’t have 20 tumblers of barely mixed drinks. The price went up at regular intervals until it hit two dollars a glass, I think. I don’t know for sure how much I had, but it was enough that I just remember really enjoying myself. Maybe eight?

At any rate, I was drunk enough that when everyone else jumped in a fountain I realized that my shoes would get wet but not that my shoes could be removed.

The next morning I reported to work bright, early, and nauseous. My assignment that day turned out to be cleaning refrigerators that students had rented. These had been sitting in a storeroom for month, unplugged and doors shut. Cracking these open was like inviting a new and horrific curse of the pharaohs with every unit. The stench ran straight up my nostrils, grabbed my throbbing brain, and threw it around my skull like a terrier with a rat.

I don’t believe in divine justice, but as a fan of old horror comics I appreciate blatant lessons. It was a long time before I drank again, and I’ve never drunk myself sick since. Stupid, yes. Never sick.

Idiom is a Tough Nut to Crack

Phrases such as “that took balls” and “grow a pair” are problematic in today’s world. We’re increasingly aware as a culture that rigid gender roles and enforcing stereotypes hurt everybody, yet everything from courage to fortitude is still represented by testicles.

As has been noted by such eminent scholars as dedhed1841, it’s a terrible and ridiculous metaphor anyway. Sensitive hacky sacks aren’t really exemplars of rugged strength.

Nevertheless, I think that for a replacement word to catch on it should maintain the tradition of using a vulnerable anatomical target to represent toughness. It should just be something that the majority of people actually have.

At first I was enamored of the big toe. It’s completely senseless, and it sounds pretty funny.

“You’re gonna need some size 20s for those big toes, Carl.”

“You wouldn’t dare! Your don’t have the big toes for it!”

The problem with that is that we’ve just swapped sexism for ableism. There actually are a significant number of people who literally do not have toes of any size. Plus there are some whose big toes have been transplanted onto their hands as substitute thumbs, and the whole metaphor just starts getting sidetracked.

Then I realized that there was an obvious feature that most-but-not-quite-all people have.2 It can be made of glass or steel, it’s already in common expressions, and best of all it sounds ridiculous.

“Grow a chin!”

Plus, it’s great for substitutions in other masculine phrases.

“Chin up!”

“They plopped their chins on the table. It was a total chin waving contest.”

I think it could really take off, if I ever had the chin to try it.


1. I mean, probably.
2. I’m really sorry. This is the best I can do without putting any actual effort into it.

Susan Oliver and the Green Girl Documentary

The first project I gave to on Kickstarter was a stop-animation short that has still not materialized after two years. Funding is always a risk, no matter how you go about it, so I lived and learned and developed better strategies for weighing probability of getting the promised return. (I’m still prepared to be pleasantly surprised; the erstwhile creator at least got in touch with backers a few months ago to apologize for delays.)

One project I liked enough to fund twice, first on Kickstarter and then on Indiegogo when a modest cost overrun required more support.

Susan Oliver was an actress, a pilot, a writer, and a director, but today she’s most remembered for slinking through the original “Star Trek” pilot with green body paint. George A. Pappy, Jr. wanted to share her story in a feature-length documentary called “The Green Girl”, and I wanted to see it. He had access to materials and interviewees as well as experience with putting a movie together, so it looked like a good bet.

Well, the film is slated to be released this year (it’s even in IMDb, for the curious), and the backer rewards have started arriving.

Susan Oliver Portrait

I’ve gotten two photographs from Oliver’s collection of promotional shots, one of which I’ve included above. I look forward to receiving my copy of the film now. At least I can fill the time reading all the comics I’ve gotten as rewards.

Outlining My Thoughts on Writing Outlines

I never wrote outlines before I started making comics. My memory was sharp back before I began to be treated for anxiety, and I could organize things well enough in my head. If I wanted to make certain to remember something I’d just jot a note, which I would inevitably find years later when I’d no longer recall the context. It was an inefficient system but one that was low-cost in terms of time and effort.

When, fresh out of college, I got serious about the craft of writing comics I developed a system of writing one sentence to describe the action of every page. The theory was that this would ensure that each page would thereby feel like a contained unit. Further, pacing could be controlled by simply devoting more or fewer sentences to each plot point.

In practice I ignored the fact that the collection of sentences failed to present a coherent story, but it did actually produce cohesive individual pages. Before I could get much further in the development of a solid way to outline comics, financial issues combined with social anxiety and depression to drive me out of the writing business altogether.

But I never lost my affection for comics, and as companies began releasing collections of pre-code horror and crime comics I gleefully bought all of them I could find. Fortunately, the days of financial stress had passed by that point. I got on medication and began working on behavioral modification to learn to combat periods of hopelessness and lethargy. And I started this blog as a way to start writing again.

Now I feel that it’s all coming together again. I’ve published a comic with my previous collaborator Rafer Roberts, and he’s had me script two more short pieces for inclusion in other works. I have a semi-regular gig writing an advice column for mad scientists. I’ve had a story published in an e-book, and another is coming out in an anthology this year. And my outline process has evolved.

For the shorter scripts it’s pretty much the same, except that the page descriptions have become brief paragraphs. This allows the outline to serve double duty as a synopsis to send for buy-in and approval. For full scripts and prose stories, I’m essentially writing a story. There’s not a great deal of detail or characterization in it, and the language is nothing that’s trying to be compelling, but the story-form outline gets the main thoughts on “paper”, as it were. It’s a sort of idea test.

The genesis of this approach is a peculiar thing I noticed in a lot of the old anthology comics. Among the short comics would be one or two very prose pieces. Any reader of reprinted EC comics has probably seen these, but the practice was widespread throughout the industry.

Bear in mind that I have done no actual research into why they did this.

Whatever the truth of the matter, I decided that it was an artifact of the scripting process. The editors would write short stories and hand them out to artists. The captions and dialog would largely come from the prose script, but the artist would determine layout and panel breakdowns. Any extra scripts would be used as page filler.

Who knows, really? I mean except for the few pros still with us from those days or anybody who’s actually bothered to do any research on the subject whatsoever.

At any rate, that’s my new approach. It allows me to get ideas written down without worrying about pesky details like final dialog, pacing, or characterization. It’s working well for the idea I’m writing up for a weekly web comic, and it even helped me to bull my way through the first draft of the story coming out this summer.

I should probably start applying that approach to the story I’m working on now…